Remarks on Australian Anarchism and Sydney Libertarianism
(Heraclitus No. 21, May 1991)
(In 1968 Max Nomad was preparing a book on anarchism around the world [the book did not in the end eventuate], and he asked me to contribute a very short piece on Australian and New Zealand anarchism, with special reference to Sydney Libertarianism. I recently came across a copy of what I wrote and sent to Nomad, which was as follows and may be at least of historical interest. A.J. Baker)
Australia was founded as a convict settlement at Sydney, so that, as the writer Lennie Lower expressed it, "The first sign of civilization was the jail." But while, no doubt as a result, Australians have always had a strong tendency towards anti-authoritarianism, this has rarely taken a coherent or thought-out form and anarchist or libertarian- oriented ideas have been correspondingly rare. The one example of an influential movement with anarchistic leanings was the I.W.W. which flourished in Australia during the First World War, but which never recovered its influence after twelve of it's leaders were imprisoned on factitious charges in 1916. For the rest, in both Australia and New Zealand anarchism has been confined to small groups of students and workers. With one notable exception, these groups have set forth views and policies in the tradition of Bakunin or other classical anarchists - this being true for example, of a group of mainly Bulgarian anarchists who have been active in Sydney since the late 1950s, and of those anarchists who conducted the first New Zealand anarchist conference at Auckland in 1965.
The exception referred is the "Sydney Libertarian" group, which while small in numbers has had some intellectual influence in its uncompromising expression of a critical, non-utopian type of libertarianism. This group has drawn its membership from staff and students at Sydney University and from downtown intellectuals and dissidents, and since the mid-1950's has continued to hold weekly meetings and to bring out various publications, presenting a distinctive libertarian view, not only of politics, but of religion, sex and morals. In their thinking these libertarians were influenced by the Australian philosopher John Anderson who, while not himself an anarchist, was forthright in his account of "the servile State". They have also been influenced by Wilhelm Reich's views on sexual freedom and (in part) by Pareto's theory of ideology.
In seeking a way to formulate the exact character of their anarchism, Sydney Libertarians have been influenced by Max Nomad's account of "permanent protest". Theirs is a form of "unutopian" or "pessimistic" anarchism or "anarchism without ends"- they emphasize the idea of permanently struggling for freedom within existing society, of carrying on free and unauthoritarian activities here and now and in spite, of authoritarian forces.
At the same time, as an expression of their anti-reformist bent, Sydney Libertarians have been careful to disclaim any suggestion that they themselves set up in business to tell the world what it should be. As one of their publications reads: "There is a permanent conflict between freedom and authority; they exist in opposition to one another. It follows from this (and from the anti-moralist view) that libertarianism has no special claims, that there is nothing in it to say that it must or should be followed. Libertarians oppose authority from a specific standpoint, on the basis of specific interests. Those who see that their interests lie in different directions (those who are interested, for example, in securing their position with the aid of authority) will obviously reject libertarian values." ....