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Anarchism and State Violence in Sydney and Melbourne

An argument about Australian labor history.
By Dr Bob James


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Chapter Two - Writing About Anarchism

Library catalogues do not cross-reference anarchism with co-operation and writers about anarchism have, with a few exceptions, continued to use biased definitions - those provided by non-anarchists or the enemies of anarchists.1 Popular authors have found the anarchist stereotype an easy vehicle for jokes and melodrama, while blood and smoke, easily correlated with anarchist colours of red and black, have sold many newspapers and 'penny dreadfuls'.

Historians have been no less likely to adopt ignorant assumptions and stereotypes in place of serious analysis. Only sometimes is their research better informed and their biases more subtle. 'The anarchists have suffered as much as any minority from the historians 'cult of success', was how James Joll described his profession's record in a book2 described by a Times reviewer as 'the best survey of the whole subject to appear' and 'scrupulously fair'.3 There is much more than a mere neglect of 'failures' to this situation, and Joll's own work, selective and inaccurate, can be used as a partial illustration.

Anarchists were easily scapegoated precisely because personally they posed no real threat, but their ideas did and had to be made to appear unworthy of discussion. The 1890s' debate, about how democratic the 'new order' had to be, tangled the symbolic, principally the 'working class' or just 'the workers', with the personal, and subsequently has not been untangled.

A similar kind of tangle sees women's history as simply part of family history or welfare history. The less-powerful may have been told to see themselves as 'the workers' just as women have been told to see themselves as home-makers, or nurses, nannies, etc, but in neither case is the totality of people's lives indicated. It is to accept defeat for protest history to so define people. An acknowledgement of the power ordinary' people have to run their own lives, or to influence 'important' matters4 threatens the hierarchical institutions, State, trade union or professional, which are professional historian's power bases, and they would undermine their own integrity by questioning their allegiance to such power bases. Proletarian history has not altered and can not alter this situation as it does not empower. It cannot even inspire large-scale self-awareness and least of all a democratic culture since it urges discipline and submergence of the individual to the mass, led by others in pursuit of material goods.

There has been a considerable resurgence of academic interest in the northern hemisphere in the last ten to fifteen years in anarchism, but the mistakes of the past have by no means all been rectified. Mintz's study of Casas Viejas is rightly regarded as a breakthrough. It is also, almost in passing, a demolition of Hobsbawm's work on anarchists as 'primitive rebels'.5 It is still possible to find State terror and coercion described in far less emotive terms than that of the anti-authoritarians.6 It is still possible to find caricatures of anarchists rather than informed analysis. It is still possible to find so-called social analyses confusing wealth with power, the most irritating being Marxist historians and anarcho-capitalists. As Chomsky points out it is still the norm to find both Leninist and liberal ideology justifying the selective reporting and distorting of facts in order to denigrate 'mass movements and ... social change that escapes the control of privileged elites.7

For English-language historians of anarchism source materials are still especially sparse, throwing further doubt on studies already made, especially those claiming to cover 'the anarchists' comprehensively. Most of Proudhon's and Bakunin's work is untranslated.8 Maitron's two-volume History of French Anarchism and Nettlau's prodigious collection are also untranslated, while it is only recently that English language biographies of central figures Voltairine de Cleyre (USA),9 Elisee Reclus (Europe),10 and Louise Michel (France)11 have become available. The first study of female anarchists has only just appeared 102 and, overall, it is not surprising that women writers are among the most important of those working to rectify the image.13 The present study is the first extended attempt to describe the anarchist presence in Australia for any period, while the first general coverage of British anarchists was only published in 1978.14 No references were made in Joll's study and others like it to Australia, or to Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Japan, China, Korea and Holland, which are just a few other examples of parts of the world without primary histories in English of their contemporaneous movements. The 'first-wave' of English-language accounts contain virtually no discussion of the different strands of anarchism - for example, mutualist, Stirnerite, communist, spontaneist, syndicalist, feminist. No general accounts that I am aware of place anarchist thought fairly in the development of political science, history or sociology. Influential studies of socialist theory written just after the Haymarket event, such as Bellamy's Looking Backward or Grunlund's Co-operative Comrnonwealth have not been adequately assessed for their libertarian content. In the case of the last subject area I simply refer to the preoccupation of noted sociological pioneers such as Weber, Parsons, Tawney and Durkheirn with the dilemma of the individual's place in and grasp on morality in an increasingly bureaucratised world,15 a dilemma that is the very heart and soul of anarchist thought. Thus, the stigmatising and denigration of anarchism has meant whole areas of important research have been neglected and the lack of English language material available in these areas has further weakened the research that has been done.

In turning to relevant, serious Australian writing I find near complete acceptance of the anti-anarchist mythology, one reflection of which is the almost total lack of mention of the philosophy. This omission is an indictment in itself since it means that one whole way of looking at social possibilities, past, present or future, and there are probably only two, the hierarchical and the non-hierarchical,16 has been ignored. The omission of the non-hierarchical alternative is most obvious in the so-called labor histories where it might have been expected, where one might also have expected a sustained analysis of violence.

It's not as though evidence is hard to find: William Lane, key articulator of labor aspirations and known throughout Australia, if not the English-speaking world, in his long-awaited 1891 book, forcefully extolled anarchical-communism and made it synonymous with 'mateship':

The Anarchist ideal is the highest and noblest of all human ideals, (and) Anarchical-Communism, that is, men working together as mates and sharing with one another of their own free-will is the highest conceivable form of socialism in industry. 17

Early in 1893 he wrote:

WW Head, the Wagga ASU Secretary, Jim Mooney, ASU Sydney agent during the Queensland strike, Harry S.Taylor, best known of South Australian single-taxers, Peter McNaught the Knights of Labor Master Workman, and other are all ready to give their lives and energies to that voluntary communism which is the highest individualism.18

This identification of communism with individualism is consistent with the views of J.A.Andrews, best-known anarchist at this time. Head, one of Lane's New Australia deputies later, had doubtless been helped in beginning and maintaining the Hummer labor newspaper by Arthur Rae and Larry Petrie, two other well-known 1890's figures whose libertarian connections can be easily shown, and to make 'Co-operation - Voluntary, Municipal and National' the second plank of the Hummer's platform.19 The sixth plank was 'Free Land for a Free People', and while the group in Wagga (NSW) who began the Hummer, later the Sydney Worker, were sometimes abused as an unrepresentative clique,20 they certainly reflected the enormous interest in worker co-operatives and directly democratic rural communities apparent throughout Australia from 1891. J.Medway Day's Single Tax notions led directly to his having, a libertarian tendency as editor in 1894. Influential theoretical works by Nordau, Kropotkin, Morrison-Davidson, Bakunin, and other explicitly anarchist authors, were quoted and serialised offsetting to some degree the heavy broadsides from anti- anarchist sources.21

Despite all this and more, Australian political historians give the impression of being politically illiterate and historically blind.

There is only one reference to Australian anarchists in Class Structure in Australian History. The Melbourne Anarchist Club (MAC) is referred to only fleetingly in Gollan's Radical and Working Class Politics,22 which would more accurately be named 'Reformist and Trade Union Politics'. The material on anarchism in his Master's Degree thesis23 is mainly wrong. Graeme Davison's Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne24 has only four references to anarchists, all slighting or negative, and only about half the material is accurate. His statement: 'the mounting hysteria and violence of anarchist rhetoric in the latter half of 1892' encapsulates the same circularity displayed in full- length studies, like Joll's, already referred to. Davison simply assumes that 'anarchism' means mindless law-breaking, thus anyone who suggests the unemployed rob from the rich or arm themselves must be an anarchist. Not knowing of US Cardinal Manning's statement25 about stealing being alright for starving people, whether that made them or him anarchists or not, Davison in the context of the 1892 unemployed struggling to survive wrote: 'yet robbery and violence were the resort of no more than a handful of desperadoes'.26 The fact that this conclusion is based on the number of people actually taken into custody for larceny at a time when Melbourne police were under strong attack for corruption and inefficiency, or that it also contradicts police statements reported a few lines earlier that there had been 'an alarming increase in the number of burglaries', is indicative.

More alarming is the morality of using words like 'violence' only to describe persons attempting to defend themselves from socially-induced murder-by-starvation. Davison's circularity, as in the other cases, allows him to justify his not looking behind the labels. One minor result is his simply erroneous claim that all anarchists are 'leftists'.27

A ludicrous level of misunderstanding is achieved by Pascoe in describing Manning Clark's history as 'anarchist rather than anything else' because 'although it conveys a sense of pessimism about the Australian past it does not contain any clear programmatic principles of either a liberal or a radical nature.28 For his part, Clark's rendition of the period under review here displays no awareness of any positive aspects of anarchism.29 Amateur historian, Sam Merrifield, has argued that the Melbourne Anarchist Club 1886-1889 filled the political gap between the National Liberal League of 1886 and the Social Democratic League of 1889. He noted:

The influence of the club is briefly touched upon by Dr R.A. Gollan but a further examination of the member's endeavours appears to be worthwhile .. .. These endeavours appear ... to have contributed to the development of working class history in Victoria.30

Smith, another partial exception to the neglect, has acknowledged labor's debt to secularism:

... it is clear that through such men as Bernard O'Dowd, W.A. Trenwith, Larry Petrie, the Andrades, S.A. Rosa, Frank Anstey, W.W. Collins, Joseph Symes, W.H. McNamara and the Australia-wide circulation claimed for the Liberaitor in its hey-day in the mid-eighties, the secularist movement made a contribution to Australian radical ideas and tensions that henceforth cannot be disregarded ...31

It is important to at once do what Smith does not: that is, notice the close correlation, for the late 1880s at least, of secularism and anarchism which this statement underlines. Of the ten men mentioned in the above quotation, two were founder members of the MAC, seven attended at least once, six described themselves publicly as anarchists, and one other, Symes, was described by David Andrade as the most effective anarchist in Australia. Bernard O'Dowd disclosed his long standing adherence to anarchist-communism not lone before he died.32

On the other hand, attendance at MAC meetings did not mean someone was an anarchist, while Symes, Trenwith and Rosa proved themselves at certain crucial times to be among anarchism's most bitter opponents. Noticeably, Symes and Rosa did not attend a Club meeting, before 1889 at least, when the records peter out. Of all those named by Smith only the association with anarchism of David Andrade, Petrie and O'Dowd can be shown to have been a lasting one.

The second point to be noted about Smith's list is that they are all men, and the third is that his view of secularism is Melbourne-based. He thus does not refer to Winspear, his newspaper, 1887-1890, or to the numerous other non-Melbourne socialists who passed through the secular movement. For Melbourne itself, Smith's list leaves out such important anarchist names as 'Chummy' Fleming, Jack Andrews and Peter McNaught.

Viewed the other way, the importance of the anarchists to the ASA, the Australasian Secular Association, is perfectly clear - the Liberator, the ASA newsletter, for May 2, 1886, for example, lists the ASA lecturers for the rest of the year. Out of nine names, five belong to the anarchist group, and not by the way, to the group labelled as anarchist by Symes simply because they opposed him.33

Smith's work on Melbourne anarchists as part of larger researches into free thought in late-nineteenth century Victoria, uses words like 'phantasy', 'dream-like' and 'obsession' to describe anarchic ideas without attempting justification. These are variants on the 'impractical' or 'utopian' charge. Smith's knowledge of anarchism is very limited, thus his conclusions are hardly useful, and his preconceptions feed into other aspects of his work.

The same myopia then, prevails in Australian as in other historiographies, namely: theories of self-management, descriptions of rank-and-file struggles and attempted solutions, and studies of institutional or status quo repression, have all been neglected.34

Australian historians have only very recently and very tentatively moved to rectify their neglect of violence.35 The Australian State as a concept or as a functioning unit has also received little critical attention36 while discussions of the police and military have begun to appear only recently . At the other end of the power spectrum, but also not surprisingly, 'populism' has been trivialised or treated as quite separate to 'real' politics.37 Jack Andrews's view of conspiratorial tycoons weilding personal influence on major 1890's events, as in 'Spiders' (see text) seem to have been shared at least by Chauncy M. Depew, tycoon, and William Windom, former Secretary of the US Treasury.38 Some historians, such as Turner, have claimed to be writing people's history:

Labour-history is a history of a new kind: it introduces the concept of masses rather than elites as the moving forces in the historical process.39

In practice such aspirations as this have been gutted of clarity and analytic potential, beyond a certain point, by attempts to use them alongside assumptions which come from an economic frame, producing the tangle of the symbolic and personal spoken of earlier. Despite his reconsidered remarks in the 1979 edition, Turner did not escape from an economic-determinist frame which he appears to be doing in the above quote. The reason is to be found in his own words. He went on after the above:

Labour history is concerned with modern industrial society - with the creation of a class of wage-labourers.40

Labour historians were and are trapped by their own label which itself expresses their residual authoritarianisms, in particular their adherence to patriarchal values since most are male. The need is not to counterpose 'the mass' to 'the elite' but, as Rowbotham sets out,41 to personalise and then to generalise from real people, all people. The determining characteristic of groupings and conflicts, large or small, is power imbalances, of which wealth imbalance is only one kind, and talk of cultural hegemony implies this, yet constantly historians try to make class analysis serve as a means of describing both power and wealth imbalances, or speak of them as though they are interchangeable.42 It seems necessary to explain why economics is safer than an analysis based on power, especially that manifest in physical force. The reasons seem to be that to analyse these things brings one into contact with the personal, with psychological frailties and belief systems. An economic emphasis is the historian's computerised bomb-aimer - it can be utilised at a distance, without seeing or feeling the target. Such analysis does not easily see through its own theology or its forerunners. Thus the radical- nationalist historian's love affair with (male) rebellious boasters which was merely romanticised class (ie. economic analysis). The attempts of McQueen and Connell and Irving to describe and analyse class structure in Australian history come closest to writing the leftist history (Old or New, Feminist or Labor) which Fitzpatrick, Gollan, Turner, etc only prefigured. At the same time, the attempt that gets closest, among male historians, that by Connell and Irving, fails to achieve the goals they set themselves to the degree to which they fail to write anarchist, that is, holistic history. This would be nothing more nor less than a result of the intention they set out in the opening paragraph43 of Class Structure in Australian History (CSIAH), which begins with the unresolved contradiction of: 'the subject of class analysis is social power'.

They speak of social power, not economic power, yet they continuously limit themselves:

The labor market is always the focus of that (class) struggle.44
The resistance to class formation is never entirely successful; there is always tension in and around the labor market.45

They recognise the need to extend the conceptual boundaries of class, of socialism, of labour history, but are unable to break free of the past to follow the logic of their revisions of what has gone before. The terms 'class formation', 'class structure', 'class boundaries' are too static to express the dynamic of a power analysis. The concepts 'industrial revolution', 'working class', 'labor movement', 'modes of production' are obstructive carry-overs from economic determinism. The word 'worker' does not define a whole person, any more than say 'housewife' does or 'terrorist'.

There are socialists who are not less opposed to the emancipation of women than the capitalist to socialism... He does not recognise the dependence of women on men because the question touches his own dear self more or less nearly.

Two male academics had this 1883 formulation quoted at them in 1974 on the occasion of their suggestion that women's liberation was an OECD-plot because it encouraged women to 'turn to "non-class" issues.'46

The only reason for a notion of the working class 'making' itself is to provide a recognizable point to begin the revolution. Change the concept of revolution from economic relations to personal self-hood terms and every other related concept changes. There have always been power relations between people. There always will be. Struggles have occurred in and around 'the processes of accumulation and reproduction' in many periods other than that designated 'the capitalist period' and the contradictions involved or exposed in such struggles remain important analytic tools. But capitalist social relations are only some of the possible social relations; capital accumulation and reproduction is only one kind of power accumulation and reproduction.

Women writing history have similar division in their ranks as men: some want to base everything on economics, while some want to talk more about power, but are disagreeing as to whether power is capable of being abolished, or of being equalised. Either way there is, as yet, no sustained analysis of 'power.'

Power analysis of the sort that I am suggesting is fundamental to social change history will not be, as Connell and Irving suggest, 'a stratifying variable' leading us 'back into eternal cycles of bourgeois elite theory'. Nor will it be necessary to provide every one in society with a power score. A power analysis will take up the flexibility inherent in descriptions of class which argue that it, class, is only obvious and definable in a relationship. In any given struggle, involving at least two people, as in any non-struggle, there is always a power-relation, and probably, though not always, a power imbalance: one person or group will be more powerful than another. There will, of course, be situations of real power, false power, potential power, under-utilised power and so on, as well as kinds (sources) of power.

There is no need for an 'impersonal concept of power'47 - there is the concept of 'power' itself which can be divided and used abstractly, for social structure description or for individuals. The overriding point is that in repudiating economic determinism,48 Connell and Irving have broken also with the traditional interpretation of what a revolution would consist of and what struggle would be for. Since the goal is power, not 'power over' as in mainstream politics, but the attainment of what Connell and Irving, call self-determination,49 it is not necessary for a person to become aware of the class of which he/she is a member, or for a class to form itself or realise itself.

The consciousness is personal, dare I say it, individual, and the struggle, the revolution, is on with one. Individualism need not be bourgeois, as per Marx, in fact the formulation attempted here repudiates that and implies the drawing together of like-minded individuals as in Andrews's formulation 'What is Cornmunism?'50 in which he argues that communism is the only true individualism. The revolution needs only for the less-powerful person or group to feel that the point of social change is: firstly, to become 'individually' (this could refer to one group) self-managing, and secondly, to live in a way that does not prevent, nor remain neutral to, but actively encourages all other people to become self-managing, or actively fights against those people, forces or institutions which prevent any person or persons from becoming self- managing.

Voline's account of the Russian Revolution was summarised in the following way by Professor Paul Avrich:

He views it as a great popular movement, an explosion of mass creativity, as well as of mass discontent, elemental, unpremeditated, and unpolitical; in short the revolution 'from below' which Bakunin had predicted half a century before.... In rich detail he documents the efforts of workers, peasants and intellectuals to inaugurate a free society based on local initiative and autonomy.51

It is the history of the Australian counterpart of this kind of effort, successful or not, and taking into account recent insights such as feminist analysis, which I believe Connell and Irving to be groping for.

I am not aware of any analysis, explicitly anarchist or not which provides a complete power analysis of a past event or series of events. The present study is an attempt only to suggest directions such needs to take.

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