While rummaging among some papers the other day in search of Chicago Freedom, I happened to get hold of a copy of the Commonweal dated February 1891 which was left here by W.H.McNamura formerly secretary of the Australian Socialist League, he having been on a visit up here. As I used to be in the habit of reading the 'Weal when a member of the A.S.L. which I have lately left, as it ceased to be a Socialist Organisation, I could not help but be struck with the difference of positions now taken up by the respective parties, for whilst you have been going on in the march of progress, the A.S.L. which as comrade J.A.Andrews says, should now be styled the "Alleged Socialist League" instead of Australian Socialist League, the initials being much more appropriate for the former than the latter denomination, has made a decidedly retrogressive move.
To bring the circumstances more plainly before you I will go back for some little time and relate to you the movements of that league as they have come under my notice, having been a member of it for the last two years or so.
The league not making much progress in regard to getting new members to join, some of the members having no doubt in their minds the apparent advance of the Socialist Party in Germany at the elections suggested the advisability of adopting a political platform. This in my opinion was the first blow given to the stability of that organisation.
The step thus taken together with the defeat of the unions as the disastrous result of the great strike, upon which occasion the Socialist league issued a special manifesto, which no doubt you have seen, made the League better known to the public which would have been very well had it not been for the political platform previously adopted and which tended to bring in a number of political mountebanks who saw a chance of making use of the League as a political machine for their own purposes. The most windy customers were selected to form a so-called executive committee consisting for the most part of trades unionists who could not raise themselves above the ordinary routine of mere trades unionism, with the result that the League was made a mere appendix to the Trades and Labour Council. The practice of appointing deputations to go cap in hand to members of the government; also to ask for concessions from the Trades and Labour Council was adopted an occasional snub being administered to said deputations.
The Queensland shearing trouble then eventuated, which struggle was watched by me with some interest, and as the Queensland government in my opinion exhibited gross partiality in favour of the squatters and others against the toilers on strike, I with some others, then styled ourselves the Communist Anarchist Group of Central Cumberland, forwarded the following resolution to the Colonial secretary of Queensland:
To the Colonial Secretary.
Sir,-I herewith enclose a copy of a motion passed unanimously at a meeting of the Communist Anarchist Group of Central Cumberland, New South Wales.
"That this meeting condemns the actions of the Queensland "government (i.e. the cabinet) by converting the aforesaid "cabinet into a committee of the Employers Union for the sole "purpose of disorganising the workers and making them slaves "upon their fetish of Freedom of Contract, by despotic and "unjust lawful methods and wishes to point out that the time "is not far distant when the workers especially of Queensland will prefer death to injustice."
To the Colonial Secretary, Queensland Government, Brisbane, Queensland.
Joseph Schellenberg, Sec.Communist Anarchist Group of Central Cumberland, Smithfield, N.S.W.
This was done with the hope of raising the moral tone of the "Alleged Socialist League." The tenor of the resolution being altogether out of harmony with the style of address usually adopted by the former organisation. Since then I have come into communication with J.A.Andrews, Communist Anarchist, formerly of Melbourne who has now joined me in the work of propaganda and working hard for the cause,, and we are hopeful of being able to bring out an Anarchist paper by the 11th November.
The A.S.L. about the end of April commenced an unemployed agitation, comrade Healy being appointed to conduct the campaign, after said agitation had been carried on for about 3 weeks Parkes, the head of the government here was said to have expressed his determination to put a stop to the unemployed movement by adopting drastic measures such as arresting the leaders etc. Articles to this effect appeared in the daily press on the Saturday previous to a meeting called for the Sunday night following, and at which meeting the effigies of Parkes and different other trash was to be burned.
Comrade Andrews and myself happened to go to Sydney that morning and so came to hear of it (Smithfield being about 20 miles from the metropolis). We came to the conclusion to stop and see the fun, as it was expected that there would be some trouble as the authorities were expected to interfere. When however the time of meeting arrived it was evident that the members of the Socialist League who before were so loud in their advocacy of physical force began to funk over the matter as M. Healy did not turn up, no more did a committee which had been appointed to make arrangements (including one person named S.A.Rosa who came over from Melbourne about December last year having been secretary of a Socialist organisation there). These gentlemen calling themselves Socialist were with some difficulties got away to the scene of action, after having for over an hour discussed the advisability or otherwise of taking the red flag and deciding it prudent not to do so. The flag was after they had gone, quietly taken down by a Communist Anarchist.
When I arrived a few minutes after 8 o'clock the time announced for the meeting to take place, I found that there was no one present of the conveners of the meeting courageous enough to start proceedings, and the whole thing threatened to end in a fiasco. There being about 5000 persons assembled. Comrade Andrews and myself decided to set the ball rolling; unfurling the red banner, therefore, I called for three cheers for the red flag which was responded to by a great majority of those present. As no one else seemed inclined comrade Andrews mounted the stump and addressed the crowd from an Anarchist standpoint, at the conclusion of his speech calling for three cheers for the Social Revolution, which were given with a surprising energy considering it was the first time any meeting in Sydney had ever been addressed by an Anarchist. The "Alleged Socialists" present, seeing that things went along smoothly, now came forward, evidently being afraid of losing their hold upon the people, the latter seemed to appreciate the Anarchist sentiments.
S.A.Rosa and J.D.Fitzgerald the one time delegate to England deeming it expedient to disavow any connection with the Anarchists, and the latter after declining just before to fill the breach, going so far as to deny the right of Anarchists to speak upon any Socialist platform, and even went so far as to tell people that they must respect Law and Order. At this I thought it high time to lower the red flag while he was speaking, which until then I had held aloft; even a majority of those present expressed disapproval with his remarks. Two or three speakers a little more advanced having spoken J.A.Andrews was asked to give the English version translated by himself of the Marseillaise. The crowd joining in the chorus with great enthusiasm. At the conclusion a majority of those present marched in procession through the principal streets led by the red banner and singing the Marseillaise and other revolutionary songs.
I give all these particulars as I think they give a clue to the subsequent action of Fitzgerald, Rosa and Co. namely :
Three resolutions have lately been put through by the Law and Order party of the A.S.L.
The first being: that the Socialist League discontinue the unemployed agitation.
The second being to the effect that all avowed Anarchists be excluded from the Socialist League: that no person be allowed to use revolutionary language on a Socialist platform.
And the third was that no person having a criminal record (no matter how obtained) be allowed to speak from the public platform of the S.L.
I think this is sufficient to give you an idea of the work at present being done by the "Alleged Socialist League."
in Commonweal (U.K.) December 12,1891.