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Anarchism, even when seriously considered, can mean different things to different people. According to their understanding of the term the existence of anarchists in 1970 - Australia will seem to be a manifestation of external human nature, a romantic reaction to our "respectable or bourgeois" society, an anachronism or just a sheer absurdity. Thus before giving the history of the movement in modern Australia it may be valuable to briefly describe several ways of looking at anarchism.

Some historians of anarchism see it as an idea present or potentially present in all civilised societies. This idea, philosophic anarchism, is that men are fundamentally equal (and probably fundamentally good) and that the government of one man by another, is degrading for both.

Parallel to this, some anarchists see anarchism as a movement of social protest animated by the ideal of "philosophic" anarchism instanced throughout recorded history.

Conversely, historians of political thought have seen anarchism as a body of theory developed during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century by a small number of social theorists which has influenced various political, social and artistic movements.

Most anarchists would have taken the parallel position to this; viz. that anarchism is the revolutionary movement which developed out of the Bakuninist wing of the First International (IWMA) under the influence of the ideas of Bakunin himself and later Kropotkin.

Today, however, there is a revolutionary syndicalist interpretation of anarchism which will probably become a dominant view within the far left once the current "Third World" fad runs out. This tendency relates itself to the revolutionary proletarian movement of the last century, i.e. from the Paris commune of 1870 through the Russian revolutions of 1905, and 1917-20, the Spanish revolution of 1936-7 and the French revolution of 1968. For this view anarchism, or at least the valid part of anarchism, is anarcho-syndicalist, whether so-called or called revolutionary marxism.

As will be clear from the following discussion, Australian Anarchism is best considered as a union of philosophical anarchism and revolutionary syndicalism of the type above. Although the classical anarchist theorists are still read, and read by an increasing number of people, they are only one current of thought contributing to modern anarchism; despite the formal representation of Australia at the 1968 international conference at Carrarra, Australian anarchism is not linked closely to the historical anarchist movement.

There have been anarchist groups and individuals in Australia since the late nineteenth century. By and large, these had disappeared by the Depression. After the second world war immigrant anarchists formed their own foreign language groups and there were also English-speaking groups around during the 40's and 50's. Today's anarchist movement developed chiefly from the Sydney Anarchist Group.

In Sydney during the 50's there was a certain community between the non-C.P.A. left (anarchists, trotskyists, etc.) and the Sydney libertarians - a rather dated group of free thinkers ultimately deriving from, and reacting against, the philosophy of Prof. Anderson of Sydney University. This community of the left and ultra-liberal was sufficiently large to form a barrier against the relatively hostile environment.

Although the S.A.G., which was chiefly composed of migrants, never managed to take root in the community at large it never completely disintegrated either. At various times in the 50's and 60's it apparently collapsed and was then revived; during periods of collapse anarchism continued as individuals at libertarian meetings.

The S.A.G. attempted several publishing ventures: the Anarchist Review (duplicated, 3 issues), Red and Black (printed, 3 issues) and The Anarchist (duplicated, 4[?] issues). At the same time the Libertarians produced Broadsheet (monthly), and The Sydney Line (compilation of Broadsheet articles) and Libertarian (occasionally). There was considerable cross- fertilisation between the two groups - the chief contribution of the Libertarians being their trenchant criticisms of classical anarchism. Although Sydney anarchism never developed a distinctive position - unless libertarianism is anarchism - it is probably moving, along with various trotskyist groups towards the sort of position exemplified by Cohn-Bendit with various alterations according to individual political backgrounds. The classical anarchist immigrant groups have ceased to be significant.

In the mid 60's an anarchist group developed in Brisbane. This group was responsible for the first radical anti-conscription and anti-war demonstrations in Brisbane. Later, its university wing helped in founding the Campaign Against Conscription and S.D.A. Its members established contact with Red and Black and later its dispersed members joined groups in Sydney and Melbourne. Also in 1966 a short-lived libertarian group started at Monash and the group T.R.E.A.S.O.N., in direct contact with Sydney and Brisbane, started at Melbourne.

T.R.E.A.S.O.N. (The Revolutionary Emancipists Against State Oppression and Nationalism) which overlapped with the Melbourne University A.B.S.C.H.O.L. and anti-war groups, later developed into the Melbourne Anarchist Group. It defined itself as "open to anarchists, pacifists, and libertarians" and published a list of heroes ranging from Jesus Christ to Emiliano Zapata. Although it did not promulgate any line, T.R.E.A.S.O.N. held implicitly to the following theses:

  1. Anarchists should be active in all other social and political action groups.

  2. The classical theorists were anarchists, but anarchism is not the classical theory.

  3. Anarchism is not utopian - there is no final state of society-but contrary to Sydney libertarianism, anarchist revolution is possible and desirable. Various different organisations of anarchist society are possible but the fundamental guarantee of free society is the willingness of individuals to continue to assert their freedom. Thus permanent anarchist revolution may be necessary. This position is related to that of Virgilia D'Andrea in her article "The vanquished who do not die". The article is reprinted every year.

  4. Knowledge of classical anarchist theory is useful; knowledge of anarchist-and socialist- history is essential.

  5. Revolution is not just conquest of political power but is the change of social institutions and the change of mental horizons which accompanies the revolutionary change. As Gustav Landauer said: "The state is a form of relations between individuals - we do away with it by learning to live without it."

  6. Humour, of a surrealistic, bohemian or romantic strain, is the most valuable weapon in the struggle to re-educate the university.

  7. The anarchist revolution is basically "Syndicalist" i.e. it must be carried out by the seizure and restructuring of social organisations from within. (e.g. the I.W.W.: by organising industrially we are building the new society within the shell of the old). However this day is far off; it depends on the development of a broad revolutionary movement of a syndicalist and democratic tendency.

  8. In the existing situation all that is possible is subversion of official society; the establishment of parallel and counter-institutions both inside and outside the official ones.

  9. It is never worthwhile answering silly questions (or examining pseudo-problems).

In all this T.R.E.A.S.O.N. was close to the overseas developments of Situationism (France), Provoism (Holland) and neo-Wobblyism (U.S.A. and U.K.). It is interesting to note that these developments were independent and were all products of the sixties.

In 1969 Sydney Libertarianism started to take an anarchist turn and both it and anarchism (dormant since 1968 and the Dwyer LSD takeover) started to revive. Also, after the 1968 events in France and Czechoslovakia, the non-anarchist left began a movement towards marxist syndicalism. While new anarchist groups appeared in Brisbane and Adelaide, various trotskyist and SDS/SDA type groups started talking of worker control. In Melbourne anarchism spread beyond the University and links to rank and file unionists began to develop.

In 1970 a successful conference was held in Sydney, and in Melbourne the movement became a communicating network of four groups: Melbourne and La Trobe university Groups, Solidarity magazine and a purely worker group. Independent demonstration' were organised. At May Day demonstrations, migrant groups joined the new youth groups.

The general programme of Australian anarchism seems to be:

  1. Join in the general anti-war and anti-conscription movement. Preparatory to its eventual collapse, to take the initiative in forming coalitions about such issues as pollution, "slum- reclamation", aboriginal rights and other issues. (The Melbourne anarchists were one of the first groups to join the Vere Street, Richmond, residents in their fight with the Housing Commission. They have commenced a general investigation of the commission and inner suburban re-development.)

  2. Engage in "dialogue" with the traditional left around such concepts as "worker control", "self- activity" and "proletarian dictatorship."

  3. Within the universities work to form an alliance of traditional academics, radical liberals, and the left against the technological-managerial conception of the university, the extension of direct government control of higher education, and the trivialisation of intellectual disciplines.

  4. Work from below, through high school groups, and from above through teachers' colleges, to create freedom and intellectual opportunities in secondary schools.

  5. Wherever one is, "situate" oneself against repression and ignorance. Develop, by exemplification, anti-authoritarian attitudes and social relations amongst your fellow students or workers.

In order to implement this programme, it is necessary to reject all forms of sectarianism: both by emphasising theoretical divisions within anarchism and with other libertarian currents. (Sectarianism is simply the terminal stage of ideological brain disease.) Anarchist purism, like Marxist purism, is a rationalisation of impotence. There is no need for a one-to-one correspondence between theoretical currents and political action groups.

The business of anarchists is revolution, not theology. If more of the Australian left adopted this attitude we would be much further on.


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Last modified: February 2, 1998

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