Sunday, April 14, 2019

About Australian Socialism

I wish nothing better to anybody than good health, except a better system in which to enjoy it." - Bill Casey

Australia's general election is in full swing but unfortunately there will be no genuine socialist party involved. Sad to say, there is no socialist party now existing in Australia.

 Elections are about who shall fill the top posts in the state and run affairs in the interest of the established capitalist class. The choice that is offered is not really a choice at all since the main parties involved all stand for the same system. Experience over the years of “Labour" governments shows that in practice they are just as anti-working class as any government formed by openly pro-capitalist parties. This is inevitable since the capitalist system can only function in one way: as a profit-making system in the interest of the profit-taking class. No government could change this economic law of present-day class society. On the contrary, all governments are obliged to abide by it and apply it whatever their original intentions might have been.Politics is a game of ins and outs remote from the lives of ordinary people who, even though they participate in this game by exercising a “choice” when given the opportunity, generally do so without illusions since they know by experience that it makes very little difference to their everyday lives which party—which particular gang of place-hunters—wins.

 Politics is seen, and presented, as a sort of never-ending TV soap in which various media-puffed personalities vie with each other for power and place. No wonder most people don’t want too much to do with “politics". This is how it is today, but it need not always be so. 

To go to the polling booth in Australia is compulsory, but workers do not show much interest in politics. Not that it will make any difference. All Australian political parties are reformist parties. They act in the interest of the capitalist class, and the working class will have to learn this.

When socialist understanding has spread sufficiently among the majority wage earning class elections can be turned against the minority capitalist class. But until this happens the spectacle will go on and the use to which democratic forms are put will remain a farce that is an insult to the intelligence of thinking men and women.

On January 22 1924, a small Socialist Party of Australia was formed  and groups existed in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. These groups were endeavouring, as do socialists everywhere, to gain the ear of their fellow workers. The distances are vast, but nevertheless they keep in touch, distribute socialist literature and use every opportunity to explain the cause of poverty, insecurity and war.

It was the story of a quite remarkable group of people. They included William “Bill” Casey, William “Bill” Clarke, Jacob Johnson, Barney Kelley, Marie Stanley, Stan Willis and, from Sweden, Charles Sundberg. Casey was a seaman and an active member of the Australian Seamen’s Union, as was Barney Kelley. Jacob Johnson was secretary of the Sydney branch of the Seamen’s Union. Bill Clarke, also a seaman, was Federal Secretary of the Australian Seamen’s Union, and editor of its official journal. So much for the lie spread that the Impossibilist socialist tradition did not involve themselves in trade union work. Bill Clarke stood as socialist candidate in 1934 for the seat of Port Melbourne, he urged his huge personal following 'not to vote for me personally but for socialism. I only want votes from people who understand what socialism means and who appreciate its implications. Major political parties offered him plum jobs, but these had no allure for him. He stood solely for a world in which people have risen to a mastery over property, not one in which people are mastered by it. As such, he was the Australia's first socialist candidate: the first to stand solely for a vision of socialism.

The SPof A produce their own journal “Socialist Comment” which explained the solution to the problems of the working class lay in the hands of those who suffered most from it—the working class, and can only be achieved when that class realises its historic mission, when, freed from tho illusions bred by capitalism and fostered by religion, it goes forward to solve for ever the problem of poverty by establishing socialism. Australian comrades often reside so far away from one another that they are unable to meet and are only known to one another by written communication. To maintain an organisation under difficulties such as these is indeed a great task. To publish a monthly journal and other socialist literature is a feat worthy of commendation.

In 1962 the Communist Party of Australia had split into two factions , one taking the name “Socialist Party of Australia”. The Australian Party therefore decided to change its name to “World Socialist Party of Australia”. The situation is further confused by the fact that, with the demise of the Communist Party “Socialist Party of Australia” the name was picked up by a Trotskyist group.

Bill Casey was a Manchester man and went to Australia some years before World War I. Almost immediately on his arrival there he became actively involved in a number of industrial disputes, including the most historical ones recorded in Australian history. Labour Government, job-conscious union officials and big businessmen all attacked him. When, during the First World War, the Labour Prime Minister of Australia tried to enforce conscription, Casey threw himself into the fight and became one of the most enthusiastically active members of the Anti-Conscription Army. That anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia. Casey was not formally a member of the Industrial Workers of the World but at that time he subscribed to many of their ideas. Much of the I.W.W. propaganda of those days took the form of parodying popular songs. Bill Casey was a master of satire and made his opponents squirm under the ridicule of his rhymes whilst his comrades eagerly awaited every lampoon. The I.W.W. songs composed by Casey were sung all round the world.

In 1919 Casey was involved in the seamen’s strike. It was about this time when, having returned to sea, he met up with Jack Temple who had been an active member of the Socialist Party of Canada. Temple weaned Casey from the I.W.W. viewpoint and very soon Casey was expounding the socialist case. In particular he became a caustic critic of the “Communists” after the Bolshevik rise to power in Russia. He was delegated to represent the seamen at an International Trade Union Conference in Moscow. This was beset with difficulties all the way. Forged passports, stowing away, “hopping” across frontiers, guides often in the pay of both sides. The difficulty of getting into Russia in those days was so great that the ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance was hailed as a masterpiece of underground work. Once in Russia Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly, soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey: 

Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy, the people were ENTIRELY LACKING IN A SENSE OF TIME. Industrial discipline was non est. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war Communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet.”

Before they left, Lenin introduced the “New Economic Policy” which, in essence, provided for the very things that Casey opined were needed to stabilise the Russian economy.

Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party and General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union). Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the grounds that it criticised the Bolsheviks and the Russian system. After spending some time in Melbourne, Casey proceeded to Sydney where he again crossed swords with Walsh who, carrying out the policy of the C.P. was endeavouring to get the seamen to affiliate with the A.L.P. (Australian Labour Party) from which body the seamen had seceded because of the anti-working-class role of Labour governments and politicians during the seamen’s strike of 1917 and 1919.

With Jacob Johnson (Assistant Secretary, Sydney Branch of the Seamen’s Union) and a handful of supporters, Casey pursued the fight against affiliation with the Australian Labour Party. This fight continued up to 1925 when an unexpected walk-out of British seamen, who left their ships tied up on the Australian coast, overshadowed the affiliation dispute. Incidental to the British seamen’s strike, both Walsh and Johnson were arrested, brought before a tribunal set up under special legislation, and sentenced to deportation from Australia. Casey worked unceasingly to prevent the deportation. Those who were associated with Casey believe that his activities on behalf of Johnson was the most brilliant of his career. An appeal was made to the High Court of Australia. The most eminent legal men in the country were briefed both by the Crown and the appellants. Casey worked day and night to defeat the machinations of what was openly recognised as “A ship-owners’ government”. He marshalled facts, ferreted information, countered the sabotage of Government henchmen, suggested successful points of law, and finally his subtle optimism triumphed. Dr. Evatt, one of Johnson’s counsel (now Attorney General and ex-president of U.N.O.) unstintingly praised Casey’s remarkable accomplishments. Many barristers have openly acknowledged him to be “the cleverest lay-man they ever met”. The High Court held the Tribunal's decision to deport to be ultra vires; Walsh and Johnson were released from the Naval prison on Garden Island where they had been held while awaiting deportation.

Following the release and the settlement of the British seamen’s strike, the fight around affiliation with the Labour Party again assumed an important place in the Seamen’s Union. Finally Walsh’s move was defeated and he was deposed from his position as G.P. Later, a high officer of the N.S.F.U. visited Australia and reported that Havelock Wilson had sent over £3,000 to help Walsh in the fight against Johnson and Casey. In justice to this official, let it be said that on hearing the facts of the case, he urged that no more money be sent from the English Seamen’s Union for this purpose.

During these periods, Casey consistently carried on socialist propaganda. He debated almost every "leader” in the Communist Party. He represented the S.P. of A. in debates with the Henry George League, the Labour Party, the Communist Party, Currency Experts, and a host of others. He trounced Individualist A. D. Kay who, after losing his seat in Parliament and on the Meat Board, went to England to be given, later, a job by Churchill during the last war. Casey conducted Speakers’ Classes, Economics Classes, open air and indoor meetings for the S.P.A.

For many years he held official positions in the Seamen’s Union. He was Secretary of the Brisbane Branch when he died. For years he found it difficult to get jobs on ships. Victimised, he battled around on scanty food, a few beers and a bit of tobacco. Long spells of unemployment meant more time for Socialist activities. He never went short while his friends had a few bob. His knowledge of philosophy, economics, political and industrial history was amazing and his uncanny ability to interpret industrial awards, surmount legal difficulties with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, the Australian Navigation Act and the various Compensation Acts, redounded to the benefit of his ship-mates. He was known as the Seaman Philosopher.

For many decades a few brave workers have battled along doing what they could to wake up the wage-slaves. One would think that after over a hundred years of Marxism there would be a greater understanding, but it seems that the younger generation do not respond any more than their fathers. Capitalism’s power of recovery and expansion seems to stifle the workers’ capacity to grasp the realities of the situation, so quickly does it pass from one crisis to another—bewildering those who don’t understand and hampering the efforts of the few who do. Nevertheless the position is far from being hopeless. Knowledge of socialist principles will make the workers proof against being misled by capitalist and Labour Party misrepresentation. In the words of Australian comrades " . . .  it is up to you what the future will be: Socialism or Chaos?” 

Praise Boss when morning work-bells chime,
  Praise him for bits of over-time,
  Praise him whose wars we love to fight,
  Praise Him. Fat Leech and Parasite”.


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