Two days before Polling day in the Victorian State Elections of 1902, an Englishman who was to leave a greater impact than any other Englishman, came to Melbourne. He went from the boat and addressed twelve meetings before the Poll, in support of the Victorian Labor Party. The labour movement was won by his personality, ability as an orator and the downrightness of the principles he enunciated. His name was Tom Mann and he stayed in Australia from September 1902 until December 1909 and those seven years left so big an impression that in 1936 (27 years after his departure) on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, large celebrations were held in Melbourne to coincide with other celebrations throughout the world.
He was born in 1856 in Foleshill near Coventry in Warwickshire and was aged 46 when he reached Melbourne. He had already won a big reputation which was to be even bettered after his visit to Australia.
His formal education lasted only three years and at the age of nine he started work on a colliery farm and thence in a mine itself, clearing the ventilator shafts and the coal face waste. He became a toolmakers' apprentice and worked a 60-hour week, and often two hours overtime per day without pay. Small wonder he took a leading part in the agitation for an eight-hour day. However, in his early years he was mainly influenced by religion and temperance. He became interested in ideas of militant trade unionism and socialism, which crystallised by 1885 when he joined the Battersea branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). He urged the SDF to adopt the eight-hour campaign as a means of making contact with trade unions and to combat the growing unemployment. Henry Hyde Champion, a middle class socialist and owner of a printing works encouraged him and printed his first pamphlet in 1886, "What a Compulsory Eight Hour Day Means to the Workers".
Mann was prominent in many strikes and with Champion, Tillett, Burns and Thorne, led the Dock Strike in 1889 for the docker's tanner (6d. per day). He was president of the newly formed Dockers' Union of which Ben Tillett was secretary. One reason Mann came to Melbourne rather than other cities in Australia was that H. H. Champion came to live in Melbourne permanently a few years after the dock strike, and he kept up a close correspondence with Tom Mann and urged him to come here. The other influencing factor was that when the dock strike was almost starved out, Australia came to the rescue with a gift of over £30,000 of which £20,000 came from Victoria. The spirit of Melbourne epitomised in this gesture must have had some influence on a number of visiting Labour Party celebrities, viz. Ben Tillett in 1897/8 and again in 1907/8; Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1898; and more briefly George Lansbury, Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald.
Australia's total of £30,400 to the dockers compares to the total collection from all sources in the world, of £48,700.
At the end of the Dock Strike John Burns eulogised Australia and said he was ashamed of the American public. He said he would be happy to visit Australia, for the sake of his health and to thank the Australians personally. The victory demonstration marching to Hyde Park was headed by the Australian flag in recognition of the generous and practical sympathy shown with the men, in the dispute. There were four funds in Victoria, the Trades Hall Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the Salvation Army and the Age.
Businessmen, church leaders, politicians and workers all combined. As one capitalist A. D. Hodgson wrote in a letter attached to his £50 cheque, . . . "Why should not our capitalists and employers join with the workmen in such a cause of common humanity? Here is a golden opportunity for our own capitalists and employers of labour in Victoria to show an example to their English brethren." Laidler pondered over the lists of donors and felt that the catholicism of the Victorians had some specific lesson for united front and popular front work in the Victorian labour movement.
An even more important strike in which Mann engaged was the Liverpool Transport Workers' Strike in 1911, after his return from Australia. Tom was the Chairman of the Strike Committee. The strike lasted 72 days. There was great police brutality and two gunboats were anchored in midstream in the Mersey off Birkenhead with their guns trained on Liverpool. 7000 troops and 80,000 specials were organised against the strikers.
Tom Mann later in life
Nonetheless the strikers won. Tom was called the dictator of Liverpool during the strike, because of the concentrated organisation of the strike committee. As a result of his work he was gaoled for six months in 1912 on an "incitement to mutiny" charge, for reading out on the platform a "Don't Shoot" leaflet calling on the soldiers not to shoot their brothers. He was gaoled many times and served three months at the age of 77 for unemployed agitation during the Great Hunger March of 1932 and, in 1934 was tried at the age of 79 with Harry Pollitt for sedition. During 1932-4 he was deported from both Canada and Ireland.
He visited and was active in Sweden, America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, China, Ireland, Canada and the U.S.S.R. (where he was the most popular of English men, particularly with the young people). A truly remarkable man! Only a book or rather several volumes could tell of his life. His effect on Australia is the main concern here.
• • •
Graeme Osborne of the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, is presently writing a complete book on the life of Tom Mann.
Tom Mann in Auckland
Accompanied by his wife, Elsie, and their two children, Tom spent seven years in Australia, mainly in Melbourne. Immediately prior he had been about eight months in New Zealand, which country was being described in England as something of a utopia, a "land without strikes", etc., with the aim of enticing immigrants. He toured New Zealand, doing propaganda work and organising for the Socialist Party, which was formed in 1901, and he studied the industrial legislation of the country. He was soon sending back to the English press exposures of the legislation and especially the workings of the conciliation and arbitration acts.
On his arrival in Melbourne and activity in elections mentioned above, the impression he made was so great that he was invited, by the Political Labor Council to accept the position of paid organiser of the Labor Party. He accepted, and kept the position until 18th January 1905 when he resigned. During this period he travelled and held meetings in every country town of any size. Many branches of the A.L.P. today existing, were founded by Tom Mann. He faced hostile audiences where no labor speaker had ever been before and where not even a chairman was obtainable. He would then arrive in the town, put up posters advertising the meeting, ring a bell around the town just prior to the meeting, take the chair, speak, sell literature and win over the audience finishing with an ovation. Usually he gained sufficient members to form a branch of the Labor Party.
He resigned because he felt that the Labor Party was a dead end as far as socialism was concerned.
After his resignation he spent some time touring Queensland for several months. Returning to Melbourne he began Sunday night lectures in the Bijou Theatre and from this grew the Social Questions Committee. Early in August 1905, Tom Mann, G. A. Carter and Dr. Tom McDonald met at the home of J. P. Jones and formed the Social Questions Committee.
The office bearers of the Committee were J. P. Jones, Tom Mann, H. H. Champion, G. A. Carter and C. Gray. Its purpose was to persistently advocate socialism and collect information on the social conditions of the people. "Australia for Socialism and Socialism for Australia" was its aspiration.
It investigated conditions of the unemployed, making a house to house survey, which it claimed was the first ever carried out; held public meetings in the Gaiety and Bijou Theatres as well as open-air propaganda meetings. It established a choir, speakers' class, and orchestra. Committee meetings were held at Furlong's Studio, Royal Arcade.
By April 1906 the SQC had evolved into the Socialist Party of Victoria, subsequently changed to the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP). Tom Mann became its paid official and on the founding of a paper The Socialist on the 2nd April 1906, became its editor. Frank Hyett was the first secretary of the VSP. The organisation of the VSP became such in size and ramifications as had never before been seen in the Australian Labour Movement.
The 1906 May Day demonstration in Melbourne, being addressed by Tom Mann.
In twelve months the VSP had a membership of 2000. It published The Socialist, conducted approximately sixteen outdoor meetings per week and had forty to fifty men and women on the speakers' roster. The weekly speakers' class was attended by fifty. It held a meeting on the Yarra Bank every Sunday afternoon, a high tea in its hall Sunday evening and a meeting in its hall at night with attendance 600 to 800 and eventually held its Sunday night meetings in the Bijou Theatre where 1000 attended. It had a brass band, orchestra, choir, dramatic club, gym, teenage groups, a Sunday School; and a variety of classes were held. The anniversary celebrations were held in the Melbourne Town Hall and huge picnics were held at Greensborough, Mordialloc, Heidelberg and similar places. This was a time when the Labor Party was on the ascendancy and a great number of people with ability came forward and were either members of the VSP or were closely associated. Membership of the Labor Party was no barrier to membership of the VSP and vice versa.
Some were honest, others had already decided on the path of personal opportunism and from Tom Mann's knowledge and experience they saw a means of perfecting their skill at furthering their own careers at the expense of the working class. Many of his pupils were soon to grace and disgrace seats in the House of Representatives, Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council and Senate, and of course, some became trade union officials.
Jack Cain, Tom Tunnecliffe, J. P. Jones, Jack Curtin, Angus McDonell, Frank Anstey, Frank Hyett, Don Cameron, Alf Foster were a few that were prominent in the VSP.
Harry Scott-Bennett was on the credit side, serving one term in Parliament from 1904-7; he announced that he could do better for the workers outside Parliament, and he declined re-election. Laidler scorned politicians (the "pollys" as some called them) and those who sought trade union paid positions at this particular time in history.
The Socialist Party aimed at fulfilling the requirements of its members in every phase of life's activities and was more successful in this respect than any other party. Tom set out to make it a family party—wives, women, girls, children—all were welcomed and there was something to cater for the interests of each one. Like the Church, he "baptised" them and buried them.
Sectarianism, the evil that has restricted socialist organisation everywhere, was non-existent in the VSP and this accounted for much of its influence. Without being members, people like Maurice Blackburn, Arthur Calwell, J. W. Fleming (the anarchist), felt just as at home at the VSP as did its members. Anybody who thought he had the panacea for society's ills would come along and air his views—vegetarians, theosophists, pacifists, fabians, syndicalists—everyone was treated as a brother.
The campaign that really put the VSP on the map as a serious, courageous political party was the Free Speech fight.
It was common practice in the City of Prahran for various organisations to hold public meetings in side streets off Chapel Street, mainly in Chatham Street. The police ordered a Socialist speaker to stop and on his continuing he was arrested and fined 40/- or 14 days. Over twenty were fined or imprisoned (half refusing to pay the fine on principle) during the next three months. Four were women and each woman elected to go to gaol. Tom Mann served five weeks as he was arrested on two counts.
It seems right to detail the names as they represent many respected people, most of whom continued to work in the labour movement, in some form or other and especially in the anti-conscription campaigns.
Joseph Swebleses, Frank Hyett, Messrs. Marsh, Beck, Summers, Baxter, Jack Quaine, Brooks, Walker, Alf Wallis, Mrs. Leah Jarvis, Mrs. Anderson, Miss Liz. Ahern, Mrs. Emma Edwards, Thomas Hart, Edwin Knight, Will Thom, J. R. Davies, W. P. Jones, B. G. Oakes and C. Hughes, Mrs. Anderson and Miss Ahern were fined 30/- or 10 days. Mrs. Jarvis and Mrs. Edwards, arrested late in the campaign were fined £5 each or one month. Two women went to the Melbourne Gaol and two were sent to Pentridge.
Free speech campaign postcard featuring the four women arrested during the campaign.
Mrs. Ida Robson, daughter of Mrs. Anderson, related at the age of 74 how as children they used to attend the Free Speech meetings in Prahran but when their mother was to speak they were not allowed to attend. They wept and pleaded to be allowed to see her arrested but were made to stay home.
Free speech campaign postcard - "Socialist Convicts"
The meetings were well attended by large audiences and up to thirty police and six troopers, as well as plain-clothes men, detectives and pimps.
The speakers would gather around their platform, which was a box made with great artistry by Moysey Callard (who won four prizes at the Royal Show for his great coachmaking abilities). A ring of socialists formed round the box and the speaker ascended. After saying only three or four words, he or she was seized and taken to the Police Station, and charged. The performance would be repeated until the quota of speakers for the night was exhausted. At a propitious moment, before it could disappear, Ted Callard would grab the box and toss it over the fence into a private property by pre-arrangement, and would pick it up next morning ready for the next affray.
The Salvation Army, Temperance advocates, hawkers, vendors of patent medicines, and evangelists, went on their merry way unhindered whilst the socialists were given the treatment.
The chief instigator of this persecution was Councillor Miller, the owner of a well-known landmark in Melbourne on the corner of Bourke and Swanston Streets, known as Miller's Feathershop. He was a Councillor on the Prahran City Council. Socialists were told they didn't have a permit to speak but when they made efforts to obtain permits these were not given.
Indignation meetings were held all over Melbourne and beyond. At the Prahran Town Hall (an overflow meeting had to be arranged) Mrs. Bruce presided and speakers were Emmett, Angus McDonell (later Northcote Councillor), John Curtin (later Prime Minister), Jack Gunn (later Premier of South Australia) and Joe Swebleses. A meeting in the Zion Hall, City had as speakers Frank Hyett (later Secretary of the Victorian Railways Union), W. J. Baxter (in prison attire) and at Port Melbourne Town Hall, Tom Mann in the chair and speakers Miss Ahern, Mrs, Anderson, and W. J. Baxter. Tom Mann commented from the chair that nothing was more remarkable than the way in which these three speakers had sprung into first class orators during the campaign. Meetings were held at Yarraville, Williamstown, Collingwood, Brunswick Town Hall, Geelong Market square (2000 present) and Geelong Pier (Sunday afternoon), Richmond, Moonee Ponds, Kerferd Road Jetty, South Melbourne.
Free speech campaign postcard - "The Socialist Rebels who Went to Gaol"
Harry Scott-Bennett was at the time an M.L.A. and raised the matter in Parliament to no avail.
Directly out of the Free Speech Fight a Prahran branch of the Victorian Socialist Party was formed with sixty members.
The Prahran Free Speech fight became such a by-word around Melbourne that when a fire broke out in Swan Street, Richmond, about one and a half miles from Prahran and somebody called out "Where are the police?" a wag replied, "Oh, they are in Prahran tonight to look after the socialists."
Photographs of the free speech fighters in prison uniform were widely sold. Naturally the Penal Department did not give the prisoners uniforms on their departure but Melbourne's first time-payment tailor, J. P. Jones., then a member of the VSP, provided each man and woman who had served a sentence with a uniform decorated with broad arrows and a cap to match. On December 15th, 1906 it was reported that three thousand sets of cards were sold within three weeks at 6d. a set of six. By December 22nd five thousand sets were sold. The funds were to help families of the imprisoned.
Free speech campaign postcard featuring Tom Mann
When Tom Mann was first arrested and locked up the people were quite amazed. He seemed so omnipotent to them that they didn't believe it possible. It took a large number to arrest him and the subsequent charges were causing obstruction and resisting the police.
While Tom was in gaol Ramsay MacDonald (later Prime Minister of Britain) and his wife visited him. MacDonald received an enthusiastic reception at the Socialist meeting and said on his return borne he would refer in his presidential address to Victoria.
After release from gaol Tom Mann made his first appearance at a packed-out Melbourne Town Hall on Tuesday, December 19th. The public was invited to come and see the "Sensational Socialist march when 20 socialists would parade in gaol costume". Speakers were H. Scott-Bennett MLA, E. J. Russell (later Senator) and Tom himself. Rousing songs and choruses were advertised on the programme and admission was 6d. to any part of the hall.
According to the Socialist of December 22nd the executive of the VSP instructed that tactics be changed. The report reads that a little after eight o'clock a number gathered at Chatham Street. At a quarter past eight Percy Laidler began addressing the people. The Sergeant in charge, Sgt. Williams, came forward to Laidler and said "Move on". Laidler said in tones that could be heard for a considerable distance "Come comrades, we are all going down to Commercial Road to hold a meeting". The police didn't know what to make of it. Laidler led and he was followed by a crowd which at intervals gave three cheers for the social revolution. "The police were non-plussed—outwitted." Laidler explained the reason for the change of tactics, which was simply that the Socialist Party couldn't afford to be deprived of so many of its speakers indefinitely and it was felt they had made all the gains they could in this fight.
An aftermath of the prison terms was a deputation of Mann, Hyett, Swebleses and others to the Chief Secretary on the insanitary conditions in the Melbourne gaol.
The campaign put the Socialist Party well in the forefront of the Labour movement at that time in showing a fighting capacity, in having members prepared to make sacrifices, and all in all, the organisation came out of it strengthened and enriched in experience.
The Sunday school commenced with nine pupils and by the third anniversary in 1909 averaged a regular attendance of a hundred and continued for several years, even into the twenties. At times it had up to two hundred members. It first met in a cellar in Collins Street, and then met in the socialist halls in Elizabeth and later Exhibition Streets. It was divided by age into various classes, all of which combined for concerts, the Socialist Party anniversary and May Day.
May Day was the big event, and the children were trained in maypole dancing and would be taken by drag drawn by horses, to the Yarra Bank where they would be part of the celebrations. A May Queen was chosen and there was intense rivalry over this.
Miss Long, sister of Dick Long the poet, was the superintendent for the greatest period of time and a Miss Hayes was superintendent in the early period. Her place was taken for a short time by Chris Gross, who later became the wife of Percy Laidler.
Conduct was similar to a Church Sunday School in that the pupils recited ten commandments as follows:
The Ten Commandments of Socialism.
Taught in Socialist Sunday Schools.
(Cut out and paste on your bedroom wall)
Love your school-fellows who will be your fellow-workmen in life.
Love learning, which is the food of the mind. Be grateful to your teacher as to your parents.
Make every day holy by good and useful deeds, and kindly actions.
Honour good men, be courteous to all men, bow down to none.
Do not hate or speak evil of anyone, do not be revengeful, but stand up for your rights and resist oppression.
Do not be cowardly. Be a friend to the weak, and love justice.
Remember that all good things of the earth are produced by labour, whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the workers.
Observe and think in order to discover the truth; do not believe what is contrary to reason and never deceive yourself or others.
Do not think that he who loves his own country must hate or despise other nations, or wish for war, which is a remnant of barbarism.
Look forward to the day when all men will be free citizens of one fatherland, and live together as brothers in peace and righteousness.
They saluted the red flag, sang Socialist songs (some being set to the tune of hymns). A plate was taken around for the pupils to put a penny in—some would pretend they didn't have one, having spent the penny on lollies, again like any Sunday School. There was a Socialist Reader with short stories painting a moral. The classes covered a wide variety of subjects—mythology, history, esperanto, elocution, gymnasium (Percy Laidler), calisthenics, club swinging (Chris Gross). Victor Kroemer, a Theosophist, was active with the Sunday School. In October 1906 the Sunday school was divided into groups bearing names, Red Flag Group, International, Liberty, Freedom and Democratic. Its aim was to teach ethics and the principles of socialism.
Pupils up to the age of 16 were eligible and they had to subscribe to:
(1) I am very sorry there is so much suffering through poverty.
(2) I believe socialism will cure this evil, and make it possible for all to be happy.
At the end of that year there was a Xmas party with a tree, and 900 young people and 400 adults came along to the Zion Hall.
Branches were set up in Prahran, Hawthorn, Footscray, Preston, Trafalgar and Wonthaggi.
Many pupils later became well-known figures in the labour movement—Roy Cameron (son of Sen. Don Cameron), Secretary of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union, Lloyd Edmonds and Ron Hurd, members of the International Brigade in Spain, Ron later secretary of the Seamen's Union in Western Australia.
The Sunday School in Melbourne came through into the twenties and faded out as the Socialist Party itself faded out.
With his belief in catering from cradle to grave, Tom dedicated the babies to the Socialist cause.
In the dedication ceremony, the proud parents brought the baby to the platform prior to the Sunday night lecture. Tom placed a red ribbon, inscribed in gold lettering, on the baby. Six young children and babies of Socialists were dedicated in April, 1907 and in August, 1908 during the absence of Tom, H. H. Champion did the honours and another seven were dedicated. Champion asked the parents—"Is it your desire that your child shall be dedicated to the socialist cause?" The parents in reply said, "That is our desire". As with baptism it does not always work out as the parents intended, and names are not mentioned here with the exception of Grace Aanensen, dedicated by Tom Mann, who has led a good life-time for the cause as have her brothers and sisters; and Grace still treasures her dedication ribbon which is inscribed:
Berdina Grace Aanensen
July 21st, 1909
The idea of a socialist band was already started in the Social Questions Committee and on July 6th, 1907 the band officially came together. In 1909 a fund was opened for new uniforms. It attracted the young men, who had to be members of the Socialist Party to be accepted in the band.
Many became talented musicians, the band itself won the B Grade Competition at South Street in 1920. Individuals who won medals for solo work at South Street were Arthur Arnott and Theo Farrall, for their cornet playing. Eddie Callard played the tenor horn and Bert Henley the cornet. Members owned their own instruments and Bert Henley relates what a struggle it was to save £23 to buy a silver cornet.
The Band Association of Victoria split and there were two organisations, one of which was organised by socialist Bert Farrall. Two competitions were held at the M.C.G.
The socialist band first practised in a room in Royal Arcade and then on Sunday mornings in the socialist hall. It played at Sunday night meetings, anniversaries in the Melbourne Town Hall and headed May Day and other processions.
At times it played for the Rationalist Association which met in a small theatre in Bourke Street, the Empire. The band used to play in the dress circle because there was no orchestra pit. The pneumonic plague of 1919 hit all musicians hard because gatherings of people in theatres and elsewhere were forbidden. People walked around with four inches thick gauze masks. Out of work musicians combined to play in the gardens across Princes Bridge, Princes' Park, and picked up a few coins in collections.
As the Socialist Party waned the band managed to survive by becoming the Trades Hall Band. The THC provided it with financial assistance to get badly needed uniforms. At this time Harry Lester was the secretary. The band led all May Day and Eight Hours' Day (later Labor Day) processions.
In the early twenties Laidler tried to help the band by organising Sunday night concerts for the public at Wirth's Circus across Princes Bridge. A collection was taken. Attendance was insufficient to sustain performances. The programmes were repetitious and few Melburnians wanted Sunday night entertainment. Three of the band leaders were W. Paxton, C. Banks and Bert Farrall. There was a socialist orchestra which played at dances and before meetings under conductor J. W. Greene.
Front cover of Socialist Song Book
The choir was organised and conducted by Elsie Mann, who had an English musical degree. She was an enthusiastic singer, as was Tom, and had large numbers in her choir which also performed before Sunday night meetings.
It was an unconventional choir when it led a march on Parliament at its opening on June 27th, 1906. "RIOT IMMINENT", wrote the Argus. The demonstration, mainly of unemployed and with Tom Mann in charge, succeeded in forcing its way into the Exhibition Gardens (State Parliament then being in the Exhibition). Police reinforcements arrived and women called out they were "merely in their own gardens". The Governor had been hooted on his arrival. As the Governor's carriage returned, Sub-Inspector Davidson remarked "the first man who hoots will be arrested". The moment he turned his head towards the Governor, a young man with a boxer hat on the back of his head cried "A good hoot for plutocracy". A 39 year old miner, a Mr. Pitt was arrested, and a Mrs. Kirk of the choir called out, "Liberty or Death" as the crowd tried to rescue him.
Establishing co-operatives was another way of catering for all needs of members. Co-operation was not introduced by Tom Mann as already in 1895 there existed:—
The Victorian Co-operative Society at 643 Drummond Street, Carlton (founded 1889); the Victorian Railways Cooperative Store (formed in 1894) and intending to start at that date was the Public Service Non-Clerical Men's Co-operative Organisation.
In 1906 a J. C. Johnston tried to form a Workers Club & Co-operative at 193 Bank Street, South Melbourne. The aim of the club was to have a room with a library of wholesome and educational nature, games and an out-of-work benefit fund.
In the issue of Socialist June 30th, it was announced that a Socialist Co-operative Trading Society was now in existence and that debentures of 10s. each payable as convenient were available. Information from H. H. Champion.
By the end of August 5/- shares were offered and the Socialist Co-operative Store was opened at 298 Coventry Street, South Melbourne. On the 16th December the Co-operative Bakery opened at 234 Coventry Street, South Melbourne with Percy Laidler as manager.
There was a clothing club in connection with the co-operatives and a boot store with E. J. Holloway in charge opened on Saturday afternoons at 283 Elizabeth Street, next door to the Socialist Hall.
£100 was donated to start a socialist farm but after some exploration the money was returned as it was decided a farm was impractical. The donor then gave £50 to the library.
A Socialist Savings Bank was opened for deposits of one penny upward and was open Friday 7 p.m. till 8 p.m.; Saturday 7.30 p.m. till 9 p.m.; Sundays 5 p.m. till 6 p.m. The directors were H. H. Champion, W. H. Emmett and Charles Schmidt.
There was some suggestion of a co-operative bicycle factory.
The following circular was distributed on behalf of the bakery:
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR BREAD?
Most of us from a baker who will give "tick" when we have little money. We know that really means that we pay more in the long run. And we cannot insist upon good, sound, cleanly-made bread. Some of us decided to have a Bakery of our own. We put down 5/- apiece and started. At the end of nine months we found, after paying the best wages and the cost of two carts and three horses, that the Bakery is paying well. That is, while we are baking ONLY A THIRD of the amount we could do.
The concern is called "The Socialist Co-operative Bakery". You can deal with it and your 5/- entrance money will be paid out of the profits declared every six months. The cart will call on you as soon as you say so. You must buy a loaf at the trade price and take a ticket from the carter. At the end of six months you hand over the tickets to the office and upon them your share of the profits is declared. You can take it in cash, or leave it with the Bakery to be drawn out when required. The rules, balance-sheets, etc., are at your service.
You are under no obligation to deal with the Bakery a moment longer than you wish. If the price is higher than is charged by other bakers, if anything is wrong with the baking, if the flour is not of the best—you can stop at once.
This circular will be left at your house. It will be followed by a call from a representative of the Socialist Co-op. Bakery. Think it over and be ready with any question you may wish to ask.
PERCY LAIDLER, Secretary, S.C.S. of Victoria.
234 Coventry Street, South. Melbourne.
It was an ambitious venture trying to cover all inner suburbs and it soon had to be announced that more carts and horses would be needed if they extended too far. The Co-operative was forced to cut back to nearby suburbs. When asked about the ultimate failure of the scheme, Laidler replied succinctly "too much tick". Co-operative ventures have not been successful in Australia and this is one reason—it is hard to refuse credit to people you know really can't pay.
It is successful in the United Kingdom, where it is impersonal and run on strictly capitalist lines.
A great number of educational classes were held and the most popular was the speakers' class which numbered up to sixty. Debating classes were well liked. Some members were undoubtedly already oriented to the goal of politician or trade union official and the practical speakers' class gave them more joy than the theoretical classes. No matter how "pure" their original intentions the ease with which colleagues (many ill-equipped) achieved seats in Parliament in these early years of the twentieth century tempted them from their original course.
In the days before T.V., radio, amplifiers, etc., an ambitious man had to cultivate a physically powerful voice and a readily-flowing line of propaganda.
Speakers, lecturers, orators were held in great esteem—the more polished the speaker the more votes he polled. The only aids at the street meeting usually were megaphones and a portable platform, but Dick Blomberg had a portable acetylene light which was much in demand. The services of Harry Hansen, the signwriter, were an aid to meetings and processions. He produced hundreds of signs, posters and banners.
A result of having large numbers of speakers in training was that it was possible at short notice to put a large number of speakers in the field of street meetings. A. W. Foster (later Judge Foster) was in charge of debating. John Curtin tutored speakers at one time. "Value, Price and Profit", by Karl Marx was used by Harry Scott-Bennett in his economics class. Das Kapital was also used. Rev. F. Sinclaire of the Free Fellowship Church was tutor in English (a subject also of aid to budding politicians).
In 1909 a teacher of Mathematics and Logic advertised his willingness to form a class.
The Sunday night lecture was the big event of the week and followed on the afternoon meeting at the Yarra Bank and a high tea at the Socialist Hall. The highlight meeting of the year was the anniversary held in the Melbourne Town Hall. Once a sit-down dinner was held. Some subjects and speakers are listed here to give an indication of the type and breadth of subjects that were attractive and the wide number of people prepared to speak at socialist meetings.
The Bijou theatre with stalls, dress circle and gallery seated 1000 and Sunday night meetings were held regularly for years. Jack Cain and Don Cameron would spruik outside the theatre calling people in. Jack Cain later became Premier of Victoria. As a result of his spruiking he was given a job as a professional spruiker, before he became a State Parliament spruiker.
On Wednesday nights mid-week meetings were held in the Socialist Hall. Amongst non-member speakers were:
Rev. F. Sinclaire, "The Shame of our Streets" (i.e. prostitution).
Pietro Baracchi, Government Astronomer, on "The Moon" with lantern slides.
Professor W. A Osborne, Science and the Scientist.
Walter Murdoch, Melbourne University, Henrik Ibsen. Professor Ernest W. Skeats, Melbourne University, Recent Earthquake in San Francisco.
Dr. Charles Strong, John Ruskin as a Socialist Reformer.
Dr. J. R. M. Thomson—Alcohol in its scientific and social aspects.
Barrister George A. Maxwell (described as a well-known hard hitter) spoke for the VSP.
Archibald T. Strong spoke on Francois Villon: His poetry, life and times.
The lectures of Tom Mann were many and varied as exampled by titles:
At Christmas he spoke on "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to men from a Socialist Standpoint";
"Leaders of Socialism: Saint Simon, Robert Owen & Karl Marx";
"Ruskin, Tennyson and Morris";
"Moses and the Prophets—Christ and the Apostles";
"Sociology, History, Ethnology and Mythology";
"Marx: what he taught and why he taught it";
"Decisions of the International Congress just held in Germany (1907)";
"Jesus Christ the Communist";
"The Execution of Von Plehve—the Russian Tyrant 1904".
During the Broken Hill lockout in 1909 Anderson spoke on "If Christ came to Broken Hill".
The visiting socialists all spoke at the Bijou—Keir Hardie, January 19th, 1908, and Ben Tillett, January 26th, 1908.
The "big four" in Melbourne, with J P Jones of the VSP. (Photo from Tom Mann's Memoirs, London, 1923.)
January 25th, 1908 Socialist reported—"Ben Tillett, Keir Hardie, H. H. Champion and Tom Mann—the big four of English socialism all on the one platform at the Bijou in Bourke Street." What exhilarating times!
Tom Mann directed the VSP towards Marxism. At one period members wore a button with a photo of Marx emblazoned thereon. The January 1st, 1909 issue of Socialist proclaimed that the socialists were the descendants of Karl Marx and the internationalists.
Socialist ran a series of articles titled "The Materialist Conception of History"—an interpretation of its study, written by "Dogmatist". Marxist students were not lacking. Ernie Houston writing under the name of "Radix" for Socialist had pamphlets printed and then attempted a summary of Vols. 2 and 3 of Capital (not published)
The Socialist, organ of the VSP, started as a fortnightly paper on the 2nd April, 1906 but by September 1906 it had become a weekly. With Tom Mann the first editor, the paper was more dynamic and more related to working class activities than earlier papers. The Tocsin preceding the Labor Call was more pedantic.
When Tom Mann was in Broken Hill in 1908-9 H. H. Champion took over as editor. He was experienced in that he founded and edited his own paper The Champion and was later to found and edit The Booklover. R. S. Ross took over in 1909 and continued into the twenties with the exception of a period away in New Zealand, March 1911 to April 1913. Don Cameron was its final editor. As the VSP weakened, the paper was kept going by combining with the Clothing Trades Union (Alf Wallis, former VSP member, was secretary of that Union) and also with the Marine Stewards and Pantrymen's Union (Don Cameron's union).
In the period Ross was in New Zealand Mrs. Anderson was for a time editor.
Publications advertised on the back cover of the Socialist Song Book
The VSP issued various notable leaflets and a Socialist Song Book (first published by the Social Questions Committee). Prominent leaflets issued in 1908 were "Empire Day"—Marie Pitt's "Salute the Flag" which was distributed to children around the schools. Marie Pitt was a poet who wrote much verse for Socialist. The other leaflet was "Our brothers of the American Fleet—A Socialist Welcome". When the American fleet visited there was quite a campaign around it.
Other publications were: "Down with organised Scabbery", by Harry Holland, price one penny (Sydney 1909) and "What life means to me", Jack London, September 1908. The VSP established its own printery at 47 Victoria Street, with Freddy Holland (son of Harry Holland) in charge. This printery did sterling work during the anti-conscription campaigns.
From time to time Socialist was able to print articles by famous overseas socialists. George Bernard Shaw recalled the days of the English Dock Strike when interviewed on H. H. Champion. Writings of Upton Sinclair and Jack London appeared in its columns. Socialist was given the right by Jack London to publish Martin Eden as a serial.
The paper came out on Friday nights and was so popular that by 1907 it could print a long list of newsagents handling the paper, as follows—11 City, 31 Suburban, 20 Country and 5 Interstate.
There was firstly a literature department in the socialist hall and later when the headquarters were established in Exhibition Street, a bookshop was opened next door.
Some literature secretaries were George Ovenden, Maurice Callard (later secretary Clothing Trades Union), A. E. (Bert) Davies and in the shop Beryl Glenie (nee. Bruce) worked as secretary and bookseller for Bob Ross and Don Cameron.
Beryl, known as Bobbie, says that the private subscriptions to Socialist were between 400 and 500. Bundles from one dozen to thirty copies were sent to various centres. Seven or eight socialists helped with the dispatch each week.
There was an excellent library behind the shop, but books gradually disappeared, as they do in the best circles. George Ovenden remembers seeing a book of Rousseau's donated by Monty Miller—a copy which originally belonged to John Pascoe Fawkner.
A sample of literature advertised in the Socialist bookshop in 1909:
Origin of Family, Frederick Engels, 1/6
Right to be Lazy, LaFargue
Essays on the Materialistic Conception of History, Labriola, 3/3
18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, Karl Marx, 6d.
Value, Price and Profit, Karl Marx, 6d.
Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, Engels, 6d.
Commonsense of Socialism, Spargo
Socialist picnickers, Tom Mann in white jacket
Tom Mann, in his aim to cater for all the waking non-working hours, introduced the highly successful Sunday night tea. This meant those who went to Port Melbourne Pier meetings in the morning, and the Yarra Bank in the afternoon, could go to the socialist hall for tea and then attend the Sunday night meeting which opened at 6.30 p.m. with the band, choir and musical items. People did not have to go home to the suburbs after the afternoon meeting, they could make a day of it. Ida Robson (nee Anderson) said, "We children used to live for the week-ends, Friday night the dance, Saturday afternoon practising for concerts at the socialist hall, staying in town for tea, going to the dance in the evening. [Frank Hyett and Jack Curtin were popular with the children, they taught the young girls to dance.] Sunday morning we went to mass, socialist Sunday school in the afternoons, tea at the socialist hall and meeting at night." The IWW in later years followed this plan with teas of its own.
This badly deteriorated photo may be from a socialist picnic. Percy Laidler is sitting in the middle of the front row.
A number of people, mainly women, prepared the tea which, reminiscent of an English "high tea" consisted of sandwiches, cakes, huge plates of salad—lettuce, radishes, spring onions and tomatoes (in season) spread around the tables. The salads were of the best and fresh because Jack Cain and Charles Wesley Green earned a living by driving around with horse and cart selling cabbages and other vegetables obtained from the early morning market. Miss Ethel Wayman, known to everyone as "Auntie Wayman"—probably because she was real auntie to several young socialists, Jack and Ethel Gunn and the Bruces, Yatala, Bobby and Jennie—presided over the tea. Apart from regular dances there were theatre parties, nature excursions, picnics, moonlight trips on the "Hygeia" which all helped to keep the youth organised. There was also the Red Rovers' Football Team, The Jokers and the Gay Gordons, (so named from a dance set).
The Gay Gordons were inclined to be looked on as the rebellious young by the socialist "establishment", as they used to go off on their own to picnics, breaking away from the general family atmosphere. The Gay Gordons held a camp in Sherbrooke Forest on one occasion. The Jokers were a group of young male socialists who had a camp at Chelsea.
The desire for camping prompted George Ovenden and his mother to buy five acres of land at Emerald where a permanent camp was established for the benefit of VSP members and was regarded as a socialist camp. It could cater for about forty people. There was a centre building made of slab and sapling log sides. The roof was of iron 15 ft. x 12 ft. in size and it had a fireplace inside. Small tents on levelled sites were grouped around it and there was a dining marquee and kitchen. Three permanent huts were eventually on the site and these had names, one named Bradlaugh House after Charles Bradlaugh—Asa Mayall, uncle of Mrs. G. Ovenden, senior, so named it because of his admiration for Bradlaugh, the free-thinker.
The campers would arrive on the Puffing Billy, their baggage coming on by a wagonette driven by the local carrier, as the camp was one and a half miles from the station. The trip on Puffing Billy would add to the anticipation, and once they had the added adventure of losing the engine attached at the end of the train. (It had an engine back and front.)
A natural platform was used for items and debates. One waterproofed section was known as the fly-paper, as the buzzing of conversation never stopped—this was where the Bruces and Ovendens congregated.
There were two tables in the marquee, a 12 ft. x 4 ft. one was known as the "mobs' table", the other 8 ft. x 4 ft. (where the Bruces and Ovendens sat) was known as the "Gods' table".
Diners wanting a piece of bread asked for it by "express" or "ordinary". Express was thrown and ordinary went the long way round the whole table.
There were rosters drawn up for all work.
2/6d. per day covered three meals and supper. The Emerald Camp flourished for about ten years and during the anti-conscription campaigns it was a hide-out for some men on the "run".
A Mr. Butcher, Mayor of Emerald, was a vindictive opponent. He got police to the camp on the night of the referendum on conscription.
At Belgrave, another group came together at the house belonging to the Reverend Frederick Sinclaire. In this group were mainly intellectuals with socialist ideas, Louis Esson (poet), Vance and Nettie Palmer (writers), Marie Pitt (poet), Bernard O'Dowd (poet), Dick Long (poet). Yatala Bruce attended the church at Upwey and averred that she learned more about rationalism from the Rev. Sinclaire than she ever learned from the fanatical rationalists. Maurice and Doris Blackburn (nee Hordern) also went to his church.
The Essons had a cottage in Belgrave which was taken over by the Palmers and later lived in by Katharine Susannah Prichard.
The Rev. Frederick Sinclaire was a fine man who was victimised for being a true Christian and standing up for his principles. He, together with Reverend Charles Strong, began as a Presbyterian. The Reverend Strong preached at Scots Church but disagreed on points of doctrine and after long arguments with the Presbyterian Church founded his own church, the Australian Church, in 1885. It was dissolved in 1957.
The Reverend F. Sinclaire formed his own church, the Free Religious Fellowship. These two churches were not affiliated although Strong was a frequent contributor to Fellowship edited by Sinclaire, and Sinclaire preached and lectured for Strong in the Australian Church. Strong edited a paper called Commonweal. The Australian Church was in Russell Street, near Flinders Street (now theatre) and the Quakers were on the opposite side of Russell Street. Both Strong and Sinclaire were in the forefront of the anti-conscription struggle.
Strong was thrown out of his living. As for Sinclaire, he was refused appointment as Professor of English at Melbourne University although he had been recommended for the post by the resigning Professor, Walter Murdoch, who was going to Western Australia. Normally the recommendation of the chairholder was automatically confirmed. He was born in New Zealand and gained appointment to the Chair of English at Canterbury College, Christchurch, New Zealand, and in New Zealand ended his days. Australia owes a debt to him and should honour his name. He did not wear clerical garb but wore black clothes; this, with his pale complexion and reddish hair, made an impressive figure. Sinclaire had a good turn of sarcastic wit and according to Frederick Macartney made a wartime reference to William Morris Hughes—"everybody in the community from Mr. Hughes upwards", and again, a politician, dropping ostentatiously fatigued into a chair complained of having been "up at the house all day". "House?" said Sinclaire quietly, "what house?" "Why—er—Parliament House, of course." "Oh," came the innocent response, "do, they still run that?"
His wife was both beautiful and intelligent.
Sinclaire issued a journal called Fellowship. Amongst contributors were Vance Palmer, Furnley Maurice and Louis Esson. Meetings were held in Room 14, Scourfield Chambers, 165 Collins Street. The Hon. Secretary was a G. Byrne.
All-night balls and fancy dress balls were a great feature of social life. A girl went as "Socialism" to a country fancy dress dance at Corryong. She wore on her frock a rosette with button of Karl Marx, Ben Tillett named on a sash and wore a head-dress of the Sun with "Let there be light—Socialism" across it.
The type of songs sung at Socialist meetings were not propaganda by any means, viz. Bertha Gross (later Tunnecliffe) would sing "The Carnival" and "Tit for Tat". Mrs. Harry Sterne sang "Annie Laurie" and a modern gallery number "Hampshire Molly". Mr. Renton sang "Anchored" and "Waiting at the Gate". H. Perry recited "The Mikado at Billygoat Flat".
There were also coffee suppers and card parties.
Some say "the family that prays together, stays together". On the other hand there seems to be a stronger case that the family that shares progressive political ideas has strong family bonds. In 1971 George Ovenden was able to declare proudly "with children and grandchildren there were 17 of our family at the Moratorium".
If all the descendants of the families influenced by Tom Mann's work were counted at the Moratorium the figure might be quite astounding.
However, the early Ovenden influence was Charles Bradlaugh. George's father was an anti-socialist: he didn't believe in politics. He was union secretary of the South Melbourne Tramways Depot.
Mrs. Elizabeth Jane Ovenden was a Miss Dyson, sister of Will, the famous cartoonist. She was a socialist, active during the Tom Mann days of the VSP. The children, Jane (Mrs. Lottowitz), Daisy (Mrs. Wallace), Joe, George and Dick all have a blending of the artistic and political. Dick served on Labor papers as a cartoonist for many years and is now a painter. The Dysons married into another family of artists; Will married Ruby Lindsay and Lionel Lindsay married Jean Dyson. Will Dyson was really "Will 2" and there was a "Will 1" who was shot in an accident on the Ballarat goldfields. Will worked for years as cartoonist on the Daily Herald (Labour Party) and came back to Australia to work on Punch. When it was taken over by the Herald he could not work with Keith Murdoch. Will was used to doing "Dyson" cartoons but Murdoch expected "Herald" cartoons, Will returned to London and independence.
George worked for years helping with The Socialist and during the anti-conscription campaign handled the circulation of the Ballarat Evening Echo in Melbourne.
• • •
Another well-known socialist family was that of the Bruces. Mrs. Sarah Bruce (nee Wayman) was a radical, first active in the Social Questions Committee then in the VSP. Her husband, J. V. Bruce, was a highly respectable man but was regarded as radical by his sisters because he read the Bulletin.
Daughters were Jennie, Yatala and Beryl (Bob), Beryl (Mrs. Glenie) was the youngest of the Bruce family and. remembers herself as being little, always dragging on the skirts of her mother in the socialist hall. She was too young to bother with dances but her greatest delight was sitting on the floor playing "jacks", or jackbones for full title, with all the future political labor luminaries. She played with Jack Curtin (Prime Minister), Jack Cain (Premier), Jack Gunn (Premier, S.A.) and many others. Yatala (name for a white native wild flower which blooms in Yatala, S.A.) married George Ovenden,
Alf Wallis, active with the VSP became Federal Secretary of the Clothing Trades Union and continued to carry out some socialist principles in this position.
Space prevents the mention of all the fine people who remained dedicated throughout their active lives. Bob and Alma Stenhouse (nee Beck) have been active in the current anti-war movement; as also, Mrs. Edith Taylor (nee Tilley). Harriet and Alan McPhee played a great part during the depression, Joe Swebleses remained true and active till the end of his life.
Social life outside the Socialist Hall was often at the Cafe Bohemia. Regular advertisements appeared in Socialist. In 1908 the advertisement read:
Pension Suisse—Italian and French Cuisine, late of Preston, Reservoir. Camusso, 108 Lonsdale Street.
In 1909 the advertisement was more explicit:
Cafe Bohemia, 108-110 Lonsdale Street, L. F. Camusso, proprietor. The only place in Melbourne where you can enjoy a good meal and feel at home with the many good folk that frequent the cafe. And if you like to amuse yourself, come along on Wednesday night—you have a chance to see the Melbourne bohemians enjoy themselves a la Continentale. Lunch 1 o'clock. Dinner 6.30. Meals 1/-. Coffee 3d. extra.
Members of the VSP, artists, writers and poets liked Camusso's Cafe Bohemia. There was a painting and the motto "Light Hearts and Empty Pockets" over the door. A piano in the room was used to accompany the singing, and someone would bring along a guitar. The 1 /- meal consisted of hors-d'oeuvre, spaghetti, meat and vegetables, and there were bowls of several kinds of salad and fresh fruit on the table. Wine was supplied with the meal.
The Cafe Bohemia was also the centre of Italian socialist organisation. The VSP held annual Garibaldi meetings at the Bijou where the choir under Mrs. Mann sang the Garibaldi Hymn in English and Italian. On the 7th July, 1907 the centenary Garibaldi celebration was hold at the Guild Hall. The orchestra rendered Verdi's "Trovatore" and the Garibaldi Hymn was sling in Italian.
Tom Mann spoke and said that only socialists celebrated Garibaldi, and that bourgeois Italians ignored him. Enrico, a well-educated Italian, wrote in the Socialist that within eight months the VSP had given three splendid lectures on Ferrer, Mazzini and Garibaldi. He wrote that many Italians were present and that we had the spectacle now of the miner boy of Warwickshire (Mann) commemorating the cabin boy of Nice (Garibaldi).
During his lecture Mann said that the Australian, Dr. Embling M.L.C., had joined the Garibaldi Legion and possessed a medal. The Italian socialists told Tom Mann that it was owing to his inspiration they had come together and formed the Circolo Democratico Garibaldi. Signor Rovida was President, E. Scolari Vice-President, L. Camusso Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. Other committee members were L. Rondano, G. Fossati, T. Negri and. C. Langella. When Tom Mann left Australia the Circolo Democratico Garibaldi made a presentation to him at the Cafe Bohemia.
Australia still attracted political refugees in these years and one such was Francis Sceusa. He had been an organiser of the International in Sicily and was forced to leave the country in 1879. He came to Australia and with the aid of some French Communists tried to form a Socialist group in Sydney. He became a founder of the International Socialist Club and had in 1893 represented Australia at an International Socialist Congress in Zurich. Tom Mann visited him at his home at 134 Church Street, St. Peters, Sydney in 1907.
Dr. Omero Schiassi was one of the best known and most respected Italian anti-fascists in Australia from 1924 until his death in 1956. He was a barrister and city councillor of Bologna, and member of the Socialist Party. He was forced to leave Italy when Mussolini came to power. In Melbourne, where he settled, he was a lecturer at the Melbourne University. The Italian Consul organised a boycott of Italian pupils and Dr. Schiassi had a struggle to live because he was paid according to the number of pupils he was tutoring.
Notice for the Omero Schiassi memorial meeting
He lived in a room in Clarendon Street, East Melbourne, and every Sunday night could be found sitting in the front row at the Empire Theatre listening intently to the Rationalist speaker. He attended other meetings of a radical political nature and was always up near the front, a very familiar figure indeed. His outstanding politeness marked him out from most of the comrades. An attempt was made by Italians from an Italian ship, in port, to kidnap him and take him back to Italy, where of course, he would have been executed. Fortunately they failed.
On his death a commemoration meeting was held at the Unitarian Church, Cathedral Place, Melbourne at 2 p.m. on January 22nd. Prominent speakers who paid tribute were the Rev. Victor James, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ralph Gibson, Mrs. Lodewyckz (who substituted for her husband, Professor A. Lodewyckz), Mrs. Maurice Blackburn, Mr. Clem Christesen, Mr. Percy Laidler and Mr. W. Johnston, as well as Italian speakers. An invitation had been issued in Italian and English. A speech made by Dr. Schiassi in the New Gaiety Theatre, Melbourne on the 10th June 1929 was published in English and Italian, the Australian title being "Fascism Exposed".
In Italy following the election of May 30th, 1924, Giacomo Matteotti, a Socialist Deputy, spoke out courageously against the fascists. On June 10th he was kidnapped and assassinated by five fascists. Italians in Australia founded a Matteotti Club in Melbourne and this thrived for many years. It was mainly a place where lonely Italians could find social life, chiefly through the splendid dances they ran. It was also political and issued leaflets in Italian. The secretary, Frank Carmagnola, was famous for his action in shaping up to the Fascist Italian Consul in Queensland. On the occasion of a banquet to commemorate the march on Rome (when Mussolini took power), Frank with a band of anti-fascists broke up the banquet. The ladies in their best gowns had hysterics, blows were exchanged, the band played revolutionary songs and Carmagnola was credited with landing one on the Consul himself. In 1929 the Matteotti Club members attended at the Temperance Hall in Russell Street, where the Mussolini worshippers were also celebrating the march on Rome.
This was the third fascist parade of the year in Melbourne and took place on the 27th October. It was estimated one hundred were dressed in blackshirts with black ties, the Mussolini uniform. The anti-fascists took them by surprise and escaped before the alarm could be given the police. Several fascists were injured, some (it was alleged) slashed with knives.
No one was arrested. The Argus of the 28th October claimed that knives, iron bars and pieces of wood were used. A fascist interviewed said, "We know who they are—exiles from Italy."
Some leaders in Melbourne were Frank Carmagnola, George Zammarchi (who is well known throughout Australia—he worked in Tennant Creek for five years as well as many other places), Paul De Angelis, a jolly barber who for years had a shop in Little Bourke Street, opposite the side entrance of the Princess Theatre and handy to the situation of International Bookshop, then in Exhibition Street.
German socialists had an association of their own, the Verein Vorwarts (Forward Association) formed as far back as 1885. In Sydney it was German cigar makers who played a big part in founding the International Socialist Group, in fact Heinrich Borax, a German, was secretary for many years. The members of Verein Vorwarts were Germans who fled from "Prussianism". They mainly organised some social life and received, passed round and discussed, socialist papers from home.
Members of the German community at a socialist picnic
Verein Vorwarts held an anniversary celebration and its 23rd one on May 28th, 1909 was held at the Oddfellows Hall, La Trobe Street. Dancing followed a concert and speeches. The VSP was sent an official invitation to send two of its executive members. The price, 1/- gents, 6d. ladies. Amongst the speakers were Chris Gross and her father, Louis Gross. In January 1910 the Verein Vorwarts sent along three representatives to the VSP and arranged to merge with it, while retaining its own library. Mr. C. Mitscherlich was secretary during the organisation's final years.
There was another German organisation, the Turn Verein. This was run more on physical culture lines, it was less political and more national with a picture of the Kaiser on the wall. Nevertheless socialists would go to its all-night balls and other social functions.
Later there was a club called the Tivoli, mainly social. When it entertained Count Von Luckner in 1938 it became the target of a huge anti-fascist demonstration. Mounted troopers charged the crowd with batons and several demonstrators were arrested. Another social club was the Concordia. Bourgeois Germans had the "German Club" emulating the "Melbourne Club" and situated only one block away, in Alfred Place off Collins Street. The war naturally affected all these clubs.
A large number of political refugees came to Australia after the unsuccessful 1905 revolution, some with the death penalty on their heads. Most settled in Queensland where they organised and issued a paper The Echo of Australia. They were well represented in Broken Hill. There were also a sufficient number of Russians in Melbourne and Sydney to form an organisation known as "The Russian Association". This organisation in Melbourne combined with left organisations, the VSP, later the WIIU and the CP although many of its members were not politically minded but solely in it for social life.
During the 1909 lockout at Broken Hill the blowing up of a railway line and derailing of a truck was credited to the experienced Russians, although in truth all miners were familiar with gelignite. The Russians were well liked by the unionists of the Hill, a feeling reciprocated. Some went as far north as Darwin. Most Russians came in the years 1910 to 1914, and of those that were not politically minded many became so, because of the war, the activities of the Australian workers—particularly against conscription, and finally because, of the Russian revolution itself. The great majority supported the revolution because they knew how bad czarism was and they felt revolution was the best thing that could have happened.
In 1922 there were 200 members in the Melbourne Russian Association. Their club met regularly at premises in South Melbourne and here they discussed events at home. They founded a library of Russian language publications, with literary works as well as political. They held lectures with an attendance between sixty and seventy—the whole family came. They also organised dances. The Russians who came to Melbourne were mainly of the artisan class, skilled workers and some professional men. There were a few doctors amongst them.
Kanevsky, a manufacturer in Elizabeth Street, City was a leading member and in later years played a part in developing trade with the USSR and was active in organising the "Sheepskins for Russia" campaign during the Second World War.
Vassilief, a skilled engineer, who owned a ball bearing manufacturing business in South Melbourne, gave the association a place to use as its headquarters.
J. Maruschak was a gentle, quietly spoken man active in the VSP during the 1914-18 war and a foundation member of the Communist Party. He returned to the Soviet Union early in the twenties. Some who returned to the USSR from various states were Cooke, Boldin, Sommers, Zuzenko, and Simonoff (also spelt Siminov), as well as numerous others. F. A. Sergeev (known as Artymon, and Artem), was already famous in the Russian revolutionary movement during 1905 and he returned home as soon as possible in 1917 and became a member of the Central Committee. While in Queensland he was active in founding the Russian Workers Association and was active in the Australian movement. He took part in strikes, was arrested in a free speech campaign, and was a member of the Waterside Workers' Federation, the Australian Meat Industries Employees Union and the Australian Socialist Party.
Alexander Michael Zuzenko was a man using several names also. He was deported from Brisbane in 1919 as a result of the soldier riots directed at the Russians. He came back here in 1922 on a false passport under the name of Tony Tolagsen. He used too, the name of Nargan. He travelled to the various capitals stimulating the organisation of the CP. Someone informed on him and he was deported for the second time.
Peter Simonoff, who became Consul General for the USSR, did a very good job here. He originally settled in Queensland, then went to Broken Hill where he became a member of Labor's Volunteer Army. From Broken Hill, he visited Melbourne where he made contact with the VSP and met Bob Ross, whom he impressed favourably. On returning to Brisbane Simonoff took over the editorship of the Russian paper and became secretary of the Russian Association. When appointed Consul General his appointment was endorsed by a cable from the USSR signed by Trotsky. His work as consul will be referred to in another segment of this book.
The Russians were all notable for their speedy integration in the Australian radical movement. Maruschak in the VSP tried to form a Communist Party in 1919 and 1920. The Russian Revolution was celebrated jointly between the Russian Association and the WIIU and later with the CP.
With the Communist Party the celebration was usually in St. Peters Church, Eastern Hill and took the form of speeches, concert items, supper and dancing.
The Russian Association gave support to the formation of the Australia-Soviet Friendship League.
In Queensland where the Russians tended to be manual workers and many of them cane-cutters there was a more vigorous movement than in the capitals.
During the last world war some Italian cane-cutters managed to hoodwink the authorities into believing that they were Russian to avoid internment.
The last active link in Melbourne, with the old Russians, is Nicholas Antonoff. He came here in 1914 and lived in Adelaide, N.S.W., Tasmania, Queensland and finally settled in Melbourne. He worked in the mines at Lithgow and participated in the general strike of 1917. In 1917 he sold Direct Action for the IWW and in 1928 the Workers Weekly for the Communist Party, which he joined in 1931. Now in his seventies, he visits every Russian ship in port and acts as an interpreter. When a Russian seaman was rushed ashore for an appendix operation, Antonoff went every day to the hospital to cheer him up. He is one of the fine type of old Russian Communists who were a credit to the movement.
Active in the VSP, later the WIIU and in the anti-conscription campaign was Victor Petruchenia.
In July 1907 Socialist was pleased to announce, "One of our comrades, P. Schmitz, went up to Bendigo on the 6th July, a Saturday, and walked off with two prizes in the heavyweight and middleweight competitions." Schmitz was an Austrian.
A famous political refugee living in Sydney was Francisco Ferrer, a Spanish anarchist using the names of Jones and Smith. Police in Barcelona were looking for him. The One Big Union Herald, organ of the Workers' International Industrial Union, claimed his name in Europe was as potent as Lenin's, and that he was the most notorious anarchist in Europe. He was a mild looking man with a beard, who spoke on rationalism, in a room in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. He returned to Spain and in 1907 was tried for his life and acquitted (on a charge of the attempted assassination of the King of Spain). He was executed in 1909 as a sequel to an attempted insurrection in Barcelona. The object of the insurrection was to establish a new anti-Catholic State in Catalonia. There was considerable agitation in the working class press in Australia over his execution.
Undoubtedly Tom Mann had a big impact in developing internationalism. Already in 1906 an advertisement appeared:
Comrades, other than Australians or British origin, receive a specially hearty welcome, and are asked to remember we are Cosmopolitans and delighted in learning from comrades of other nationalities.
In February 1907 a Cosmopolitan Committee was set up. This Committee arranged a lecture by Henry Cordes of Meeniyan, on German experiences and Enrico spoke on Italian experiences. A dance held in Cathedral Hall on July 19th, 1907 advertises: "Servian, German, Italians, French, Scandinavians, Russians and British cordially invited."
Eddie Callard recalls that Tom Mann once M.C.'d an International Night at which there were about twenty different nationalities, each one was introduced on the platform and Tom made comments on the countries of origin. There was huge applause for an African who worked as a bootblack in Bourke Street.
There were three Interstate Conferences during Tom Mann's period. The first was held in Melbourne, in 1907.
Delegates were H. Holland and Hillier from the International Socialist Club, Sydney; J. O. Maroney and T. Batho from the Socialist Labour Party, Sydney; H. H. Champion and W. Marsh, Social Democratic Federation; J. P. Jones and V. Kroemer, Queensland Socialist Vanguard; R. Ross and Hawkes, Broken Hill-Barrier Socialist Propaganda Group; J. Thom and A. Gray, Social Democratic Association, Sydney; Tom Mann and Harry Scott Bennett, Socialist Party of Victoria.
It was decided that Sydney would be the headquarters of the Socialist Federation of Australia and the executive to consist of a delegate from each of the bodies. Those in Sydney were to constitute a working committee. Probably the most important decision of conference was that secondary importance was attached to parliamentary work—the aims were socialism and they should stand clearly on their own feet as socialists.
Socialist reported that development includes separation and specialisation, "and those who deliberately proclaim the class war (as we do) should, as a matter of principle, and always declare in favor of revolutionary socialism, and should be too dignified to seek election by the machinery and finance of organisations, a large majority of whose members, do not believe in the class war, and never declare in favour of Socialism". When this report was given to Melbourne members the hall was nearly full and only five voted against it.
The second interstate conference of the Socialists commenced in Sydney on June 12, 1908.
Represented were: Adelaide Socialist Group, O. W. Jorgenson and H. Gray; Barrier Socialist Group, R. S. Ross and A. K. Wallace; International Socialist Group, Sydney, Mrs. Lynch and Harry Scott Bennett; International Socialist Club, Sydney, H. Borax and Price; Victorian Socialist Party, E. F. Russell and Frank Hyett. There were ten delegates with H. E. Holland as Secretary and A. Borax, Treasurer attending ex officio.
Word of a decision of the New Zealand Socialist Party to affiliate with the Federation was received with cheers.
The desire to start a campaign in the political field and run candidates wherever and whenever "it strikes us as worthwhile" was expressed by all delegates with the exception of the Melbourne delegates.
A long statement of principle includes "to win economic freedom, the non-owning working class must organise on the lines of the IWW, and they must force the struggle into the political field, and use their political power, the ballot, in conjunction with their industrial organisation, to abolish capitalist class ownership to set up the Socialist Republic, and thus revolutionise, in the interest of the working class, the entire structure of industrial society".
The 1907 Congress discussed the International Congress to be held in Stuttgart with 900 delegates from twenty-five countries. Victor Kroemer was accredited as delegate for Australia.
Kroemer was a Theosophist and a food faddist. Socialism possibly took third place. He offered to attend at his own expense. He was a handsome six-foot tall man very much admired by the female, members of the VSP.
He was reputed to be the first Australian-born delegate to represent Australia at an International Socialist Conference. A send-off was organised and refreshments supplied were "of the hygienic non-flesh kind, our comrade, amongst his many other qualifications, being a vegetarian".
He left on board "The Kleist" and arriving in Stuttgart exploded the news on the Conference under the presidency of August Bebel, that the world revolution would start in South Australia. Kroemer was born in that State, and parochial patriotism must have been another of his "qualifications". Reuter cabled: "Kroemer extraordinary mixture of blasphemy and inconsequence. Prefer not to translate." Socialist commented Kroemer spoke in English and there was no need to translate.
There was some hint of what was to come, in his speech made at his own send-off. It was reported that he "had a conviction that serious efforts would soon be made in that State [S.A.] to apply revolutionary socialist principles".
Syd Toohey, member of the Social Democratic Federation (later Secretary of the Printers Union) received a letter from Henry Hyndman, famous British Socialist economist and a founder of the Social Democratic Federation in 1881. He was a journalist on the Pall Mall Gazette and had worked in Melbourne on the Argus. Hyndman demanded to know why Australia had selected a stupid dreamer as its delegate. It is also noteworthy that when the Socialist Party received a report from Kroemer it did not rush into print in big headlines. South Australia has some premier achievements to its credit, possibly this influenced Kroemer's ideas, i.e. Franchise for women (1894) and Land Settlement.
The third Annual Conference was held at Broken Hill commencing June 12, 1909.
Delegates to the 1909 Australian Socialist Federation conference at Broken Hill, including Angus McDonell (standing, far left), Percy Laidler (standing, second from right), Tom Mann (seated, far left), Bob Ross (seated, second from left) and Harry Scott-Bennett (seated, far right).
The industrial activity in Broken Hill in 1908-9 made it eminently suitable as venue for the third annual conference.
Delegates were: S.A.: Tom Mann and Percy Laidler. Barrier: E. A. Giffney and V. Cogan. N.S.W.: H. S. Bennett and E. H. Gray. Victoria: R. S. Ross and A. McDonell. Giffney was elected chairman and Borax of Sydney attended as secretary.
Conference was in session for several days and covered reports on activities since the second Conference, carried resolutions for the future, conducted street meetings, lectures and debates for the benefit of the Broken Hill citizens.
Efforts to extend to Newcastle and Queensland had been unsuccessful. The Socialist Sunday School now had new branches in Sydney and Broken Hill. There were special reports on the Broken Hill Lockout and gaolings. Victoria reported it had stood two candidates against official Labor candidates. Socialists had led the unemployed agitation, and an anti-militarist agitation had a fillip from the visit of the American fleet. A pamphlet "Sedition in New South Wales" was published. Sydney had assisted in strikes of tramwaymen and rockchoppers. Both Sydney and Melbourne were pleased with Jack London's visit and his delight with the Socialist organisations.
It was reported that two resolutions of the second Conference were not endorsed by all individual branches, one on religion, the other on IWW Clubs.
1. To work for the freeing of imprisoned workers.
2. The SFA declares its uncompromising hostility to all forms of militarism recognising that whilst the present class state exists, the armed forces will be used to buttress up capitalism and to hold down the workers. The Federation further recognises that all the energies of the working class can be most profitably utilised in building up their industrial and political organisations, which shall finally render war impossible, and which organisations by international affiliation and alliances between the working class of all nations are at present the chief guarantee of the peace of the world.
3. From Sydney—That all Socialist papers adhere strictly to the policy of the Federation.
4. From Victoria—That any candidate running on the Socialist ticket for Parliament after being selected by the party, shall before entering upon his campaign, sign and hand to the party responsible for his selection his resignation as a member of Parliament to be used in the event of him swerving from his socialist policy.
5. More attention to be given to education of women and that women comrades be induced to train for propaganda work.
6. SFA endorsement of the IWW preamble to be withdrawn and that the Federation only declare for the broad principles of industrial unionism.
One of the chief points of discussion was around the question of "palliatives".
A resolution was put by the Sydney International Socialist Group "that conference reaffirm the adherence of the SFA to a program free from palliatives".
Tom Mann urged the advisability of making a declaration in favour of paying attention to feeding the children, provision for the unemployed and shortening hours of work.
It was contended that the advocacy of palliatives would cause neglect in the concentration on the abolition of capitalism. Nonetheless in practice the Sydney organisation had assisted in local strikes. The following somewhat ambiguous resolution was carried—
That whilst agreeing with the wisdom of not having a political program of palliatives this conference heartily endorses the necessity for persistent and vigorous agitation to provide maintenance for necessitous children, adequate provision for the unemployed and universal agitation, industrial and political for a reduction of working hours.
The object of SFA was amended to read "The socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange".
A lengthy statement of principles included:
...the workers of Australia must without delay take up their position along with the organised class-conscious workers of all other countries. There is no escape from the baneful effects of capitalism short of its complete overthrow, and this can only be achieved by the class conscious industrial and political strength of the working class.
Conference resolved to invite Eugene Debs to undertake a campaign. Fraternal greetings were sent to organisations throughout the world.
Protest was lodged on Judge Pring's verdict (re Harry Holland). Support was declared for a petition and activities of the Release Committees.
Admiration was registered of the leaders of the proletarian movement in Mexico now in prison and the American comrades, and especially comrade Debs and the Appeal to Reason.
Conference declared "we cannot believe the US workers will allow Diaz [President of Mexico] to violate all principles of liberty and decency by a continuance of such diabolic oppression".
"The Red Flag" was sung and three cheers given for the Social Revolution.
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