Dawn To Dusk, Ernest Lane 1939
The Bolshevik revolution in 1917, with the later revolution in Germany, Hungary, and the general revolt of the workers in other countries, following the end of the world war, opened up entirely new phases in international affairs. The reactions of these events in Australia were less marked than elsewhere. This was largely due to the shortsighted acceptance by the Australian workers of the impotent Labour Parties or Governments, with Arbitration Courts, wherewith to remedy all their ills and ultimately establish the Socialist State.
The amazing triumph of the Bolsheviks rudely shattering to atoms the smug theories of a peaceful evolutionary emergence of the workers out of the house of bondage into the promised land along a flower strewn path of parliamentarianism, was regarded with disfavour and alarm by national Socialists and Labour politicians alike. They saw in this manifestation of the workers will and power to victory a serious menace to their long unchallenged position as the infallible saviours and leaders of the masses.
The consolidation of the Soviets, their successful operation as an unassailable method of supplanting parliamentary capitalist democracy, with all its false ideology and ineffectiveness, was a scathing reflection on, and contrast to, the miserable failure of Labour Parties here and elsewhere. On the other hand the militant section of the workers in Australia, long dissatisfied with the barren harvest of years of Labour parliamentarianism hailed with joy the Bolshevik revolution as the harbinger of light, showing to the suffering workers of all lands the pathway to economic freedom.
I wrote many articles extolling the achievements of the Bolsheviks, and based many arguments and exhortations on that basis to the sadly lagging and doped workers of this country. The glorious victory of the Russian workers had brought to me, and many others, a gladness and hope for the cause of the workers that had been the supreme motive and desire of my life. No longer despised and rejected, the workers had brushed aside with scorn age-old traditions, to stand erect in defiance of all their enemies. So the Bolshevik revolution thrilled me, and I never failed to, at all times, at every possible opportunity, point out its tremendous significance to the working class of all countries – the lessons to be learnt and the policy to be pursued.
Ever urging the workers to do their own thinking – to refuse any longer to be fooled and hoodwinked by specious and false friends, I wrote at this time an impassioned appeal which contained the following: –
“’Gaol is the gateway of freedom, declared the imprisoned Debs, and from that gateway in America another sufferer for the workers’ cause, Arturo Giovannitti, some years ago, delivered a passionate appeal to the workers to think, to use their divine powers of brain for the world’s salvation, not its enslavement. This message is the one great need of the hour, it is the lesson which must be learned by the workers; must be the cornerstone of the new temple of freedom which suffering workers are so anxiously attempting to build to-day. To think – can it be said too often? Therein full success awaits the toiling millions, without such thought the reconstructed temple will be built in vain.
“Think! Think! Unburden, liberate
Your brains from all its waste and loss,
Throw down from it the age-worn weight
Of few men’s feet and one man’s cross.
Think! If your brain will but extend
As far as what your hands have done,
If but your reason will descend
As deep as where your feet have gone,
The walls of ignorance shall fall
That stood between you and your world,
And from its bloody pedestal
The last god, Terror, shall be hurled.
Think! Think! While breaks in you the dawn,
Crouched at your feet the world lies still,
It has no power but your brawn;
It has no wisdom but your will.
From you, the chained, reviled outcast,
From you the brute inert and dumb,
Shall through your wakened thought at last
The message of To-morrow come.”
No reference to this epochal period of working class progress would be complete without mention of a book, “Creative Revolution – A Study of Communist Ergatocracy,” by Eden and Cedar Paul.
Published in 1920, it threw down a challenge to a startled and smug world, which sensationally shook lethargic sleepers – dreamers of an empty day – out of their slumbers. Ergatocracy was a new word, coined to meet and explain the new role of the Russian workers – meaning “workers’ rule,” as distinct from the old shibboleth, “democracy.”
Written at a time when confusion of ideas reigned in the minds of men, this book in no ambiguous terms ruthlessly plumbed the depths of hitherto unquestioned Labour and reform policies, revealing their superficiality and ineffectiveness. It was a call to arms – to an honest and intelligent recognition of the class war – a new dispensation that could and would not be thrust lightly aside. The key to the book was voiced on its cover – a quotation from Paul of Tarsus – “If the trumpet give an uncertain sound who shall prepare himself for the battle?”
Mr. Molesworth, Director of the Workers’ Education Association, who was far more revolutionary then than in later years, sent the book to me through Vic. Smith, requesting me to review it in the “Daily Standard.” I devoured the book and the fine summing up by its brilliant authors of the revolutionary situation and how it had to be met by the workers.
I wrote a long, eulogistic review and pointed out that, whether one liked it (the book) or not, it had to be answered. Its thesis could not be ignored, it was a cutting indictment of parliamentarianism – of all the accepted methods of orthodox Socialist and Labour parties to overthrow capitalism and establish the new order.
I must record that despite his own personal disagreement with many of the “Jack Cade” articles, MacDonald very rarely took any steps, either by censoring or rejecting, to silence me. But this review was evidently too hot for him, as when it was published serious censorship was evident. Probably the fear of the wrath of the politician at too scathing a repudiation of parliaments and Labour politicians influenced MacDonald’s action. Still the review as published gave plenty of food for thought. Molesworth told Vic. Smith that he was somewhat disappointed at my review. Vic, although he did not know at the time, replied that he was certain the review had been censored.
I sometimes wonder how many of the younger generation of Communists or militants have read “Creative Revolution.” When it was published it was a blazing beacon of working class development, and still remains a classic.
As industrial writer for the “Standard,” it was my job to report all union functions. For some years the holding of regular smoko or similar celebrations was the custom of most of the unions. As I always had to reply to the toast of “The Labour Press,” I willy nilly used to talk. There was, or I thought there was, during the war years and immediately after, a semi-revolutionary position even in Australia. Thus I did not feel hampered in giving expression to my revolutionary thoughts and prophecies. The latter, alas, have never been fulfilled, or perhaps they have only been delayed. I always got a good and sympathetic hearing even from the most moderate unions, who I know, while disagreeing with my militancy, recognised my sincerity and comradeship with the whole of the workers.
I had many interesting experiences attending these functions. One of my discoveries was that the rowdiest and where most drinking was indulged in was at the function of the respectable Shop Assistants’ Union, while the most sober and orderly were the smokos of the Seamen’s Union.
The passing of the years had not by any means brought any improvement in the political or even the industrial situation with regard to an honest recognition of Labour’s real and only mission. Neither was there the slightest attempt on the part of the Labour parties, State or Federal, to implement genuine working class measures or to propagandise Labour objective. This situation is indicated in the following “Jack Cade” article which also was reprinted in the southern radical press:
“The strong tendency of every successful political party is to lead the people to believe that their welfare will be best served by retaining the services of such party. In pursuance of this policy, first principles, whenever they come into apparent conflict with the popular mind, are relegated to the background and in their place arise policies more in keeping with the reactionary ideas of a mass ignorance. Unfortunately, Labour political parties are by no means exempt from this dishonest and weak method of submission to the popular will. To this source can be traced the major cause of the disappointing results of political Labour in office and the consequent discontent of the workers. To placate the majority of electors is too often the primary consideration of Labour-in-Politics, even though that can only be reached by a cowardly abandonment, and even betrayal, of vital Labour principles.
“The much desired change of society from the capitalist to the Socialist State can only be brought about by intensive propagation of the basic principles of the New Order. The mass of people obviously adhere to present day methods both in politics and industry. The consequence with Labour has been a tragic drift down the stream of expediency. Instead of an intelligent and courageous preaching of working class philosophy and ideals there has been evidenced a determination, conscious and unconscious, to hide these essentials to a virile and honest Labour Movement as though they were something to be afraid and ashamed of. From a sound working class point of view, nothing but dire disaster lies at the end of this road of political expediency and concealment wherein will be lost all hope of any real socialist progress.
“Recent developments in the political arena have effectively indicated that there is no possibility of a realisation of Labour’s objective per medium of the capitalist State. To talk about a safe and proper route to socialisation within the capitalist system is sheer sophistry, or worse. The Labour movement in Australia has laid down a very definite and tangible scheme whereby Labour’s objective can be reached, but this policy is in effect disavowed in every election campaign until it has come to be regarded by the average elector as a mere dry bone with which to satisfy the hunger of the “extremist” minority.
“It has been truthfully said that until Labour’s objective and the methods for its attainment are made election issues they can never become a parliamentary policy and must simply remain an objective.
“While politicians may be blamed for cowardice and submergence of principle, every other section of the working class movement must share the responsibility for the present disquieting position. The trade unions, who, to a greater extent than the politicians, have a supreme part to play in attaining Labour’s objective, likewise adopt obsolete methods of organisation. If the objective of Labour is regarded as anything else than a meaningless, pious declaration of faith (?) then the workers of Australia and their organisations, both political and industrial, have so far not even attempted to carry out the responsibilities invested in them. Some plain talking and thinking in regard to the recreancy and cowardice of the working class movement in this country is apparently the most essential need at the present stage of Labour development.”
Owing to the sudden death of John Adamson, Queensland senator, J. V. MacDonald, editor of the “Daily Standard,” as the highest in the previous plebiscite of Labour nominees for the Senate, was selected by the Q.C.E. and government. Consequently, he resigned from the editorship, and Alick Robertson, sub-editor, was appointed editor by the directors.
As a reputed and pronounced militant and Communist, the “left wing” rejoiced at the new appointment and foresaw a big change in the direction of militancy under Robertson.
But they were grievously mistaken, as contrary to all anticipations, Robertson, shedding all his revolutionary ideas, became a hater of militant trade unionism and a servile sycophant to the Labour politicians. His advent as editor, and eventually managing editor, of the “Standard” coincided with its wrecking and disappearance as a true Labour paper. It subsequently became bankrupt and closed.
Regarding himself as a Napoleon of the press, in actual results he proved himself to be “Napoleon the Little,” Robertson, on his accession to the editorial chair, set out on his new career. No one was more deceived than myself at the real Robertson now revealed for all to gaze upon, not in awe, but in wonder and disgust. It was some time before I realised what he meant when he told me he intended “cutting out all propaganda.” He really meant all militant expression from the sacred editorial office of the “Standard.” Imagine a union-owned Labour paper “cutting out all propaganda.” Yet Robertson did this without a qualm in the one direction, but the insidious propaganda of the innocuous Labour politicians was allowed full sway, backed up by the leading articles written by another supposed one time rebel, J. Comrie.
Obviously the most important matter in hand was to emasculate the “Jack Cade” articles with a view to their ultimate and early extinction. First, Robertson altered in varying degrees my articles, eliminating or adding a word or two which changed or shifted the whole meaning of the question set forth. Growing bold with success, Robertson very shortly after consigned all my articles to the waste paper basket. He never even had the courtesy to come to me and tell me frankly that his policy was to have only one article published, the leading article. I did not go to Robertson and object, knowing it would be useless, and any interview would probably end in me leaving the paper. I could see no good purpose to be gained by forcing the issue, so submitted to what was an almost intolerable position.
The unions were fiercely indignant at the suppression of the “Jack Cade” articles. Resolutions of protest were adopted at union meetings. Deputations protested to Robertson but all in vain.
In reviewing this matter I am definitely of the opinion that the directors acquiesced in this anti-militant policy of Robertson. He was only an individual and could have been either disciplined or discharged by the board of directors. Why was Robertson for years both as editor and later managing editor, permitted to remain as the great Pooh-bah of the “Standard"? With a lack of intelligence, courage or a proper recognition of their duty to the “Standard,” to the unionists who created the paper, and owned it, to the Labour movement generally, the directors allowed Robertson to steadily pursue his disastrous policy. It is hard to fathom this mad support of a man who years later, when it was too late, severed his connection with the “Standard.” That action could well have been taken within a year or two of Robertson’s editorship, when the whole of the composing staff went on strike and stopped the issue of the paper in protest against certain of his actions. But apparently Robertson had imbued the directors with a stupid obsession that he alone as a super editor could successfully conduct the paper and make it a sound financial success. But I believe that the underlying motive for their tragic failure to deal with Robertson was their hostility to the militant union officials who did not hesitate to severely criticise the paper, its vapid political policy, and castigate those responsible.
Robertson found himself in close alliance with the directors who equally with himself detested such outspoken critics as George Rymer, president of the Australian Railways Union, Tim Moroney, secretary A.R.U., Ernie Ellis, secretary of the Carpenters Union, H. Carrigan, secretary of the Seamens Union, W. J. Wallace, secretary of the Painters Union, J. Carleton, secretary of the Builders Labourers, and other militant officials. To recognise as comrades in arms these “disrupters” and “revolutionaries” who dared to scathingly condemn many actions of the “moderate” section who, unfortunately for the good of the workers, were all powerful, was unthinkable. Therefore, Robertson, who never hesitated to use the “Standard” to viciously attack the militants, retained the support of the directors.
On one occasion, McCormack, as Premier, issued a bitter diatribe against the A.R.U. and its officials. Robertson seized on this golden opportunity to discredit and humiliate, if possible, his most feared and hated opponents, Rymer and Moroney. So he streamlined and featured McCormack’s statement. Moroney, as secretary of the A.R.U., sent through me for the “Standard” an official reply to McCormack’s attack. To my amazement, Moroney’s reply, as it appeared in the “Daily Standard,” was grossly censored, some of its most cutting and pungent passages being eliminated. I was furious, and went to Robertson and asked him how he dared to censor an official reply by a union secretary to an attack by a Labour Premier. “Why,” I exclaimed, “You wouldn’t dare to alter a line or a comma of any statement sent to you from a Labour Minister, yet you have the audacity to ruthlessly censor a union secretary’s reply.” Robertson was white with suppressed rage at my daring to question his actions and weakly explained that what he had censored was not germane to the issue. I suppose he never forgave me for this and other things I told him regarding his actions from time to time.
At the commencement of his editorship I frequently had long arguments with Robertson with regard to the suicidal policy he was evidently going to adopt towards the unions, including the elimination of the industrial page. He said once “I know that Wallace, Moroney, and the rest of that crowd think that your articles are just what are wanted. I might agree with your ideas myself, but the man in the street doesn’t want that sort of thing, and I am going to cater for him.” He then propounded the kind of newspaper the ordinary individual wanted and said that the militants in the union movement were only a small minority.
I disputed his low estimate of the “man in the street,” and said a Labour paper should rather try to raise his standard rather than play down to it. “With regard to the militants,” I said, “I know better than any other man the weaknesses of the unions. But the small militant section, whatever their faults may be, are the life and breath, the driving force of the movement. Once you divorce them from the “Daily Standard” then you might just as well close up the paper as a Labour paper. You should try and foster the paper’s connection with the unions. You can’t afford to lose that, for the “Daily Standard” had not and never can have the finance to compete with the “Mail,” “Courier,” or “Telegraph” as a mere newspaper. If you ignore this position, then I can see only disaster ahead for the paper.”
However, all my reasoning was of no avail. He, Robertson, knew how to run a paper, and would prove his capabilities. As a result, I did not waste any more time seeing a man who refused any advice and who apparently regarded Labour principles of very minor importance compared with more mundane things.
As the “Standard” started on its new career of more or less veiled hostility to the unions, so was my position on the paper becoming more irksome and unsatisfactory. Still I could not do anything to relieve the situation. I remember at the conclusion of one of the earlier Queensland trade union congresses before the card voting system was introduced, and the resultant domination of the A.W.U., the “Daily Standard’s” leading article dealt with the proceedings and decisions of the congress.
The article was a damnable one. It was a disgrace to any decent Labour paper. As the congress had at least been strongly influenced by the militants, including Moroney, Rymer, and others, it was naturally fair prey for Robertson and Comrie. The Congress decisions were sneered at and the unions generally held up to public scorn because of their alleged futility and failure to get anywhere. Some of the things that were said in this article were true enough up to a certain point, but it was utterly unwarranted and only used as a snide method of discrediting the unions.
When I read the infamous thing I had to express my resentment by some means, so I wrote an article reviewing the work of the congress and giving words of cheer and encouragement to the unions, who in the face of many disabilities, were at least trying to lay down and carry out a progressive working class policy. In the afternoon, Dan Quinlan, the only other genuine rebel on the whole literary staff of the “Standard,” came into my office and asked me if I had read the “vile ‘Standard’ leader’ “ and what I thought of it. I showed him the article I had written to relieve my indignation. He said: “It is true and good – what are you going to do with it?” I said I would send it to one of the Southern Labour papers who would be glad of it. Quinlan urged me to send it in to Robertson for publication.
I pointed out that my articles had been tabooed for a long time and I did not relish giving Robertson another opportunity to slap my face. Quinlan argued that I would at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I had tried to publish in the “Standard” a fair review of the congress. Unwillingly I sent the article into Robertson, but it was never published, returned or mentioned to me!
Quinlan later became sub-editor, but as an honest militant, could not endure Robertson and the vitiated “Standard” atmosphere. He resumed work on the “Daily Mail,” but, unhappily, died soon afterwards.
An arresting character, Chris. O’Sullivan, was also a temporary sub-editor, who, as an enthusiastic Irish rebel, could not submit to the reactionary restrictions and policy of Robertson. O’Sullivan had an adventurous career during the war, when he had visited Ireland and worked as a journalist in London. I became very friendly with him and he confided his plans and ideas to me.
He was in continual conflict with Robertson, and an amusing feature of their relationship was that all their squabbles were carried on by notes in true diplomatic style. I suppose it was O’Sullivan’s conspiratorial complex that induced him to indulge in this comic opera method. He would come into my office and pen an ultimatum to Robertson, who, in due course, replied with probably another ultimatum. And so it went on. O’Sullivan promised me he would not leave the “Standard,” but would remain with me in the hope that we might do something to make the “Standard” more like a real Labour paper. But O’Sullivan found he could not tolerate his chief and burst into my office shortly afterwards, exclaiming “It is finished! I had a row with Robertson and am going to Sydney to the ‘Labour Daily.” I said to him that the “Standard” from the workers point of view was bad, but the “Labour Daily” was worse. He agreed, but went all the same. He has now, I believe, returned to Ireland.
As the work on the “Standard” was re-organised under Robertson’s regime, I was allotted the unpleasant duty of reporting Arbitration Court cases. For some years I had this work to perform in addition to collecting and collating union reports. Having no delusions about the kind of justice that was meted out to the workers per medium of Arbitration Courts, I did not receive any shocks when I thus had a continual close-up view of the Arbitration Court and its methods. If one had previously accepted the popular legend that Arbitration Courts function impartially or, indeed, in the interests of the workers, closer acquaintance with the Court soon removes the scales of disillusionment.
It seemed to be the irony of fate – a sardonic jest – that I, of all men, should find myself the official recorder for the unions of compulsory arbitration cases. No one in the Commonwealth had more consistently and bitterly denounced this system of immoral compromise between the exploiter and the exploited as expressed to its highest or lowest depths in Arbitration Courts.
Yet here I was, day after day, week after week, seeing with my own eyes the damnable evidence of the workers’ foolishness – and humiliation, when at the behest of certain vested Labour interests, they had welcomed the chains of compulsory arbitration.
Sitting in that Court of capitalist class justice so symbolic of working class degradation and spineless submission to the employing class, I oft-times reflected on the earlier days and contrasted the unionism of then and now. For a mess of pottage that turned sour in the mouth, the Australian workers had sold their priceless heritage of freedom, had weakly accepted a system of industrial bondage which sapped the very life blood of real unionism. Arbitration Court judgments had, on numerous occasions, branded revolting workers as outlaws and pariahs, criminals subject to severe legal penalties. The one-time independence and fighting spirit of unionism was but a memory killed effectively in the poisonous atmosphere of Arbitration Courts.
Having accepted the dictum and philosophy of their exploiters, that there was a case for the division of the fruits of their toll, that there was a close identity of interests between the haves and the have-nots, the unions quickly found themselves “cabined, cribbed, confined” on every side.
Years of bitter experience had taught those who had been the most ardent advocates of arbitration that it was a delusion and a snare to enmesh the workers in a tangle of futility with no escape from capitalist conditioned laws. Often did I hear the Court Judges, with unctuous righteousness, rebuke and humiliate the union representatives for daring to, question the infallibility of the court or to indicate that the sorely tried workers would kick over the traces and take direct action.
But the workers, with their own hand, had sown the seed of compulsory arbitration and were now reaping the whirlwind which effaced all the higher conceptions of unionism – of working class solidarity, and left the workers naked to their enemies. In close alliance and sympathy with political Labour and its powerful ally, the A.W.U., the Arbitration Court found itself soundly entrenched against any spasmodic or sectional revolt against its jurisdiction.
But even the worm will sometimes turn, and when the Court, in a judgment reduced the shearing-rates, the men’s advocate, W. J. Riordan, bravely told the indignant judges that the A.W.U. would “kick like an elephant.”
The same day I interviewed Riordan, then president of the A.W.U., as to the intentions of the union. He stated that the members concerned were the people to decide and if they resolved to fight, the A.W.U. executive would support them. The shearers expressed their intention to strike, but the executive sternly admonished them for threatening to defy the sacred Arbitration Court decision and that such a strike would receive no support or assistance from the A.W.U. executive.
Curious and sceptical workers waited impatiently to see how and when the A.W.U. and its president would kick. But a wag made a significant discovery – that an elephant never kicked, it was a physical impossibility. Thus Riordan’s loudly proclaimed threat to the Court was entirely harmless and meaningless, merely a Joke “full of sound and fury and signifying – nothing!”
The continual failure of the Queensland Labour Government with its subservient appendage, the Q.C.E., to honestly represent the workers or to enact Labour legislation, caused extreme dissatisfaction amongst the unions. So pronounced was this resentment, that in November, 1926, a special conference of the unions was held in Brisbane to consider the relationship existing between the industrial and political wings of the Labour movement. A motion to form an industrial section of the Labour movement was lost and a motion adopted to reorganise the industrial section on a sounder basis.
But the revolt of the unions against the Government and Q.C.E. reached its apex subsequent to the railway lockout by the McCormack Government in 1927. At a special meeting of the Trades and Labour Council on September 12, 1927, the following resolution was unanimously carried without debate: –
“That this council declares that the McCormack Government and its supporters in the A.L.P. have betrayed the working class movement and have lost the confidence of the workers. Therefore, in order to deal with the present political situation, we call upon all unions and district Labour councils to send delegates to a trade union congress to meet within a month to discuss the relations between the unions, and the workers’ political party.”
At the Trade Union Congress thus held in October, 1927, the first in Queensland for many years, the following resolutions are indicative of other decisions reached which clearly revealed the workers’ resentment of the Labour Government’s reactionaryism.
“That in view of the failure of the Q.C.E. to safeguard the principle of unionism, challenged and violated by the Premier and his Cabinet, the Q.C.E. is deemed unworthy of the confidence of the unionists in Queensland.”
“That this congress recognises that the failure of the political Labour Party and the Q.C.E. is due to the reformist policy of the Australian Labour Party. It is evident in times of industrial upheaval that the interests of the people become the interests of property, therefore, congress declares that recognition of class struggle and active participation on behalf of the workers must be the basis of working class politics.”
“That congress declares the action of the McCormack Government in locking-out the railwaymen of Queensland, was a direct violation of a vital principle of the Labour movement, and that this Government is not worthy of the confidence of the workers.”
It need hardly be noted that the A.W.U. was not represented at this congress or any of the conferences that met from time to time to deal with the crimes of Labour Parties. As the staunch friends of A.L.P. politicians, the reformist bureaucracy of the A.W.U. never yet identified the A.W.U. with any organisation or movement that did not unquestionably accept the omnipotency of the A.L.P. It was only when the Queensland Trade Union Congress foolishly adopted the card system of voting that the A.W.U. recognised the Queensland Trade Union Congress and sent its delegates. By its numerical superiority and the exercise of the card vote, the one-time militant congress, under the dominance of the A.W.U., blossomed into a recording machine for A.W.U. opportunism and a valuable aid to the discredited political structure.
A clear appreciation of’ the policy of the A.W.U. with regard to other more militant organisations was well set out at the All Australian Trades Union Congress, held at Melbourne in July 19th, 1928.
It was decided that the Congress considered the unity move made by the A.C.T.U. Executive in proposing to the A.W.U. Executive to affiliate with the A.C.T.U., and thus bring about unity of the Australian Trade Union Movement, as being entirely correct, and in the best interests of the working class as a whole.
The congress report stated “that in refusing to establish Trade Union unity in this country, the present bureaucratic officials of the A.W.U. have unmasked themselves as reactionaries who through their actions work directly into the hands of the bosses.
“The A.C.T.U. must continue its efforts to bring about Trade Union unity, in spite of the sabotage of the handful of leaders of the A.W.U. In declaring this policy, the A.C.T.U. differentiates between the misleaders of the A.W.U. on the one hand, and the good militant and loyal trade unionists of the rank and file of the A.W.U. on the other.”
This congress instructed the A.C.T.U. executive to launch an intensive campaign among the rank and file of the A.W.U., which would make clear to every worker the necessity for working class unity as the sole effective means of resisting the onslaughts of capitalism.
An important declaration issued by this congress representing all the important unions throughout the Commonwealth with the exception of the A.W.U., related to the use of “direct action.” The Congress declared: –
“That the right to strike is one of the strongest weapons in the hands of the workers in their waging of the class struggle. We desire that this Congress declare itself in agreement with the strike policy and in spite of parliamentary legislation and court injunctions, declaring the strike illegal, that it will advise the trade unions to use and will support them in the use of the strike weapon whenever the situation and circumstances demand them.”
I had the uncongenial task of reporting for the “Daily Standard” a social function held at Redcliffe in connection with the annual A.W.U. convention, held that year (1925-26), in Brisbane. Grayndler, Barnes, Riordan, Dunstan and the official clique, were there in full force. At the luncheon speeches, these reputed leaders of Australian unionism, gave unrestricted expression to their inordinate egotism, their scornful contempt for the militant and class conscious workers who had the audacity to question the supremacy of the A.L.P. or arbitration policy.
Vituperative attacks on the “reds,” threats of what the A.W.U. could and would do to these “disrupters” of the Labour movement, were the cardinal points of the speeches. Any listening stranger would have imagined that the A.W.U. represented the overwhelming majority of Australian unionism instead of about one seventh, neither did these delegates truly represent their own rank and file. It was a depressing experience for anyone who had an intelligent and honest conception of the mission and purpose of the working class movement and one wondered how long the A.W.U. incubus was going to retain its misused power.
On the return trip to Brisbane on the steamer that evening, I was sitting alone when “Clarrie” Fallon, destined to be one of the highest panjandrums of the A.W.U. oligarchy, conversed with me on the tone of the luncheon speeches. I had known Fallon as a good rebel with an enviable reputation as a “straight goer.” He remarked that the old enthusiasm and selflessness of the movement seemed to be a thing of the past, also that the utterances of the speakers that day were regrettable.
I agreed, and said that although the A.W.U. speakers were supposedly representing all that was best in the union movement, not a sentence had been uttered that one would take away as an inspiration – not a word said that could fire one’s imagination or help in the fight. “And I,” I said in conclusion, “have to go home and write up the report.” As quick as lightning he exclaimed: “It is a crime that a man like you should have to do it!”
“Well,” I said, “that is the position, and the ‘Jack Cade’ articles are now taboo and I am silenced.”
In further conversation, Fallon expressed keen resentment at this suppression and said that the “Jack Cade” articles were the finest and most valuable feature of the “Daily Standard.” That at all the sugar mills and camps in the Mackay district, where he was organiser, these articles were eagerly looked forward to, closely read and debated, and were invaluable working class propaganda.
Fallon has since then chosen the easier pathway of success to reach his present apex. This one-time rebel now devotes much of his time and abuses his high position in vilifying and denouncing Communists and “Reds” whom he once was glad to hail as comrades!
On the boat that same night I had another interesting experience. “Bob” Funnell, later Labour member for Brisbane, who, as an A.W.U. organiser had ever been a devoted adherent to the Riordan-Dunstan coterie and undeviatingly opposed to my militancy, came up to me in a secretive manner. It appeared that there was a split in the camp, over some A.W.U. ballot, resulting shortly afterwards in Funnell resigning from his organising position. He half whispered to me with a furtive glance around: “Riordan is no friend of yours – or Dunstan either!” I laughed. What a revelation! I had never been under any illusion as to how Riordan or indeed any other time server or politician regarded me. How could any of the men with whom I was in continual and uncompromising hostility, possibly be anything but antagonistic to me, however friendly they might be on the surface? So Funnell’s confidential news was not news at all!
After Funnell had broken with the A.W.U., I accidentally met him several times when he, removed from the charmed A.W.U. circle, could without fear of punishment or consequence, speak the truth. “You never had a fair deal from the A.W.U.,” he said, “and you are better off now you are out of it.” I informed him that naturally I knew that “fair dealing” to their opponents, to the hated “reds,” was the last thing in the world anyone would expect from the A.W.U. high priests. “When I was organising,” said Funnell, “and the ballots for A.W.U. positions were being taken, I was told to do all I could to block you from getting votes.” I said this was news to me, though I had no reason to doubt that the heads of the A.W.U. were capable of doing anything to ensure their own welfare and to confound their enemies.
These disclosures of Funnell’s afford a concrete illustration of the mentality and methods of individuals who, after they have discarded their erstwhile close colleagues, disclose some of the disreputable practices with which for years they themselves have been associated. As an open and well-known advocate of a genuine Labour movement in contradistinction to the reactionary policies of the Theodores and Riordans, whenever there was a disagreement and cleavage in this camp, the disgruntled outcasts would tell me of the intrigues and violation of principle which are such an integral part of machine politics and unionism. Strangely enough, these individuals, with an amazing lack of perception of their own ignoble role, of their acquiescence and participation in the acts they now denounce, do not realise their own guilt. They are not repentent of their own past evil partnership and company, but, for purely personal reasons, involving no principle or based on any Labour ideals, find themselves thrust into the cold. I have received many curious and interesting “confessions” relating to the inner circle. Some of the revelations I have known previously. Other events have startled but never surprised me. With my own first hand experiences of the political immorality and uscrupulousness of those in high places and their conscienceless camp followers, no exposure of further trickery can serve to increase my disgust or condemnation. These questionable converts to the militant policy who thus denounce the corruption of which they have been a part, only excite my contempt and distrust.
Keeping in step with the A.L.P. and its more and more retrogressive policy, the A.W.U., under the careful guidance of Riordan and Dunstan, developed into a semi-political organisation with a very pink tinge of unionism. The old clear-cut line that divided the “militants” from the “moderates” gradually disappeared and in its place came into existence a sordid intrigue between individuals for official positions. It resolved itself into a fight between the “ins” and the “outs” in which strange alliances of one time enemies could be observed. Of course, I could not participate in such an unholy pact, and, in fact, was for some time unaware of the “ticket” that was being run. Thieves do not attempt to dispose of stolen goods to honest people.
This was the beginning of the end of the one time division of the A.W.U. officials into two camps. To-day the bureaucracy of the, organisation is well entrenched and there appears to be no opposition in official circles to the now historic role of the A.W.U. as the proud champion of effete Labour Parties and capitalist Arbitration Courts.
In complete harmony with the reactionary policy of the A.W.U., the “Queensland Worker” faithfully carried on a continuous attack on militant unionism and the detested “Reds.” This journal, which had so tragically fallen from its high estate, had prostituted the Socialist faith that had been its greatest glory, also, as far as it dared, slandered and discredited the Bolsheviks and the Russian Revolution.
At this period I was one of the members of the Board of Management of the “Worker,” which also included Dunstan and Riordan, who, in actual practice, behind the scenes imposed their policy on the paper. When the board met, I attacked Hanlon, the editor, on his anti-working class writings and fiercely denounced his vicious onslaughts on the “Reds.” I said I keenly resented being accused of receiving payment from the capitalist and disrupting the Labour movement. Hanlon said that his strictures on militants did not apply to me. I retorted that it was as true of me as of hundreds of other workers who were sick to death of the cowardice and reactionaryism of official Labour and demanded something more in harmony with a bona fide Labour movement.
Hanlon said that the Board was the authority and whatever policy was laid down he would faithfully carry out. But although the extreme viciousness of the “Worker” articles were modulated, there was very little difference – the “power behind the throne” still reigned supreme.
An echo of the past arose within the sacred precincts of Parliament House with regard to the literature distributed by the A.W.A. when McCormack, as Premier, was charged with distributing “I.W.W.” and revolutionary literature throughout Queensland when he was secretary of the A.W.A.
Of course the accusation was made for political purposes by anti-Labour politicians to expose McCormack as a revolutionist, instead of the insipid, harmless Labour Premier he actually was. McCormack, obviously for several reasons, denied the terrible charge, stating that not he, but Ernie Lane and others in Brisbane had been guilty of this heinous offence.
When I saw a report of the matter in the press, I commenced to write a true history of the A.W.A. literature and how Theodore and McCormack strenuously opposed and denounced it. Then reluctantly I decided not to reveal this closed page of the A.W.A. as I now saw it would just suit McCormack’s repudiation of participation and he would triumphantly exclaim: “There, you see, I told you I was not responsible for this I.W.W. literature.”
The vendetta against left wing members of the Labour Movement, which has been one of the trump cards of the Australian Labour Party, Q.C.E., and A.W.U., introduced the notorious anti-Communist pledge. This unscrupulous method of keeping the righteous and infallible Labour Party uncontaminated – and untrammelled – was not designed to eliminate Communists from the Party. The Communist Party in Queensland at that period was a very negligible quantity with very few members and less influence. But, an anti-Communist pledge was a very effective weapon to either drive militants out of the Labour Party or compel them to bow the knee to Baal and restrain their ardour. It had proved most effective in the ranks of the A.W.U., the Labour Party’s most powerful ally, and there would be little doubt of its success in the political arena.
When this demand for all A.L.P. members to sign an anti-Communist pledge was first sent to the Workers Political Organisations – now termed A.L.P. branches – there was a widespread revolt against the imposition and many rejections of the pledge with scathing condemnation of the Q.C.E. were registered by the W.P.O.s. Everyone knew the real purpose of the pledge was to “purge” the party of all who were troublesome to the politicians by insistently agitating that the Labour Party be one in something more than name.
As an active member of the South Brisbane W.P.O., for many years I opposed the pledge, which was unanimously rejected at a meeting of the organisation. But the Q.C.E., with cunning knowledge and insidious propaganda, again demanded that the W.P.O.s adopt the pledge. When the matter was again considered by the South Brisbane W.P.O., I moved its rejection and showed what would be its dire results. To my surprise and disgust all the following speakers, including Myles Ferricks, M.L.A., although they denounced the Q.C.E. and the pledge in far stronger terms that I had used, said that it would be advisable to obey the Q.C.E. My motion was defeated by 30 votes to three!
This ended my membership of the A.L.P. It seemed to me to be waste of time to remain in an organisation that was so lacking in principle and courage, as to support a vile scheme which was cunningly calculated to still further hamper the working class movement and crucify its best men and women. The fact that the members recognised to the full the outrageous nature of the pledge – and then agreed to it – made the position intolerable as far as I was concerned. Thus I severed a lifelong connection with the Australian Labour Party – nor have I since seen cause to regret that decision, rather, many reasons to strengthen it.
The anti-Communist pledge had its climax at the following Labour-in-Politics Convention, held at Southport. Tim Moroney, George Rymer (A.R.U.), and other delegates, refused to sign the pledge, not because they were members of the Communist Party or desired to join that organisation, but in uncompromising protest against this unscrupulous method to stifle all militancy. Debarred from the convention, the politicians staged a desperate fight to force the convention to adopt the pledge. In this they were successful, employing every trick, threat and devious method of which they had often proved themselves masters to whip into line the necessary majority. Many others were caught in the net so cunningly set with the inevitable result that the Queensland Labour Party to-day is a travesty and could with equal and more truth be termed a Fascist Party.
In vital contrast to the self satisfied, mediocre but all powerful A.W.U. officials, the Australian Railways Union in Queensland has been fortunate in its representatives and officials. In conferences, in many fights, they stood head and shoulders above their A.W.U. and other reactionary opponents. Moroney, always a doughty opponent of the arbitration system, is generally recognised as the finest court advocate for the workers in this State if not in Australia. With a delightful sense of humour and a sparkling wit – plus a wide knowledge of the working class movement, Moroney, on many a battle field has caused the reactionaries to squirm in futile rage. I have, on the Q.C.E. and at trade union meetings and conferences, ever found myself in the closest alliance with him and never ceased to appreciate his remarkable ability and unfailing courage in his unending fight for the working class.
Another A.R.U. stalwart, George Rymer, one time President, also possessed many of the qualities of his colleague which enabled him to state his case and flagellate unmercifully his political and industrial opponents. Rymer revelled in a fight and in this respect was often more than a match for Theodore, to whom Moroney and Rymer were particularly obnoxious.
As one of the militants who came within the pledge net, “Billy” Wallace, secretary of the Painters’ Union, and honorary secretary of the old Brisbane Industrial Council, during its later period, felt compelled to resign from the A.L.P. Ready at all times to fill a breach, to take a stand, Wallace though disillusioned in many respects, can be counted as one of that heroic band of pioneers who, through all the changing years, have not changed or betrayed their class.
The least said about many union officials, of which the A.W.U. are the prime example, the better for their reputation. Their records and actions will not bear investigation from a virile working class viewpoint, but it would be wearisome and useless to elaborate on this theme or catalogue their failures.
Subject to many viscissitudes at the hands of those who saw in my efforts a distinct menace to their dominance and privileges I did not – could not – abandon my firm belief in the ultimate triumph of the much betrayed and sorely tried workers. I met an old friend, unattached to the Labour Movement, but an idealist whose ideals had been shattered on seeing the corruption of the Labour leaders. He said: “Ernie, your heart must be broken, with all your bitter disappointments.” I laughed, and remarked that fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, hearts did not break and one had perforce to carry on.
I at least had the consolation that I had not fallen by the wayside or succumbed to temptation, that I held the esteem and friendship of all from whom I valued it. I recall receiving an unexpected letter from an engineer in one of the Bundaberg sugar mills, whom I had met in Brisbane. He wrote: “I am writing to you because I want to keep in touch with the one man I know who could have climbed on the backs of the workers – but did not.”
A very dear friend, Mrs. Jeannie Scott Griffith, one of the brainiest and bravest women Mrs. Lane and I ever had the good fortune to know, on her departure for the United States, gave me a picture of a storm battered pine tree standing alone on a mountain. On the back she wrote – “Like a lone pine upon some wind swept eminence he stands, battered, but still unbroken by the storm.”
A recountal of these incidents may be egotistical but I think they contain truth. After all, one may be forgiven in stressing the one greatest solace I, and others too, enjoy, amidst a world of tragic disillusionments, the appreciation of kindred spirits, a common bond of suffering – and joy.
The resignation of Crampton from the management of “The Standard” had result in the appointment of Robertson to the all-powerful position of Managing-Editor. He immediately commenced to show an admiring world how to conduct a daily newspaper. With a prodigal hand he initiated a variety of stunts that ended disastrously for the unfortunate “Standard” and brought the paper into disrepute as a true Labour paper.
Probably the most famous (?) and costly of the yellow journalist species of stunts that Robertson indulged in was a beauty competition. Such competitions under ordinary circumstances are not conducive to advancing Labour’s cause, particularly on the moral and intellectual standard of the community generally. But “The Standard” beauty competition was conducted by Robertson with a flair and boost that out-beautified all other beauty competitions. The final boost took place at the Brisbane Cricket Ground; it was connected with a “Back to Woolloongabba Week,” and the humiliating spectacle was witnessed of Robertson, the great Pooh-bah of journalism riding in pompous egotism in a car with the crowned beauty queen, followed by the bevy of other beauties. It was a sort of bowdlerised edition of an ancient Roman circus, without even the excuse for such an exhibition. To finish off this amazing Labour demonstration, the beauty queen was dispatched to the North, under the expensive chaperonage of a manager of a picture show – for all to see – and admire!
The unions, and all decent minded Labourites, viewed this exhibition of Labour journalism with intense anger and disgust – but the directors of the “Standard” sat silent and allowed Robertson to continue his meteoric career.
The costs of this beauty venture to the “Standard” was in the vicinity of £1,000. So notorious and disastrous were Robertson’s stunts that he was cynically – and truthfully – designated in the Trades Hall as “the stunt artist!”
Just as this Napoleon of the press had destroyed the “Standard” as a bona fide Labour paper after he had assumed the editorship, so likewise when he was made manager the financial losses were immensely increased.
When the financial position was becoming acute Robertson agreed to a voluntary proposal I made that I would resign from my full time position on the staff and on a half-time basis confine my work to union doings. This agreement worked quite satisfactorily but to my astonishment, two months later I found a curt note in my pay envelope of instant dismissal owing to “financial necessity.”
Thus after fifteen years service to the “Daily Standard” during which I had ungrudgingly given all my ability, had never spared myself and did far more than anyone else on the staff, I was dismissed.
In seeking the real reason for this drastic action which I knew would vitally and detrimentally affect the paper, it should be recalled that strong opposition was voiced against Robertson’s action when he cut out the industrial page and the “Jack Cade” articles. The unions, independent of whether they were moderate or militant, deputised and personally interviewed the editor for a period covering several years, also interviewed the directors, comprising Messrs. Carroll, McGovern, and others, who refused absolutely to give any consideration to the desires of the unions for the continuation of the industrial page of the affairs of the union movement.
Reports were regarded as a nuisance and were continuously held up from publication for two days and on one occasion for nearly two weeks, despite the continual protests of the unions.
The attitude of the Managing Editor was evidently endorsed by the Board, as all endeavours to get the Board to protect the interests of the unions in the paper were entirely ignored.
Humorously enough, I was engaged in reporting the annual Trades Union Congress, after I had been sacked, not having opened my pay envelope for a couple of days. On advice, though unwillingly, I told Riordan and strongly urged him not for my sake, but for the sake of the unions, the paper and the Labour Movement generally, to order Robertson to reinstate me as I knew the determined attitude the unions would take. Riordan, in a minute, could have ended the matter. He did not. Instead, he told the directors that I threatened that if I was not reinstated I would get the unions to declare the “Standard” black!
Apparently not too sure of the position, my dismissal was deferred for a few weeks, When I finally received it I happened to meet R. J. Carroll, one of the directors, at the Arbitration Court. “Well, Bob,” I said, “I am finishing up now.” “Yes,” he replied in an unguarded moment, “they were determined to get you.”
I did not ask him who the mysterious “they” were. He would not have told me, but it was not hard to guess who “they” were.
The unions were furious and without the slightest suggestion on my part, took a most hostile attitude towards the “Standard,” from which it never recovered and which sealed its ultimate fate. The whole matter came up for review at the annual meeting of shareholders in March, 1931, at which meeting the whole of the directors were present. At that time the action of Robertson in dismissing me had not been finally endorsed by the Board of Directors. The meeting was the most representative of the unions that had been held for many years and a resolution was moved requesting my reinstatement. All of the unions, whether of moderate or militant policy, strongly supported the resolution, with the exception of the A.W.U. However, it was carried unanimously, as the A.W.U. did not exercise their vote. Not one speaker, during the course of the exhaustive debate, spoke in opposition to the motion. Instead of the unanimous decision of the unions being given effect to, the directors at their next meeting upheld the decision of Robertson and ignored the unions. There was no argument at the time or since about it not being a case of victimisation, and for that reason and only, the Building Trades Group, and a number of the unions refused to further support the “Standard,” realising that a vital union principle was involved.
As the board had failed to honour its obligation to the unions, the unions then decided to take the only course open to them, in an endeavour to upset the decision of the board and call a special meeting in accordance with the rules of the company. At the special meeting which was held in September, the whole case was again debated, under the open threat by the A.W.U. representatives that if the unions insisted on my reinstatement, they would withdraw all their financial support from the “Standard,” which, in effect, meant the closing up of that paper. The resolution to reinstate me, to suspend Robertson and to appoint a committee of enquiry into the policy and conduct of the “Standard,” were all defeated at this special meeting. The A.W.U. had no hesitation in exercising, when occasion demanded, its card vote, which gave it a majority on all divisions.
I was then engaged by “The Daily Mail,” to report union affairs for that paper. For two years, until the merging of “The Daily Mail” into “The Courier,” I enjoyed a freedom from interference or censorship that was a most welcome relief after my experience on the “Daily Standard.” When the merger took place, to everyone’s amused astonishment, I was transferred to the “Courier-Mail” to write up union news. It was said that if the “Courier” engaged me to write union news then the millennium would have arrived. But that happened, and for four years I remained on the “Courier-Mail,” until I was dismissed on the grounds that increased pressure of space precluded the publication of union reports.
I have no complaints whatever with regard to the manner in which I was treated on the “Courier-Mail.” But their treatment of the union news was damnable in almost every respect, including outrageous censorship when considered necessary. There was at all times a latent hostility to the unions which flared into thinly disguised antagonism on occasions. This attitude towards the unions I keenly resented and for three years endeavoured through the editor and other responsible members of the literary staff, to get the union news treated as it should be. But it had little permanent effect. Once, more than usually indignant at the marked hostility to the unions, I said in the “Courier-Mail” office that if I were the unions they would never give another line of news to that paper.
Since leaving the “Courier-Mail” in September, 1937, I have not taken any active part in the Labour Movement. I have written this autobiography during the past few months. My task is now ended. If these memoirs serve to point out some of the snares and pitfalls that lie in the pathway of all rebels, if I have unmasked hypocrites and deluders of too-trusting workers, to the advantage of the Movement, then I am well rewarded.
All my criticism and condemnation of individuals and institutions are based on my conception of the Labour Movement from the Communist viewpoint. No other is possible for me or anyone else who, with undimmed vision and intellectual honesty, realises the true meaning of the Labour Movement and in this realisation spurn with scorn those false prophets who, with unblushing hypocrisy, pose as saviours of the masses even while they degrade and prostitute every fundamental Labour principle.
It is hardly necessary for me to declare, in the light of my own lifelong belief – and experience – that Labour parties with their semi and pro-capitalistic policies, can never emancipate the workers. In the last analysis the Australian Labour Party, in common with their prototypes in other countries, are actually Fascist in their outlook and actions. For the workers who really desire the destruction of capitalist society and the establishment of the communist or socialist society, the Labour Party must be disregarded as the instrument whereby to achieve that purpose. There remains only the Communist Party, who with a very definite and clear cut programme show the only road to travel towards Labour’s goal.
Rejected and scorned by official Labour today, the Communists are destined to be in the near future the corner stone and foundation of the new building which will rise, Phoenix like, from the dead ashes of the futile past.
Reflecting on my life, searching the cause of my unswerving adherence to those principles which are embodied in the Labour Movement, I find that my greatest comfort in times of viscissitude, the one unfailing source of strength and encouragement, has been derived from the people’s poets, the messengers of humanity.
So, in closing this record of my life, insofar at least as I have been in close contact with the working class and their joys and sorrows, I am stressing this perennial source of inspiration, not only to me but to countless others by inserting a “Jack Cade” article – “The People’s Poets”: –
“All down the history of man the poets’ voice has sounded the paean of the ‘Future’s Day,’ when the people will dwell in happiness and concord ‘each for all and all for each.’
“With clarity of vision and with unconquerable soul, the people’s poets, however dark the night have sensed the breaking of the dawn, and sung of the days of glory that yet shall be, even though they were as those crying in the wilderness, scorned by men and persecuted by Governments even unto death itself.
“The workers owe a debt of gratitude to these men and women, who, gifted far beyond most, devoted their genius to the cause of the common people irrespective of appreciation, reward, or fame. Not ‘the idle singers of an idle day,’ who were content to fritter away or prostitute their great gifts at the footstool of a king or in the temple of Mammon, but those noble singers
“Who, through long days of labour
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in their soul the music
Of wondrous melodies.”
“Whose brains were seared with the wrongs of the people, whose hearts were afire with white heat of passionate love for poor suffering humanity, and who, in language that will live for all ages, gave their message of hope and promise often to a scoffing or indifferent world.
“The Shelleys, Burnses, Whitmans, of the world of poetry, are the salt of the earth. Far removed from the sordid, mundane outlook on life, the poets of the people have, careless of the cost, given to the nations thoughts and ideals which are above price, and which have inspired countless thousands in their bitter and ofttimes apparently hopeless battle against oppressors of the people. From the heights reached after many days of sorrow and tribulation, these lovers of their fellow men have visioned the. promised land which, for endless years has been the El Dorado of the weary and heavily burdened toilers of the world.
“With eyes filled with the wonders and delights of the future world of mankind, with a faith unshakeable in the ultimate triumph of the people against their oppressors, those great poets of democracy proclaimed the glorious doctrine of human friendship and equality in words that entered the hearts of men inspiring them to ever press onward and upward until the goal of human justice and liberty is obtained. Without the inspiration derived from these singers of the people’s songs; without the great uplifting forces of idealism which these immortals of the human race have bequeathed to generations yet unborn, the achievements, the ever quickening march of the toilers towards the elysian fields of human brotherhood, could never have materialised. John Boyle O’Reilly truly said, ‘The dreamer lives for ever, but the toiler dies in a day.’ It has been and is to-day those who, with, the poet’s vision, with the poet’s passionate love for all that is beautiful in life, who, when bitter defeat, humiliation, and despair have overwhelmed the people’s cause have risen again and again from the debacle, cheering on those who have lost their faith in the ultimate triumph of righteousness, and have – with mind and body crushed – despaired of ever again knocking at the iron gates of privilege and power.
“It matters not to the poets of humanity, who make the toilers cause their own, what their worldly circumstances may be – whether starved in an attic like Chatterton, the boy poet of Bristol, or surrounded by luxury, the message bearers give their message of hope and love to all who will read. That these noble spirits are uncorrupted by environment is proven by the lives of such lovers of the common people as William Morris, the wonderful artist-poet, and Shelley, the aristocrat, yet probably the greatest people’s poet of all times, who, inspired by the epoch-making French Revolution, devoted the whole of his life and wonderful genius to the cause of the poor ones of the earth whom he loved so well.
“The basic principles of the Labour Movement are undoubtedly founded on economic rather than ethical foundations. Economical and material considerations actuated the eternal strivings of the workers in their bitter struggle to achieve emancipation. The theory of the coming co-operative Commonwealth is constructed on purely economic conceptions and system. But, over and above the economic basis of Socialism, woven like a thread of gold throughout the life and aspirations of the dispossessed permeates the idealism of the poet’s song, without which even economic justice would fall far short of the true realism of human freedom.
“So, with souls illuminated with ‘a light that was never yet on land or sea,’ the people’s poets sound the clarion call of liberty and fraternity, which, resounding throughout the universe, finds a responsive echo in every heart in every clime. And when the exultant message of the poet has fired the blood and strengthened the arm of those who to-day are sitting in despair and utter darkness, when the glorious tidings of man’s high destiny is fully realised by the people, then will the coming day of human emancipation of which the poets have sung and foretold, be ushered in, and mercy, truth, and justice shall kiss one another.”
In the eventide of life I find solace and contentment in the enjoyment of nature. A sun worshipper, it would be gross ingratitude not to appreciate to the full this most bounteous of all gifts. The call of the surf, the charm of the bush – the song of the birds – are all compensating factors that dull the sharp blade of adversity.
I have retained my youth, which is popularly considered as the greatest blessing one can receive. But to me it does not appeal that way, rather the contrary. To see the grey wolf of old age creeping nearer while still instilled with the passion and rapture of youth is to me an ironic gesture of fate. It is no solace to feel young when you are old with long years of disillusionment to cynically curb any egotistical estimation of one’s power to ignore the flight of time, with its immovable immutability.
Still, I am content to take whatever gifts the Gods may grant, and despite all buffetings and trials, am not unmindful of my own and others’ blessings.
In these memoirs I have made but passing reference to my home life, to the beloved family circle which has never failed at all times to be the heart centre of my existence. Without this refuge, this haven of peace, much of the joy and strivings of life would have been impossible. Mrs. Lane made “Cosme” what it always was; a social centre of kindred spirits where foregathered at different times many of those who gave their all to the services of humanity.
With the fleeting years our four children, all most happily married, still remained an integral part of “Cosme.” Excepting the eldest, Allan, sugar farming for some years at Maroochy, Dorothy, Teddy, and Alice, lived within a very short distance of “Cosme.’ On Sundays the family, which now also included a younger generation, invariably returned with laughter and joy to the home nest. This precious charmed circle remained unbroken, a veritable oasis of peace and love in a desert world of disillusionment and betrayals. Then with a cruel blow, staggering in its poignancy, the life-long domestic happiness was shattered. Alice, our youngest, born in the Argentine, died with tragic suddenness, leaving a gap that can never be filled. It is useless to philosophise in such cases of irremediable loss. One can only strive to bear the burden and grief, sustained somewhat by dear memories of many happy years of unbroken love and understanding.
Perhaps this brushing aside of the veil of one’s inner and most sacred part of one’s life, is out of keeping in these memoirs. That may be so; but this brief glimpse of our family life, its unforgettable gladness – and tragic sorrow – is an inseparable and supreme part of my whole life and activities, without which this record would be incomplete.
As the day closes, in retrospect I feel that I have had my share – more than my share – of life’s joys and exaltations. To have participated in the Labour Movement, to have worked in unison with many dear comrades – unconquerable souls – this alone has been joy indeed. What matters it that our dreams of a better and a happier world are yet unfulfilled? They will be some day and “we who once were fools defeated then shall be brave and wise.”
In my life’s journey I have fought the fight – I have kept the faith to the utmost of my ability and understanding. I have nothing to regret, but I am deeply thankful that in some measure at least I have had the good fortune, through sometimes fortuitous circumstances, to spread the gospel of discontent and help in the sowing of the seed of Communism.
I realised in my younger days with Karl Marx that “Capitalism is the most terrible scourge of humanity. It fattens on the misery of the poor, the degradation of the worker and the brutalising of his wife and children. Just as Capitalism grows so grows also pauperism, that millstone round the neck of civilisation, the squalor of great cities and the presence of deep poverty seated hard by the gate of enormous wealth.”
Thus I became imbued with an abiding and bitter hatred of the whole capitalist system and its evil work that remains with me to this day. Seeing in Communism the one hope of world redemption, the one unanswerable challenge to present day society, I was double-armed for the battle for human freedom, for the destruction of economic exploitation.
With this faith – this passionate belief in the supreme right of the workers to seize economic as well as political power, any departure from this fundamental basis of all working class advancement has ever roused my undeviating hostility. Is it any wonder that I and many others to whom the Labour Movement is the most sacred thing in life – is inexplicably bound with unbreakable bonds to Socialism-Communism, should denounce and condemn Labour’s betrayers?
“They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin,” and with astounding audacity, Labour’s representatives have, whenever the exigencies of circumstances were powerful enough – never hesitated to abandon or subvert the ideals and principles of the Movement.
With Walt Whitman, “I am for getting all the walls down – all of them.” Anything short of that is but a clashing of brass cymbals – a cynical reversal to the old discredited methods of play-politics.
There is still for me, as for others who desire to help in Freedom’s fight, ample opportunity. Perhaps I ought to still remain in the firing line and bear my share as I am well able to. But after the storm and stress one yearns for calm, far from the tumult and the shouting, the noise of battle. And I must confess, without attempting to justify passivity – that I “long for rest” – and am lazing my days. Carrying out the “Right To Be Lazy,” I am steeped in the quiet beauty of our home, with frequent visits to the surf. While my conscience reproves this withdrawal from the fight, I find at least some excuse and justification in the fact that for many years I have not faltered nor spared myself – and that I may – though with some misgivings – take my rest.
These reminiscences, incomplete and discursive as they are, will, I trust, awake a responsive echo in the hearts of many good friends and comrades who also have climbed the heights of Calvary in pursuit of truth, scorning the temptations that beset their path. May this record of the past bring to them precious memories of the fight which, though seemingly lost, is yet won. The communion of fellowship which is the greatest glory of the Labour Movement, still burns unquenched in the hearts of all such, and we meet again and clasp hands on a common ground – in a common cause.
To the younger generation my experiences may serve as a useful guide in the present and coming days of strife. The wiles of Labour politicians – the futility of fearful and reactionary Labour leaders have been revealed in this record, and the lessons I and others so bitterly learned should preclude any further waste of time and enthusiasm in vainly endeavouring to make figs blossom and fruit on barren trees.
My philosophy of life with all its tempestuous outpourings, its oft times agonising moments, have yet brought me joy and contentment. It has never failed me in the darkest hours, but has ever strengthened and comforted me. I temperamentally shrink from “wearing my heart on my sleeve for daws to peck at,” but I have honestly endeavoured in these memoirs to frankly record intimacies of my life in many directions.
In closing this all too unsatisfying story of my life – even heart – I feel the human creed of that great lover of Humanity, Ingersoll, aptly sounds the need of the present day: “Justice is the only worship. Love is the only priest. Ignorance is the only slavery. Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make other people so.”