History of the Australian Labor Movement - A Marxist Interpretation by E. W. Campbell. 1945

Chapter 2. The Great Strike And The Birth Of The Labor Party

A. The Socialism Of Will Lane.

The process of combining socialism with the mass labor movement is, in the words of Lenin, “an extremely difficult one.”

In each country this combination takes place historically, is brought about in a special way, in accordance with the conditions prevailing at the time in each country. [1]

To William Lane belongs the credit for launching the first serious attempt in Australia to effect this combination. Lane came front a petty bourgeois family which emerged from a peasant environment in Ireland. His father was an active Tory and in his young days Lane was strongly influenced by his views. Some years spent in America however, helped to change his ideas and when he arrived in Australia in the middle ’eighties he was a confirmed socialist. [2]

By this time Marxism had achieved a complete theoretical victory over other – utopian – streams of socialism in the labor movement.

The revolution of 1848 struck a fatal blow at all these vociferous, motley and ostentatious forms of pre-Marxian socialism ... The shooting down of the workers by the republican bourgeoisie in the June days of 1848 in Paris finally established that the proletariat alone was Socialist by nature ... All doctrines of non-class and non-class politics proved to be sheer nonsense. [3]

Marxism established itself as the only scientific theory of socialism. However, not all who claimed to be followers of Marx had really succeeded in mastering his teachings and making a decisive break with their liberal past. This was the case with Hyndman in Britain, De Leon in America and Lane in this country.

Lane’s socialism was much more utopian than scientific. In 1887 he founded not a Marxist circle but a Bellamy [4] society in Brisbane. His teachings had more in common with the doctrines of St. Simon, Fourier and Robert Owen [5] than with Marxism.

The objective conditions prevailing in Australia at the time Lane commenced his activities tended to reinforce rather than to help overcome his utopian views.

“Marxism,” writes Lenin, “is more easily, more quickly, more fully and firmly mastered by the working class and its ideologists in conditions of the greatest development of big industry. Economic relations which are backward or fall behind in their development constantly lead to the appearance of adherents of the labor movement who master only certain aspects of Marxism, only separate sections of the new world outlook, only separate slogans and demands, being incapable of breaking decisively with all the traditions of the bourgeois world outlook in general and the bourgeois democratic world outlook in particular.” [6]

Big industry was non-existent in Australia at the end of the last century. Economic relations were still backward. Australia was in the main a nation of primary producers who exported their surplus of raw materials and foodstuffs in return for the finished products of older manufacturing countries.

V. G. Childe, in How Labor Governs, relates that

“Prior to 1901 Australia was dependent upon imports for the majority of the articles necessary to the life of her inhabitants and to the development of her natural resources. Iron, for instance, could not be produced, and steel has only been turned out since the opening of the Newcastle works in 1915.

“It is only since the beginning of the century,” Childe continues, “that manufacture proper has been undertaken on a large scale. Prior to then secondary industry could be grouped under two main heads,

(1) the refining of raw products, without, however, converting them into consumables – smelting, wool scouring, tanning and milling operations which are on the border line between primary production and manufacture proper;

(2) small industry – baking, brick making, furniture making, brewing and so on. In the main secondary production was on a small scale and progress was slow.” [7]

Not a very favourable soil, it will be seen, for the rapid cultivation of Marxist, scientific, socialism.

William Lane did not confine his socialist activities to writing tracts and making propaganda speeches. He threw himself into the practical work of the mass movement and soon revealed great organising talent. His supreme achievement in this sphere was the building of the Australian Labor Federation in Queensland.

The Australian Labor Federation took shape from the discussion at the Intercolonial Trade Union Congresses. From 1884 various schemes for closer unity between the unions in the different colonies had been brought forward and debated at these congresses. But it wasn’t until 1889 that a concrete plan for a nation wide federation was adopted. This plan was again endorsed at the Ballarat Congress in 1891. The scheme was obviously inspired by Robert 0wen’s Grand National Consolidated Trade Union which had sprung up in Britain in the 1830's.

It provided for the division of Australasia into seven provinces corresponding to the seven colonies (New Zealand being included). The provinces were to be further subdivided into districts. District Councils were to be elected to administer affairs within their territory, over these District Councils would be the Provincial Councils and over all there would be a General Council representing the entire movement. It represented a most ambitious and elaborate scheme to unite the whole working class of Australia and New Zealand in a single organisation under centralised leadership and control. But outside of Queensland it remained no more than an ambitious scheme.

The Northern Province of the A.L.F. was established in 1890 and thanks to the diligent and enthusiastic efforts of William Lane it became more than a mere paper plan of organisation. In twelve months he united more than 15,000 workers in the Federation and started, under A.L.F. control, the first labor paper in Australia with a mass circulation – the Worker. The A.L.F. in Queensland revived old unions and organised a number of new unions. It gave valuable assistance and leadership to more than one strike struggle. The Federation was allowed to lapse in 1913 when the labor movement had become permeated with opportunism.

In all his practical work Lane was constantly inspired by his high socialist ideals and did his utmost to imbue the mass movement with a socialist objective, to provide it with aims which transcended the narrow horizon of petty trade unionism. Lane’s theoretical shortcomings plus the unfavourable objective conditions prevented him from achieving this goal. He came close to realising it in 1888, when the Brisbane Intercolonial Congress adopted a socialist objective, and again in 1890, when the Northern Provincial Council of the A.L.F. did likewise. But these gains for socialism were only temporary. The foothold which it obtained in the mass movement was lost after the 1890 strikes, when the trade unions turned their attention to Parliament. Lane then abandoned hope of socialism making headway in Australia and led a band of his disciples off to Paraguay in South America to found a utopian socialist community. Lane’s “New Australia” fared no better than the earlier experiments of Cabal, Owen and Charles Fourier. Many of those who left with him on the Royal Tar in July, 1893, full of enthusiasm for socialism returned within a year or so disillusioned, soured and embittered by their experience.

Consequently more harm than good was rendered the cause of socialism in Australia.

B. The Great Strikes And Lockouts.

The decade from 1880 to 1890 was in general, a period of boom. The skilled and organised section of the workers enjoyed a real wage that was greater even than that of the ‘seventies. But storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. The price of wool, which was still the foundation of Australia’s prosperity, was steadily declining. From 1875 to 1894 it fell by 49% according to some authorities. A period of low world prices set in and loan money became scarce. To a large extent it was loan money which had sustained the boom in Australia. From 1886 to 1890 £53,000,000 of overseas capital flowed into this country. [8] When the springs which fed this steady stream of loan capital began to dry up public works began to slow down. In 1888 there were 15,000 unemployed in N.S.W. All the signs of impending crisis were in plain evidence.

The employers, who had found it expedient to make concessions to the workers in the period of prosperity and high dividends, were now determined to reverse the process. The workers on their part were not disposed to yield up their gains without a struggle. Both sides organised their forces in preparation for what was to be the first great class conflict between Capital and Labor in this country.

Evidence of the growing class consciousness of the workers in the period immediately preceding 1890 was revealed during a strike on the Melbourne waterfront in January, 1886. The wharf labourers had struck for an eight-hour day and wage increases. The shipowners tried to break the strike by importing volunteer labourers. This caused the seamen to notify the owners that members of their union would not man the ships bringing free labor to Melbourne.

We are compelled to take this course,” they stated “owing to the struggle having assumed a new phase, viz., Capital v. Labor. [9]

This phraseology was a typical expression of an attitude which was fast becoming general in the ranks of the working class. It gave the employers further cause for wanting to call a halt to the progress of labor.

Hitherto the employers’ organisations had lacked cohesion, a fact which the unions often made use of to further their own interests. But the crisis enabled the capitalists to surmount their competitive differences and to unite more solidly against the common enemy – Labor. By the middle of 1890 a particularly influential section of the employing class, the shipowners, announced that they were now organised and ready to dispose of the question of ‘job-control’ and didn’t much care what served as an excuse for precipitating the crisis. In July Willis, chairman of the Steamship Owners’ Association declared,

“All the owners throughout Australia have signed a bond to stand by one another, and do nothing unless a vote of all the members be taken. They are a combined and compact body, and I believe that never before has such an opportunity to test the relative strength of labor and capital arisen.” [10]

A cause for provoking the inevitable conflict was found by the Shipowners in the decision of the Marine Officers Association to affiliate with the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. The Owners demanded of the Officers that they cancel this affiliation on the grounds that it was derogatory to discipline on the ships.

While this conflict was proceeding the squatters, organised in the Pastoralists’ Union, were preparing for a similar trial of strength with the shearers. In the 1889 season 90% of the sheds “shore union”, which meant that wages and conditions were determined by a collective agreement between the squatters and the Amalgamated Shearers’ Union. The squatters were bent upon reducing wages but the Union Agreements stood in the way. They therefore determined to ignore the Union and revert to “station agreements,” which meant that each employer would bargain with his workers individually, forcing them to accept the rates and conditions previously decided on by the Pastoralists’ Union. The Amalgamated Shearers’ Union countered these plans of the squatters by issuing a Manifesto calling on its members to refuse to work in sheds not adhering to the Union Agreement. The support of the Sydney Trades and Labor Council and the Maritime Unions was enlisted to block the carriage of non-union wool.

Thus by the middle of 1890 in two of the key industries, maritime and pastoral, matters were heading towards a climax. This came on August 16 when the marine officers walked off their ships and were followed by the crews. Waterside workers and coal lumpers soon came out in solidarity. On September 11, the A.S.U. called its members out. The Northern N.S.W. colliery proprietors locked out their miners, as did the B.H.P. at the Barrier. The Great Strike was on.

The strike was led by a Labor Defence Council, organised by W. G. Spence in Sydney. At the height of the struggle more than 50,000 workers were involved, mostly in New South Wales and Victoria. The strike aroused widespread sympathy and support among workers in other colonies and abroad. Trade unionists in all colonies subscribed £28,000, private donors £4,500, and British unions £4,000. But solidarity and enthusiasm alone do not win struggles of such magnitude. Sound revolutionary theory as well as good organisation and leadership are the basic elements required to bring success to the workers in the class struggle. None of these, at this stage, were, possessed by the Australian labor movement. The employers, on the other hand, were well organised and better prepared for the struggle than the workers and had at their disposal the State apparatus. This they made full use of in railroading the strikers to goal, organising reserves of volunteer labor and setting it to work under police and military protection. By these means the strike was eventually broken and the workers compelled to return to work towards the end of October defeated. The Newcastle miners were the last to go back on November 5, 1890. Thus ended the first phase of the first great general class battle in the history of Australian labor.

A second phase was entered upon in January, 1891, when the Queensland shearers came out on strike against the station form of agreement. They also were defeated. In this phase the connection existing between the employers and the State was more clearly revealed than in the first stage. Sir Thomas McIlwraith, for example, saw no irony in addressing himself to the strikers as “a member of the Government and the Australian Pastoralists’ Association.”

A high ranking officer who took part in crushing the strike has left us his views as to why this task was accomplished with relative ease. His comments on unionism contain some valuable lessons even today.

“We have found the boasted organisation and discipline of the unionists all a myth,” he said.

“... Discipline and organisation are not to be acquired by merely talking about them. They are the outcome of long and careful training. They presuppose complete authority and definite responsibility, carefully apportioned and regulated from the lowest to the highest officer, and also the most careful and even laborious attention to detail. How were the unionists to acquire this system, and if it has been acquired, where is the evidence of it?

“When I give an order, it is done in writing and carefully recorded, so that any neglect or omission may be at once detected and punished; but who has such authority among the unionists, and how are offenders to be brought to book? They have the raw material of good organisation but they have no competent leaders, and no system ... The unionists may, for all I know, be able to defeat the pastoralists, but they cannot defeat or seriously trouble the Government.” [11]

In July, 1892 the Barrier miners came into the firing line and the conflict passed into its third phase. In the 1890 strike the A.M.A. members at Broken Hill were locked out by the company. But the lockout only lasted a fortnight. Silver and lead had not yet fallen in price like wool and the BHP was still reaping enormous profits. The men took advantage of this when locked out by refusing to return to work until the Company signed an agreement granting wage increases and a reduction of hours from 48 to 46 per week. However, in 1892 silver and lead prices experienced a decline and the Company gave notice that the Agreement would be terminated. The 7000 unionists on the ‘Hill’ struck for the retention of the agreement and remained out for four months. Again police and soldiers were used to break the strike and give protection to volunteer labourers.

A rearguard action, marking the fourth and final phase of the conflict, was fought by the Queensland shearers from July to September, 1894. More violence was used by both sides in this struggle than in any one of the preceding stages. It also witnessed the birth of coercive legislation as an additional weapon against the unions. The Peace Preservation Act brought down by squatter Nelson’s government in September, 1894, was the most vicious piece of anti-working class legislation yet placed on the Statute Book in any one of the colonies. Charles Powers, M.L.A., who was not a Labor man, said in regard to it, “I can find no Coercion Act amongst all the Coercion Acts of Ireland so coercive as this Bill.” The Queensland Coercion Act of 1894 was the forerunner of similar Acts in Victoria, 1903; New South Wales, 1909; the War Precautions Act, 1914/20; the Commonwealth Crimes Act, 1926/32; and the Arbitration and Transport Workers’ Acts of 1928.

C. The Birth Of The Labor Party.

The struggles of 1890/94 revealed with merciless clarity the ideological and organisational shortcomings of the Australian Labor movement and fully confirmed Marx’s teachings that whilst the “Trades unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of capital, they fail partially from an injudicious use of their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organised forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class. [12]

The strikes showed furthermore that numbers alone constitute but one element of success, that, “numbers weigh only in the balance, if united by combination and led by knowledge.” [13] They showed that trade unionism alone wasn’t sufficient and that the workers needed in addition an independent political party, based on sound socialist theory, to lead them in their struggles against the employing class.

However, as Lenin once observed, “The masses learn from life, and not from books, and consequently, individuals and groups constantly exaggerate and raise to a one-sided theory and one-sided system of tactics now one, now another feature of capitalist development, now one, now another ‘lesson’ of this development.” [14] This is just what happened in Australia. The masses and their then leaders learned only in part the lessons of the 1890’s defeats. It caused them to turn towards politics, but not yet socialist politics which were the real need.

The following extract shows how the Strike Committee interpreted the significance of the first phase of the struggle in 1890.

We would call attention to the actions of the governments of each colony in regard to the strike, and would recommend active, energetic work, throughout all labor organisations in preparation for taking full advantage of the privileges of the franchise, by sweeping monopolists and class representatives from the parliaments of the country, replacing them by men who will study the interests of the people and who will remove the unjust laws now used against the workers and wealth producers, and administer equitable enactments impartially[15] (emphasis mine. E.W.C.)

The workers and their leaders had observed empirically how the governments, composed of employers’ representatives, had made free use of the courts, police and soldiers to break the strike. But they could not yet see that this ‘partiality’ of the government towards the employers arose from the real nature of the State in capitalist society. That it constitutes “an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another,” [16] an apparatus of compulsion designed to uphold the domination of the exploiters over the exploited.

The labor leaders found no fault with the capitalist State as such, their criticism was levelled only against ‘unjust’ laws and ‘biased’ politicians. Repeal the ‘bad’ laws and replace the class prejudiced members and all would be well.

Such was the naive reasoning of the Australian workers at this period. They lacked the revolutionary political experience of their European compeers, which would have helped disillusion them on this score, and their socialist ideologists were too few in number and too much lacking in scientific theory to open their eyes.

Democratic self-government had been achieved in Australia without much political turmoil. It had already been conceded prior to Eureka. Subsequent liberalising enactments, such as manhood suffrage secret ballot, payment of members, etc., came more as a matter of course, rather than the result of sustained, widespread and severe mass struggles. While these political reforms were taking place the labor movement was preoccupied almost exclusively with narrow economic questions. In the circumstances one can readily understand how it was that after the 90s defeat the idea of “taking full advantage of the privileges of the franchise” took root. Under the prevailing conditions of democracy, where every man had a vote and the employees outnumbered the employers ten to one, there seemed no reason why the former could not organise a political party and wrest control of the machinery of government out of the hands of the masters.

World history had already shown that this was not possible. On the basis of the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 Marx reached the conclusion that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose.” [17] However, as previously mentioned, the masses learn from life and not from books, and life had not yet provided the Australian workers with sufficient experience to fully appreciate Marx’s teachings on the State, even had they been more widely known. Moreover the ‘purposes’ Marx had in view went far beyond what was envisaged by Australian labor at this time. Marx was referring to the historical mission of the proletariat – the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism. The mass movement in Australia did not yet aspire to such high aims but wanted to lay hold of the State machinery merely to advance the narrower objects of trade unionism – ‘A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.’

The unions had commenced to interest themselves in politics long before the ‘nineties. Lobbying and petitioning were well established practices by then. It was also the custom of certain liberal bourgeois candidates to woo the votes of unionists by promising to support in Parliament legislation of benefit to unionism. In one or two instances working men had been elected and subsidised by their organisations. The Sydney Trades and Labor Council had long maintained a regular Parliamentary Committee and the Constitution of the Australian Labor Federation made provision for Parliamentary action. So the ground was well prepared for labor’s entry into politics when that step was decided on after the ’90s strike.

In New South Wales it was the Parliamentary Committee of the Labor Council which undertook responsibility for carrying out the recommendations contained in the Manifesto of the Strike Committee.

It formulated a scheme for the establishment of a Labor Electoral League with branches in every electorate. A platform was drawn up, consisting of sixteen planks. Some of these reflected the influence which the ideas of Henry George, Edward Bellamy and the British Fabians had in some quarters. But most of them were formulated out of the collective experience of the workers and gave expression to the urgent demands of the trade union movement – The Eight-Hour Day, the Repeal or Reform of the Mines Act, Employers’ Liability Act, Masters’ and Servants’ Act, and so on. It was these economic demands, rather than the vaguely expressed political slogans, that were stressed during labor’s election campaigns.

The Labor Council sent organisers into the countryside and throughout city electorates to enrol members and establish branches. Membership of the new party was not restricted to trade unionists or workers. Anybody who professed sympathy with the aims of the League and who was prepared to pay the fee of 5/- per year was admitted to membership. The branches were at first given the right to select their own candidates, with the proviso that these pledged their support for the League’s Programme. For the time being the Labor Council Executive was to function as the executive of the Labor Electoral League.

In Queensland it was the influential A.L.F. which took the initiative in setting up the Party. Lane was successful in the earlier stages in having the organisation adopt a socialist objective. But when the Party was finally constituted on a sound organisational footing this was dropped and the “People’s Parliamentary Platform”, in its ultimate shape, consisted of seven more or less innocuous planks calling for equal electoral districts, adult suffrage and the usual list of trade union demands.

The formation of the Labor Party aroused new hopes among back country workers particularly. One very moving example of loyalty to what were then considered to be working class ideals is related by Dr. Evatt:

... in the Paroo country, an old swaggie came to the Brindingabba Hut, weak and ill. He was alone and had no money to buy food. Endeavouring to reserve his fast failing strength, he was intent on one thing, to vote for the Labor candidate. ‘I want to give Hughie a vote,’ he said, ‘I suppose it will be my last.’ But half his journey to the electorate was still to be traversed and his condition was desperate ‘I have knocked around these creeks this many a year,’ he said, ‘and I could never get a vote. But I did get in on a vote this time, and when I got it I said, ‘This belongs to Hughie Langwell.’ That night the man died. His name was Martin Farrell. The only papers found on him were his Union ticket and a receipt for a subscription to the Broken Hill strike fund.[18]

Henry Lawson was greatly stirred:

Just before the last elections, and the chaps were fighting well.
Round about the Paroo river, on the borderland of hell.
But the story of the struggle doesn’t matter anyhow,
For a parliament of angels couldn’t save the country now.

But a poor old fellow struggled to a hut one broiling day,
And his ragged swag fell off him in a hopeless kind of way,
He was sick and very shaky, and his eyes were blurred and dim,
It was plain to all the fellows that ‘twas nearly up with him.

Worker: Sydney, 18/8/1894.

Maybe it was a similar incident which moved Tom Collins, although his sundowner was in more affluent circumstances and bore a different name:

“The man had changed his position, and was now laying full length on his back, with arms extended along his sides. His face was fully exposed – the face of a worker, in the prime of manhood, with a heavy moustache and three or four weeks’ growth of beard ... The dull eyes, half open to a light no longer intolerable, showed by their sheet death darkened tracery of inflamed veins how much the lone wanderer had suffered. The hands with their strong bronze now paled to tarnished ochre, were heavily calloused by manual labor, and sharply attenuated by recent hardship. The skin was cold, but the rigidity of death was yet scarcely apparent. Evidently he had not died of thirst alone, but of mere physical exhaustion, sealed by the final collapse of hope. And it seemed so strange ... to see through occasional spaces in the scrub the clear expanse of the home paddock, with even a glimpse of the house, all homely and peaceful in the silent sunshine. But such is life and such is death...

In the man’s pockets were found half a dozen letters addressed to George Murdoch Mooltanya Station, from Malmsbury, Victoria: and all were signed by his loving wife, Eliza. H. Murdoch. Two of the letters acknowledged receipt of cheques; and there was another cheque (for £12/15/-, if I remember rightly) in his pocket book, with about £3 in cash. He was buried in the station cemetery, between Val English, late station storekeeper, who had poisoned himself, and Jack Drummond, shearer, who had died – presumably of heart failure – after breaking the record for the district. Such is life.” [19]

And such was life in those hard and not so far off days. Many a wandering Martin Farrell and George Murdoch perished on the track between jobs. Farrell was more fortunate than most. He at least made the hut and died among union comrades. Even Murdoch was discovered in time to leave no mystery surrounding his identity. Many another nomad of the bush passed out nameless, leaving only a heap of windswept bones beside some dried up waterhole to mark the lonely tragedy.

Martin Farrell’s last words illustrate the spirit in which this downtrodden strata welcomed the birth of the Labor Party. How they looked to it to speed the day when:

“The curse o’ class distinctions from our shoulders shall be hurled.”

If this were a novel we could perhaps record how these hopes, were vindicated, that Hughie Longwell, for instance, entered the Legislature and became an uncorruptible Tribune for the Martin Farrell’s of Australia. Such, however, is not life. Hughie Langwell was elected to Parliament, but his record does not appear to be any more inspiring than that of any other labor politician. He was returned in 1891 on a platform framed locally by the Bourke League, and for a time was refused admittance to Caucus on that account. However, after the first split on the fiscal issue he was taken into the fold and sponsored, on behalf of the Labor Party, the Workman’s Combination Laws Act Amendment Bill, which was thrown out by the Legislative Council. The new electoral laws put through in this session reduced the number of representatives from 141 to 125 and Langwell was not among the 15 ‘Solidarities’ and 12 Independent Laborites returned in 1894. Such is life.

D. The Segregation Of The Socialists.

Despite its tremendous programmatical shortcomings, the formation of a separate workers’ party in Australia represented a big step forward on the part of the movement. The same fundamental features which characterised the Anglo- American labor movement existed in Australia. These were:

“... the absence of any large, democratic problems on a national scale, facing the proletariat; the complete subjection of the proletariat to bourgeois politics; sectarian isolation of handfuls of socialists from the proletariat ...” [20]

Therefore, the following remarks, made by Engels, on the American labor movement, in 1886, hold good for this country. In 1886 the ideas of Henry George, who advocated a single tax on land as the universal panacea, were exerting a big influence over American workers.[21] This caused one American socialist, Mrs. Kelley Wischnewetsky, who had translated Engels book, The Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844, into English, to write to him requesting that “he take Henry George properly to task.”

To which Engels replied,

“My preface[22] will of course turn entirely on the immense stride made by the American working man in the last ten months, and naturally also touch Henry George and his land scheme. But it cannot pretend to deal exhaustively with it. Nor do I think the time has come for that. It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat, than that it should start and proceed from the beginning on theoretically perfectly correct lines. (My emphasis. E.W.C.) There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than to learn by one’s own mistakes. And for a whole large class, there is no other road ... The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class (Engel’s emphasis); that once obtained, they will soon find the right direction, and all who resist ... will be left out in the cold with small sects of their own ... But anything that might delay or prevent that national consolidation of the workingmen’s party – no matter what platform – I should consider a great mistake ...” [23]

In another letter Engels wrote,

“The first great step of importance for every country newly entering the movement is always the organisation of the workers as an independent political party, no matter how, so long as it is a distinct workers’ party ... The masses must have time and opportunity to develop-and they can only have the opportunity when they have their own movement – no matter in what form so long as it is only their own movement – in which they are driven further by their own mistakes and learn wisdom by hurting themselves.” [24]

Of course Engels did not mean that the workers would automatically learn from their mistakes. It was the task of the socialists to enter into the mass movement, assist in the formation of a political party, help the masses “to learn from their mistakes”: and work gradually to imbue the movement with a socialist understanding and outlook.

“Our theory is not a dogma but the exposition of a process of evolution, and that process involves successive phases. To expect that the Americans (or Australians. E.W.C.) will start with the full consciousness of the theory worked out in older industrial countries is to expect the impossible. What the Germans (Communist immigrants to America. E.W.C.) ought to do is to act up to their own theory – if they understand it, as we did in 1845 and 1848 – to go in for any general working class movement, accept its actual starting points as such and work it gradually up to the theoretical level by pointing out how every mistake made, every reverse suffered, was a necessary consequence of mistaken theoretical views in the original programme; they ought, in the words of the Communist Manifesto, to represent the movement of the future in the movement of the present.” [25]

Australian socialists, it proved, were no more capable of “representing the movement of the future in the movement of the present” than the German communists living in America, who were criticised by Engels. William Lane, after his earlier abortive attempts to give the movement a socialist objective, became preoccupied with his utopian scheme to found a socialist community in South America. The Socialist League, which had been formed by a handful of enthusiasts in 1887 and which actually became affiliated with the Labor Party in 1894, thought that a labor party bad only to be formed to develop automatically into a socialist labor party. The League, instead of rising above the spontaneity of the movement and aspiring to a vanguard role, itself succumbed to spontaneity and tailed behind events.

It has taken the Australian workers many years “to learn wisdom by hurting themselves” and to “find the right direction.” The historical process of combining socialism with the mass labor movement has not been easy and it is only since the rise of the Communist Party in 1920 that any real headway has been made. In the preceding period the non-socialist labor movement was under the complete sway of bourgeois ideology and fluctuated between the two extremes of reformism and syndicalism, both of which “must be considered as the direct product of this bourgeois world outlook and influence.” [26]


1. Ibid., p. 11.

2. Dawn to Dusk by Ernie Lane, pp. 6/7.

3. The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx by V.I. Lenin, Marx-Engels-Marxsm, p. 74/75, Second English Edition, Modern Publishers, Sydney.

4. Edward Bellamy (1850-1898), American journalist, author of utopian socialist novels, Looking Backward and Equality.

5. Comte Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825), Charles Fourier (1772-1837) and Robert Owen (1771-1857), French and English Utopian Socialists, authors of ideal socialist and communist systems. For an estimation of their role see The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels, chapter 3, section 3, Socialist and Communist Literature – Critical Utopian Socialism and Communism.

6. Differences in the European Labor Movement by V. 1. Lenin, p. 81, Marx-Engels-Marxism. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1941.

7. How Labor Governs by V. G. Childe, p. xxi/xxii/xxiv. Labor Publishing Co.: London, 1923.

8. Australia: An Economic Interpretation by G. V. Portus, p. 55, Angus & Robertson. Sydney, 1933.

9. A Short History of the Australian Labor Movement by Brian Fitzpatrick, p. 58.

10. Ibid, p. 66.

11. Ibid, p. 79.

12. Value, Price and Profit, by Earl Marx. Selected Works, Vol. 1, p. 337, Martin Lawrence, London.

13. Address and Provisional Rules of Working Men’s International Association. Karl Marx. Selected Works, Vol. 11, p. 441.

14. Differences in the European Labor Movement by V.I. Lenin, Marx-Engels-Marxism P. 81. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1941.

15. Manifesto of the Strike Committee: Australia’s Awakening, by W G. Spence, p. 131.

16. State and Revolution, V.I. Lenin, p. 8. Lawrence & Wishart, London. Popular edition, republished under the title, How to Change the Social Order.

17. The Civil War in France, Karl Marx. Selected Works, Vol. 1 1, p. 494.

18. Australian Labor Leader, page 47. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1940.

19. Such is Life by Tom Collins (Joseph Furphy), pp. 99/101. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1944.

20. Marx-Engels-Marxism by V.I. Lenin, p. 101. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1941.

21. A huge strike movement, based on the struggle for the eight-hour day, swept over the United States in the first half of 1886 and a number of new Labor Parties sprang into being under various titles. In the November municipal elections many of these polled big votes. The most spectacular success was in New York City, where the United Labor Party which had been formed in July, put forward Henry George as candidate for Mayor. George polled 68,000 votes and came second to the Democratic candidate, Hewitt, who polled 90,000. The Republican candidate, Theodore Roosevelt, was third with 60,000 votes.

22. Preface to the American edition of Condition of the Working Class.

23. Marx, Engels, Selected Correspondence, p 453. Martin Lawrence, London, 1934.

24. Ibid, p. 450.

25. Selected Correspondence, p. 453.

26. Marx-Engels-Marxism, p. 82.