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A Map of the World that includes Utopia

Self Management Group
Without idealism none of this would have happened. The strength of the SMG is that it confronted authority where it lies – face to face with the boss in the workplace and with teachers in schools. It was a challenge to master and a liberation of servant.
This is an oral record of discussion at Brisbane Anarchist Summer School 13 Jan 2013 led by Tim Briedis about SMG founded in Brisbane in 1971.
Original members of the group participated in the discussion of SMG’s strengths and weaknesses. It was especially good to have Betty Walker present. Betty and her son Graeme are linked into this movement in ways that I cannot begin to describe. However, if interested, you can start here – Vale Robert Francis Walker
A big thanks to Tim, Tony and Barbara for making this talk so interesting. I got a real sense of elder anarchists handing over to the next generation. I was impressed by how people in their 20s and 30s so readily took up the gaunlet laid down by people nearly 60 and over at this conference — it was one of the strengths of the conference.
Sorry, but you will have to turn up the volume or wear earphones to hear the discussion below – it is worth it.We leave the movement in goods hands.
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now
                              — Bob Dylan, ‘My Back Pages’

‘A map of the world that includes Utopia’:
The Self-Management Group and the Brisbane libertarians
by Tim Briedis

Brisbane Self Management Group, May Day, 1971

“This thesis explores a slice of Brisbane’s radical history. I focus on the Self-Management Group (SMG), a revolutionary organisation that flourished from 1971-1977. The SMG formed as Brisbane activism shifted from a politics based around conscience to a revolutionary subjectivity. In 1977, the SMG dissolved. Three new organisations were formed, one of which became the Brisbane Greens in 1984. I examine the potential and pitfalls of radical organisation. While the SMG had flaws, its practice was strengthened by a utopian desire, a creative flair and a sense of how the political relates to everyday life. I argue that such utopian desire is relevant to a revitalisation of political radicalism today… Finally, this thesis is dedicated to all those who continue to demand the impossible. Lotta Continua…” — Tim Briedis

Read More at https://anarchistsummerschool.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/tim_briedis_final_self-management-group-thesis.pdf

9 responses to “A Map of the World that includes Utopia

  1. Hi greg,

    sorry for the late reply – was out of town. Yep, I know Jon. I will be in Brisbane in January; I’ll try and get in touch with folks about a talk at some point before then.

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  2. Hi all,

    thanks very much to Sid and Greg for their kind words about the thesis.

    Many thanks also to Ian for his comments and constructive criticism! Unfortunately the various people I interviewed for the thesis weren’t able to put me in touch with the unionists involved, certainly this would have been helpful. That account is definitely an important one and puts the CPA in a better light. For a larger research project (this was only an honours thesis) I would have of course made getting in touch with these people a top priority.

    I don’t think Ian is arguing against this, but to help clarify the context of this discussion, in the thesis I look at the Moratorium incident as part of an analysis of the origins of the Self-Management Group. My focus wasn’t whether or not the Communist Party was sectarian, but looking at how the incident exacerbated the significant differences between the CPA and the milieu close to Laver around questions of tactics, organisation and the type of demands that should be used. Regardless of to what extent or whether the CPA was culpable, or why unionists were hostile to Laver (though for sure these are important issues in general), the Moratorium incident was an important trigger for the formation of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1970 and then the Self-Management Group in 1971.

    Tim

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    • Tim,
      it would be good if you could come to brisbane & give a talk, it could either be at Dan O’Neill’s Group or for the Brisbane Labour History Association. are you aware of John Piccini’s work in this area.

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  3. This is a very important historical document. I think it is important that the Brisbane Discussion Circle (BDC) is made aware of this document. The BDC is a group of activists set up to preserve the history of political activism in Brisbane in the 60s, 70s, 80s.
    Greg Mallory

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  4. From little errors, big mistakes grow

    Hello Tim, Sid and grmab,

    These are the books in dispute – they form a large collection of radical books built up by many over a long period. Shown here they were housed at AHIMSA house by permission of the owner of the building Ross Taylor. Now that building has been lost these books are looking for a new home.

    Insitute of Social Ecology library

    To strive for accuracy is important — seemingly minor points taken as gospel can lead to significant distortions and may result in poor decisions. For example, at p37 of this thesis (A map of the world that includes Utopia) there are claims that Brian Laver was restrained by ‘CPA* unionists’ from speaking on the May Moratorium platform (held in Roma Street Forum in 1970). [* CPA = Communist Party of Australia]

    Your sources sound impressive – Ian Rintoul, Brian Laver, Jura Books etc.

    However there is no reporting from the unionists who restrained Laver on that day.

    One of the people who grabbed Laver was Phil O’Brien who gave his account of the anti-vietnam war moratoriums in ‘Towards Peace – a workers journey‘ published by SHAPE (LeftPress).

    I knew Phil who told me his version of what happened that day (I was not at the first moratorium, but did attend a later one). Phil said that he grabbed hold of Laver. That’s Phil who has Laver’s right arm in the photo below) and wrestled him to the ground.

    Phil O'Brien holding Brian Laver's right wrist in an attempt to prevent Laver from mounting the platform of the Vietnam Moratorium in May 1970. Phil O'Brien was a rank and file wharfie and member of the Waterside Workers Federation. Claims that CPA unionists gagged and physically restrained him were not entirely accurate. Phil O'Brien was never a member of the CPA (pictured)

    Phil (now passed away) was never a member of the CPA.

    To explain, in Waterside Workers Federation (WWF) elections, the progressives ran ‘Unity Tickets’ against the Groupers (National Civic Council). These Unity tickets comprised both CPA and non-CPA members of the union – Phil was one of the latter. In Brisbane in the 1960s there were more non-CPA delegates than CPA delegates (at one point the numbers were 9-3) elected to Branch council.

    Phil’s friend and comrade, Alby Graham, was a CPA member in the WWF.

    What I am saying here is that the rift between Laver and union members at the moratorium was not really sectarian and certainly not a CPA plot as Laver suggested in his pamphlet ‘The Communist Party Is Behind This Moratorium – Way Behind’. There was distrust by blue collar workers of university students like Laver (from a middle class private school background) because Laver was trying to carve out a cult-of-personality that did not fit in with worker or union notions of egalitarianism or solidarity. The distrust had its origins in class not party or sectarian politics.

    If the Self management Group (SMG) had been better organised in the working class and particularly in the WWF, Phil might have been one of their cadre. This is not a criticism of the SMG at the time, they had a lot of ground to cover with few people.

    It is interesting to note that the CPA itself split in 1971 and there was a rise of the SMG from that year onwards in different industrial spheres (Education, Ship building, public service, meatworks etc) The SMG drew on notions of self-management rather than the hierarchical models of Stalinism (as the thesis correctly points out).

    If people wish to read my account of this era have a look at The Radical Books of Brisbane

    in solidarity,
    Ian Curr

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  5. Hi grmab and all,

    My sincere apologies about the reference to ‘Zapata’s Library’. By way of explanation, when I researched and wrote the thesis neither Emma’s nor the Institute of Social Ecology Library were functioning spaces, and the difference between the two wasn’t clear. I was able to access the Ahimsa House collection only as it was in storage in a garage and as you can see I refer to a small number of sources that I found there. From memory, I was told at the time that this collection was that of ‘Zapata’s Library’. I didn’t believe then that there was any reason to doubt the veracity of this.

    I have a great deal of respect and admiration for those who put effort into building and maintaining archives of radical history, and I can only offer my apologies to anyone who may be offended by this mistake.

    Tim

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  6. Hi,
    I thank Tim Briedis for doing this important work – radical, leftist, worker’s (much less anarchist) history is greatly lacking in Oz – this is a great effort. That grmab seeks to make a comment about a very minor point in a 114 page document is sad. The comment about a mistake in the name of a library is pretty small potatoes compared to the full content of the work. A purile comment, I though, made by someone in a cranky mood. Surely the more important point is how the material in the library was used by the author, not this, so small a point to score off.

    Thanks, Tim, I will enjoy reading the history and your reflections on it.

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  7. It would help if Tim Breidis got a few facts right. There was NEVER a Zapata’s Library. Zapata’s BOOKSHOP was another failed venture, along with other failed bookshops by the named owner. Emma’s bookshop was a great success WHILE it was CO-OWNED by the other owner. There was a Library located in Ahimsa House upstairs. It did NOT belong to Zapata’s bookshop or the ‘owner’. THAT Library was the Institute for Social Ecology Library and had been managed by various individuals over the years. Many folks donated time and energy to it continuing over the years. THOSE books had been donated by Emma’s (for a fee) and other individuals and some organisations who donated from their personal libraries over the years. For a period of time, memberships had a fee and the fees went toward buying new books and paying the rent when in a building above the old Emma’s. While located in AH the ‘rent’ for the space was waived by the owner of AH. – CR Taylor – who has been left destitute.
    grmab

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