The Proletarian

Workers Power (4ZZZ) on the Proletarian.

Workers Power seeks to build the culture of trade unionism and solidarity by giving a platform to trade unions and workers to talk about the struggles in their workplace, as well as events and struggles outside the workplace that they are involved in. Find old and edited episodes at https://www.workerspower4zzz.org/ …less

November 2, 2021

The Workers Power Team

Tuesday

10:00 – 12:00 PM

T

his week we talk to Duncan Hart from Socialist Alternative about his research into The Proletarian Review, a communist publication from the 1920s in Melbourne. In our second half Duncan stays on and Iswedd from Anarchist Communists Meanjin joins us to talk about an upcoming counter-protest to the anti-vax movement.

Workers Power on the Proletarian

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, proletarian, workers, politics, Australia, called, unions, vaccinated, anti vax, communist party, solidarity, society, movement, Brisbane, important, suppose, class, talking, message, party

SPEAKERS

Calypso, Duncan Hart, Jackson, Another Speaker, Dan, Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU), Iswed Tiggjan, Communist-Anarchist Meanjin

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

So I’m really honored to welcome our next guest. And that honor comes from my own path into activism. When I moved to Ipswich in 2011, I wanted to focus on being a good dad, I had already had a successful yet stressful career in the mail industry in Sydney. So I was looking for a low stress job that was close to home, and we could pay the bills. I thought my local Coles would suit how wrong I was. Not only did they treat me like crap, I soon found out that they were paying me below the award. I also found out that a young trolley worker had taken them to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the agreement. What courage he must have had, and he eventually won. I was so impressed. I even celebrated like I and like only I can, then when Coles through their toys out of the court, and reinstated and even older agreement, high had finally had enough. And I wanted to stand up and fight back for my fellow Coles workers, just like that young trolley worker. And I went about getting rid of that agreement. And eventually, with help from others, I succeeded in returning penalty rates to over 50,000 Coles workers. I will always be grateful to that young trolley worker for inspiring me to agitate, educate, organize. And now that young trolley worker is in my radio show that does just that. His name is Duncan Hart, and I welcome him to 4ZZZ in today. Thanks for your inspiration, Duncan, and welcome to workers power.

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Thank you so much, Bill. Thank you for the introduction. Yeah. And

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

so you’re you’re you’re on to, you’re still you’re into your honors. Now. I.

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

So I’ve just finished up my honors in history at UQ. And I’m actually just started my PhD.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

Oh, right. Yes, very exciting. And so you will have your, your, your honors paper. You you’ve looked at the role of the leftist newspaper the proletarian as a vehicle for communist theory in Australia in the early 20s. So what do you discover?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Well, yeah, so this newspaper, the proletarian, it was the first newspaper in Australia. I was like, a journal. I got, like, by the standard of the time, 16 Page journal, in most newspapers, like four pages, and it was it was a monthly and it was the first journal to put forward the try to put forward the views of like the communists International. So this is like 1920, basically, June 1920, was when it first started. So it actually predates the formation of the Communist Party of Australia. So I guess my research was looking at what did the ideas what were the ideas of this journal? And like, how did it contribute to setting up the Communist Party?

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

And like, so was before the Communist Party, who was involved with putting putting it together?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

It was it was set up by two pretty like, they should be legendary radicals. They’re pretty awesome people. I think a lot. I think a lot of people aren’t really familiar thought of Australian, Australian sort of socialists, but there was two people so it was Guido Baracchi and Percy Laidler. So, Guido Baracchi , he has actually had both of them have had books written about them. One by … Guido Baracchi, he has a biography by Jack Sparrow, and Guido was a university graduate at the University of Melbourne. He was one of the two university graduates who were actually in the Communist Party when I was first set up. And he was famously dunked in the University of Melbourne, like because he opposes conscription. And he was, yeah, just like a very at that time, universities were extremely conservative and right wing. And he stood up to Robert Menzies at the time, who was also a student, but more on the conservative side of politics. And yeah, for his defiance, he was dunked in the lake. But at that time, around 920, he’d been through the anti conscription struggle against World War I . And he’d started to adopt politics of the Industrial Workers of the World. So the the wobblies revolutionary syndicalist politics, and Percy Laidlaw was much more typical kind of like communist. He had left school when he was 14 to work as a railway clock. And then he taken on a pretty long sort of career of like, activism within like the Victorian Socialist Party. And he also then went on to be part of the IWW. And yeah, so by the time they’re setting up the external the proletarian there. I WW had been like banned by the government … but they were still very, they’re still coming from that framework, I suppose, like the revolutionary syndicalist framework.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

Of course, the government’s gonna try and be in the, you know, the stories we hear of the IWW and especially their fight against conscription, they were very important in organizing workers. So Well, that leads me to what what type of audience did they target? Who were they wanting to target this, this journal to?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

I suppose the thing though, to stand about this time was that it was a very, very, like radical time. In fact, I’d say that like the period of just after World War One was probably the peak of Australian left wing radicalism, you know, you had the general strike in 1917. In New South Wales, which set at 100,000 workers coming out against the introduction of like, timecards, you had huge strikes in Townsville against what was it there, I can’t remember exactly as towns will meatworkers, essentially, like had an armed rebellion against the government. There was big strikes on the on the on the, amongst the, the seamen as well. So it was a very like radical period, there was like, a very large left. So there was like 1000s of people in like, revolutionary socialist groups. So the audience for The Proletarian was that broad audience that very many people involved in the Union movement.  The union movement, Australia, that time was the biggest in the world by proportion of the population. Which is odd to say today, because the union coverage was actually much higher than it is today. But 100 years ago, the union coverage of around 15% of population was seen to be very, very high (sic). And, yeah, they, it was it within this context of this huge sort of like workers movements that just defeated conscription, that sort of who they were talking to, they were trying to get people on the left to read the publication so that it had a distribution of about 2000. Every edition.

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Alright, and well, we always like here on workers power, we were always interested in the nuts and bolts of organizing so that hence it’s the the next question is how did I distribute to the target audience?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

But that was a good question. So Percy Laidler, he actually became the manager of, in 1911, he’d become the manager of radical bookshop, which was Andrade’s Bookshop, at 201 Bourke Street, in Melbourne. And Andrade’s became, I think, probably the most significant distributor of like, radical left literature in Australia, purely because it was relating … I guess this time, this period, which was, as I said, like a very radical period in Australia. But also, the other thing, of course, is that the impact of the Russian Revolution, so you have World War One, Australia, of course, has a horrific slaughter, horrific cost, brought upon it by by World War One. And then Russia, the Russian Revolution, 1917, which, you know, takes Russia out of the war was seen by all these socialists across the country as being a very inspiring event, even though people weren’t very on top of exactly what was going on. So I guess the, the thing about The Proletarian was that, and Andrade’s bookshop was that it was sort of feeding this, this desire and this, like thirst for knowledge about Russia. So that’s where they get a lot of their, I guess, popularity and profits on probably as well. Percy lay there was just the the manager of the bookshop, but yeah, the they sold Yeah, just like 1000s and 1000s of books about Russia, mostly from printed from the American socialist movement.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

So, getting into it, what have you, you’ve obviously found a couple of copies and things like that. What sort of messages were in the paper? You’ve touched on, you know, the Russian Revolution? And that? Could you expand on that and what other messages were in there?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

So well, that’s that’s, that was the most interesting thing about I guess, during the research was trying to talk look at what they were actually saying, and then how that compares to a lot of the usual mystical perspectives around the Communist Party. So one of the things that I think is most typically said to be the politics of the Communist Party, and its significance in the early stages is this idea of like, Leninist Party that was like really, you know, disciplined and based on some sort of mythology called ‘democratic centralism’.

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Basically, it’s this idea of the authoritarian party. But the thing that that was not part of the politics that was in the Proletarian, there was no real discussion about democratic centralism at all. And even though they definitely talks about the need to build a revolutionary party. That’s hardly anything new in Australia, or the left generally. So the things that they focused on were I summarized them as being like three points. So firstly, the idea that they were for smashing the state, so radical, that the smashing of the state and therefore instituting this thing called the dictatorship of the proletariat, which they assess to be based on Soviets, which is, yeah, this is all stuff that might be going on people’s heads. E’ssentially, therefore, like a radical democratic workers control society, through these institutions that they saw in Russia, and which were being described by a lot of the early Communist International literature called ‘Soviets’, which meant ‘workers councils’. So that was the first thing I don’t know if we want to discuss it more, because I can keep going, it’s going to be like quite a lot.

Calypso (Anti-Poverty Network)

Obviously, they will be met with a lot of resistance for trying to bring out those kind of values was like a stateless democratic structure. And we already know someone was thrown in the lake. What other kinds of resistance were they met with when they published this?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Well, the the Communist Party itself … I suppose the thing is that it was emerging out of a time when there was this huge like polarization in society and a sense of crisis in Australian capitalism, where they’d actually the Australian government implemented this, almost like a police dictatorship during World War I, which is something that you don’t hear about at all, because I guess it sort of doesn’t fit the narrative, right, you know, that we had a war for democracy. And that, that, that those powers which were called the  War Precautions Act, they’re actually maintained up until mid 1919. So even though there was quite a long time afterwards, the Communist Party was formed as this sort of like … political, politicization was ebbing. So they did not offer themselves to face as much persecution as the earlier counterparts that had been more I suppose, taking on taking on politics when there was more of a sense amongst like the, the government that they’re at threat, so they would write a lot of stuff, abusing the communists and writing propaganda about them, but there wasn’t as much direct state persecution.

Another Speaker 

And around that time, I understand there was also a big women’s rights movement happening. Was there a lot of women involved in the communist party as well?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good point. Actually, there was, um, well, the thing, it was definitely still like by modern standards, underrepresentation, but by the sounds of the time, it was definitely a important focus. And there was a lot of there were women. So about 10% of membership of the party were women. And two of the founding members of the party and who are on the executive were women as well. So it’s, Bill might have heard of Adele Pankhurst. She was a very well known feminist anti conscription as anti war activist during World War One who she was involved in founding the Communist Party. And then there was another woman who’s just less known, but is was actually probably more influential on the party who was Christian Jollie Smith, who was the first woman to I mean, I might be getting it wrong, but I think she was one of the first women to have a to be a barrister. Yeah, so she was also on the leadership party,

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

And welcome back to a workers power here on for triple Zed where we played we just played Cable Ties and ‘Tell them where to go’. And now we’re joined here in the studio by Duncan Hart, who’s done research into the Proletarian. Now you mentioned there was three main areas that they that they talked about in the messages. The first one was worker led democracies. And and but there was two others, what were they?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

So the the second theme that I think is most that was most significant one was this idea of ‘mass action’ that they had. So mass action, the way that they talked about it was this idea of anytime you get basically masses of people, ordinary working class people to participate in any kind of politics, and so they didn’t say that as being I you know, you run for parliament or your door-knocking or letterboxing or something. They saw it as being, you know, demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, that kind of thing. Yeah, union activity. That’s what they saw as being Mass Acction. But the reason that it was important, I guess, as a as a concept was that it was sort of like a, a generalization of the things that it actually happened in Austria at that time. So as mentioned, it had been these general strikes had been these mass revolts. But the Communists were trying to explain how these actions by workers don’t just aren’t just like, you know, inspiring revolts for like, you know, better paying conditions, but actually, they point towards a deeper problem in society, which is that, you know, society was run for the rich, was run by the capitalists, and you actually needed a revolution. So they thought that the mass action argument was more about how communists could try to like, take those struggles, and then make them a point to show that they actually leant towards the struggle for a social society.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

Now, that’s how you get things done. You know, wait, that’s, that’s what we want to hear, you know, and that it’s just as that nearly 100 years later, and what was the third major message that they they put forward?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

So the third one was, I mean, it’s hard to sort of characterize it as being like, this idea of being working within structures that are pre existing structures, to still argue for revolutionary politics. So the two, the two things that they’re arguing around, and we’re about involvement in the existing unions, and the second one was about running or potentially being open to the idea of running in Parliament. And the reason that they took those arguments up, and I’ve sort of said that that was the third significant point was that these were arguments particularly relevant because of where, like Guido Baracchi and Percy Laidler are coming from and like, where the politics of a lot of Australian left was, which was the the ideas of the IWW, who basically totally rejected the idea of any kind of participation in like Parliament, and also argued that they should form … workers should form separate unions from the existing unions. So the Communists were both so the Proletarian was trying to argue that actually, yes, there’s a there’s a risk within working within these institutions. But we should still use them to try to like propagate the revolutionary message.

Jackson 

Oh, yeah. So what led you to start your research into the proletarian what? caught your interest? And? Yeah,

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

well, the first thing, buddy is really just that it’s actually entirely digitized on this website called reason in revolt. Um, so I found that it was entirely digitized on this website, which is a great resource. So plug for Reason in Revolt. I think it says, I’m not going to remember the exact URL, but if you just Google it, it will come up. And it’s a great resource for basically like archival, like scans, basically of like old publications of Australian Left from mostly like, 100 years ago, up to like, 100, up to like, the 80s. And yeah, I found I just saw, this whole thing is on scanned on the, on this website, and no one’s written anything about it. And it was actually, as I said, like a journal that predates  the Communist Party’s formation, edited by Guido Barrachi, who was a founder of the CPA and Percy Laidler who was like, well, he’s a founding member of a CPA as well. And I just thought, well, this is something that no one’s actually paid much attention to, or done a detailed research into.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

It’s reasoninrevolt.net.au That’s the ones one for us to have a look at Comrade. Yeah,

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

I think it’s good.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

Alright, let’s get back to my notes here. And so what what do you feel that we can you’ve already touched on this a little bit, but what can we learn about this type of publication and organizing?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

Well, I think the the the publication itself, I suppose it’s a bit cumbersome, a bit difficult or different from today, because, you know, we don’t have so much reliance on print media, this is before television before radio, even I think in Australia, in a widespread sense. Anyway, everyone basically read stuff, and there’s a thirst for reading things. But I still think that the the arguments that they were making back then I still think are very relevant, because we are talking about what was the peak of revolutionary politics in Australia. So the idea, firstly, I totally agree with the goal of the of the Proletarian of being for the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, smashing the state, workers take power. But I guess the other point is that this more strategic argument about what how to actually get to socialism, how to actually get rid of capitalism, and the argument around mass action, I think is still the only way for the working class to overthrow capitalism today.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

It’s not it’s not through charm, wit and intelligence that we’re going to get it it’s through workers taking to the streets. Yes. Okay, well, how can … (are there) any other points that we haven’t asked that you’d you’d like to include,

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

I suppose. I did, like I mentioned at the start how there’s this sort of prevalent idea in the  historians about the Communist Party’s politics, and it was all about how they’re this Leninist party model and that kind of thing. So I suppose it’s worth just reflecting on that, again, that that was just not, I just think this is based this idea is very much based on a reading of the of history, which tries to argue that sort of tries to draw a straight line between like, the Russian Revolution, and like the horrific outcome of Stalinism, and as similarly, the degeneration of the International Communist movement between 1917 and the Stalinist politics that that later followed. So I think that, because people trying to find that explanation, they say, ah, Lenin had this, you know, Original Sin, here, this authoritarian party model. But the thing was, it’s really funny, actually, when you’re looking at the historical sources, because not only did they not talk about the so called party model, but also like, this book that everyone talks about in relation to Lenin blends thoughts called, “What is to be done?” And it like, literally was not even translated into English until 1929. So it’s like, there’s supposedly influence that this is supposed to have. Everyone always talks about it. It’s like, literally no one even read it until 1929. In English anyway. So I think, yeah, that’s just various final point, I’d say.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

All right. And when will it be released to the public? Or how can you how can comrades find out more about your research?

Duncan Hart  (Socialist Alternative)

That’s a good point. So unfortunately, at the moment, it hasn’t been publicly, publicly released, but I am working on or working on a article that will go into the Australian Labor history journal. Hopefully, I mean, it hasn’t been approved for publication or anything. So it’s just that’s my goal at the moment. Yeah, unfortunately, honours theses don’t use aren’t usually published or anything like that. But I do think it’s a useful thing to look at. And I’d like to get it published some, some some version of that research get published somewhere. So yeah, at the moment, I’m looking at the labor history journal.

Bill Storey-Smith (RAFFWU) 

Awesome. Awesome. Well, you know what, I’m a member of the Brisbane Labor History Association, which is part of part of all that, and we have them on regularly. So yeah, hopefully, when it does come out, we’ll let listeners know. Sure. Well, thank you for that, that part of the show, you’re gonna hang around and talk about some exciting stuff that’s going on in Brisbane, or Meanjin

Transcribed by Ian Curr

The Proletarian Review

PLAYLIST
Billy Brag – There is power in a union
Private Function – King of the mountain
Isolation – Abuse of power
Wildheart – Backburner
Cable ties – Tell them where to go
Dicklord – Rotten
Pookie – Flick
Private function – I wish australia had its guns again
Flangipanis – Good little taxpayer
The strokes – Is this it
Slumlawwd – Our Kylie
Dicklord – C U Next Tuesday

What do you think about this article?