The Long Awaited Materialism thread

May 2024 Forums General discussion The Long Awaited Materialism thread

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  • #100462
    pgb
    Participant
    twc wrote:
    The original Socialist Party of Australia was founded in 1924 by a mix of [mainly ex-British] seamen, who had been influenced indirectly by the SPGB, and of course local workers.These founders were committed world socialists. They were fearless world socialists.(The) seamen members rose to dominate the Australian Seamen's Union after they exposed the fraudulent activities of its former Communist Party officials, whom they caught red-handed syphoning union money off to mother Russia. The resulting scandal catapulted the Australian Party to a national prominence out of all proportion to its actual size of membership

    You have misrepresented the nature and significance of the SPA and its relationship to the Seamen's Union of Australia (SUA). Its significance was entirely due to the fact that the General Secretary of the Union in 1926-1935 was a member of the SPA, Jacob Johnson. Two other members of the SPA were also important in this period: W.J.Clarke, who was secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Union, and Bill Casey, secretary of Queensland branch. These three constituted what Australian labour historians have called the "Johnson faction" or (rarely) the "Johnson-Clarke-Casey" faction in the Union. No one has ever referred to these three as constituting "the SPA faction". No one has ever referred to the Union as "Socialist dominated" in the period 1926-1935 in the same sense in which the Union after 1938 has been described as "Communist dominated". The fact is that the SPA had a tiny membership in only two places: Sydney and Melbourne. Most of the membership were members of the SPA because they were firstly members of the Union. If "seamen members (of the SPA) rose to dominate the Union", it wasn't because they "exposed the fraudulent activities of Communist Party officials". No Union money was ever "syphoned off to Mother Russia" as you claim. The only charges of fraudulent activities were made in 1928 against Walsh (ex-Communist) who was deprived of office by rank-and-file members after Johnson exposed him as a "crook" for faking the Union's HO ledger, misappropriation of funds, and attempting to form a bogus union. Thereafter, it might be said that the "Johnson faction" came to dominate the Union. This lasted, off and on, until 1936 when Johnson, in the aftermath of the 1935 strike (see below), was in turn deprived of office, and then eventually expelled from the Union on a mass rank and file vote. In 1937 Clarke resigned his Melbourne position while Casey dropped out of Union politics in Brisbane, to return as Queensland secretary in 1942-49. When the "Johnson faction" lost power in the Seamen's Union in 1936 it had no further role in the Australian labour movement and therefore neither did the SPA. (T)he Australian Socialists rose to such prominence, that one of them was nationally vilified day-in day-out in the press, and jailed for deportation by the Federal Government, over industrial Seamen's disputationThis is at best a half truth. The deportation case arose during the seamen's strike of 1925. The one who was vilified in the press was Johnson, general secretary of the Union, along with general president Walsh, then an ex-member of the Communist Party. Johnson and Walsh were vilified as "wreckers" by the mainstream Press because they called out Union members in support of a strike by British seamen who walked out when their ships docked in Australian ports. It was one of the very few genuinely international strikes in industrial history. Their deportation was only stopped because of the efforts of the prominent Australian Labor Party figure H.V.Evatt who defended Walsh and Johnson, and won, in the High Court. The strike ultimately failed in Australia as it did in Britain where some saw it as a run-up to the General Strike of 1926. Relationships between Walsh and Johnson deteriorated rapidly after this. An ill-conceived 1935 Seamen's strike…..was fomented by the Communists…..(and) finished up smashing the union when those same Communists, in true Leninist treachery, deserted the membership and set up a rival scab union, with themselves as national officials, in league with the ship owners, on secret cosy anti-worker terms, and went back to work, leaving their followers who had heeded their idiotic call to down tools standing high and dry on land, jobless and betrayed. Many of our seamen members found they no longer got work at sea under the Communist dominated scab union. With the support of members at workplace meetings, Communist members of the militant Minority Movement led the 1935 strike. The Union officials led by Johnson opposed it. At a large stop-work meeting in late 1935, the seamen replaced Johnson as general secretary with Keenan, a Communist. Within two months the strike was broken and Keenan discredited. Johnson was never again to lead the Union despite his two attempts to be reinstated by the Arbitration Court. Communists didn’t “smash” the Union, though it was in very bad shape, nor did they “desert the membership”. Indeed, there was widespread feeling amongst the defeated strikers that the "Johnson faction" had done nothing to help Keenan during the strike and that by their inertia they had contributed to its defeat. No "Communist dominated scab union" was formed after the strike. There were scabs (non-unionists) who obtained work on ships because they were strike-breakers and therefore trustworthy in the eyes of the shipowners. Even though an estimated 800 Union members crossed the picket lines and volunteered to board ships, the shipowners still preferred volunteers with no union background. If the few members (seamen) of the SPA could no longer get work, it wasn't because of their membership of the SPA; it was because they were unionists. Membership of the Communist Party or the Socialist Party or The Labor Party was not the relevant issue. The only "scab union" was the Australian Seaman's Federation formed in 1938 from volunteers which lasted until 1942 when it was eventually deregistered on an application by the SUA. Thereafter, the SUA was the only union representing Australian seamen. It's President (from 1941 to 1971) was a member of the Communist Party as were many of the Union's other officials. The Australian world socialist party finally disintegrated after WWII when a younger generation of members, mainly English immigrants, recruited into the SPGB during the Depression years, arrived here full of brash enthusiasm and slowly fell hook, line and sinker for sophisticated Labourism and the brave new world of post-War Australia, and the adulation they received as intellectual poseurs.Socialism was no longer a spur for them, and the lure of local intellectual superiority took hold of them, to the detriment of a working class party. In short, it was the gung-ho brand of egotistical bravado proselitysing, of the very determined kind being advocated above, as amply demonstrated in practice by those particular ex-SPGBers, that brought the Australian world socialist party to its kneesThroughout the 1940s and early 1950s the SPA existed in name only and in Post Box numbers in Sydney and Melbourne. Its only significant activity was the publication of a 4-page paper Socialist Comment between 1943 and 1948 largely through the dedicated efforts of Clarke (editor of the Union journal in 1935). Johnson had no part in this. It wasn't until 1956 that the SPA was resurrected as a functioning Party (but only in Sydney) with the arrival from New Zealand of two ex-members of the SPGB. They joined the SPGB in 1943 and 1946, not in the Depression years as you claim. As set out in a letter printed in the Socialist Standard in October 2004 written by me and co-signed by J Thorburn (ex Glasgow Branch), the revived Sydney Branch of the SPA was a very active Branch, holding indoor and outdoor meetings, debating with other, mainly left-wing groups (this was the year of the CPSU 20th Congress and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, so many ex-CPAers were looking for new directions), and selling the Standard and many SPGB pamphlets. Your description of these ex-SPGBers as "intellectual poseurs" with their "gung-ho brand of egotistical bravado proselytising" that eventually "brought the Australian world socialist party to its knees" is absurd, and a calumny against very able and dedicated socialists. The SPA was never brought to its knees by these comrades; it died from want of interest on the part of the Australian working class who had absolutely zero interest in the SPGB brand of revolutionary politics and doctrinaire Marxism. It is a bitter irony that you of all people, who presents himself as a materialist, should blame the decline of the SPA not on the material conditions of life in capitalist Australia, but on the imagined personal flaws and failings of the members who did most to rebuild it. Shame.

    #100464
    alanjjohnstone
    Keymaster

    Your additional material is appreciated, pgb. We should always try to be objective and honest about our failings and failuresI have pointed out on a discussion list, the SPA wrote its own obituary in 1948.‘Can we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we have always pointed out that ‘Nationalisation’ merely means a change of masters? Can we pride ourselves on the fact that we have always insisted that a movement for Socialism must be built up on knowledge and self reliance, not on reformist activities and blind leadership? Can we take pride in the fact that we analysed  the Russian Revolution from its very beginning as a bourgeois revolution, and pointed out that it must lead to state capitalism? Can we beat our chests and remind you that from the beginning seen that the Bolshevists (‘professional revolutionaries’ – control by an elite – no free discussion) coupled with the backwardness of Russia must lead to ruthless dictatorship? We cannot do any of these things, for just as consistently as we have been right, we have to the same degree unsuccessful. [their emphasis]We are in a position today where a hundred years after the ‘Manifesto’ there is not yet even the beginning of a real mass movement for Socialism as we conceive it. We continue to speak, and write.  But the response as compared with the mass parties, is nil. We are beating our heads against a brickwall of illusions, myths and apathy in the hope that the wall will fall someday. Today, we can do nothing at all but continue with the same arguments which have proved singularly unsuccessful. Everything else – the idea of barricades, or infiltration, or lovely sounding manifestoes – is madness and self deception. If socialist propaganda during the last 50 years has had no success the first thing to do would be to find out why." the article goes on to list 6 possible reasons for their ineffectiveness. It ends pessimistically by stating if the SPA may be wrong , the mass parties and the labour movement in general have been on the wrong track too and  so the consequence is more serious – " instead of breaking their chains, the workers will have rivetted them every firmer – by their own actions"http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/objects/pdf/d0483.pdf

    #100465
    Brian
    Participant
    Vin Maratty wrote:
    twc wrote:
    That being the case, Steve, I’ll bow out of the forum. 

     That would be catastrophic. Your grasp of the MCH in relation to the SPGB's case is indespensable as far as I am concerned 

    Wow!  Powerful statement that but anti-materialist all the same.  What is it Marx said?  I'm no Marxist.In short I would have thought that we are all indispensable when it comes to understanding the MCH.

    #100466
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    Brian wrote:
    Vin Maratty wrote:
    twc wrote:
    That being the case, Steve, I’ll bow out of the forum. 

     That would be catastrophic. Your grasp of the MCH in relation to the SPGB's case is indespensable as far as I am concerned 

    Wow!  Powerful statement that but anti-materialist all the same.  What is it Marx said?  I'm no Marxist.In short I would have thought that we are all indispensable when it comes to understanding the MCH.

      I make no apologies for a comradely comment  Keep up the good work Brian and TWC 

    #100467
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    By the way Brian, we all have various talents to offer and that is what makes socialism possible. . If you collapsed at the next ADM in pain and there was one doctor  present  would you prefer the delegates to discuss your problem and come to a democtaritic decision?

    #100468
    twc
    Participant
    pgb wrote:
    Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s the SPA existed in name only and in Post Box numbers in Sydney and Melbourne. Its only significant activity was the publication of a 4-page paper Socialist Comment between 1943 and 1948 largely through the dedicated efforts of Clarke (editor of the Union journal in 1935). Johnson had no part in this.

    Yes.  The war disrupted Party activity, and scattered members.  On return, many drifted away, even if keeping in personal contact.

    pgb wrote:
    It wasn't until 1956 that the SPA was resurrected as a functioning Party (but only in Sydney) with the arrival from New Zealand of two ex-members of the SPGB. They joined the SPGB in 1943 and 1946, not in the Depression years as you claim.

    Yes.  I accept your correction unreservedly.

    pgb wrote:
    As set out in a letter printed in the Socialist Standard in October 2004 written by me and co-signed by J Thorburn (ex Glasgow Branch), the revived Sydney Branch of the SPA was a very active Branch, holding indoor and outdoor meetings, debating with other, mainly left-wing groups (this was the year of the CPSU 20th Congress and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, so many ex-CPAers were looking for new directions), and selling the Standard and many SPGB pamphlets.

    Yes.  I accept your account unreservedly.

    pgb wrote:
    Your description of these ex-SPGBers as "intellectual poseurs" with their "gung-ho brand of egotistical bravado proselytising" that eventually "brought the Australian world socialist party to its knees" is absurd, and a calumny against very able and dedicated socialists.

    I hereby retract my exaggerated claim.I cannot bring myself to retract it unreservedly, but neither can I offer evidence to substantiate it.By way of explanation, my claim stems from the relayed exasperation, and perhaps my childish distorted misinterpretation of it, of a long-term member, from a different generation.  That, as I recall, was his eventual opinion of these two, but by then there was no blood lost between them either.  [Of you, his relayed opinion was high.]

    pgb wrote:
    The SPA was never brought to its knees by these comrades; it died from want of interest on the part of the Australian working class who had absolutely zero interest in the SPGB brand of revolutionary politics and doctrinaire Marxism.

    Sadly, true.

    pgb wrote:
    It is a bitter irony that you of all people, who presents himself as a materialist, should blame the decline of the SPA not on the material conditions of life in capitalist Australia, but on the imagined personal flaws and failings of the members who did most to rebuild it.

    I do confess, when confronted by your account, my personal shame in having hung pent-up dirty linen on the line.Yes, it is ironic that I brought it up in response to attacks against materialism and determinism, when these are the only substantial foundations we have, and proselytizing without them for Socialism is meaningless, just wishful thinking.

    pgb wrote:
    Shame.

    I accept most of your criticism.  I hereby apologize to past warriors under almost insuperable odds. I agree that it was shameful for me to have brought up, for long-held personal reasons, something harmful to the reputation of others, and for which I cannot offer substantial evidence.

    #100469
    twc
    Participant

    I truly appreciate your detailed history of the relationship between the SPA and the Australian Seamen's Union, aspects of which I was unaware of.  For a child, these were ancient history.I was going on the sketchy details I gleaned from the Casey obituary, and found in Clarke's rebuttal of the Thesis 11 attack on the SPA in relation to ex-member Dawson printing Pannekoek's post-War book on "Council Communism", page proofs of which were still piled high in Charlie Sundberg's backyard garden shed into the 80s.I have no reason whatsoever to dispute your far more knowledgable account of the SPA and the Australian Seamen's Union.Having witnessed Clarke's dismissal of radical historian Rowan Cahill's centenary history of the Union, "dictated to him by the great Elliot", I believe that the fine historian's big book is not always trustworthy nor objective in interpretation of periods in its history, especially those of SPA influence, if not "dominance" in your sense.Clarke let me know that he personally could no longer have got a job on the ships under the Communist "dominated" Union. I am fascinated by the fact that other labour historians have now discussed this turbulent era.  I must look them up.

    #100463
    pgb
    Participant

    twc: Thank you for your interesting and heartfelt response. A major problem in understanding the "turbulent era" as you call it is that federal records of the Seamen's Union are practically devoid of material covering the years 1920-1935. Unfortunately Jacob Johnson kept no records relating to his own activities for fear Walsh would use them against him (and vice-versa). There is a story that large cases of Union records disappeared into Sydney Harbour. Your reference to Rowan Cahill is interesting. He is one of two historians who wrote the history of the Seamen's Union. The other was Brian Fitzpatrick, one of the first reputable Australian historians to write history in a Marxist framework. His contribution to the Union history covers the period 1872 to the eve of WW2. Rowan Cahill covers the period 1939-1972. There's no comparison IMO between the two. Fitzpatrick's work is first class. Cahill's is hagiographic – glorifying Elliot. So I can fully understand Clarke's dismissal of him. Fitzpatrick makes no mention of the SPA. Cahill does: "Casey, along with Johnson and Clarke, had been a member of the Australian Branch of the rigidly Marxist British Socialist Party. Author of the immortal IWW ballad 'Bump me into Parliament', he had been known as the 'philosopher of the proletariat' ". Cahill also refers to Casey as "the mainstay and guiding intelligence" of the Johnson faction. I recall (c. 1958) Clarke talking about Casey in almost reverential tones. In Strike across the Empire, a history of the 1925 seamen's strike, the authors Hirson and Vivian (UK historians) describe Johnson as "a member of the Australian Socialist Party: a small group that proclaimed that revolutionaries could only take power when they had the whole-hearted support of the masses". Finally, the Australian historian Stuart McIntyre in The Reds says: "Johnson and the branch secretaries in Melbourne and Brisbane were adherents of the rigidly doctrinaire Socialist Party of Great Britain, which allowed no compromise in the class war, and enforced the Union rules as strictly as they upheld the letter of impossibilist Marxism". Well, at least he got the name right.ajj: Yes, I read your previous post which carried the piece from Socialist Comment by one Frank Royden (unknown to me). I was surprised when I read it because it was unlike anything I had seen before in SC. Only after that did I look it up in my own collection of SPA material. It is an unusual piece because of a very forthright, honest and up-front tone, which I haven't found in other issues of Socialist Comment. Its analysis of parties on the Left is quite good even after almost 70 years. Thanks for pointing it out.

    #100470
    ALB
    Keymaster

    This thread has become more interesting than I thought. Is there not some way of transferring the stuff on the SP of Australia and the Seaman's Union to a separate thread as it's going to get lost here and won't be able to found easily again?

    #100471
    moderator1
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    This thread has become more interesting than I thought. Is there not some way of transferring the stuff on the SP of Australia and the Seaman's Union to a separate thread as it's going to get lost here and won't be able to found easily again?

    Just what I had in mind.

    #100472
    moderator1
    Participant

    Posters please note new thread created on 'SPA and the Australian Seaman's Union'.  Do not continue to post messages on this thread referring to that topic.

    #100473
    twc
    Participant

    This post is relevant to both threads.Royden ArticleReference: http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/objects/pdf/d0483.pdf

    alanjjohnstone wrote:
    I have pointed out on a discussion list, the SPA wrote its own obituary in 1948.

    Please cite a reference to your post.

    pgb wrote:
    It is an unusual piece because of a very forthright, honest and up-front tone, which I haven't found in other issues of Socialist Comment.

    The only thing forthright, honest and up-front in tone about the article is its statement that the socialist case of the SPA, of the SPGB and of Marx has been put for a century, and the world has rejected it, and that we now should reconsider the socialist case of the SPA, of the SPGB, and of Marx because it’s just our bias, opinion, ideology — and is probably wrong.The only explanation I can imagine for the EC letting it through was difficulty of communication between scattered EC members, some of whose advice to reject was overridden or possibly not sought, and the desire for the Party to publish post haste a historical appraisal of world socialism for the centenary celebration of the “The Communist Manifesto”.Why thoroughly likable Jack Topp agreed to publish the article is beyond me.  Perhaps it was his general magnanimity.  [Jack was a perpetual, and so familiar, sight at Melbourne Trades Hall.  He was the only layman that future prime minister Hawke, when long-term industrial advocate and head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), relied on for industrial and legal opinion, and he nurtured future ACTU advocate and Federal treasurer Ralph Willis.]For or AgainstIt certainly is a demoralizing article for the world socialist case;  and the author, by disavowing its Object and Declaration of Principles, the sole conditions of Party membership, is thereby placing himself outside and against the Party he’s ostensibly writing inside and for.Your finding merit in the Royden article plays into my hand, and provides the missing substantiation that the ex-SPGB pair moved from inside to outside, and from for to against, the SPA, Marx and the SPGB.ObituaryIf Royden was being forthright, honest and up-front in tone in writing an obituary on the SPA, then he was also being forthright, honest and up-front in tone in writing an obituary for Marx, and for the SPGB.  If one is dead, so are they all, and that includes the SPGB.This makes my central, but contrary, point in this thread.  If everything is opinion, or bias, or ideology, then we are all as much opinionated, biased and ideological as the next.If so, we have an insubstantial basis for dumping an existing world social system [presumably merely the result of someone-else’s former bias, opinion, ideology] for a non-existing world social system [presumably merely the fantasy of our own bias, opinion, ideology].That, of course, is nonsense.Socialism is materialist and deterministic, or not at all.  The only obituary we strive for is capitalism’s.

    #100474
    LBird
    Participant
    twc wrote:
    This makes my central, but contrary, point in this thread. If everything is opinion, or bias, or ideology, then we are all as much opinionated, biased and ideological as the next.

    If only things were this simple.This either/or view of the world is as much use as a good guy/bad guy or cowboys/indians dichotomous view.If the SPGB wears the white hats, then, ipso facto, everyone who criticises or argues with an existing SPGB position/principle/stance, clearly dons a black hat.It's becoming clear to me why twc doesn't do discussion, like about 'materialism', because any raising of questions and searching for answers is a sign of weakness to those who already know The Answer.It's not attractive.

    #100475
    twc
    Participant

    So please explain:If the social superstructure is pure bias, how that pure bias comes about.Why anyone should support the pure socialist bias.

    #100476
    LBird
    Participant
    twc wrote:
    So please explain:If the social superstructure is pure bias, how that pure bias comes about.Why anyone should support the pure socialist bias.

    No-one's arguing this, twc.If you don't understand the arguments being made, why not ask for clarification?You're merely building a straw man of your own imagination, and destroying it to your own satisfaction.For my part, I want a discussion.I've asked you to explain what you mean by 'material', so I'm asking questions. I think you mean 'physical' or 'tangible' by your use of 'material', but I might be wrong, so I'm asking you to clarify before I go on to discuss that assumption.

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