Party News Briefs

St. Pancras Branch continues to thrive. With an encouraging increase in membership it is making the Party’s name known in the St. Pancras area. It has an average branch meeting attendance of 75 per cent. of its membership. Successful literature sales are reported from a canvass at some flats in the Euston and Camden Town districts. Arrangements are being made for a series of indoor meetings to commence early this year. The branch is also organising a series of social evenings to be held on the first Saturday evening of each month commencing in January.

Death of a Socialist Pioneer. Comrade W. J. C. of Sydney, Australia, has sent us the following notice on the death of an old comrade in Brisbane General Hospital, one of a small body of Socialist pioneers who have carried on the struggle in Australia, Comrade Bill Casey.

Casey was a Manchester man and went to Australia some years before World War I. Almost immediately on his arrival there he became actively involved in a number of industrial disputes, including the most historical ones recorded in Australian history. Labour Government, job-conscious union officials and big businessmen all attacked him. When, during the First World War, the Labour Prime Minister of Australia tried to enforce conscription, Casey threw himself into the fight and became one of the most enthusiastically active members of the Anti-Conscription Army. That anti-conscription campaign left an indelible mark on the history of Australia.

Casey was not a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the I.W.W., popularly known as The Wobblies) but at that time he subscribed to many of their ideas. Much of the I.W.W. propaganda of those days took the form of parodying popular songs. Bill Casey was a master of satire and made his opponents squirm under the ridicule of his rhymes whilst his comrades eagerly awaited every lampoon. The I.W.W. songs composed by Casey were sung all round the world.

In 1919 Casey was involved in the seamen’s strike. It was about this time when, having returned to sea, he met up with Jack Temple who had been an active member of the Socialist Party of Canada and had connected with the S.P.G.B. Temple weaned Casey from the I.W.W. viewpoint and very soon Casey was expounding the Socialist case. In particular he became a caustic critic of the “neo-Communists” after the Bolshevik rise to power in Russia. He was delegated to represent the seamen at an International Trade Union Conference in Moscow. This was one of the early “Missions to Moscow” and was beset with difficulties all the way. Forged passports, stowing away, “hopping” across frontiers, guides and go-betweens often in the pay of both sides. The difficulty of getting into Russia in those days was so great that the ultimate arrival in Moscow, after much suffering, danger and perseverance was hailed as a masterpiece of undercover work. Once arrived at the Gates of the Kremlin most of the delegates became insufferable Bolshevik “Yes-men”. But Casey and his co-delegate, Barney Kelly, another adherent of S.P.G.B. principles, soberly tried to obtain a truthful estimate of the position. A few days sojourn in Moscow drew the following observations from Casey:

Production was in a straight-jacket, lethargy and indifference permeated the whole economy, the people were ENTIRELY LACKING IN A SENSE OF TIME. Industrial discipline was non est. Without the normal industrial development of production and some measure of buying and selling (war Communism was the order of the day) drift and indifference would gradually strangle the economy of the Soviet.

These observations were greeted with disgust and dismay by other delegates. However, before they left Moscow, Lenin introduced his “New Economic Policy” which, in essence, provided for the very things that Casey opined were needed to stabilise the Russian economy. The “Yes-men’s” hostility to Casey’s prognostications changed to cheers for Lenin’s belated pronouncements.

Back in Australia, he submitted his report to Tom Walsh (then a leading Communist and foundation member of the Australian Communist Party and General President of the Australian Seamen’s Union). Walsh rejected the report and refused to publish it on the grounds that it criticised the Bolsheviks and the Russian system. After spending some time in Melbourne, Casey proceeded to Sydney where he again crossed swords with Walsh who, carrying out the policy of the C.P. was endeavouring to get the seamen to affiliate with the A.L.P. (Australian Labour Party) from which body the seamen had seceded because of the anti-working-class role of Labour governments and politicians during the seamen’s strike of 1917 and 1919.
Bill Casey and Jacob Johnson.Jacob Johnson and Bill Casey

With Jacob Johnson (Assistant Secretary, Sydney Branch of the Seamen’s Union) and a handful of supporters, Casey pursued the fight against affiliation with the Labour Party. This fight continued up to 1925 when an unexpected walk-out of British seamen, who left their ships tied up on the Australian coast, overshadowed the affiliation dispute. Incidental to the British seamen’s strike, both Walsh and Johnson were arrested, brought before a tribunal set up under special legislation, and sentenced to deportation from Australia. We knew, at that time, that Walsh wanted to be deported and was to be given a job in England with Havelock Wilson. Casey worked unceasingly to prevent the deportation. Those who were associated with Casey believe that his activities on behalf of Johnson was the most brilliant of his career. An appeal was made to the High Court of Australia. The most eminent legal men in the country were briefed both by the Crown and the appellants. Casey worked day and night to defeat the machinations of what was openly recognised as “A ship-owners’ government”. He marshalled facts, ferreted information, countered the sabotage of Government henchmen, suggested successful points of law, and finally his subtle optimism triumphed. Dr. Evatt, one of Johnson’s counsel (now Attorney General and ex-president of U.N.O.) unstintingly praised Casey’s remarkable accomplishments. Many barristers have openly acknowledged him to be “the cleverest lay-man they ever met”. The High Court held the Tribunal’s decision to deport to be ultra vires; Walsh and Johnson were released from the Naval prison on Garden Island where they had been held while awaiting deportation.

Following the release and the settlement of the British seamen’s strike, the fight around affiliation with the Labour Party again assumed an important place in the Seamen’s Union. Finally Walsh’s move was defeated and he was deposed from his position as G.P. Later, a high officer of the N.S.F.U. visited Australia and reported that Havelock Wilson had sent over £3,000 to help Walsh in the fight against Johnson and Casey. In justice to this official, let it be said that on hearing the facts of the case, he urged that no more money be sent from the English Seamen’s Union for this purpose.

During these periods, Casey consistently carried on Socialist propaganda. He debated almost every “leader” in the Communist Party. He represented the S.P. of A. in debates with the Henry George League, the Labour Party, the Communist Party, Currency Experts, and a host of others. He trounced Individualist A. D. Kay who, after losing his seat in Parliament and on the Meat Board, went to England to be given, later, a job by Churchill during the last war. Casey conducted Speakers’ Classes, Economics Classes, open air and indoor meetings for the S.P.A. Prior to the formation of the S.P.A. he, together with Moses Baritz, struck terror into the hearts of the professional “revolutionaries” of the C.P. These two Manchester men invariably sought each other whether in London, Sydney or Melbourne.

The anecdotes about them would fill a book; Moses, bombastic, merciless, ruthlessly capable in expounding the Socialist position. Casey, puckish, simple, unsurpassed as a teacher of young fellows, flashing with satire and armed with a power of mental penetration that pierced the armour of the most hide-bound opponent of Socialism.

For many years he held official positions in the Seamen’s Union. He was Secretary of the Brisbane Branch when he died. For years he found it difficult to get jobs on ships. Victimised, he battled around on scanty food, a few beers and a bit of tobacco. Long spells of unemployment meant more time for Socialist activities. He never went short while his friends had a few bob. His knowledge of philosophy, economics, political and industrial history was amazing and his uncanny ability to interpret industrial awards, surmount legal difficulties with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act, the Australian Navigation Act and the various Compensation Acts, redounded to the benefit of his ship-mates. He was known as the Seaman Philosopher. So much, and yet so little, of that side of his life.

Personally, Casey was the finest friend ever a man could wish for. His loyalty to friends and principles was universally acknowledged. A little, broad shouldered fellow, quietly spoken, with impish grin, happy and humming some simple old-country folk song, it was a pleasure to be in his company. Ever ready to quaff a pot. A lover of children, he was always the butt of their frolicking at some friend’s family gathering. He was popular in the truest sense of the word. His friendship never wavered.

Now Casey is gone and comrades, all over the world, will regret his passing. He died of cancer. The working-class has lost a champion; the Socialist Party has lost a great pioneer in Australia. A fellow member of the S.P.A. gave the final address at his cremation a sad task but a privileged one. Casey’s life was devoted to the establishing of a new social order. For while the sands were running out, in a recent letter to the writer, after describing his sufferings, he concluded thus; —

       “I wish nothing better to anybody than good health, except a better system in which to enjoy it.”

W.J.C. concludes his obituary to a great friend and comrade:—“The memory of Bill Casey will sustain us in our future struggles.”

Kingston Branch wishes to draw attention to the fact that its meetings will be held fortnightly from Thursday, January 5th, instead of weekly as previously. The meeting place and time of meeting are unchanged.

From Sweden we receive an encouraging letter from which we quote: —
   “As far as I can understand from your declaration of Principles and from the articles published in your very interesting magazine, the Socialist Party of Great Britain (and its companion Parties in Canada, etc.) represents a much more sincere Socialism than any other Party in your country or in Scandinavia. Although I never was a member of it, my sympathies have been almost entirely with the Swedish Social Democratic Party. However, having come to maturity I have understood that our Social Democrats (like the British Labour Party) have failed of their original purpose. Sweden needs a Party like yours, a Moscow independent. Socialist Party. I know it would be welcomed by many people, all those workers, agricultural, industrial or intellectual, who are displeased with the Social Democrats, but who do not want to work for Kominform purposes. I shall do all I can to circulate the Socialist Standard in Sweden . . .”

Party Badges. Party Badges in stud or brooch form are available for Party members. 1s. 6d. post free.

W. Waters

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