Socialist activities in Australia

In the centenary year of the founding of the SPGB, it is appropriate that the Socialist Standard should publish material on the spread of socialist ideas outside the UK and on the development and role of the companion parties in that process. In this context, Peter E Newell’s article (August Socialist Standard) on the various manifestations of “socialism” in Australia is welcome.  However, there are a number of errors in his account.
The party he refers to as being formed in Melbourne in 1906 was not the “self-proclaimed Socialist Party of Australia”, but the Victorian Socialist Party which was the largest and most influential party of its type at the time.  Because it was based only in Victoria it is not surprising that almost all its members resided in Melbourne.  In 1907, the Victorian party, plus another six “socialist” groups of various names and persuasions, came together in a loose federal organisation calling itself the Socialist Federation of Australia. Tom Mann was a major figure of influence in the formation of both the Victorian Party and the new Federation. In 1910, the same year Mann returned to England, the Federation changed its name to the Australian Socialist Party. During the First World War, along with all other “socialist” groups and most of the Labor Party, the ASP was active in the major political struggle of the time – the anti-conscription campaigns. It is misleading to say that the ASP “faded away” by 1920. What happened was that the majority of its branches reconstituted themselves as branches of the newly formed Communist Party of Australia in 1920 (similar to the dissolution of the British Socialist Party into the CPGB in the same year).
As Peter Newell indicates, it was largely through the efforts of seamen who were members or sympathisers of the SPGB that the Socialist Party of Australia was founded in 1924. The history of the Party in the 1920s and 30s was directly shaped by the power struggles of the Seamen’s Union of Australia. Jacob Johnson was the union’s national secretary and he and the branch secretaries in Melbourne and Brisbane were all members of the SPA. In 1935 Johnson opposed a general stoppage led by militant rank and file members and was later replaced as national secretary and eventually expelled from membership in 1937. The strength and influence of the SPA declined thereafter.
Peter Newell makes only brief passing reference to the SPA in the 1940s, but says nothing about the 1950s even though this period saw a significant revival and growth of the Party’s activities in Sydney. This followed the arrival in 1955 of members of the SPGB who had left the UK for New Zealand (where they were active in the SPNZ) and later moved to Sydney. Regular and well-attended meetings were held in the Sydney Domain and eventually the Sydney Branch of the SPA was formally reconstituted in 1957. The only other Branch in Australia, in Melbourne, had been moribund for years. Amongst Sydney Branch members in the late 1950s were two of the leading figures in the Seamen’s Union and in the SPA of the 1920s and 30s, both mentioned by Peter Newell: Jacob Johnson and W J “Bill” Clarke. The SPA in Sydney held indoor and outdoor meetings, ran study classes, debated with other (mainly “left wing”) groups in various forums, and regularly sold copies of the Socialist Standard and all SPGB pamphlets. It was a very active Branch, known to many of the comrades in the SPGB Head Office in Clapham High Street at the time. By 1961 the Branch went into a decline, though individual members remained active in a variety of ways.
Peter Newell says that in 1962 the name “Socialist Party of Australia” was adopted by a group who left the Communist Party of Australia over the Sino-Soviet split. This is wrong. A pro-Peking group left the CPA in 1963 and a year later founded the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).         The split in the CPA which led to the formation of a pro-Moscow group calling itself the “Socialist Party of Australia” occurred in 1971 and followed from CPA opposition to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the Party’s subsequent embrace of “Eurocommunism”. It is an irony of history that one of the principal founders of this so-called Socialist Party of Australia played a central role in the events leading to the expulsion of Jacob Johnson from the Seamen’s Union in 1936-37 and later went on to become the Union’s general secretary from 1941 to 1978.
The Eurocommunist CPA did not survive the collapse of communism in the early 1990s and it eventually dissolved itself. This left the way open for the so-called SPA to reclaim the name of the Communist Party of Australia and to re-badge itself accordingly. This it did in 1996. In 2003, the name “Socialist Party Australia”, being at that time unattached, was picked up by a Trotskyist conventicle describing itself as the “Australian Section of the Committee for a Workers’ International”.

PETER BRYANT and JIM THORBURN, Sydney, Australia

Reply: We are happy to publish this correction and complement of information. We take this opportunity to correct the last line of the article which should have read: “At the moment there are only individual socialists in the WSPA active in different parts of Australia”. The words in italics somehow got lost in between us and the printers. Readers in Australia who want to contact the WSPA should write to: 8 Graelee Ct, Kingston, Tasmania 7050. – Editors.

Lenin’s not elitist?

Dear Editors,

The article ‘Lenin: a socialist analysis’ (January Socialist Standard) quotes from The Myth of Lenin’s Concept of the Party by Hal Draper, to support the assertion that Lenin was an elitist.
A reading of the full Draper essay reveals something completely different. Draper argues that Lenin did not hold to the view that only intellectuals forming a cadre of professional revolutionaries should make up a revolutionary organisation.
Lenin did indeed pick up the idea from Neue Zeit, dropped it into What is To be Done? and promptly neglected it unless the notion was resurrected by his political enemies when Lenin would “ . . . consistently and firmly repudiate it”.
What Lenin meant by professional revolutionary is described by Draper as “a party activist who devoted most (preferably all) of his spare time to revolutionary work . . . He must work to earn a living, of course, but this is not his life”. Any member of the working class could fit into this description. It is not elitist at all.
It should even, dare I say it, describe the average member of the Socialist Party!


Reply: The purpose of quoting from Draper’s The Myth of Lenin’s Concept of the Party was to show that Lenin’s concept of the party was essentially the same as Kautsky’s and the Second International generally

According to Lenin’s more famous interpretation, the working class was incapable of self-emancipation. Some workers may join the ranks of the professional revolutionaries in the vanguard party, in Lenin’s view, but this does not affect his belief that emancipation had to be brought to the working class by a political organisation. Although Lenin went on to change some aspects of his concept of the party, this elitist position never changed and had catastrophic consequences when implemented in the Bolshevik revolution.
When the Socialist Party was formed in 1904 it repudiated leadership in any form. The Socialist Party’s history is a practical refutation of the role of leadership. Leninists often deceive themselves that they believe it, but the Socialist Party really does insist that the emancipation of the working class has to be the work of the working class itself.–Editors.


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