Supriya Ghosh

Anarchism in Australia

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Anarchism in Australia

Anarchism arrived in Australia within a few years of anarchism developing as a distinct tendency in the wake of the 1871 Paris Commune. Although a minor school of thought and politics, composed primarily of campaigners and intellectuals, Australian anarchism has formed a significant current throughout the history and literature of the colonies and nation. Anarchism's influence has been industrial and cultural, though its influence has waned from its high point in the early 20th century where anarchist techniques and ideas deeply influenced the official Australian union movement. In the mid 20th century anarchism's influence was primarily restricted to urban bohemian cultural movements. In the late 20th century and early 21st century Australian anarchism has been an element in Australia's social justice and protest movements.



Anarchism has found both proponents and critics during the short history of Australia. International movements, émigrés or home-grown anarchists have all contributed to radical politics during the nation's formation


The Melbourne Anarchist Club was officially founded on 1 May 1886 by David Andrade and others breaking away from the Australasian Secular Association of Joseph Symes, the journal Honesty being the anarchist club's official organ; and anarchism became a significant minor current on the Australian left. The current included a diversity of views on economics, ranging from an individualism influenced by Benjamin Tucker to the anarchist communism of JA Andrews. All regarded themselves as broadly "socialist" however. The Anarchists mixed with the seminal literary figures Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore and the labour journalist and utopian socialist William Lane. The most dramatic event associated with this early Australian anarchism was perhaps the bombing of the "non-union" ship SS Aramac on 27 July 1893 by Australian anarchist and union organiser Larrie Petrie. This incident occurred in the highly charged atmosphere following the defeat of the 1890 Australian maritime dispute and the 1891 Australian shearers' strike, an atmosphere which also produced the Sydney-based direct action group the "Active Service Brigade" Petrie was arrested for attempted murder but charges were dropped after a few months. He later joined Lane's "New Australia" utopian experiment in Paraguay.

A major challenge to the principles of these early Australian anarchists was the virulent anti-Chinese racism of the time, of which racism William Lane himself was a leading exponent. On a political level the anarchists opposed the anti-Chinese agitation. "The Chinese, like ourselves, are the victims of monopoly and exploitation" editorialised Honesty "We had far better set to and make our own position better instead of, like a parcel of blind babies, trying to make theirs worse." The anarchists were sometimes more ambivalent on the subject than this statement of principle might suggest; anti-Chinese racism was entrenched in the labour movement of which they were a part, and challenged by few others.

World war

Monty Miller, a veteran of the Eureka uprising, belonged to the Melbourne Anarchist Club. He would later become a well-known militant of the Australian branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and was arrested and imprisoned in 1916. His friend the social activist and literary figure Willem Siebenhaar was among those who campaigned for his release.

After the First World War Australian anarchism fell into decline. The tradition was kept alive by, among others, the prominent agitator and street speaker Chummy Fleming who died in Melbourne in 1950 and by Italian Anarchists active in Melbourne's Matteotti Club and the North Queensland canefields. William Andrade (1863–1939), David Andrade's brother and fellow anarchist, became a successful bookseller in Sydney and Melbourne and while he retired from active politics in about 1920 he continued to influence events by allowing various radical groups to use his premises throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Anarchist refugees from Spain were also present in the 1930s. The literary journal, Angry Penguins drew on the anarchist theory of Herbert Read and others. The magazine was controversial and critical of the 'nationalistic socialism' of its counterparts, it did not continue after falling victim to an elaborate literary hoax in 1943. The anarchist poet Harry Hooton began publishing around this time.

Post World War Two

After World War Two the Sydney Libertarians developed a distinct brand of "pessimistic" or "permanent protest" anarchism, deeply sceptical of revolution and of any grand scheme of human betterment, yet friendly to the revolutionary unionism of the IWW. Harry Hooton associated with this group, and his friend Germaine Greer belonged to it in her youth. By 1972 she was calling herself an "anarchist communist" and was still identifying herself as "basically" an anarchist in 1999. The Sydney Libertarians were the political tendency around which the "Sydney Push" social milieu developed, a milieu which included many anarchists.

The Sydney Libertarians, along with the remnant of the Australian IWW and of Italian and Spanish migrant anarchism fed into the Anarchist revival of the sixties and seventies which Australia shared with much of the developed world. Another post-war influence that fed into modern Australian anarchism was the arrival of anarchist refugees from Bulgaria.

The last years of Australian involvement in the Vietnam war was an active period for Australian anarchists, the high-profile draft resistor Michael Matteson in particular became something of a folk hero. The prolific anarchist poet Pi O began to write. The Brisbane Self-Management Group was formed in 1971, heavily influenced by the councillist writings of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group and its offshoots. The Anarchist Bookshop in Adelaide began publishing the monthly Black Growth. Anarchists active in inner-city Melbourne played a major part in creating the Fitzroy Legal Service (FLS) in 1972. The FLS was the forerunner of the community legal centre movement in Australia.

In 1974 after successfully campaigning against the 1971 South Africa rugby union tour of Australia Anti-apartheid movement activist Peter McGregor was one of several people who involved themselves in resurrecting the Sydney Anarchist Group to organise an Australian Anarchist conference in Sydney in January 1975. At the time anarchist theory was being intensely debated. A diverse Federation of Australian Anarchists (FAA) was formed at a conference in Sydney in 1975. A walkout from the second conference in Melbourne in 1976 led to the founding of the Libertarian Socialist Federation (LSF), which in turn led to the founding of Jura Books in 1977. The FAA, and the LSF, soon dissolved but the founding of Jura, still existing as of April 2013, was a landmark in consolidating the modern movement.

The end of the 1970s saw the development of a Christian anarchist Catholic Worker tendency in Brisbane, the most prominent person in the group being Ciaron O'Reilly. This tendency exploded into prominence in 1982 because of its part along with other anarchists and assorted radicals in the Brisbane free speech fights during the Queensland premiership of Joh Bjelke-Petersen. In Melbourne in 1977 the Libertarian Workers for a Self-Managed Society (LW) were formed on a theoretical platform similar to the Brisbane Self-Management Group. This Libertarian Workers group engaged very actively in propaganda, which played a major part on making possible the Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations of 1986. Apart from generally respectful publicity the lasting consequences of the Celebrations were the founding of the Anarchist Media Institute which persists as of July 2007, its most visible member being Joseph Toscano; and the founding of an Australian section of the International Workers Association (IWA) called the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation (ASF). A major part of the activity of the ASF was its agitation among Melbourne's public transport workers culminating in a significant influence on the Melbourne Tram Dispute of 1990. This Australian section would self-destruct in 1992 in circumstances still controversial among Australian anarchists; however the IWA does currently list a group called the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation as a "friend", as distinct from a section, of the IWA. In Sydney the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation was renamed the Anarcho-Syndicalist Network and continues to function to this day (August, 2016), publishing the bi-monthly transport workers' agitational magazine, Sparks, and the bi-monthly anarcho-syndicalist magazine, Rebel Worker.

Punk, including anarcho-punk, appeared in Australia without delay. An example is the pamphlet How to Make Trouble and Influence People and its sequels.

Active currents

Anarcho-syndicalism remains a consistent trend in Australian radical politics, with various groups active around the country. These groups typically are also involved in attempts at popular education, for example through the 'Anarchist Summer Schools' active in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, as well as various book-shops, libraries and other initiatives.

The Mutiny collective, MACG, ASF, Black Swan, Anti Fascist Action Sydney, BSN, SydSol, Jura, MAC & Anarchist Affinity are all examples of currently active anarchist groupings.

Theory and literature

Various theories or conceptions of anarchism arose from the literature of Australia, writers and poets either identified as anarchists or became closely associated with associations and literary movements since the late 19th century. As a school of ethics or radicalism, anarchism is inherently prone to schism and dissolution. Sometimes given as a weakness of its political effectiveness, many anarchists maintain that dynamic political association is its strength. Magazines and pamphlets were generated throughout its history, associations came and went, and poets used the medium to illustrate their sometimes utopic vision. Many anarchists were engaged to socialist campaigning or in political actions involving other groups.

The term has been used in the Australian press to indicate a position of extreme or violent revolution, or of simple lawlessness. During the 1970s and to some extent the 1980s there was a tendency for anarchists to prefer such terms as "libertarian socialist".

The established and ongoing press of the Australian anarchist movement presently (July 2007) consists of the anarcho-syndicalist bimonthly Rebel Worker, founded in 1982; and the Anarchist Age Weekly Review, the newsletter, founded in 1991, of the Anarchist Media Institute. Many more ephemeral publications have existed and continue to be produced.

Rebel Worker has carried over the years a body of polemic critical of inward-looking or "sect-building" anarchism, accused of seeing itself as something apart from the day to day struggles of working people. Associated with this polemic it has also carried articles critical of a "faista" (that is, dominated by the perspective favourable to the Federación Anarquista Ibérica) interpretation of the history of Spanish Anarchism. The Anarchist Age Weekly Review provides a running commentary on the news plus very short theoretical and historical articles.

The pamphlet You Can't Blow Up A Social Relationship is a critique of guerilla-ism or "terrorism" as a strategy. It was published in 1978 in the name of several Australian groups following the Sydney Hilton bombing. Another significant pamphlet, from the early 1980s, was Julie McCrossin's Women, wimmin, womyn, womin, whippets an anarchist-feminist critique of some aspects of the separatist feminism of the day.

Green Gate

'Green Gate' refers to an infamous rift that occurred in the Australian anarchist movement mid-2016 when it was revealed that the administration of Australia's most influential Facebook group, 'Anarchists In Australia' was controlled by members of the Australian Greens Party and that the group was being used as part of a covert social media campaign by The Australian Greens Party to influence the Federal Election. An investigation by a group of concerned anarchists who had been banned from the group for expressing anti-Australian Greens Party sentiment revealed that a group of Greens Party members led by aspiring politician Tom Raue infiltrated the Anarchists In Australia group shortly after the Federal Election date was announced with the connivance of Anarchists In Australia admins Jacob Vardy, Jasmina Brankovich and Benjamin Eorlingas, all of whom are former Australian Greens Party members and are still sympathetic to the cause. Tom Raue is a student activist from Sydney and an aspiring politician who has managed to build quite a large personality cult around himself both online and in real life and now wields a great deal of power and influence within the cut throat student politics scene in Sydney and online activism circles within Australia. The investigation revealed that Tom Raue used several underhanded tactics to silence members of Anarchists In Australia who were critical of the Australian Greens Party including orchestrating mass reporting of Facebook profiles, making unsubstantiated accusations against group members and using his personal friendship with group admin Jacob Vardy (also known as 'The Wizard') to intimidate group members who refused to tow the Greens Party line. Raue claims to be an anarchist but the investigation revealed that this is most likely a temporary ruse to assist him in his rise through the student politics scene and an eventual run for the New South Wales parliament as an Australian Greens Party candidate. It was also revealed that not only is Raue a member of the Australian Greens Party, he is also employed by them. He even boasted via a post in the Anarchists In Australia group that he "wouldn't have a job if it weren't for The Greens" as well as alluding to the fact that his coordinator role in the 'Sniff Off' campaign (a campaign against the discriminatory use of police drug sniffer dogs in Sydney) was only possible due to his being a paid Australian Greens Party operative. The repercussions of 'Green Gate' are still being felt at the time of this writing and at this stage it is uncertain what effect it will have on the wider Australian anarchist community.


Anarchism in Australia Wikipedia

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