Melbourne Black has gone into hibernation.

Conal Thwaite, Anarcho-Syndicalism in Melbourne & Sydney


Personal Abstract: Anarcho-Syndicalism in Melbourne and Sydney

This year I wrote an honours thesis about the history of anarchism in Australia. I had a great supervisor Stuart Macintyre, which was a fantastic opportunity. I knew before I started that there has only ever been a limited anarchist movement in Australia, but I also knew of several instances worth looking into. These included the Melbourne Anarchist Club (MAC) of the 1880s and 1890s, and also the relationship between anarchism and the Industrial Workers of the World during the early twentieth century.

Not everything I learnt, however, is contained in the final thesis. Eventually I narrowed the topic to the period after WWII until 1990, mainly because I had more sources and a few more interesting things to say about this period. I also ended up limiting the discussion to anarcho-syndicalism within anarchism, and geographically to Melbourne and Sydney within Australia. This gave me a ready-made definition of anarchism in relation to the labour movement and also meant that I could rely on primary sources from the Melbourne Anarchist Resource Centre (MARC) and the anarchist bookstore Jura Books in Sydney. I found some great anarchist documents dating from the 1950s in boxes that had never (in recent history) been sorted through.

The thesis is therefore structured as an intellectual background, and to some degree an organisational history, of anarcho-syndicalism in Melbourne and Sydney. The first chapter sets up an historical definition of the place of anarcho-syndicalism within the anarchist movement and explains these concepts as I understand them. The second is about migrant anarchists in Australia after WWII and their interactions with libertarian parts of the the New Left. It is argued that migrant anarchists help create a small anarcho-syndicalist tradition in Melbourne and Sydney. The final chapter looks at some of the activity of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation in the late 1980s, and suggests that the introduction of neoliberalism in Australia created more opportunities for an anarchist politics in the labour movement than had previously existed.

If this were to be considered a complete discussion of anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism in Australia, then there are a few parts missing. I do not just mean sources and more information about some of the events discussed. Notably, there is almost no discussion about IWW activist groups after the Second World War which were still significant to the small history of anarchism in Australia. An IWW group in Sydney became the ASF affiliate in the 1980s having moved closer towards classically defined anarcho-syndicalism. Another problem is that because the explicit anarcho-syndicalist tradition in Australia is tiny, it is questionable whether discussion about the influence of anarchism within the labour movement here can be limited to the few instances mentioned in the thesis, or to explicitly ‘anarcho-syndicalist’ events (I would argue that it can not).

The somewhat awkward structure of the thesis also reflects some problems in writing about anarchism in Australia. The confusion that exists in Australia today over what anarchism actually is, as well as being politically problematic, is also just a pain in the arse when it comes to trying to define terms in order to discuss the range of groups that have, and do, exist. Anyone who sat through the anarchist conference in Melbourne a few years ago that discussed the possibility of a federation of groups, will knows that there are serious issues in defining this movement (or scene as it may be). Some of the confusion may be explained by competing notions of libertarianism present within university circles at least since the Sydney Push in the late 1950s. However, even if you look at obvious examples well before this point (the debates within the MAC in the 1890s) you still find an incredibly confused discourse of anarchism. The fact is that the mainstream of the anarchist ideas  that anarchists such as myself will invoke (anarchist communism, syndicalism, platformism, or even ‘insurrectionalism’) do not have a strong history here. These words consequently have less meaning and tend to refer to abstract positions rather than concrete local examples.

Nevertheless, these concepts are important and do have a history, including in Australia. It is  apparent to me, from what I have read, that even in Australia it is classically defined ideas such as  syndicalism, anarchist communism, etc, that still make up the majority of instances within a broader spectrum that you might define as libertarian (to include the Sydney Push for instance). It is a major limitation of anarchist propaganda today, to not know more about concrete, local, examples of anarchist organisation in the past. If anyone else is interested in reading or writing more about anarchism in Australia, you could get in touch with me by using the email below. I may be able to direct you to sources or to others who know a lot more about some of these topics. I also hope to explore some new topics within the Fantin Reading Group operating at MARC.


Melbourne Black 5 Onscreen Readable PDF

Melbourne Black 5 Print Version PDF

inside this edition:

Borders & Prisons: Commonalties, Social Mediation & The Prison Industrial Complex By The Abolition Collective

Action Against Changes to Sentencing Laws in Victoria

Trade Unions: In the National Interest By Ben Rosenzweig & Liz Thompson

Migrant Anarchists and the New Left By Conal Thwaite

Blogging Reflections By @ndy

Declaration of the People’s Solidarity Gathering and Commitments to Actions.

Edit: Following this- ‘An edited version of
the thesis has been made available on our website:’

Conal’s thesis is now available here.

New interview outta Kulon Progo.  Sauce





The plan to mine the ironsands along the southern coast of Kulon Progo (more exactly from Pantai Trisik to Pantai Glagah) continues to be resisted by Paguyaban Petani Lahan Pantai (PPLP – Association of Shoreline Farmers) . The demonstrations keep on coming, as do the efforts of the government and investors to make ensure that  Jogja Magasa Iron’s plan to mine the ironsands will bring them profit. Why does PPLP continue to resist, scarcely leaving any space for negotiation? The following is KONDE’s [local newspaper] interview with Widodo, one of the figureheads of PPLP in the past time.

Is there any scope whatsoever for negotiation?
What is there to negotiate? Rejection, that’s our bottom line. So if the government keeps pushing, whether it be the Kulon Progo government or the Yogyakarta Provicial Government, then we will keep fighting.
What is the most serious risk?
Chaos! Battles! We have already envisioned the ways we need to confront them (investors and the local government), and this vision fits with a scheme of battle between the people and the government which should be our duty for the protection and security of the people.
Who is the Bupati? Who are the armed forces? Who are the police? We, the inhabitants of the coastal zone know exactly what their role is. And we also know exactly what duties they are called to perform. And so if one of these days we have to go to battle with them, we very much understand why we attack and we also know the risks involved, including the risks that they will have to face.
More concretely, how do you imagine this?
It’s quite simple! At some point the investor will enter with heavy machinery to mine, guarded by riot police of the military. At that moment, we, the people of the coast, previously known as ‘orang cubung’ (meaning a dirty, backward people, prone to sickness) will be confronted with rifles, truncheons and tanks.
But we also count on the people’s strategy for attack. Maybe we will use bows and arrows or molotovs, and at close range we only have machetes, swords and bamboo spikes, as well as the belief that the people should not be attacked by the police or army in their own place.
If this should ever happen, the world can take note, and even laugh at the army and police, and put the local government in a position of contempt in the eyes of the world.
Why do you need to fight?
Because we know, we know exactly, what it is we are struggling for. And that’s the 1,500 hectares of coastal land, land that was given by God to mankind, and if the government has forgotten this fact, we will remind them with our style of fighting.
We fight to defend our lives. That land is our lifeblood. That land, from barren beginnings, we have made green over the course of decades, we have looked after for generations, and concretely, that land is the main source of livelihood for thousands of people.
But if they keep on pushing, forcing us to give up our land to the investors, that is as if the government is expelling us as citizens. If a civil servant is expelled from their job, they retain their role as a citizen, but if citizens are expelled then what do they become? They might as well be killing us. And the only way to deal with death threats is by fighting!
Isn’t this the land of Puro Paku Alaman [feudal principality linked to Sultanate of Yogyakarta]?
Who says so! Since when did this land turn into the possession of Puro Pakualaman? Who’s this Puro, this palace or this local government? From the point of view of orang cubung we ask: which came first – the people or the government?  Even aside from this, we can speak the language of the rules of the state. According to the rules of the state, as the basic agrarian law makes clear, after 20 years farming land the rights go to the people, if Puro wants to take control, acting as a landlord, what is the basis for this?
Are the government, Puro, and the Sultan’s palace trying to fight the law of the land, trying to fight the agrarian law? Remember, Yogyakarta local government is also part of Indonesia. They have to follow Indonesian law.
What about the land use plan that the local government is in the process of drawing up?
The local government should know this and act wisely: When planning land use, don’t assume that it is just empty space, without inhabitants, without any connection to the people. If for decades it has turned into a slice of life for the people, land use planners shouldn’t force it to be an iron mine, a slice of an investor’s soul! That would be a nice idea! Involve the people in land use planning! The government assembly should really understand this, isn’t it obvious? Are there any representatives of the people out there that understand their duty, that understand their own selves, that understand us? Maybe not?
So starting from today, thousands of people along the coast will say that the political agenda is bullshit. If you don’t believe they will, well you’ll soon see what happens!
You don’t think of making some sort of political contract with the candidates for Regency President in 2011, by any chance?
We didn’t think about that, there’s absolutely no desire for that sort of thing. We only want to plant chilli, vegetables, our arable crops and get enough to live on with a bit of security, according to our own standards. Even if the investors offer us compensation of 100 million per hectare, we will still choose to plant chillies, and we’ll choose that for as long as we live.
Actually what’s the yield from planting chilli like?
We thank God, in each harvest cycle (7 months – ed), on average we are able to buy 2 new motorbikes, build a nice house, quite a few can even buy a car. But we’re still farmers, we don’t seek luxury and we have no use for it.
There was a long history before we could enjoy the good life we have now. We were previously known as being cubung, poor, scabious, but we (our ancestors) worked the sand lands as farmers and made it into the bounty it is now. Can we make a living from government programs? No!
Why does it seem that there is always so much energy to keep up the struggle?
Because this is the struggle of the people, not of PPLP or anybody else. They feel they will be killed so they keep fighting. They feel forced to, and so they rebel. They are afraid of losing their source of food, so will fight to the bitter end.
Maybe you know, maybe not, but all parts of the coastal population are aware and each know their place and their duty in this struggle without the need for a command structure. Where do the old people stand, what should the youth do, where are the women and what must they be screaming, all this they will do determinedly and with spirit.
All this is the soul of our struggle. So if investors, local government or anyone else is foolhardy enough to mess around with our coastline, they will be finished off without mercy because this coast is the flesh and blood of all orang cubing.


next editors meeting is Saturday, 20th November, 2pm @ LASNET Space, Basement, Trades Hall

come on down!

g’day all,

we’re looking for contributions for our next edition.

if you are interested in contributing, hit us up via our email at: melbourneblack[at]gmail[dot]com

We’d ask you to submit a rough edit by the 20th November, 2010.



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