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Victorian Socialist Party

The Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) was a socialist political party in the Australian state of Victoria during the early 20th century, the first explicitly Marxist party in Australia.

It was founded in 1906 in Melbourne, bringing together a number of older socialist groupings. A leading influence in the VSP's formation was the British trade unionist Tom Mann, who lived in Australia from 1903 to 1910. Its leading figure was Robert Samuel Ross, a talented organiser and journalist. In 1907 it had about 1,500 members.

Australia was very isolated from the European mainstream of socialist politics at the time and the VSP's Marxism was not very rigorous. The VSP did not contest parliamentary elections, seeing itself mainly as a force for socialist education in the wider Labor movement.

Most VSP members were also members of the Australian Labor Party. The VSP hoped to "bore from within" and win the ALP for socialism. Members who were later prominent included John Curtin (Prime Minister of Australia 1941-45), Frank Anstey (a federal Labor MP 1910-34), Maurice Blackburn (a federal MP 1934-43), Don Cameron (a Senator 1938-1962) and John Cain (three times Premier of Victoria). Cameron was organizer from 1919 and edited The Socialist from 1920 to 1923.

In 1907, the VSP, plus similar groups in the other Australian states, came together in a loose federal organisation calling itself the Socialist Federation of Australia, but this never became a functioning national party. Like other socialist parties, the VSP supported the "One Big Union" campaign advocating a united national labour movement, but this objective was never achieved.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 caused a crisis for the VSP. Like most socialists the party initially welcomed the revolution, but by 1920 democratic socialists such as Ross had become critical of the Bolshevik regime. In 1921 a VSP member who had moved to Sydney, Bill Earsman, was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Australia. Many VSP members joined the new party, but the majority, led by Ross, remained aloof. "The labour movement's championing of democratic rights and improved standards of life has so altered the Australian environment as to make Bolshevism inapplicable," he wrote. Ross's two sons, Lloyd Ross[1] and Edgar Ross, however, both became prominent Communist Party members.

The VSP faded away in the following years, finding that there was little political space between the ALP and the CPA. Cameron remained its secretary until 1932, by which time the party was moribund. Interestingly, many of its members later went on to become influential figures in the fascist Australia First Movement.

References

  1. ^ Stephen Holt (1996), A Veritable Dynamo. Lloyd Ross and Australian Labour 1901-1987, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia (Queensland)
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