Wednesday, 23 October 2013

REMINISCENCES OF AN AUSTRALIAN ANARCHIST.

PLOT AND COUNTER-PLOT.

(By "A Tramp.")

The period between ninety and ninety four was one of social stress in the East. The boom had burst, and many an imposing financial institution crumbled into ruin, and many men and women, reputedly wealthy, tumbled head-long into pauperdom. The forces of Capital and Labour were frequently in conflict and, as usual, the repressive mechanism of government was employed on behalf of capitalism. In the city of Sydney, New South Wales, the authorities lived in an atmosphere of fear. Spies and pimps were instructed to join Labour unions and socialistic societies, to foment dissension and fabricate, if possible, sufficient evidence to form a pretext for their suppression, the confiscation of their property, and the impeachment of their leaders. The anarchist section were really insignificant in point of numbers, and possessed but little influence. Organised Labour looked upon them with suspicion. To the Labour politician they were anathema; some openly declared them to be allies of capitalism, notwithstanding the fact that the only reward awarded by the common enemy to the anarchist was the prison cell. The police authorities thought differently, simply because they credited us with the misdemeanours of quite a number of irregulars that defied all their attempts at classification, and who carried on a species of guerilla warfare against capitalism.

For instance, Ragnard Redbeard, a New Zealand ex-journalist, and a few comps. published a little journal, called "Hard Cash." Its pages were devoted to the exposure of financial and commercial iniquity. They were a very illusive body of conspirators. They possessed a travelling plant. Headquarters was shifted immediately after every issue, to one or other sequestered spot in the Blue Mountains. But, its life was short, for, no respectable stationer would undertake its sale, nor would any of the organised unions afford it help or recognition.  The devoted few who undertook its sale on the streets soon found themselves in durance vile. Bagnard himself was arrested while pasting (in broad daylight) a label, which bore the legend, "This is a House of Robbery," on a highly reputable bank. After serving a term of six months' imprisonment in Darlinghurst gaol the reckless literary Ishmaelite migrated to America, where he acquired some fame as the author of "Tho Philosophy of Might," and other iconoclastic works. "Hard Cash" did not appear after his arrest.
There were others, too, who circulated literary imbecilities advocating indiscriminate incendiarism and homicide, by surreptitiously dropping them about the public parks, and the side walks of the city. This propaganda was no doubt carried on by a few cranks who thought they could intimidate the authorities by their blood curdling effusions. Probably they would justify their actions, as all parties in the conflict were doing, by pleading that, "everything is fair in love or war." 
Anyhow, the anarchist was blamed for every act savouring at all of revolution or stupidity. Some smart members of the detective force opined that if they could only succeed in impressing on the public mind the belief that Unionism and Anarchism were identical both movements would simply perish.
So it came about that one winter's day a shrewd-looking stranger called at Joe Solinski's home, and introduced himself as a New York comrade. He was familiar with the main features of the anarchist philosophy, and affected the Yankee drawl, so the unsuspecting Joe proffered him the freedom of the house, which the detective eagerly accepted. That night he brought along his trunk, and intimated that he would in all probability make a stay of some weeks' duration. Just, then Andrews, who was domiciled in Sydney, got wind of contemplated treachery. He dispatched a note of warning to Joe, and arranged with a few comrades to proceed to Rookwood next day. On their arrival at Solinski's, they expressed themselves delighted to meet a comrade from the famous city of New York, and invited him to discuss the then present crisis in New South Wales. He was not at all unwilling, although he was only some three months (so he said) in the country, He was no mean elocutionist. His voice was resonant. His sentences were skilfully embellished with appropriate satirical, emotional, and emphatic inflections. He dilated much on the unscrupulous greed and power of the capitalist. He recited some virile verses by a rebel poet of his own country:

"In the time of Rome Imperator—in the age of Charlemagne,
In the days of Hun and Vandal, and the swoop of Tamerlane
Men risked their lives for booty in the battles bloody fray,
Not so the chartered robbers who rob the world to-day.

The brigands of the feudal age rode forth in blazoned mail;
They stole the soil of Europe, aye, and chained it up entail:
They warmed their feet in slaughtered serfs, and laughed and quaffed so gay,
Forerunners of the chartered rings—the robbers of to-day. 

The miner pays them tribute, and the farmer's home is theirs;
They coin our coal and iron and our silver into shares;
The wool fleets northward sailing—the wine and grain and hay
Belong without exception to the robbers of to-day.

Their stronghold's in the city's heart (no castles by the Rhine) ;
Their throne—a marble counting-house whose brassy door-plates shine; 
Their swords are Acts of Parliament and judges in array;
Oh, mighty are the money kings that rule the world to-day.     

He enlarged upon the impotency of Labour, and gradually talked round to the mighty weapons science has placed at the disposal of those courageous enough to use them. He produced a copy of Herr Most's "Revolutionary Warfare," and read copious extracts from the pen of that ruthless advocate of murder. He was applauded to the echo, and hailed as a deliverer. The pimp was over-joyed : he unlocked his trunk and produced with a flourish two packets of explosives and some gas pipe bombs. The simulated enthusiasm became vociferous, the room resounded with cries of "Long Live Anarchy." When order once more reigned the elated spy taught his supposed pupils how to charge the bombs and adjust the fuse. When all had intimated that they comprehended his instructions, perfectly, he assumed the manner of a man who had done all that could be expected of him, and said, "Now, comrades, the matter is now in your hands. What do you propose?"
Andrews replied: "We cannot do better than except your leadership. You are a student of Most's methods, and possibly you have had some experience in the late American Labour troubles."
With becoming modesty the spy continued : "I don't want to speak of my past exploits, comrades. The present is our chief concern, and since you are willing that I shall lead I propose that to-night we explode these six bombs in various parts of the city, which I shall name later on. I may tell you that three enterprising trades- people have offered me fifty pounds each if I explode a bomb in front of their several emporiums. Of course, they stipulate that no destruction of life or property shall ensue. In America, and on the continent of Europe, this method of advertising is becoming very popular. The money will be useful to us, our propaganda fund is very low just now. Now, I propose that I go at once to Sydney and close with the offers made by these people. You can get the bombs ready and meet me at Redfern Station at about 11.30 to-night."
The rest of the company agreed unanimously that this was the very best course to follow. They knew his fingers were itching to grasp his reward. Very soon after he left his trunk was overhauled, and enough faked evidence discovered to have hanged the whole fraternity.
Now, Joe had some years previously been instrumental in saving from fire the mansion and the lives of some members of the family of a wealthy neighbour, who, ever since, had taken a fatherly interest in his welfare, and although the Croesus had no sympathy with anarchist ideals, he was kind and jovial, and had in his young days figured as a rebel in native Ireland, so he had a fellow-feeling with the victims of treachery. Joe confided in him and soon after every vestige of incriminating evidence was destroyed, even to the explosives, for they, too, were faked. The kindly neighbour and the grown-up members of his family were Joe's guests that evening, and helped to make things merry until the members of the force, who came expecting to make a haul that would surely earn them promotion, arrived. When the chief spirit of the enterprise caught sight of Joe's eminent guests, he knew the plot had miscarried, and withdrew, offering profuse apologies. The spy never returned to claim his trunk; I heard afterwards that the only reward he ever got was a term of imprisonment in Darlinghurst goal, on an old charge the police had for their own purposes kept hanging over his head.
I took no part in the above episode, but I was soon fated to play the role of chief comedian in a plot that had a somewhat farcical ending.
I had just called into a cheap and dilapidated lodging house to have a chat with Andrews. His room was fairly clean, and the furniture primitive. A canvas stretcher, a large packing case, a rustic bookcase, well stocked with books and pamphlets, a few cooking utensils, some cutlery and crockery ware, and an open cupboard, on the shelves of which numerous tins of various sizes were neatly arranged. They contained cereals and condiments and were, all elaborately labelled in Latin. He was just beginning a diatribe on the evils of tobacco smoking and meat eating, when providentially Solinski entered briskly, and carefully closed the door after him. After an exchange of fraternal grips; he inquired if we knew that the house was under the surveillance of the police. We laughed. He explained that he knew the police spy on the job; he was an ambitious ignorant fool, and simply mad on the subject of revolutionary plots. So we set our wits to work, and between us fixed up a scheme, and agreed to put it into practice at once.
A while later found me racing down the rickety stairway and out into the street, with a look of simulated horror distorting my features, and my two comrades hot in pursuit. On observing the police spy standing at the corner they counterfeited surprise and vexation, and slunk back scowling into the lodging house. I rushed past the spy, and directly heard the hurrier patter of his heavy boots behind me. I put on more speed, but catching up to me, he inquired breathlessly, what the two anarchists were chasing me for.
"For God's sake let me go," I gasped "Do you want to get me murdered; can't you see I'm nearly dead with fright?" 
"Steady. I will protect you. Come with me," said the pimp reassuringly. 
I assented. We went into a public-house close by. 
"Have a drop of something stiff; it'll brace yer up." 
"Yes, I've had a terrible fright; pledge me that you'll stand by me." 
We drained our glasses. Then the spy leaned over the bar, and had a whispered conversation with the landlord. Presently he drew me after him into a private room. I pretended reluctance. He threw a sovereign on the table, and pushed it over to me. I shoved it back again.
"I couldn't think of touching it," I said immaculately.
"Well, here's another, an' I'll give yer a fiver if you'll give me information. It'll mean promotion for one." 
"It'll mean death maybe to me. I want another fiver before I open my mouth. My life is worth seven quid." 
After some demur he forked out the fiver. As I stowed the cash carefully away I asked: "Who's finding the money?"
"Oh, never mind that, if we can secure a conviction you'll be another ten pound a richer man."
"That's a bargain," I said with enthusiasm." 
Then I leaned over the table and whispered into his capacious and willing ear the information, that Solinski and the vegetarian were anarchists of the vilest type, and experienced chemists also; they had enough, high-class explosive done up in tins to blow Sydney into smithereens. Let us secure those and submit them to the Government Analyst."
He was jubilant, too much so I thought, so I added admonishingly: "A large amount of caution will have to be exercised in handling them." I also informed him that the rascally pair had to attend a meeting at seven o'clock that evening.
"You see," I urged, poking him in the ribs familiarly, "they're desperate. If we tried to rush them they'd blow the whole caboose to pieces. You bring a hand-cart round here this evening at seven o'clock sharp, and I'll help you to burgle the show.
He pleaded for a cab. I insisted on a handcart. I wouldn't run any risks with a cab. The gullible sleuth was so elated that he shouted once more and insisted on entertaining me until it was time to see about the handcart.
We turned up at the lodging punctually. We tip-toed up the stairway. I burgled my way into Andrews's room. He insisted on me interpreting the labels. I explained the label on the oatmeal meant nitro-glycerine; that on the pepper, rackarock ; that on the salt, lydite, and so on. I kept him in a bluefunk with repeated cautionings and constant supervision as we loaded up the tinware.
At one time during the operations I thought the plot was going to miscarry. In his nervousness the spy dropped the tin of salt, the lid came off; instinctively he wet his forefinger with his tongue, and was about to taste the contents. In genuine horror I sprang at him. and seized his arm and exclaimed.
"Great Scott; you're a clumsy brute; you're not fit for a delicate job like this. Fortunately, that explosive does not go off with concussion, but the moisture of your finger, if it were once inserted in that tin would have wrecked the whole building."
From that on he handled the tins gingerly, and seemed much relieved when we had everything carefully stowed away on the hand cart. He was in high glee at the near prospect of promotion as he wheeled away my mate's stock of vegetarian provendre.
But, strange to say, I have never heard the result of that analysis.

 Western Mail 10 December 1910,

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