[Marxism] Direct Action: New Socialist Newspaper Launched

Owen Richards owsky2003 at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 5 03:44:11 MDT 2008

The newly-formed Revolutionary Socialist Party has launched the
first issue of its new monthly newspaper Direct Action:


Direct Action - two earlier versions

By John Percy

This is the first issue of a new paper, Direct Action, but it
has two proud precursors, each with an excellent tradition.

The first Direct Action was the paper of the Wobblies (IWW -
Industrial Workers of the World) from 1914 to 1917. The Wobblies
were an organisation of militant workers that arose in the
United States a century ago and took root in Australia soon

The second Direct Action, which began publication in 1970, was
the paper of Resistance (then called the Socialist Youth
Alliance), and then, from early 1972, also of the Socialist
Workers League, which later became the Democratic Socialist
Party. For 20 years, Direct Action presented the positions of
revolutionary socialism in Australia before we switched to
publishing Green Left Weekly.

The first Direct Action began in January 1914, produced by the
IWW in Sydney. The editorial in the first issue explained: “For
the first time in the history of the working-class movement in
Australia, a paper appears which stands for straight-out
direct-actionist principles, unhampered by the plausible
theories of the parliamentarian.”

In my book on the history of Resistance and the DSP, I noted
that the IWW’s “revolutionary message was ceaselessly hammered
home in Direct Action. The paper ridiculed the petty-bourgeois
reformism of the Labor Party. It attacked the arbitration
system, the pet creation of the ALP leadership. It attacked the
nationalism, the racism and the imperialist jingoism of the ALP
hierarchy — against which it counterposed international
solidarity of the working class in its struggle against

“With the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, the
social-democratic parties on both sides betrayed their
working-class supporters and their own anti-war pledges. They
fell in behind their own ruling classes and marched off to the
slaughter. It was not just a betrayal of principles, but suicide
for the labour movement. The ALP positively grovelled. Even
before the outbreak of hostilities, ALP leader Andrew Fisher in
July pledged our last man and our last shilling to the
inter-imperialist conflict.

“The Wobblies’ was one of the few voices raised against the
slaughter. The caption on the cover of the August 10, 1914,
Direct Action said: `War! What for? ... War is Hell! Send the
capitalists to hell and wars are impossible.’ They didn’t mince
their words in scoring the Labor fakers. `Down all the stretch
of that blood-red tragedy ... which is the history of the
working class, men and women have been crucified and gaoled and
tortured for their class, but our present-day representatives of
labour must howl cheek by jowl with the capitalistic carrion for
Blood! Blood! Blood! If the politicians of Australia want war,
let them take their own carcases to the firing line to be
targets for modern machine guns and food for cholera. If they
want blood, let them cut their own throats. Workers of the World
Unite! Don’t become hired murderers! Don’t join the army or

“The IWW played an outstanding role in opposing the war and
conscription. The Sydney IWW club invited other radical groups
to join it in an Anti-Conscription League, and they carried on
an unremitting campaign. They organised against the desertion of
the ALP, whose leader Billy Hughes supported conscription and
eventually split to become Conservative prime minister.”

Direct Action went weekly from October 1915 and achieved an
impressive circulation during the war, reaching a print run of
15,000. In 1916, IWW membership was estimated at 2000, the
majority in the Sydney area.

The capitalists and the ALP were alarmed by the spread of IWW
influence. The Sydney Morning Herald ranted: “IWWism has
obtained a firm hold upon the trade unions of New South Wales,
and through these unions, a good grip upon the helm of the
Labour ship of this state.” The capitalist state escalated its
repression, with hysterical propaganda, new laws, raids on IWW
offices and violent attacks.

In March 1916, the government prosecuted Direct Action over a
cartoon by Syd Nichols (creator of Fatty Finn). It portrayed a
soldier crucified on a cannon, blood dripping into a skull
labelled “war profits”, held by a fat capitalist cheering, “Long
live the war! Hip Hip Ooray, Fill ‘em up again.” The publisher
received 12 months’ jail. Other IWW leaders were framed, jailed,

The IWW was smashed, and Direct Action closed down in 1917, but
IWW members contributed to the founding of the Communist Party
following the Russian Revolution.

The second Direct Action was the name of the paper of our
movement from 1970 to 1990. We introduced the paper with an
editorial that outlined our conception of the paper, and our
goals: “Direct Action is not a paper ‘for the whole left’. It is
a paper of a particular segment of the left, with a distinct and
defined political position, and will attempt to present the
position of the Socialist Youth Alliance in a clear and coherent

“To publish a paper without an organisation to build and be
built by it is political irresponsibility. It is to play with
politics. Only when a paper has an organisation to build, and
that organisation has a program to guide it, does a little
left-wing venture such as ours take on any meaning...

“Here is no place to try to give a rundown of what our political
position is — that will come across in the rest of the paper and
in future issues — but there are a few basic socialist
principles that most other tendencies on the left seem to
forget, and therefore they must be reaffirmed at every step.

“Firstly, the necessity for mass action independent of any of
the bourgeois channels...

“Secondly, the unity of theory and practice, and the sterility
of both blind activism and isolated theory...

“To us it is clear. The theoretical basis for building a
socialist movement already exists. We make no claim to be
theoretically brilliant but we have learnt some lessons that
many socialist intellectuals have not. They merely play with
theory, without bothering to build an organisation to put it
into practice. For them it’s a game, a fad. This month’s
plaything seems to be Althusser, and of course, the opportunists
as well as the armchair revolutionaries clutch at this latest
straw, in the hope that here may be yet another reprieve that
will allow the intellectuals and opportunists to postpone once
more into the still unripe and distant future, the central task
facing revolutionary socialists — the construction of an

We had a clear party-building perspective from then on.

The first issue of the second Direct Action, priced at 10 cents,
was sold at the second national Vietnam Moratorium mobilisations
in September 1970, and the demand for such a paper surpassed
even the expectations of our enthusiastic young paper sellers. A
new, exciting-looking left paper, hot off the printing press —
it was long overdue.

DA served us well for those first 20 years, and contributed
significantly to our tendency’s growth as, bit by bit, we began
to challenge the Communist Party as the main organisation on the
left in Australia. The name helped convey our championing of
class-struggle militancy against the class-collaborationist
politics of both the ALP and the CPA. The style and layout of
the paper helped too, as we also drew on the tradition of the
underground radical press that had emerged during the youth
radicalisation of the 1960s.

Our experience of Direct Action for 20 years was overwhelmingly
positive. The change to Green Left Weekly was a result of
declining DA sales at the end of the 1980s, and the increasing
urgency of responding to environmental issues. Unfortunately,
over the last five years the current leadership of the DSP —
renamed the Democratic Socialist Perspective at the end of 2003
— has drifted away from the revolutionary socialist politics
espoused by the publishers of Direct Action 1970-90 and the
first 15 years of GLW. Now they have expelled from the DSP many
of the leaders and activists who contributed to the success of
DA and GLW, and we are compelled to relaunch Direct Action, the
third version.

We are confident that we can take up the challenge and rebuild
on the proud history of those earlier Direct Actions.

[John Percy was a founding leader of Resistance, and the
founding editor of Direct Action in 1970. He was national
secretary of the DSP from 1991 to 2006. He is the author of A
history of the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance
1965-72, Resistance Books, Sydney, 2005. He is a member of the
Revolutionary Socialist Party.]

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