William Lane
1861 - 1917

Nationalism and the labour struggle

The Roots of Australian Nationalism


The Roots of Australian Nationalism run deep into various elements of our national history.

Australian Nationalists in the 1990's are aware of those links which exists in thought and impulse - with the Nationalist writers and organisations of our national past. We need to articulate our modern day struggle for Australian National Identity and National Independence within that context. Our fight is a fight on Australian soil for Australian freedom. There are great forces arrayed against us - including a lying media and a treasonous academia which decries our patriotic action as something alien to our land.

To the contrary: our fight is in the best traditions of our country.

The Australian blood-line of 1995 is the heir of the striving of those earlier Australians who sought to forge an Australian Identity from our European biological and cultural roots; we inherit their commitment to an idea that an Australian would be judged for his worth of spirit and labour - and not for the "worth" of his assets. There WAS a notion of "Australia" long ago.

Our task is to re-find the Nation.

In doing so, we arm ourselves for the struggle for Australia; we have picked up that weapon of moral armament no political police force paid by the State, no media and no other enemy can overcome. We recognise our cause not simply to be a political struggle but a truly national struggle.

The moral imperative is with Australian Nationalism.

In the last two decades of the 19th Century, a great political ferment spread across Australia. It was the "Springtime" in the development of a native-Australian culture and not surprisingly, our country was viewed by many as a land of great promise. There arose a nationalist movement and a labour movement, both intertwined together.

One man who did much to fuse the nationalist and labour causes - was William Lane.

William Lane was a complex man. Edgar Ross, the labour historian, wrote in his "Of Storm And Struggle" of Lane as: "trade union organiser, socialist propagandist, architect of the valiant attempt in 1893 to forge a communist society in the jungle of South America."

`In the 1880's and 1890's those terms "socialism" and "communism" were devoid of those meanings which the horrors of Stalinist dictatorship rendered unto them 40 years later and when we examine Lane's thought - we must bear that constantly in mind.

Lane's philosophical and political complexity is apparent; there is much in Lane to agree with - and some to dispute. We are however, interested in the broad brushstrokes of Lane's thought and not certain details. We are keen to distil the essential Australian SPIRIT of Lane, to locate certain reference points of relevance today.

William Lane was born in 1861 in Bristol, England. At age 16, he travelled to the United States and Canada where he worked as a news-reporter. He had already acquired two character traits important to his life: he neither drank alcohol (much of the labour movement deplored drunkenness) and supported the women's suffrage movement (a strong force in late-colonial Australia).

1885 found Lane in Brisbane where he achieved recognition as a writer in mainstream and worker's publications. Lane took time in the city slums to obtain material for his pungent articles and in his researches he met with the rank and file of the trade movement.

Within two years, Lane had chosen to identify himself with his adopted land and became a radical activist.

In 1887, Lane founded his own newspaper, "The Boomerang", a weekly labour paper:"A Live Newspaper Born of the Soil". From the outset he exerted a strong Nationalism:"We are for this Australia, for the nationality which is creeping to the verge of being, for the progressive people." This paper was a milestone in the organisation of labour in Queensland; Lane synthesised together the movement of national independence and identity with the cause of the freedom of labour and social justice for the whole people. In his own words:"Whatever will benefit Australia: that we are for. Whatever will harm Australia: that we are against". Lane considered "Socialism" to be "itself an ideal, an aspiration rooted in men's minds by the evolution of humanity." This Socialism was not the socialism of Marx, the doctrine of class hate but rather the doctrine of unity of all the productive classes in a co- operative order.

Lane idealised the rough manliness and mateship of Australian bushworkers and they, in turn, fell under the spell of a pen which placed their dreams on paper in a language they understood. They adopted as their spokesman the man who said of Australia's political order:"that which produces scrofulous kings and lying priests, and greasy millionaires, and powdered prostitutes, and ferret-faced thieves" - is doomed to destruction.

Lane did more than theorise but moved towards militant political action. He played a leading role in the Australian Labour Federation, a principal forebear of the Labor Party in Queensland. In 1890, believing as he did that Australian colonial capitalism was moving towards crisis, Lane moved the General Council of the Australian Labour Federation to propose:"the nationalisation of all sources of wealth and all the means of producing and exchanging wealth." As this principle came to be articulated is involved the ownership of large enterprise by the State and the nationalisation of banking along with the opening of lands and the extension of property ownership. It was an advanced program for a new nation.

William Lane's organisational talents and perseverance achieved remarkable results. In 1887, there were some 2,500 unionists in Queensland; by 1890, thanks to his tireless labours, there were over 21,000. Under this inspirational direction, Queensland became the centre of the country's burgeoning labour movement; his personal interests were the Queensland Shearers Union and later - the Amalgamated Shearers Union. It was this popular movement which spoke the name "Australia" with deep pride and which spoke of a nation rather than six colonies.

In March 1890, the trade unions established "The Worker" as a monthly newspaper and summoned Lane to the editorship. The unions subscribed to the Worker on behalf of their members; whereas Lane's Boomerang had been boycotted by potential advertisers, this new publication was financially secure. The Worker lived for over 80 years. There was an expectancy in the air. In that florid prose of the day Lane wrote:

"The Australian national movement is the setting-in of one of those periodic tides which change and alter the whole life of the human race; it is the final pulsation of another of that series of upheavals which through countless cycles of evolution-phases have uplifted the senseless cell of protoplasmic life to the exalted station where the white man stands. It is here in Australia that the battle against Nature's brutal laws will be fought out; it is here in Australia that human society will develop itself."

In 1890 the Queensland labour movement was put to the test when the shearers were involved in a long strike. a camp was formed at Barcaldine and the Eureka Flag was raised. Armed clashes took place and for a time it seemed that a major social upheaval was on the cards. The pastoralists stood in favour of cheap imported labour, of breaking the union power and relied upon the colonial state for strikebreakers and troops. Eleven of the shearers' leaders were tried on conspiracy charges and sentenced to three year prison terms. 1891 ended with a major defeat.

Lane attended these show trials as a reporter and rightly concluded that "justice here is a farce and patriotism a mockery. Here in this courtroom, the class fight is being fought out." And so it was. Then as now, the business class revealed its lack of commitment to Australian national independence; it viewed in the shearers a dangerous challenge to the banking fraternity keen to preserve their "investments". State violence was used to crush ordinary Australian men who demanded wage justice and a "White Australia".

The collapse of the strike and the receding of the potential for a broad nationalist movement deeply affected Lane. His first reaction was a constructive one and he penned the haunting classic - "The Working Man's Paradise". This work was written to raise funds for the families of the imprisoned shearers and to provide a philosophic and political statement of the "Australian Socialism" which was the cause of so many. This book has much to commend it and certainly paints an Australian co-operative future in colours so far removed from the dogmas of the "Left" as it developed, to be a virtual alternative model to Marxism and certainly - a challenge to the unruly capitalism of the day. In the language of that period and with its slogans, it is odd to our eyes today; but when placed in the broader frame, we see in it that for which we struggle in these times: for an independent Australian political and economic order which delivers the fruits of labour to those who produce wealth - and not to speculators and manipulators.

But Lane's gloom deepened. Economic depression stalked Australia and the political radical took solace in utopian dreams. Lane launched that peculiar project for which he is often (only) remembered: the foundation of a "communist" society in Paraguay. This sad chapter in Lane's life saw four hundred Australians establish a colony in a remote area of that country; it failed to prosper and the scheme fell apart amidst acrimony and disorder. One of the colonists was the great Mary Gilmore, later one of our Nation's premier writers and poets. In 1899, Lane abandoned Paraguay and repaired to New Zealand to become editor of the "New Zealand Herald" in Auckland. He died in 1917.

Lane was the type of prophet Australia produced in those days when our Nation was in its infancy. We are here reminded of his first (1889) novel: "White or Yellow? A Story of Race War 1908." This work predicted an all alliance between the pastoralists and wealthy of the Queensland Establishment and Asian capital. A treacherous Queensland Premier would place the colony in the hands of these alien capitalists. But trade union patriots led by an ordinary nationalist worker fought the foe, eventually expelling the Chinese "invaders" and settling accounts with the local traitor class. If Lane were with us today, there is little doubt he would see the parallel with modern day Australia.

Ironically during recent discussions of the foul "Racial Vilification Legislation", the Federal Attorney General maintained that quotations and documents about a racist past (his words) of Australia are acceptable for study; but where such things are produced to show a contemporary relevance, they would be criminalised. In other words, since we state here that we are inspired by this patriot of yesteryear, to serve our Nation today - we have committed some "crime".

Without apology, Australian Nationalists believe William Lane to be a member of a pantheon of great Australians who point the way to the struggle to National identity and independence. He is "present" with us in this fight.

We offer a selection of quotations from various journals and from Lane's 1892 work, "The Workingman's Paradise" (first published under the nom de plume of "John Miller"). Of course, our selections are not comprehensive and we urge our readers to read the originals - in full.

"'No more,' he thought on, 'can Eternal Force outside of me move me, affect me, shake me. The Force in me is as eternal, as indestructible, as infinite, as the whole universal force. What it is I am too. The unknown Law that gives trend to Force is manifest in me as much as it is in the whole universe beside, yet no more than it is in the smallest living thing that swims in a drop of water or floats in the air. I am a part of that which is infinite and eternal and which working through Man has made him conscious and given him a sense of things and filled him with grand ideals sublime as the universe itself. None of us can escape the Law even if we would because every act and every thought and every desire follows along in us to that which has gone before and to the influences around, just as the flights of a bullet is according to the weight of the bullet, and its shape, and the pressure and the direction it was fired, and the wind.'"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from pages 222-223 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE.)

"Can it be that Nemesis sleeps for us, he who never slept for any, he who has never yet saw wrong go unavenged or heard the innocent blood cry unanswered from the ground? Can it be that he has closed his ears to the dragging footfalls of the harlot host and to the sobs of strong men hopeless and anguished because work is wanting and the sighing of wearied women and to the death rattle of slaughtered babes? Surely though God is not and Humanity is weak yet Nemesis is strong and sleepless and lingers not! Surely he will tear down the slum and whelm the robbers in their iniquity and visit upon us all punishment for the crime which all alike have shared. Into the pit which we have left digged for the children of others shall not our own children fall?"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from pages 129-130 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE.)

"'This accursed competitivism of ours has no friends but those who fear personal loss by a change of system. Not one. It has hirelings, Pretorian guards, Varangians, but not a devoted people. Its crimes are son great that he is a self-condemned villain who knowing them dreams of justifying them. There is not one man who would mourn it for itself tomorrow. A dozen times this century it has been on the verge of destruction, and what has saved it, every time is simply that those who assailed it had not a supreme ideal common among them as to how they should re-build. It is exactly the same with political action as it is with revolutionary movements. It will fail until men have faith.'"
"'How can we get it?' asked Ned, for Geisner had ceased speaking and mused with a far-off expression on his face."
"'If we ourselves have it, sooner or later we shall give it to others. Hearts that this world has wounded are longing for the ideal we bring, artist-souls that suffering has purified and edged are working for the Cause in every land, weak though we are we have a love for the Beautiful in us, a sense that revolts against the unloveliness of life as we have it, a concept of what might be if things were only right. In every class the ground is being turned by the ploughshare of Discontent, everywhere we can sow the seed broadcast with both hands. And if only one seed in a thousand springs up and bears, it is worth it.'"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted for page 116 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE".)

"Civilization is destroying itself. The socialistic idea is the only thing that can save it. I look upon the future as a mere race between the spread of Socialism as a religion and the spread of the unconditional Discontent which will take revenge for all its wrongs by destroying civilisation utterly, and with it much, probably most, that we have won so slowly and painfully Art and Science.'"
"'That would be a pity,'said Ned. He would have spoken differently had he not gone with Nellie last night, he thought while saying it."
"'I think so. It means the whole work to be done over again. If Art and Science were based on the degradation of men I would say "away with them"! But they are not. They elevate and ennoble man by bringing to them the fruition of elevated minds. They are expressions of high thoughts and deep feelings; thought and feeling which can only do good, if it is good to become more human. The artist is simply one who has a little finer soul than others.'"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from page 117 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE".)

"'You know what being a Socialist means, Ned?' asked Geisner, looking into the young man's eyes."
"'I've got a notion.' said Ned, looking strait back. 'There are socialists and Socialists, just as there is socialism and Socialism. The ones that babble of what they do no feel, because it's becoming the thing to babble, the others have a religion and that religion is Socialism.'"
"'How does one know a religion? - When one is ready to sacrifice everything for it. When one only desires that the Cause may triumph. When one has no call for self and does not fear anything that man can do, and has a faith which nothing can shake, not even one's own weakness.'"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from pages 114-115 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE".)

"All that any religion has been to the highest thoughts of any people, Socialism is, and more, to those who conceive it aright. Without blinding us to our own weaknesses and wickedness, without offering to us any sophistry or cajoling us with any fallacy, it enthrones Love above the universe, gives us Hope for all who are downtrodden and restores to us the Faith in the eternal fitness of things. Socialism is indeed a religion demanding deeds as well as words. Not until professing socialists understand this will the world at large see Socialism as it really is."
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from the preface to "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE".)

"The basis of all slavery and all slavish thought is necessarily the monopoly of the means of working, that is of living. If the state monopolised them, not the state ruled by the propertied classes but the state ruled by the whole people, to work would become every man's right. Nineteen out of twenty laws would be useless (ie unnecessary)."
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from page 119 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE".)

In his "Cosme Publication", September 1898, Lane wrote of his "absolute and unshakeable faith in what we commonly call 'God'". "And when I say God, I mean neither the idol built of wood or stone by the crude hands of savages nor the idol built of words and phrases by the equal heathenism of higher races. I mean by God the sense of oneness, the livingness, the completeness, of that inconceivable power which working through matter called us and all the wondrous universe wee see into being. That power I know and feel is supreme beyond all conceiving. Nothing is beyond its control."

The same issue of Cosme is instrumental to the articulation of Lane's conceptualisation of communism, which is the common view of all the protagonists of some form of organic-ethical- socialism.... "To me communism is part of God's law. He who tries to live for his fellows as for himself, freely and to mould on communistic lines the social organisation without which man cannot live on earth, he is, in so far, serving God and obeying God's law."

By communism, Lane implied the organic-tribalistic- collectivist society, which the early Anglo-Saxonic-Celtic peoples and all Indo-European peoples possessed, before their dispossession by the purely economically-centred decadent Roman Empire - and its successor the Western civilisation.

In "Cosme Monthly", September 1896, he wrote regarding the new settlement he founded some forty-five miles south of his "New Australia Commune" in Paraguay... "Colonia Cosme is a commonhold of English speaking whites, who accept among their principles, Life marriages, Teetotalism and the Colour Line. And who believe that communism is not merely expedient but is right."

Under the nom de plume of John Miller, Lane wrote in the Brisbane "Worker" of the 13/6/1891
..."Class governance is a usurpation, a tyranny which has its roots in the ages when military castes, ground the peaceful tillers of the soil into slavery. Our parliamentary system, of which the very opponents of one-man-one-vote profess to be so proud, is only a degenerated survival of the assembly at which in primitive times our Teutonic forefathers gathered, free and equal, to make for themselves laws for their common governance."

In the Brisbane "Daily Mail" of the 18/2/1930, John Lane recounted how William Lane would announce... "We Germanic people came into history as communists. From our communal village we drew our strength which broke Rome down, and the energy which even yet lets us live."

Lane's conception of one indivisible, national-people's- community is specified in the following quotation from the "Boomerang" of the 19/11/1887... "Australia is not a sect or a section, it is not a caste or a class, or a creed, is not to a Southern England (note: Southern England was more pronouncedly class orientated than the Midlands) nor yet another United States. Australia is the whole white people of this continent."

"'I am the breath of the lute, I an the mind of man, gold's glitter the light of the diamond and the sea-pearl's lustre Van.'"
"' I am both good and evil, the deed and the deed's intent - temptation, victim, sinner, crime, pardon and punishment.'"
"'Yes', said Geisner; 'that and more. Brahma and more than Brahma. What Prince Buddha thought out too. What Jesus the carpenter dimly recognised. Not only Force, but Purpose, or what for lack of better terms we call Purpose, in it all.'"
"'And what Purpose; what is it?' Ned was surprised to hear his own voice uttering his thought."
"'Who shall say? There are moments, a few moments when one seems to feel what it is, moments when one stands face to face with universal life and realises wordlessly what it means."
"'When one in anguish and sorrow unendurable. When one has seen one's soul stripped naked and laid, with all its black abysses and unnatural sins, the brutishness that is in each man's heart known and understood - the cowardice, the treachery, the villainy, the lust. When one knows oneself in others and winks into a mist of despair, hopeless and heart- wrung, then come the temptations, as the prophets call them, the miserable ambitions dressed as angels of light, the religions which have become mere drugged pain-lullers, the desire to suppress thought altogether, to end life, to stupefy one's soul with body pain, with mental activity.' 'And if,' he added,'if in one's heart Humanity has lodged itself, if one's pain is for others more than it is for oneself, then it may be that one shall feel and know.'"
"'To me the purpose of life is self consciousness, the total Purpose I mean. God seeking to know God. Eternal Force one immeasurable Thought. Humanity the developing consciousness of the little fragment of the universe within our ken.'"
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from his novel "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE", pages 76-77.)

"Let us not be deceived! It is in ourselves that the weakness is. It is in ourselves that the real fight is between the Old and New. It is because we ourselves cling to the old fears and kneel still before old idol, that the Thought still remains a Thought only, that it does not create the New Order which will make of this weary world a Paradise indeed."
"Neither ballots nor bullets will avail us unless we strive of ourselves to be men, to be worthier to be dwelling houses of this Thought of which even the dream is filling the world with madness divine. To curb our tongues, to soften our hearts, to be sober ourselves, to be virtuous ourselves, to trust each other - at least to try - this must we do, before we can justly expect of others that they should do it. Without hypocrisy, knowing how we all fall short of our ideal, we must ourselves first cease to be utterly slaves of our own weaknesses."
(WILLIAM LANE, quoted from pages 224-225 of "THE WORKINGMAN'S PARADISE.")

"We are for this Australia, for the nationality which is creeping to the verge of being...."
The Boomerang, 1887.

"In Australia, Anglo-Saxon, Teuton and Latin are coming together as one homogeneous whole.... They demand that all undesirable races be immediantly and absolutely excluded."
The People, 1889.

"We must be White first, or nothing else can matter."
The Worker.

"Words cannot express our contempt and hatred for those whites who are fighting against their own kith an kin in this racial struggle. They deserve no consideration. The Chinese must go and their friends, those white traitors had better be flung out with them."
The Boomerang, 17 March 1888.

Brian Knight

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