Australian Socialist drinking club whoops it up singing the Marseillaise, and songs by Arthur Desmond and J.A. Andrews…

1845-1945, Historical Work, Ragnar Redbeard / Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022

The Hegemony Club was one of many turn-of-the-century socialist groups in Australia. Teri Merlyn, in their “Writing Revolution”, lists the following: Tocsin Clubs, The Victorian Socialist’s League, the Victorian Labour Federation, the Labour Church, the Women’s Political and Social Crusade, a Yarra Bank Propaganda Group, the Richmond Working Men’s Clubs, the Knights of Labour and a Marxian Club.

The Bulletin for June 16 1900 announced:

A new god for Victoria! The Melb. Hegemony Club, a fortuitous collection of unattached Stunners and Drangers of the guerilla red-democrat persuasion, who conduct proceedings very successfully without the assistance of chairman, officers, objects, or rules…

In a July 19 1900, a column on the group that appeared in The Tocsin, had the following note:

Last Thursday’s meeting was mainly occupied with saddling Mac with the worry of arranging for the catering, etc., for our Bastille shivoo.

On Saturday, the 14th, this duly took place at the Hibernian Hall to the delight of a large and enthusiastically rebellious company.

The room was neatly ornamented with the device “1789-1900, Liberty, Equality Fraternity,” argent upon gules. The meeting was international in character, there being present French, Germans,. Austrians, an Outlander champion of the Transvaal, and the “Consul for South America.” Among, other songs we had the Marseillaise in English, then in French; a verse from ‘ The Oarmaguole,’ in French; a tenderly sweet Slav sigh for home and country, in a language alien to the Russian (this was a sort of Slavonic ‘Esile of Erin’); a beautiful song in Italian; a song from Goethe, in German; a verse of a Taal satire on Cecil Rhodes in Taal itself; ‘The March of the Workers,’ by Morris; “The Leader of the Future,” by Desmond; a Collingwood song, by Anon; several recitations of a hair-raising type; a few stirring speeches, including a wonderful impromptu, rising to genius, to the sublime, in parts, from J. A. Andrews (author also of several rousing songs sung during the evening), and a lightning sketch of the Transvaal by our visitor’ from South Africa. Victor Daley’s Tocsin song was also recited. We were so embarrassed with our riches that we had very regretfully to turn out the gas before ‘The Death of Joubert’ and Robert Burns’ ‘Tree of Liberty’ were reached. The proceedings conducted themselves admirably, Hegemonywise; without chairman, toastmaster, waiter, or programme It was a night to be remembered — one of those rare foregatherings of irreconcilables and rebels, talked of for years and years after, and sowing new and greater rebellions in the tyros fortunate enough to have been present. We hope that the fruits of the evening, as far as Australia is concerned, will show that the taking of the Paris Bastille in 1789 was worthily and appropriately celebrated by the Melbourne Hegemony Club in 1900.

Additionally, in a section for meeting notes provided by members, is this item:

Arthur Desmond, New Zealander and Australian, author of ‘The Leader of the Future,’ and other stirring verses, was also the author of that remarkable much talked of American brochure, known as ‘Might is Right; or, the Survival of the Fittest,’ by Dr. Ragnar Redbeard.

All of this is significant for two reasons: 1. It was never a secret in Australia that Arthur Desmond wrote under the name Ragnar Redbeard, 2. socialists still sang his revolutionary verses at their meetings after the publication of Might is Right. It was only in America that Desmond was truly successful at hiding his real name and keeping it separate from his many pseudonyms, and it is only in the past few decades that there has been any real attempt of radical socialists, communists and anarchists to separate themselves from Desmond’s magnum opus Might is Right. Desmond and his writing have always been part of and celebrated by revolutionaries and radicals, with only infrequent dissents. For over 100 years his writing was promoted by the vanguard of radical left politics, and not just on the fringes, but central, significant figures, in every country he spent any time in.

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