Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bread or Blood?

120 years ago today F.C.B. Vosper would have been putting the finishing touches on his "Bread or Blood?" editorial for the Charters Towers Australian Republican. In this editorial he called for the establishment of an Australian republic at any cost. Written in support of the striking shearers the editorial was to land Vosper with a charge of seditious libel. As the editor of the Australasian Republican Association’s (ARA) weekly journal he strongly advocated a revolutionary approach as opposed to the ARA’s evolutionary approach to the creation of an Australian republic. It is within this tension that the nature of nineteenth-century radical republicanism can be seen.

"Bread or Blood?" editorial, Australian Republican, 21 February 1891:

The situation at Clermont has reached a crisis hitherto totally unprecedented in the annals of labor struggles throughout the world. Tired of the partial and menacing attitudes of a Government which should be impartial, and of the action of the capitalists who, flushed with victory, wish to exercise the grinding prerogatives of the conqueror, the misrepresentation of the Press and politicians, the shearers have at last risen in open rebellion, and are making an armed march on Clermont fully determined to do or die in defence of their rights. And we commend them. If we were in their place we should do likewise, and needless to say we wish them all success, even should their action precipitate revolution throughout Australasia and lead to bloodshed. The men are placed in this position – they must either have BREAD or BLOOD – WOOL or HEADS – and if the Government be not careful they will have BOTH. It is high time that something besides property should have the protection of the Government – every person should be considered as much if not more. The action of the Government is as despotic and tyrannical as any on the face of the earth. By their present action they are depriving the men of their bread, and by means of armed force they are preventing the men from using those natural opportunities which are necessary to all for subsistence and to which all are equally entitled, and with the money contributed by the very men whom they oppress they are introducing blacklegs and immigrants to a labor market already admittedly overstocked, and while starving their own subjects they back up Victorian crawlers with bayonet and rifle. It is time this sort of thing should cease, and the sooner the better. For our part, we frankly confess that we believe the shearers to be in the right in answering coercive policy with armed resistance, but not only do we so approve but counsel other Republicans and Unionists to follow their example. The Government ought to know that in no country is revolution so easy as here; and once let the masses be roused, then good-bye to capitalistic domination and the sham royalty which is inflicted on us now, and hurrah for the Republic! The time is coming fat, and we should like to see every Democrat able and willing to use his rifle in defence of his rights, whether invaded by Government or by anyone else. We are getting very tired of the present oppression; the election seems a long way off, and the Government are determined to use the utmost of their shortlived power as long as they possess it. We can stand it no longer, and would be glad to see the revolutionary movement spread far and wide, and Australia become at one bound a nation. It is evident that the Government are as despicable tyrants and heartless robbers as could be elected by any people in the world, and they must be overthrown whether by constitutional means or by force of arms matters not one iota. The prostitution of the police force to the capitalistic needs is the last straw on the camel’s back, and if he does not buck he ought to. We believe that the men of Barcaldine, the hardy shearers of the West, will never yield as did their brethren on the coast, but will, with every man his horse and every man his rifle, fight to the bitter end for manhood and Independence. Another defeat would be crushing, but it shall be dearly given, and we warn the squatters and the Government that they are raising such a flame as shall not leave one station unburned nor one town in their possession. Beware! Imperialists! for the doom of your party is at hand, and the day of Independence already dawns – it rests with you whether it shall rise in blood or in peace. At the present juncture, when the forces of Capital and Monopoly on the one hand, and the forces of Labor on the other, are arrayed in bitter conflict, we issue the appeal to all Australia. The liberty which you enjoy today, the rich heritage of citizenship, of which you could take possession; these things have, in the past, been bought for you with great price. The rights which to you may seem so natural and so simple were fought for and won step by step and the price of which was paid by your heroic ancestors was an ocean of blood and a river of tears. With their great bequest of Liberty, which will have its fullest development in Australia, they bequeathed to you the sacred responsibility of guarding those liberties and in doing so, not to hold dear, if needs be, even life itself. We believe that the time has arrived in the history of our commonwealth when its liberties are in danger; we believe a great struggle is imminent, and, therefore, we appeal to you men of Australia to prove that you are not unworthy of your ancestors. We appeal to you to equip yourselves, to bear arms in the coming fray. Your country expects this from you; it is included in the patriotic duty you owe to her. If we thought you would decline to obey her call, we would speak of the maledictions which posterity will heap upon your memories; for the heritage of tarnished liberty and disaster which your apathy would bequeath to them. But we know that you will bow in allegiance to her call and when the time comes carve the way to those greater heights of liberty which lie before you; heights which are grander and fairer than any which your ancestors ever dreamed of. Australians, laborers, MEN; with the fullest knowledge of the consequences: with a knowledge of the horrors of civil war, we call upon you to up and strike for your rights, your manhood, your country and your lives. Exhaust all peaceable means; let no one say that you have wantonly precipitated bloodshed, but if all else fails, strike boldly, mercilessly, fearlessly for your freedom. Do not unto others as they have done until you! If your oppressors will not listen to reason, let them feel cold lead and steel: as they have starved you, so do you shoot them; and allow them not to destroy your liberties and deprive you of your bread without a fight. Better to see the last squatter and the last member of this hateful Government butchered than to see one jot or one tittle of the sacred rights of the people lost.