Celebrating Darce Cassidy

Notes for my contribution to memorial meeting on May 14, following Darce’s death on 2019-04-29

I’m not a historian and cannot do justice to the story of Darce Cassidy.

But I do know that he played a critically important part as a leader of the sixties rebellion in Australia and it would be well worthwhile for some historian to write up that story.

Most people who knew either Darce Cassidy or Jon Cassidy would know him as a progressive and radical who worked in the mainstream as an ABC journalist, staff organizer and manager and who was able to get on with all kinds of people helping others to organize themselves in a progressive direction that caused problems for the powers that be. He would be known by many for his contributions to Community and Multicultural radio and opposition to internet censorship and surveillance as director of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation. He did all of that and more, and it was central to his life.

But I knew him as a revolutionary as well as a friend, and specifically as a revolutionary communist leader, and I know that was also central to his life and should not be forgotten so I will focus on that. That description may come as a surprise to many who got to know him after the sixties wave had subsided when there was no radical left to help organize and lead. He was able to adapt because he always followed the “mass line” of taking progressive political ideas from the masses, concentrating and developing them and taking them back to the masses.

In the late 1960s Darce played a significant leadership role in the largest and best known radical student and youth organizations in Australia – the Maoist led Monash University Labour Club and Worker Student Alliance. Like other open supporters of the Vietnamese armed struggle against US occupation and advocates of militant protest tactics in Australia he was regularly slandered. Bob Santamaria’s far right wing Newsweekly had a major campaign to oust him from his “subversive” influence at the ABC, claiming that he was a terrorist. More common were the slanders from the “Communist” CPA, the “Labor” ALP “left” and some Trotskyists who portrayed revolutionary rebels like Darce as sectarians.

In response to Santamaria’s campaign, the ABC duly obtained a report on comrade Cassidy from ASIO. This confirmed that actually he was a revolutionary, not a terrorist, and that his employment in charge of book reviews for the ABC was not a matter of immediate concern to ASIO in the current situation and while he was not in charge of news or current affairs. But Darce was no sectarian either and helped ABC news and current affairs staff to rebel in ways that right-wingers are still upset about.

For anyone interested in sources to find out more about Darce’s revolutionary activities, in preparing notes I was helped by two references easily found online by a google search for “Monash Labor Club”. They are listed at the end.

ASIO’s records have been released and would provide a lot more detail.

Darce was not a theoretician, nor a public spokesperson for revolutionary politics. But he was a leader, with a major role in strategy, tactics and organization. His revolutionary work as a journalist and organiser was central to the radicalization of the youth and student movement in the sixties because he taught others how to do radical journalism, how to get organised and how to maneuver against our enemies without getting isolated. He was particularly good at teaching people how to think before writing, so as to produce short punchy items with real impact, through careful attention to catchy headlines and humorous slogans that adapted tactics to strategy.

Darce arrived in Melbourne and enrolled at Monash University shortly before things got moving in 1967. He immediately helped launch our regular news sheet called “Print”. Unlike most of the sixties activists in Australia he had several years experience of radical politics at Sydney University before the movement took off and had edited a weekly newsheet there called “Wednesday Commentary”. He advocated a neutral name to focus attention on the content not proclamation. But he originally proposed the name “Gladys” as he thought “Gladys says” would catch on. Fortunately we were able to persuade him that “I saw it in Print” would also work.

The sixties Vietnam movement in the US grew more directly out of the civil rights movement than in Australia (especially with black conscripts as the most important force). But a lot of the sixties Australian indigenous rights movement was also inspired by the US example. An obvious direct import was the rural NSW Freedom Ride that Darce helped organize in March 1965 following on from solidarity protests in support of the fights against racism in the U.S. and South Africa. The Vietnam movement also had a natural continuity from solidarity with US as well as South African struggles. (My own earliest political activity was as secretary of “Youth Against Apartheid” around the same time.)

It is ironic that we were presented as “anti-American”. As with the Freedom ride, even more so for Vietnam, a lot of the inspiration for the sixties movement came from following the examples set by radical Americans.

We did not have the internet back in the sixties. But we did have typewriters, wax stencils and duplicating machines called “Gestetners”. One of Darce’s slogans was “All power grows out of the barrel of a Gestetner”. Darce was more than anyone responsible for launching an irreverant and uncensorable underground journalism tradition of “the sixties” that Australian university and later high school authorities could not cope with.

Another of Darce’s slogans was “If there is to be a revolution there must be a revolutionary party – Friday night at Jasmine Street”.

Jasmine street was the home of several Monash Labor Club activists including Darce from the summer break1966-7.

The revolutionary parties at Jasmine Street every Friday were pretty wild, some would say they were drunken orgies. But the revolutionary music organized by Darce was not just background noise. Radical songs are always a necessary part of any radical culture and tradition. Jasmine Street was also the off campus HQ where people developed their ideas on HOW to rebel in continuous political discussion. Later a similar role was played by “Shirley Grove” and then “The Bakery” which became the headquarters of a non-student organization, the “Revolutionary Socialists”. Darce was central to organizing all three HQs, fostering an atmosphere in which ideas could develop. Later he proposed disbanding the Rev Socs to form a more explicitly Maoist led youth organization, WSA, the “Worker Student Alliance”, in January 1970.

These irreverant takeoffs from Mao’s slogans “All power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and “If there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party” were typical of the thoroughly irrevererant and politically incorrect sixties rebellion that Darce helped organize.

As Darce confirmed in an interview half a century later:

“By late 1966 early 1967 I grew to see ALP politics as futile and the Maoist stance offered a clear anti-Parliamentary line. Other than this fact it was the sheer rebelliousness of the Maoist ideas like ‘It is right to rebel’ that became attractive
to a lot us around that time.” (2005-09-03)

Soon after Darce’s arrival we had a major breakthrough in 1967. After some initial toughening up in response to attempts to censor “Print” from the University administration we were able to withstand a real “baptism by fire”. This came when we organized collections of aid for solidarity with the “National Liberation Front” who were fighting and defeating U.S. and Australian invaders in south Vietnam. The concentrated attacks from press, TV, government and University authorities as well as the peace movement “establishment” were a major turning point, not just for the student movement but for the wider anti-war movement. As intended the whole climate shifted left. The “moderates” were now able to distance themselves from us while also moving towards a position that the war could only be ended by defeat of the U.S. rather than by respectably influencing its government to be less aggressive. The left became a major force in the organized anti-war movement with Darce often representing us at private meetings where he helped out maneuver the old guard “peace movement” without them ever quite understanding how they got done over.

Darce’s detailed organizational proposal for moving from a weekly “Print” to a daily were written under the name Len Esdaile in the third issue of the internal bulletin of the Young Communist League, Sunday February 15 1969. Eventually the Monash radical student movement had many weeklies, including those from groups in most Faculties such as “Spanner and Sickle” in Engineering, as well as the daily “Print”. Many high schools also had their own regular newsheets based on the same rebellious and offensive “underground” style. These had to be distributed anonymously as the editors would be expelled from school. Being cheeky, rebellious and highly offensive to all right thinking people was easy. Learning to do it skillfully required lessons from a professional revolutionary journalist – Darce Cassidy, also known as “Tony Brooks”.

Darce’s commitment, like that of other sixties radicals, was not virtue signalling and hence was of interest to ASIO without them pretending that he was a eiither a terrorist or about to launch an armed struggle. Like the rest of us he was totally in favour of offending people to make them think (while rejecting the “being offended” that helps people avoid thinking). He was of course hostile to the censorious “political correctness” that now dominates the pseudo-left that imploded into the vacuum left by the subsiding radical wave half a century ago. It was the radical left, not the right that invented that term “politically incorrect”, and its Australian equivalent “ideologically unsound” to mock the pretensions of the pseudoleft.

Darce was a thorougly mainstream and thoroughly political incorrect revolutionary. That style of politics was fun. Darce will be remembered for it.

REFERENCES

1. Robins, Daniel (2005) Melbourne’s Maoists : the rise of the Monash University Labor Club, 1965-1967. Honours thesis, Victoria University.

http://vuir.vu.edu.au/30211/

2. From http://www.reasoninrevolt.net.au/biogs/E000612b.htm links from page on “Monash Labor Club”

6 thoughts on “Celebrating Darce Cassidy

    • Yes, Ken gave out printed copies. His talk was extra good as he got the participants joining in singing revolutionary songs!

      I don’t use FaceBook. Please give link for others.

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  1. Excellent tribute.

    I wish I had recorded a substantial oral history interview with him. It’s good that there are useful sources about his life and politics.

    Like

    • I cannot see it here. So please post again directly here.

      PS “Directly here” means at the blog by clicking link from email to view blog on your browser, where you can see what happens. I am guessing from question that you have not actually looked.

      Like

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