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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Barlow, Charles Medland (Charley) (1872–1902)

Shall we not heed the lesson taught of old,
And by the Present's lips repeated still,
In our own single manhood to be bold,
Fortressed in conscience and impregnable?
We stride the river daily at its serine.
Nor, in our childish thoughtlessness, foresee
What myriad vassal streams shall tribute bring,
How like an equal it shall greet the sea.

O! small beginnings, ye are great and strong,
Based on a faithful heart and weariless brain!
Ye build the future fair, ye conquer wrong,
Ye earn the crown; and wear it not in vain. — Lowell.

On Sunday evening last, during the lecture at Marx Hall, word was brought that our comrade, Charles M. Barlow, had passed away. Heartfelt sorrow fell upon all present, and the saddest meeting ever held by the A.S.L. concluded our weekly gathering. Two years ago last May our comrade was stricken down with symptoms of consumption. After rallying from this attack, he lived in the country, and the purer atmosphere, added to his indomitable will, effected a wonderful improvement. While none anticipated a full recovery, it was thought by his many friends (as it was by himself) that a country life would add to his years. For the past nine months he had been living at Williamsdale, some miles from Queanbeyan, and it was only on Monday night a wire was received that he had passed away painlessly in his sleep.

He was a native of London, and was 30 years of age— in the flower of his manhood. Almost since the inception of the Political Labor movement in this State, he began to take an active part in the working-class fight. In the early nineties he was a regular attendant at the meetings of the A.S.L., at a time when the Socialist movement was in a different stage of development to what it has now reached. Many men who have since discarded Socialism, but were then connected with both the Socialist and Labor movements, were fighting for what was known as the 'Solidarity Pledge Party,' owing to the breakdown of the first Labor Party in politics here. All the youth and enthusiasm of the time were attracted to these two movements, and comrade Barlow was one of its whole-souled members of the rank and file. His retiring and modest disposition contented him in doing the necessary detail work, essential always for effective organisation. He lived at Newtown, which was at that time a very lively Labor centre and had a host of earnest active workers. Night after night our comrade took his share of the work, and also, needless to say, bore a share of the financial demands. A compositor by trade he naturally took a keen interest in labor journalism, being a warm supporter of the official organ of the period — 'The Australian Workman.' Through all the many vicissitudes of that paper's career he stood by it. Many of his generous acts in this connection are only known to those who experienced them. When the ill-fated 'Daily Post '' started he took an enthusiastic part in its welfare, and with others stood through thick and thin to the men who had to undergo imprisonment in connection with it.

The collapse of the 'Daily Post,' and the disappointment at the 'Solidarity' fight failing to have the effect looked forward to — of realising that clearness and definiteness fondly hoped for in the labor movement, brought about the inevitable reaction. Previous to the '94 election, labor leagues sprang up like mushrooms, and withered like them. During this period Comrade Barlow was overcoming his shyness and taking a more active interest in official work. By this time he was well known to all of the left wing section, who recognised his worth, honesty and earnestness. The gen. secretary of the Political Labor League had resigned, and the greatest difficulty was being experienced in obtaining anyone to fill the vacancy — the position was honorary and entailed an enormous amount of work. After much pressing and with great reluctance, Comrade Barlow accepted the position, and for nearly two years stuck to his post, meeting every demand made upon him, and proving one of the most popular secretaries the P.L.L. ever had. He had not ceased to be connected with the A.S.L., though like other active members of our organisation who belonged to both bodies, thought our connection and persistent fighting would ultimately bring the P.L.L. over to Socialism — without any qualification. But we were soon disillusioned; for, after accepting the Socialist demands in '97, and running 10 candidates for the Federal Convention, that organisation and its party showed clearly that they were not prepared to accept Socialism and fight for it as a party and movement. Having arrived at this point, and seeing the futility of any longer striving to permeate this body with Socialism, he and the rest of the Socialists resigned, deciding henceforth to devote the whole of their energies towards rebuilding the A.S.L.

For some years the work of faithfully keeping the lamp of Socialism burning had fallen on a mere handful, who had stuck to the League and doggedly kept pegging away. Comrade Thomson, who had held to the general secretaryship, was relieved by Comrade Barlow accepting the position. There were barely 20 in the League, a big hall to keep going, and the platform to be filled every Sunday, besides outside work. It was a strain on all concerned; but it was done. After considering the position all round, it was decided to bring out a monthly magazine, and, with only sufficient cash in the funds to pay for the first issue, the 'Collectivist' was launched! Comrade Barlow's technical knowledge and literary ability being invaluable, backed up by his enthusiasm and bearing his share of the financial responsibility. The next step to be taken was re-organisation; and as a basic principle the rule was enforced that none should be admitted as a member unless they severed all connection with every other political organisation. This caused a few withdrawals, but the numbers were made up by new recruits; and for the first time in Australia the groundwork was laid for the building up of a clear, definite, uncompromising Socialist movement. The position of the A.S.L. to-day stands as a triumphant vindication of the method and tactics adopted. The Socialist Labor Party has been brought into existence and fought two battles, with fully as much success as we expected. Through every difficulty (and there were many) our comrade never wavered — never once flinched from the work demanded by the growth and development of the movement.

Nothing caused him more sorrow than being compelled to stand by whilst our initial battles were being fought; yet, as readers of the PEOPLE know, his pen wrote some splendid and inspiring words during our campaign. Ever thinking of the movement, he never once lost heart or ceased to urge on the fight.

His work on the PEOPLE and the Socialist Press through all its uphill fight to gain a footing, is well known to all members and friends throughout the country. He knew the value of the press, and the mighty power it possessed, and he spared not time, energy, or money to build it up. He studied, thought, and read, to equip himself for the task. History, economics, and a thorough knowledge of the International movement were acquired by him, the whole of his limited leisure time being devoted thereto. And it must be remembered that he, like all workers, had to work every day at his trade, and the whole of his spare time was given to the movement.

A little more than a boy when he first turned to politics, his knowledge grew with him, and led him step by step to see clearly the position of the working class in society. Absolutely convinced of the truth of Socialism and its ultimate triumph, he never, for one moment, expected it to come without effort —a well organised, intelligent, and disciplined working-class initiative. Fully understanding Australian politics and conditions, and the nature of the class struggle to the full, he recognised the tremendous work we had undertaken, and the hard years of struggle ahead of those responsible for its activity.

Such in brief is the work our comrade did, which like the lives of all those who take an active part in a movement, is a history of its growth.

Socialists face all facts, and they endeavor to bear the ills of life like men, yet they have the same human failings as the majority, and at the graveside of our lost comrade grief must manifest itself. But for the system that is responsible for his — and for thousands of his fellows' untimely end, we emphatically enter our bitterest protest. The insidious disease of which our late comrade was a victim, is a product of the system of capitalism, and is becoming more and more pronounced as the days roll by.

Charley Barlow's chief characteristics were honesty, gentleness, generosity — even to a fault — and always consideration for others, and his many kindly acts will not soon be forgotten, He never went back on principle, and unswervingly fought for what he knew to be true, inflexible in determination when the movement demanded it. Though no one was more loyal to friendship, or ready to make allowances for human failings, yet his motto always was, the movement before the individual. As one of the pioneers of the Australian Socialist movement Charley Barlow's memory will live, and his comrades will ever cherish it.

To his family and relatives our sympathy is extended, as their loss is ours also.

His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that nature might stand up
And say to all the world: This was a man.

Throughout his long illness his interest in the work of the movement never ceased — he kept himself in touch with developments, advising and suggesting from time to time, ever urging on the battle. He was cheered by the affectionate solicitude of comrades throughout, who never ceased to be concerned for his welfare. No man is indispensable, yet men like our late comrade are missed; and his life-work should be an inspiring force urging on our younger men to follow in his steps.

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'Barlow, Charles Medland (Charley) (1872–1902)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barlow-charles-medland-charley-32046/text39607, accessed 10 December 2021.

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