The Groupe d'Etudes Scientifiques: The Scientific Spleen Squad

The Groupe d’Etudes Scientifiques were a tiny Sydney anarchist sect. They were the antipodean offshoot of the Groupe d’Etudes Scientifiques (GES for short) of Paris, run by the prodigious author Paraf-Javal. The Paris group published a bulletin from June 1910 onwards. The Sydney group, around from at least 1912, had its own printing facilities, the communist-anarchist press, run by Ralph Carterer, and various addresses in Sydney.

Under the slogan of ‘No Authority - Reason’ they conducted vigorous propaganda for their beliefs. Partly, this consisted of forswearing poisons like tobacco, alcohol, and condiments; also to fight for logical, scientific thinking. All those indulging in ‘a priori’ reasoning, (which seems to have included most of the outside world) were judged to be ‘abrutis’. This buzzword of theirs was liberally applied in their publications: Gustave Herve was an ‘abruti and so-called anti-militarist’. The Sydney group published several tracts criticising socialist groups, but none attacking the social system as far as I can see.

In October 1914 the GES published an account of itself: ‘The Groupe d’Etudes Scientifiques - Its Work And Method’. The author, Xarus Sphynx, mentions a plan for going to Japan. However, a hand-written note on the cover of the pamphlet states that he was deported from Queensland in 1917. I don’t know where to.

The works of the group have the sound of works poorly translated, or more likely written in a strange second tongue, but with complete confidence in the strength of their scientific method. On Mayday 1915 they could assert:

What is Anarchism? Who are the Anarchists? Whilst organised slaughter called war is devastating the world; whilst nationalistic lunatics and militaristic maniacs are murdering each other; whilst degenerate abrutis of all sorts are suffering horribly and dying miserably, consequent upon the world’s ignorance and prejudice; our GES is pursuing slowly, but with certainty its logical rational work of the vulgarisation of scientific knowledge and determinedly spreads the contagion of reason more than ever we are able to repeat, in all serenity, and in face of the present events that the present is to us, the future is but to our ‘anarchism’ our work will stand, the rest will fall and be forgotten. - fraternally to our friends the world over, the GES of Australia, the 1st of May.”

In October 1916, detective Moore, the Sydney police subversion expert had tracked down the mysterious Mr Sphynx, who turned out to be ‘identical with one Bjelke Boekgen, This man styles himself a professor of physical culture and a journalist, and the name Xarus Sphynx, he states is a “nom-de-plume”’. The detective continues: “Boekgen is an old Domain orator, and belongs to a small sect of cranks, who are said to be anarchists. He disclaims being such, and so far as I know of him, he appears to propound some wild theories, among which is that there should be no monetary currency, and that property should belong to all. I never knew of him being associated with or preaching violence. He does not appear to belong to the I.W.W., and has always held his public meetings in the Domain quite independently of them.”* (the IWW were the bogey of the moment to the police, actively opposed to the war and accused of arson, among other things. The idea of them, militant industrial unionists, associating with the GES is highly unlikely)

Exactly why Boekgen was deported is hard to say, it’s possible he was caught in the anti-radical housecleaning that both Australian and American governments carried out at the time. It’s doubtful the GES had enough impact to justify it. Their individualist attitudes make it unlikely they were up to much political engagement beyond criticism.

*NSW Police files concerning the IWW, box 7/5596