Biographical / Historical
Labour movement activist William Paisley Earsman was born in Edinburgh on 16 March 1884. He was educated at a local council school in the St. Leonards area of city, and then completed an apprenticeship as a turner. He had also attended night classes at Heriot-Watt College where he was awarded a certificate in mechanical engineering. In 1908, he went to New Zealand and two years later went to Melbourne, Australia, working at the Camberwell Motor Works in 1910, with Victoria Railways until 1914, and then the Colonial Ammunition Company until 1917. While in Scotland, Earsman had become a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and in Australia he joined the Melbourne District branch. He was on the Committee of the District branch from March 1911, then Secretary in 1915-1916. A committed socialist and industrial unionist, Earsman was a member of the Victoria Socialist Party from 1911 to 1916, and was active in industrial disputes in 1917-1919. After the 1917 Revolution, he was in Russia. In 1917 too, he initiated the Victoria Labour College and was its Secretary until the middle of 1919. Earsman then went to Sydney and founded the New South Wales Labour College and acted as Secretary and Lecturer until April 1921. Earlier, he had been involved in the formation of the Communist Party of Australia and was elected Secretary on its foundation in Sydney on 30 October 1920. When the Party split in December he sought recognition for his 'Sussex Street' faction at the 3rd Congress of the Third Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow in April 1921. He was also at the Congress of the Red International of Labour Unions in July 1921. On his return to Australia in December 1921 he became mixed up in the rivalry between the two Communist Party factions in the country, but at the 4th Congress of Comintern in 1922 Earsman was successful in gaining recognition for the 'Sussex Street' faction. He became a member of the Comintern executive, met Leon Trotsky and Lenin, and was made an honorary member of the Red Army. When barred from Australia, he returned to Moscow - after a period in London and Edinburgh - and taught English at the Red Army Military Academy. When he returned to England, he worked in the testing of machine tools bound for the Soviet Union. In the late-1920s, Earsman left the Communist Party, and in 1932 he returned to Edinburgh, joining the Labour Party in 1934. Between 1934 and 1949 he was Secretary of the Edinburgh Trades Council, and in 1948 he was appointed President of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party. Not only was Earsman active in municipal affairs, he was a founder member of the Edinburgh Festival Society, 1947 to 1962, and he was awarded the OBE in 1950 for work in connection with the Festival. William Paisley Earsman died in Edinburgh on 13 January 1965.