Dumping down Australian history
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Dumbing down Australian history and its teaching
The eminent person in current academic Australian history, Stuart Macintyre, is the keynote speaker at this Labor History Conference (held in June 2000), about Labor and Federation.
Stuart Macintyre is emerging as the major figure in the current counter-revolution in Australian history, which seems to be directed at restoring a kind of Anglophile official history, modified by a few gestures towards the currently fashionable high theory, as the dominant discourse in teaching the subject.
As this happens to coincide in time with the dramatic collapse in student numbers taking Australian history in schools and universities, it seems to me necessary to make a comprehensive critique of this process.
Macintyre is the Ernest Scott Professor of History at Melbourne University. Ernest Scott was the practitioner of a Whig, British-oriented, official Australian history, which was the first major academic school of Australian history writing, and commenced late in the 19th century during the imperial heyday of ruling-class British Australia. This general approach was dominant in history teaching in high schools and universities until well into the 1960s.
There were some early dissenters from this bourgeois British-Australian history. These dissenters existed in two streams. Amongst secular socialist groups, J. N. Rawling, Lloyd Ross and Brian Fitzpatrick challenged this ruling-class orthodoxy with a more populist, Marxian and nationalist version of Australian history.
People like James M. Murtagh and Archbishop Eris O’Brien wrote texts that embodied a critical anti-British-imperialist narrative, which were the basis of an alternative version taught widely in the Catholic school system as an antidote to the official British history, necessarily studied in the same schools for the external exams.
The clandestine tradition in Australian historiography
In the 1940s and the 1950s these two streams converged to some extent in the mature work of Eris O’Brien, Ian Turner, D.A. Baker, Russel Ward, Vance Palmer, Brian Fitzpatrick and ultimately, Manning Clark.
From the 1950s on, this alternative, previously clandestine version of Australian history got a bit of a toehold in universities and high school history teaching. Texts such as Russel Ward’s the Australian Legend, Eris O’Brien’s 1937 book The Foundation Of Australia, 1786−1800, Vance Palmer’s Legend of the Nineties, a number of the works of Brian Fitzpatrick, Manning Clark’s major six-volume history, and his Short History of Australia, became a major school of Australian historiography with an emphasis on social, class and religious conflicts in the 19th century, popular opposition to British imperial hegemony and a recognition of the emergence in the 19th century of insurgent democratic trends and a labor movement in opposition to the British Australian ruling class.
In the 1970s this left democratic, populist narrative was disputed by Humphrey McQueen and Stuart Macintyre in what came to be called «the debate on class». McQueen and Macintyre accused the practitioners of the populist Australian historical school of exaggerating the democratic and popular trends in 19th century history and failing to sufficiently describe the sexism and racism present in the labour movement at that time.
In particular, Russel Ward, who remained a very active Australian historian into the 1990s, incorporated part of this critique into a broadened and improved populist narrative. The more developed radical version of Australian history practiced by Russel Ward, Brian Fitzpatrick, Manning Clark and others had a real battle to become established in schools and universities.
The Sydney University History Department remained, until very recently, a stronghold of British-Australia ruling-class history. Fitzpatrick never got a university appointment. russel Ward was blacklisted for a history teaching job at the University of NSW because of his long-past membership of the Communist Party, but managed eventually to become a university teacher at the University of New England at Armidale, northern NSW.
Manning Clark, who was similarly banished from Melbourne to the ANU when the ANU was still a backwater, only began to have a major influence on mainstream history teaching in the course of the widespread cultural revolution in Australia in the 1960s.
Russel Ward’s Concise History of Australia
At the popular teaching level one of the best examples, and the highest point of the radical populist stream in Australian history and history teaching, is Russel Ward’s A Concise History of Australia, which was reprinted in a large gift edition as Australia Since the Coming of Man.
This book is important because it incorporates that part of the criticism raised by Macintyre and McQueen that was valid. In particular, Ward’s narrative in this book entrenched a comprehensive and detailed treatment of Australian origins and Aboriginal history, along with an emphasis on oppositional forces in Australian history including the mid-19th-century struggles against transportation, and for respresentative democracy, continuing with the campaign for free selection of land, and culminating in the 19th century in the formation of the labour movement.
Ward’s Concise History also paid attention to the rather instrumental role of Irish Catholics in this democratic struggle. The last version of this many-times-reprinted and set-course book, the 1992 University of Queensland Press reprint, takes the narrative up to the end of Bob Hawke’s time as Prime Minister, and is notable for its sceptical, critical and unfawning attitude to the Hawke government and to Paul Keating. russel Ward died soon after publication of the 1992 edition of this useful book.
The emergence of the Russel Ward, Manning Clark, Brian Fitzpatrick, Eris O’Brien, populist school of Australian history was a development of considerable cultural importance.
When I was a kid at a Catholic school, the Christian Brothers at Strathfield in the 1950s, we history students were subject to the interesting exercise of being thoroughly persuaded by the Brothers to learn by rote the Stephen Roberts, British establishment version of world and Australian history for the external examiners.
However, we were taught by the same Brothers in religion lessons that this Protestant establishment version was essentially false, and as an appropriate alternative the version we should really believe was the clandestine Catholic, Eris O’Brien, James G. Murtagh, Hilaire Belloc version of Australian and world history.
It heartened me greatly in the 1960s and the 1970s when the modernised, Russel Ward, Manning Clark critical Australian nationalist, somewhat Marxist, populist version of Australian history, which incorporated the useful part of McQueen’s critique, replaced the Roberts version in most Australian schools and some universities.
I thought that our side had definitively triumphed in the field of Australian history and its teaching. More fool me! Here comes Stuart Macintyre.
Abolishing the Catholics
I hope I’m not beginning to sound a bit obsessional about Macintyre. I have written several other critical articles about his historical work, but I’m afraid I can’t really escape presenting this critique.
I was first alerted to Macintyre’s new book, The Concise History of Australia, by Jim Griffin’s review in The Australian.
Griffin pointed out that Macintyre’s new history just about abolished the Irish Catholics from the narrative. As Australian Catholic history is one of my interests, my curiosity was immediately aroused. I hurried over and bought the book at Gleebooks, and became immediately fascinated by it in the same way that I am fascinated by Paul Sheehan’s chauvinist Amongst the Barbarians, and Miriam Dixson’s The Imaginary Australian.
At approximately the same time I heard on the grapevine that Stuart and his conservative mate, John Hirst had recently been appointed by David Kemp, Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs in the Howard Government, as historical advisers to a body known as the Civics Education Group, which then employed Kemp’s other educational body, the institution with the amazing economic rationalist name, The Curriculum Corporation, to prepare curriculum materials for history teaching in Australian schools.
In the context of the high politics described above it seems reasonable to look very closely at Stuart Macintyre’s new Concise History, because it is obviously written for a high school and introductory university market, and Macintyre and his publishers may well desire to see it emerge as the major university entry-level Australian history textbook for the next period.
Let us, therefore, carefully investigate Stuart Macintyre’s version of textbook Australian history, and how it is organised and presented. The first thing is how strikingly similar it is in format, and some aspects of presentation, to Russel Ward’s book of the same name.
It is the same physical size, although a bit shorter, and it even has a similar presentation, with both covers being a work of Australian art. Even the periodisation in the book is, in large part, roughly similar.
The two tables of contents are:
RUSSEL WARD 1. Black and white discoverers c. 60,000 BC-AD 1770 2. Empire, convicts and currency c. 1771−1820 3. New settlements and new pastures c. 1821−50 4. Diggers, democracy and urbanisation c. 1851−85 5. Radicals and nationalists c. 1886−1913 6. War and depression c. 1914−38 7. War and affluence c. 1939−66 8. Going it alone c. 1967−92
STUART MACINTYRE 1. Beginnings 2. Newcomers c. 1600−1792 3. Coercion, 1793−1821 4. Emancipation, 1822−1850 5. In thrall to progress, 1851−1888 6. National reconstruction, 1889−1913 7. Sacrifice, 1914−1945 8. Golden age, 1946−1974 9. Reinventing Australia, 1975−1999 10. What next?
As is clearly indicated by the names of the chapters, the historical approach of the authors is quite different. Ward’s approach is left democratic, Marxian and populist. Macintyre’s book is a major move in the direction of restoring the official British-Australia history that used to dominate the teaching of Australian history before the 1960s.
Macintyre’s is a thoroughgoing counter-revolution compared with Russel Ward’s book. Ward celebrates the struggle for democracy and the campaign for free selection. Macintyre adopts a more critical and sceptical view of the significance of these developments in a style reminiscent of the attitude pioneered by his conservative mate Hirst.
? Ward notes and describes the important oppositional role of the Irish Catholics and records the sectarian conflicts of the 19th century. Macintyre’s only mention of sectarian religious conflict is in relation to the schools debate.
? Ward celebrates the emergence of the labour movement as an assertion of working class independence. Macintyre treats the emergence of the labour movement in a more sceptical way.
? Ward celebrates and discusses the defeat of conscription during the First World War and the radicalisation in the labour movement that this produced. Macintyre plays down the conscription struggle, omits the 1917 general strike and ignores the radicalisation of the labour movement in the 1920s.
? Ward celebrates the popular labour movement mobilisation of Langism against the Depression and its consequences. In his only mention of Lang, Macintyre succeeds in sounding like the Governor of India deploring «unrest». Macintyre even ascribes the fall of the Lang government to a split in the Labor Party, which is untrue, and thereby airbrushes out of history Lang’s removal by Governor Game, the precedent for the later removal of Whitlam by Kerr.
? Ward celebrates the popular upheaval against the Vietnam War, and mentions the initially instrumental role of Arthur Calwell, the Labor opposition leader, in this mobilisation. Macintyre treats the agitation against the Vietnam War in a much more low-key and sceptical way, ignoring Calwell.
? Ward adopts a sharply critical stance towards the Hawke and Keating governments. Macintyre has a more reverent tone towards these governments and treats their deregulation of the economy and turn to economic rationalism as a more or less inevitable response to the global circumstances.
? Ward adopts a generally favourable attitude towards mass migration. Towards the end of his book Macintyre implicitly opposes further mass migration in a rather curious section in which he first spends a lot of time criticising the thrust of government-sponsored multiculturalism, immediately followed by:
After two hundred years of overseas recruitment to build the population of Australia, a new voice called for immigration control, that of environmentalists. Throughout the European occupation of the country there had been efforts to conserve its resources and protect fauna and flora, water and forest, from wanton destruction, but the developmental impulse usually prevailed. The end of the long boom coincided with an enhanced appreciation of the costs of development. The great triumphs of the post-war period turned out to be illusory. The Snowy Mountains Authority had turned back the rivers from the south-east coast to water the Riverina plains, and poisoned the soil with salt; the Ord River on the north-west coast had been dammed, but infestations of insects killed most of the crops; the government’s scientific organisation waged biological warfare against the rabbit, but the survivors returned to compete for pasture.
This paragraph is followed by a lengthy celebration of the importance of the conservation movement in modern Australia, and read in context, it is fairly clear that Macintyre now shares some environmentalists' views in favour of reducing immigration, although in his usual magisterial fashion he infers this position from the views of others, leaving himself a possible let-out if challenged on the point.
There are many other differences between the two books. Macintyre’s is a good deal duller than Russel Ward’s. His illustrations, other than Aboriginal illustrations, are usually of conservative historical figures, and there are fewer of them.
Russel Ward makes extensive use of line drawings and historical cartoons of a radical character. Little of that for Macintyre. And so it goes.
Macintyre’s selection of sources
In his important book The First Ten Years of American Communism, James P. Cannon, the pioneer US Communist and Trotskyist leader, prints an exchange of letters between himself and the historian Theodore Draper, who was at that time writing his definitive histories of the origins and early development of the American Communist Party.
Part of one of the letters reads as follows:
Ira Kipnis’s book, The American Socialist Movement: 1897−1912, published in 1952, gives some interesting information about the evolution of the Socialist Party up to 1912. I assume you are familiar with it… From what I have read I am inclined to be a bit suspicious of Kipnis’s objectivity. There are some tell-tale expressions in the Stalinist lingo which should put one on guard. His book is overstuffed with references. They may all be accurate, but as you know, a history can be slanted by selectivity of sources as well as by outright falsification. In skimming through the book for the first time I was torn between my own unconcealed partisanship for the left wing and my concern for the whole truth in historical writing.
It is well to keep in mind Cannon’s view on this matter when examining Macintyre’s Concise History. At the end of the book, Macintyre has a bibliography for each chapter. What is striking is the books that he leaves out of this list.
For instance, he abolishes the work and books of Rupert Lockwood, Michael Cannon, Allan Grocott, Keith Amos, Colm Kiernan, Tom Keneally, Patrick O’Farrell, Margaret Kiddle, Malcolm Campbell, Geoffrey Serle, Ross Fitzgerald, Cyril Pearl, Bob Murray, Michael Cathcart, Robert Cooksey, Ray Markey, Jack Hutson, Lloyd Ross, Sandy Yarwood, Frank Farrell, Eric Rolls, Portia Robinson, Denis Murphy, and many, many others.
He just about abolishes the discipline of labour history, both from his narrative and from his list of sources. Popular historians such as Ion Idriess, Frank Clune, William Joy, Wendy Lowenstein, etc, are expunged. Public historians and local historians get very little attention. Two local histories are mentioned, Bill Gammage on Narrandera and Janet McCalman on Richmond. Yet Shirley Fitzgerald, our foremost urban historian, and her (and her associates') magnificent oeuvre on Sydney and suburbs, don’t get a guernsey.
As with Macintyre’s Oxford Companion to Australian History, it appears that the further you are from Melbourne or Adelaide, the harder it is to get recognised. After all his previous discussion of it, Macintyre completely abolishes the debate on class from his new narrative.
The debate on class in Australian labor history is discussed at length by Macintyre himself in the collection, Pastiche 1 (Allen and Unwin 1994), and in his Oxford Companion. It is described thoroughly in Australian Labor History by Greg Patmore. It is discussed in the introduction to the second edition of Ian Turner’s Industrial Labor and Politics, in which Turner replies comprehensively and persuasively to McQueen and Macintyre.
The documents of that argument include the wrongheaded, but enormously influential book by McQueen, A New Britannia. This debate led to the production of the important book by Terry Irving and Bob Connell, Class Structure in Australian History, which was a synthesis of the predominant view that emerged from the debate, that a working class of a particular kind had emerged in Australia in the 19th century, and that the emergence of a Labor Party and a labour movement was a progressive development for the working class.
Connell and Irving’s book and Russel Ward’s Concise History were widely studied in universities and high schools from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The seminal Australian Legend, by Russel Ward, and The Legend of the Nineties, by Vance Palmer, were also widely influential at high school and university levels.
Macintyre’s treatment of this important intellectual exchange and the influential literature from different strands in this debate is to abolish it all from his new narrative. Connell and Irving are abolished. Greg Patmore is abolished. Humphrey McQueen is abolished: all his three important books, A New Britannia, the indispensable book about Australian art, The Black Swan of Trespass, and his useful illustrated Social Sketches of Australia 1888−1975, are ignored. Ian Turner is abolished: Industrial Labor and Politics, Sydney's Burning and even his books about sport.
Macintyre is left, in his own narrative, as the only towering figure surviving from the debate on class, dismissing contemptuously, as «neglecting racism» The Legend of the Nineties and The Australian Legend, without even deigning to name the authors, or list them or the books in the bibliography. What a superior man this Macintyre is!
In the section on the Great Depression, J. T. Lang’s own books, and Bede Nairn’s important Lang biography, are not mentioned. None of the biographies of Mannix are mentioned. Patrick O’Farrell’s important works on the Irish in Australia are not mentioned, and neither are Tom Keneally or Keith Amos or any other writers about Irish Australia.
In relation to the Vietnam War, Gregory Pemberton’s important book, Vietnam Remembered (Weldon Publishers 1990), and neither are Sioban McHugh’s Minefields and Miniskirts, on women during the Vietnam War or Greg Langley’s A Decade of Dissent or Ken Maddocks' books of oral history on the Vietnam conflict.
Important books like Paul Barry’s biography, The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer aren’t mentioned, nor is Mates by Fia Cumming, or The Fixer by Marianne Wilkinson about Richardson, or Graham Richardson’s own book.
Clyde Cameron’s books of autobiography are ignored, as is Bill Guy’s recent biography of Cameron, A Life on the Left. In relation to the Communist Party, only Macintyre himself survives as the recognised author and expert. Alistair Davidson, Robin Gollan, Barbara Curthoys, Frank Farrell, Miriam Dixson, Tom O’Lincoln and even Beverley Symons, the author of the extremely useful bibliography associated with Macintyre’s own book, are all ignored in relation to their published work on the Communist Party.
Oppositional encounters with the Communist Party, of which good examples would be Hall Greenland’s biography of Nick Origlass, Red Hot, Susanna Short’s biography of Laurie Short, Stephen Holt’s biography of Lloyd Ross, and B.A. Santamaria’s useful autobiography, are totally ignored.
Given the Marxist background that Macintyre asserts on occasion, it is rather strange that he omits from any consideration, two major original and significant critical books about Australian life from a Marxist point of view: Vere Gordon Childe’s important How Labor Governs from the 1920s, and Egon Kisch’s Australian Landfall from the 1930s.
Macintyre’s historical method
Macintyre’s book is organised in a way that is quite consistent with his narrow British-Australia approach. For a start, the predominance of so called theory is accentuated by the abolition of footnotes.
The reader is told that at the end of the book there is a listing of where quotes used in the narrative come from, but they are not presented as notes to the source, and only one person out of 100 will, in practice, laboriously work out where the ideas came from.
The net effect of this device is to dramatically increase the role of the narrator of the book, and de-emphasise the way in which he has been influenced by the research and ideas of other people. Another effect is to make it unclear what part of the material is quotes, and what part is Macintyre’s own view, leaving Macintyre with the perfect out, if challenged on some point, that he was merely quoting the views of others.
This way of proceeding is a very elitist writing device, presenting an enormous obstacle to the reader’s understanding of the genesis of the ideas in the book, but it is a device that is quite common in postmodernist circles under the rubric of theory.
Another infuriating feature of Macintyre’s dry writing style is the deliberate way he avoids naming historical figures, or historians who he obviously regards as minor, and the effect of this device is to make some important, named historical personalities, towering presences over a landscape otherwise inhabited by the nameless.
Sometimes this device becomes almost bizarre. Examples of this are:
? On page 48, where he names Samuel Marsden about five times, on both sides of this sentence.
As early as 1803 King allowed an Irish convict to exercise his clerical functions, though that privilege was withdrawn in the following year when the Priest was suspected of using the Mass to plan the Castle Hill Uprising. In 1820 two new priests came voluntarily from Ireland with official permission to fulfill their compatriots' religious obligations.
Three Catholic priests, none of them named, but Samuel Marsden named four times in the same paragraph.
? Again, when discussing The Bulletin at some length, Macintyre manages to do it without mentioning the important founding editor, J. F. Archibald.
? When discussing the Second World War, he quotes a John Manifold poem and describes Manifold as «another descendent of a pastoral dynasty» without mentioning either his name or the fact that he was a Communist when he wrote the poem.
? Later in the same paragraph, when discussing Eric Lambert’s Twenty Thousand Thieves he doesn’t mention either the name of the book or the name of the author.
This loopy device recurs again and again in this strange book, a triumph of a supposedly theoretical approach over any attempt at utility. It makes the narrative a very lordly document indeed.
In addition to this problem, throughout his book Macintyre mentions far fewer secondary historical figures and secondary sources than does Russel Ward, particularly secondary figures who contribute radicalism or conflict to the historical mosaic.
No ballads for Macintyre
Macintyre’s mention of Manifold’s war poem, without naming or identifying the author clearly, is serendipitous in several ways. russel Ward uses another Manifold war poem, from the same anthology, in his Concise History (naming Manifold).
My favourite Manifold poem, from the same anthology, begins with the line, «Crazy as hell, And typical of us, Just like that, 'Comrade', On a bus», but I don’t think that poem would be of much use for Macintyre’s purposes.
The other very important literary contribution for which John Manifold is known is his useful pioneering work, Who Wrote the Ballads (Australasian Book Society, 1961). This was the first major work on rebel balladeers, mostly Irish, such as Frank McNamara (Frank the Poet), and their important contribution to the Australian radical ethos and culture.
Other people who have done work in this area, and written books, are Hugh Anderson, John Meredith and Rex Whalan. russel Ward made very extensive, almost instrumental use of this kind of ballad material in The Australian Legend, in sketching out the deep sources of the Australian anti-authoritarian and egalitarian ethos, which is possibly why Macintyre regards Ward’s book as overly elegaic and misleading.
It was, again, curiously serendipitious that Hugh Anderson’s book about Tocsin was relaunched in the afternoon at the Sydney Labor History Conference where Macintyre spoke, and that Anderson was present for the occasion. I find it very striking that the Celtic ballads, which figure so deeply in the cultural mosaic of Australian rebellion, get no recognition at all in Macintyre’s narrative or bibliography.
Fundamental flaws in Macintyre’s account
Macintyre doesn’t only abolish the Catholics, he just about abolishes religious history from the 19th century story. As Jim Griffin pointed out, Macintyre very nearly abolishes the Irish Catholics.
On examination, the means by which he does this are in themselves rather startling. Not only does he abolish the Irish Catholics, but to do this he has to just about abolish religion as a whole from the story of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
There is no significant mention of sectarian religious conflict. There is no mention of important institutions such as the freemasons and the Loyal Orange Lodge, despite the fact that nearly all Tory Australian prime ministers and governors were freemasons.
To avoid the conflicts that had a religious form, in the interests of a bland narrative, Macintyre makes the whole religious sphere just about disappear, which to me, as a Marxian materialist, seems to be a completely unscientific and novel way to write about Australia in the 19th century.
Incidentally, Macintyre finds no place in his story for the interesting conflict in the 1930s between the Labor Prime Minister James Scullin (in which Scullin ultimately succeeded) and the British authorities in London, over the appointment of the Jew, Sir Isaac Isaacs, as the first Australian-born Governor General, in which the endemic, vicious anti-Semitism of the British ruling class was such a major issue.
Stuart Macintyre, Henry Mayer and the Sydney University Department of Government
In relation to the sectarian Protestant mobilisation against the labour movement in the early 20th century, which Macintyre systematically ignores, the most useful piece of evidence is the several-times-reprinted monograph on NSW politics from 1901 to 1917, first produced by the Sydney University Government Department in 1962, and last reprinted in an expanded form in 1996.
This very important source book chronicles NSW politics for each of the 17 years and each yearly entry has a major section titled Sectarianism, so important a feature of NSW politics was that subject in that decisive period, when the Labor Party first became established as a party of government.
This development took place despite a constant Protestant mobilisation against the Labor Party, focussing on Catholics, socialists, liquor, gambling and sport. Macintyre’s failure to use the evidence presented in this monograph seemed to me amazing and then it struck me rather forcibly that he nowhere refers to any of the historical work of the empirical political historical school that developed around Henry Mayer, Dick Spann, Joan Rydon, Ken Turner, Michael Hogan and others in the Sydney University Government Department from the 1950s to the 1990s.
Macintyre doesn’t recognise any of the publications or books of this major school anywhere in the Concise History. It seems a pretty tall order to ignore the seven editions of the Henry Mayer Readers on government, which influenced tens of thousands of students, but Macintyre succeeds in doing this.
Given his, selectively asserted, past attachment to Marxism in the historical sciences, Macintyre’s book has a very curious approach to the history of capitalist development and the conflict between the classes.
His approach is heavily influenced by the current «globalising» fashion, particularly popular in cultural studies, but also advanced by capitalist ideologues who positively applaud the decline of manufacturing industry in countries like Australia.
The effect of this is that Macintyre concentrates on political history, of the generalised national sort, and cultural criticism of popular social practices. The actual history of Australian capitalist economic development is de-emphasised, and the spectacularly piratical origins of Australian capitalism, particularly British imperial finance capital, is considerably understated.
The sharply contradictory and brutal, but very effective development of manufacturing capitalism in Australia tends to be written of by Macintyre with the enthusiastic hindsight stemming from its current decline, which he seems to favour. (Macintyre manages to write a Concise History of Australia without mentioning Crick, Willis, W. L. Baillieu, W. S. Robinson, Essington Lewis or Bully Hayes, for instance)
In writing about the 19th century, sources such as Brian Fitzpatrick, Eris O’Brien, Michael Cannon and Cyril Pearl, all of whom have a critical or muckraking approach to the development of Australian society, particularly the economic origins of the ruling class, are ignored completely.
How is it possible to write about the origins of Australia without reference to the work of Eris O’Brien? How is it possible to write about capital formation and the slump of the 1890s without reference to historians such as Michael Cannon, Brian Fitzpatrick and Andrew Wells. But Macintyre does so and, as a result, his narrative is a dry as dust, bland, official history, neglecting conflict and particularly de-emphasising the piratical origins of the Australian bourgeoisie.
When you get into the early 20th century, this curious style of history writing is even more pronounced. When discussing the First World War, the whole emphasis is on «heroic sacrifice». He manages to avoid explicit reference to the General Strike of 1917, to the release of the IWW leaders framed in 1917, or to the assassination of Percy Brookfield, the leftist Labor politician who procured their release by his use of his balance of power in the NSW parliament.
The sectarian Protestant mobilisation against the Labor Party led by the Tory murderer T. J. Ley in the 1920s is not mentioned. No mention is made of the adoption of the socialisation objective by the Labor Party in 1921. The Seamen’s strike, and Bruce’s attempt to deport the Seamen’s leaders Tom Walsh and Jacob Johnson doesn’t make it, and neither does the Victorian Police strike.
Popular historians and popular historical works about the period, such as Turner’s Sydney's Burning, Brown and Haldane’s Days of Violence about the police strike, and Lang’s I Remember, are ignored. Important radical figures such as the Labor Federal politician Frank Anstey and the then Communist secretary of the Sydney Labor Council, Jock Garden, don’t rate a mention.
Macintyre abolishes Langism
When you get into the 1930s, the narrative gets even wierder. The only mention of Jack Lang is in relation to incident during the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when a member of the fascist-minded New Guard galloped up on a horse and cut the ribbon before Lang could do so. All that Macintyre says about the popular mobilisation behind Lang at the time of the Premier’s Plan, is the following:
The incident was theatrical, but it came as the demagogic Premier, Jack Lang was defying the national agreement to reduce public expenditure and street violence was building an atmosphere of public hysteria. Only when the Governor dismissed Lang in May 1932 did the unrest subside.
That’s the only mention of Lang. No mention of the Lang Plan. No mention of the mass meetings and the popular mobilisations around Lang on a national scale. This airbrushing of Langism slides over into falsification in the untrue statement in Macintyre’s book that the Lang government fell because of a Labor split.
This is dry as dust official history, with one variation. Dopey nostalgia for Stalinism is introduced into the narrative as a kind of alternative to describing the popular mass movement of the time led by J. T. Lang. There is a lengthy account of the activities of the Unemployed Workers Movement and the Communist Party, presented as if they were the major actors, and almost the only actors, in the upheaval against the effects of the Depression.
What an objectionable way of using Stalinism as a left face for an essentially conservative official history of the Depression. Even when discussing the Communist Party and the Unemployed Workers Movement, which are mentioned many times, they remain disembodied, shadowy entities, suspended in mid-air, so to speak.
None of the significant leaders or colourful characters in the communist movement of the 1930s are actually named: no Stalinist leaders such as Lance Sharkey, Richard Dixon or J. B. Miles. No important Communist union leaders such as Ernie Thornton, Lloyd Ross, Orr and Nelson, Jim Henderson or Jim Healy. No communist writers such as Katharine Susannah Pritchard, Jean Devanney or, in a later period, Frank Hardy. Just the disembodied entity of a totally idealised Communist Party.
My detailed critique of Macintyre’s book on the Communist Party, The Reds, made the point fairly sharply that this book was a narrowly institutional history of the Communist Party, and tended to treat the CP as a majestic entity standing alone, outside the context of its interaction with the labour movement as a whole.
This is, in my view, a dangerous defect in a history of the Communist Party. This curious methodology verges on the absurd when it is carried over from an institutional history of the CP into a Concise History of Australia and the CP of the 1930s is idealised during the Third Period and the later Popular Front periods, without reference to its intersection and conflict with the rest of the labour movement, particularly Langism.
Macintyre and Vietnam
The 1960s and the 1970s are discussed in a curious way. There is a heavy emphasis on something Macintyre calls the «New Left», but the enormous popular mobilisations against the Vietnam War, spearheaded by Vietnam Action Committees, Vietnam Day Committees and Vietnam Moratorium Committees, is presented in a very summary way.
The day after Macintyre spoke at the Labor History Conference, there was a moving and interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald by political commentator Allan Ramsey. This article commemorated events exactly 35 years before, when Ramsey had been a very junior member of the Canberra Press Gallery.
On the day when the Liberal Government announced the sending of troops to Vietnam, Labor leader Arthur Calwell went into the parliamentary chamber and made a powerful speech opposing the intervention, pledging a future Labor government would withdraw Australian troops from Vietnam, a commitment from which Calwell never flinched.
Ramsey’s article points out, with some emotion, how far-sighted Calwell was on that eventful day 35 years ago. No sentimentality of that sort for our Stuart, however. His last reference to Calwell describes Calwell’s removal from the Labor Party leadership by Gough Whitlam in the following terms: «The Labor leader was Gough Whitlam, elected to that position in 1967 after a long struggle with the old guard led by its gnarled centurion, Arthur Calwell. «
You get no hint from Macintyre that one of the main issues in Whitlam’s successful leadership challenge to the «gnarled centurion», Arthur Calwell, was the proposition that Calwell had been too radical in committing the ALP to immediate withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam, and that Whitlam’s new policy in 1967 was a much more ambiguous statement about Vietnam policy, involving reducing the number of troops, and negotiating with the NLF, rather than immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.
Oh that we might have a few «gnarled centurions» like Arthur Augustus Calwell, in the labour movement today!
The industrial explosion in 1969 led by Tramways Union Secretary, Clarrie O’Shea, which destroyed the penal clauses of the Arbitration Act, is not mentioned. The urban affairs activities of the Whitlam Government are mentioned, but without naming Tom Uren.
The Whitlam Government is effectively dismissed as futile and too radical, and leftists who supported it are attacked for acquiescing in its alleged statism. But when you get to the Hawke and Keating governments, they are treated with fulsome and fawning respect.
Hawke, the Hawke Government, Keating and the Keating Government between them, are mentioned 26 times in about 20 pages, and this is in a narrative in which Jim Cairns isn’t mentioned once, either in relation to the Vietnam Moratorium, or the Whitlam Government.
The Whitlam ministers Rex Connor, Clyde Cameron and Stuart West aren’t mentioned once. That’s the kind of elitist official history Macintyre has produced.
Macintyre eliminates the states in the modern period
A curious feature of Macintyre’s book is that, attempting to be a concise history of Australia, it goes a long way towards eliminating state history from the modern narrative.
For instance, Neville Wran is not mentioned. Hawke 13 times. No Neville Wran, no Graham Richardson. Keating 13 times, no Laurie Brereton, no Wayne Goss, no Nick Greiner, no Peter Beattie, no Bob Carr, no John Cain, no Carmen Lawrence, no John Ducker, no Barry Unsworth, no Steve Bracks.
Important books about state politics, such as Robert Travers' wonderful deconstruction of Henry Parkes, Cyril Pearl’s important Wild Men of Sydney, and David Dale’s book on the Wran period, are totally ignored.
A very strange book
What I find really eccentric, is for Macintyre to have virtually abolished the states in a literary-historical way, when they have not been abolished in the material world. Macintyre’s book has almost no discussion of the ebb and flow of political, social and cultural circumstances in the separate states in the 20th century.
To leave the state dimension out of a history of modern Australia is an absurdity because many of the important historical developments in Australia still proceed largely in a state framework. Macintyre can’t bear to mention Country Party leader Black Jack McEwan. There are many areas in which, in my view, Macintyre’s historical revisionism is inaccurate in establishing any useful context for Australian history, and is likely to mislead readers, particularly young readers and overseas readers, about the real thrust of Australian developments.
The writing out of the narrative of most conflict, most rebellion, and discordant and radical forces such as the Irish Catholics, produces a picture of Australia that I find very difficult to recognise. If Macintyre still regards himself as any kind of Marxist or popular historian, a history of Australia in the 20th century in which Black Jack McEwan is not mentioned by name, and the post-World-War-Two implicit social arrangement is dismissed, but the Hawke-Keating globalisation of the economy is implicitly endorsed as inevitable, is quite bizarre.
Politically, what Macintyre has produced is a thoroughly conservative history, but that’s only one aspect. The other aspect, from a history teaching point of view, is that this kind of deracinated official history is rather boring.
If textbooks like this are allowed to predominate in contrast with a lively and interesting and, incidentally, quite radical, book such as Russel Ward’s Concise History, in my view the audience for Australian history will probably decline, and the number of students studying it will probably drop.
Macintyre is exceedingly dry. There is very little social history. There is not much sporting history. There is no overview of modern Australian art. The speedy sweep through modern Australian society in the last couple of chapters is rather moralising in tone and written as from a great height or distance.
Macintyre seems to me to be a bit of a wowser and puritan, which are big disadvantages to anyone trying to write intelligently about Australian history. He doesn’t really seem to like us much.
Why bother about Macintyre’s historical revisionism?
In an irritated aside in the new foreword to the paperback edition of Macintyre’s book on the Communist Party, The Reds, Macintyre dismisses, in a contemptuous way, a detailed critique I made of that book, ascribing it to «1960s factionalism», without making any attempt to address the major questions of historical fact and emphasis I raised.
I obviously run the risk of similar curt dismissal from the great man on this occasion, and I also run the risk of being accused by some of having an obsession about Macintyre.
Why should Bob Gould bother? Well, I must admit that for me these questions are rather personal. I object to my assorted tribes, ethnic, cultural and political, being abolished from the historical record. When I was a kid, I acquired an initial knowledge of the clandestine Australian historical stream, Irish Catholic, socialist and working class, from my father, and also from the Catholic historical counterculture taught by the Christian Brothers.
As a young man those streams came together for me, and I was greatly stimulated by the way they flowered into the mature historical work of Brian Fitzpatrick, Russel Ward, Eris O’Brien, Manning Clark, Robin Gollan, Ian Turner, and popular historians such as Rupert Lockwood, Cyril Pearl, Michael Cannon, Robert Travers and William Joy.
I was also stimulated by novels with a historical basis, such as Kylie Tenant’s Ride on Stranger and Foveaux and Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory and The Dead are Many. I was considerably enthused when this rich historical literature began to be used to some extent in some university history departments and in some high schools.ПоказатьСвернуть