This loopy device recurs again and again in this strange
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
far fewer secondary historical figures and secondary sources than does
Russel Ward, particularly secondary figures who contribute radicalism
or conflict to the historical mosaic.
Macintyre's mention of Manifold's war poem, without naming
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
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
The other very important literary contribution for which
John Manifold is known is his useful pioneering work, Who Wrote the
(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
Other people who have done work in this area, and written
Hugh Anderson, John Meredith and Rex Whalan. Russel Ward made very
extensive, almost instrumental use of this kind of ballad material in The
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.
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
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
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
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
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
In relation to the sectarian Protestant mobilisation against
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
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
historical sciences, Macintyre's book has a very curious approach to
the history of capitalist development and the conflict between the
His approach is heavily influenced by the current
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
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
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
How is it possible to write about the origins of Australia
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
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.
When you get into the 1930s, the narrative gets even
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:
That's the only mention of Lang. No mention of the Lang
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Ramsey's article points out, with some emotion, how
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
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
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
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
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
aren't mentioned once. That's the kind of elitist official history
Macintyre has produced.
A curious feature of Macintyre's book is that, attempting to
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.
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.
What I find really eccentric, is for Macintyre to have
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
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
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
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
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,
big disadvantages to anyone trying to write intelligently about
Australian history. He doesn't really seem to like us much.
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 obviously run the risk of similar curt dismissal from the
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
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
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.
These texts are interesting and particularly accessible to
and they go a considerable distance towards introducing those social
groups previously excluded, the labour movement, the working class and
the Irish Catholics, to the historical narrative.
Dixson carries on somewhat about an Australian "national
imaginary", which she does not spell out very clearly. In an
argument I have written directed at Miriam Dixson,
I take up her idea of the "national imaginary" which isn't
intrinsically a bad idea. I just point out that my "national imaginary"
(based on the historian's I've listed above and my own experience of
life) is totally different to hers.
These classes of people and events are mostly my people and
my tribes, my class, my big social upheavals, and once again I record
my strong objection to their exclusion from the Australian historical
John Howard, and the right-wing ideologues in some of the
currently engaged in a wide-ranging exercise in rewriting Australian
history. Howard and like-minded conservatives are making extravagant
use of British-Australia Anzac symbolism to refurbish a reactionary,
patriotic militarism, and to write out of the record past conflicts
over wars and militarism, such as the referendum defeat of conscription
during the First World War, and the ultimate rejection of the Vietnam
intervention by the Australian people.
The arena of history and history teaching is inevitably
ideological. One is entitled to have whatever view one likes of events,
social classes, religious groups, and other things. What one is not, in
my view, entitled to do, is abolish them entirely from the narrative,
whatever one may think of them.
A history that reduces the many facets of Caroline Chisholm
and her activity to the spiteful cliche that she was primarily a moral
is sectarian and bigotted. A history that avoids the work of all the
important traditional and popular historians mentioned in this article,
possibly because they introduce too much conflict and excitement to the
narrative, is both much too right-wing, and a definite obstacle to
keeping the students in history classes awake.
For the time being, until someone writes a new and improved
entry-level textbook, people setting texts would be well advised to
continue using Russel Ward, Connell and Irving, and other such books,
rather than this extraordinary new book.
A note to Stuart Macintyre based on a discussion with
him during afternoon tea at the Labor History Conference
I am writing this after distributing my response to your
following your address at the Labor History Conference in Sydney in
April 2000, participating in the discussion there, and having an
exchange of views with you in the afternoon tea break.
Your first argument was that your concise history was not
as a textbook. Your publishers must have other ideas, because the
second page of the book has this statement:
This is a new series of illustrated 'concise histories' of
selected individual countries, intended both as university and college
textbooks and as general historical introductions for general readers,
travellers and members of the business community."
Human beings have names. Australians like names
Your second argument related to the curious method of
secondary historical players but not naming them. You re-emphasised the
strange point made in your introduction that proper names would only
confuse overseas readers, and that their use would unreasonably pad out
the book. I think both of these arguments are ludicrous.
If you gave the proper name of every minor character in
front of the
description of them, it would probably increase the size of the book
about half a page, which is hardly significant, even for the most
The argument that the addition of the name of the person
confuse overseas readers is incomprehensible to me. Most, if not all,
humans on the planet, have names, and human beings are quite used to
names. Human beings like names. In bursts of creative cultural
exhuberance, humans, particularly Australian humans, invent colourful
nicknames for people, "Pig Iron Bob", "Cocky Calwell", "Black Jack
McEwan", for example.
If anything, mentioning historical players without their
likely to confuse both local and overseas readers, particularly if you
assume that many overseas readers will be developing an interest in
Australian history, and are very likely to read at least one more book
about Australia than your book.
The absence of names in association with historical
likely to reduce the utility of your narrative, and incidentally
contribute to making the story more difficult, dry and boring for the
reader, whether local or overseas.
Which Australian history books are really out of print?
In relation to the fact that you eliminated from your
bibliography a number of important Australian historians, particularly
populist and labour historians, you argued, in the conversation at
afternoon tea, that your bibliography consisted mainly of books that
are in print and accessible.
Well, I have a fair amount of experience as a bookseller,
and secondhand. I don't particularly like being the bearer of bad
tidings, but going through your bibliography carefully, more than half
of the books you mention are currently out of print, many of them
If you had included the significant works from the major
historians that you ignore, the in-print, out-of-print ratio would, in
my view, not be affected at all, as quite a few of the books you ignore
are in print.
The following books are just a random selection from your
bibliography, from the majority of the 300 books listed there, which
are out of print: Gavin Souter, Lion and Kangaroo. Australia:
1901-1919, The Rise of a Nation (Sydney, William Collins, 1976);
Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War
(Ringwood, Vic, Penguin, 1975); Lesley Johnson, The Unseen Voice: A
Cultural Study of Early Australian Radio (London, Routledge, 1988);
Avner Offer, The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation
(Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989); Robin Gerster and Jan Bassett, Seizures
of Youth: The Sixties and Australia (Melbourne, Hyland House,
1991); Jill Julius Matthews, Good and Mad Women: The Historical
Construction of Femininity in Twentieth-Century Australia (North
Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1984); Greg Whitwell, Making the Market:
The Rise of Consumer Society (Fitzroy, Vic, McPhee Gribble, 1989);
Philip Ayres, Malcolm Fraser (Richmond, Vic, William Heinemann,
After listing the out-of-print books above and more than
similar, it seems striking to me that you don't list any of the books
of Shirley Fitzgerald, any of the books of Patrick O'Farrell, any of
the books of Russel Ward, any of the books of Michael Cannon, any of
the books of Robert Murray, any of the books of Vance Palmer, any of
the books of Kylie Tennant, any of the books of Humphrey McQueen, Greg
Patmore's book on labour history, Connell and Irving on class structure
in Australia, Jack Hutson's important source books on the arbitration
Despite his infuriating, excessive use of current academic
literary-theoretical devices in his narrative, in the matter of
sources, Macintyre is absurdly conservative and narrow.
The only trade union histories mentioned, out of the 50 or
now exist, are a couple of books about the AWU. No books such as those
by Mark Hearn on the Australian Railways Union, Braden Ellem on the
Clothing Trades Union, Mary Dickinson on the NSW Nurses Union, Brad
Bowden on the Transport Workers Union or Margo Beasley on the Waterside
Workers Federation, etc. etc.
In the past 30 years there has been an explosion of major
about the history of various ethnic groups in Australia. While I don't
go quite so far as to suggest that Macintyre should mention such
culturally significant, but possibly exotic books as Sea, Gold and
Sugarcane. Finns in Australia 1851-1947
by Olavi Koivukangas, or Edward Duyker's book on Mauritians in
Australia, one would have thought that Macintyre might have used as
sources, say, some major books on Greeks, Italians, Germans, Maltese
and Asians in Australia. But nothing like this for our Stuart.
Macintyre mentions little sporting history, almost no
almost no art history, little religious history, no history of
Australian films or television, very little history of Australian
literature after the 19th century, and no books pertaining to the
history of the Communist movement in Australia except the one written
by Stuart Macintyre.
I would have thought that Robin Gollan's book on the
Communist Party might rate a mention, or Ed Campion's book, Australian
Catholics, or Michael Hogan's Sectarianism,
or Bede Nairn's book on Lang, or Lang's own ghostwritten
autobiographies, or even slight little books like Elwyn Spratt on Eddie
Ward or Colm Kiernan on Mannix, or, for that matter, major biographies
by Bob Santamaria or Niall Brennan on Archbishop Mannix.
Despite the Concise History's emphasis on
Macintyre neglects to even note the important, ground-breaking
three-volume epic about Aboriginal anthropology, by Charles Rowley,
which did so much to bring the question to the attention of the
Australian public in the 1970s. I could go on and on in this vein, but
it would get boring.
Stuart Macintyre's narrow, academic range of source books
Many of the books that Macintyre lists are far less
the Australian ones he ignores. Closer examination of the bibliography
tends to sharpen the above conclusions.
Drawing on my experience as a bookseller, a thing that
forcibly is that many of the books listed in Macintyre's bibliography
are drawn from a narrow range of academic publishers, such as Oxford
and Cambridge, which publish short runs at highish prices, and Allen
and Unwin, which publishes slightly longer runs at somewhat lower
Whether in print or out of print, these books are often
inaccessible to people other than academics, particularly now that, in
these times of extreme economic rationalism, libraries ruthlessly weed
their collections very fast.
The older books, the more leftist and popular books, and
that were published by general publishers as popular history, even if
they are out of print, are almost always reasonably widely available
secondhand, because of their initial very large sales.
Good examples of that phenomenon are Russel Ward's Australian
Legend and Vance Palmer's Legend of the 90s, which
Macintyre dislikes so much that he doesn't list them in the
They are actually more accessible in bookshops than many
the books he does list.
Macintyre's geographical bias towards Melbourne and
current fashions in theory and cultural history
An examination of Macintyre's bibliography shows several
biases. A striking feature of the bibliography is a strong
representation of what is now called "theory" and "cultural history",
and a sharp bias against popular history, public history, etc.
There is also a bias in favour of what I might call
university academic history.
There is a very strong geographical bias towards Melbourne
Adelaide. The further history producers get from these Agoras of the
South, the less significance is ascribed to them by Stuart Macintyre.
There is a strong bibliographical bias against labour
ethnic history (other than Aboriginal), and religious history. The
Catholics are eliminated from the narrative, most populism and
What you get is a combination of the aforesaid "cultural
the "left", and academic official history, as both the "left", and the
"right", of Macintyre's discourse.
All the populist and Marxist participants in the,
past, debate on class (other than Macintyre himself) are airbrushed out
of history, almost as systematically as Stalin's captive historians
used to airbrush Trotsky out of Soviet history. What we are left with
is a very dull, Anglophile, official history of Australia from which
most of the Sturm and Drang, and other excitements and turmoils, have
Stuart Macintyre's intellectual odyssey
This argument with Stuart Macintyre has, in fact, become a
personal for me, based to some extent on my intellectual disappointment
in him. For many years I did not know Macintyre from the proverbial bar
of soap. I remembered him vaguely from a distance, at a couple of
radical conferences or assemblies in the 1970s.
I remember reading self-confidently ultraleft
his byline in internal Communist Party discussion bulletins and leftist
journals that came my way back then. I had very little sympathy with
the Left Tendency in the Communist Party, of which Macintyre was a
part, and its Althusserian rhetorical leftist ultimatism. Their
standpoint seemed to me quite remote from any realistic Marxism that
could be applied to the problems of the Australian labour movement.
Later on, I became rather more aware of Macintyre's
historical work and I was excited by one of his two early books, A
(Cambridge University Press 1980), which was an intellectual history of
the influence of Marxism on the working-class founders of the British
Communist Party. In this book, Macintyre uniquely developed a study of
the phenomenon of autodidact proletarian intellectuals and their
encounter with Marxism, and the extraordinary way that this encounter
dominated the life of the early British Communist Party.
It struck me at the time how applicable this was to the
Communist Party, the early Trotskyist movement in Australia, and indeed
the Australian labour movement as a whole, because similar working
class autodidacts were the overwhelmingly dominant ideological force in
the Australian labour movement until very recently.
His other early book, Little Moscows (Croom Helm
study of some isolated working class communities in Britain, where the
Communist Party had been uniquely influential, I found also quite
interesting, although Macintyre's tendency to view those places and
events as a kind of Marxist antiquarian was already apparent in this
book, and in retrospect foreshadowed his later shift to the right
His earliest Australian book, written when he was getting
his academic start in Australia, in Perth, his very fine The Life
and Times of Paddy Troy (1984), is about the quintessential
Australian Communist autodidact trade union official.
Some of Macintyre's later Australian books, such as A
Colonial Liberalism: The Lost World of Three Victorian Visionaries
(1991, and The Labour Experiment (1988), Macintyre's own book
early development of the arbitration system, are extremely useful.
One thing that flows from my knowledge of his early work
does not seem reasonable to pass over the thrust and orientation of his
recent and more reactionary books, The Reds, the Oxford
Companion, and the Concise History,
with the ideological let-out that he may not know any better. Several
historians with whom I have discussed the book have agreed that some of
my major criticisms of the Concise History have merit, but they
have contended that the more obvious explanation for many of the
omissions I have raised is that Stuart Macintyre may have written this
book in something of a hurry, largely with the assistance of research
staff, after possibly being approached by the publishers with the idea
that, as Ernest Scott Professor, it would be appropriate to produce his
own Short History, as a kind of seal of academic eminence.
Even if this were so, I contend that the finished product
represents Macintyre's view of what a Concise History of Australia
ought to be, and therefore it must be criticised in detail by those who
have different ideas about what an accurate narrative would be in a
useful Concise History.
Macintyre's political encounter with Stalinism
Stuart Macintyre's early work showed considerable evidence
dramatic impact on him of the 1960s-70s radicalisation, which picked up
this product of the important establishment school, Scotch College,
with his conservative background, and initial patrician introspection
and diffidence, and thrust him into an encounter with the left wing of
the labour movement.
Unfortunately, that encounter was with the degenerate
Althusserian wing of the movement. In retrospect, in trying to explain
why this bloke, whose early books were so useful, has become such an
intellectual obstacle to the practice of a popular Australian history,
I advance the following possible explanation.
The Althusserianism that interacted with the more
Stalinism in the decaying Communist Party, where Macintyre got his
initial miseducation in Marxism, had some particular idiosyncracies.
The old Australian Stalinist Party had developed a certain
animosity to Catholics by reason of its long conflict with them in the
labour movement. It also had a rather Stalinist, jealous hostility to
all past labourite populism, particularly Langism, because of its
fierce competition with such currents, particularly when aggressive
High Stalinism was young, and populist Langism was at its peak in the
Macintyre seems to have taken over all of these Stalinist
wholesale, and they appear to have intertwined with his ancestral,
conservative, Melbourne establishment, British-Scottish prejudices,
probably repressed but possibly still active in his subconscious.
In recent times, all these accumulated prejudices appear
have come into play as his political, social and cultural views have
shifted steadily back to the right in this period of episodic cultural
and political reaction (which won't be permanent, in my view, and will
inevitably be followed by new radicalisations).
It seems to me that in Macintyre's current historical
his early Melbourne establishment cultural formation and his middle
period of Stalinist training, are involved. He tends to adapt the
historical story to the concerns of the Anglophile section of the
ruling class and intelligentsia, to smooth out all the past episodes of
populism, and gloss over the past rebellions.
He gets rid of the past sectarian conflicts, presents a
assimilationist perspective towards recent migrants, introduces a few
fashionable "leftist" cultural postures, and drags in a bit of
Stalinist nostalgia to represent the radical past. All of this fits in
pretty well with his current situation as Dean of Arts, powerful figure
in the Melbourne University History Department, intellectual mover and
shaker among the more conservative sections of the Labor Party
leadership, and ministerial appointee to the committee overseeing David
Kemp's Curriculum Corporation in its revision of the history syllabus
of many Australian schools.
All his background and experiences, both from his
origins and his middle period of encounter with Stalinism, equip him
rather well for these current roles. I wasn't particularly surprised,
from this point of view, when he inferred in his lecture at the Sydney
Labor History Conference, that he had voted no in the recent Republic
I'm angry with Macintyre, because, as he has shifted to
he seems to have forgotten the useful things he discovered writing the
Paddy Troy biography and A Proletarian Science, and it seems
that the prejudice and cultural mystification built into the
establishment tradition from which he came, and the Stalinist movement
where he received his initial political miseducation in Stalinist
Marxism, have come together to profoundly influence his historical
Stuart Macintyre's grey armband history: "cultural
history", very little human sympathy, and a general absence of
In the magazine, Overland, of May 1989, there is a
full-page review by Stuart Macintyre of Russel Ward's important
autobiography A Radical Life.
The tone of this review is respectful and includes the following:
"Finally, there is the story of how Russel Ward came to write The
Australian Legend, that seminal codification of the national past
... The Australian Legend
distilled these experiences and explored their historical genesis,
establishing Russel Ward as a leading member of what is called the Old
Left. His leftism was real and passionate, and the scars left by
victimisation are apparent as he rehearses his experiences at the hands
of the cold warriors of the University of NSW. The book concludes with
his appointment to the University of New England; the radical life
It is useful to consider the context of this courteous and
intelligent review. Macintyre's views had obviously not evolved so far
to the right on historical matters as they have now. Macintyre then was
more junior on the academic historical ladder, and Russel Ward was
regarded quite rightly as a major Australian left democratic historian,
at the height of his literary and historical powers.
In other articles around that time Macintyre repeated this
kind of positive appraisal of The Australian Legend,
which he had so harshly criticised in the 1970s. In the intervening
decade between 1989 and 1999, the intellectual climate in Australian
historiography has shifted to the right, Macintyre himself being one of
the significant influences in that shift. All the radical democratic
leftist historians whom Macintyre so condescendingly dismisses as the
Old Left, except Robin Gollan, are now deceased, and obviously can't
argue back without the use of a oiuja board, and Macintyre no longer
proclaims himself as the representative of the New Left, as he once did.
Sniffing this colder, more reactionary atmosphere in
history, which he helped create, Macintyre now returns to pretty much
what he said in the 1970s, expressed in a more radically conservative
way. In his Concise History, on page 219, Macintyre writes:
As before, when confronted with the failure of millennial
expectations, the left retreated into a nostalgic idealisation of
national traditions. Its writers, artists and historians turned from
the stultifying conformity of the suburban wilderness to the memories
of an older Australia that was less affluent and more generous, less
gullible and more vigilant of its liberties, less timorous and more
independent. In works such as The Australian Tradition (1958), The
Australian Legend (1958) and The Legend of the Nineties
(1954), the radical nationalists reworked the past (they passed quickly
over the militarism and xenophobia in the national experience) to
assist them in their present struggles. Try as they might to revive
these traditions, the elegaic note was clear. The radical nationalists
codified the legend of laconic, egalitarian, stoical mateship just as
modernising forces of change were erasing the circumstances that had
given rise to that legend. While the radical romance faded, the
conservative courtship of national sentiment prospered.
The pompous tone of the above speaks for itself. The
these influential books, Russel Ward, Vance Palmer and A.A. Phillips,
are neither named, nor are their books mentioned, in Macintyre's
bibliography or index.
They are treated by the overweening Macintyre as
examples of a cultural trend, rather than, as they then were, living
breathing historians, with a point of view of some importance. In
retrospect, the working class solidarity that they "elegaicly"
celebrated wasn't nearly as extinct as Macintyre claims.
The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were in fact a period of
improvement in working class wages and conditions, achieved, in the
framework of the so called postwar settlement, by the well tried, and
long practiced means of working class and trade union agitation. This
involved sporadic use of industrial action combined with judicious
exploitation of the arbitration mechanisms by unions.
These improvements of working class living standards,
quite spectacular, were also advanced by the conflict and competition
between left and right in the labour movement for support, which
resulted in both general factions, in their own particular ways,
pushing for and achieving steady incremental improvements for the
The high point of this process was a result of the
the penal clauses after the O'Shea upheaval in 1969, which led directly
to the dramatic explosion of improvements in wages and conditions
between 1972 and 1982 (which infuriated the Australian bourgeoisie).
Macintyre largely ignores this development, or even
not a good thing, in his implicit proposition that the postwar
settlement was unsustainable. The few times when Macintyre's own,
rather dry, prose becomes anything like elegaic, are when he is
implicitly celebrating the end of the postwar settlement with the
advent of globalisation, accords and deregulation of the financial
system during the period of the Hawke and Keating governments.
"Cultural studies" meets and mates with conservative
academic history, to produce a kind of mule: grey armband history
Like many other literate Australians I have gradually
at the disdainful, dismissive, half-smart, supercilious tone of much of
what is called, these days "cultural studies".
Keith Windschuttle's useful book, The Killing of
(which Macintyre wisely ignores both in the Concise History and
the bibliography), expresses in its title one of the main aspects of
this cultural phenomenon.
The abstruse nature of a lot of "cultural studies",
the contemptuous tone often adopted towards popular culture and many
other human activities, is a contributing factor to a decline in the
number of students studying disciplines such as history, in which
"cultural studies" is now so influential.
I don't want to go overboard in this criticism of
and "gender studies", as a number of books and articles written in this
idiom are both civilised and useful, for example, Raelene
Francis's book, The Politics of Work in Victoria, 1880-1940
(Cambridge University Press, Sydney, 1993), Peter Spearritt and David
Walker's Australian Popular Culture, Bruce Scates's A New
about the 1890s, and many others. Nevertheless, it seems to me that
many books and articles in this area are abstract and trivial and
contemptuous of popular social practices, and that unfortunately this
mode is coming to dominate these two fields.
From the political right (John Howard, Michael Duffy and
there is another kind of attack on Australian history, which
deliberately makes an amalgam between cultural studies and important
critical historians such as Henry Reynolds, Robert Hughes and others,
and condemns all critical history wholesale: the very useful with the
totally useless, accusing them all of producing "black armband history".
This attack by reactionaries such as Howard is assisted by
absurdist quality of much cultural studies in the field of history. In
the interests of intellectual clarity and re-establishing Australian
popular history in its proper critical role, I think it important to
make a new distinction between the important "black armband"
historians, such as Henry Reynolds, Robert Hughes, Manning Clark and
Russel Ward, who make an enormous positive contribution to Australian
culture, and another, more negative genre, to which I now officially
give the title "grey armband historians".
The bloodline of grey armband history is conservative
British-Australian official history as the stallion, with the most
dismissive sort of cultural studies as the mare. Macintyre is the
obvious candidate for major eminent person and head of the field in
this significant new genre.
How grey armband history works
Stuart Macintyre's Concise History is a very
example of this new discipline, and how it is organised and
constructed. Its intellectual antecedents include books like Ronald
Conway's The Great Australian Stupor and Jonathan King's Waltzing
Materialism, which were best-sellers a few years ago.
These books' unifying feature was a wholesale assault on
cultural and social practices of Australians, both working class and
middle class, with an implicit standpoint derived from high culture,
eternal verities and a uniformly unpleasant carping tone in their
attacks on the allegedly fatally materialistic stream of Australian
Much of the cultural studies idiom in Australian history
over the standpoint and style of those two books in spades. The tone
throughout Macintyre's Short History is, most of the time,
distainful, grand and supercilious, particularly when discussing
ordinary people's social practices and social life.
The exceptions to this emphasis are when Macintyre is
rather reverently, the unifying nature of Anzac during the First World
War, and the "modernising" activities of the Hawke and Keating
This posture is adopted particularly sharply in relation
such as agriculture, the Snowy Scheme, current mass migration,
manufacturing industry, the postwar social and economic settlement,
"elegaic" attachment to working class solidarity in the style of Russel
Ward, and almost anything else that interferes with this
Macintyre-Dixson version of modernising bourgeois British-Australia,
with its naturally hegemonic "Anglo-Celtic core culture".
It is hardly necessary to point out how well this
and construction fits in, generally, with the perceived interests and
strategic orientations of major fractions of the ruling class in
rapidly "globalising" modern Australia.
Macintyre's mating of conservative British-Australia
history with cultural studies produces an offspring in which the bad
genes of both parents predominate.
Macintyre and racism
The "left" face of Macintyre's construction is a constant
past racist and sexist practices, particularly of the working class. In
this way he makes ritual obeisance to the mood prevailing in the
currently fashionable and powerful cultural studies and gender studies
In discussing past racism and sexism, however, Macintyre
notes the activities of many minorities that have fought, often
ultimately successfully, against racism and sexism. An exception to
this neglect is when he ascribes the only important past activity
against anti-Aboriginal racism to the Communist Party, which is really
a quite unbalanced approach.
Australian history is peppered with all sorts of radical
religious groups and individuals who fought against racism. For the
19th century this is documented thoroughly in Henry Reynolds' most
recent book, This Whispering in Our Hearts.
Macintyre's undialectical airbrushing out of almost all of
minorities that fought against racism tends to make the eventual
overthrow of the White Australia Policy, and the legal removal of the
bars to many Aboriginal rights, mysterious and inexplicable in his
narrative, but it is entirely consistent with his dismissiveness
towards most Australian popular movements.
Macintyre and the struggle for women's rights
Stuart Macintyre's treatment of sexism and the struggle
emancipation is worthy of note. He adopts the currently fashionable
standpoint of some conservative feminists by giving extended
recognition and praise to the 19th century temperance movement.
He notes the fact that Australian women got the vote in
and the Commonwealth well before the rest of the world, but he hardly
notices the fact that this was a direct product of the broad struggle
in the Australian colonies for basic democratic rights, spearheaded in
this instance by Australian feminists but largely accepted and even
supported by civilised forces among Australian men.
This demonstrable and important political fact about
in Australia does not prevent Macintyre from asserting a generally
gloomy, rather inaccurate, but currently fashionable, proposition that
Australia was more or less universally sexist in the past.
Needless to say, he pays no recognition to Portia
Robinson's The Women of Botany Bay, an important work on
women, and Grace Karskens' useful book, The Rocks: Life in Early
(Melbourne University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-522-84722-6), both of which
illustrate the way many convict women managed to improve their
situation and assert their independence, and were by no means the
totally hopeless, hapless victims that many historical narratives
present them as.
Later, Macintyre blandly ascribes the achievement of equal
equal work for women to a ruling by the Arbitration Commission,
ignoring the long popular movement, led mainly by women in the trade
unions, that produced that Arbitration Court determination.
The lifelong agitation and effective organisation of trade
such as Muriel Heagney and Edna Ryan for equal pay and equal rights for
women is abolished from Macintyre's narrative. This long struggle of
women in Australia for equality and full social and economic rights,
therefore tends to disappear against a backdrop of more or less
When reviewing the past, it is obvious that a lot of
racist and sexist a lot of the time. What was significant and
exceptional about the Australian experience, however, was the earliness
of major achievements, such as the uniquely early achievement of votes
for women, and the establishment of child endowment in the Lang period
in New South Wales.
Despite the culturally prevailing sexism, material
as this shifted the social norms dramatically and laid the basis for
further improvements in women's rights and expectations, which ought to
produce a more favourable assessment of past gains for women in
Australia. Not so for our Stuart.
In the Concise History, official history out of
studies produces a very gloomy version of past women's struggles, which
precludes much optimism in his concluding chapter about future
improvements for women.
Macintyre isn't too keen on explorers
In Quadrant last year, there appeared an important and
article on current educational problems by the disenchanted leftist,
and now rather conservative educational historian, Alan Barcan. This
article was an overview of the crisis in curriculum that has emerged in
Australian education, particularly the teaching of history.
Some parts of Barcan's critique are useful and correct.
points with which I agree is that omitting from the history curriculum
many of the basic historical facts that used to be taught is a big
practical mistake. For instance, the exploration of Australia was part
of the British imperial conquest of these colonies, but it was also an
intrinsically important part of the historical record.
In his careful, ritual obeisance to cultural studies,
however, follows the current fashion. Many of the explorers are
eliminated from his narrative. No Hume and Hovell, no Edward John Eyre,
A populist or leftist Australian history could easily
discoveries and then make a point about British imperialism by
mentioning in passing the barbarous aspects of his later career as
governor of Jamaica, where he judicially murdered part of the
population of a rebellious village.
None of this kind of thing for Macintyre, either the
of the explorers, or the opportunity for the exposure of British
Another feature of Macintyre's book is its careful
middle-of-the-road character in its mating official history with
cultural studies. All the populist historians I have mentioned at
length here are left out, but so are the most extreme, but rather
significant and influential postmodernists writing in Australian
Debates about Australian history don't make it into
Macintyre's narrative either. Postmodernists such as Greg Dening, who
wrote Mr Bligh's Bad Language, and Paul Carter, who wrote The
Road to Botany Bay,
irritate me with their extreme cultural studies style and analysis, but
nevertheless there is no question that they are extremely influential
in current Australian historiography. To leave them and their books out
of the narrative and the bibliography, as Macintyre does, is almost as
intellectually unbalanced as leaving out Russel Ward, Brian Fitzpatrick
or Black Jack McEwan.
Macintyre is clearly trying to stake out an extremely
centre ground, for his grey armband history, consolidating the major
recognised conservative academic historians in a narrative and alliance
with the more conservative practitioners of cultural studies, to
produce a new academic orthodoxy.
The problem with this Macintyre academic orthodoxy is that
it is almost unrecognisable as useful Australian history.
No Proletarian Science. Macintyre ditches
dialectics. Rather conservative politics, little religion, and almost
A close friend of mine who was brought up in a
conservative Protestant family environment often jokes, that in that
social environment the basic rule of etiquette was that politics,
religion and sex were not discussed in polite society, and this social
code was quite frequently expressed explicitly in just those words.
In my view, Macintyre has managed to observe a fair part
this convention in his Concise History. Some politics are
mentioned, but they are pretty, high
politics with very little radical dissent recognised. There is almost
no religion in the narrative, and I couldn't find much sex.
Macintyre's book suffers from a lack of robust dialectical
juxtaposition of people and events. What I mean by this statement can
be illuminated by comparing Macintyre to a range of other historians as
diverse as Robin Gollan, Susanna Short, Robert Murray, Shirley
Fitzgerald and Michael Cannon. With different standpoints, Marxist,
left liberal, and conservative, all these historians produce powerfully
interesting social history by proceeding in what Marxists generally
describe as a dialectical way. They treat conflicting social groups and
historical actors as important in their own right, try to describe how
those people saw the world, and describe, in a warm-hearted way, the
conflicts between these individuals and social groups.
Shirley Fitzgerald and Michael Cannon, describing social
developments, urban history and economic developments from a generally
left liberal point of view, often including a fair bit of muck-raking,
still ascribe, even to people that they criticise, a certain integrity
and autonomy, and even when they are discussing such chaotic events as
the pell mell development of Sydney, or the 1890s crash in Victoria,
capture something of the human enthusiasms of all the players involved,
without too much moralism.
Susanna Short, in her incomparable biography of her
Short, gives a careful and interesting account of both her old man's
outlook at each stage in his contradictory development, and something
of the outlook of all the different conflicting groups, the Stalinists,
the Trotskyists, the Catholic Groupers, the ordinary Laborites and
Langites, etc. These people really come to life in Susanna's book.
In my view, Bob Gollan's book on the Communist Party, Revolutionaries
and reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement
(Melbourne University Press, 1975) is infinitely superior to
Macintyre's longer Communist Party history. A Communist himself,
Gollan, as a vantage point for understanding the history of the
Communist Party, counterposes to the CPA's own view of itself the
standpoint of the Trotskyists and the Catholics who were in conflict
with it, which illuminates his narrative immensely.
Bob Murray, who is a right-winger in his basic political
outlook, has written three very important books of Australian history, The
Split, about the ALP split in the 1950s, The Ironworkers
about the history of that union, and his delightful book The
Confident Years, Australia in the 1920s.
Murray carefully distances his own views from his account
events he describes and goes to considerable pains to describe the
interaction between the interests and point of view of all the players,
large and small, in the historical dramas he is recounting. It's worth
just giving the chapter headings of The Confident Years: Fit
for Heroes, The Political World of Billy Hughes, Post-war
Labor, The Big Fella, Packer, Murdoch, Fairfax and Co,
Bruce-Page Australia, The Golden Years, After
the Bulletin, Workers and Bosses, Countdown to
Robert Murray as a dialectician
Political conservative though he may be, but Murray's way
proceeding seems, to this Marxist, to be impecably dialectical, and an
extremely useful way to write Australian history.
Murray's narrative benefits from a certain enthusiasm for
economic development and a knack for writing entertaining social and
economic history. He gives a very thorough account of economic and
social developments: how many cars were registered, how many people
went to the movies, the growth of manufacturing industry, that sort of
thing, in a way that meshes in very well with the overall thrust of the
The Confident Years is a very counterpoint to
cultural studies approach to writing Australian history, particularly
when you compare Macintyre's handling of the 1920s with Murray's.
Another sphere that Macintyre ignores is popular history.
Macintyre's historical scholarship might benefit from a bit of research
into the 60 year-old, seven-day-a-week historical features in the
reactionary Sydney tabloid, The Telegraph Mirror. These
historical features have often been a good deal more radical than the
implacably reactionary content of the rest of the newspaper and,
particularly recently, they have been a rather good example of how to
present history in a popular and discursive way for a broad audience.
The people and events covered in these useful historical
almost never make it into Macintyre's dry account. Monica Heary, who
frequently writes these features, recently wrote a very useful article
about the internal political conflicts in Australia during the First
World War, which left Macintyre's account of these events for dead.
She used roughly the same number of words Macintyre
topic in his book. Monica Heary, the busy features journalist, writing
to a deadline every day, nevertheless succeeded in working into her
narrative the General Strike of 1917 and the release of the IWW
frame-up victims thanks to Percy Brookfield's use of his balance of
power in the Parliament. Obviously, this is partly because newspaper
history writing involves looking for exciting and important events to
move the narrative along.
Macintyre's history writing might benefit from studying
this Telegraph-Mirror historiographical school and going back
through the historical features morgue of the Telegraph Mirror.
In the 1970s we had the "debate on class". In the year
we desperately need the "debate on Australian history"
In the introduction to his Concise History,
proclaims that the Australian Research Council gave him a grant to
write the book, and it's clear from the considerable power that he now
holds as Dean of Arts, Ernest Scott Professor, member of the
Vice-Chancellor's Committee of Melbourne University, and historical
adviser to one of Federal Minister David Kemp's committees, that Stuart
Macintyre is now an enormously influential intellectual figure in the
organisation and teaching of Australian history.
It would be naive to think that, in the full plenitude of
and influence, he did not write this book in the expectation and hope
of it becoming a kind of new orthodoxy.
The careful way in which it is organised, drawing together
conservative historiography and "cultural studies" in a kind of grey
Anglo middle ground, indicates the kind of historical orthodoxy which
Macintyre wishes to lay out for us and obviously desires to predominate.
In the conversation at afternoon tea at the Labor History
Conference, Macintyre made a fourth point to me, a point he has made on
several other occasions.
He claimed that, in his history teaching, he finds that
undergraduates don't seem initially to know very much about past
Australian history, and that because of this you end up with a better
teaching result if you do not overburden them with relatively
unimportant details, such as names, explorers and superseded conflicts.
Macintyre seems to indicate that, as we live in a
we should dispense with many of the past complications, and look boldly
towards the homogenised future. He seems to think this is what the
young expect of us. He summarises this outlook in the last, rather
self-serving paragraph of the acknowledgements in the Concise
The book is aimed also at a younger generation of Australians who
are poorly served by a school curriculum in which history has become a
residual. I have dedicated it to my two daughters, born in England,
raised in Australia, who have too often had their father play the
pedagogue and all along have been instructing him in their interests
In my view, Macintyre uses the historical interests of his
as a surrogate for his own deliberate and considered historical
conservatism. In the course of running my up, middle and down-market
bookshop, in Newtown in inner-urban Sydney, I come into constant
contact with many of everybody's sons and daughters, at least the sons
and daughters who come into bookshops.
I find the variety of their historical interests and
wider than those Macintyre encounters, according to his description in
the Concise History. Many of these people are the children of
migrants from many countries, or migrants themselves.
I recently had for sale in my shop, as a cheap publisher's
remainder, a rather good book on the history of Greeks in Australia. It
sold extremely well and generated considerable interest among younger
Barry York's book on the Maltese in Australia sold very
often to people of Maltese background. Eric Rolls's book on the Chinese
in Australia sells extremely well to young Chinese. None of those
books, or any other books about the history of non-British migrants in
Australia, got any significant recognition in Macintyre's history or
made it into his bibliography.
Macintyre's self-fulfilling prophecy about young people
In my experience as a bookseller, our robust Australian
multiculture, and continuing mass migration, about both of which
Macintyre's Concise History is so elegantly sceptical, are
generating considerable interest in the history of past diversity and
conflict in Australia.
Unfortunately, these are just the elements that Macintyre
filter out of his historical narrative, as they are, he seems to
suggest, of little interest to the young.
In my view, the opposite holds. If we don't have a proper
grounding in our past conflicts and turmoils, how can we possibly
understand the future? There is nothing quite like conflict and
argument to gain the attention of people reading history.
Macintyre leans heavily on the unconvincing proposition
young are not too interested in history. Well, it is true that the
numbers studying history at a secondary and tertiary level have
dropped. That is far more a product of unwise past decisions and
present practices in relation to curriculum in schools and
universities, and the way history is taught, than to any intrinsic lack
of interest in Australian history.
Macintyre's approach to the teaching of history to the
self-fulfilling prophecy. Unless we teach students about all the
complexities of the Australian saga, in an interesting, quirky and
sympathetic way, of course they will be bored by Australian history and
won't tackle it.
If you present it to them in the bland and boring way that
tends to do, you will actually accelerate the process of decline in
scholastic interest in Australian history. I believe strongly that the
way to revive Australian history as a discipline is to include a
colourful and entertaining description and celebration of past
conflicts and diversity, and an intelligent observation of the
contradictory and complex present, to allow a colourful and interesting
future history the possibility to unfold.
What strikes me about Macintyre's approach, both in the
summarised in the paragraph at the end of the acknowledgements, is how
old-fashioned his approach is. It is the kind of historical approach
that prevailed in Australian history teaching until about the middle
1960s, and his Concise History could easily have been written
by a modern day version of Stephen Roberts.
My interest in Australian history grew out of an encounter
clandestine Catholic and Marxist versions of Australian and world
history that challenged the bland, triumphalist Anglo-British, Stephen
Roberts version of Australia of the 1950s, and if we have to commence
again teaching history in that slightly clandestine way, that's the way
the cookie crumbles, and a new generation will have to learn how to
effectively challenge the powerful big guys like Stuart Macintyre.
The self-confident and agressive way Stuart Macintyre
he can present his conservative Concise History as the basis
for a new orthodoxy in Australian historiography actually presents both
a challenge and an opportunity.
Those who wish for a more truthful, populist, Marxist,
radical Australian history to expand and develop, and to be taught to
the young at all levels, ought to grasp this opportunity with both
hands. We should broaden out the uncompleted, debate on class of the
1970s into a fuller and broader debate on Australian history,
challenging the outlook of Macintyre, John Howard, Michael Duffy,
Miriam Dixson and their like.
In such a proper debate, conducted in a sensible way among
writers and consumers of history, both old and young, my money is on
the clandestine and radical Australian historical tradition, which I
celebrate in this article, to prevail.
A further comment, based on letters I solicited,
criticising my document, from Stuart Macintyre and Bob Gollan
I have corrected, in this version, certain errors of
formulation and fact raised in letters kindly sent to me by the above,
commenting on my piece.
I have left unchanged several points to which they
their objections seemed to me to not be soundly based. For instance,
Stuart Macintyre says:
I do not attribute the fall of the Lang government to a split
in the Labor Party. Nor do I treat the Hawke government with reverence.
The question of reverence for the Hawke government is a matter of
In my view, after rereading the last section of the book,
reverence still seems clear to me. The point about Lang is quite
explicit. On page 177, Macintyre writes:
Similar splits brought down State Labor governments in New South Wales,
Victoria and South Australia.
could hardly be clearer than that: the Lang government was the only
state Labor government in NSW in the period he is discussing. Bob
Gollan and Stuart Macintyre both criticise my piece for highlighting
the question of Macintyre's presence on the Government curriculum
committee. (I initially confused the Curriculum Committee with its
subordinate body, the Curriculum Corporation, and I have corrected this
after Stuart Macintyre brought this confusion to my attention.)
I am not opposed, in principle, to Macintyre or anybody
accepting an appointment on Kemp's committee. If I was offered a place
on Kemp's committee, which is unlikely, I would probably accept the
appointment on condition that I could fight vigorously on that
committee for the views that I hold, which is, of course, the reason
that I'd be unlikely to be appointed, although stranger things have
I underline the fact that Stuart Macintyre holds these
positions because it seems relevant in the context of the views that he
appears to now hold, and that having these views he may well be a
further force for conservatism in these areas of his extended
influence, which is sad.
Bob Gollan responds on the question of sectarianism and
significance of the Irish Catholics, which is to me one of the most
important issues in dispute between me and Macintyre. He says:
But I am reminded that my old colleague Jim Griffin, who first
rang the church bells about this book, has a fixation on the Catholic
Church and community.
He also says:
I do find it difficult to enter a discussion in which Manning
Clark, Russel Ward, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ian Turner and Eris O'Brien are
put in the same basket. For example, one of the most intemperate
critics of Brian Fitzpatrick was Manning Clark.
My juxtaposition of the above historians, as in retrospect
representing a populist, democratic school of Australian
historiography, is quite deliberate. Whatever the differences that
existed between them, they all eventually came to a relative
commonality of interests and preoccupations on many questions.
Among the key questions that confronted them all
development of class and the emergence of a labour movement, the
discordant and oppositional role of the Irish Catholics in relation to
the British establishment in Australia, the enormous question of race
and genocide involved in the dispossession of the original Aboriginal
nation inhabiting the continent, and the question of racism, the White
Australia Policy, and migration in general.
Most of these historians began their inquiry by
bitter sectarian division that existed in Australian society from the
time of white settlement between the Irish Catholics and the British
ruling class (from whose ranks most of these historians themselves
Manning Clark, given his establishment Anglican
direct descendent of Samuel Marsden, is obviously fascinated by these
Russel Ward, in his autobiography (he had a similar
establishment background to Clark) points out that these cultural
conflicts dominated his early social and personal evolution. (Ward's
autobiography includes a moving vignette describing a visit to
Australia by R.H. Tawney, the notable English Christian socialist who
wrote the ground-breaking Religion and the Rise of Capitalism,
and the interesting and useful cross-fertilisation that took place
between himself, Manning Clark, Eris O'Brien, R.H. Tawney and other
historians during that visit. That vignette seems to me to symbolise
the drawing together of the left democratic school in Australian
historiography in that generation.)
Rodney Hall's biography of John Manifold describes
inquiry into the Irish origins of the ballads and a painful and
confronting element stemming from his Victorian Western District
The story is similar with Rupert Lockwood, also of
District establishment background. Lockwood's encounter with the
oppositional role of Irish Catholics was clearly a significant part of
his development, along with his involvement with the Communist Party.
It's not accidental that both these Communists, who came from the Anglo
ruling class of the Western District, and were converted to Communism
in the upheavals of the 1930s, were fascinated by the interface between
Irish Catholic Australians, the labour movement and socialism.
The Western District of Victoria had a much higher
Irish Catholic settlers than most other parts of Victoria. In the early
years of the labour movement, culminating in the conscription
upheavals, these Irish Catholics were in an extremely radical frame of
mind. They elected the Labor candidate, the Scottish socialist and poet
John McDougall, as the first federal member for Wannon, later Malcolm
Fraser's stronghold, in the first election after Federation.
Largely because of Irish Catholics, and sharpened by the
conscription struggle, the Western District remained a Labor stronghold
until the disastrous Labor Split of 1955, when many Labor supporters of
Irish Catholics descent shifted over electorally to the DLP, and
eventually to the Nationals.
During the White Guard paramilitary mobilisation during
Depression, the White Guard in the Western District was preparing to
occupy all the Catholic churches and schools as well as trade union
headquarters to prevent revolution. This is all described at length in
a useful article in Labor History 10 years ago, and it's also
studied from another direction, in Paul Adams' recent study of the
Communist novelist, Frank Hardy, who was of working-class Catholic
background and came from Bacchus Marsh, in the Western District.
Nothing in life and society is ever lost, and the seat of
in north-western Victoria has recently come back into play, being lost
by the Nationals to one of the three independents who just put the
Bracks Labor government into power in Victoria.
Macintyre's historiography, which neglects the complex and
impact of the Irish Catholics on Australian history and the labour
movement, is very poverty-striken and narrow.
The significance of the Irish Catholics in Australian life
described in Bernard Smith's important autobiography, in which he
describes how he wavered between the Catholic Church and the Communist
Party before eventually joining the CP.
The striking thing about the British establishment's
of Australian historiography, represented by Ernest Scott, Arnold Wood,
Arthur Jose and all the other Whig writers of school and university
history textbooks, before the cultural revolution of the 1950s and
1960s, was the doggedly ruthless way they eliminated the Irish
Catholics, the labour movement, and matters such as the battles over
conscription and Langism, from their narratives.
In retrospect, the painful, moving and interesting way in
people like Russel Ward, Manning Clark, Rupert Lockwood and Bernard
Smith came to terms with these past cultural developments and
introduced into the story these major players was a big leap in
Macintyre's historical revisionism, in which he reverts to
century Whig elimination of major historical actors and currents in his
historical story, must be contested in the interests of a comprehensive
and balanced historical narrative.
Macintyre's modernised adherence to the Whig school of
historiography is demonstrated negatively by his elimination from his
narrative of all the issues and individuals and events that I have
enumerated above, and positively by his obvious animosity to the
earlier school of populist democratic, leftist, Catholic Australian
It is also demonstrated by his deliberate repetition of
bigotted, religiously based bias against Caroline Chisholm.
In my view, Macintyre's narrative represents the Whig
Australian-British establishment history, modernised, with a dash of
Stalinism, and one major progressive innovation, a lengthy and quite
proper attention to Aboriginal history.
In my view, Macintyre's glib elimination of the Irish
in the 19th century, and his cursory treatment of the huge mass
migration since the 1940s that has totally changed the ethnic make-up
of Australia, are both unscientific. He treats these issues as if they
were insignificant side-shows.
This is an almost terminal defect in any Concise
Such a history can be any length you like (within reason), but I would
favour a concise history about 100 pages longer, with the additions
including a more lengthy and more balanced account of the development
of the labour movement and class conflict, and major attention to the
oppositional role of the Irish Catholics.
I would also include a celebratory and more detailed
account of the development of mass migration from all areas of the
commenced in the teeth of the British Australia racism of the 19th
century and continues now, when all the other tribes beneath the wind
are now a comfortable majority of Australian society, and
multiculturalism, for all its defects at the official level, is now the
thoroughly healthy prevailing ethos in Australian society.
June 26, 2000