Stuart Macintyre's The Reds
A bland, overly nostalgic and essentially Stalinist
company history of Australian Communism
By Bob Gould
I must initially state my personal standpoint in relation to
book. I have been rather a fan of some of Macintyre's historical
writing. I find three of his other books exceedingly useful: Proletarian
Science, about the ideological and intellectual climate that
produced the foundation leaders of the British Communist Party; Militant,
the intelligent and revealing biography of Western Australian
waterfront union leader Paddy Troy; and, in another vein, the
reflective examination of 19th century liberalism in the state of
Macintyre is a competent historian in territory where either
past Althusserian Stalinist ideological outlook or his present social
democratic neoliberal slightly postmodern viewpoint, or both together,
are not a hopeless obstacle to the inquiry. Unfortunately, neither
stand-point, or more particularly, Macintyre's conflating of the two,
is any use in producing an objective institutional history of any
Macintyre has produced a kind of company history of Australian
communism. As with almost all sponsored histories, Macintyre makes the
usual statement that the Search Foundation did not try to influence him
in writing the book. Nevertheless, the book has all the features common
to most sponsored company and institutional histories, of the material
being organised in such a way as to meet the sensibilities of the
present directors of the old firm.
The book has a difficult and rather curious history. The
conceived about eight years ago in the period when the Communist Party
leadership's 100 per cent support for the ALP-ACTU Prices and Incomes
Accord, combined with the overthrow of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, had
thrown the organisation into constant ideological and practical crisis
and terminal decline.
During the development of the project the Communist Party went
of business, and its very considerable assets of $6-$9 million were
handed over to a body called the Search Foundation. This outfit is
fairly tightly controlled by a group, the core of which is the extended
Aarons family, who were in charge of the equally tightly controlled
rump of the CPA at the time of its dissolution.
Macintyre and Andrew Wells, another left-wing academic (from
Wollongong University) were retained to write the CP history. Wells
later dropped out. Macintyre, via a research grant, also retained the
services of the redoubtable functionary, Bev Symons, as research
assistant on the project. As a byproduct of the project, Bev produced,
in 1994, her wonderful Bibliography of Australian Communism,
which has proved to be a very useful volume indeed, and an infinitely
superior work to Macintyre's history.
It's a pity Bev's demonstrated and considerable research
not directed at a number of the hidden episodes of Australian Communism
which still, unfortunately, remain somewhat hidden after Macintyre's
first volume, as I'll discuss later in this article.
Before I commence my major criticisms of the book, I have to
that despite the very unpleasant impact that it makes on me because of
its major whitewashing of Stalinism, it is, like the curate's egg, good
in parts. Particularly in the first half of the book, Macintyre
assembles a lot of interesting material in a pretty accessible way,
some of it, though by no means all of it, new.
Unfortunately, Macintyre's obvious animosity to all the major
founders of Australian communism, and their political outlook and
interests, gives a rather nasty edge even to this interesting material.
Nevertheless, despite the high price, people with a serious interest in
the history of the Australian labour movement should acquire, read and
keep the book, but read it along with other books that bear on the
topic, and with a highly critical eye.
In my view, any serious history of a communist party or
has to face up squarely to the Stalinisation of the Russian Revolution,
communism and communist parties, and the effect this Stalinisation had
on the project of mobilising the labour movement and the working class
for the traditional objective of the overthrow of capitalism and the
construction of socialism.
This necessarily has to involve a serious and comprehensive
the interaction between communism, communist parties and the broader
labour movement, and the impact on this process produced by Stalinism.
To write useful and objective history in this territory, it is an
enormous advantage, in fact, probably a necessity, to have some
developed idea of what Stalinism actually was as a social and
Macintyre rejects much of the critique of the major analyst of
Stalinism, Leon Trotsky, and his detailed description and analysis of
the nature of Stalinism.
Although, at various points in the book, there are lengthy,
ponderous asides about Stalinism, they all remain at a level of
hopelessly abstract generalisation, all of which boil down to the
proposition that Leninism and the Russian revolutionary project were
deformed from birth and led directly to Stalinism.
Nowhere in the book is there any sustained description of the
process of the development of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, involving
as it did, an effective counter-revolution against Lenin and Leninism,
or, for that matter, any sustained description of its awful and
murderous consequences in the Soviet Union, in which the old Bolsheviks
of all factions, including both the major oppositions and the Stalin
faction, were exterminated by Stalin and his supporters.
The consequences of this approach are that The Reds
narrowly focused, rather flat institutional history of the Communist
Party from its foundation to the invasion of Russia in 1941, with the
interaction between the Communist Party and the broader labour movement
downplayed, and major difficult and complex incidents in the history
treated cursorily or smoothed over.
In fact, the Stalinisation of the Communist Party in 1929, and
"high Stalinism" of the Communist Party in the 1930s, are treated
essentially sympathetically in contrast with the alleged amateurism of
the CPA in the 1920s. Macintyre's approach to his history of the CPA
owes something to Edward Bernstein's famous aphorism: "The movement is
everything. The end nothing."
This kind of approach to the history of the CPA produces a
unbalanced book, dripping with dubious Stalinist nostalgia, combined
with masses of interesting but mostly slightly vicious anecdotes
directed against individuals in conflict with the Stalinist apparatus.
A number of the major events that are difficult to handle from this
point of view are barely mentioned.
By way of contrast, Robin Gollan's smaller, but politically
more comprehensive, book on the history of the Communist Party, Revolutionaries
published 20 years ago, faces up much more squarely to the question of
Stalinism by way of creating a dialectical interaction between the
views of the Communist Party on the one hand and the Trotskyists and
the Catholics on the other, to give an idea of what all the fighting
Macintyre largely avoids this kind of contrast via conflict
while he mentions and discusses several other books on the history of
Australian communism, such as Alistair Davidson's over-optimistic book,
he avoids engaging with Gollan's approach to this history, and only
mentions Gollan's seminal book once, in passing.
Macintyre is extremely ungenerous to other scholars, and
intellectually evasive in relation to some of the key political issues
raised implicitly in his history. For instance, the study of the Third
Period in the history of the Australian Communist Party is hardly
virgin territory. There are two major contributions to study of this
The first is International Socialism and Australian Labour
Frank Farrell, of the history department at the University of New South
Wales. Once again, Macintyre mentions this book in a footnote in
relation to a minor matter (although it doesn't make it into the index).
However, Farrell's book, published in 1981 in three exhaustive
thorough chapters, particularly focuses, in a much more comprehensive
way than Macintyre, on the impact of Third Period on the socialist
project in the broader labour movement, and on the CP's influence on
the broader labour movement in this period.
Farrell's conclusion on the experience of the Third Period is
Clearly, Third Period Communism hindered rather than helped the
overall radicalisation of the labour movement in the early depression
years. Of all the left-wing groups outside the CPA only the IWW can be
said to have been won over to Communism, and even then there was some
dissent. Thus the CPA in these years remained essentially a party of
the unemployed, and largely isolated from organised labour. Its logical
allies in the socialist movement had been forced either to merge with
right-wing forces or become inactive. The net effect was to weaken the
forces of the left. Despite the growth of conditions favourable to the
propagation of socialism, left-wing initiatives lacked overall
direction, and working-class radicalism was divided on itself.
Macintyre is particularly churlish in relation to the matter
Comintern archives pertaining to Australia. He baldly mentions that
they have been deposited in an Australian library, and once again, he
mentions Barbara Curthoys in relation to some minor matter. However, he
doesn't mention that Barbara Curthoys spent her own money to make the
necessary trip to Moscow at the last possible moment, so to speak, in
the early 1990s, and retrieved, at some expense, copies of this
material and deposited it in the National library.
She then proceeded to write a major study of the Stalinisation
the Communist Party in 1929 and 1930 on the basis of the new material,
available from the Comintern documents, and her article was then
published in Labor History, the journal of the Labour History
Curthoys' conclusions from her major study of the material are
unsimilar to Frank Farrell's, quoted above, but they gained strength
from the new material retrieved from the Comintern archives. While we
all know that scholars can be a bit petty and small-minded in relation
to this kind of thing, as Macintyre's political conclusion is to give
an overall favourable emphasis to the "straightening of the line" in
the Third Period, he might at least have attempted some direct
engagement with the contrary view of Farrell and Curthoys, and common
courtesy might have led him to mention Barbara Curthoys' enterprising
individual project, in his otherwise voluminous acknowledgements.
MacIntyre's tricky periodisation and his conclusions
Macintyre's choice of cutoff point for this history is
part of the political nature of his project. By finishing at the moment
of the German invasion of Russia, he avoids the most striking and
difficult epochs in the history of Australian communism, the pro-war
orgy during the Second World War, the ultraleftism in the postwar
period leading up to the 1949 coal strike, the attempt to suppress
Krushchev's exposure of Stalin, the Sino-Soviet dispute, the support
for the Prices-Incomes Accord, the many splits, and the demise of the
On form, it is a dubious proposition that the second volume
ever see the light of day. In the eight years since the inception of
the project, Macintyre himself has made the evolution from an
Althusserian semi-Stalinist to featured speaker at major ALP
intellectual events, more or less explicitly justifying the ALP's shift
to the right in recent times.
If the same time span is applied to the second volume, it's
unimaginable what the political terrain will be, or what Macintyre's
own views and interests will be, in the year 2006. The possible timing
and size of the second volume becomes even more eccentric if we look at
the period covered: 1920 to 1940 is 20 years, 1940 to 1990 is 50 years.
If the second volume were to go by the period covered, the
volume will appear in about 2017, in time for the 100th anniversary of
the October Revolution, and incidentally, be 1200 pages long, which is
likely to give Allen and Unwin, the publisher, a corporate heart attack.
Macintyre is a bit cute however. He has it both ways. He still
plucks out of the air a concluding balancesheet on communism and the
Communist Party. This balance sheet, because of his chosen
periodisation, sidesteps the need for a clear and honest total
appraisal, but it still deserves careful study. In this conclusion, he
rejects all critiques of Stalinism based on the conflict between
Stalinism and the interests of the working class and socialism,
globally or nationally.
He dismisses such critiques as what he calls "fideism". He's a
one for pithy, but rather obscure words and classifications, is our
Macintyre. But he concludes that the net effect of Stalinism in the
1930s was to create a wonderfully effective political outfit. He makes
a very revealing observation on the Communist Party and academics and
intellectuals, and he even reinforces traditional Stalinist prejudices
with the striking aside that "but there were no Communist academics
other than John Anderson, whose ill-starred intervention into the
party's affairs confirmed members' suspicions of halls of learning."
What a nasty little sentence that is. Anderson's major
into the CPA's affairs was his principled and determined rejection of
the early Stalinisation of the CP, and then his participation as a
founding member in the first Trotskyist group in Australia. To
Macintyre, "premature" revolt against Stalinism is obviously Anderson's
This is a little reminiscent of the great arguments amongst
left-wing intellectuals. One of my own intellectual heroes, the
redoubtable American novelist Mary McCarthy, recounts in her memoirs
that she was still widely condemned in the 1970s by many American
Stalinists and liberals for her "premature" anti-Stalinism in the 1930s.
The whole flavour of Macintyre's book is an implied, and often
explicit, condemnation of anyone who broke with the CP, for their
"premature" anti-Stalinism. The florid and gee-whiz nature of
Macintyre's attitude to his imagined Communist Party of the 1930s is
encapsulated in the last 15 lines of the book:
The Party channelled the spirit of rebellion into obedience,
banished transgression, imposed regularity: of all sins in the
communist lexicon, that of anarchy was the most reprehensible. Its
emphasis on unity, firmness and control, its mistrust of spontaneity
and local initiative, gave it a formidable capacity to direct campaigns
and to withstand campaigns against it. The very qualities that enabled
it to withstand illegality during the Second World War fatally
compromised its revolutionary mission. Unlike the Wobblies, those
unbending rebels who owed allegiance only to their principles,
disdained all subterfuge and were ground under the iron heel, the
Communist Party of Australia tied its fortunes to a foreign
dictatorship, persisted with its own iron discipline and survived.
Embattled and defiant, it still expected to keep its appointment with
Wow! And if you didn't quite get the message that the
movement was the best of all possible worlds in the labour movement of
the period 1929-89, cop this piece of purple prose, also from the
For in the end they were not defeated but rather succumbed.
Some fell by the wayside, to be sure, and some retreated into an
imaginary world in which time stood still and Khrushchev had never
revealed Stalin's crimes, but the best of them remained true to their
ideals, confronted the past as well as the future, and continued to
organise and agitate. Whether or not they retained a formal connection,
the CPA remained their party. Time did not so much vanquish the
obduracy and ardour of these ageing comrades so much as it thinned
their ranks, depleted their audience and removed the landmarks of their
politics. As in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, there was no last
heroic stand but an accumulation of failures, a growing realisation
that the cause could not be salvaged. They did not yield to their
enemies, they terminated the party as defiantly as they had created and
I will demonstrate what I means by the unbalanced and
special-pleading nature of Macintyre's book by reference to two
defining events treated completely summarily. It is not accidental that
both these major episodes relate to the question of the Communist
Party's relationship to the broader labour movement.
The first is the question of the socialisation units organised
the NSW Labor Party in partial conflict with the Lang machine in
1931-32. This upheaval is well described in Robert Cooksey's little
book, Lang and Socialism. A major and promising socialisation
movement in the NSW ALP came into conflict with the Lang machine and
had to cope with a brutal second front from within, from a Communist
Party faction led by Tom Payne.
These CPA supporters started a big fight inside the
units, saying that they shouldn't be consorting with "social fascists",
by being in the Labor Party at all, and that they should immediately
leave and join the Communist Party. This stab from behind complemented
the Communist Party's general denunciation of the extraordinary mass
populist Labor Party movement led by Lang, as social fascist.
Caught in this crossfire between the Stalinists and Lang, the
socialisation units were smashed. This is a well-known, very public and
major event in the relations between the Communist Party and the Labor
The socialisation units are mentioned in passing by Macintyre
without any serious discussion of the role of the CP.
Labor Party intervention number two: well into the 1930s,
1936, in the most right-wing period of the Popular Front line, the
Communist Party moved back into the Labor Party and, by forming a bloc
with the ALP right-wing federally against the declining Lang movement
in NSW, was organisationally pretty successful in entrism in the Labor
It was so successful, in fact, that it won control, both of
Labor Party in NSW and its youth movement, the Australian Labor Party
League of Youth. Through judicious use of the youth movement, the CP
successfully recruited a very large number of youth, and expanded
The period of wholesale Communist Party entrism in the Labor
extended from 1936 to 1940 and was a major, defining political
experience for most communists in NSW and for many others in the labour
movement. It came to an abrupt end in 1940 when the Communist Party
swung over from the very right-wing orientation of the late Popular
Front period to the ultraleft denunciation of Laborism and all its
works, dictated by the CPA's subservience to the Comintern's opposition
to the war during the Nazi-Soviet pact.
There has been no major research into the activities of the CP
the Labor Party in this period, and one would have thought Macintyre,
the researcher who now has had access to all the internal Party
documents of this interesting period, might have discussed this area of
activity in some detail.
Ray Markey, with much less access to internal CP material,
it much more forthrightly and with greater depth than Macintyre, in his
history of the NSW Labor Council. It's obviously a difficult area of
discussion for Aaronsism-Macintyreism, and so it is glossed over ever
so lightly, and a big research opportunity is passed up.
The closest Macintyre gets is the bald reporting of the Hands
Russia resolution that led to the expulsion of the communists from the
Labor Party, and the bland, rather triumphalist recounting of the
between 5 per cent and 10 per cent electoral results achieved by
communist candidates running as the State Labor Party in the elections
What Macintyre fails to tell the uninitiated reader about the
elections following the three-way split between Curtin federal Labor in
NSW, the Langites, and the Stalinist-led State Labor Party, is that in
the mood for Labor unity that developed the Curtin Labor Party was
comfortably ahead in almost all the contested Labor seats.
Further, its main competitor in the main working class seats
were contested was the Lang faction, which got a respectable 20 per
cent to 25 per cent of the vote. The Stalinist-led State Labor Party
came a very distant third in the contested working class electorates,
with about a third of the votes of the Lang candidates.
Three of the breakaway Lang candidates were actually elected,
immediately after the election they rejoined the official ALP. A few
months later, when the independents Coles and Wilson voted to bring
down the Menzies government, the Labor government led by John Curtin
was put in, and one of the Langites, Jack Beasley, became a minister in
Macintyre's account of this crucial election is thus entirely
misleading. Such limited and effectively misleading information on
electoral results is the inevitable consequence of writing a narrow,
institutional history of the CP without reference to the interaction of
this institution with other forces in the workers' movement.
MacIntyre's uncritical repetition of past Stalinist slanders
A slightly repellent aspect of Macintyre's book is just a
hint of the old Stalinist practice of destroying dissidents within the
movement by accusing them of assorted crimes: alcoholism, sexual
libertinism, even the one most favoured by Stalinist bureaucrats in the
past, pinching the money. In fact, in his summing up at the end,
Macintyre explicitly dismisses any overarching theory about the
decisive influence of Soviet Stalinism on the political corruption of
the Australian Party in favour of the petty theory that what was really
wrong with the CP was that it was beset at the leadership level by a
bunch of petty adventurers, who he proceeds to name.
Essentially, with a few of the names changed, this is like
explanation of the history of Bolshevism in the 1939 History of the
CPSU, that all the founders except he and Lenin were scoundrels, spies
and double-dealers. This was translated into Australian idiom, in
relation to the Australian Communist Party, in Ernie Campbell's classic
high-Stalinist Short history of the Australian labour movement.
According to Macintyre, the problem wasn't the Stalinisation
world communist movement, and the CPA, it was "spivs and crooks" such
as Jock Garden, William Earsman, Bert Moxon and Lance Sharkey.
Macintyre is mindlessly venomous when he occasionally repeats as good
coin the Stalinist slanders routinely unleashed on anyone active in the
workers movement who fell out with the Stalinist machine.
For instance it is asserted that Bill Orr and Charlie Nelson,
redoubtable communist mass leaders in the mining industry, fell out
with the Communist Party because their alcoholism is alleged to have
got worse. What a bullshit explanation. This reduction of the real
drama of the Stalinisation of the Australian communist movement to
personal trivia becomes almost comical. In an earnest, rather
Protestant, fashion Macintyre quotes the view he attributes to several
middle-class Melbourne communists that the CP in Sydney was a cesspool
of alcoholism and sexual corruption.
Such a Melbourne Protestant view of Sydney may be culturally
traditional, but it's grossly inadequate as an understanding of the
phenomenon of Stalinism. His trivialising of the issue of high
Stalinism is also expressed in his facile relating of adherence to
Stalinism to a previous relationship with religion, particularly the
While it is true, in a way, that high Stalinism became a kind
secular proletarian religion, it's putting the cart before the horse to
treat the matter in the way Macintyre does. In the way he handles this
question there is just a little hint of the anti-Catholic bigotry
endemic in Macintyre's own cultural background.
Macintyre and the Moscow Trials
Macintyre's treatment of Stalinism and the Moscow Trials, and
impact on communism in Australia, is outrageous. For a start, he might,
in one of his erudite digressions have tried to indicate something of
the horror of Russian Stalinism, to serve as some kind of contrast to
the religion of high Stalinism. He doesn't even mention any of the
books in the vast literature that now exists of personal memoirs of
survivors of the camps, or painstakingly collected summaries of the
life experience of the many millions "burnt by the sun" of Stalinism.
He might just have mentioned Let History Judge by Roy
Medvedev, or In the Time of Stalin by Anton Antonov-Ovsenko, or
Alexander Solzhenitsen's The Gulag Archipelago, or even the
recent book, 1937: Stalin's Year of Terror
by Vadim Rogovin. There is no mention of this vast, awful, but
necessary literature, but there is an implicitly favourable mention, in
a footnote, of an American historian, one J. Arch Getty, the foremost
"revisionist" historian of the Stalin period, who assiduously tries to
praise Stalin's rule and to minimise the negative impact of it and of
the mass murders and purges.
Getty is, so to speak, Stalin's David Irving, the David Irving
Soviet studies, and Macintyre clearly leans towards his views. The
whole 300 pages, from page 130 to the end of the conclusion on page
419, is marked by a quite explicit acceptance of the Stalinisation of
the Communist Party and quite explicitly relates the proclaimed success
and growth of the Communist Party to the process of Stalinisation,
which is presented as both inevitable, and even necessary and useful.
Macintyre's sympathy to revisionist history in relation to
Stalin's crimes is made absolutely clear in the following:
"Those opponents who allowed the Stalinist dictatorship no
redeeming virtues, for so long confounded by the persistence of the
Soviet regime, now triumphantly deride the revisionists who insisted
that it had enjoyed a measure of popular support.
"Then as now, critic and supporter alike place undue weight
aspect of the Soviet regime. Each treats democracy as the inseparable
companion of liberty."
And later on the same page, Macintyre's conclusion is spelt
"The purges of the party's ranks, the Great Terror that
carried off real and imagined opponents, and the show trials that
paraded former leaders to confess their treachery, these were something
more than measures of repression whereby the Soviet leadership
consolidated its supremacy. Rather, they involved the population at
large as active participants."
Macintyre's view could hardly be clearer. It's pretty much the
view held by the misguided Stalinists of the 1930s: Stalin's stamping
out of the oppositions was justified by the activities of the
oppositions, and had the support of the popular masses. It's hard to
exaggerate the historical enormity of this view.
There is now a vast and incontrovertible mountain of
evidence about the scope, scale and duration of Stalin's physical
assault on the members of the Communist Party, the working class and
the Russian people as a whole. This continued from 1927 until Stalin's
death in 1953, involved the extermination of half the members of the
Communist Party and, one way and another, more tha 15 million people.
The high figures for the number of dead long advocated by the
implacable right-wing western expert on these matters, Robert Conquest,
have proved to be generally correct from all the material coming out of
the Soviet archives. It is not really possible, in the face of the
mountain of evidence to avoid the conclusion that this, the largest
political massacre by far in history, one directed against the Soviet
Communist Party and proletariat, was perpetrated by Stalin as a
preventative measure to entrench his own personal dictatorship.
That's one incontrovertible historical fact that isn't really
subject to individual interpretation. I find it absolutely repellent,
on the basis of all the historical and memoir literature that I have
read, for Macintyre to rope in the thoroughly policed and coerced
masses as alleged equal participants in Stalin's crimes. What an
unpleasant confusion of criminals and their victims this view is.
It's also a very malign attempt to establish the proposition
all popular mobilisation and revolutionary activity inevitably leads to
the totalitarian conclusion of Stalinism. In real historical fact,
Stalin had to wipe out all the factions of Bolsheviks that had made the
Russian Revolution, including the majority of the Stalin faction, and a
big section of the working class as well, in order to establish and
preserve his personal dictatorship.
Even the list of chapter headings in this section of the book
reflects this celebration of Stalinism. All these chapter headings are
without quotation marks, which is very revealing. Chapter 6, The
This chapter is about the monstrous Third Period, but it's good
features are stressed, not quite as crudely, perhaps, as in E.W.
Campbell's high Stalinist Short History. Chapter 7, Bolshevisation.
Again, no quotes, and the influence from the Comintern, while ruthless
and authoritarian, is presented as smartening up the Party.
Chapter 8, Class Against Class. Again, the "good side"
"social fascist" line is stressed, and no attempt is made to detail the
many hundreds of expulsions and exclusions that were part of this
ruthless process. Pages 217 and 218 are particularly revolting in their
apology for Stalinism. Macintyre gives us an interesting account of the
role of certain police agents in the Communist Party, including Alf
Baker, who was the business manager of the Workers Weekly, and
a Central Committee member of the CPA from 1928 to 1938.
Macintyre inserts here this repellent little piece of apology
for the vicious slanders of the past:
"It was at this time also that the party press began to
carry lengthy reports of treachery in the workers' state. Imperialist
agents were destroying livestock to create food shortages. The great
Five Year Plan for modernising Soviet industry was being sabotaged by
foreign technicians. The founder of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky,
expelled from the party in 1927 and deported in 1929, was conducting a
campaign of vicious lies against the party leadership. Former leaders
such as Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin were revealed as
counter-revolutionary plotters. If these illustrious Old Bolsheviks
could turn out to be traitors, how could the tiny Australian party
The real situation was that, to make this crazy story stick
the old leaders of Bolshevism were spies and agents, just about all the
early leaders of the Australian Communist Party, in fact, almost all
the previous leaders from the 1920s of every communist party in the
world, along with many thousands of rank and filers, had to be driven
out and transformed verbally into "enemies" and non-persons.
A really sickening feature of the Workers Weekly in
1930s is the many front pages that had hysterical, lying, false stories
justifying the Moscow trials because all the Bolshevik leaders were
"spies and agents", had the real police spy, Baker's name on the
masthead. Macintyre could have reproduced one of these front pages, say
the vintage front page of the Workers Weekly for Tuesday,
October 20, 1936, headlined The Trotsky Fascists.
Even Macintyre's use of illustrations is revealing. The only
of Leon Trotsky in the book (there are no pictures of Lenin or Stalin
at all) is the vicious, anti-Semitic caricature of Trotsky on page 318.
While we are on the question of police spies in the CPA, which is of
some interest, it might also be added that Philip Deery's research for
his recent article on the Diver Dobson case clearly indicates that ASIO
had an informant with access to the three-person Central Committee
Secretariat of the CPA well into the 1950s.
In the relevant chapter about Russia and high Stalinism,
called The Socialist Sixth of the World,
again, without the historically appropriate quotation marks, Macintyre
quotes, apologetically and fairly approvingly, the euphoric and
misguided "reports" on the wonderful features of Stalin's Soviet Union
in the times of the Moscow Trials, and the "Yezhtoschina".
He plays down and underrates the traumatic upheaval that the
Trials produced in the world labour movement and he exagerates the
uncritical way the Stalinist leadership and rank and file accepted high
Stalinism and the Moscow Trials. For a start, even in far-off
Australia, there was a good deal more exposure of, and dissent from,
high Stalinism than is evident from reading Macintyre.
For instance, in his consistently trivialising way, Macintyre
in a relatively minor contest. He doesn't mention, however, that Roper,
the manager of the Communist Party printery, and his wife, Edna, who
ended up not exactly minor figures in the labour movement in NSW, broke
in a very sharp and angry way, with Stalinism over the Moscow Trials
and published an open letter about the murder of the old Bolsheviks in
the Militant, the Sydney Trotskyist newspaper.
Roper went on, with other pioneer Trotskyists such as Allan
Thistlethwayte, to initiate industrial struggles in the printing and
power industries towards the end of the Second World War, against the
opposition of the Stalinists. These industrial struggles were around
the issue of the 40-hour week and began that ultimately victorious
Again, the ugly experience of Guido Barrachi, being forced by
membership of the CPA to repeat the gross slanders against the murdered
old Bolsheviks, particularly Karl Radek, over which Macintyre gloats,
was the turning point, according to Barrachi, who I knew personally, in
his subsequent decision to leave the CP once and for all.
Literally thousands of Communist Party members and
moved away from the Communist Party in all directions after the Moscow
Trials and in reaction against the trials and high Stalinism. As they
did so, they were well aware that their former comrades would denounce
them as spies, police agents, Trotsky fascists, renegades, Nazi
The forces that remained with the Communist Party, by no means
inconsiderable, and with a great deal of influence in the workers'
movement, were hammered into shape, into the secular religion of high
Stalinism, and trained and indoctrinated in a political culture in
which three or four books became the dominant, and possibly the only
books of a political nature that the cadres read.
These defining books were Stalin's History of the CPSUB,
The Socialist Sixth of the World by Hewlett Johnston, my
namesake, L. Harry Gould's Marxist Glossary, The Great
Conspiracy Against Russia, by Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn, and
the so-called verbatim records of the Moscow Trials.
The great conflict between the undoubtedly devoted and
Stalinist workers, functionaries and intellectuals soaked in this
political culture of high Stalinism, the dominant force on the left of
the labour movement, on the one hand, and everybody else in the labour
movement, particularly some thousands of leftists who reacted against
the religion of high Stalinism, on the other, partly explains the
mobilisations in different unions, sections of the Labor Party,
Catholic circles etc, against the influence of the Communist Party.
One very common theme, remembered retrospectively by repentant
Stalinists in their memoirs, is the enormous pressure exerted on
everybody in the CP to swallow whole, the basically incredible official
Stalinist story about the Moscow Trials.
For instance, Eric Aarons, who is now the main administrator
of the Search Foundation, has a revealing anecdote in his memoir What's
He describes how, as a young Stalinist in the late 1930s, he had some
discrete social contact with Trotskyist "renegades" Wally Mohr and Jack
Wishart. They gave him the Dewey Commission book exposing the Moscow
The material in the book about the internal contradictions in
evidence is really quite irrefutable and stands the test of time, which
Aarons concedes in his memoir. However, he describes how he just
ignored it all at the time, although in his memoir 40 years later, he
is full of anguish about how terrible Stalinism was. One can see his
dilemma in 1938, with an absolutely rabid Stalinist mother, father and
brother, the father having just come back from Spain, where his
political co-thinkers had just murdered many members and leaders of the
In 1938 it was obviously domestically impossible for Eric
consider the evidence about the Moscow Trials in any objective way.
This was the kind of dilemma that faced many people in the Communist
Party, and those who elected to stay in it were gradually indoctrinated
into believing fantastic stories which were, even then, obvious lies.
Macintyre makes great play, now, of the idea that Krushchev's
exposure of Stalinism was the point after which it was legitimate to
become an anti-Stalinist. Unfortunately for this view, there were many
people in the labour movement who were "premature" anti-Stalinists and
by and large they became vehement opponents of the CPA, both for
reasons of principle, and also for reasons of personal survival
industrially and politically.
Incredibly, Macintyre even presents Stakhanovism straight, as
really happened. Everyone in the world except Macintyre now knows that
the whole Stakhanov business was faked, but Macintyre gives it to you
straight that Stakhanov mined 102 tons of coal in a shift with a pick
and shovel, a story that's a bit reminiscent of the more modest but
still fantastic claims of the scab wharfies at Patricks during the
recent wharfies' strike, as to their productivity. (Page 372.)
Even where he comes across anecdotal evidence from friends of
Australians, such as Katherine Susannah Pritchard, having some
misgivings after visiting the Soviet Union, Macintyre tends to dismiss
it, obviously as it contradicts his main thesis that all but
"premature" anti-Stalinists took it all as good coin.
On page 371 he mentions Melbourne metallurgist Neil
favourable impression of a scientific conference at Kharkov in 1932.
With a little more research on Macintyre's part he might have
discovered that this was the same conference attended by German
communist chemist Alex Weissberg, Arthur Koestler's brother-in-law.
Weissberg settled in the Soviet Union after this congress, as a "guest
In 1936, like most foreign Communists in the Soviet Union, he
pinched by the GPU. He was one of the lucky foreign Communists who was
not executed, but he spent the next 15 years of his life in the camps.
He was only released in the 1950s after a big public fuss by Koestler.
He wrote an extremely useful book about his experiences in Stalin's
camps called Conspiracy of Silence. Stalin's camps were full of
old communists like Weissberg.
What happened to the Russians from Australia?
In his material about the foundation of the CPA Macintyre
several Russians, including Artem who was killed in the train accident
in the 1920s, and Tom Sergyev, who disappears from Macintyre's
narrative in Moscow down on his uppers, as Macintyre puts it, sometime
in the 1920s. Sergyev was later murdered by Stalin (along with millions
of others) which Macintyre doesn't mention.
Actually several hundred Russian social democrats and
most of the Russian colony in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Broken
Hill, returned to the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Like most returned old
Bolsheviks from overseas, almost all of them ended up in Stalin's
camps, and many of them were killed.
It has always seemed to me that as an act of historical
Australian communists and socialists should investigate what happened
to them, or at least commemorate and mention their lives as part of the
historical accounting with the phenomenon of Stalinism. In a history of
Australian communism in the 1920s and 1930s, with all that research
material now available, Macintyre doesn't even mention the Russians
from Australia, though he does mention Tom Sergyev without reference to
his ultimate death in Stalin's camps.
Obviously an inquiry, even at this late stage, into the fate
Russians from Australia would throw into very harsh relief the awful
monstrosity of high Stalinism. Macintyre's bland account of the
development of high Stalinism in Australia gives no hint of the
magnitude of the reaction against it, including the reaction in the
There are two examples of the kind of thing I'm referring to
that spring to my mind as a bookseller. One is Out of the Night
by Jan Valtin, an essentially truthful account of his experiences by a
former Comintern agent. The second is the anti-Communist but
essentially accurate account called Inside Red Russia, by J.J.
Maloney, the Labor parliamentarian and former Boot Trade Union
secretary, of what he saw of working class living conditions during his
period as Australian ambassador in Moscow during the Second World War.
Both these books were best-sellers in Australia, as also were
Joseph Davies Mission to Moscow, which supported the Moscow
Trials, and Hewlett Johnson's aforementioned pro-Stalinist Socialist
Sixth of the World.
All these books turn up in large numbers at secondhand book fairs,
suggesting something of the ideological ferment and argument about
these matters that took place in the workers' movement in the 1940s.
If you believe Macintyre, the Stalinists had it all their own
which is by no means true. A problem the Communist Party faced in all
its activities in the workers' movement is that it was surrounded,
everywhere it went by labour movement activists who had once been CP
members or friends of the CP, and it had subsequently tried to wipe
these people out of workers' movement in a way analogous to the way
Stalin wiped out the old cadres of the communist movement in Russia.
Maybe Macinture should cancel his history exams, like the
During the turbulent period of the overthrow of Stalinism in
Europe, the Russian educational authorities cancelled history exams and
history courses because all the old history books were a pack of lies.
The Russians are still having a great deal of difficulty in
producing truthful historical text books. It's really quite
extraordinary that a professional historian like Macintyre should still
give such credence, or at least such reverent consideration, to the old
Stalinist historical lies.
Macintyre's selective use of sources
Macintyre tries to show the breadth of his interests by
reference to a couple of novels, Frank Hardy's But the Dead are Many
and Eleanor Dark's gentle Waterway. He could, if he wished,
have used Kylie Tenant's wonderfully sardonic Ride on Stranger
and Foveaux, which so upset the Stalinists when they were
published in the early 1940s. Or he could have drawn on her
autobiography, The Missing Heir.
These three books all capture some of the flavour of the sharp
conflict between high Stalinism and those who fell out with it on the
left. Ride on Stranger for instance has a thinly veiled
portrait of George Bateman, the energetic communist functionary who
fell out with the Stalinist movement in 1940. But the Kylie Tenant view
of it would interfere with the institutional focus on the CP as an
all-pervasive institution, and the blandness of it all.
Macintyre has ostensibly had access to the maximum range of
and archives of the Communist Party and oral research, yet he does not
discuss in any depth party security and expulsion from the party. Even
in the limited period he is discussing, several thousand people were
expelled from the CP.
Few departed without some process of expulsion or exclusion.
long periods the CP security apparatus, so called, was in constant
session, dealing with dissidents, back-sliders etc. A discussion of
this aspect of the CP's internal life would seem to me to be of the
utmost importance to a real history of the Communist Party.
Maybe all the documents of the CP's internal expulsion
control commissions etc, have disappeared or been destroyed, although
I'm sure a fair bit of it is still accessible somewhere to a reputable
figure like Macintyre. But he hasn't seen fit to dig into this
half-world very much at all. What a pity.
A final word on high Stalinism. Macintyre, had he chosen,
dramatised the conflict between the secular religion of high Stalinism,
as expressed by the Communist Party in the late 1930s, and the real
history of the 20th century by briefly quoting from some of the
absolutely incontestable historical literature that has emerged,
particularly in recent times, from Soviet archives, such as the mordant
admission by the KGB six or seven years ago that it had unjustly
executed more than 700,000 people in the late 1930s, or the fact that
90 per cent of the delegates and Central Committee members at the
Congress of Victors, so called, in 1935, had been killed by 1939.
Such brutal realities, however, would obviously interfere with
Macintyre's nostalgic blandness. Another example of Macintyre's
careless simplification is his discussion of the CP's increasing
influence in the unions. There are at least 10 useful trade union
histories that cover unions in which the CP had influence or power in a
way that intelligently describes the interplay and struggles between
the CP and other forces.
Macintyre refers to very few of these books. Talking about the
Ironworkers Union in the late 1930s, he says the CP increased its power
in the union without trouble. Not true. If you refer to Bob Murray's
history of the Ironworkers Union, you'll find that Ernest Thornton, as
federal secretary, intervened and threw out the officials of the South
Australian branch, and more particularly, very ruthlessly threw out the
leadership of the Newcastle branch, led by an old socialist called
Connolly, flying in the face of Newcastle branch elections and
Connolly's popular support.
This use of bureaucratic power came back to haunt Thornton in
late 1940s when the Newcastle branch, with many members still smarting
over the removal of a popular leadership a few years before by
bureaucratic means, was the first branch to overthrow Thornton's
leadership in the battle by Laurie Short to replace him as national
secretary, which was ultimately successful in 1951.
Macintyre's cut-off point in 1940 conveniently saves him from
to describe the classic episode of resistance to Stalinism's forward
march in the unions: the dogged, spectacular and successful resistance
of the Balmain branch, led by Nick Origlass and Short, to Thornton's
leadership in the Ironworkers Union during the Second World War. This
culminated in a famous six-week mass strike of Balmain ironworkers
against the Stalinist national leadership of the union.
Consistent with Macintyre's bland approach to these very major
political questions is a faint, ever so gentle, dose of professorial
academic snobbery that I find slightly irritating. It is, however, kind
of consistent with the $50 price of the book.
It seems to me that the book is directed at two markets:
and very nostalgic old Stalinists. The two words that most get up my
nose are "costive" and "invigilation", used twice.
It may be pomposity on my part but, as a fairly widely read
with extensive interests, I tend to regard the use of words I've not
encountered before as the height of pomposity. I'll leave it to others
to tell me whether I'm right on this.
Macintyre's book gets worse the more you read it
When I started writing this overview, I had a gentler view of
book than I have after considering it and rereading parts. At the end
of this process, I'm overwhelmed by a kind of anger at the emerging
nastiness and dishonesty of it.
Macintyre stakes a clear claim to be writing the "definitive"
history of the Communist Party, with his emphasis on the vast array of
research material available to him. Yet his use of the material is
blatantly selective. Macintyre's book is a loopy reductio ad absurdum
of the postmodernist approach to history. It's a triumph of a powerful
implicit ideological standpoint over narrative and historical
investigation. this is an approach to history that postmodern
historians share with the old Stalinists, and it is in sharp contrast
to past, better historical approaches either of the Marxist or
The hidden hand, the not-to-clearly stated, but absolutely
ideological point of view, is that the revolutionary socialist project
of Lenin and the early Communists was quixotically doomed from the
start (the view of Bolshevism that is currently fashionable amongst
conservative historians) and that the Stalinisation of communist
parties and the Australian Communist Party was, within certain limits,
a good thing, giving rise to pleasant nostalgia about the wonderful
outfit that was the CPA of the popular front period.
Popular front Stalinism was a good thing, implies Macintyre,
course, now the whole socialist project is finished and out of date.
It's hardly accidental that this is, broadly speaking, the political
viewpoint of the extended Aarons family, who now control the Search
I am writing this overview of Macintyre's book, obviously,
strong personal feelings. These strong feelings are based on my own
life experience. I commenced my active political life in the orbit of
the Communist Party in the 1950s, as a very young person. I broke
sharply with Stalinism at the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary,
just after Krushchev's public exposure of Stalin at the Twentieth
Congress of the CPSU.
Subsequent to that, I've been associated with several groups
left-wing socialists of anti-Stalinist and Trotskyist persuasion,
competing with the Communist Party, before its demise, over the nature
and direction of the socialist project. I have also, on many occasions,
collaborated with members of the Communist Party in common projects,
such as the campaign against the Vietnam War.
I know from personal experience that many people who stuck to
Communist Party right to the end, and some people who are even now
totally unreconstructed Stalinists, are good people personally. There
are even a few unreconstructed Stalinists these days who number me,
grudgingly, as a kind of personal friend, mainly through the humanising
influence of long acquaintance.
I also, however, remember the long period in the late 1950s
early 1960s when these same people, who have now been worn down by
events, very easily called me and anybody else who campaigned
vigorously against Stalinism from a socialist point of view, ASIO
agents, police spies and many other similar epithets, and did their
damndest to stamp any socialist in opposition to Stalinism off the face
of the earth.
Despite personal experiences, however, the important thing
serious history of communism and the Communist Party ought to be, among
other things, to give us some guidance as to how the socialist project
can be rebuilt without the monstrous enormities of Stalinism happening
Reviewer response to the book is interesting. Peter Coleman,
long-time anti-socialist, likes it and reviews it favourably. In
passing, he uses a rather pithy paragraph, which sums up the confluence
of his and Macintyre's politics.
Macintyre tells us that he wrote this book at the invitation
Search Foundation, the successor to the Communist Party of Australia.
It gave him full access to the party's records on condition
dispute over use of the records would be referred to a "reference
group" named by the Search Foundation. But there were no disputes. Why
should there be? Macintyre has delivered a generous, if self-serving,
graveside panegyric, told a few jokes, and pointed a way ahead.
The Search Foundation has done well. In a longer review in the
Australian Review of Books
highly regarded art historian Bernard Smith, for many years a member of
the CPA himself, basically endorses Macintyre's nostalgic viewpoint,
and makes some play of Eric Hobsbawm's nowadays fashionable aphorism
about the short 20th century: started 1914, finished 1989, which has
become entwined in the minds of the postmodernist section of the
intelligentsia, with Francis Fukuyama's throw-away ideological
proposition: "the end of history.".
Well, in my mind, the Hobsbawm-Fukuyama short 20th century/end
history thesis isn't obvious at all. For a start, the outbreak of the
First World War, which led directly to the Russian Revolution, didn't
fall out of the sky.
It was produced by sharp contradictions within the previous,
apparently stable, phase of global imperial capitalist development.
Engels, in the 1880s, predicted an enormous war stemming from
inter-imperialist rivalries. A.J. Hobson and Lenin drew the same
conclusions in their examinations of imperialism.
The 1905 revolution in Russia was a rather sharp precursor of
was to come in 1917. Likewise at the end of the 2oth century, the final
collapse of the Stalinist monolith in 1989, rather than the collapse of
some kind of socialism, as the nostalgic old Stalinists would have it,
was actually the final removal of a gigantic obstacle to the
development of a socialist movement in new conditions.
The apparently triumphalist dominance of global capitalism of
looks very sick in 1998, with the many economic and social crises of
the world capitalist system telescoped on a global scale. The
extraordinary television image of the desperate anarchic urban poor in
Jakarta, trotting back into their slum dwellings with looted
televisions and computers on their backs is, in a way, symptomatic of
our modern world.
What, unfortunately, lags behind the global crisis of
the failure, so far, of the modern socialist and workers' movement to
re-fashion and retool socialist and working class programs and tactics
in these extraordinary new conditions. For instance, there is now a
bigger, modern proletariat in China alone than there was in the whole
of Europe at the start of the First World War.
In re-fashioning and retooling the socialist movement
the study of the history of communism, communist parties and their
vicious Stalinisation in the middle of the 20th century will be
important. Those who don't study history properly are bound to repeat
it badly. From that point of view the nostalgic Stalinism of
Macintyre's book on the CP is a greater danger to the necessary
reinvention of the socialist movement than his more overt consigning of
the whole socialist project to the historical dustbin.
The fantastic expansion of the world capitalist economy
necessarily, the vast expansion of the world proletariat, combined with
the re-emergence of the inherent contradictions of the capitalist
system, has produced a definite re-emergence of the Old Mole of the
class struggle in countries as diverse as Korea, Australia, Indonesia,
Denmark, Mexico, Brazil, France and China.
The necessary re-fashioning of tactics and ideology for a mass
socialist and workers' movement won't be far behind. Realistically, we
are actually entering the end of the long 20th century, rather than the
short one of Hobsbawm's throw-away remark. History is actually just
beginning to get up a bit of steam, rather than being ended, as
Fukuyama would have it.
May 8, 1999