3971Re: [Marxism] Australia's First Socialists
- Jan 6, 2004By Bob Gould
The only aspect of my post on Jim McIlroy's pamphlet that seems to
interest Phil Ferguson is the issue of racism in the early labour
movement in Australia, and he springs to defence of Verity Burgmann's
view with a kind of appeal to authority about how "respected" an
academic Verity is.
Well, her co-thinker on these matters, Humphrey McQueen, was never an
academic, god bless him, and some of the authorities that are
important to me were academics, but in my view academic status does
not loom as large as it seems to in Phil's. What matters is the
content, the politics and the historiography of the arguments.
Peter Boyle is excited by Phil's defence of Burgmann, and posts it on
the Green Left list. Boyle doesn't try to engage, at this stage, with
my arguments. Ferguson's appeal to Burgmann's authority is good
enough for Peter Boyle.
Tom O'Lincoln at least brings a bit of light into the discussion, and
he usefully locates Burgmann's thesis by pointing out that the core
of it is in "Who Are Our Enemies", and he posts links to other useful
Tom can't quite bring himself to refer to my several pieces on the
issue, perhaps because of his deep disagreement with my "Australian
nationalism", but nevertheless his references are all relevant.
The central question in this exchange, which may still not be quite
clear, is that most of the articles by academics in the ISO
tradition, in "Who Are Our Enemies", and the two articles by Gregson
and Small that he points to are carefully argued pieces directed
against the Burgmann-McQueen thesis that the white racism of the 19th
century emanated primarily from the labour movement.
In that sense they are in general agreement with the older labour
historians, who however, as has been pointed out, initially neglected
the issue of racism a bit.
The other issue in dispute between, on the one hand, the older labour
historians and the younger academics in the IS tradition, and on the
other hand, McQueen, Burgmann and Iggy Kim of Green Left Weekly, who
wrote a pamphlet on the topic, was whether the formation of the Labor
Party represented a substantial step forward for the working class
despite the racism endemic in the early labour movement, or whether
the endemic racism made the modern labour movement essentially
My dispute with Jim McIlroy, Iggy Kim and the DSP leadership is that,
in their summary journalism on these matters they try to develop
their labour-movement-stillborn thesis by a selective use of sources,
something I try to correct with my citations.
These are big historical questions in the workers movement and I have
discussed them carefully and at considerable length, with many useful
citations to the literature, in the following articles, all available
Stuart McIntyre's The Reds: A Review
The ALP, the labour movement and racism
The Communist Party of Australia in Australian Life
The People's Choice: Electoral Politics in 2oth Century NSW. A Review
Interrogating Miriam Dixson: A Letter to an Old Comrade
Australia, the Irish Catholics and the Labour Movement
The Red North: How Not to Write Useful Labour History
Multiculturalism and Australian National Identity
Over the Hills Lies China: A Response to Paul Sheehan's "Amongst the
Mass Migration has Been Good for Australia and it Should Continue
All these articles have some bearing on the issues in dispute.
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