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3971Re: [Marxism] Australia's First Socialists

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  • ozleft
    Jan 6, 2004
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      By 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
      on Ozleft:

      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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