4072Labor History - Bob Gould's response to Peter Boyle about my critique of Jim McIlroy's pamphlet 'Australia's First S ocialists'
- Jan 14, 2004Labor History - Bob Gould's response to Peter Boyle about my critique of Jim
McIlroy's pamphlet 'Australia's First Socialists'
By Bob Gould
Peter Boyle seems incapable of discussing anything without slight
falsifications, the aim of which are to heat up the atmosphere and give him
the opportunity for strutting his bellicose leadership stuff.
In his critique of "Australia's First Socialists" Gould did not say anything
resembling this vintage piece of Boyleism: "Gould has rudely suggested that
NB has become 'a bible' for DSP members".
What I did say was:
"There is no hint in Jim's pamphlet of past controversies about approaches
to Australian socialist and labour movement history, particularly the
well-known and important controversy between, on the one hand the DSP's new
ally, Humphrey McQueen, and on the other the older generation of socialist
and labour historians, Russell Ward, Ian Turner and Robin Gollan.
"It's peculiar that there's no reference to Humphrey McQueen's rather
important book, "A New Britannia", which was at the centre of this
controversy, despite the fact that "A New Britannia" obviously informs
Boyle seems to have an infinite talent for falsification and crudification.
He seems to do it almost in his sleep, and he doesn't seem to care or even
notice that he's doing it.
Boyle then attempts to rectify the problem of the implicit, but
unacknowledged, presence of the original edition of 'A New Britannia'
permeating Jim McIlroy's pamphlet, by reeling off a large chunk of Humphrey
McQueen's very careful Afterword to the revised edition of A New Britannia,
in which Humphrey explicitly relinquishes a lot of the method of the first
edition. This is a bit beside the point, because Jim McIlroy's pamphlet,
'Australia's First Socialists', is obviously profoundly influenced by the
method of the first edition of 'A New Britannia', which Humphrey now himself
subjects to a critical balance sheet.
However, even in trying to use McQueen instrumentally to justify the DSP
leadership's anti-Labor obsession, Boyle carefully selects some extracts to
avoid the important part of McQueen's very intelligent revision of his
position, in which Humphrey puts into historical context the racism that was
omnipresent at the time of the formation of the Labor Party.
Boyle and the DSP leadership are these days only interested in labour
movement history instrumentally, insofar as snippets of labour history can
be used to justify their current obsession, with the supposedly unalloyed,
reactionary character of Laborism from the very moment of its birth.
"Socialists need to seriously study Australian Labor history, and the
development of the Socialist alliance offers many openings to deepen such
study and extend debate about it. For instance, Socialist Alliance can and
should organise regular conferences and seminars that involve labour
historians and activists in such discussions. The soon to be launched
magazine Seeing Red is another forum. As I argued in an earlier post, there
is a big gap SA can fill here that neither the ALP left nor the Greens can
fill at the moment."
This piece of Boylism is particularly Socialist Alliance egocentric and
deceptive. The facts are that in the past 15 years or so the DSP's coverage
of, or reference to, labour movement history, or Australian social history,
has been exceedingly skimpy.
A non-member of the DSP, Phil Shannon, has written a number of book reviews
in Green Left Weekly on labour movement questions, and Iggy Kim has written
a very instrumental pamphlet, "The Origins of Racism", attacking
multiculturalism and inferring that the Labor Party was the main source of
racism in Australian society.
There has been very little other Australian labour history in Green Left
Weekly over a period of about 15 years.
The current argument over Aboriginal history precipitated by Windschuttle's
right-wing revisionism has raged for three years. Many socialists, such as
myself, Ray Evans and many others have published a lot of material on this
question, along with various liberals such as Robert Manne. The DSP
leadership has shown little interest in this important historical debate,
which has been long lived, and very widespread in Australian society.
There are Labour History societies in a number of states, and the national
journal, Labour History, has national labour history conferences every
second year, and produces a substantial 150-page journal twice a year. There
are about eight younger labour historians in the ISO tradition in Australia,
and they have participated in many of these conferences, and they publish
quite frequently in Labour History on a number of questions.
I publish a fair bit on labour history and have presented a number of papers
to conferences and Labour History meetings, and a lot of that material is
publicly available on Ozleft. The DSP, which is quite a large organisation,
relatively speaking, and has historically recruited mainly among students,
has no younger labour historians, and indeed has very few members working in
any sphere of the social sciences in universities. One former member, has
published a couple of times in Labour History, and Jim McIlroy has published
his two pamphlets, and that's about the extent of it.
Green Left Weekly rarely publicises Labour History Society events. I've been
involved in organising a number of Labour History events in Sydney: the
conference on multiculturalism and mass migration a couple of years ago, and
the conference in 2002 on the 1960s, both very successful events, as have
been a number of other Labour History conferences and meetings, like the
very successful Sydney Labour History one-day seminar on the 1998 waterfront
dispute, and the well-attended seminar on Hungary, 1956 & the CP. The DSP
leadership showed no interest whatever in these events.
The conference on the 1960s is an excellent example. I made sure that John
Percy was invited to speak on the panel on the Vietnam antiwar movement. He
spoke all right, but not one other member or supporter of the DSP attended
that conference, which was attended by nearly 100 people, many of whom had
been participants in the turbulent activities of the 1960s.
Over the past few years the DSP's interest in labour history has been
totally instrumentalist and physically extremely sectarian, in the sense
that they just don't go to any of these events.
Even the way that Boyle pretentiously poses the question is a dead giveaway
as to his approach. The Socialist Alliance and its magazine can in the
future act as a focus, etc.
The problem with this DSP-Socialist Alliance 'Third Periodism' is that
working class history is a common heritage to all in the workers' movement
and if the Socialist Alliance alone is the body that organises seminars no
one is likely to attend except Socialist Alliance adherents and the odd
argumentative critic such as myself.
If would be far better for the DSP to initiate labour-movement-wide seminars
and events or, better, to participate in such events organised by broader
bodies, such as the Labour History Society. Narrowly Socialist Alliance
events on labour history are unlikely to happen on any significant scale,
despite Peter Boyle's pretentious rhetoric.
Boyle's approach to the content of the discussion between Humphrey McQueen
and the previous generation of labour historians is equally narrow and
instrumentalist and actually has quite a lot in common with the approach of
Stuart MacIntyre, who is on the right of the labour history continuum. What
Boyle has in common with MacIntyre is the tendency to ignore or play down
past popular insurgencies in Australian history associated with Laborism.
See my piece, "Dumbing Down Australian History and Its Teaching", available
The best effect of the past arguments was that they produced a substantial
rectification by Russell Ward, Ian Turner, and Humphrey McQueen of some of
the defects of their early work. Ward's mature work, his Short History of
Australia, ended up being the best summary of Australian history so far,
from a socialist and working class point of view.
Ward's 'Short History' and McQueens' afterword to A New Britannia are both
healthy products of past debates. It's only possible to comprehend
Australian working class history if you approach it in an objective spirit.
To this end, on Ozleft in the next week or so we will put up the full text
of McQueen's afterword, plus his bibliography, and two articles from Labour
History that provide an overview of these debates.
The body of historical material on Ozleft will continue to increase, and we
hope to contribute to a serious discussion on the rich history of the
Australian workers' movement.
Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW
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