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This Page publishes 'diary' style individualised entries by Rowan Cahill and Terry Irving on matters relating to the theory, practice, and living, of radical history, and radical scholarship. Each entry is dated, and attributed to its respective author. Neither author necessarily agrees with, nor necessarily endorses, the views expressed by his fellow ruminant.
TALE OF A MANUSCRIPT: A recent culling of my papers yielded a battered foolscap folder containing a yellowing 147-page typescript, its front page titled ‘The Seamen’s Union of Australia: A Short History’ by Brian Fitzpatrick. Produced during the early years of the Cold War in Australia, it is a pioneering excursion into what much later would become the academic speciality of ‘Labour History”. Author Brian Fitzpatrick (1905-1965) was an independent leftist scholar and a dogged and very effective guardian of, and advocate for, civil liberties.

The manuscript begins with the formation of the Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA) in 1872, and takes the union’s history through to the end of World War 11. The period from then until the early 1950s is dealt with in an eight-page ‘Epilogue’ titled ‘The Union after the War’. Writing in 1979, Fitzpatrick’s biographer Don Watson, not having access to the manuscript, described it as an “apparently undistinguished work”, a sentiment echoed subsequently by others. Well, it was and it wasn’t. 

The ‘Short History’ was commissioned by the SUA in 1949, in part as a way of helping finance Fitzpatrick’s  independent leftist scholarship and his vigorous and effective civil libertarian activism, a financial arrangement later joined by other sympathetic unions. The plan was to publish the work  during the 1950s, and an ‘Introduction’ for the proposed book by the union’s leader national E. V. Elliott dated 1956 was prepared for publication. While the book did not eventuate, excerpts were variously published contemporaneously in Fitzpatrick’s news commentary Australian Democrat and in the Seamen’s Journal.

By his own admission, in a letter to SUA leader E. V. Elliott (8 April 1958), Fitzpatrick completed the project “in haste”. Which is understandable. As the Cold War in Australia intensified during the late 40s, early 50s, and especially during the attempt by the Menzies’ government to ban the Communist Party of Australia and during the Petrov Affair (1954-1955), Fitzpatrick engaged vigorously and heroically in high profile ways as an intellectual activist and advocate combatting the Cold War and its concerted attacks on the left, on the militant communist-led trade unions, and upon civil liberties generally.

In 1970, with a newly minted BA (Hons), I was hired by the SUA for two-years on a journalist’s wage, to complete the Fitzpatrick account for the Centenary of the union in 1972, Fitzpatrick’s account forming Part 1 of an envisaged book. I had been introduced to the SUA and the project by Sydney University economic historian and civil libertarian Ken Buckley. Ken was friends with E.V. and Della Elliott, and I had forged a friendship with Ken in the anti-Vietnam War movement and in my own jousting with prevailing censorship laws. An offer by Ken of his editorial services to the union, free of charge, to overcome the deficiencies of the Fitzpatrick text, was rejected; E. V. Elliott was sentimentally attached to the manuscript. 

I completed my task on time, but for a variety of reasons, explained elsewhere, including a printery fire which destroyed the letterpress setting of the book as galleys were being corrected (see R Cahill, ‘Reflections’, Seamen’s Journal, July/August 1983, p. 183), the book was not published until 1981 (as Brian Fitzpatrick and Rowan J Cahill, The Seamen’s Union of Australia 1872-1972: A History). I also wrote a potted serialised version of the union’s history and this was published in the Seamen’s Journal during 1972, culminating in an enlarged, glossy, and magnificently illustrated Centenary edition of the journal.

The Cahill manuscript of 1972, covering the period 1935 to 1972, was ahead of the time in many ways, noting the absence of mariners and the maritime from Australian history, and detailing the international/transnational aspects of the SUA’s history, all of which would become scholarly commonplace well down the track. As it was, this pioneering sortie tended to get overlooked by academic historiographers. [ Rowan Cahill, 31 May 2019.


As I engage with my seventh decade, I am variously approached by researchers and others for details of and information about my life of dissidence and activism on the left, beginning in 1965 when I was amongst the one in twelve Australian males selectively chosen by the recently introduced conscription lottery for a two-year stint as part of the Australian Army and the Vietnam War. The lottery cynically targeted males on the cusp of their twentieth birthday, before they gained the right to vote, which in those days was accorded upon reaching the age of 21. I was amongst the few at the time who said no, and the rest is history.
Some questioners and seekers ask big questions, along the lines of ‘what do we do to change a world where violence and authoritarianism and disregard for human rights and social injustice and environmental degradation are rampant, a world in which the individual seems so powerless against a status quo hell bent on preserving the abhorrent?’ It is a valid and important line of questioning, but the phrasing tends to come in a way suggesting the expected answer will be like an Ikea flat pack – all that needs to be done is to open the pack, lay out the contents, follow instructions, and with the aid of an allen key and screwdriver, assemble a specific item of furniture.
For me there is no flatpack, no grand plan. What it comes down to is that each individual does the best possible, with whatever abilities and skills s/he is endowed with or has gained, to attempt to bring about a better, more equitable, and just, world for all, one in which the notion of the redistribution of wealth is neither a stranger nor unimaginable. This can be done as individuals, or as part of collectives; some will work on small canvasses, others on large ones; and there will be many ways of going about it, understanding that contexts and circumstances ameliorate all.
Some individuals will find themselves plucked by fate to take on roles they had not foreseen, to make decisions they did not plan. Which is what happened to me in 1965, when my ambition in life was simple – to write poetry, work, and one day be able to afford a small yacht and cruise the Northern waters of Australia, the Whitsunday Passage in particular; I had in mind a 22’ plywood Bluebird, like the one I had crewed and raced on out of Middle Harbour (Sydney) during the previous last couple of years. However, conscription changed all that, and I became instead a rebel, and according to my subsequently compiled ASIO file, a bona fide enemy of the state.
From my reading of history, individuals have agency; what counts is their compliance/complicity or otherwise. The greatest evils and abnormalities in history come down, in the end, to the decisions individuals make. In an existential sense, the importance of resisting, of protesting, of working for a better world, one underpinned by equity and social justice, is that the acts of doing, successful or otherwise, are what is important. Because if these acts cease, if they are no more, then we enter a night of pitch darkness, unbroken by comforting stars or light of any kind.   
Finally this: history is not scripted; it is made. And history surprises.
[Rowan Cahill, 22 November 2018]
1966 was my last year as a cleanskin – the year I destroyed my death lottery call-up papers*, the year my rebellions went public, the year Special Branch (the political police unit of the NSW Police Force) started tailing and photographing me as they complied my Dossier, and not long before the anal-retentives in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) deemed I warranted a file†. Sorting through my papers recently I came across an old orange covered Penguin edition of Romain Gary’s novel The Roots of Heaven (1960). According to a note I had made on the flyleaf, I bought the book on Monday 21 February 1966, and finished reading it five days later, at 1.20 AM to be precise, on Saturday February 27. The book was a source of my discontent.  
How I chanced upon it in 1966 I can’t recall. Perhaps it was because Colin Wilson and his minority view reckoned it was one of the classic novels of the twentieth century, and I had earlier been influenced mightily by his literary study of alienation and rebellion The Outsider (1956); or maybe it was via the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin whose radical cosmological theology I was reading at the time and which had exercised a profound influence on Gary’s Roots of Heaven; or maybe it was Errol Flynn, battling alcoholism, who stared in John Huston’s 1958 film of the book and reckoned it was his favourite film of those he had played in, Flynn who decades earlier had delivered the memorable line as Robin Hood, when Maid Marian, not yet his lover, turns to him in rebuke early in the film, Robin in the halls of governmental power, an uninvited banquet guest of the corrupt, opportunist and powerful, ‘Why, you speak treason’, to which Robin replies with a wry hint of a smile, “Fluently”.
Roots of Heaven was Green decades before the colour became political, telling of a French Resistance veteran and concentration camp survivor who goes to Africa to save elephants from slaughter and extinction at the hands of the ivory-and-trophy set, elephants for him the symbol of humanity and hope, of all that is decent, majestic and just, a personal symbol that had brought him through WW11, now victims of human greed, corrupt and compromised politics, and capitalism. He begins his quixotic campaign peacefully with petitions and representation and the gamut of traditional avenues of peaceful persuasion, in the process gathering around him a small band of outcasts variously wounded by the twentieth century. But he finds he cannot beat wealth and power and corruption with these methods, and so, unwilling to compromise or retreat, he resorts to more violent measures.
Roots of Heaven is about resistance and rebellion and the value of pursuing seeming lost causes in the face of the intractable. In 1966 the book spoke to me, and helped shape my future – profoundly.
*From 1965-72 a selective system of conscription (National Service) was in force in Australia, operating through a lottery-ballot system and applying to all males on the cusp of them turning 20 years old. The one-in-twelve who ‘won’ the lottery and were called-up were in the Australian army for the next two years, many seeing service in the frontlines of the Vietnam War. At the time, adult status and the right to vote were not attained in Australia until the age of 21. I was conscripted in November 1965.
† Special Branch was unceremoniously disbanded in 1997 following a Royal Commission into the NSW Police Service. ASIO opened its file on me in 1967.
[Rowan Cahill, 21 April 2018]

A BRUSH WITH WEIMAR: Forty-eight years ago tonight, it was the night before Pam (1948-2015) and I married, and we were amongst the small number of guests invited to a function to farewell Associate Professor Ernest K. Bramsted (1901-1978) as he retired from Sydney University and prepared to return to the UK where he had citizenship. He had come to Sydney University in 1952, but was now deemed to have reached his use-by date.  As it turned out, he still had a couple of books in him, and some teaching gigs.

Ernest K Bramsted
Bramsted had been one of my teachers during my undergraduate years at Sydney University (1964-68), and had helped supervise my Honours work in 1968. We had become close during this time, and had had many discussions.…..about history, socialism, utopias, propaganda, rebellion, dissent, my own radical activities, morality, responsibility…

Born in Germany into a liberal Jewish tradition, Bramsted had contributed to the socialist press in the early years of the Weimer Republic, gained a doctorate from the University of Berlin (1926), and a second at the University of London (1936), this latter thesis, with its mix of sociology, history, and literature, published in 1937 as Aristocracy and the Middle-Classes in Germany: Social Types in German Literature 1830-1900 (republished in 1964). Bramsted’s academic mentor and influence was the pioneer sociologist Karl Mannheim (1893-1947), and he later co-edited a collection of Mannheim’s last writings, Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning (1951).  

A victim of, and refugee from, the anti-semitism unleashed by Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act, Bramsted moved to Holland, then Britain, and during WW11 worked in counter-propaganda for the BBC, and later in secret war work for the Foreign Office in ‘political intelligence’. Post-war he worked in Berlin on the transfer of Nazi documents into the public realm, and gained an international reputation as a critical authority on propaganda and its coercive and shaping roles through the close case study of Joseph Goebbels, whose work he had monitored as part of his war work.  Bramsted was a religious person and part of the Unitarian Church, his theological strand rejecting the notion of ‘original sin’, locating the genesis of evil/sin within the human being and the choices each one of us makes.

From tutorials and one-to-one discussions, through the haze of his yellow stained fingers chain smoking and quietly pointed challenging Germanic accented English, I absorbed a lot from Bramsted…..about the history of ideas, about the roles of intellectuals in society and history, about the roles of fear and intimidation in controlling society, about the legitimacy of revolution, about events like the advent of Nazism and the Holocaust not being historical abnormalities but the results of human actions and inactions, with the emphasis on the latter, and that mass society is always about individuals, and at any time, individuals can have agency and it is compliance/complicity or otherwise that counts. Metaphysically/historically, Evil is something each of us helps along, or counters.

There was only a handful of us young people at Bramsted’s function, and Pam and I left early, returning to our respective parental homes. On the morrow we would marry and begin a new life together…..there was conscription and a related war to end; authorities with significant jail-time in mind for me to be thwarted; and a world to win….and the individual had agency, particularly if organised…….for better or for worse, and until death did us part, chances were that life was probably always going to be a bit different. [Rowan Cahill, 16 May 2017]
As Australia gears up to commemorate/celebrate the state  orchestrated Anzac Day 2017 (April 25th), a few dissident thoughts: War is a political act initiated/manufactured by a few people who have the power to order/coerce/manipulate many others with little or no power, to engage in barbaric acts of violence with tools that intensify violence and destruction. All the while, those who have created the situation operate in relative safety away from the face-to-face realities of hands-on violence. The reasons for the War-event will be multifarious. Those who engage in a hands-on way and whose energies fuel the act, will be given one set of reasons, usually emotive and spurious, while the reasons of the planners/initiators will be cold-blooded ones, rooted in the geopolitical and economic, perhaps even the mad. It will be the task of future historians to bring the War-event planners and initiators to account and to interrogate their reasonings and justifications, if that is they do not themselves become dancers to the martial tunes of the paymasters and sell their souls to the martial spirit, doing their bit as unblooded intellectual warriors to assist repetitions of histories. [Opposite: Australian WW1 anti-conscription poster attributed to IWW organiser Tom Barker (1887-1970), in its day worth significant imprisonment].
[Rowan Cahill, 24 April 2017]

As I strolled this Summer’s day by the side of a local waterway, I looked beyond the overwhelming greenness of the vista and sought within the myriad shades of greens, the diversity of foliage and shapes, and the riot of colours, within and beneath the green hegemony - the reds, yellows, whites, reds, pinks, purples, orange and black, of berries and blooms, wilds and exotics, natives and weeds. And as I ‘saw’ the colours and diversities of shape and form, my mind turned to social protest and resistance movements. They can have names and labels and titles in history and in political discourse, like the anti-war movement of the 1960s of which I was part, Chartism of the nineteenth century, the French Resistance of World War II, developing anti-Trumpism.

The name/title/label, however, is really only a convenience, a way of simplifying complexities, just as my waterway panorama appears at first sight overwhelmingly green. Within that green there are manifold varieties of colours and forms, diversities of difference, unique in their own ways, with their own agendas if you will, sometimes mutually competing for space, even antagonistically, but overall constituting a green hegemony.

Alternatively, consider the hegemonic green as symbolic of the status quo, the repressive rule that is opposed, and the same applies. Beneath, and despite the system’s hegemony, there is a riot of challenge from below. Indeed, sometimes, a label obscures the actuality of what is taking place below, obscuring manifold resistances and dissidence, short changing traditions of protest and resistance, and in a way robbing the future.

By ideologically fixating one’s politics and ‘seeing’ on the hegemonic greenness of the vista, and on envisaging its defeat in one dramatic overthrow, one massive confrontation, one decisive clash, achieved by an all-embracing organisational structure of some kind, and often envisaged as occurring in some metropole, much is missed. And what is missed is the actuality of what is happening, the meek and the dramatic, the gentle and the confrontational, in many places, in many ways, by many people, often outside the metropole and away from the ‘eyes’ of the media and the celebratory ‘selfie’, at times private, at times very personal, perhaps no more than a one-to-one conversation or a bit of hacking or the trickle of a leak.   

Resistance to be resistance is not necessarily a media event, though in these social-media times the notion of ‘dissent events’ is a useful dissident tool. But when, for instance, World War II Resistance activists variously destroyed strategic infrastructures  in Nazi occupied Europe, they did not pose for film-shots to post on the non-existent Facebooks of their time, saying ‘look, here we are;  this is what we did, this is where we are’, but went back to the anonymities of their daily lives, until the next action. It was the act and its ramifications for the repressive rule that counted, not the “I did this, therefore I am” approach that seems to inform modernity.  And often in resisting oppression, everything is not on the table and the resister/activist, as Marcuse once pointed out, has to choose from "what can be chosen", and it becomes a matter then of "what is chosen".

Failure to understand that resistance is a many flowered thing, with many shapes and forms, coupled with the ideological fixation/dream of a culminating big oppositional event that tumbles the oppressive rule, is conducive to a form of despondency. Thus the feeling that until the occasion/realisation of the big event, nothing much is happening otherwise, and with this  the perception that the despised rule prevails unchallenged. It is as though we take the David and Goliath story too literally. Sure, the story of one specially selected smooth stone and one slingshot and one person, a humble shepherd, bringing down Leviathan is a potent political story. But it is also mischievous.  Mostly history shows that it is many resistances, by many people over time, many stones, many slingshots, that tumbles Leviathan. And within this, it is not only the slingshot and its wielder that matter, but also the stones.  
[Rowan Cahill, 16 February 2017] 



.....Childe in the 1930s....
After many years of scholarship, teaching in the academy, and activism, colleague Terry Irving is putting together what he envisages being the definitive account of the life and politics of Australian-born leftist archaeologist and prehistorian Vere Gordon Childe (1892-1957). Best known in Australia for his pioneering, seminal critical account of the Australian labour movement in and out of Parliament, How Labour Governs (1923), Childe is more widely known internationally for his pioneering work in prehistory, author of 26 books on archaeology and history, and at the time of his suicide in 1957 in the Blue Mountains (NSW), probably Australia’s most translated author.

Irving’s ‘Childe Project’ is the result of nearly three decades of research nationally and internationally, undertaken as time permitted during the conduct of personal life and employment. It is planned in three parts. Part 1 will treat the period 1892-1927, from Childe’s birth, through his  radicalisation at Sydney and Oxford universities, the ways this variously played out in the anti-war and socialist ferment of World War 1, and in the post-war rough and tumble of Australian labour/Labor politics, to his first academic position in archaeology. Part 2 will examine Childe’s politics, in particular his evolution and formulation of radical democracy. Part 3 will treat Childe’s long academic career in the UK, and his end days in Australia, and explore the relationship Childe developed between scholarship and politics. Irving intends to conclude with reflections on the important questions Childe’s life and work raise about radical democracy. Irving frames these thus: “Is there virtue in political life when it is lived apart from the state? Ought the masses to be self-governing or governed by their betters? Is it better to release or to tame the savage instincts of democracy?”
...Irving, over seven decades later......
With the working title The Fatal Lure of Politics, Irving’s work in progress is taking place publicly, online and with open access, the chapters posted on Irving’s website, ‘Savage Democracy’ as they are completed. This incremental and public approach is reminiscent of the way in which Irving and colleague R. Connell developed their classic study Class Structure in Australian History (1980) during the 1970s, with typed/roneod chapters circulated widely prior to eventual publication.

The chapters online to date demonstrate deep familiarity with the life and work of Childe, and there is much that has not been made public previously. However Irving has decided to retain control over his intellectual property by not making the footnotes available at this stage. Having been privy to these, I can attest to their complexity, depth, and thoroughness, indicating deep and original research in archives and libraries in Australia, the UK, and Europe. 

Apart from contesting and countering many myths and much nonsense about the life and times of Childe, what Irving is doing overall is bringing his own lifetime of activism, work, scholarship, and thought to bear upon Childe, examining some profound political questions, and modelling the writing of radical history, demonstrating how a past-life and time, deeply and radically lived, can offer much to the present and to the future. [Rowan Cahill, 25 January 2017]


Dear ---------,

As you say, the anti-Trump demonstrations in the US are heartening, but in a sense, for they are happening in a comparatively safe environment in the twilight hours of the Obama administration. There is a long way to go, and the new rulers will be organised and will leave nothing to chance; they are hard and ruthless people, and to act against them will be punishing and terrible, with militarised policing, incarcerations, loyalty tests in the offing, and civil liberties out the window.  And if the highest US courts are purged of liberal legalists…..well, the fascists will have carte blanche. To protest then will take courage and guts and, in a sense, people as hard as those they oppose, and these don’t grow on trees. I reckon that is the shape of the future, and Australia will not be immune, since we have developed as one of the largest US military bases in the world, and Pine Gap is key to the US nuclear military capacity. So we can expect Australian governments to fall in line behind Trump, we having already pioneered Trumpism in many ways. 

But there will be other historic forces in play…..we are possibly looking at the fall of the US Empire, going the way of Rome……...there will be major geopolitical shifts as Trumpism rolls through the world, resistances of all kinds, and things that pollsters and opinion writers have not countenanced, maybe even the further decline of capitalism, and all sorts of nasty efforts to stave that off…..indeed, we could, even now, be witnessing  the emergence of a new world, a struggling birth like that of a butterfly struggling from its grub form into the light of day……it will be a messy, confusing, and probably  frightening process………for all of us ordinaries who have not gone along with the neoliberal madnesses,  of which Trump is a mutant product, it will be and is a time to love and to care for those we are close to, to nourish and shelter and aid and support and comfort, and to work for social justice in whatever ways we can, and to recognise the face of evil, and not to yield, nor grant it normalcy. It is essential too, to not abandon hope, nor the imagining and dreaming of a better world.

I recently saw some statistics about the French Resistance during WWII. General de Gaulle, post- war, encouraged the myth that the Resistance was a popular movement in  an effort to help him paper over and rule a fractured nation and to promote it in a guilty Europe and on the world stage……..well no, it wasn’t……it was a minority movement , about 1% of the population, and a significant proportion were women since the bulk of the male population were in the armed forces, variously dead, in POW camps, in exile fighting to return, or collaborating/coexisting along with the majority of the population…….part of the feelings of hopelessness we have in the face of Trumpism is that understandings of resistance generally and its possibilities have, historically, been misrepresented, censored,  and  emasculated…….for ruling class elites it is best the plebs, we who are ruled, do not understand the possibilities of our agency and the making of history from below. But for the moment , we are safe, and we can sleep safely………and there is an old saying, ‘history surprises’…….the future is not yet written, nor set  in stone. [Rowan Cahill, 14 November 2016]


I have before me a copy of the latest book by John Tognolini, A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir, Part One: Other People’s Wars (2015). This is not a  brief title, and had the book come via a mainstream publisher and gone through the hands of a marketing person, rather than  the ebook self-publishing manner in which John publishes (this is his fourth book), it would no doubt have had a less cumbersome title, maybe just A History Man’s Past. But John does not operate this way, and if I was asked to name a favourite Australian radical/commentator/author, I would probably bypass the famous and the well-known and nominate ‘John Tognolini’. I’ll return to the ‘why’ of this later.
John Tognolini

First, A History Man’s Past. The ‘history man’ of the title is John. He has a passion for history from a leftist perspective. Employment-wise and professionally, he is a secondary school history teacher in rural NSW (Australia). This book is a collection of his writings, and interviews he has conducted, on the theme of war and militarisation, exploring why it is that Australia has been at war for much of its time as a nation as the junior partner of either Britain or the United States. As the reader soon learns, war is part of the Tognolini’s family. Four of his uncles went to World War 1, the youngest, his namesake ‘John/Jack’, on the Western Front aged sixteen or seventeen, a boy-soldier who lied about his age to enlist. Gallipoli veteran Andrew Tognolini died shortly after the war. 

For author John, war is nothing to glorify, no height of nobility as currently being evangelised by Australian war-propagandists bankrolled by multi-millions of dollars of government and corporate money to commemorate/celebrate World War 1.  Rather, Tognolini’s take on war is it is a human tragedy, not only about carnage and slaughter but also of hardships and sufferings and traumas for those on the home-front, and later for many of the front-liners who return home and struggle to live in the aftertime of ‘peace’. Constantly in Tognolini’s work there are the shadows of the geopolitics of war, and the politicians who engineer ‘war’, these latter mostly unblooded martial enthusiasts.

A History Man’s Past is a welcome contribution to the small body of Australian anti-war writing, a corpus that is overwhelmed by the tsunami of pro-war literature that flows from the presses of mainstream publishers, helping fuel Australia’s ongoing participation in other people’s wars and  legitimise increasing military budgets and expenditures. As few Australians seem pause and  question………not enough money for health, education, pensions, but a bottomless bucket for ‘war’?   
However, this does not explain my liking for John Tognolini as a dissident/radical. His latest book is only part of the answer.  The full reason lies in the way Tognolini operates; in a self-directed way. He makes his own spaces for dissident interventions and comment, demonstrating a media savvy that was/is no doubt helped by his academic studies; he has a First Class Honours degree in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney, gained at a time when the institution had a reputation for producing independent journalists/communicators.  Tognolini  publishes his own books. Since 2006 he has run a massive website/blog (Tog’s Place.Com) as a platform for his own writings and commentaries, and also as an alternative leftist news, information and cultural site. The site takes its name from the Cobb and Co way-station run by his Italian grandfather and his Australia-born grandmother (from English/Irish convict parentage) near Castlemaine, Victoria, during the 19th century. Tognolini has also been involved in community radio since 1987, and with the socialist newspaper Green Left Weekly since 1990. He has produced radio documentaries for ABC Radio National/RN.

Tognolini’s independence as an intellectual/communicator is rooted in his employment background;  before becoming a school teacher in 2000, he variously worked as a labourer, scaffolder, rigger, dogman, railway fettler, and painter and docker, and whilst in these employments was a trade unionist. This long and varied employment background means that the language of Tognolini is from the world of public communication, and not from school-to-academia niche worlds; his long and deep immersion in the labouring workforce also means he developed strong self-respect and individuality that have helped him resist/escape the cap-in-hand-defer-to-intellectual-power-elites mode of conduct that tends to come with professional writer training and with academia. 

Involvement in unionism, militant unionism in Tognolini’s case, led him to make two documentary films that are worth chasing down, one (1992) on the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in Victoria, the other (with Frances Kelly) on the three-month occupation/strike by militant trade unions of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, 1989, in which John was involved. Both substantial films are available on Youtube.

Tognolini does not need peer- reviewing or permission to speak, nor does he need the approbation of pecking orders to comment and create his brand of opposition and dissidence. He does not agonise as to where to act, where to ‘say’. He simply goes out and does/say it, and as I said earlier, makes his own spaces. There is a valuable message, and example, here that I regard highly, and respect. [ Rowan Cahill, 10 November 2015] 
So I’ve just turned 70, an age I never really thought I’d get to see way back when I was young. We had planned to have a party, Pam and I, she reckoning it was a milestone requiring celebration, but she didn’t get to make it, and the party did not happen, a non sequitur in respects.  Way back when the Beatles wondered about the nature of love at the age of 64, it all seemed a distant future, so far away, but a good question nonetheless, but that is in the past.

Seems to me that at least I should venture some words about the milestone, but since Pam died earlier this year I realise there is much I do not understand, and much I cannot answer, and her death has been humbling in many ways.

Behind the photo in front of me, on the third shelf of the chaotic bookshelf of my chaotic desk, of her and me together, snapped some twenty years ago when we were still teaching, is a faded green-covered Everyman’s edition of  Leaves of Grass by American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892), which according to the notation on the fly-leaf has been with me since 8 December 1962, a book I purchased from caddying money during my last years as a Cold War schoolboy, courtesy of tippled afternoon tipsters at the Pymble  Golf Club, just a couple of years before Menzies and his war-lovers duplicitously plunged me and my generation into the turmoil and wastes and lies and traumas of the Vietnam War and Conscription, plucking me from obscurity in the roll of a birthday-based lottery system, November 3rd one of the marbles conscripted in 1965.

Deflected here, both my life then and my reflections now, by something that burns within me as a passion, close to hatred, I recall the words of French writer Romain Rolland (1866-1944) who observed in October 1914 as Europe was being jollied and herded by a relative few into the abattoirs of World War 1, that “I find war detestable but those who praise it without participating in it even more so”.

Whitman was at the start of my writerly voyage, and approaching 70, he too wondered in his confrontational, autobiographical, cantankerous, gnarly way in a poem ‘Queries To My Seventieth Year’, about the milestone and the time ahead, and whether it was an end or an ongoing proposition, a matter of “life or death”, declining powers, or was it a matter of simply leaving him “Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack’d voice harping, screeching?”.

So what is there to say, apart from admitting that I do not know many things, and there is much that I do not understand, and that a certainty in my world has been shaken by death? Well, there are things I do know, do understand, that are constants like the Pole Star the old mariner and leader of the Seamen’s Union of Australia E. V. Elliott (1902-1984) talked to me about in the early 1970s when I took my first steps as an historian with the trade union he led, about staying ‘On Course’, his favourite refrain. 

I began the 21st century with two quotes on my now non-existent letterhead, one from old cantankerous himself, Whitman, page 8 of my copy of Leaves, a line from the brief poem ‘To The States’, a line he stressed in italics, later taken up and over by another literary rebellious favourite, monkeywrencher Edward Abbey (1927-1989) - ‘’Resist much, obey little”; and a line from a letter the Italian Marxist  Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) wrote from the confines of a fascist prison in December 1929, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will”. For me, at 70, both say it all. 
[Rowan Cahill, 3 November 2015]
News of the forthcoming Denis Kevans Memorial Concert Fundraiser for Chemical Warfare Victims of the Vietnam War (Sydney, 23 August 2015) brought back a few memories, and because Denis was  never far away from both the making and study of history, a few notes here seem relevant......

Denis Kevans (1939-2005) was a songwriter, folk singer, public servant, labourer on building
Denis Kevans
sites, trade unionist, teacher, journalist, but mostly he was a poet. We met in 1965, and I published a couple of his now classic anti-war poems in the Sydney University student newspaper honi soit. Our association continued thereafter until his death from complications arising from heart surgery. I have before me the file of correspondence resulting from this association, capturing the 'driveness' and creativity and always-on-the-go nature of his creativity, a hectic collection of notes scribbled on scraps of paper, photocopies sent of his latest works, hurriedly typed missives with  hand corrections announcing his latest anthology (The Great Prawn War and Other Poems, 1982; Ah, White man, have you any sacred sites?, 1985; The Bastard Who Squashed the Grapes in Me Bag, 1991), along with requests for me to review it/them.  Self-published, his anthologies were in part financed from royalties resulting from the use by the iconic band 'Midnight Oil' of one of his poems. I
n 1976 Denis and I planned to publish an anthology of his poems in time for Christmas sales, but we could not get the necessary cash together. 

Denis does not appear in the Australian literary canon, except for passing mention, and he is not one of those poets who make it regularly into Australian anthologies. Yet he and his work have had greater exposure to people, and more people have possibly engaged with his work and been moved by it, than can be said for many other Australian poets. Mostly Denis published in social movement publications, his poetry, much of it satirical and humorous, championing trade union, social justice,  anti-war, and environmental causes and issues. He performed his work too, and had a speaking/public voice and knew how to work an audience. For example, at the Palm Sunday anti-nuclear rally in Sydney , 1984, he held an audience of 150, 000 people.
For Denis, poetry was meant to be read, heard, understood. He was not about writing for 'quiet contemplation', or about writing clever stuff for fellow poets, or writing to demonstrate artistry and technique. Which is not to say he was not schooled in the classics, nor that he was unaware of poetic techniques. Indeed he came out of the Catholic school system, and had been a boarder at the prestigious St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, Sydney, before briefly enrolling in Medicine at Sydney University. But Medicine was not to be his way, and he became instead a public servant, then a labourer, before completing a part-time Arts degree at Sydney University, getting a teaching qualification, and thereafter variously making a living via teaching and journalism. In 1979 Denis successfully completed an MA in English Literature at Sydney University. His subject was the World War 1 Australian anti-war soldier poet Henry Weston Pryce (1891-1963).

Kevan's poetry first took to the streets, so to speak, during the anti-nuclear campaigns of the early 1960s, the Vietnam War later that decade bringing him to prominence. His work is the subject of a paper given by Jefferson Lee at the February 2015 National Australian Labour History Conference in Melbourne. [Rowan Cahill, 9 August 2015]


Raewyn and Terry at the Conference, in front
of the !st edition cover of CSAH
Photo: Nick Irving
At the recent Historical Materialism Australasia Conference (Sydney, July 2015), the keynote address was delivered by veteran scholars Terry Irving and Raewyn Connell. The subject was their seminal book Class Structure in Australian History (CSAH), the first edition of which was published by Longman Cheshire in 1980, followed by a second edition in 1992. Whilst in print the book sold at least 12,000 copies, a significant figure at the time for an Australian book, still a figure to set a publisher’s lips drooling, and in terms of international academic/scholarly publishing, where print runs of 200 copies struggle to sell, a runaway success. As they say in the classics, CSAH ‘walked off the shelves’.

In 1979/80, the book was lucky to make its way into print. At the last minute the publisher apparently had second thoughts and on the negative advice of a reader new to Australia, threatened to pull the plug in the project. Simply the book was eccentric in many respects, too Australian and non-metropole for a start, and in terms of analysis not in accord with the latest scholarly/intellectual happenings and trends in the US in particular. However the young authors refused to back down and stuck to the original commissioning terms. Hey presto, a best-seller.

Reviewers tended to approach the book as a general history, and found it wanting, problematic: it took class analysis seriously, was thematic rather than an extended narrative, was too much of a mix with its blend of documents, narrative and argument, and it brashly defied traditional discipline boundaries, the text at once historical, sociological, political. Simply, the young authors were unwelcome challengers to the masterly likes of Scott, Hancock, Crawford, and the soon to be iconic Clark. However, despite reviewer negativities, CSAH sold.

The book emerged from a period of energised Australian intellectual and social ferment. During the  mid-sixties and through the 1970s,  Australia changed dramatically and significantly, a period some historians have termed a ‘cultural revolution’ as the skids were put under the prevailing culture that Donald Horne described as “racist, anglocentric-imperialist, puritan, sexist, politically genteel acquiescent, capitalist, bureaucratic and developmentalist”. Granted, in future decades conservative forces would regroup and variously seek, successfully in some respects, to return to that conservative utopia, but that was in the future.

CSAH was not a product of the corporatized ‘knowledge’ factory that universities have become, where scholars are metaphorically chained to computer screens, generating texts in a desperate ‘publish or perish’ culture. Rather the Connell/Irving work emerged slowly, in a collective way modern spin-doctors and box-tickers would term ‘collegial’. The initial book contact with Longmans was signed in 1971, but the idea for the book emerged in discussions and projects at the Free University, Sydney (1967-1972), a radical experimental self-managed study and research outfit, Connell and Irving being two of the founders. Draft chapters of the future book were circulated for discussion and comment amongst radical scholars during the 1970s, and the project progressed as the result of a series of Class Analysis Conferences organised by the authors during 1975-1977.

So why bother with CSAH in 2015? Well, in some quarters it is regarded as a seminal work, and a bit of internet searching indicates it has been a well cited text, continues to be cited, and arguably fulfils some sort of ‘need’. But for me that is not the point. Rather, the book’s existence, its reception, its longevity, point to something intellectual gatekeepers of all kinds either ignore, play-down, and/or dissemble about. There is in the Australian intellectual culture a strong tradition of Marxist and class analysis, going back to the 19th century and continuing today. It is robust, diversified, and exists both inside and outside the academy, something other intellectual traditions often fail to achieve. Its practitioners and exponents are variously academics and non-academics; its outlets and modes of  dissemination are variously academic and non-academic. The nature and extent of the tradition is outlined by Rick Kuhn, winner of the 2007 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize, in his essay “The History of Class Analysis in Australia” (2005). In a micro/qualitative study, Thomas Barnes and Damien Cahill have demonstrated the extent and diversity of this tradition during the period since the 1970s in their article “Marxist Class Analysis: A Living Tradition in Australian Scholarship” (Journal of Australian Political Economy, Issue 70, 2012).

So yes, there is an Australian Marxist/class analysis scholarly tradition, and CSAH is a significant part of this. While the tradition might not be touted as being obvious, or encouraged and/or welcomed by scholarly/academic gatekeepers, it steadfastly streams through Australian intellectual life as surely as an ocean current. [Rowan Cahill, 30 July 2015]


Words spoken by Rowan Cahill during the funeral service for his wife, Pamela Anne Cahill (1948-2015), Wednesday,  24 June 2015

Pam was born in Melbourne in January 1948.
She was variously my friend, partner, and wife since 1966.  

The cause of her death was an unexpected and unforgiving brain aneurysm.   

Pam was a remarkable person, and a teacher since 1970 in Sydney, and in the Southern Highlands of NSW, one whose skills and care and personality and modesty touched the lives of many.
For her it was not a matter of building a CV or of attaining promotion or power. She had seen too many inappropriate ‘achievers’ and ‘wielders’, and reckoned that ‘awarded’ and ‘official’ status all too often masked ineptitude and was a meaningless charade.

In many ways, and you have to understand this in a considered, classical and philosophical way, Pam was a gentle anarchist.
For her what mattered were the actualities of doing and teaching and caring, for in these meaning was to be found, and worth created. Leadership was about ‘showing’ how it was done, not ‘telling’ how it was done.  

We met at Sydney University in 1966 in the days of the anti-war and anti-conscription movements. She accepted my proposal of marriage on the then open top-deck of Fisher Library one night in 1968, and we married in 1969.
When the state sought to incarcerate me for political offences for at least four years, she stood by me and supported the need to speak truth to power and not back down. For Christmas 1968 I gave her the Beatle’s Sgt Pepper’s album, and she gave me Che Guevara’s collection of speeches and writings Venceremos. Such were the times.

Pam was a person of great inner strength and resilience, courage, love, and humility. Her love was unconditional, and in her teaching she had the ability to develop in students self-confidence, self-belief, and the desire to keep trying.
She had an incisive reflective intellect with the ability to see through what I would call ‘bullshit’, but what she would more carefully and correctly call ‘pretence and falsity’. This was an ability that came with a huge vocabulary, after all her favourite book was ‘Mr Oxford’ as she called the Oxford Dictionary, and she hardly ever finished the day without completing the Sydney Morning Herald’s Quick and Cryptic crosswords.

Pam called a spade a spade, and did so with a quiet unquavering forthrightness, because a spade was, and is, a spade. And ‘quiet’ was the name of the game, because hers was a strength that did not need proving.
She had an intellect, a reflective calmness, and a problem solving ability that I have benefited from over the years. My life and work are all the better for it.

Pam loved her family and was proud of the clan we helped create together, and this brought her great joy.
We were soulmates; we complemented each other and I am a better person for our nearly fifty years of voyaging together.

I am diminished by her not being here.
The world seems a darker place.  [Rowan Cahill, 27 June 2015]


‘Marxist scholarship, already on the defensive for political reasons inside university economics faculties, often retreated into scholastic debates over texts or into abstruse mathematical calculations as remote from the real world as those of their mainstream colleagues.’ So wrote Chris Harman in Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (Bookmarks Publications, 2009). It was not just in economics that the radicals retreated; it happened in all the social sciences and humanities. And not just because of political timidity; they had been outflanked. Knowledge production had changed in ways that disadvantaged radicals.

This happened as universities ceased being elite institutions variously producing educated and research elites. They transformed and morphed to become business institutions producing masses of highly educated graduates for an ever increasing array of employment situations, and specialist researchers for their own use, conducting their operations and accountability processes on models adapted/adopted from the corporate and business worlds.

While the numbers of academics needed to service these institutions dramatically expanded, this did not lead to the democratisation of knowledge and research, nor to the creation of an intellectual commons. Instead, academic jobs and career advancement, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, came to rely on knowledge production in specified quantities (amounts varying between and within institutions) gifted to and published in a hierarchy of journals of varying status and prestige, some more preferred than others, most of which ultimately were, or came, under the control and/or ownership of huge multi-billion-dollar global publishing empires.

These publications tended to have their own preferred styles, genres, and content ranges, their editors/editorial boards in effect acting as intellectual conditioners and gatekeepers. In the affluent world, in whatever country, in whatever institution, as this process gathered pace the role of academic/scholar as ‘researcher’ and ‘thinker’ became that of vassal labourer, reliant on the multinational-billion-dollar scholarly publishing empires for employment/career advancement. 

Mostly funded by public monies, the items the vassals produced as part of their labour were handed over for free to private enterprise where, with the development of cyber technologies, they were locked up behind the paywalls and liberated on a user-pay basis, a one-way financial process that totally excluded/excludes the original creator/producer. The scale and extent of this sort of intellectual production is immense. While reliable figures are difficult to come by, estimates of the number of peer-reviewed papers published globally place the figure at around 1.5 million items annually.

The cost per download of an article under this system, often approximates to the cost of a mass-marketed paperback book, hence the huge profits generated by academic publishers, it being a necessary part of the academic research model to mine and trawl within the relevant empires of published research.  Scientific scholarly/academic publisher Elsevier, for example, reported revenue of $US3.5 billion, and a profit of $US1.5 billion, in 2013.

Further, the accountability processes adopted in the business model of university tended to demand not only production as quantity, and as publication, but also evidence that this material had been used/utilised, which came to rely on referencing and citation and use in the same or related outlets as the original material appeared in. This in turn was conducive to the creation of gated intellectual communities, encouraging and perpetuating discussions and the framing of ideas in genres of writing and language that could only be understood by, and therefore attract the interest of, niche and specialised audiences of similar ilk. The success of a piece of academic/scholarly came to be measured in terms of its circulation within the larger world of gated intellectual communities, that being the audience sought, it never being the aim of the process to engage in a democratic way with the public in general, to reach beyond the niche.  

What we have, in effect, is the colonisation of scholarship and research and the creation by the coloniser, the academic publishers, of metropoles of learning/knowledge, within which there is enough room for creative manoeuvre and difference, but only within the metropole. It is a mode of intellectual work and production that is not inclusive, but parallel to and compounding for example, what Raewyn Connell drew attention to in the pioneering Southern Theory: The global dynamics of knowledge in the social sciences (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2007): the systematic historical neglect by the affluent intellectual worlds of Europe and North America of the richness of social science understandings and insights from Africa, Latin America, Asia, and within these their alternative modes of intellectual activity and production.

For the radical/dissident scholar/academic with a passion for social justice, or with the evils of capitalism in her/his sites, the career questions have not been of the kind ‘what social justice problem has your work been used to address?; what social movements, picket lines, barricades, revolts, insurrections, etc, etc, has your work helped inspire/inform?’; not ‘what public forums, outlets has your work been referenced/appeared in?’, but rather ‘in what journal, what scholarly book (with a very small print-run, say 200 copies, and a huge price tag) has your work appeared in?, in which part of what multi-billion-dollar scholarly/academic publishing empire has your work been drawn upon/cited/referenced?’

Moreover, when it came/comes to the actual physical presence/participation of the scholar/academic in public affairs, forums, and events outside of the academy, there were and are constraints. Workloads are such that after teaching and administrative/bureaucratic responsibilities, including the huge bureaucratic process associated with the career prerequisite of competitively seeking funding and grants, have been attended to, and after research has taken place, there is little time for public affairs, especially if a personal life and rest and recreation are also the rights of the academic/scholar. Add to this the imperative to write and publish, and the work of the academic that has emerged in the modern business university is one conducive to life spent as an inhabitant of an institutional and intellectual enclosure. It was and is a working/creative environment where the radical/dissident intellectual worker could come to view the production of a published scholarly/academic piece as a political act and as the engagement in struggle/contestation. The mode of intellectual production and its related publishing model in turn shaped the political/public behaviour of the university based intellectual worker.

 Given all this, it is easy, perhaps ‘natural’, to think that this is the intellectual/scholarly model, that this is the way academics/scholars behave, and should behave. No matter that a cursory glance backwards shows that considerable thinking and ideas and understandings of great intellectual significance in the humanities and social sciences were given birth away from the academy, often in publications/formats that today would be regarded ‘off limits’ so far as academic/scholarly career prospects and advancement are concerned, and one only has to mention in regard to Europe, Gramsci and Benjamin to see the point.

Too often, university based intellectual workers, and those they train to be their future replacements, see themselves as idea makers and not idea users as well. The notion that there is more to ideas than just thinking them and putting them in journals or whatever in academic formats, that they have to also be part of life, has to be said and said and said again and again, so the idea makers actually accept as part of their brief and role that ideas and action and social transformations are all part of the one dimension, and are not afraid of or guilty or tainted by the thought.

A key part of this 'action' is seeking ways to go beyond the academic/scholarly format and conceiving of intellectual work as engaging democratically with more than niche audiences. It is not impossible. In Barcelona in 2012, trained historians and ‘historytellers, historical agitators, artists, independent archivists, history groups, political archaeologists etc’ came together to set up the International History From Below Network. As the document for its recent meeting in Manchester explains, the network aims to create a ‘self-organized, do-it-yourself practice’, an historical sub-culture of ‘commoning and levelling, promoting the sharing of resources and countering the idea that history is solely the province of professional historians. We aim to find new practices and arenas for radical history beyond the austere mood and sensibility of the academic lecture and conference.’

If intellectual workers keep perpetuating the idea that writing a scholarly article is the political act and therefore the end of the matter, then they defraud themselves, disempowering and emasculating both themselves as idea makers and the possibilities for change.  

[Rowan Cahill and Terry Irving, 19 May 2015]

BEYOND LUMINARIES: E.P. Thompson, AND Jack Lindsay and V.G.  Childe
As I was reviewing a new book on E.P. Thompson edited by Cal Winslow (E.P. Thompson and the Making of the New Left: Essays and Polemics, Monthly Review Press, 2014) I remembered a small, invitation-only meeting in London in 1945 to hear a paper by Jack Lindsay. The memory was triggered by the similarity of ideas put forward by Thompson in 1957 and with those in Lindsay’s account of what he said at that meeting.
Jack Lindsay
Jack Lindsay was an expatriate Australian, as was Gordon Childe. They had met in Brisbane’s socialist circles in 1919, but they were not in touch with each other again until 1945. By this time they were Marxists, and Lindsay had joined the British Communist Party. Childe – whose What Happened in History, 1942, was a best-seller for Penguin Books - was about to take up his appointment as Director of the London Institute of Archaeology. Lindsay – a well-known writer and publisher – was devoting himself to strengthening the progressive cultural upsurge of the 1940s.
Thompson in later years would be famous as the author of The Making of the English Working Class (1963). He was also, as Cal Winslow reminds us  “a poet, tank commander, Communist, teacher, historian, founder of the New Left, public intellectual, spokesperson for European Nuclear Disarmament, and active socialist for over fifty years”. He wrote a novel and published several collections of his polemical essays in the 1970s and 80s.
Thompson’s ‘essays and polemics’ of the late 1950s and early 1960s remained unpublished until Winslow collected thirteen of them and wrote a thoughtful and sympathetic essay introducing them for his book. Winslow, an American union activist and historian, studied under Thompson at the University of Warwick, and took part in the 1970 occupation of the Vice Chancellor’s office where files were found revealing the close ties between local industry and the university. Thompson documented this in his book, Warwick University Limited (1971).
Winslow produced an excellent book. The essays hang together as proposals for, and responses to, the first New Left and as evidence of the intimate connection between Thompson’s historical writing and his politics. They provide a twofold intellectual history of those dramatic years. Thompson is powerful and elegant; Winslow is as passionate about intellectuals in socialist politics as Thompson was when he wrote these indispensable essays. But we need to understand what they built on.
It is now pretty well understood that Edward Thompson wrote The Making of the English Working Class (1963) in the grip of disgust with the mechanical materialism of ‘orthodox’ Marxism’. He was not the first to feel that way. The meeting in 1945 was organized by the British Communist Party’s Cultural Committee, and Jack Lindsay’s paper was a documented rejection of Stalin’s concept of ‘reflection’ in cultural matters (as in the formula that the ‘superstructure’ of ideas and art in a society simply reflected its economic ‘base’).
Lindsay argued that base and superstructure interacted, and that ‘spirit and consciousness were a necessary element in productive activity’. He prefaced his paper with a quote from Gordon Childe’s What Happened in History (1942): “The reckoning may be long postponed. An obsolete ideology can hamper an economy and impede its change for longer than Marxists admit.” Lindsay had sent Childe a copy of the paper; they corresponded about it; and before the meeting they had dinner together.
There was a furious attack on Lindsay at the meeting by the party’s Stalinists. The only person to support Lindsay was a young history student: Edward Thompson. Childe, who was not a member of the party and attended as Lindsay’s guest, diplomatically said nothing, but in History (1947) he would write: ‘a superstructure – institutions, faiths, ideals – is actually indispensable for the productive process itself. … Relations of production must … be lubricated with sentiment. To provide motives for action they have to be transformed in the human mind into ideas and ideals.’ Lindsay expanded his 1945 argument into a book, published in 1949 as Marxism and Contemporary Science, an attack on the vulgarization of Marxism by both Stalinists and anti-Marxists.  A notable feature of the book is its attention to the question of Marxist morality, which would also become a theme in Thompson’s essays. A decade before the first New Left, Lindsay and Childe had breached the walls of ‘orthodox’ Marxism.
(There is a glimpse of this key moment of Marxist ideological rift and shared intellectual biography in Sally Green, Prehistorian – A Biography of V. Gordon Childe, 1981, pp xii-xiv.)
Twelve years after he had defended Jack Lindsay, Thompson published a long essay in The New Reasoner, the journal of dissident British Communists. Ten thousand of them had exited the party, appalled by Khruschev’s ‘secret speech’ and the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and Edward Thompson was their most eloquent leader. In this essay, ‘Socialist Humanism’, Thompson demolished the distortions of Stalinism, especially its over-simplified version of economic determinism in history that belittled “the part played by men’s ideas and moral attitudes in the making of history.” It was the nearest the New Left got to a manifesto, exposing Stalinism as an ideology of a bureaucratic elite, insisting that Marxism must have an ‘ethical sensibility’, and reintroducing its ‘lost vocabulary’ of agency and moral choice. According to Winslow, ‘Socialist Humanism’ is “still the most discussed (and criticised) of his contributions in these years”. It contains no mention of either Lindsay or Childe.
V. G. Childe
Writing about Lindsay ideas in the 1940s, Victor N. Paananen says: ‘Publication of his theoretical work proved difficult at times, and small press runs and lack of an academic platform meant it was overlooked’ (British Marxist Criticism, 2014, p. 56.) But Thompson was present in 1945. And it is simply impossible to believe that Thompson was unaware of Childe’s popularising of a non-orthodox Marxist theory of history as a creative process in the forties. Why did he fail to acknowledge them? Lindsay was unwilling to join the revolt in the British Communist Party, and Childe, who was not a member, was unable to. In 1957 he retired to Australia to commit suicide. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff in the Blue Mountains, just a few months after Thompson’s essay on ‘Socialist Humanism’ appeared. Yesterday’s men of the Old Left, they could be ignored.
I am not the first person to make this argument. In 1984, Robert Mackie wrote: ‘The current, and deserved, acclaim for E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams, for example, obscures the ways in which Jack Lindsay helped establish, a generation before, the foundations of the British new left.’ (Robert Mackie, ed., Jack Lindsay – The Thirties and Forties, p. 14)
Back to Thompson: it is perhaps not well understood that he did not write The Making for scholars of labour history. As well as struggling with problems of Marxist theory he was actively engaged in working class politics in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where he lived, and in the peace movement nationally. He wrote this great 900 page book for the students in his workers’ education classes and for the activists of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the New Left. Like his ‘William Morris – Romantic to Revolutionary (1955), it was the product of his belief that it was the duty of socialist intellectuals ‘to make socialists’. All the more reason then to wonder at his indifference to the work of Lindsay and Childe, who shared this belief. Childe in particular: like the barefoot historians of Germany or the early History Workshop movement in Britain, Childe wanted to democratise archaeology to encourage working-class history-making.
Winslow’s collection includes Thompson’s 1959 address on ‘The Communism of William Morris’. It is invaluable as a revelation of the sources of Thompson’s Communism  - in Britain’s long socialist tradition - and of his vision of the New Left becoming a movement that would enlist the people at every level of power. At a time when there were up to 40 New Left Clubs, Thompson celebrated Morris’s aim “to make Socialists  … [and] cover the country with a network of associations composed of men who feel their antagonism to the dominant classes, and have no temptation to waste their time in the thousand follies of party politics”.
These essays were written while Thompson was working on The Making, and there are signs of its emphases and argument everywhere. This is from ‘Revolution’ (1960): “The kind of revolution which we can make today is different from that envisaged by Marx or Morris … Nor is there only one kind of revolution which can be made in any one context. A revolution does not ‘happen’; it must be made by men’s actions and choices”. Another essay, ‘Homage to Tom Maguire’ (1960), is Thompson’s riposte to the national and institutional focus of labour history as it entered its professionalized stage. He said: the customary national focus of histories of the breakthrough of the Independent Labour Party (in the West Riding) “implies an appalling attitude of condescension towards these provincial folk who are credited with every virtue except the capital human virtue of conscious action in a conscious historical role”.
And if you have been baffled by Raymond Williams – unable to read more than a page of his books before nodding off – there is an essay that shows Thompson is on your side. In ‘The Long Revolution’ (1961) he damns Williams’s writing style – impersonal and passive – and criticises his liking for abstractions. This produces an argument about culture that obscures class conflict and denies the need for sustained historical, anthropological and archaeological (guess who!) research. Like the advice offered by the iconic fictional anthropologist, Indiana Jones (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, 2008), Thompson says Williams would do better to read the works of Gordon Childe before announcing a general theory of culture.
Which brings us back to Marxism. I was surprised to find, in Winslow’s introduction to his book, statements that at the end of his life Thompson was not “really a Marxist at all”, and that he claimed only “to work within the Marxist tradition”. As to the first statement, we should consider Theodore Koditschek’s discovery in Thompson’s later work of a ‘Gramscian turn’ that signalled that he was moving towards a more sophisticated Marxism (see his chapter in Roger Fieldhouse and Richard Taylor, eds. E.P. Thompson and English Radicalism, 2014). As for the second, surely in the absence (thankfully) of a Marxism whose orthodoxy is guaranteed by Stalinist political power, the tradition of Marxism is all there is. And if we are going to study Marxism as a tradition (which I acknowledge Winslow was not trying to do) it would be a good idea to look beyond its luminaries.
[Terry Irving, 5 March 2015]
In 1967 Gareth Stedman Jones advised socialist historians that they ‘should not retreat into the safe pastures of labour history’ – advice taken to heart by Australian historian Humphrey McQueen in 1970 when he set out to write A New Britannia.

But the message largely went unheeded; labour history in Britain as well as Australia continued to attract radical historians. This was understandable. Labour history had begun in the institutions of the labour and socialist movement, drawing strength from its political vision, so at least in its early days it could bring academic and movement historians together. 
 By the late 1990s, labour historians were isolated, fenced off in antiquarian and/or academic paddocks, where they were susceptible to new bovine diseases – mutations of philosophical idealism - or befuddled into thinking work was labour. Meanwhile, the movement dynamic in labour's intellectual life was weakening.
Work is not labour. Labour is a term in political economy, an idea, and an economic relationship that exploits and oppresses working people. Using this idea to challenge these experiences a labour movement was formed almost two centuries ago. Later the idea of labour as an exploitative relationship was a catalyst for others, for example radical feminists and their movement.
Today there is a change in the air, and the political heritage of labour is part of the new energy among radical historians who are flexing their muscles in various parts of the world.
Indicative of this is the final timetable for the postgraduate-led Radical History Conference in London (at Birkbeck, on 24 March 2015), which has just been releasedPerusal of this indicates the energies and interests of a new generation of historians, their conceptions of radicalism/radical history, and where and how they find radicalism in the past, and how it relates to the present.
Some eighteen papers are scheduled, culminating in a roundtable discussion led by Becky Taylor, Robbie Shilliam and Mike Jackson to close the day. Labour historians are catered for in a session on ‘Urban and Rural Workers’. Other sessions show how radical history is breaking the mould that labour historians in the last decade or so have constructed for themselves. A session on ‘The State and Authority’ offers papers on ‘big management’ (Michael Weatherburn), the growth of surveillance in UK public order policing in the 1970s and 1980s (Ben Taylor), and the argument that the modern ‘war on terror’ has its parallels in Victorian era colonial conflict (Jacob Ramsay Smith). In the session on ‘Social Movements and Protest’ a paper on ‘what time is radical history?’ promises something different (Garikoitz Gomez Alfaro). There is a whole session devoted to ‘Radical Education’, both in the past and as it is practised by feminists now.
And papers on the general question that inspired the organizers, ‘What is radical history?’ will be eagerly awaited by the growing networks of radical historians in other locations. These papers include a comparison of British and Irish historiography (David Convery), a study of ‘the histories of radical history’ (Amy Tobin and Hannah Proctor), and of ‘the crisis of purpose in history’ (George Stevenson).
On this blog we have taken as our mantra for radical history, ‘history that makes people want to act’. We have insisted that working at radical history is political. So we look forward especially to reading the papers on ‘criticism as resistance: a methodology for the activist-academic’ (Dominic Davies), and ‘History Acts’ (Ben Bethell, Barbara Warnock and Guy Beckett).
[Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill, 19 February 2015]
In late November 2014, illness claimed the life of Geoff Mullen, long-time letter writer to the ‘Letters to the Editor’ page of the Sydney Morning Herald. For years the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section of
Anti-conscription poster featuring
Mullen, 1971
newspapers had been his public forum, and the Herald published his ‘last hurrah’ the day before his death, a letter about wealth and income inequality, ending with the caution: “Remember that the enemies of progress are always on the attack”.
Courtesy of six years in the late 1960s, early 1970s, Geoff Mullen became part of Australian history. He did not seek to do so, but once forced to engage with history, courageously and at times with satirical flair took the historic processes to task.   
Born in 1947, Mullen was one of the thousands of voteless 20-year Australian males netted  by the system of conscription for military service introduced by the Menzies government in 1964/65, which subsequently fuelled Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Being ‘called-up’(ie conscripted) depended on your ‘luck/misfortune’ in a lottery marble system. Mullen was amongst the minority of young males whose marble was selected.  
Having registered by force of law in January 1967, in November 1967 Mullen informed the responsible department, the Department of Labour and National Service, that he would no longer comply with the conscription process. Accordingly, in 1968 he refused to attend two compulsory medical examinations that serviced conscription and, as the result, served two short terms in prison, of 16 days and 29 days.
In 1969 he ran as an anti-war/anti-conscription candidate in the Federal Elections, contesting the seat held by the Minister for Labour and National Service. Mullen secured 1300 votes; his reason for standing, he explained, was to demonstrate “the corruption of democratic ideals that our government represents”.
A warrant for the arrest of Mullen was issued in October 1970, and he was arrested by Commonwealth police in February 1971. Police claimed he had been hard to find; Mullen countered, saying that he had been living publicly and that his name plate was on his front door.
Mullen was sentenced to imprisonment for non-compliance with the National Service Act, and joined a small and growing contingent of other anti-conscriptionists in prison, part of a successful campaign to embarrass an increasingly beleaguered government. He served eleven months.  
A widely distributed poster issued by the Draft Resisters Union in 1971 shows Mullen satirically garbed in a ‘Goon Show’-type military uniform, complete with medals and sabre, posing outside the Hyde Park War Memorial. The accompanying text urges the repeal of conscription.
Throughout his anti-conscription campaigning, Mullen wrote and published letters and articles in whatever forums were available, and articulated a thoughtful, rational, complex, and resolute anarchist position. On the eve of going to prison in 1971, he said: “Whenever I do something, I like to think that I have a sufficient and rational reason for my action”.  
Mullen’s politics did not mesh easily with the anti-war/anti-conscription movement, as his opposition was resolutely individualist, uncompromising. He eschewed martyrdom and hero worship; amongst formative influences were the writings of Bertrand Russell and George Orwell. A self-described “chronic non-joiner”, Mullen was sceptical of the developing  protest movement:  “…conventional (protest) marches might provide their participants with an emotional pleasure, but to think that is enough is insane”. The pacifist journal The Peacemaker (1939-1971) commented that even to those closely associated with him, he was “a partial mystery, difficult to get close to”.
Prison authorities shipped Mullen around in a prison hop-scotch, trying to minimise the publicity that followed him, and solidarity demonstrations outside the prison walls. This meant he finally ended up in rural prison system in NSW, away from the metropole. From one of his incarcerations, Mullen explained something of his politics: “I am in gaol and I suppose all the official records will say I am a criminal. I might, of course, plead that I have a moral duty to oppose conscription while at the same time the government has the legal duty to imprison me. In this way I might see myself, and be seen, as a moral young man who takes gaol and suffering upon himself to forge a way to a better Australia. But this is not so. I don’t really give a bugger about moral or legal systems, governments, religion, better worlds, 'pie in the sky' or anything like that. I want solely to live my life without interference or interfering, now. And to my mind, conscription is always an unreasonable interference with any man’s life. Not even ‘freedom and democracy’ can justify the taking of a conscript’s freedom.
“It may seem unreasonable that any man, myself least of all, should make pretensions to morality in these times. I am no saint nor would-be martyr and I live as I have to live. Yet I am convinced that life is not worth living if one is not, at least on the important issues, the master of one’s own decisions. If others can make me kill and maim against conscience, I am less a man, a beast to be used and manipulated. Thus I could fight in Vietnam only if I considered it a just cause.”
The majority of the Australian people, including the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the trade union movement, had to be metaphorically dragged, kicking and screaming to opposing the Vietnam War and conscription, and away from the hegemony of deceits, fabrications and distortions that characterised the era of Menzies and his heirs. The ALP took until October 1969 to promise to bring Australian troops home from Vietnam, and not until 1971 to commit to ending conscription.  Historians and history credit Mullen and his choices as amongst significant factors in helping make conscription an election issue in 1972.

A time well seized; lest we forget.

For a discussion of Mullen’s 1960s/70s views see
[Rowan Cahill, 8 December 2014]

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, the PM (1996-2007) who took Australia to war in Iraq (2003) in the bloody search-and-destroy mission against the non-existent and mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the hands of the anti-Christ Saddam Hussein, a mission that variously morphed and dragged on officially until 2011, recently confessed to being a little embarrassed.

On the September 2014 eve of the release of his tribute book of hero worship, an apprentice’s view of his master, The Menzies Era ( HarperCollins), about conservative Australian PM Sir Robert Menzies (1949-1966), Howard told an interviewer that when it became public knowledge the US intelligence reports he based his decision on regarding WMD were faulty/ bodgey, well  he was embarrassed. Not ashamed mind you, not distraught…..which might be expected since he has a huge amount of civilian and children’s blood on his hands, and in another jurisdiction might well find himself facing charges of war crimes……no, just embarrassed.  

According to Howard, the WMD reports, their language and authority, seemed so authentic at the time. No matter there was authoritative and expert material and data in the public domain at the time that said the WMD ‘intelligence data’ was flawed, unreliable, and basically a work of the imagination of toady security ‘experts’, the sort who tailor evidence to demand. As for the current imbroglio in Iraq and Syria and the ISIS menace, well according to Howard, the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism was/is a local thing, and in no way related to the events, and the conduct, of the Second Gulf War; to argue it is, is a “false reading of history”. And if Howard had been back in Menzies’ shoes in 1965, he too would have committed troops to the Vietnam War, based on the information and understanding available at the time, no matter that also in the public domain at the time was the material and data that authoritatively advised otherwise.  

So what seems to be 'real' history in the world of John Howard? Well, for starers it is not about accountability, or understanding why; it is not about linking the present with the past in any critical way. Like the WMD reports, it is about the appearance of authority, and about packaging, and seemliness. Like his new book on Menzies, an overblown tribute and fan letter about a conservative Australian icon, an over-700-page doorstopper from HarperCollins, a tentacle of the Murdoch Empire, a book praised and lauded in the Murdoch press, but not much more than a hugely inflated undergraduate essay hugely reliant on secondary sources, self-indulgently hitching Howard to the coat-tails of Menzies the ‘statesman’, and variously reflecting on the 'genius' of a conservative era of government.  

Campaign leaflet against the attempt
by Menzies to ban the Communist
Party of Australia, 1951.
Menzies, a name to conjure with. In the hands of Howard, a brilliant statesman and great Australian leader, and a great conservative. Again, the sort of historical account that rates as true history in the Howard world. Not in Howard’s hands the war-mongering unblooded warrior who contrived to exempt himself from military service during World War 1 even though he had a militia commission that fitted him for the task, no he had higher responsibilities, like taking care of his future career as a lawyer and a political animal, which did not stop him writing verse in support of the war; Menzies, who as Attorney-General in 1938 used the despicable Dog Collar Act to break a ban by waterside workers in Port Kembla (NSW) and ensure the export of strategic materials to Japan during the Sino-Japan war; Menzies, who came back from a tour of Nazi Germany in 1938 and told a select audience of Melbourne’s elite that there were positives about Hitter’s regime, particularly the way the trade union’s had been tamed and the way the German people respected the state; Menzies, who tried to ban the Communist Party of Australia during the Cold War and made the fears of ‘communism’ and Chinese invasion centrepieces of the national psyche, and who tried to seriously curtail and criminalise sectors of  the trade union militancy; Menzies, who took Australia to the Korean War, and then to the Vietnam War, and who introduced conscription to facilitate the latter; Menzies, the embarrassing and grovelling lover of all things ‘Royal’, who declared his love for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Australia in 1963, using the words of Elizabethan poet Thomas Ford, ….…“I did but see her passing by, and I will love her till I die”. Oh, give me a break!

Now, as Australia becomes involved in yet another ill-advised US imperial feat of arms, in Iraq, maybe later in Syria, courtesy of the conservative government of PM Tony Abbott, the Australian parliament intensifies domestic powers of surveillance and control. For those who can look back on the past, much is familiar: the disrespect for history, historical amnesia if you like; the refusal/inability to learn from the disastrous military past; a blinkered vision that has characterised Australia’s decisions to follow the US since the 1950s.

If the current manipulation of the fear of terrorism by the government seems familiar, along with the hysteria of much journalism about the ‘terrorist threat’, well it is, a re-run of the Cold War, with ‘communism’ replaced by ‘terrorism’. And why not?, after all, the Abbott government is one that thinks like Howard does, that the Menzies Era of Australian politics was the golden era of conservative rule….not government, but rule, and the more authoritarian and fear-filled, the better. And not a ‘lucky’ country either, but a ‘lackey’ country.

Over at the National Archives of Australia (NAA), researchers report increased restrictive practices. The NAA is the repository of the records and papers generated by the agencies of the state. In the vaults of the NAA are important keys to understanding the nation’s past, including the lies, perfidies and the secrets that are part of ‘government’. Access to NAA records has been traditionally restricted by the 30-year-rule, meaning the records can be legally accessed after the passage of 30 years. A previous Labor government reduced this to 20 years. It is understood the Abbott government is looking to review this and increase the period of restriction, and 70 years has apparently been mooted. Current researchers are reporting difficulties: long delays in the processing of applications for documents; the heavy culling of released material; the closure of some historical records previously open; and the cutting down of hours the NAA reading room is open to researchers. Distinguished Canberra historian and journalist Gregory Pemberton has described a government policy aimed at producing “a partial lobotomy of the Australian mind”.   

Seems to me the preferred and official and encouraged approach to history for some time to come, will be that of the amnesic kind. In this current era of extraordinary restrictive and coercive ‘national security’ legislation, which at the time of writing has cleared the way for criminalising some forms of journalism, reporting and comment, and enabled long prison sentences for transgressing journalists and whistleblowers, it is not fanciful to imagine that at some time in the foreseeable future, some historians and some forms of critical or radical  history,  might too, be outlawed. [Rowan Cahill, 29 September 2014]


Two historians: Peter Linebaugh, and Marcus Rediker. Together they gave us The Many-Headed Hydra (Beacon Press, 2000), a robust, at times poetic, scholarly history of the origins of radical thinking in the eighteenth century that eventually led to the American Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the Age of Revolution on both sides of the Atlantic.
In this account, the radical impetus and the ideas that spun the web of dissent and revolt during the period did not solely originate in the coffee houses and libraries and salons of the wealthy and the well-to-do and their circles, not from the lawyers, politicians, reformers, rebel colonial statesmen, intellectuals, the mainstay of traditional accounts of the period and era. Instead the egalitarian and revolutionary impetus came out of the taverns, the waterfronts, off the heaving decks of ships, out of the island refuges of pirates and escapees from slavery, courtesy of the outcasts of the Atlantic world and the Americas, the seamen, pirates, rebel slaves, indentured workers, and maritime workers of all kinds. In this account, the sea, ships, and seamen, the necessary components in the accumulation of capital in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were the disseminating agencies. Overall, a brilliant tour de force.

Linebaugh and Rediker deployed a vast, diverse and rich tapestry of sources in the weaving of their history, and rounded it off with a marvellously radical and refreshing discussion of the poet William Blake (1757-1827), tapping his poem The Tyger and letting its revolutionary sentiment flow. As Linebaugh recently commented regarding the anti-capitalist resistance, “our movement needs poetry”.
Two new books by these authors draw my attention. First up Linebaugh’s Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance (PM Press, 2014), since this made it onto the shelves first. Stop, Thief! is a collection of mostly previously published essays on the idea of ‘commons’, the subjects eclectically ranging through the “U. K.” and the “U.S.A.”, from Karl Marx, to the poet Shelley, to William Morris, to E. P. Thompson, to Thomas Paine, the Levellers, the Luddites, through to the modern Occupy Wall Street Movement…and the ways in which the enclosure process was/has been variously resisted over time.
Eclecticism is to be expected in Linebaugh, so too Rediker. It was a feature of the sources/material in their Hydra study. ‘Eclecticism’ in their case should be qualified by use of ‘informed’ and ‘learned’, for their respective familiarity with, and understanding of, their sources and subjects are deep and expert.
Traditionally ‘the commons’ and their destruction/enclosure refers to a time/specific Western European historical process from the twelfth century through to the nineteenth century, related to traditional common spaces/common lands. In Linebaugh’s treatment it is this, in Britain and in America, but it is also more. The author conceptualises the destruction of ‘commons’ as “a universality of expropriation” that transcends time and space, continuing today in processes like the privatisation of utilities, diminishing public places/spaces, to the ways life itself is being commodified and manipulated by racism, militarism, and consumerism.

Linebaugh’s essay collection is not only an historian’s reading of history, but intended also as a spiritual uplifting for modern dissidents and activists, a writing of history that liberates and encourages radical possibilities, the ‘resistance’ in his title not only referring to the subject matter of his text, but to the present and to the future. For Linebaugh, we are “losing the ground of our subsistence to the privileged and the mighty. With the theft of our pensions, houses, universities, and land, people all over the world cry, Stop Thief! and start to think about the commons and act in its name”. This acting, be it protecting or imagining/creating ‘commons’, is termed ‘commoning’ by Linebaugh. It is this historical vision, intent, and inspiration, that is at the core of radical history.  
Rediker’s new book is Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail (Beacon Press, 2014). Its aim is to challenge what Rediker terms terracentric history, where the sea is regarded as an empty place, and ships and mariners are essentially dismissable presences of little consequence, the land and land-bound people and their institutions the makers and shapers of history.
Rediker regards seamen as global vectors of communication, and sets out to restore to history the unacknowledged contributions and agency of a multiethnic (“motley”) mix of seamen, indentured servants, slaves, pirates, and other outlaws of their time who, from ships and waterfronts of the Atlantic and Caribbean during the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth  centuries, variously affected “the lofty histories of philosophy, political thought, drama, poetry, and literature”, helping “inaugurate a broader age of revolution throughout the world”. In Rediker’s telling, this motley crew profoundly contributed to the shaping of the American Revolution and to the abolition of slavery.
As with Linebaugh’s Stop, Thief!, Rediker’s account is distinguished by the accessibility of the language, and an enjoyable narrative/discussion. Both authors, in the books discussed, model scholarship that is meant to be read and understood by more than niche audiences, and also model scholarly writing that is authoritative and convincing, free from the suffocating shackles and swaddling of obscure/confusing terminologies, and free from theoretical perambulations that often choke the meaning and intent of scholarly writing. Again, aspects of the art of writing radical history.
Rediker has been writing the histories of rebels and outlaws for all of his career as a historian, and readers who have followed his work will be familiar with aspects of his new book. But this is possibly the most forthright and political of his works, the author making the case that his Atlantic Outlaws have much to offer us in our era of capitalist globalisation. The outlaws of Rediker’s Atlantic are rebels, and criminalised, in the context of the emergence of modern capitalism, key factors in which were ships, exploited and disposable maritime labour, and slavery.
The import of Rediker’s study is that the rebellions and protests and alternative social structures and alternative cultures these outlaws variously engaged in, conceived, created, dreamed, well they mattered. In short, the outlaws had agency. And it is this affirmation by Rediker, that their rebellions mattered, and matter, that they had impacts on the cause and course of egalitarianism and social justice, that is the radical message. If Rediker is right, then rebellion and protest by ordinary people in today’s world against the injustices, austerities, and rapacious greed of the 1% that is part and parcel of the globalised capitalist juggernaut of today, are not without point. According to Rediker’s reading of outlaw history, the dispossessed and the marginal can have agency, indeed, mightily so.    
[Rowan Cahill, 15 September 2014]
2014 has seen the beginning of the Centenary replay of World War 1 (1914-18) by the Australian government and vested martial interests, gearing up for the commemoration-fest of the ill-fated but ‘glorious’, because ‘that was where our nation was born’, Gallipoli campaign of 1915/2015. Millions of tax-payer and private investment dollars have been committed to the Centenary commemoration project.
As I write, the unhistorical, anti-historical nonsense involved in the commemoration is neatly seen in the electorate of Oxley, west of Brisbane, where an RSL Sub-Branch has been awarded $45,000 of Commonwealth money to erect a statue of Simpson and his Donkey in a local War Memorial Garden, despite the historical record showing that the claims made about the ‘legendary’and iconic saviour of wounded soldiers in the face of enemy fire are largely based on false, faulty, embellished dataUnfortunately, when it comes to Australia at war and the way this is fostered by martial enthusiasts in government propaganda departments, myth and legend take precedence over the realities of history.

Simply, the WW1/Anzac commemoration process, with all its war-porn and militarised confectionery, has little to do with remembering the tragedy of WW1, little to do with the abattoir and carnage that it was, little to do with the maimings and the cripplings and the traumas that dogged its survivors, little to do with ‘learning from history’, little to do with ‘it must never happen again’, for it is a psychological grooming, an ideological massaging of the national consciousness, the inducement of a martial state, a zombification  of the citizenry — let this happen again, let the nation be ready for more wars, groom the youth of the future to rush into uniform should the need arise, cultivate the citizenry to accept war as a normal part of life and because of this, accept even more and larger budget allocations to ‘defence’ and martial expenditures, and groom the citizenry and the media to uncritically acknowledge the glory and necessity of going to war and accept future military adventures wherever and whatever  these be. Unleash the dogs of war, because war is good for the national soul.

Brothers by John Tognolini is the first of a projected quartet of novellas dealing with the war experiences of four of Tognolini’s uncles during WW1, beginning with those of Stephen and Andrew Tognolini, working-class men in their early twenties, at Gallipoli.  In many ways the book breaks from the dominant narrative enshrined in popular retellings of the Anzac/Gallipoli experience, beginning with  the Tognolini brothers, city-industrial workers, not bushmen, and of Italian and English/Irish descent, not pure Anglos. Indeed, the Gallipoli of Tognolini’s account is peopled with ‘others’: the Allied invaders fighting the Turks are not just Australians and New Zealanders (ANZACS), but also British, French, Canadian Newfoundlanders, Canadians, British Indians (from the future India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), while in the Australian ranks are people of Aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, German, Italian, West Indian descent--not only the pure Anglos who tend to people populist accounts.

The experience of war as told by Tognolini is not about ideology or ‘freedom’ or ‘nobility’ or whatever else it is the politicians and propagandists put into the mouths of the dead for the purposes of Anzackery,  but an account of survival, of young men, enlisting in a war they had little understanding of,  and once embroiled in the carnage, struggling to survive against huge and awful odds, including mismanagement, rotten water and poor food, rampant dysentery and disease, locking into the daily necessity of ‘do’ and/or ‘die’, of killing and/or be killed, basically doing a job, part of which was to stay alive. Tognolini leaves the reader overwhelmed by the awfulness and pointlessness of it all, with some 100, 000 dead at the end from both sides of the Gallipoli campaign, invaders and defenders.   
Is there a point to something modest and individual like Tognolini’s protest against the militarist juggernaut? Yes, there is. The idea of a non-militarised future, the conception of a society in which war is a stranger and the martial spirit an undesirable/unwelcome presence, are only thinkable because individuals like Tognolini, former labourer, scaffolder, rigger, dogman, now a history teacher,  keep these concepts and visions alive. Every individual voice raised in criticism of war, of the martial spirit, of the misuse of history to serve martial ends, every rejection of these represents a stumbling block for and a failure by the martial juggernaut, and extends a measure of hope to, and for, a future where war and blood sacrifices will not continue to be foisted on people by parasitic martial vested interests, the leaders of which, ever so willing and able to commit peoples and nations to martial outings and engagements of varying lengths and ferocity, mostly never follow anyone into the front lines and ‘trenches’.

The book can be purchased ($20 paperback; $5 ebook) via WritersandeBooks at For further details see John Tognolini’s site at
[Rowan Cahill, 6 September 2014]

John Tully writes in the Preface to his new book, Silvertown – The Lost Story of a Strike that Shook London and Helped Launch the Modern Labour Movement, (Monthly Review Press, 2014), that ‘Conservatives have attacked some of my previous work as being partisan, and this book should upset them again.’ Radical historians, however, will welcome it for precisely that reason. And treasure it, because this is a way of writing labour history – or any history – that academic historians usually run a mile from. Radical historians know that it is impossible to be non-partisan. As Tully explains, ‘Historians must always be scrupulous with the facts, but we should be deeply suspicious of claims that studies of human society can be “value free”.’
The Silvertown strike occurred in 1889, so Tully illustrates his argument by considering the historical debates about the social impacts of industrialisation: ‘Historians have established that the Victorian era was a time of endless pain for the British working class. … Incredibly, there are some today who deny the undeniable, just as there were many at the time who ignored the conditions that created their wealth.’
So, this is what he is saying: there was a class struggle then and there is a class struggle now.  The historian writing about ‘then’ has to be partisan ‘now’, if she wants to be scrupulous with the facts (about that pain and the struggle waged against its sources); the partisan historian writing ‘now’ commits to continuing that struggle by bringing the past into the present. Tully refuses to apologise for having written back into history the labourers of Silvertown, and he finishes his book with the wish that ‘Those who today resist what is in effect the declaration of class war by a feral ruling class may find inspiration in the story of these forgotten labourers over 120 years ago.’
I have just written a review of John Tully’s book for Recorder. It is a brilliant book about a strike that, although lost, was part of a struggle that ensured that class and socialism would be central to the British labour movement. He tells the story at a cracking pace and seductive changes of voice. He takes the trouble to justify his partisan position and choice of method. And underpinning the story is his meticulous research.
John Tully deliberately sets out to make his book ‘as accessible to a wide readership as possible’, and this may be as upsetting to conservatives as his approach to his subject. In an interview on the Monthly Review Press website, he explains:
I guess that stems from my agreement with Marx in his “Theses on Feuerbach” that “philosophers have hitherto interpreted history, the point, however, is to change it”. For an academic like myself, ideas are intrinsically interesting things, but as a socialist academic, I hope that my writing can help change the world.         
Changing the world: that is the key to why John Tully writes materialist history.  Materialists are routinely accused of being old fashioned by fellow academics. This accusation was directed at me recently. We are charged with being ignorant of the latest epistemological thinking that has made materialism obsolete, and treated with distain for not engaging with the latest idealist ways of doing history. 
You can always tell an idealist historian by this test: their analyses of ideas, representations, individual lives or even movements are never connected to analyses of social power. In effect what is going on when idealist historians make these charges is a move to sidestep the issue of power as an irreducible element in any historical situation, and hence the issue of historians taking sides in the ideological battles arising from the relationships of power in their situation.  John Tully, socialist, historian, political scientist and novelist, a rigger in his youth, knows a thing or two about power, and what he knows frames everything he writes.
[Terry Irving, 10 August 2014]
Jesse Lemisch: On active service
In 1969 American historian Jesse Lemisch was in his early 30s, his politics and approach to history shaped by the Cold War and his involvements in the civil rights and anti-war movements and struggles for social justice against the power structures of the day and the ideological frameworks that sought to keep a citizenry in servitude and obeyance. That year his paper “Present-Mindedness Revisited: Anti-Radicalism as a Goal of American Historical Writing Since World War ll was the centrepiece of a controversial session of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C.

Passionate, strident, scholarly and forensic, the Lemisch paper detailed the ways leading and doyen American historians variously claimed political neutrality while at the same time deeply engaged variously as conservatives or as liberals in the politics of post-war USA, their historical writings part of and reflecting this engagement. Indeed, for some of the historians examined, it was possible to claim to  ‘sympathetically’ study the radical American past, but work against and denounce the radicalism of the present as being unwarranted and/or the manifestations of psychological malaise.    

The paper was a hit amongst a young generation of historians struggling to make sense of their times and seeking ways to be both scholarly and committed as social movement participants. The Lemisch paper was an armoury of ideas, arguments, and pointers to scholarly possibilities. However, when submitted to the leading historical journals of the day it met with serial rejection, accused of being ill-mannered, and of constituting unwarranted attacks on doyen intellectuals.

Being sent to coventry by the gatekeepers of academic orthodoxy failed to stop the Lemisch flow. The paper received national media attention, there was discussion and comment in progressive publications, it circulated in photocopied formats, and Lemisch was invited to many campuses and forums to speak about his paper. Eventually, retitled On Active Service in War and Peace: Politics and Ideology in the American Historical Profession, it was published in book form (150 pages) by New Hogtown Press, a small radical publisher in Canada in 1975. Which made the work available in an orthodox format, but still, over the years, scarce and not readily accessible.

The place of Lemisch in American historiography, and his significant influence on many historians on both sides of the Atlantic, has since been recognised by historians in books and journal articles, despite an academic career that was, at times, blighted by blacklisting and political persecution, and an associated need to find publication outlets and distribution networks to disseminate his work when traditional academic forums were unwelcoming. His Yale University dissertation Jack Tar vs John Bull: The Role of New York’s Seamen in Precipitating the Revolution, completed in 1962, circulated informally and in the form of some major articles by Lemisch in scholarly journals, becoming “something of an underground classic” according to historian Marcus Rediker. It exercised a profound influence on American, transnational,  and maritime histories, and history-from-below writing generally, for some thirty years before it was published in book form in 1997. 

Now nearly 80 years old, Lemisch is still active, very much a public historian. Recently his classic On Active Service in War and Peace broke free from the restraints of libraries and the dusty shelves of the 1970s and went online—free, and ‘open access’ Despite the decades since it first rocked the US-history profession, the study still packs a punch, an energising historiographical ride, as relevant today as it was in 1969/75, challenging a profession then at the dawn of the creation of the modern corporate university, a profession busily insinuating itself into fabric of the military-industrial-knowledge factories of the contemporary capitalist state and the culture of consumerism, with Lemisch and his colleagues throwing themselves into  social movements, arguing that history was not finished, that there was a long way to go, and that history was about  the making of an inclusive and democratic world in which everyday people, not elites, were the shaping forces. For those who have come in late, as they say in comic books, and seek an introduction to the work of Lemisch, I recommend the essay by Marcus Rediker, “Jesse Lemisch and History from the Bottom Up” .Enjoy. [Rowan Cahill, 28 March 2014]



Terry and I were delighted to address an audience of students and staff on the Sydney University campus on Tuesday, 18 March 2014. Our subject was the ‘radical history of Sydney University’. While the great singing socialist Billy Bragg was advertised as ‘special guest’, unfortunately, due to an accident, he was unable to attend, and apologised. No matter; the audience was keen to hear from us about the advertised topic. The venue in the glasshouse Law complex was packed, so much so that people were sitting in the aisles. Terry and I enjoyed being on the road again, and back on a campus variously at long distances in our respective pasts.

Terry leads the charge... 
As usual with our joint presentations, Terry led the session; he developed an account of a radical student tradition at Sydney University going back at least to 1911, predating traditional accounts of campus radicalism with their insistence that ‘the beginning’ is sometime post-1917 Russian Revolution and had much to do with Bolshevism. Instead, he pointed to a longer tradition of radical democracy on campus. He went on to give examples of radical campus activities during the Cold War, explained how it was he 'earned' a Federal Bureau of Investigation (US) file while a student activist in Sydney (Australia) during the 1950s, then dealt with the radical initiatives he was associated with, as an academic within the Government Department/Faculty at Sydney University in the 1970s, relating to staff-student control.

Rowan tells it the way it was....
I followed with a personal, freewheeling, at times humorous, account of the 1960s on the Sydney University campus, locating this within broader national and State (NSW) contexts, conscription, the Vietnam War, and illustrated with one major event, the legendary ‘Mini-Minor Affair’ (1968), capturing the spirit and militancy of the times, pulling together the Vietnam War, conscription, anti-student spookery by ASIO and by Special Branch (NSW), the 1960s Sydney University Administration, student radicalism, radical student manipulation of the media, the nature of ‘dissent events’ and so on….at the end of the session, we received a huge and enthusiastic applause.

This event was a part of the campaign by Sydney University students to mobilise in support of the National Rally for Education Rights planned for March 26, protesting against education funding cuts and anti-student initiatives planned, and/or already in hand, by the conservative and reactionary Commonwealth government of Tony Abbott. It was a delight and a privilege to meet with a new generation of idealistic, committed, students, and as radical historians to help connect the past with the present.
(Photos courtesy of the Sydney University Education Action Group)
[Rowan Cahill, 19 March 2014] 


I was asked to be the Graduate Speaker on the night of my recent PhD graduation at the University of Wollongong (NSW, Australia), 19 December 2013. I agreed, and was allocated the traditional and fleeting five minutes. There were a few necessities/formalities to be observed, but the bulk of the brief time comprised my reflections. This is what I said. I have posted my words here simply because there were subsequent and numerous requests for copies; my words seemed to have 'spoken' to many about the nature of 'education', something that has been at the core of my being since the 1960s:  

On stage, on the night
"Chancellor, members of the university, distinguished guests, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen, and children:-

On behalf of my fellow graduates, thank you for being with us this evening and sharing this occasion with us.

Within this general thanks, recognition too of the roles and contributions over time and leading up to this ‘graduation’ of parents, grandparents, partners, children, indeed the various involvements of families in all their configurations and extensions, and friends, teachers, fellow students, and other members of the university community.

Thank you too to this evening’s Guest Speaker, Mr. Glenn Barkley, late of the Museum of Contemporary Art, for your very personal, reflective, and inspirational words. Best wishes for what you described as your 'risky' future. 


Over the years, my wife and I have been part of six of these ceremonies at the University of Wollongong as our two sons and daughter have variously graduated, first with Bachelor degrees, then with Doctorates.

As a consequence I have often thought about what this event means, with its ceremony rooted in the medieval European past of the 11th century, with the diversity of people and degrees and specialisations evident in the award of degrees, in this theatre packed with people, and the mass of others outside viewing the screens…with the cameras, the phones, the photos, the flowers, the gifts, the hugs, the laughter, the joy, and have come to realise that there is no one story in all of this, no one narrative that joins it all together and has the same meaning for everyone. 

For the reality is, tonight is about many things, probably as many things as there are people here tonight. 

If we could get inside the heads of those present we would understand tonight is about diversity….it is about hope and aspirations, it is about variously engaging with realms of knowledge and research and understandings, about tenacity and staying the course, it is about material rewards---or the hope thereof, it is about incurring financial debt, it is about sacrifice, it is about ‘easy’, it is about ‘hard’, it is about perpetuating the status quo, it is about challenging the status quo, it is about application, about work done….for some it is ‘work done’ as in ‘now let’s get on with life’, it is about future scholarly work, it is about no longer wanting to be part of academic enterprise, and for some present it is possibly even a mystery, another world……as I said, there is no single narrative here, no single emotion, no single story… 

Yet in all this difference, in all this diversity, I discern a common thread, and something wondrous. 

In a world riven with conflict, uncertainties, injustices and inequalities, with the media tending to parade on a daily basis the worst in human behaviours, where pessimism and fear are easy options, we gather this evening to actually celebrate ‘education’, not a thing, certainly not a political football, but rather, as legions of thinkers and dreamers have long argued, a core component and source of civil and humane society, in reality a social process involving people, and the invisibilities of knowledge and ideas, requiring those involved to engage, no matter how deeply or superficially, with accumulated past and developing bodies of knowledge and understandings, and to make of these something personal with a mix of individual capabilities, aspirations, ambitions, hopes and dreams. 

In essence, this evening we are celebrating something at once personal, creative, transformative, and, hopeful….and in this day and age this is no small wonder. 

So again this evening, thank you everyone who has been part of this process, and thank you too, all who have come tonight to share and celebrate what is both an end, and a beginning."
[Rowan Cahill, 22 December 2013]



Among radical historians Ken Mansell’s research on Australian student radicalism in the 1960s is legendary. I met him in 1995 when he borrowed my files on the Free University; some years later, when Rowan and I were writing Radical Sydney (2010), he sent us, unsolicited, a thirty-page extract about the Humphreys Affair and the Free U from his unpublished manuscriptThat’s the sort of guy he is: comradely, unassuming but dedicated to preserving the documents of the student movement and understanding its history. This year, as I was preparing a paper on student radicalism at Sydney University, I looked at his extract again – and we began to correspond. We exchanged books, and that is how I acquired his elegant, 103-page publication, co-authored with Emily FloydDisobedience: The University as a Site of Political Potential (Monash University Museum of Art, 2013). the catalogue of an art installation. Emily Floyd, a sculptor, was commissioned by the Monash University Museum of Art to create an artwork inaugurating the Ian Potter Sculpture Court at the University. Across the courtyard she randomly distributed large brightly coloured cubes and rectangular boxes, each with a side removed to give access to the books and pamphlets withinShe describes the work, called This place will always be open, as ‘an outdoor sculpture housing a library of student dissent and a program of discussions and student activities’. Her inspiration came from Ken Mansell’s collection of ephemera of the student movement, which included the leaflets and publications of the Monash Labor Club in its heyday. Many of these are reproduced in this book, as is Ken’s 80 page study, based on his 1994 thesis, ‘The Yeast is Red – A History of The Bakery, Off-Campus Centre of the Monash Labor Club, 1968-71’.  

Ken Mansell was part of the yeast, or at the risk of offending him by adapting Deleuzian term - a militant molecule - a thinker and observer as well as an activist (as his new ‘Introduction’ to the thesis shows)If he worked in a molecular way, there were others, the Labor Club’s leaders, who performed like molars. One of them, Michael Hyderecently published a kind of fictional memoir, All Along the Watchtower – a Memoir of a Sixties Revolutionary (Vulgar Press, 2010), which Ken has subjected to a well-deserved critique. He showed that Hyde’s book will confuse the readershifting from historical ‘truth’ to fiction and back again, grinding up the truth with the fiction. The reader can’t tell that the chronology is wrong, that the characters have false names or are composed out of several real persons, and that events are made up or embellished by the author. Ken’s 20-page review, drawing on recent defences of history against the trend to ‘novelize’ it, can be read on the ‘Reason in Revolt’ website  

Rowan’s forthcoming review of Disobedience in Recorder (Melbourne ASSLH) also catches the molecular mode of action in Ken’s history, linking its study to what Rowan calls the left’s ‘tsunami of ephemera’Mansell’s study demonstrates (in Rowan’s words) that ‘much of the intellectual, creative and challenging endeavour and action took place away from the glare of media attention, the media tending to target set-piece dramatics, like demonstrations, marches, protests and the like.’ I agree; too many so-called experts have distorted the history of student radicalism by concentrating on these dramatics, which, because they were commonly produced for the television news and the capitalist press, were framed by the ruling ideology of top-down persuasion. Meanwhile, in the New Left’s underground press, leaflets, newsletters, posters, graffiti and theoretical magazines a new culture of empowering communication was being created using the duplicating machine, the off-set printer, the white wash and brushes. This is the kind of participant culture that Mansell focuses on; it makes his study unique. 

When I was preparing my study of the Free U I remembered that Geoffrey Manion had also used my files while writing a BA Honours thesis in Education in 1979So I went to the catalogue of the Sydney University Library but there was no entry for it. By talking to former members of the University’s Department of Education I discovered that its library of theses had been dispersed when the Faculty of Education moved into its new buildingmy friends surmised that Manion’s thesis disappeared when the University Library decided not to preserve BA theses. It was the only thesis dedicated to the study of the Free Uand if I could find the whereabouts of its author there was a chance that I could still refer to it. Eventually I tracked Geoff Manion to the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University. But the story here too was frustrating. Geoff’s son became interested in alternative education, Geoff lent him the thesis, the son lived in Brisbane, the deluge of January 2011 rivalled the great flood of ’74 – and the thesis, along with all the son’s artworks, library and belongings now lies buried in the mud of the Brisbane River. Imperious nature imitating the art of bureaucratic rationality … ? 

By this time I was working with Ken Mansell’s thirty-page extract from his research into the Humphreys affair and the Free U, and realised that Ken was quoting from Manion’s thesis. Was there a chance that a copy survived in Mansell’s archive? So I contacted Ken, and yes it had, and we are now arranging to scan Geoff’s thesis. I will deposit the scanned version with the papers of the Free University in the University of Sydney archives.  

Unforced acknowledgment: I borrowed the molecular and molar metaphors from Mark Fisher and Jeremy Gilbert, ‘Capitalist Realism and Neoliberal Hegemony: A Dialogue’, in New Formations, numbers 80/81, November 2013, pp. 89-101. So it’s not “Gotta rip …” (as the pollies say and do); rather, let us praise the barefoot historians, their files and their mode of radical communication.
[Terry Irving, 16 November 2013]


I published the following piece in the Winter 2000 issue of The Hummer, journal of the Sydney Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.  Having recently revisited Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class, I also revisited this piece. It summarises many of my views on dissent, rebellion, and radical history, then, and now:

"I read Witness Against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (Cambridge University Press) soon after it was published in 1993, and following the death that same year of its author, veteran radical historian and anti-nuclear campaigner E. P. Thompson.

I found the book a source of strength because it dealt with themes and issues I was grappling with as the Greedy 1980s gave way to the Economic Rationalism of the 1990s, corporate banditry, and as post-Cold War intellectuals heaped scorn on anyone who still took socialism and/or Marxism seriously. For me Thompson’s book was a statement of radical affirmation: it was about the passing on of radical faith across generations and centuries; it was about how the no-names of history, those people and outfits not listed amongst history’s winners, may, in a sense, be the real winners.

William Blake (1757-1827): Radical, and poet.
Thompson begins disarmingly. As he explains, Witness Against the Beast is his contribution to ‘the overfull shelves of studies of William Blake’. Having said that, Thompson explains what the book is not; it is not an introduction to the poet, nor to his work; nor is it an interpretative study ‘of his life, his writing, his art, his mythology, his thought’.

Rather it is an attempt to place Blake ‘in the intellectual and social life of London between 1780 and 1820’ and identify ‘what particular traditions were at work in his mind’. In particular Thompson seeks to link Blake to the Christian tradition of antinomianism, specifically the Muggletonian tradition, and to reconstruct his eclectic mode of thought and learning, largely inaccessible now, according to Thompson, in times where education institutions, hierarchies and orthodoxies shape and define disciplines and intellectual accomplishment.

It is an eccentric book in the best sense of that term, and modestly prefaced with an apology for its existence. Thompson describes his book as a ‘voyage’ and welcomes the reader ‘aboard’; he creates an atmosphere of intimacy, relaxation, adventure, and discovery, ranging easily through a galaxy of styles, at times relaxed, conversational, colloquial, then argumentative and polemical, other times scholarly. Experiencing the book is akin to being the Wedding Guest cornered and enthralled by the Ancient Mariner.

Thompson thinks aloud as he considers the intellectual options and alternatives his material presents; he fantasizes about what he wishes his data could prove, before settling for what it does support. In some ways Witness Against the Beast is also a portrait of a historian at work.

Obviously this Blake book meant a great deal to Thompson. Its roots are in his classic The Making of the English Working Class (1963); in 1968 he gave a lecture on Blake at Columbia University organised by Students for a Democratic Society; the book took shape from lectures he delivered at the University of Toronto in 1978. Anti-nuclear campaigning, earning a living, other writing projects, and ill-health contributed to the project going onto the backburner, Thompson finally presenting the manuscript to his publisher not long before his death in 1993; in all, a thirty year ‘voyage’.

Muggletonians are central to Thompson’s study. Originating in the seventeenth century English revolution with the London tailor Ludowick Muggleton, the obscure Protestant sect survived for 300 years, never more than a few hundred members at most. Muggletonians rejected the laws of the Church and the State as oppressive, were fiercely anti-clerical, and opposed tithes, oaths and the bearing of arms; they met in private homes and taverns, singing ‘divine songs’ to the popular and patriotic tunes of the day; they conducted their affairs in secrecy, by correspondence, and often in the form of hand copied literature and tracts.

The sect was thought to have died out in the nineteenth century; their arduously preserved records were available for historical scrutiny until the 1860s, after which they disappeared. Thompson’s patient sleuthing rediscovered them in Kent in 1975, some 80 apple boxes full of records dating from the seventeenth century, in the possession of 70 year old apple farmer Philip Noakes, the last Muggletonian, who had saved the records from the German bombing of London in 1940-41. The archive is now in the British Library.

Little is known about William Blake’s intellectual evolution, though there is much conjectural history of ideas. Initially Thompson hoped to show that Blake was a Muggletonian, since so much of Blake is resonant of Muggletonian conduct, symbolism, debate, attitudes, and processes. However in spite of his literary and historical sleuthing, and massive archival endeavours, Thompson could only conclude that Blake was deeply influenced by the Muggletonian tradition.

So why did Thompson bother to produce this book? No matter what was intended at the outset of his project, by the time the mature Thompson got around to actually writing his book it had turned into a personal political allegory. ‘I like these Muggletonians’, says Thompson, even though ‘they were not among history’s winners’. Many things about the Muggletonians appeal to him: their tenacity, and survival; their contribution to the late seventeenth/eighteenth century vortex of ideas which was disproportionate to their actual numbers; their confident intellectualising ‘from below’ without reference to official education and religious hierarchies; their preparedness to tackle the great issues of Good and Evil and wrestle with the antagonisms between the Law of Moses and the Gospel of Jesus; their cantankerousness; their resistance to the State; their mode of operation; the richness and complexity of their symbolism which enabled them to conceptualise and debate all aspects of the human condition; and so on. Most of all Thompson seems to like them for the way they ‘struggled to define their own sense of system’.

Thompson admires William Blake. The poet never submitted to the State. And when radical compatriots turned to conservatism and Toryism in despair, as they recoiled from the shambles the French Revolution became, Blake remained a lifelong radical. According to Thompson this constancy drew strength from Blake’s belief system, at the core of which was the affirmation of Thou Shalt Love and Thou Shalt Forgive, and with this the ability to live with ‘constellations of related attitudes and images’ and connected insights rather than a coherent intellectual system. Further, Blake understood that human nature is not finally perfectible and that reason alone is not all there is to life; that there is a ‘kingdom within’ each one of us that needs to be touched and liberated. In the Thompson analysis Blake can provide us with ‘a plank in the floor upon which the future must walk’.

With ‘the plank’ reference to Blake the allegorical nature of the book is apparent. Witness Against the Beast is Edward Thompson’s message to the future. There is hope for dissenters, and a point to dissent, in the post-modern world, in spite of the end of ideology and the apparent global dominance of market materialism. In other times, in other uphill struggles against triumphant materialism backed by a ruthless state, the Muggletonians, and Blake, remained rebellious and dissentingly on task, keeping alive alternatives, other expectations, and the possibility for human renewal.

More than a study of a Protestant sect and William Blake, Witness Against the Beast is about maintaining radical perspectives and faith when the pressure is on to variously recant, compromise, give up, opt out. It is also about the nature of the sort of radical intellect and faith that survives. Biographically it can be seen as the final personal summative statement by a major radical intellectual, about being a radical intellectual.

In a couple of senses Witness Against the Beast brought Thompson full circle: the son of tough liberal, religious non-conformists (his parents had been Methodist missionaries in India, his father a critic of British imperialism) rounded his life with a book about religious and political non-conformity; the academic who cut his teeth on a major study of William Morris (1955), concluded his career with a study of another radical and original literary figure.

For those of us who think of ourselves as socialists, and if we are serious about taking our great visionary, humane, and combative tradition into the twenty first century, Witness Against the Beast is worth reading; a book to be reflected upon rather than filleted for footnotes." [Rowan Cahill, 15 September 2013]


Uruguayan left-wing journalist and writer Eduardo Galeano was born in Montevideo in 1940. After various odd jobs he worked as a journalist and editor until imprisonment in 1973 following a right-wing coup. Later fleeing, he lived in Argentina until the death squads of another right-wing coup targeted him. Post-Franco Spain provided refuge until he returned to his homeland in 1985 following the collapse of the Uruguayan dictatorship.

Generally described as an author/journalist/writer, all of which he is, he is also a radical historian. Historian because he deals with time, its shaping forces, and their relationships with the present; radical because he enables the dispossessed, the exploited, the marginalised, to be seen and heard in their struggles against, and at the hands of, the rich, powerful, oppressive, and dispossessive. Much of the focus of his work are the peoples and histories of Latin America in relation to the rapacious imperialisms of Europe and North America.

Time for Galeano is not a daunting matter; the first of his works I read was Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (2009), no less than the history of the world--nearly 600 stories/vignettes in some 360 pages. His classic work, Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (1971), once banned by a number of right-wing Latin American governments, is exactly what it claims to be.

To deal with broad expanses of time, Galeano has developed a distinctive genre, reminiscent of the collage technique employed by radical novelist John Dos Passos during the 1930s. Rather than narrative continuity, Galeano creates mosaics from glimpses, episodes, biographical fragments, vignettes, drawn from his extensive reading/research. His use of language is economical yet evocative, almost visual in effect; ‘mosaic’ and ‘weaving’ are often used to describe his work. It is not irrelevant that Galeano was, during adolescence, a political cartoonist for the Uruguayan socialist press; his writing deploys skills similar to great political cartoonists---the ability to capture the essence of an event or personage and render this with swift economical brush/pen strokes. For a preview glimpse of his latest literary offering, Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History (2013), see this piece. [Rowan Cahill, 26 July 2013]


Emile Zola's Open Letter to the French President, 1898.
A seminal intellectual intervention.
Intellectuals, that is people who engage in mental activity like thinking and pondering and the replication and production of knowledge and ideas, have been around a long time, probably as long as humans have formed themselves into societies of one kind or another. They wander through the past in many guises, as priests and poets and artists and scholars and druids and oracles and wise-men and healers and witches and minstrels, and tended eventually to get harnessed to the power structures of their day. Since they produced little in the way of ‘goods’ that were saleable/consumable in a necessary/survival sort of way, yet appreciated in sensual ways, they were susceptible to working for contemporary big-ends-of-town, time-rich with abundant disposable monies, families like the Borgias, and the church, and the apparatuses of the state. By the Middle Ages in Europe, the intellectual process had been largely hegemonised by the church and government. Late in that period, however, the process began to break down, and was eventually liberated and transformed by the revolution of moveable type and printing, fractures to the traditional class system unleashed by the decline of feudalism and the eventual rise of industrialisation, and increasing literacy. While the big-end-of-town notion of the hegemonised  intellectual prospered, so too during the 18th and 19th centuries did the notion of the intellectual as some kind of ‘mental’ worker who was also a dissenting interventionist in politics. The latter model came into its own during the 19th century in the revolutionary upheavals in Europe, most dramatically, perhaps in Russia, in the period leading up to and culminating in the 1917 Revolution. Thereafter, the radical/interventionist model became popular and aspirational, its heyday between the two World Wars. Post-1945, however, the skids were put under this model, gradually transformed by the consumer society, and processes that again put the state and big-money hegemonically in the driving seat, separating intellectual from public and action. Intellectuals were still produced, particularly by universities, and in huge numbers, as were dissenting ideas, but the connections between intellectuals and audiences were cut. The shrinking of public space by increasing monopoly control of all media forms was partly responsible, so too the subversion of content by entertainment and amusement. But intellectual activity was also self-subverted, by language modes and genres that failed to broadly communicate, by paywalls and locked-up-knowledge, by the material rewards of producing for elite/niche/ minority audiences, by career paths that either/neither encouraged, or condoned, political interventions or communications with ‘a public’, with ‘ordinary people’, and by a general cynicism that political action was not part of the intellectual’s purview, that the production of the word was, in itself, enough, providing the necessary existential justification/validation. In the modern, changing, fragile and increasingly toxic world, the role of intellectuals is indispensable; the challenge is to reinstate and assert the dimensions of public, and connections, and dissenting intervention. [Rowan Cahill, 24 June 2013]


Published in November 2012 by Viking-Penguin, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom is the latest ‘history from below’ from radical scholar Marcus Rediker (University of Pittsburgh). His subject is the successful rebellion by West African captives on board the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839, en route to a slave plantation in Cuba. Rediker hypothesises the role of the Poro, a West African secret society, in this, its form of self-government providing organisational and political seeds. Wanting to return home to Sierra Leone, but lacking the necessary navigation skills, the rebels ended up in US waters where they were arrested and incarcerated, charged with piracy and murder, and faced with a quagmire of US laws and international agreements/understandings. In subsequent legal cases that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, in a leading global slave nation and a legal jurisdiction that supported slavery, the rebels successfully argued they had not been legally enslaved. Their case concluded in 1841, they returned home to West Africa in 1842. The most recent account of this story was in Stephen Spielberg’s 1997 movie Amistad. Tellings of the revolt and its aftermath have  tended to vindicate the US legal system, and recognise the historical agency of the gifted American lawyers who argued the rebels’ case, and that of the abolitionists who supported their cause. Rediker’s research and telling recognises instead the historical agency of the rebels, legitimises outright rebellion, and demonstrates how the Amistad rebellion had flow on effects globally, forcing high level discussions of the institution of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic, capturing contemporary public imagination, inspirationally finding its way into slave societies globally, and possibly inspiring some in the US abolitionist movement to envisage direct action initiatives. As usual with Rediker’s histories, this account is thoroughly and impressively researched, includes new material, is written to be read, and has political resonance. It is a radical reminder of the agency residing within the many kingdoms of the oppressed. And of ramifications beyond countenance, when brought into play. As they say in the classics, history constantly surprises. [Rowan Cahill, 10 April 2013]


Robert Bollard’s In the Shadow of Gallipoli:The Hidden History of Australia in World War 1 has just arrived from NewSouth Books, a new imprint of University of New South Wales Press. It was great to get it – because if ever radical history needed a bulwark against the militarized nationalist mud that liberal and conservative historians threaten to sink us in it is now, as the centenary of World War 1 approaches. Rob’s book has two wonderful defenses against this muck. First, it documents and passionately argues that ‘under the shadow of Gallipoli lies the real truth about World War 1’ – that in opposition to the militarist and imperialist patriotism of the ruling class another Australia was born, an Australia of ‘militant and politicized workers’ whose significance was ‘unparalleled in the English-speaking world’. Second, it was born out of real grievances, expressed as real anger at unemployment, the failure of parliamentary representation, and the sense of having been deceived about the impact of the war, as its horrific casualties became known. Although this is a book about ‘the home front’ it has no mind-numbing accounts of sock-knitting, mourning, and recruiting marches as forms of representation. Instead, in eight action-filled chapters it takes the reader on a materialist journey from the impact of unemployment on recruiting, through the beginnings of the strike wave, the strengthening of class-consciousness among Irish workers after the Easter Uprising of 1916, the anti-conscription victories, the ‘Great Strike’ of 1917, to the concluding chapter on the political violence of 1918-19. The final sentences carry a message: ‘The class division and political polarization of Australia, as it emerged, scarred and battered from the shadow of World War I, appears not so much an exception to egalitarian Australia as the rule. It might be history, but it is also a premonition.’

Rob Bollard is a radical historian, well known for his path-breaking articles establishing that the ‘Great Strike’ of 1917 was driven from below, and that it was defeated not by the irresolution of the workers but by government-organised scabbing. The innovative UNSW Press is the publisher of Radical Sydney,(Irving/Cahill, 2010) which it keeps in print. Let’s hope their publication of Rob’s book is a sign that the market for radical history is growing. [Terry Irving, 10 March 2013]


Due for release in April is A Cultural History of the Radical Sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area (Pickering and Chatto, London) by Australian scholar Anthony Ashbolt (Wollongong University). Ashbolt sets out to show and explain why the San Francisco Bay Area was a cultural seedbed of radicalism during the 1960s. It is a nuanced piece of historical discourse, exhaustive in its thoroughness. When it comes to the San Francisco Bay Area, Ashbolt demonstrates the role of the Old Left and pre-existing radical culture and radical spaces in the emergence and shaping of the radicalism of the 1960s. What outsiders and propagandists perceived and promoted as radically new and national, drew life from local activities, local traditions, local activists, local organisations and local spaces. Ashbolt’s account and sense of history is informed by his deep immersion in the culture of the times. While Australian, he spent an important part of his childhood in the US, where his father, the great Australian broadcaster and writer Allan Ashbolt, was stationed as the ABC’s first correspondent in the USA. For radical activists, Ashbolt’s study asserts the importance of the local as a sphere of radical action and activism, and for historians is a powerful reminder that big social movements may well be that in name only, and actually comprise smaller and different variations on a theme. [Rowan Cahill, 6 March 2013]


The Summer 2012/2013 issue (Number 70) of the Journal of Australian Political Economy is worth checking out. OK, so it is not 'radical history', but so far as radical scholarship is concerned, it is relevant. The issue is devoted to Marxist political economy. Readers will find much of interest amongst the fourteen essays published. I draw attention to one of these, and whilst it is co-authored by my eldest son, that is not the reason I refer to it. Titled "Marxist Class Analysis: A Living Tradition in Australian Scholarship", the essay is co-authored by Sydney University political economists Thomas Barnes and Damien Cahill. The authors present the findings and analysis of their survey of Australian scholarly journal articles in the social sciences published between 1980-2012. Barnes and Cahill are interested in the nature and extent of Marxist class analysis in Australian scholarship. They find that, contrary to the belief of many scholars that it is redundant and dead/dying, Marxist analysis in Australia is alive and well and innovative and showing no signs of going away; in short, it is an ongoing, vibrant, and living tradition. Which might cause future research grant decision-makers in some future kick-arse Abbottonian world to try to tie the purse strings when it comes to the social sciences. But that is in the future, maybe, and for now the news from Barnes and Cahill is a tonic for the diversity of radical scholars in Australian academies who variously assert Marxist principles and understandings as a legitimate way of exploring and explaining the modern world, and the past. [Rowan Cahill, 21 February 2013]


According to the American Historical Association (AHA), historians with new PhDs have about a 50% chance of academic employment at the time of their graduation. Is that good or bad? Well, it’s bad, for what the AHA report fails to say is that the ‘lucky’ half will be exploited as temporary adjuncts, without tenure or health benefits, working twice as many hours as the tenured professors for half the salary. A favoured few will manage to move into the tenure track; the rest will labour in this academic underworld all their working lives - or until they join the underpaid in some other industry. As one of the adjuncts explained recently, their situation is not unique; it’s par for the American way of life. They are as expendable as other workers, suffering because of the conquest of academic life by America’s ‘unfettered, rampant, predatory capitalism’. [see Martin R. Mulford, The Commodification and Deprofessionalization of the PhD ]

So I got a bit of a jolt when I came across a conference call from the University of Syracuse, a private college in affluent up-state New York. In its Department of History, says the announcement, the graduate students work in what is called ‘The Future Professoriate Program’. Future recruits to the precariate, more like!

Is the program a bad joke, I wondered, or just another example of elite arrogance and market ideology? And is its linguistic cleverness self-deception or deliberate? And if the ruling professoriate can get away with misnaming their school in this way, are the courses they offer tailored to produce a similarly false view of the world and its history?

The reason the Syracuse announcement caught my eye was that the conference’s theme was ‘Violence and Resistance’, described thus: ‘These have become increasingly central to scholarship and have been a palpable presence both on the news and in our classrooms’ – in the latter presumably as matters for discussion rather than as results of an actual struggle to democratize education. The assumption at Syracuse seems to be that historians study the representations of violence and resistance, latterly in a virtual world on the news channels, rather than the things themselves.

Then follows a short list of topics: ‘Memory, religion, gender, military, community identity, popular culture, family, imperialism/colonial experiences, landscape, the self, politics.’ My guess is that they reflect the theses that the students in the school are writing. Culture, experience, identity, memory: these are the organizing ideas of a history profession still in retreat from the radical materialist scholarship of the late twentieth century. Look at what the list ignores: the structures of race and class, surely among the main arenas of violence and resistance; periodisation, a concept that holds out the possibility of another period of progressive action against oppression and its supporting violence; and the social structuring of power and thus the crucial insight for a study of this kind that the state, as the sphere of legitimate violence, is responsible for spreading the very idea of violence as a way of settling conflict.

In the Syracuse announcement, the missing event is ‘Occupy’; the missing concept is realism.

One of the most encouraging recent developments in the practice of radical history is the renewal of the materialist understanding of history as a creative and collective process. This has occurred as millions of people have shown what that means right now, on the streets and in the squares of hundreds of cities across the globe. If violence and resistance are part of historical analyses today it is because of this movement. It reminds historians of violence and resistance that they have to contextualize them, to consider their material causes and effects, to see them as actions as well as experiences, to analyze their economic and political reality as well as their representations.

The graduate students of Syracuse are right to perceive that current events have placed violence and resistance on the historians’ agenda. I hope there will be a good roll up of radical historians at their conference in March, in order to restore the conceptual balance and turn historians into historical actors themselves. That’s the kind of professoriate so many of us are waiting for; not least because the professors need to carry the fight against capitalism into their own campuses. [Terry Irving, 1 January 2013]


Bonhoeffer, July 1939.
ON DARKENED DAYS AND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: Recently, two separate ‘events’ intertwined in my mind. Last week I visited the blockade of a coal seam/coal gas exploration site, out in the rural backblocks of the Southern Highlands in NSW. It was Day 10 of a 24-hour blockade; a reception tent cum kitchen, a caravan for sleeping, a few tractors, horse floats, huge rolls of hay, and an assortment of determined townies and farmers. They were, and are, opposing coal seam gas exploration, and the controversial and increasing scientifically and environmentally condemned practice  of ‘fracking’, the depletion of water qualities, possible increased salination, possible damage to aquifiers… and they are up against the law which permits speculative exploration over and above property rights; huge corporate wealth with bottomless overseas capital reserves; politicians of all hues who seem to bend to the rustle of money; smiling corporate front people with cut-and-paste smiles and cut-and-paste PR and expert ‘wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly-trust-me’ smarm and conviction who could charm their ways past St. Peter; and floods of expensive propaganda in the local media….And I’d just  read an essay in the New York Review of Books about  Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the anti-Nazi Lutheran theologian who went with his faith into the realms of espionage, subterfuge, and complicity in assassination, and his little known brother-in-law accomplice, lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi (1902-1945), both executed by the Nazi-state. Bonhoeffer has long interested me, having been first brought to my attention as an undergraduate in the 1960s by one of my teachers, the historian and sociologist (Professor) Ernst Bramstedt, then teaching at Sydney University. Dohnanyi is new to me.

As I said, two strands intertwined…what is the point, I asked myself rhetorically, of holding out against great wealth, great power, great injustices, in the name of principles, for what is right, when the end is almost the certainty of getting rolled, of sticking to your guns and ending up like Bonhoeffer and Dohnanyi in the hangman’s noose, real or metaphorical? Granted, Bonhoeffer ‘survives’ today, well known  because of his actions and his stand; the Nazi machine could not delete him from history as he had significant international theological and intellectual clout and repute before he took his stand. But that does not apply to the coal seam blockaders, nor to the locals, for example, in New Guinea, in Africa, in the Amazon region, variously struggling to protect their habitats and livelihoods from the depredations of logging, mining, and oil operations, or to countless others all over the world variously opposing those who would otherwise walk over them in the name of the State,  corporate gains, austerity, or whatever….

While protest actions and dissenting activities do succeed, particularly when they are part of social movements or linked with mass movements and class struggles, and let us not be deceived by the silences of history, over time there have been victories a plenty, like the grains of sand on a beach, too numerous to count; however, the point is that protest actions, acts of resistance, of saying-No, do not require success to be validated; they are their own validation.  Ideally there is a receptive and sympathetic audience, ideally a mass movement of some kind, but in the end the No-saying boils down to an individual act, irrespective of the context; it is something only the individual can do, being at core an individual ethical, moral, political response to a  circumstance/situation.  

And it counts, no matter the audience, no matter the chance of success. Every declaration of No, every act of resistance is a hurdle for those who seek and prefer an acquiescent roll-over-me world, a level playing field in which there is no opposition. It is the act of resistance that is crucial, not necessarily its success or otherwise.  Resistance and the saying of No is what darkens the days and haunts the nights of those who envisage the well-tended compliance of acquiescent playing fields. And the act of saying No, the act of resistance, is what frustrates and prevents the realisation of those playing fields, both now and in the future.

For radical historians, one of their tasks is to keep knowledge of the dissenters, the resisters, the No-sayers, alive and accessible. Another, is to add the lives and actions and struggles and contexts of the many unknown and nameless ones who have variously struggled against wealth and power for a voice and agency in history, to those that are known. In doing so, these lives and actions can be political and moral compass points for the present and the future, and like Bonhoeffer, offer profound challenges to what it means to live meaningfully and well. [Rowan Cahill, 21 October 2012]


ROBIN HOOD: In a 'bargain' bin at the local supermarket I recently found episodes of childhood television fare...a British series my brother and I loved....The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-1959), starring Richard Greene. Episodes of this were written under a pseudonym by blacklisted American leftist screenwriter, Ring Lardner Jr. (1915-2000), a victim of the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s, 1950s, who found work in England until he could again freely work in his homeland. A matter of politics and popular culture seamlessly mixing, and arguably a subtle part of my early political formation. Nice one Ring, and Robin...and thank you. [Rowan Cahill, 19 August 2012]


WORKERS OF THE WORLD, subtitled the International Journal on Strikes and Social Conflict, is a new, and free, online journal. It aims “ to stimulate global studies on labour and social conflicts in an interdisciplinary, global, long term historical and non Eurocentric perspective. It intends to move away from traditional forms of methodological nationalism and conjectural studies, adopting an explicitly critical and interdisciplinary perspective”. The journal is an initiative arising out of the Lisbon Labour Conference in March 2011. The editorial board draws researchers from Brazil, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, and Spain. The advisory board reflects the journal’s global perspective. Good to see the debut issue (June 2012) has an essay by Australian radical scholars Verity and Meredith Burgmann, “Pre-empting New Social Movements, Pioneering Social Movement Unionism: Australian Builders Labourers in the 1970s”. Overall, the journal is a refreshingly bold scholarly initiative, not least because it is in the public domain and not locked up behind the pay-walls of private enterprise. [Rowan Cahill, 18 August 2012]


VELVET RADICALISM: Australian scholar Nichole Georgeou (right) is the author of a book recently published by Routledge and released simultaneously in the UK and the US. So far as books go, it is relatively expensive, and obviously intended by its publisher for institutional (library) sales.

Titled Neoliberalism, Development, and Aid Volunteering, the book however was not intended by its author to simply become a library shelf-dweller, career brownie-point earner, academic footnote-quarry, though it will become the latter, such is the quality of the work, its  breadth of scholarship, its insights and challenges. As to how to classify it, it is probably best described as interdisciplinary, bringing together history, politics, sociology, and social anthropology.

As Georgeou explains at the start of her book, the gestation of her study were her  experiences and immersion in the field of aid volunteering in Japan and North Vietnam. This was during the early 1990s, when she was in her early twenties. As she explains, they were experiences that left her asking huge moral, ethical, political questions about volunteering. It was a questioning that brought her back to Australia, and eventually to academia. This book is the result of her facing down these demons, unpacking them intellectually to find answers and solutions. In the process she validates the work of NGOs and on-the-ground civilian volunteers, and seriously questions the aims and priorities of state led aid initiatives.

A dynamic aspect of Georgeou’s study is data sourced from interviews she conducted in 2006-2009 with civilian volunteers with international experience of working in sites of civil unrest. Such data does not grow on trees, and Georgeou’s sensitive and nuanced treatment of this material reflects her concerns for the safety and the broad welfare, including psychological aspects, of volunteers. But not only this. Georgeou’s study is also concerned with the human, cultural, psychological, political welfare of the participants/recipients or targets of aid/volunteering.    

Georgeou’s text avoids the coded and cold impenetrability of much academic writing; it is at once scholarly, personal, nuanced, and accessible to non-specialists. The author intended her work to be used, to challenge and to help formulate aid/volunteering approaches and policies at individual and organisational levels, in what is globally a multi-billion dollar economic sector, one which makes claims to altruism and humanitarianism, utilises the input of growing numbers of volunteers, but is increasingly volatile, conditional, militarised, privatised, and politically riven.

So what makes Georgeou’s book radical? Well, for starters, she understands matters pertaining to class and hegemony. Then there is her stance as a scholar. Biographically, she came to academia late, and did not take the well-beaten path of swapping school for campus; thus she avoided the institutional grooming and timidification that often ensnares those who travel this path. Rather she models engaged scholarship. The scholar is not some sort of seminarian, cocooned in the academy, mixing almost exclusively with coteries of self-referential fellow specialists and elitistly dealing with ‘higher things’; rather, the scholar seeks to engage with the wider world beyond the academy, which in Georgeou’s case is the world of human dignity, human rights, social justice.  

Add to this her forensic account of the ways in which neoliberalism is embedded in modern aid/development programs, which, along with ‘new managerialism’, comprises a form of imperialism, tying aid/volunteering recipients to the economic and strategic imperatives of donor states, the managerialism both facilitating and camouflaging the ideological and the political.

Radical too is Georgeou’s conception and vision of civil society, which is at the heart of her thinking, and advocacy. Civil society is a social construct, a social space, at once democratic and participatory, in which individuals variously clash, struggle, argue, agree. It is a space in which the individual is empowered to act publicly. Civil society is about people, individuals, human beings, and not about units to be manipulated for state imperatives, or conceived of as footsoldiers for economic growth.   

From my reading of Georgeou’s book, I sense much anger and passion guiding her text. But instead of the mailed fist, which is there, she builds her case with velvet gloves. She is a pleasure to read, and her book is a significant contribution to the growing literature on the embeddeness of neoliberalism.

Order a copy for your library. And while you are at it, place an order for another impressive newcomer with Australian origins, Neoliberalism: Beyond the Free Market, edited by Damien CahillLindy Edwards and Frank Stilwell, from the Edward Elgar Publishing stable. This book comprises essays from an international array of scholars on the topic of neoliberalism, including robust discussion/analysis of the embeddedness of neoliberalism. [Rowan Cahill, 24 July 2012]


WISE AFTER THE EVENT: Hard on the heels of my previous post about McQueen, my attention was grabbed by an article in the latest issue of Australian Historical Studies (43, 2012, pp. 287-301), authoured by young historian Nathan Wise from the University of New England (NSW). Wise has made a speciality of radically challenging traditional histories of the Australian martial experience during World War 1, histories which arguably serve to condition and martial future generations of young Australians to uncritically enter bloodbaths overseas.

Wise explains in his article's Abstract, "The Myth of Classlessness in the Australian Imperial Force'',

"The issue of class remains strikingly absent from much of the historical literature on the
Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the First World War. This article briefly explores
the pre-war class backgrounds of soldiers, the traces of class in their writings and their
experiences, the class-based selection processes of soldiers’ writing by post-war archives,
and how key historians of the AIF have paid insufficient attention to class. It argues that
as a result of middle-class hegemony, before, during and after the war, the memory of the
First World War in Australian popular culture and much historical writing is largely a
memory based upon skewed sources and a lack of recognition of class in the AIF."

Wise's article is a scholarly strike against the way many Australian historians and the populists who have followed, have deliberately or otherwise variously misrepresented the Australian martial experience of World War 1. A significant piece of historical research and writing, and a useful contribution to the class analysis of Australian history. [Rowan Cahill, 6 July 2012]


HUMPHREY McQUEEN ON WikiLeaks:  Over on the Overland website, the Coombs Lecture Theatre (Australian National University) talk given by Australian radical historian Humphrey McQueen on 27 June 2012 to the Canberra Friends of WikiLeaks has been posted. Titled Yes, Virginia, there are Conspiracies, this is a marvellous, erudite defence of Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks project, and is a masterful demonstration of radical history. McQueen touches upon many things, including the nature of journalism, class analysis of history, and the ways great power and wealth operate to the confusion of the masses. Enjoyable also is his Wildean contempt for the ALP. McQueen's conclusion is the rallying/oppositional essence of radical history:  

Let me spell out the strategic lesson from my comments about conspiracy facts. In the battles that we shall face, governments will continue to conspire, they will deploy anti-conspiracy laws and push their black propaganda. We can’t beat them at their game. We will win by following the example of the unionists in the 1830s – by mounting the broadest campaign to organise, to educate and to agitate. Our success will come from the open conspiracy of mass participation that inspired Julian Assange to set up WikiLeaks, and that brought us here tonight.

[Rowan Cahill, 6 July 2012] 

[To read the whole talk, click here]


Terry Eagleton speaking at the 'Take Back Education' teach-in, Kings College London, 27 February 2010. 


NOBBLING INFORMATION COMMODIFICATION: ACADEMIC PRODUCTION, JOURNALS, AND OPEN ACCESS: Once upon a time the academic production of writing and research was characterised by networks, professional societies, collegial informalities, and a certain democratic haphazardness. It was part of general cultural discourse, contributing to the idea of cultural/scientific intellectual commons. Now, however, academic production has largely become privatised. Many academic/scholarly journals have become the property of corporate owners. Scholarship has become a commodity, locked up in repositories, requiring exorbitant payments by universities, libraries, individuals to unlock and access. Instead of the idea of commons, we have the privatisation of academic/scholarly production.

['Radical Open Access in the Humanities'--lecture, Columbia University, 18 October 2010]

The ‘once upon a time’ never was a level playing field. Some research and journals had greater clout/exposure than others, with factors like the names of people and institutions associated with publications influencing exposure and visibility. But the ‘professionalisation’ and growth of academic journals since the 1970s, and their gradual concentration in the hands of global mega-publishers, has created another uneven playing field, one ruled by money and the generation of huge profits. For example, Amsterdam-based Elsevier, the leading publisher of science and health information/research, with some 2000 titles in its portfolio, reported a profit of £768 million in 2011, an increase of £44 million over that of the previous year.

The costs of accessing journals can be prohibitive, especially for small tertiary outfits; but even major institutions like Harvard, are feeling the pinch. Further, the marketing tactic adopted by the mega-publishers is to bundle titles; access to desired journals also involves accepting titles less requested by researchers, if sought at all – journals with a readership close to nil.

Overall, it is a process in which academics perform an alchemic role. They edit and write academic journals for free, handing their endeavours over to publishers, who then generate huge profits by publishing, then hiring-out these endeavours to libraries and individuals. Because most academics are financed by the public purse, academic production by this process involves the transmutation of public monies into private wealth.

At the same time, promotion within academia is reliant to a great extent upon quantification—the quantity of an academic’s output and the number of citations of this output in these same scholarly journals. Quality, and the existence or otherwise of readerships beyond niche academic/scholarly audiences, tend to be non-sequiturs. Which has led to another spawning of the mega-publishers: the creation of highly specialist and esoteric journals. As Guy Rundle acidly observed in a recent Crikey piece, these are publications where the number of contributors tend to outnumber the readership.

The overall process is incestuous, one in which quality is not necessarily a factor, and in which proven ability in teaching tends to play second fiddle, if at all, when applying for academic jobs. Which is why the mega-publishers of academic/scholarly journals have power, and why academics so willingly function as their unpaid labourers. Which is sadly ironic, since few universities, and academic scholarship specifically, would survive into the future if there were no students. And there are no students without teachers and teaching. Indeed, future scholars begin as students – they do not spring fully formed into the world.

Simply, students and teaching are the bricks and mortar of tertiary education. To think otherwise is nonsense. Unless, of course, universities are to become little more than think-tanks, and producers of targeted research, for the global big-money of military/industrial/security interests, chemical/drug/medical corporations, energy combines, and other corporate bottomless wells.

But it doesn’t have to be. And the mantra should be “OPEN ACCESS”. Which means publishing in ways that do not play into the hands of mega-publishers. Which means working towards the creation of an intellectual/scholarly commons. How to achieve Open Access however, is a work in progress. There is no single answer, no single strategy. Since 2008, for example, the idea of ‘guerrilla open access’ has become a searchable term on the web; a simple search will take the reader to a plethora of sites, information, about guerrilla campaigning to free information and research from the monopoly control of the mega-publishers. Warning however: there are metaphoric corpses along the way. Governments, publishers and lawyers, have gone after guerrilla campaigners with a vengeance.

The Cost of Knowledge petition which began circulating in January this year is of interest. Originating from a blog protest by eminent Cambridge mathematician Timothy Gowers, it has gained international support from thousands of scientists who pledge not to publish in, or otherwise assist, Elsevier journals, in protest against policies which the petition claims restricts access to work that should be readily available. In the UK, the media has been quick to dub the mounting protest, the Academic Spring.

The British government is currently exploring Open Access to all research that has received public funding with the intention of making it available online on the basis of Open Access within the next two years. A worry here: governments have a habit these days of privatising and selling off public assets/ventures like this.

For a good working example of an individual scholar's Open Access site, check out that of Australian sociologist (Professor) Brian Martin, a long-time Open Access advocate and practitioner. 

And there is always the alternative of setting up an Open Access and online scholarly/academic journal. It is a relatively simple thing to do; reputable editorial boards/collectives, peer reviewing, scholarly rigour, need not be the sole preserves of paper based titles and mega-publishers. In the end, it all ends up online anyway, except one method involves commodification, the other the commons. [Rowan Cahill, 16 May 2012]


VIOLENCE - IN OZ HISTORY WE'D RATHER NOT KNOW ABOUT IT. It is to radical social history, which my generation discovered in the 1970s, that we owe the acceptance among history workers that subordinate peoples, however defined, have historical agency. Duly acknowledged, this idea became the frame for a sprinkling of more general histories of Australia that appeared in the 1980s and 90s, the best of them enriched by feminist theory.

Agency is not enough. Relations between dominant and subordinate classes, races, sexes, generations, regions, faiths and so on, are also characterised by violence, real or threatened, direct or indirect, and from below as well as above. The rulers of the society in which these structured relationships exist develop ways to suppress, contain or dissipate its propensity for violence, and the subordinate groups counter-strategise to use their violence creatively.

Decades after social history’s moment, I’m still waiting for violence to become as common as agency in the thinking of my radical history colleagues.

The historical actors in these fraught relationships were not so reticent; they knew the terror and named the cause. Here’s an example. Jennie Scott Griffiths was part of the migration of radicals to Queensland in 1918. A revolutionary feminist, she spent two years in Brisbane, lecturing, writing, lobbying – and fighting. Her son recalls that during the notorious red flag procession in Brisbane in March 1919, Jennie, although only 4 ft 6 inches high, was seen beating a tattoo on the chest of a policeman, yelling ‘Give me back my flag!’ She saw the proto-fascist violence that followed and had to suffer an invasion of her own house by armed soldiers. Afterwards she predicted ‘successive strikes, lock-outs and riots’ because Australian workers would not ‘allow themselves to be batoned by police without hitting back.’

A few months later the Labor politicians, union officials and the arbitration judge who were suppressing a working class uprising in Townsville were congratulating Queenslanders on their rejection of violence and their loyalty to constitutional principles. The minds of both sides were obsessed by the violence.

Confronted by these opposing views why should the historian choose to construct their narrative around the view that delegitimizes violence – the view of state officials and those complicit in their project – rather than the view of Jennie and her comrades?

Perhaps there was not much revolutionary violence anyway? This is the standard line of history texts. Australians – A Historical Dictionary (1987) has no entry for violence, and nor does The Oxford Companion to Australian History (1998). The truth is that there is very little research on violence in Australian history. Even when scholars – radicals for the most part – do discuss violent moments they seem to be too fastidious to use the term or specify the violent means. Example: I like Stuart Macintyre’s The Succeeding Age (1986) because it links lives and events with structures, and the pages describing the 1919 strike wave are particularly good. But he avoids the word ‘violence’. Instead we get references to ‘an atmosphere of disorder’, and conflicts ‘that flared up’, and returned soldiers who ‘lashed out’ at workers, socialists, do-gooders and policemen. Another example: Terrence Cutler’s study of the 1918-19 meat workers’ strike in Townsville is excellent on the context and the drama but his distaste for revolutionary violence is plain. He dismisses it as ‘anarchism’, and as bound to fail. (Terrence Cutler, 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday: the Townsville Meat Strike of 1918-19' in J. Iremonger et al (eds), Strikes, 1973, pp 81-102)

Startled by Jennie Scott Griffiths’ blasé attitude to violence I decided to see how much of it I could find in 1918 and 1919. Some years ago I undertook the same task for the 1840s, and surprised myself at how often incidents of political contention took a violent turn, and how many riots there were. (I give a short account of this research in ‘To revolutionise Australia – The Surprising History of Early Working Class Politics’.) So I sampled the daily press in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane for the years Jennie was in Brisbane, and discovered that her attitude was understandable. I logged almost 100 incidents of actual or threatened violence, and I’m sure there are many that I missed and that the reporters often failed to distinguish separate incidents.

Proto-fascist violence by returned soldiers contributed the greatest number of cases, but there were also incidents when soldiers made common cause with ‘revolutionists’. Workers on strike routinely roughed up scabs, while unemployed workers fought with police in Brisbane, Melbourne and Townsville. In Darwin, Kalgoorlie, Broken Hill, Townsville and Fremantle there were times, often lasting several days, when rebellious workers controlled the streets. Sabotage was common, and workers in Sydney, Darwin, Melbourne and Townsville stole guns. Workers used firearms to defend themselves in Kalgoorlie, Townsville, and Brisbane. Two men died; hundreds were injured, some shot in the back by police.

Calling this situation disorderly or tumultuous; pigeon-holing it as a strike wave: such words are inadequate both descriptively and analytically. Class, gender and ethnicity were organising forces in these events. Coercion by military means was ultimately decisive in controlling a pre-revolutionary situation. The descriptive term we need here is violence; the idea we need is the place of organised violence in social relationships. [Terry Irving, 24 April 2012].


“TALK OF MANY THINGS….” There is a resurgence of scholarly interest in the history of popular protest and collective action in Britain and Ireland. This is taking place at the same time collective action is a global phenomenon, particularly, so far as the mass media is concerned, in the Arab world and in parts of Europe. Two recent papers by Katrina Navickas are of interest: “What Happened to Class? New Histories of Labour and Collective Action in Britain”, Social History, Vol. 36, No. 2, May 2011; and “Protest History or the History of Protest?”, History Workshop Journal, Issue 73, March 2012. There is much to ponder in these thoughtful and provocative pieces; the 2011 essay in particular, is a robust  historiographical discussion of recent developments in British labour and collective action history.

While scholarly interest in protest and rebellion was generally distracted and deconstructed by postmodernist dreaming in many parts of the world during the 1980s and 1990s, beyond the cloisters of academe protest and rebellion remained alive and well. Arguably too, offstage, in the world of realpolitik, in the wings where Pilate intellectuals and thugs merge seamlessly in intelligence and secret police roles, interest and concern was not sidetracked. Take China for example, where away from television cameras, minus access by journalists, and despite intense policing of the social media, protest surged, and continues to surge. With a tendency to be ‘invisible’ both within and outside China, "mass incidents" as riots, demonstrations, protests are collectively and euphemistically termed by Chinese authorities, have grown from about 10,000 incidents in 1993, to some 180,000 in 2010. “Mass incidents” can involve small numbers of people to many thousands. Many of the “incidents” are localised, small, and focused on specific issues/concerns. Protest actions specifically involving working people and industrial issues are on the increase. In 2010, China's spending on internal policing outstripped its national defence budget.

Which brings me to the neoliberal nonsense which simplistically equates markets with political freedom. As Naomi Klein demonstrated in The Shock Doctrine (2007), the implementation of neoliberal policies in the 1970s and 1980s in developing countries went hand-in-hand with military seizures of power, the establishment of authoritarian regimes, and lashings of terror, torture, and the ‘disappearance’ of opponents and critics. Capitalism, corporations, and untrammelled profiteering coexist easily with authoritarian governments. To my way of thinking, the significance of the ongoing experiment of the marriage between capitalism and the Chinese communist state, is its modelling of the one-party capitalist state, a model I reckon will eventually attract the sort of intellectual vandals who helped introduce us to neoliberalism in the 1970s via Chile.

My argument is that if in our ‘democracies’, capitalism variously finds itself stymied/curtailed by popular protests, trade unionism, and by the return of the political will to ensure greater wealth and profit sharing via taxation and welfare reforms, recognition that authoritarian control facilitated by the one-party state, and its associated greater discipline, may follow. From the outside this seems a possible way to protect markets and capital, albeit not as sure as the lived reality, but certainly producing all the outward trappings of capitalist heartlands, complete with rampant consumerism, political/economic corruption, and vast and growing wealth, social and political inequalities.

P. S. Soon after writing the previous paragraphs, I was notified by a friendly online monitoring outfit that a co-authored article of mine published in 2006 had recently been downloaded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The subject of the article is the imposition of a form of martial-law on a small semi-rural Australian town in 1978, following what now appears to have been a bogus terrorist threat emanating from within Australia’s security/intelligence community. Apart from expressions of concern by some civil libertarians and intellectuals at the time, the brief regime of martial-law went virtually unchallenged and without murmur. It was, and is, a copy-book example of how to impose authoritarian rule of a martial kind in a peace-time democratic society. No cause for alarm with the U.S. download. But if you factor in these recent excellent pieces by Chris Hedges (truthdig) and Naomi Wolfe (The Guardian), then there is much food for thought. [Rowan Cahill, 14 April 2012].


OLIVER VILLAR & DREW COTTLE, AND THE NARCO-POLITICS OF IMPERIALISM: Drew Cottle (University of Western Sydney) is an Australian radical historian, and one of those who contributed chapters to the Irving/Cahill Radical Sydney (UNSW Press, 2010). During his academic career he resisted the siren calls of post-modernism, and pursued class analysis as he targeted the hydra-heads of capitalism. Amongst his scholarly production were two major studies, variously circulating and cited in their dissertation formats long before they appeared as published books. Life Can Be Oh So Sweet On The Sunny Side Of The Street (Minerva Press, London, 1998), a micro-study of Sydney’s suburban wealthy during the Great Depression (1928-1934), challenged the general Australian historical version of the Depression which portrayed great general suffering and hardship. In Cottle’s account, rich ruling class enclaves tenaciously clung to their wealth, enjoyed extravagance and privilege, emerging from the period largely unscathed. The Brisbane Line: A Reappraisal (Upfront Publishing, Leicestershire, 2002) examined aspects of Japanese imperialism during the inter-war period, with special attention to the possibility of collaboration with Japan by prominent sections of the Australian ruling class. While there were exceptions, amongst which I was numbered, this well-documented and tightly argued study tended to be cold-shouldered in Australia.

It is a pleasure to see Cottle in the lists again, this time with co-author Oliver Villar (Charles Sturt University) and their book Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia (Monthly Review Press, New York, 2011). This is a well-written, readable volume, a mix of radical political economy, radical history, and Marxist analysis. Their study is built on extensive and excellent research, much of it based on Villar’s related PhD dissertation (2008).

Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror examines the U.S. war against the Colombian drug trade and state-designated terror organisations, a maelstrom of violence that to date has cost U.S. taxpayers some $US 7 billion. The authors expose the hypocrisy and duplicity of this conflict, demonstrating U.S. support for a narco-state and a narco-bourgeoisie, enabling paramilitaries, wealthy elites, business interests favourable to U.S. interests to dominate the drug trade at the expense of rivals. As the authors argue, it is not a war against drugs and terror, but a war to entrench and protect U.S. endorsed drug cartels and sources of terror. In the wash, the U.S. garners significant strategic and economic benefits and advantages.

Overall a brave and vital book. For a Counterpunch review click here. [Rowan Cahill, 2 April 2012].


IN GRANGER MODE: I recently took umbrage with regard to the use of the terms retirement/retiree when asked to describe myself in a question posed in a fraternal organisation’s questionnaire. I responded: “I am 66, work as a part-time casual, am studying, and writing. In current circumstances I regard use of ‘retired/retirement’ as a capitalist ploy to commodify people, and in part too as an attempt by the state to control a section of the population—all of which I reject.” Sure, I parted company with my long-time employer on less than amicable/favourable personal and financial terms in 2000, but that did not mean I opted out of life, or turned myself over to the old-person-farmers, my term of abuse for the investment sector that has tried to convince people over the age of 50 to enter ‘lifestyle villages/communities’. Nor do I subscribe to the footloose docility and hedonism implicit in the term ‘Grey Nomad’. Rather, I prefer a term I’ve invented, and describe myself as a ‘Granger’, the word formed from ‘grey’ and ‘anger’. Angry, not Grumpy, and still in the business of working against the sick-old-world of capitalism and its hydra-headed plurality of evilness. It was refreshing, therefore, to catch up with this recent brief glimpse of historian Eric Hobsbawm (“Revolution Springs Eternal for Eric Hobsbawm”), alive and well at 94, in In These Times. For a detailed and recent intellectual encounter with Hobsbawm, see his New Left Review interview (NLR No. 61, January-February 2010). By way of an aside, NLR has, over the years, refined the extended critical interview genre; some of these interviews have been packaged by Verso as Lives on the Left: A Group Portrait (2011). For my own foray in this genre see my 2005 Overland interview with American radical historian Marcus Rediker[Rowan Cahill, 19 March 2012].


DIGITISING THE RADICAL PRESS: AN OUTRAGEOUS NEGLECT: The headline read, ‘New Dawn for Historic Suffragette Journal’. It was International Women’s Day, and this was a ‘hot topic’ on the ABC News website. A real feel-good story, it told how the only complete print copy of Louisa Lawson’s pioneering feminist journal, The Dawn, was digitised by the National Library. Wonderful, and even more wonderful (at least for the government) was the fact that the money - $7,000 - for the digitisation came out of the pockets of one woman and a few of her friends!

No, that’s not wonderful; it’s an indictment of the bias in the national publicly funded program for digitising rare and valuable printed material. The headline should have read: ‘Australian Newspapers Digitisation Program neglects historic feminist journal while pouring millions into digitising the anti-woman, anti-worker capitalist press.’

There are other feminist journals. I have been reading The Australian Woman’s Weekly – no, not the Packer–Buttrose slave-comforting fairyfloss – but the magazine edited by the feisty, socialist-feminist Jenny Scott Griffiths before she was sacked for opposing conscription in 1916. When will it be digitised? Or Vida Goldstein’s periodicals, Australian Women’s Sphere, and The Woman Voter? The academic contingent of whatever is left of the women’s movement might be more usefully engaged in lobbying the National Library to make these oppositional journals digitally accessible rather than chasing the will-o-the-wisp of women’s ‘leadership’ (?) as part of this country’s ruling, masculinist historical narrative.

First wave feminism never produced as many periodicals as first wave labourism/socialism, so what’s the digitisation score for the labour press? Before we do the count let’s look at the field. I have the 1975 monograph, Labor in Print, compiled by H.J. Gibbney, in front of me. Jim Gibbney identified 488 newspapers or periodicals with a connection to the labour movement between 1850 and 1939. Among them are daily newspapers published in Sydney, Brisbane, Broken Hill, Adelaide, Ballarat and Hobart; trade union journals from key industries; and party newspapers. How many of these have been digitised? Just one – the Queensland Worker – although the Clipper, from Hobart, is set to appear soon, but it is worth noticing that the Clipper, like The Dawn, is ‘contributed content’, that is, its digitisation will not be paid for by the National Library.

So what is going on in the Digitisation Program? If you look at the list of digitised papers on Trove you will find a lot of insignificant stuff - papers for children, for tiny bush communities, and Melbourne suburbs. I guess an argument can be made for this stuff, but does anybody really believe that the Australian Children’s Newspaper that ran for about a year is more important than the Labor Daily that appeared for almost twenty years, or than The Daily Standard that ran for 24 years? Or for that matter, any of the other 486 papers that made the labour movement the oldest source of citizenship training for ordinary people in this country, as well as producing the oldest political party, which currently holds office in the national government? Is political bias at work, or is it that the staff of the newspaper digitisation program are just ignorant of their field? Whatever the answer, the situation is outrageous.

It is also surprising that the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History and its seven branches seem uninterested in this matter, but they get very excited if their flagship journal is threatened with downgrading in the international scholarly pecking order. Perhaps their members have stopped doing research that draws on the labour press, but don’t they feel any responsibility to ensure that the labour press is fairly represented in Australia’s digitisation program? It is not as if they lack clout, as some of the country’s most published and rewarded academics are among their members. About thirty years ago one professor of literature ensured that rare periodicals from the 1840s were microfilmed and digitised. Surely a dozen or so labour history professors today could put enough pressure on the National Library to rectify this outrageous neglect of the labour press. [Terry Irving, 10 March 2012].


OCCUPY HISTORY. The Occupy Movement is a creative and energetic international social protest movement targeting the global growth of economic and social injustices and inequalities. The movement began in North America in September 2011, specifically targeting Wall Street. Since then it has spread to 82 countries and more than 2800 occupy sites/communities. In December 2011, Terry participated in classes organised by the Sydney (Australia) occupiers in Martin Place, iconic and symbolic heart of the Sydney CBD. In support of the movement, we have added our names to the Occupy History site. This site seeks to encourage historians to build discussions about inequality and injustice to include the histories of  struggles against these, and the changes needed. [Irving/Cahill, 21 February 2012].


CLASSROOM IRRELEVANCY?  The lives of Australian historians Eric Fry (1922-2007) and Jim Hagan (1929-2009) were deservedly celebrated by fellow academics following their respective deaths. Much of the memoir, obituary, scholastic material generated focussed on their significant contributions to the development of labour history as a scholastic/academic sub-discipline in Australia during, and since, the 1960s. On the radical involvement of both men as secondary school teachers during the 1950s and early 60s, before they morphed into academics, the accounts were virtually silent, their early classroom careers apparently considered irrelevant/inconsequential in the light of their later development and achievements as academic historians. Or maybe this aspect of their lives was just too hard to get a handle on. Whatever, it was an omission requiring rectification; simply, in the 1950s, at the height and the worst of the Cold War in Australia, these academics-in-waiting were, appropriating Gramsci, full-blown and courageous organic intellectuals; nor were they alone.

Fry came to school teaching via World War 2 Air Force service, university study/degree, work as a Commonwealth public servant, then teacher training; the younger Hagan, via school, university, and teacher training. As trainee teachers they were prominently and militantly involved in the newly formed Trainee Teachers Association. Fry was a member of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA); the jury is still out as to whether Hagan was a member. Threading through their lives was another communist, R.D. (Bob) Walshe.

Born in 1923, Walshe had left school at 14, worked in factories, did wartime military service, and matriculated in 1946, a beneficiary of the post-war Reconstruction Training Scheme. University, and teacher training followed. With others in 1946, notably fellow communist Alan Cross, later a prominent and long serving activist-leader within the NSW Teachers Federation, Walshe formed the union-like Reconstruction Trainees Association to assist and advance the interests of fellow Reconstruction Scheme beneficiaries.

In 1951, Cross, Fry, Hagan, Walshe were prominent in the leadership of the historic, and successful, strike by trainee teachers in pursuit of improved living allowances. Earlier in 1950, Walshe and Cross had gate-crashed a reception for delegates to the British Commonwealth Conference on Aid to South-East Asia to remonstrate with delegates about “the colonial war against the Malayans” and to call for national independence generally for the peoples of South-East Asia.

Fry’s classroom stint was brief; he left after winning won a PhD scholarship in 1952. Hagan and Walshe stayed longer, and were prominent in the creation and leadership of the History Teachers Association (HTA) in 1954. This was formed to enable secondary school teachers of history to meet and discuss the teaching of history and related matters. Significant education change was in the air in NSW with the Wyndham Scheme around the corner; part of sweeping changes soon to be ushered in was the freeing of history teaching in schools from the deadhand of Sydney University historian Sir Stephen Roberts, whose decades long influence over the curriculum had basically reduced secondary school history to rote learning for a public examination. The HTA challenged this hegemony, and sought to give teachers a voice in curriculum matters, as well as to help them develop and foster approaches to the teaching of history which emphasised thought and understanding. The driving force behind the HTA’s foundation was Renée Erdos, an inspirational educationist and skilled organiser with a Socratic approach to teaching; she had been prominent in the education of Reconstruction Scheme ex-service personnel, including Walshe. Erdos has all but dropped though the cracks of history, but has been rescued in a significant essay by Paul Kiem (“Renée Fauvette Erdos (1911-1997): Educator & Founder of the History Teachers’ Association of NSW”, Teaching History, June 2008); her papers are in the National Library of Australia.

Walshe and Hagan both produced school history texts that became standards, remaining in print for decades. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Walshe was a pioneer of history teaching techniques, and a conduit of these into the teaching profession, which encouraged students to be individual researchers and to approach writing as a form of thinking. Surviving evidence indicates that in the late 1950s Hagan was innovative in his classroom teaching of history with methods that were ahead of contemporary practice. Students remember both Walshe and Hagan as charismatic and influential classroom teachers.

In 1956, along with fellow communist Jim Staples, later Mr. Justice Staples of the Industrial Court, Walshe was responsible for the distribution within the CPA of the watershed Kruschev’s “Secret” Speech (1956), an act which saw him expelled from the party. Walshe quit the classroom during 1964 for a lifetime of writing, editing, publishing, activism; he started his own successful publishing company (Martindale Press: Sydney), became a significant and influential independent educationist, was joint founder in 1972 of the Total Environment Centre (Sydney), and still, in his late 80s, is politically active, heading up numerous community action groups. His scholarly work on Eureka Stockade produced in the early 1950s is still cited by historians.

Scholars interested in the milieu that produced Fry, Hagan, Walshe and company, will find Alan Barcan, Radical Students: The Old Left at Sydney University (Melbourne University Press, 2002), useful. [Rowan Cahill, 16 February 2012].


LEARNING FROM FOLEY: During the recent Sydney Festival, a significant radical history event took place: a run of  performances of Gary Foley’s 100-minute one-man show Foley (Opera House, 24-29 January). At 61 Foley is a veteran Aboriginal activist, actor, writer, and academic; his website The Koori History Website is a vital and rich radical historical initiative. Foley, the show, was conceived with educational intent, basically a talk/lecture about Australian Aboriginal history and struggle, with the emphasis on struggle, aimed at informing, explaining, and changing perceptions. It is  a history that Foley has had a significant role in making/shaping since the late 1960s. But it was more than a talk-cum-lecture; it was lecture as theatre. The combination of a skilled teacher with theatrical skills, as in the case of Foley, can be dynamite, producing the best sort of teaching. Foley mixed script with graphics, film, photographs, in the context of a simple cardboard set  of  archive boxes, the whole concoction  informed by scholarship and activism, held together by a single powerful personality. Foley, the lecturer/activist, was variously passionate, anecdotal, humorous, as he detailed the often hidden history of Aboriginal struggle for justice since Federation, hidden in the sense that much of Foley’s material is not currently part of the general understanding of the Australian Story. Judging from published reviews, Foley/Foley was successful. Radical historians can learn a lot from Foley regarding the ways in which radical history can be made accessible beyond academia with its rounds of conferences, publication in small circulation specialist journals, experts talking to experts, a seductive process which tends to institutionally confine knowledge and understandings that should have more democratic constituencies. [Rowan Cahill, 1 February 2012].


RADICAL HISTORY, SOCIAL HISTORY, & POLITICAL HISTORY: Frank Bongiorno (‘ “Real Solemn History” and its Discontents: Australian Political History and the Challenge of Social History’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 56, No. 1, 2010, pp 6-20) has written a very valuable survey of the revival of political history since the 1980s. He argues that the cause of the revival is the ‘challenge’ of social history, and he discusses several important contributions from radical historians: Connell, Irving, Scalmer et al. Not only radicals contributed of course; on the other hand his emphasis on the radicalising potential of social history suggests a connection between radical historians and social history. We seem to be at the centre of his argument – if not of his survey. All very flattering, yet I’ve got misgivings. I’ve never thought of myself as a writer of social history, at least not in the way Frank means.

He writes of social history’s ‘democratic impulse’ to recover the voices of the poor, the powerless, the marginalised etc. That’s only part of what I do. I not only want to hear their voices, I want to see them act. The point is to return their agency to them.

I agree with Stuart Macintyre (‘The Rebirth of Political History’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, Vol. 56, No. 1, 2010, pp. 1-5): Frank’s survey places too much emphasis on ‘history from below’. This was surely influential but it led to a concentration on experience and identity and thus to the current dominance of cultural history, with its apparently never-ending discovery of discursive ‘anxieties’ – anxiety having become a puny surrogate in post-structuralism for the material grievances of real people taking action, as revealed in the analyses of radical historians. Stuart points out that another route followed by certain social historians was to draw on the social sciences to study classes and class relationships. He probably had his own early work in mind, but it perfectly describes what Connell, McQueen, Burgmann and I did as well – and many others besides, and we have continued to explore the strengths and weaknesses of class analysis.

What is missing from Frank’s discussion of the ‘social history of politics’ is any sense of the structure of power that produces rich and poor, powerful and powerless, elites and masses, public and counter-publics, the one percent and the ninety nine percent – ie of domination and subordination, of ruling and being ruled, which in turn is the setting for resistance to oppression, and the struggle and violence of political life. This is the perspective of class analysis. The social structuring of power is an absolutely essential element for radical historians, and it makes us into social and political historians of a different kind. [Terry Irving, 1 February 2012].