Bob Gould, 2003

Windschuttle on Chomsky

Source: Ozleft, self-published pamphlet, September 8, 2003
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Keith Windschuttle’s article on Noam Chomsky is of a piece with his general rewinding of his own psyche. Who knows, he may eventually get back to childhood.

In his most seriously left-wing political period, as a confident young veteran of tabloid journalism in his mid-twenties, he edited the Sydney University student paper Honi Soit in a vintage year in the 1960s, and a little later he was one of the editors of The Old Mole.

His journalism helped introduce to a provincial Australian audience key pieces from the New York Book Review, and he helped to introduce to an Australian audience Chomsky’s seminal political book, American Power and the New Mandarins.

This does not sit very well with the picture of himself at that period that he now presents. Windschuttle now suggests that he was a naive young Stalinist at the time, but in fact he was a good deal better than that. The overseas influences that he helped introduce into Australian intellectual life included much better things than naive Stalinism.

It’s those things he is now slandering in his attack on Chomsky. See my Open Letter to Windschuttle for further elaboration on this point.

As an old associate and contemporary of Windschuttle I organised a debate between him and John Docker on the subject of postmodernism in the central area of my shop in 1996.

Windschuttle’s criticism of postmodernism was more than half correct but in retrospect that was an intermediate stage in a shift to the far right.

Windschuttle is not alone in this shift in Australia. Several of the intellectual leaders of Maoism and New Leftism, Albert Langer, Barry York, Doug Kirsner, and others, have also shifted dramatically to the right. Perhaps it would be interesting for Humphrey McQueen to challenge them to a debate, as they were his old associates, just as Windschuttle was an old associate of mine.

In a similar vein, a few years ago I organised another public debate on the Aboriginal history question. I called in all kinds of old cultural and social connections to set up a public debate in my shop on Aboriginal history.

Setting up a public debate on this topic is not easy because, in particular, the conservatives whinge that they tend to be shouted down by the leftists.

But the fact that Paddy McGuinness (Sydney Morning Herald columnist), Windschuttle and myself are all known to each other — despite the fact that McGuinness and I are old enemies, even from the long-past days when McGuinness presented himself as a leftist anarchist — these old connections made the debate just possible.

McGuinness and Windschuttle found it acceptable to have Hall Greenland as chair. Even though Hall is firmly on the left, he is also an old acquaintance of theirs.

In the event, about 400 people jammed into my shop, the speakers spoke from the mezzanine level, there was extensive discussion, and the whole event went on for three and a half hours.

The two defenders of the view that there were massacres of Aboriginal people at the core of Australian historical development were Professor Henry Reynolds, the foremost historian of the question, and myself. On the other side were McGuinness and Windschuttle. My contribution was to do a very thorough overview of the historical material in popular Australiana, often from eyewitnesses or participants, which document the massacres that the Windschuttle-McGuinness denialists now contest.

This debate was the first attempt to puncture the hysterical momentum that the denialists had been given by the overwhelming support for their views in the Australian bourgeois press. Subsequently there have been a number of other debates. I still have a video of that first debate.

I subsequently worked up my contribution, including much additional material, into a 30,000-word overview and bibliography of Australian contemporary and historical literature about massacres of Aborigines.