Sydney Libertarianism Ivison 1960

Is There a New Left?

Source: Broadsheet No. 6 June 1960;
Transcribed: by Curtis Price.

The content of Barean’s monograph[1] may easily be summarized. Since 1949 there has been a decline in socialist intellectual activity – the Fabian Society died, Voice collapsed, Fitzpatrick’s Australian News Review folded, the trotskyists’ paper was ronoed instead of printed, and those intellectuals who remained in the Communist Party were active in cultural rather than directly political fields.

Since 1956 (or, perhaps 1958) most intellectuals who were in the Communist Party have left it and, together with some other socialist intellectuals, have become politically reactivated. First they formed Socialist Forums in Sydney and Melbourne but these soon collapsed and the “new left” is now grouped around the magazine Outlook.

The story is fairly well-known in radical circles where late in 1956 and early in 1957 several ex-communists were inquiring into trotskyisms, anarchism, libertarianism, and other non-conformist groups. The shopping around continued for some time and the Socialist Forum, at least in Sydney, served as a shop window for the former Stalinists. The Forum broke down when the ex-communists decided that they were not interested in any of these other groups and when the other groups gave up the ex-Stalinists as hopeless cases. The former communists founded their own club around Overland with links to the titoists and other marxists.

Barean indicates that his group of middle-class socialists, aged between 30 and 50 years, is developing a new socialist policy of “control from below, Decentralization, producer’s self-management,” though he acknowledges that this is not a new socialist policy.

Most of the group were communists or fellow-travellers who broke with the Party in 1956 – the year that saw Krushchev’s denunciation of the cult of the individual, the Poznan riots, the “controlled revolution: in Poland, and the one that got out of hand in Hungary. However, some did not break with the party until the execution of Nagy, et al. in 1958 and even now the editorial board of Overland (which left over Nagy’s execution) appears to have some kind of working agreement with the Communist Party.

AN interesting question which Barean raises is why the break in 1956 when these men had accepted the Moscow line for so many years and on so many issues. He suggests that there was a lengthy period if incubation before the cuckoo was hatched, but little evidence is given for this suggestion other than the tension (which had always existed) between Soviet and Australian interests within the Party. On the figures for C.P. membership given by Barean, there were 23,000 members in 1945, 13,000 in 1947 and 8,000 in 1955, dropping to some 5,000 in 1958. On the face of it, the loss between 1955 and 1958 could be regarded as continuation of the trend since 1945, based in the lack of new recruits and a steady number dropping out of political activity.

However, Barean wants to make something special of the C.P “crisis” in 1956 and he picks on the “intellectuals.” In a sentence which is typical both for its sweeping generality and the lack of evidence for it, he says that “up to 1956 the Communist Party was able to include the great majority of socialists in Australia who were concerned with theory and marxism.”

Presumably these are the “intellectuals,” for we are later told that in 1960 the C.P. was “mainly a group of industrial militants and union bureaucrats.”

If it took the twentieth party congress to expose “the bankruptcy of its (the C.P.’s) leaders to many intelligent communists,” one can but wonder how intelligent they were.

Of course, “socialists have always been few in Australia,” and as the story of the breakaway of the “intellectuals” from the C.P. is told in terms of Bob Walks, Jimmy Staples, Ian Turner, and Murray-Smith, we may conclude that the defection of the socialist intelligentsia has made little difference, that the C.P. even before 1956 was “mainly a party of industrial militants and union bureaucrats.”

In fact, Barean pictures these “intellectuals” who are so concerned with “theory and marxism” as turning from politics to peace movements, Australian-Russian and Australian-Chinese Societies, the Realist Writer’s Group, and folk-song collection.

The implication, I suppose, is that the communist intelligentsia has become uneasy over Soviet policy some years prior to 1956 but that it was not until the 20th party congress that they became vocal. However, when they did become vocal it was not against communism but against the Central committee for not allowing full and open discussion of the issue. The view of at least one of these men (just after he was expelled from the party) was that communism was O.K., it is just those bloody Russians who are buggering it up. As the Central Committee slavishly followed the Moscow line, they, for all practical purposes, were Russians.

Rather than any “new left” what we have here is the old left outside of the formal C.P. organizations. Nothing is very new about them except their interest in titoism (presumably because they too are non-Russian communists). As Barean says, they are not anti-communist but non-communist, they reserve the right not to follow the party line of some issues.

However, people who are not anti-communist are in the position of not having seen through one of the great illusions of out time. It is typical of these “socialist intellectuals” that for Barean the choice is between conformity and socialism. The Sydney Anarchist Group gets one mention in the monograph and the libertarians none.

The old errors remain, particularly the belief that liberty can be secured through “political” means. Our middle-aged, middle-class socialists are disillusioned with the C.P. and seeking a purpose in life. When they stop seeking a purpose in life and becomes somewhat more intellectual, they may come to see the futility of it all.


1. Alan Barcan: The Socialist Left in Australia 1949-59; A.P.S.A. Occasional Monograph No. 2, Sydney, 1960.