Vale Stuart Macintyre, historian of Australian Communism

November 30, 2021
Stuart Macintyre. Photo: Melbourne University

Stuart Macintyre, Emeritus Laureate Professor of History at Melbourne University, a major contributor to the history of Australian Communism, died on November 22, aged 74.

Macintyre played an important role in documenting the history of the left and labour movement. He was well-known for his The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from origins to illegality and a forthcoming second volume that he completed shortly before his death, The Party: The Communist Party of Australia from Heyday to Reckoning, which will be published in February.

His most recently published work was the monograph Australia’s Boldest Experiment: war and reconstruction in the 1940s. It recounts the development of the Australian Labor Party's welfare state program in the aftermath of the austerity and suffering of the 1930s Depression and World War II.

Born in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Macintyre graduated from the University of Melbourne after finishing his schooling at Scotch College. For his Bachelor of Arts, he specialised in history; he graduated with Honours in 1968. He continued to study and received a Master of Arts degree from Monash University. He also completed a PhD from the University of Cambridge, for which he was awarded the Blackwood Prize.

Perhaps Macintyre’s most widely known work, co-authored with Anna Clark, The History Wars, is a study of the debate about the interpretation of various aspects of how the Australian continent was first settled and colonialism.

Macintyre's critics, including Greg Melluish, a history lecturer at the University of Wollongong, criticised Macintyre as a partisan history warrior, saying “its primary arguments are derived from the pro-Communist polemics of the Cold War”.

But as Graeme Davison wrote in his obituary for Macintyre in the November 26 Australian, The History Wars “leaves the reader in no doubt of whose side he was on. His severest words, however, were not for his opponents’ politics but their methods: ‘In submitting history to a ­loyalty test, they debase it.’”

Among the other works Macintyre will be remembered for are his co-editing of The Oxford Companion to Australian HistoryA History for A Nation, The Labor Experiment and A Concise History of Australia.

He co-edited with John Faulkner The True Believers: The Story of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.

I first met Stuart in secondary school through a cousin, Michael Feller, who was a classmate at Scotch College. We later met at Melbourne University, during the 1960s campus ferment. We both joined the MU Labour Club, the main radical left student club then.

Later on we travelled different paths, with Macintyre joining the Left Tendency of the Communist Party of Australia in the early 1970s and later the Socialist Left of the Victorian ALP, while pursuing his academic career.

I reconnected with him in 2017 while preparing a tour to Melbourne and other cities to help launch Resistance Books' re-publication of The Red North, the story of Communist Party expansion in North Queensland in the 1930s and 1940s, by Diane Menghetti.

During the launch late last year of Comrades: Lives of Australian Communists, Macintyre said: “I joined the CPA in 1971 and found the overwhelming majority of the party members to be humble and dedicated to the socialist cause. The discipline of the party was largely self-imposed, and this consciousness runs right through the 100 Communist lives included in the book.”

Whatever the differences about the history of the left and the CPA, there can be no doubt that Macintyre recognised and recorded the dedication and commitment of Communists over the decades of class struggle in Australia.

Vale Stuart.

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