Stuart Macintyre 1947-2021

by Peter Beilharz and Sian Supski

The Bridge in-Curve (1930), Grace Cossington Smith, NGV (Cover image of Macintyre’s A Concise History of Australia)

Stuart Macintyre died in Melbourne on 22 November 2021. He was one of the leading Australian historians of our times, an inspiring scholar, a culture builder, and endless source of generosity and enthusiasm for the work of history as well as the social sciences. A young Althusserian, all those years ago, he was a lifelong socialist and labour movement enthusiast.

His was an extraordinary achievement, in text, words on the page, and in words and deeds among those he worked with. His generosity and willingness to offer help and support were legendary. He knew how to lift, and to give, as well as to lead. He was of prodigious memory, and shared all that he remembered.

His written legacy stretches from the beginnings, on British communism, to his last, the second volume of his marathon history of Australian communism, The Party, to be published in 2022. This much already is impressive, especially when you add in the first instalment of the Communist Party’s Australian history, The Reds, 1998. What is more remarkable becomes clear when we fill in details of the arc, or what went in between: almost forty books both singular and shared, hundreds of essays and articles, and strong and sustained interventions in public life when called upon.

The books included A Proletarian Science 1980, Little Moscows, 1980, Militant, a biography of Paddy Troy, 1984, Winners and Losers, 1985, The Succeeding Age, 1986, The Labour Experiment, 1988, Colonial Liberalism, 1991, a biography of Ernest Scott, 1994, The Reds, 1998, A Concise History of Australia, 1999 and six editions to follow, The History Wars, with Anna Clark, 2003, The Poor Relation, a history of the social sciences in Australia, 2010, Australia’s Boldest Experiment, on Postwar Reconstruction, 2015, two shared volumes on universities, 2016 and 2017,  and … The Party, 2022.

What becomes apparent here is a trend that opens as it expands, from labour to general history, settler colonialism and imperialism always present … nationalism and nation alongside labour and capital as it unfolds. If, as Gramsci said, to write the history of communism was to write the history of its people, then the horizon would expand accordingly, even in a place as remote from the volatility of Italian popular and radical life as the antipodes. Communism was inevitably both a global and a local story. The history of everyday life would open out further from these axes.

But the print record is also the tip of the iceberg. Stuart was a builder of community and solidarity. Possessed of herculean energy, he supported everything and everybody who came his way. He was a permanent enabler, the kind of quiet leader and colleague who always went for why not, rather than why. He wanted that humans, and their scholarship, should flourish.

He was a friend to Thesis Eleven.  We carried some of his sharpest essays, including ‘The Short History of Social Democracy in Australia’, which made our Top 40 and was then discussed by several of the participants in the online webinars of November 2021, his last days approaching unbeknownst. He wrote and reviewed for us, and his work was reviewed in our pages by others. We celebrated his work in #95, in 2008.

And we offer a further vote of thanks in the forthcoming edited volume, The Work of HistoryWriting for Stuart Macintyre, to be published next year.  This brings together a team of the finest scholars to both read his work again and to add further to it. For he was a builder, one among us leading by example, and holding steadfast to the possibility that the world might indeed be changed again, for the better by those who will follow. He seemed to remember everything; we will remember him.

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