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July 20th 2009 print

Michael Connor

Stuart Macintyre rewrites the past

Stuart Macintyre tells it like it wasn’t: “There were no mandarin agents of the KGB here, no moles burrowing deep into the establishment, just fervent men and women recruited when the Soviet Union was an Australian ally to provide it with their limited knowledge of Cold War plans.”

First published in Quadrant Online as Culture Catcher: 8

Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia (Cambridge, 1999):

There was in fact an official of the Communist Party who had recruited informants during the closing years of the Second World War and passed on their intelligence to the Soviet embassy. For that matter, American consular officials also gathered their own intelligence from informants in far more influential vantage-points from which to invigilate the unions and the unreliable Labor government. There were no mandarin agents of the KGB here, no moles burrowing deep into the establishment, just fervent men and women recruited when the Soviet Union was an Australian ally to provide it with their limited knowledge of Cold War plans. 

Robert Manne, The Petrov Affair: politics and espionage (Rushcutters Bay, 1987):

Petrov was appointed as temporary head of Soviet intelligence operations in Australia with Pakhomov (before his recall to Moscow in July 1952) and Petrova working under his authority. Soon after his appointment as temporary Resident in Australia Petrov was promoted from Lieutenant-Colonel to full Colonel in the MGB [KGB]. He retained this post and rank until his defection in April 1954.

David W. Lovell and Kevin Windle (editors), Our Unswerving Loyalty: A documentary survey of relations between the Communist Party of Australia and Moscow, 1920-1940 (Canberra, 2008):

Since the collapse of communism in 1989-91, it has become almost customary for Australian communists to present their membership of the Party as well meaning, and their experience as having a human richness of idealism, yearning and suffering. But this approach tends to obscure the fact that it was their serious intention to make the most far-reaching social and political changes to liberal democracy based on a theory that was flawed, and that they held up as a model a regime that was systematically brutal and inhuman.

 It does not help much to insist, as many former communists do that they not only had good intentions, but were also committed and idealistic. This seems to be a comfort to them.

John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, In Denial: Historians, Communism and Espionage (San Francisco, 2003):

It has only been little more than a decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the meltdown of the Communist world it once led. Communist regimes survived for much longer than Nazi Germany, and their combined victims vastly outnumber those murdered by European fascism. Yet the enormous human cost of communism barely registers in American intellectual life. Worse a sizeable cadre of American [Ed: read Australian] intellectuals now openly applaud and apologize for one of the bloodiest ideologies of human history, and instead of being treated as pariahs, they hold distinguished positions in American higher education and cultural life. How is it possible that the memory of Communist crimes could have vanished so swiftly while the memory of Nazi crimes remains so fresh?

Communism as social fact is dead. But communism as a pleasant figment of the “progressive” worldview lives on, giving a phantom life to the illusions and historical distortions that sustained that murderous and oppressive ideology. The intellectual Cold War, alas, is not over. American revisionists who color the history of American communism in benign hues see their teaching and writing as the preparation of a new crop of radicals for the task of overthrowing American capitalism and its democratic constitutional order in the name of social justice and peace. Continuing to fight the Cold War in history, they intend to reverse the victory of the West and convince the next generation that the wrong side won, and to prepare the way for a new struggle.