The life and work of the self-employed socialist intellectual, Humphrey McQueen
There is a tradition in academia of dedicating to veteran or retiring scholars a "Feschrift", which is usually a collection of essays by other scholars about the scholar's chosen field and their contribution to it. Humphrey McQueen has done his prolific and wide-ranging intellectual work mainly outside academe, and is a self-employed freelance historian and journalist, so he has no institution to give him a feschrift, but some of his writing is available on the web, so Ozleft has put together a list of this material as a kind of virtual feschrift. This is not to suggest that Humphrey may be about to retire, as he shows no sign of running out of intellectual steam and he has no great pot of superannuation to live on in any case. In fact, circumstances have made him into John Howard and Peter Costello's ideal citizen: he is forced both by economic necessity and by the passionate nature of his intellectual activity to work on past the standard retiring age - although the serious products of his work are not likely to please Howard and Costello at all.
I have a lot of sympathy for Humphrey in this respect. He is a little younger than me, about 60, and at the age of 66, I am in pretty much the same boat myself. The cynical thing about the insulting rhetoric of Howard and Costello on these matters is that their appeal to people in the age group of Humphrey and myself to work on is clearly linked to their intention to cut the pension and associated social benefits. We should fight that intention of the Tories with every piece of resourcefulness we can muster. The right to the pension and associated social benefits was won in struggle, and we should defend it.
Humphrey McQueen's life
Humphrey McQueen was born in Brisbane, into a Catholic working-class family that was active in the Labor Party. I first met him in the very early 1960s. He sent a copy of the Queensland Young Labor newsletter, which he edited, in which he reprinted several articles from Trotskyist journals, to a Sydney Trotskyist magazine with which I was associated. I was deputed by my colleagues to go to Brisbane and attend a Queensland Young Labor conference on the Sunshine Coast, and meet this young prodigy. This was quite a conference. Humphrey had invited a spectrum of socialist academics and personalities such as Bruce McFarlane, myself and others, to speak at this event, which mildly displeased the rather uncomprehending bureaucrats of the Old Guard, who at that time ran the Queensland ALP.
McQueen, even at the age of 18, was confident and articulate, and he was possibly the tallest youth I had ever encountered. We never did succeed in roping him into the political orbit of our Sydney Trotskyist group. He went, a year or so later, to Canberra and Melbourne to study, where he made the intellectual shift to Maoism and was caught up in the intense agitational activity and enthusiasm of the Maoist movement.
The mid-1960s: the moment of the radical student movement led by Maoists and Trotskyists
From 1965 to about 1975 was the moment of the youth radicalisation in Australia, which had such dramatic social and cultural consequences, many of which are still present in Australian society. There were three kinds of socialist ideology and practice, of an oppositional sort, present in this heady upheaval. A tactically flexible, labour-movement-oriented Trotskyist current, of which I was part, was the political leadership and catalyst in the youth movement that mushroomed in Sydney. A rather more utopian Maoism, of which Humphrey McQueen became a part, rapidly emerged in Melbourne and, to a lesser extent, Adelaide. Canberra was contested territory between the two currents. Anarchistic New Left groups also developed, particularly in Brisbane and Adelaide, and a representative figure in this milieu was Brian Laver. p> Despite the fierce ideological disputes that unfolded between the different ideological currents, there was also a sense of them all together constituting a common movement, in critical opposition to both bourgeois society and the bureaucracies dominant in the labour movement. Very quickly, in the latter part of the sixties, political headquarters at which some of the activists lived became fairly notorious political centres of this movement. The Resistance complex in Goulburn Street, Sydney, the SDA Foco premises in the Trades Hall in Brisbane, the SDS premises in Carlton, Melbourne, the SDS premises in the West End of Adelaide, and the Maoist Bakery at Prahran in inner-suburban Melbourne.
Despite ideological differences, activists from other cities would sleep on the floor of these radical headquarters when travelling intersta...