Stuart Macintyre (1947-2021)

We mourn the death of our friend and president, Stuart Macintyre. In the days since Stuart’s death there has been an avalanche of tributes and we reprint three of these below. Written by Brian Aarons, Tim Rowse, and Janet McCalman, they speak to the enormous influence of Stuart’s work and to his character and his citizenship.

That citizenship, and Stuart’s generosity, explain why he agreed to take on the presidency of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History at a critical time. When ASSLH lost its institutional funding, Stuart helped us to navigate a tumultuous period during which we relied on donations from members and the journal’s operations shifted to Liverpool University Press. 

Fittingly, Stuart’s formative years as an historian were in part influenced by his friendships with the founders of the Society, Edward Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm in the UK, and Bob Gollan and Eric Fry, among others, in Australia. For him, the study of history was not simply an academic pursuit, but an expression of a genuine curiosity and a firm commitment to social justice. 

Throughout Stuart’s tenure as president, we have been grateful for his counsel and experienced leadership. Stuart was also a book review editor for Labour History, a role that he took up in 2011. In the decade that followed, the journal’s book review section benefited significantly from his knowledge and connections. 

Stuart’s leadership of the ASSLH is demonstrative of an egalitarian vision of history, beyond the historical establishment. His innumerable achievements and length of service to his disciplinary community and to academic citizenship shows us what will be lost if the push to an ‘academic capitalism’ is realised. 

Stuart’s sustained commitment and collegiality will be sorely missed, as will his gentle humour, warmth, and intellect. Our deep condolences to his family, Martha, Mary, Jessie, Xuan, Tai, Rory, Hamish, Clem, and to all who loved Stuart. 

A funeral will be held on Tuesday 30 November at 10am, Wyselaskie Hall, Ormond College, Melbourne. RSVP is required by Saturday 27 November:

Stuart Macintyre, family photograph.

Vale Stuart Macintyre
Democratic socialist and
giant of Australian labour history

Brian Aarons

Stuart Macintyre, a leading Australian historian, academic administrator, public intellectual and democratic socialist, died in Melbourne on Monday 22 November, aged 74. Throughout his life, Stuart reached the pinnacle of his profession with a prolific output that astounded many of his colleagues. He combined this with steadfast commitments to working for a better Australia and a better world that would address social inequalities and injustices.

Voted one of Australia’s most influential historians during his lifetime, fellow historians also described Stuart as ‘a giant of Australian history’ in tributes published online shortly after the news of his passing. ‘Not only a giant of Australian historical scholarship in his own right, but someone who gave much of his time and knowledge to others,’ was how one of his former students put it.

Stuart’s academic career and contributions can rightly be described as stellar. Born in Melbourne in April 1947, he went to school at Scotch College and then took an undergraduate degree, specialising in history, at the University of Melbourne. He later obtained a Master of Arts degree from Monash University (1971) then a PhD from the University of Cambridge (1975), for which he was awarded the Blackwood Prize.

In 1976 Stuart married Martha Bruton, a social anthropologist. They have two daughters, Mary and Jess.

On returning to Australia from Britain, Stuart held various academic posts, becoming a Professor of History at Melbourne University in the early 1990s and in 1999 Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He held various positions at several other universities in Australia and overseas, including the Harvard Chair of Australian Studies in 2007–08.

Stuart’s academic posts and awards, and his publications, are too numerous to detail here. They can be found in this Wikipedia entry

Stuart also held other posts, including serving on the Council of both the National Library of Australia and the State Library of Victoria, and on government committees such as the national curriculum board established by the Rudd Labor government in 2008. Stuart was appointed as one of four academics to head up each of the four framing documents that would establish the broad directions for each of the four key subject areas – in his case History. All subject areas drew criticism and caused controversy of one type or another; undaunted, Stuart stayed the course. The final curriculum for schools was published in 2009.

Stuart’s many publications included major books such as The Oxford History of Australia, Volume 4, 1901–1942: The Succeeding Age (1986); Australia’s Boldest Experiment: War and Reconstruction in the 1940s (2015); The Labour Experiment (1989); A Concise History of Australia (4th edition, 2016); and, with John Faulkner, a history of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. In 2003, Stuart and Anna Clark published The History Wars, which drew fire from the political Right and conservatives in the profession for what former Chief Justice of Australia, Sir Anthony Mason, described in a foreword as “a fascinating study of the recent endeavours to rewrite or reinterpret the history of European settlement in Australia.”

While a postgraduate student at Monash University in the early 1970s, Stuart joined the Communist Party (CPA) and was a member of its Left Tendency. His CPA membership lapsed while he was studying in the UK and, on returning to Australia, he joined the Australian Labor Party, considering himself to be a democratic socialist.

Stuart died not long after completing his second volume of the CPA history, The Party, following the 1998 publication of volume I, The Reds. In his last week he received an advance copy of The Party from the publisher, which reportedly made him very happy.

The Party will be published in early February 2022 and will be launched in centres around Australia in February-March. A soft-cover reprint of The Reds will also be available at that time. These events will now also include tributes to Stuart’s enormous contributions to Australian labour history – and to Australian left and progressive thought and movements for social change more generally.

We publish below a personal memoir and tribute to Stuart by one of his close colleagues and friends, Tim Rowse.

Details of a memorial service and celebration of Stuart’s life will be circulated when they are available.

The SEARCH Foundation expresses its deep condolences to Stuart’s wife Martha, his daughters Mary and Jess, his wider family, his many colleagues in labour history and academia, and his large number of friends and comrades in the labour and socialist movements.


Stuart Macintyre: ‘A generous
and wise colleague and friend’

Tim Rowse

It has been the task of Left historians in the second half of the twentieth century to come to clear-sighted terms with the limitations and the successes of the enemies of capitalism. Capitalism cannot help creating its own negation – working people arrayed across a broad political front, from revolutionaries tutored in Leninist Marxism to the most cautious and deferential spirits in the trade unions and the Australian Labor Party.

Stuart Macintyre, who died on 22 November 2021, never ceased to see in the Labour Movement’s hugely varied modes of engagement with capital the better possibilities for Australia. His respect for solidarity and militancy in the quest for social justice was not sentimental or Party-loyal. Like others brought to historical awareness in the 1960s, his perspective was shaped not only by the New Left (with its acute sensitivity to the Stalinist heritage, its respectful attention to the post-materialist radicalism of women and people of colour) but also by those – writing in the 1960s – who reminded Old Leftists of the political creativity of Deakinite liberalism.  

After degrees at Melbourne and Monash universities, Stuart studied for his doctorate at Cambridge (1972-75), supervised by an historian of the British Labour Movement, Henry Pelling. His PhD thesis (published in 1980 as A Proletarian Science) was about what British working class intellectuals made of Marxist theory in the years immediately before and after the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Towards these men and women he positioned himself as both sceptic of their orthodoxies and admirer of their autodidactic passion.

A few years later, on a return stint at Cambridge (a Research Fellowship 1977-78) he visited militant mining communities, interviewing and reading local records, to write Little Moscows (1980). In both books one can see the interplay of two currents of British Leftism: the New Left Review’s mediation of post-Stalinist ‘Western Marxist’ theory, and a respectful curiosity about popular structures of feeling as demonstrated in the works of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams.

Back in Australia, in a 42-year career as a university teacher – from 1979 until illness kept him from the classroom – Stuart was fascinated by the inventive originality of Australian approaches to civilising capitalism. He admired the liberal tradition at its most responsive – that is, when it allied with Labor to find institutional answers to the question: can this not be a prosperous society for all of us? His 1985 book Winners and Losers: The Pursuit of Social Justice in Australian History is the best thematic history of Australia, showing the changes in the conceptions and thus the protagonists of social justice, from the convicts to Aboriginal Australians reclaiming stolen land. (From 2009 Allen and Unwin gave it a new life as an ebook.)

Like other historians of Australia, Stuart was drawn again and again to certain periods of national political creativity, when Labor and liberal politicians allied in episodes of institutional innovation. One moment was 1890-1910, giving birth to federation and to arbitration, each the topic of several studies by Stuart.

In the Great Depression the political representatives of the working class lacked the creativity and unity of vision to turn a global crisis into a national opportunity. However, Labor’s moment arrived in World War Two, as Stuart showed in Australia’s Boldest Experiment: War and Reconstruction in the 1940s (2015). In that book’s closing pages one feels that his warmth for Chifley is in part an expression of his ambivalent response to the politics of Hawke and Keating.

Until we see The Party: The Communist Party of Australia from heyday to reckoning – Stuart’s sequel to The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from Origins to Illegality (1998) – it is not possible to say anything about how Stuart has fashioned a narrative arc for the twentieth century’s most difficult political project: democratic transition to an economy and society not structured by the interests of capital.  

Throughout his career, Stuart believed that the study of history is in more than one sense a public endeavour. It equips leaders (of all political colours) with judgment. It provides the public with examples of what can be done and what must not be done. It nurtures identities. It is a tutorial in citizenship.

Stuart held many offices – paid and unpaid – in the service of his discipline, and he was the most generous and wise colleague and friend one could wish for. I have met few men or women as good – in every sense – as Stuart.


Vale Stuart Macintyre: a history warrior who worked for a better Australia

Janet McCalman AC

Stuart Macintyre has gone. To those whose lives touched his, an Australian history community without him seems hugely empty.

For almost half a century he was there in the lives and work of his students, his colleagues, his comrades and his friends. He was one of those commanding people against whom others measure their ideas, their work and their politics. He has gone far too early, but he has left an extraordinary legacy.

He was assiduous. He always answered letters and later, emails, immediately. He was a close and constructive critic of his students’ work and a dedicated supervisor. While he taught general Australian history, many will remember his classes on the working class in history and literature with deep pleasure. As an academic leader he was assured. As a historian in the public realm, he was an unrelenting defender of good scholarship and academic freedom.

He was the prime target of the conservatives in the history wars and condemned as a partisan scholar by other frankly partisan scholars, but I remember well his generous reconciliation with Geoffrey Blainey some years later. He was a history warrior for the discipline of history.

He had deep feelings: for his family and friends, his heritage, his institutions, his comrades, and for a fairer world. He took a not uncommon path from Scotch College to the Communist Party. On leaving the Party, he remained its best historian and his final work, the second volume of that history, is just about to be released : he lived just long enough to complete it despite withering chemotherapy. 

But his public legacy will be the books. His productivity was prodigious, and many have been not a little envious. But again, that productivity came from his assiduousness: sitting down every night he was home to write for two hours. He had, like many great historians, a highly retentive memory and an epic collection of books that he had actually read. For everyone it was “ask Stuart” and Stuart would know.

That command of detail, and the years in the archives, made him our greatest historian of politics and society from the late 19th century to the present day. He was fascinated by political actors, largely male because of the times, and he probed character, ideas and actions forensically. They were not all “great men”, but they were powerful and influential figures from all sides of politics.

He opened his volume for the Oxford History of Australia — The Succeeding Age, 1901-1942 — with portraits of five Australians: one of them the tycoon father of a distinguished politician who became a baron; another Australia’s finest lyric poet labouring in heartbreak land, forever longing for the lovely woman he was too poor and sick to marry; a working man who became a man of substance; a poor woman beset by loss and poverty and an Aboriginal stockman forced to straddle his traditional world and working for rations for whites.

That was Stuart’s Australia – winners and losers (the title of an early book), the strugglers against an unforgiving land, tossed about in the great seas of history: booms and busts, natural disasters and the persistent structures of inequality that mocked Australia’s myth of egalitarianism.

Stuart was one of the few who could write national history, who commanded the detail and nuances that made an uneasy federation of colonies into a nation, who recognised the distinctive as well as the common in the Australian experience. And he understood as no other scholar, the institutions that bound the Commonwealth or defined the various states and territories.

His books began with the study of British Marxism A Proletarian Science (1980), the subject of his Cambridge doctorate and the grounding of his mastery of Marxist thought. He wrote on colonial liberalism, the Labor Party, the Council for Civil Liberties and collaborated on a wide range of works with both scholars and journalists, catalysing debate on history, politics and institutions in the public domain.

He was dedicated to the mission of teaching civics in Australian schools. And he wrote on the history and place of the social sciences in Australia. His greatest work is arguably his penultimate monograph: Australia’s Boldest Experiment: war and reconstruction in the 1940s (published in 2015). It promises to be his most influential because for our own time of existential crisis, he shows how Labor prime ministers, John Curtin and Ben Chifley, advised by the brilliant public servant Dr H.C. Coombs, began building modern Australia amidst the stringencies of war: to win the peace as well as the war.

It is a book about political vision and moral courage, and it is now the bible of the Albanese Labor Party. Macintyre’s greatest legacy may yet be written in a better Australia, and it’s the one that would please him most.