stalinism and literary culture

NIBS nibs at
Fri Dec 6 01:12:20 MST 2002

Bob wrote:

Frank Hardy was the mega-success of all Australian Communist writers. His
first book, Power Without Glory, was a long, rambling, slightly disjointed
book written by committee, so to speak, with the primary political aim of
exposing the Grouper Catholic Action movement in the ALP, and Hardy
contributed his talents in the form of a great grab-bag of sporting,
political and other gossip and anecdote. Despite its literary defects, this
sprawling book captured the atmosphere of working class life over a whole
period and came at a time when the issues under discussion were reaching a
climax in the labour movement.

I think this is a little unfair. The really interesting thing about Power
Without Glory is the extent to which it was intended as a conscious
political intervention, a book conceived by the leadership of the Communist
Party with the aim of exposing the machinations of the right-wing fixer
John Wren within the Labor Party. Indeed, apparently the Party originally
had someone else in mind to write it before they hit on Hardy.

The extent to which the whole project was planned comes out in Hardy’s
prospectus for the book, produced several years before publication. In it
he wrote, ‘the publication of this novel will cause an unprecedented
sensation in Australia and elsewhere. 
The best legal advice insists that
the book can be published by the following method. The author is to form a
printing company, in which, in the final analysis he will be the sole
author, printer and publisher
 Arrangements have already been made for
legal distribution and reviews in several leading papers and magazines.
This ensures that the public will become aware of the presence of the novel
and then in the event of bans and injunctions, the demand will increase and
the book can be sold underground.”

Which is, of course, pretty much what happened.

Kinda cool, I think.  I can’t think of another example of literature being
used as a weapon in as immediate and direct sense as PWG.

IMO, the case brings out the contradictory nature of the Stalinists’
relationship with literature. To its credit, the CPA did play a role in
making books matter to ordinary people, and establishing an alternative
literary culture with its own writers, distributors and booksellers. For
instance, the Australasian Book Society was a fantastic idea and did, to
some extent, succeed in getting books to working class readers. You still
see some of that legacy today; it’s quite striking how many of the veterans
of the CP even into their eighties remain really passionate about books and
writing, much more so than people of my generation.

But the CP’s political orientation to literature had some pretty barbarous
outcomes, as Bob details. The tradition produced some good books (my fave
is Crown Jewel by Ralph de Boissiere, about a strike wave in the West
Indies), but it was noticeably short on any kind formal experimentation. By
the late sixties, readers were complaining that books produced by the ABS
were ‘old fashioned’ and ‘dull’.

Power Without Glory became the all-time best-seller for an Australian
political novel, and still finds a wide readership. Hardy then wrote a
really bad travelogue about the Soviet Union in 1952, called A Journey Into
the Future, which people who want to get a taste of high-Stalinist literary
culture should study carefully.

My favourite line in it is where Hardy assures us that in Russia, citizens
think of the police as ‘friends’.


Jeff Sparrow
New International Book Co-operative
Trades Hall
Box 18
54 Victoria St
Carlton Sth 3053
Mon-Fri 9am-6.30 pm Sat 11am-5pm
tel 03 9662 3744 fax 03 9662 4755

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