Vale Christopher Pearson, God’s Maoist
Last weekend, the deaths of British sci-fi and general fiction writer Iain Banks and of The Australian commentator Christopher Pearson were announced. Yes, gone is a man who created a series of fantasy worlds — and Iain Banks is also no longer with us. But it’s Pearson I want to talk about.
Christopher, the Adelaide Cheshire cat, was an original. In his final decades he abjured the active pursuit of his homos-xuality, out of commitment to his Catholicism.
By the time he went — at 61, young, though it’s about 85 in Adelaide years — he had rather faded from view, his column in The Weekend Australian something that he and everyone knew was a waiting room for Purgatory, in which he had a quasi-literal belief and where he expected to spend a millennium or two.
But prior to that he had been editor of The Adelaide Review, a monthly (not as Chris Mitchell says in The Oz story, a weekly) of high intellectual quality and elegant design that he kept going for nearly two decades. The roll-call of writers in the AR listed Rightwards, as Pearson did, and its pluralism was overstated — its Leftists were often ALP Rightists like Mark Latham and his chief-of-staff Michael Cooney, on whom Pearson had a crush, or libertarians like Frank Moorhouse. Your correspondent was probably the only hard-Leftist to regularly feature in its pages in the last decade.
Pearson, it must be said, took to heart W.H. Auden’s remark in a late Christian poem Nones:
”Few people accept each other and
Most men will never do anything properly”
But he did a pretty good job on the Review until the mid-’90s, when even that began to get away from him. It was kept going, The Oz said coyly, by friends and acquaintances. Good god, if you’re going to remember a man, remember the man in full. The money came from John Bray, Chief Justice of South Australia, and Pearson’s lover.
Bray was a classicist, a poet, a son of that unique Adelaide establishment that rarely strayed beyond the city of their birth for decades on end. Bray was 60 and Pearson in his early 20s when they met and fell in love in Don Dunstan’s swinging ’70s city, so you can see what an inconvenient factoid that would be for Nick Cater, author of The Lucky Culture, hammer of the decadent elites.
“Pearson settled into what could well be regarded as the world’s longest lunch … Yes, he became God’s Maoist.”
Better still, Pearson wasn’t just your average sybarite. Far from it. During those heady years, he was a committed Maoist, part of that bewildering moment in Australian history when the Chinese revolution attracted a diverse group of the politically committed for whom hippiedom and/or Trotskyism did not appeal. Was he a card-carrying member of the Communist party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), the Maoist branch? He would never say, and the CPA (M-L) used party names (i.e. pseudonyms) at the time, but he was no dilettante, attracted merely to its damaged glamour. He was in the swim for years.
What was crucial about Maoism was not only its ultraism, its commitment to an immediate and root transformation of human being — these were the years of the Cultural Revolution — its celebration of violence, but also its willingness to ally itself with nationalism, and the sense of solidarity that came with it.
Maoism’s particular take was that Australia could be seen not as a bourgeois capitalist segment of the world system, but as an oppressed nation, suffering under US imperialism, run by a co-opted local bourgeoisie. Through that position, Maoists could ally themselves with local nationalist strands.
They formed the backbone for the Australian Independence Movement, the only grassroots republican movement Australia has seen this century. Maoism attracted some of the best people on the Left, and some of the worst, and it brought out those two qualities as well. By the ’70s, it had become psychotic enough in China; in Australia its somewhat complex manoeuvres by which a standard working class-middle class industrial society were analysed through categories applied to a peasant society only encouraged its more cultish aspects.
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