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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18 Responses

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  1. Well in the last years I think his role was more pernicious than positive, but the man was so damn interesting, a confluence of forces that managed a degree of self-shaping, that he deserves a more visceral memorial than the pissweak mewlings in the Oz.’

    All of that, yes, and thanks for providing one. I knew Christopher well during his post-Maoist, pre-Catholic period, which I think was longer than you suggest here. I particularly like your final remarks, though it’s a shame they’re in such direct contradiction to the knee-jerk cracks about Adelaide further up the page; is there some sort of rule that Melbourne writers have to do this at least once per story?

    by Kerryn Goldsworthy on Jun 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm

  2. Thanx for adding this complexity to someone I read as an obnoxious right wing propagandist.

    by Gavin Moodie on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:00 pm

  3. He was a right wing obnoxious propogandist and a Murdoch/ Abbott Synchophant - I might even watch the Insiders again.

    by tonyfunnywalker on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  4. Very interesting GR. I wonder how many of Pearson’s ilk share a common bond of hypocrisy?

    by mikeb on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm

  5. Thanks for the different perspective Guy.

    Some days, it seems you and the dog are the only things worth subscribing to Crikey for.

    by paddy on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

  6. So that’s what a self-loathing and flagellating ex-Maoist gay Catholic Adelaide intellectual looks like?

    Thanks Guy, I always wondered where he fitted in, and you’ve answered that for me: nowhere this side of purgatory.

    by CHRISTOPHER DUNNE on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:56 pm

  7. Brilliant portrait Guy, of an Adelaidian eminence grise with more than a passing resemblance methinks to Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Cheers, Humphrey Bower.

    by Humphrey Bower on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

  8. GR

    Brilliant (also rings pretty true to one who only met Pearson once and didn’t have a lot in common with him since I am neither gay nor religious). It almost justifies my Crikey sub.

    But please elucidate “Read his relentless attacks on Labor and Gillard closely and you’ll see another agenda entirely being waged.” Would you mind spelling that out and giving a pointer to the evidence and sources.

    by Warren Joffe on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:58 pm

  9. Great sketch Guy,and more interesting than anything I read by the man.

    by heavylambs on Jun 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

  10. Chomsky says that most dissidents throughout recorded history can’t stay the course as they are further marginalised by the status quo powers…so they join them, a la Hitchens, mainly ‘cos the money’s good.

    Pearson was yet another pathetic stenographer for boththe Catholic right & the odious News Ltd …not much of an epitaph at all.

    by Kevin Herbert on Jun 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm

  11. hi kerryn

    i did say that the post-maoist pre catholic interlude was a long lunch - surely in adelaide terms that covers a couple of decadws :-)

    what were the other cracks? I said that adelaide’s establishment tend not to leave, and that it is small. Neither negative. Both descriptive surely?


    by Guy Rundle on Jun 14, 2013 at 7:54 pm

  12. Have to agree with both Gavin Moodie and Paddy in the comments - but Guy, this was wonderful.

    by Hathor on Jun 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm

  13. i read a particularly revolting article from the man just a few weeks ago where he quoted some ‘Family Research Council’ piece that pseudoscientifically proved to us that gay families both molest and destroy children.

    Now I know a little more about the man who wrote it and I am grateful, Guy Rundle.

    by rowboat on Jun 15, 2013 at 6:25 am

  14. A pity you had to log in to read what a totally obnoxious, dishonest, sycophantic little s**t he became and was for so much of his life. Still, I did enjoy the Adelaide Review in its early years.

    by kolah on Jun 15, 2013 at 6:40 am

  15. An interesting read! Thanks.

    by aliso6 on Jun 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm

  16. Really interesting. I hadn’t realised he was dead.

    My favourite column of his was about how he spent Christmas. You can certainly see him “grinning down the line” in this effort. Absolutely hilarious.

    by philipb20 on Jun 17, 2013 at 11:44 am

  17. It’s easy to see those rabid right wing commentators in the latter stages of their lives, absolutely deeply comfortable in their suit of caricature-without-intellect, and think tht they have always been that way.

    It is so interesting that so many of them were rabid maoists, communists or whatever stripe of the far left in their younger years.

    Makes you wonder about whether the process is just a necessary reality for those who aren’t sufficiently aware to know that their act is a charade, and ‘the game is the thing, the only thing, which I suspect underpins their moral philosophy. Or was it particular to that time, when politics was more fluid post WWII, before the end of history, as that blowhard trumpeted.

    If hell or purgatory exists, surely it is filled with these curmudgeonly old deparates. I hope for no after-life, on the basis that there are so many people I don’t want to spend eternity bumping into.

    by Dogs breakfast on Jun 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm

  18. Excellent article, but I must support Kerryn Goldsworthy’s contention that there are cracks at Adelaide -

    By the time he went — at 61, young, though it’s about 85 in Adelaide years — he had rather faded from view”

    by D P on Jun 19, 2013 at 9:40 am

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