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Oct 31, 2007

Robert Manne asks: Why does Gerard Henderson lie?

There are lies, damn lies, and Gerard Henderson. He is in a category of his own, writes Robert Manne.

There are lies, damn lies, and Gerard Henderson. He is in a category of his own.

Here is the latest instance. Yesterday I published a letter in The Australian, in response to an editorial that suggested, at least by implication, that I still believed in the truth of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital and had mistaken Kevin Rudd for Che Guevara. This is the kind of loopy claim characteristic of The Australian under the editorship of Chris Mitchell.

I replied by pointing out that, unlike the recent converts like Imre Saluszinsky, I was an anticommunist when, among the intelligentsia, there was a social cost to pay.

Enter Gerard Henderson. Henderson claims he met me in the mid-1960s. In 1965 I was studying for my matriculation at Camberwell High School. I don’t recall meeting Henderson until about 1968, when one of the academics who influenced me at that time, Frank Knopfelmacher, told me Henderson was close to the NCC, “Bob” Santamaria’s organisation. We had a distant relationship.

In his letter Henderson claimed I joined the left-wing Labor Club. This is true. What he doesn’t point out is that I left the Club after a few weeks. The reason was that I came to see that it was pro-communist and even had an ambivalent relationship to Joseph Stalin, someone who by now (I was a second year undergraduate) I had come to think of as one of the most evil political figures of the twentieth century.

Henderson implies that I was a member of the Labor Club at the time it supported sending aid to the National Liberation Front. This is also completely untrue. The issue only arose after I had quit the Club. In fact I was opposed to sending aid to the NLF which I regarded as an offshoot of the North Vietnamese Communist Party. In a debate at Melbourne University on this question I supported the position of the anticommunist journalist, Peter Samuel. We became friends as a result.

It is true that I opposed the Vietnam War, as I still do. Nothing of value was achieved. Perhaps three million Vietnamese died. The indifference of people like Henderson and Greg Sheridan to the futility of the suffering inflicted by the side they supported is morally shocking and connected to the support they later gave to the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq.

Although I opposed the US war in Vietnam, I never supported the communist side. In 1970 I marched in the anti-Vietnam Moratorium under the banner “Neither Washington nor Hanoi”. Because I was opposed to the war but was also an anticommunist, after 1975 I worked inside an organisation I formed in Melbourne, the Indo-China Refugee Association, to help bring South Vietnamese fleeing communist rule to Australia.

In his letter to The Australian, Henderson concedes that I did become an anticommunist in 1968. I was by now a third year undergraduate, although Henderson falsely implies I was already an academic. He claims, however, that this “was hardly an unfashionable stance to take since European communism was effectively discredited following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968.” The idea that being an anticommunist was not unfashionable in intellectual circles after 1968, and that it was consistent with having good relations with the Left, is almost breathtakingly dishonest. Even by Henderson’s standards it is extraordinary.

Let me give two examples. In 1977 I attended a very large conference on human rights in Asia held in Hobart. I was the only person at the conference who spoke about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. After I had debated Ben Kiernan on the question of the crimes of Pol Pot, I was treated as a pariah. The session ended when the audience applauded a young Cambodian woman who said I would not be welcome in People’s Kampuchea.

At this time I began to write regularly for Quadrant, which was, at that time, no more popular on the Left than it is now. Most academics treated me with considerable suspicion. In 1985, Richard Krygier, the publisher of Quadrant, asked me to write a piece on Wilfred Burchett. I researched the article for several months concentrating on Burchett’s role in the defence of the postwar Stalinist regimes and support for the communist side in the Korean War.

I wrote about Burchett’s visits to the POW camps, where Australians were held, which he had described as Swiss holiday camps. I also wrote about Burchett’s involvement in the interrogation of US pilots and the extraction of false confessions to germ warfare. In this article, as a result of his Korean war activities, I described Burchett as a traitor to his country. On the Left, at this time, as Henderson knows, I was thoroughly detested. In some circles, despite everything that has happened since, I have still not been forgiven.

There are many intellectuals, like Imre Saluszinsky, who only became anticommunists after the Berlin Wall collapsed. They paid no social cost. There were others, like Henderson and myself, who became anticommunists as young people, although often for different reasons. Especially in the universities, to be an anticommunist during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980, involved a social cost. Henderson knows all this.

Why will he not tell the truth?

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18 thoughts on “Robert Manne asks: Why does Gerard Henderson lie?

  1. Douglas Kirsner

    I was President of the Melb Uni Labor Club in the mid to late 60s and we hated Stalin and Soviet imperialism. We loved Marcuse, humanist Marxism, the New Left and the counter-culture, not Moscow and the Old Left.. Anti-communism was no problem to us.

  2. nick shimmin

    So poor Robert Manne feels slighted? Manne thinks his credibility rests on his having taken positions which are “unfashionable”, or because he’s been “detested” by certain people. It may be if he keeps peddling the discredited Cold War Burchett nonsense

  3. Alex Millier

    Former Howard staffer Henderson thinks Howard’s stayed too long, as does Glenn Milne.They’re just kicking at the traces of the conservative fire, vainly hoping to ignite something, but deep down knowing the cause is lost.Tony, you should follow their lead

  4. Tony Papafilis

    Communists argue with each other, as do freedom loving, individual respecting, capitalism protecting right wingers. Manne griped about Stalin’s excesses but so did Kruschev. Commies outed Pol Pot but remained commies. Manne’s work says loudly “commie”.

  5. Douglas Kirsner

    I wasn’t advocating humanist marxism, etc., just clarifying the actual history. Leaving the MU Labor Club because of Stalin made no sense in the context of the New Left that rejected Stalin anyway! We also rejected the China-liners, to their dismay.

  6. Tony Papafilis

    Humanist Marxism? China perhaps? Pol Pot’s Cambodia? Castro’s Cuba? Opposing US fighting communists yet claiming to be anti-communist? As Alan Bloom said of the left :”The principle of contradiction has been repealed” allowing any nonsense to fourish.

  7. David Sanderson

    The snide and priggish character assassination is Gerard Henderson’s stock in trade. He has managed to bully his way into a siginificant ‘commentariat’ position but the quality of his commentary is no better than that of the bumbling Glenn Milne.

  8. Tom Gutteridge

    Radio National just aired an interesting segment on people’s inability to shift beliefs which they have formed. Clearly Tony Papafilis can read Robert Manne’s response (much of which presumably can be confirmed) and yet remain unmoved in his prejudice.

  9. Tony Papafilis

    Robert Manne’s intellectual journey aligns with left’s fashions, not real conviction. Many like you pretended to have accepted socialism’s failure yet returned to its political agenda as soon as the Berlin Wall’s dust settled down. Well done Henderson.

  10. Douglas Kirsner

    I was President of the Melb Uni Labor Club in the mid to late 60s and we hated Stalin and Soviet imperialism. We loved Marcuse, humanist Marxism, the New Left and the counter-culture, not Moscow and the Old Left.. Anti-communism was no problem to us.