Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

The ‘Great Literary Witch-Hunt’ Revisited: Politics, Personality and Pique at the CLF, 1952

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2002), 82, (1), 81–95.

Abstract

Under the mentorship of L.J. Louis, in recent years Australian labour historians have made great strides in re-interpreting the Cold War. The following article sheds new light on a well-known episode in Australian cultural life during that period. The 1952 controversy over left-wing writers receiving funding from the Commonwealth Literary Fund has been described by Allan Ashbolt as ‘the great literary witch-hunt of 1952’. Rather than belonging exclusively to the domain of Cold War politics, the present article reveals that the dispute also reflected the private machinations of a particular individual. This was the journalist and historian, M.H. Ellis (1890-1969), an anticommunist par excellence, who conducted an unrelenting campaign against writers like Marjorie Barnard and James Normington Rawling who did not share his reactionary views. In a dispute that saw the political sympathies of Australia’s writers closely scrutinised for funding purposes and consolidated security’s role in literary censorship, both human agency and the broad impersonal forces of the Cold War played a part.

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Author details

Moore, Andrew

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