Labour History

Transcending Class? Australia’s Single Taxers in the Early 1890s

Labour History (2007), 92, (1), 17–30.

Abstract

Australia’s single taxers had a chequered relationship with the labour movement during the 1890s. Many collaborated with Labor at the beginning of the decade, but later broke from it in favour of the conservative free trade lobby. Largely because of this, labour historians have interpreted the single taxers’ relationship to class in different ways. This endeavour has been misconceived, because the single taxers renounced class as the key to their politics. They presented themselves as ‘above class’ and adopted a populist worldview. I explore the single taxers’ self-representation here, detailing the ways in which they rejected class through their rhetoric, modes of dress, eclectic friendships, eccentric manners and millennial religiosity. However, the fact that single taxers rejected class does not mean that the material realm had no influence over their politics. Single tax men’s presentation of themselves as ‘above class’ was indeed informed by their uncertain material circumstances during the 1890s. Recognising this allows a critical engagement with the work of Patrick Joyce, Gareth Stedman Jones and Joan Scott to take place in this paper.

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Author details

Bellanta, Melissa

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