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Communism: A Love Story by Jeff Sparrow

Communism: A Love Story (2007)

by Jeff Sparrow

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is a biography of the radical intellectual Guido Baracchi, a founder of the Communist Party of Australia. The book traces Baracchi's political career from his support for the Industrial Workers of the World to his association with the Trotskyist Fourth International; it also examines his turbulent personal life and his relationships with writers such as Katharine Susannah Prichard, Lesbia Harford and Betty Roland. It was shortlisted for the Colin Roderick Award.
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is a biography of Guido Baracchi, a well-heeled, literate bohemian and committed Marxist/Communist who lived from 1887 to 1975, described by Stuart Macintyre as 'the knight errant of Australian communism'. He's a terrific subject for biography: he worked for the cause in Weimar Germany and the 1930s Soviet Union; he had intense relationships with a number of poets and playwrights (Lesbia Harford, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Betty Roland), each of whom left rich accounts this biography has drawn on; he was widely read and wrote a lot himself, also supplying a wealth of material to his biographer. I was telling some friends about the book, and one woman was prompted to talk of her romance when young with a son of a leading Communist family: when they were about to go out on a date, he would say, 'Let's stay home tonight -- the old coms are coming around and there'll be lots of tales.' I suspect Jeff Sparrow had a background something like that, because while this book meticulously cites its written sources (discreetly up the back), and doesn't hang back from quoting T S Eliot and James Joyce to good effect, it's also bursting at the seams with 'tales', with the lore of Australian Communism: clever ploys, bastardry, romance, betrayal, nobility (like Guido's wife Neura's principled reaction to the news that he had taken up with Betty Roland, then Davies, from which she seems never to have wavered), tragedy (which may be too pallid a word for what Stalin and Stalinism did to the hopes of the world). You can almost hear the stories being told with suitable embellishment at a kitchen table far into the night.

As the story unfolds, what today is called the mainstream media comments from the margins: for example, as we follow the travails of the tiny Australian Marxist movement of the early 20s, bitterly divided within itself, devoting most of its energies to self-education, and discouraged at the prospect of ever being effective, we learn that Prime Minister Bruce gets headlines by accusing the Labor Party of pandering to Bolshevism, and thus, as Jeff Sparrow remarks, succeeds 'in elevating communism into a public issue in a way that the communists themselves found impossible'. Sadly, the MSM version has become received wisdom, and a whole dimension of our history has been largely forgotten. Those who deplore black armband history would no doubt equally deplore this, perhaps as 'red tie history'. I can't recommend it enough -- for that worthy reason, but also because it is a ripping good read, another example of history written with the verve and imaginative force that some think is the exclusive domain of the novel. ( )
  shawjonathan | May 13, 2007 |
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On 13 December 1975, Australia's sixties - that brief but inspired frenzy of political and cultural dissent - came to an end.
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The only son of a famous astronomer, Guido Baracchi helped launch Australia's Communist Party and served, for a time, as its leading intellectual. The Sun dubbed him 'Melbourne's Lenin' while ASIO classified him 'a person of bad moral character and violent and unstable political views'.
He battled Robert Menzies at university, worked as a professional revolutionary in Weimer Berlin, survived Stalin's Russia and went to gaol in Melbourne. He romanced - and broke the hearts of - beautiful, intelligent women, including the novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard, the poet Lesbia Harford and the playwright Betty Roland.
Stylish, wealthy, with a taste for literature and the arts, Guido Baracchi was never a typical fellow-traveller, and the Communist Party expelled him twice. But long after many more orthodox radicals gave up the struggle Guido continued to fight.
For more than seventy years, romantics and rebels of all stripes saw in the Communist Party the best hope for a world remade. Here is also the story of those who dedicated themselves to that beautiful dream, their experience of its shimmering promise - and of its shattering collapse.
Impassioned, witty and moving, Communism - A Love Story rediscovers a fascinating life - and makes a provocative argument about the history and future of politics in Australia.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0522853471, Paperback)

Following the life of Guido Baracchi, the playboy and dilettante whose love affair with Marxism and the Communist Party took him from his father's astronomical observatory to Stalin's Russia—and across the world—this story explores the life of an idealist dedicated to Communism. Entwined with political intrigue, this study includes a series of tempestuous romances with poets, artists, and playwrights as the idealist searches the world for answers to his beliefs.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:04 -0400)

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This is the story of Guido Baracchi, the playboy and dilettante who experienced communism at it's best and it's worst. Impassioned, funny and beautifully written, it makes a provocative argument about the history and the future of radical politics.

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