The popularity of biography among the general public and historians has been despite a theoretical ambivalence among historians about the validity of the project. This has particularly been the case for labour historians who aspire to write the history of a class rather than that of individuals. This article identifies two divergent traditions within labour biography, broadly defined as reflection on the role of the individual in historical movements. One, uniting traditional Marxists and labourists, regards individuals as no more than the symbol of a class. Examples are Karl Kautsky and in Australia Fin Crisp. Another, unites activist revolutionaries and revisionist social democrats, and argues that the individual can make a difference. Examples include Trotsky and in Australia the young Evatt and Gordon Childe. Political disillusionment encouraged both Childe and Evatt to move towards the determinist position. This article suggest that recent discussions of the inherently divided nature of the self may offer an alternative to both these positions.
Field of Research
210399 Historical Studies not elsewhere classified