Renowned Australian-born archaeologist and prehistorian Vere Gordon Childe (1892–1957) had a lifelong fascination with socialist politics. In his early life he was active in the Australian labour movement and wrote How Labour Governs (1923), the world’s first study of parliamentary socialism. However, he decided to pursue a life of scholarship to ‘escape the fatal lure’ of politics and Australian labour’s ‘politicalism’ – his term for its misguided emphasis on parliamentary representation.
In Britain, with the publication of The Dawn of European Civilization (1925), Childe began a career that would establish him as preeminent in his field and one of the most distinguished scholars of the mid-twentieth century. At the same time, he aimed to ‘democratise archaeology’ and involve people in its practice. What Happened in History (1942), his most popular book, sold 300,000 copies in its first 15 years.
Politics continued to lure Childe, and for forty years he was spied upon by the security services of Britain and Australia. He supported Russia’s ‘grand and hopeful experiment’ and opposed the rise of fascism. His Australian background reinforced his hatred of colonialism and imperialism. Politics was also implicated in his death. There is a direct line between Childe’s early radicalism and his final – and fatal – political act in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
The Fatal Lure of Politics is a new and radically different biography about the central place of socialist politics in Childe’s life, and his contribution to the theory of history that this politics entailed.
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