The Yeast is Red is a case study of the Australian new left of the late sixties. The new left initially emerged as part of a movement of growing opposition to the Vietnam War. The war shattered the previously dominant framework of ‘Cold War’ assumptions and profoundly altered the Australian political culture.[1] Even though Vietnam and the associated conscription of male youths was the catalyst for the youth radicalisation of the sixties which produced the new left, the new radical consciousness was caused also by the effects of the social and cultural changes of the period. While actively opposing the foreign war, theorists of the new left began to develop an original and sophisticated critique, based partly on the demand for more participatory democratic forms, of their own society. Vietnam, an increasingly unpopular involvement, became a metaphor for what was seen as a suffocating and conformist malaise at home.

As a case study The Yeast is Red has focused on the off-campus centre at 120 Greville Street in Prahran. ‘The Bakery’ was the organisational headquarters during 1969-70 of the Monash Labor Club, perhaps the most militant component of the Australian new left. This was the period of the most concentrated and militant new left activity, one that witnessed concerted effort on the part of radical students to construct a broad off-campus alliance capable of challenging the norms of the social system. In 1967-68 the movement of new radicals seemed poised to play a major role in Australian political life. Student protest had begun to revitalise the left as a whole. Three years later the organisations of the new left lay in ruins and the broader student movement had subsided. The events associated with The Bakery in Greville Street Prahran were inextricably related to this demise. The Yeast is Red offers an interpretation of the meaning of everyday events at The Bakery, believing that a focused narrative of this locale – The Bakery and the Monash left as a special case – will illuminate the broader subject of the failure of the new left. 

[Extract from the Introduction, The Yeast is Red, Ken Mansell’s 1994 MA thesis, which you can read here.]

[1] Barry York, Power to the Young in Verity Burgmann and Jenny Lee (eds.), Staining the Wattle – A Peoples’ History of Australia Since 1788,Melbourne, McPhee and Gribble/ Penguin, 1988. See also John Murphy, Harvest of Fear – A History of Australia’s Vietnam War, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1993, pp. X1X, XX11. See also Goran Therborn, From Petrograd to Saigon, New Left Review, March–April 1968. 

The images below have been provided by, and are copyrighted to, Ken Mansell.

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