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Jun 10, 2011

Faulkner's Seinfeld moment -- it's all about nothing

John Faulkner's Wran oration -- described as the "speech of his life" -- is, in fact, his Seinfeld moment: it is a speech about nothing. Labor's problems go much deeper.

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Good god there must be some snappy way to open a piece on John Faulkner’s Wran oration, something piquant expressing the paradox about the way in which the most admirable figure in the Labor party has delivered a set of solutions which simply recapitulate and deepen the problem. But I got nothing, nada, zip.

It’s just very depressing to have to echo, of all people, Mark Latham, to speak of, of all people, John Faulkner: the address Annabel Crabb describes as the “speech of his life” is, in fact, his Seinfeld moment: it is a speech about nothing.

Faulkner’s Wran oration says little more than commentary on the Labor Party has been saying for the past two decades — that it is becoming a narrow professional outlet, separated from a dwindling membership base, steered by daily public opinion and reliant on an increasingly personality-focused media.

Indeed, this recitative has now become a part of Labor tradition itself, stretching back to Gordon Childe’s How Labor Governs of 1912, his excoriating attack on Queensland’s professional machine Theodore government. Labor, in this account, is always fallen from its former view of purity and intent. Labor loves these Eeyore moments — it appeals to its mendicant Catholic Irish soul.

That notion of original sin is never very helpful in getting a clear-eyed view of what’s gone wrong, and never more so than now. For Labor genuinely is in dire straits, subject to a double whammy — having become the depoliticised machine that Childe slated early on, it has now ceased to be an effective version of it. The tragedy of modern Labor is that it does nothing well, neither holding a political-ethical line, nor delivering sure and steady governance and reform.

Disentangling that double problem is tricky, and the arguments Faulkner brings to it don’t do the trick — indeed he has no arguments about why this has occurred, merely a recitative of what has occurred. To a degree this represents one of the problems that has beset Labor: it is not that Bondi flotsam such as Karl Bitar washed up on the shore of the party, but that the people who most want to reform it lack even the ghost of a theoretical framework to reflect on how modern society and parties work.

Faulkner, like many of the activists Labor attracted in the 1970s and ’80s, were those who always cleaved to the anti-theoretical side of life. Emerging from the social movements of the day, they were never attracted to the Marxist tradition — and the declining theoereticism and sectarianism of that period propelled them further away, not merely to being anti-big-T-theory, but to anti-systemic thinking. To linger on anything other than practical reform was held to be self-indulgent.

Perhaps I exaggerate and someone will dig up various writings by Faulkner and others in that spirit — but let’s stipulate for the record that there is nothing of that sort in the Wran oration. Faulkner cannot even understand his own causes, and older models of Labor, except in that dissected, atomised way. Here for example is Faulkner on what Labor used to stand for, and actively debate:

“Opinions, however, varied on what should take priority in that struggle, and what policies and legislation would best achieve it. Ending Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, defending unions and unionists in the workplace, fighting apartheid in South Africa, free tertiary education and health care, decriminalising homos-xuality, better sewerage for the suburbs, workplace equality for women, preserving Australia’s environmental heritage, modernising Australia’s censorship laws, preventing nuclear proliferation — the list of Labor’s concerns was a long one.”

It should be obvious to anyone that practically all these issues are isolated social movements (albeit with some kick-on), which have little to do with what should be Labor’s core mission — advancing the notion of a good society based on universal human flourishing, collectively and individually, achieved largely, but not exclusively, by redistributing economic power to create something approaching genuine democracy. State socialism, and then social democracy, were two ways of trying to do that, but they should not be confused with ends in themselves.

Faulkner can only figure that core aim as a defensive one — defending unions in the workplace — and their practical applications, free education and healthcare.

What he figures as vigorous debate between the factions, about these issues, wasn’t per se about these issues — it was about two differing conceptions of the political role held by two factions, the Catholic Right and the Socialist Left, who would otherwise have been different parties.

The Catholic Right had a conception of labourism that was conservative not emancipatory: based on Rerum Novarum, it asserted that Labor’s role was to limit the nihilistic process of capitalism in the name of an ordered society, extending positive freedom — freedom from hunger, freedom from penury — to the working class. The Socialist Left — stretching back to the decision of the Victorian Socialist Party to join with Labor in the 1910s (bringing a young John Curtin with them) — had an entirely different conception of the political, even if this came and went.

They were not communists, but they shared a conception of political possibility with the communists to a greater degree than current political history is willing to admit (both Chifley and Curtin, for example, were interested in, if barely informed of, the Italian Communist Party’s gradual creation of an alternative model to Stalinism, which would eventually become eurocommunism).

The main game was not per se Vietnam or apartheid — it was what Tony Benn once succinctly summarised as the purpose of genuinely progressive Labour parties: to create permanent irreversible change in the periods when it was in power, even if that meant spending a lot of time out of it.

Indeed, by the time of the period Faulkner is talking about, the late ’70s and into the ’80s, when he remembers bitter factional disputes, that debate was already over. In the mid ’70s, the whole spectrum had been radical and transformative — the Whitlam government was pursuing the idea of buying up the entire resource base of Australia, and pursuing the Swedish “Meidner” plan of buying up the private sector through the stockmarket to socialise it. Bob Hawke’s ACTU was pursing the model of creating a producer-consumer circuit via worker-owners such as Bourke’s department store, and the Solo petrol station chain. An impossibly radical plan today, at that point it was being attacked from the left as lacing people into consumption.

With the collapse of the left very rapidly in the 1970s, an entirely different idea of Labor’s path to redistributing power took over, one conceptualised within the “social market” neoliberalism of Hawke-Keating. Ostensibly more radical it was limited in aim — conforming society to market-generated ideas of human being and the good life. Labor became an agent of means, not ends.

Not only did left and right collapse into each other within the Labor party, but Labor essentially conformed itself to the explicit agenda of the non-Labor forces, who saw no contradiction between the market and the good life. But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge a collapse within Labor that cannot be reversed by the mean contained within its own structures — administrative reform, reconnecting with the activists, etc.

Were the Labor Party to have a genuine idea of a better way of living, it would be able to reach effortlessly to reconnect with people who were once its constituents, but who can no longer be described as a unified working class (a point I’ll return to on Monday). They don’t want state socialism or even social democracy, but they would go for permanent irreversible change in the fabric of their lives — like using the power of the state to create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like.

Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.

In that situation, it wouldn’t matter a damn about the decay of Labor cadres, the profusion of maggots at the top, focus group obsession, etc. A philosophy of life that flows to policy is what Labor needs. The rest is noise — and sadly Faulkner’s Wran oration adds to it.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Guy Rundle is Crikey's correspondent-at-large. He was co-editor of Arena Magazine for 15 years, and has written four hit stage shows for Max Gillies, two musicals, numerous books and produced TV shows including Comedy Inc and Backberner.

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106 thoughts on “Faulkner’s Seinfeld moment — it’s all about nothing

  1. Rufus Marsh

    @ “Venise Alstergren posing as Venus Flytrap”: but I say that because I haven’t bothered to Google or Bing or otherwise search for either and merely let imagination fly.

    I was about to say what a splendid idea it is to conjure with: “stalking” a Crikey apparition. And then I am told I might have looked you up which suggests a claim to corporeal temporal reality. Well I never. I thought Frank Campbell was the only real person on this thread, though there may be some forgotten earlier apparitions from ancient times on the thread.

    I hear hints of a sad past, even a claim to victimhood or acknowledgment that there is something in your past which would explain it all. I did ask, albeit rhetorically, about your claim to speak with authority on matters Latin American (not anything else as you seem to think) but, I am sorry to say I am not actually very interested in the answer. Still, if you wish to be taken seriously about something you write about with vehemence you do need to give yourself some standing in the matter. And, as a word of advice, on the assumption that you want to be taken seriously and to persuade people of something from time to time, don’t make an ass of yourself by talking about stalking (even if in some non-technical highly subjective sense that you think should apply to blogs you participate in).

    PS Which side would you take in a school debate on the topic “Justice for today’s Sri Lankans is more important than justice for Chile’s oppressed and tortured of 40 years ago”?

  2. Rufus Marsh

    Sri Lanka v. Chile
    (especially @ Venise Alstergren)

    Have a look at http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/getting-away-with-murder-in-colombo-20110622-1gfan.html

    Now try and imagine why someone might suggest that this contemporary scandal six or seven hours flight from Perth is worth more attention than the Latin American woes of the early 1970s (without criticising in any way Frank Campbell whose personal experience he conveys tellingly).

    Eric Ellis has been working throughout SE Asia for a couple of decades and owned land in southern Sri Lanka from about 2001 to 2010 and he sometimes spent months there, interviewing the President, taking truckloads of replacement fishing orus to from north of Colombo to the fishermen of the south after the tsunami, dealing with lawyers and fixers and generally getting to know the best and worst of SL. So, if he gives weight to that Channel 4 film’s case against the Rajapakse Bros you can take it that there is more than a case to answer.

  3. Peter Ormonde


    Wouldn’t be too quick to cruel Julia as just another careerist … she has some strong commitments to things like education and access and what could be called “traditional labor values”.
    Trouble is, as the old bloke with whiskers put it, we all make history but not in circumstances of our own choosing.
    Some of these NSW Right blokes (and some of the NSW Left too – you reading this Martin?) are political mouth-breathers, deeply conservative and with a very low opinions of their own abilities to influence public opinion. Probably justified, given how most of them slithered into parliament by oiling the machine.
    Gillard is not like that, but she cannot ignore them. Like I said it’s a team sport.
    Pretty much everyone who’s had anything to do with Julia, either personally or politically in my experience comes away impressed… not necessarily agreeing, but they know that she sticks to her word and behaves honourably. That’s rare in the modern political landscape.
    If there is some scope for her putting a stamp on the role – for being herself – and she is backed by a coherent team, then she will be memorable. But that all depends on the arcane brotherhood of poll watchers and timid time-servers that dominate caucus. And the track record there is not too good.

    Like most things, history will be the judge, but she’s a pretty determined and capable woman, that one.
    Now as for spending a week in a lift with Bob Katter… I’ll be having nightmares about that tonight. Strewth what a thought!

  4. Peter Ormonde


    Cardigan is it? I’ll try and remember.

    I agree with you regarding Gillard’s apparent awkwardness in the touchy feely department. It is not a role that comes naturally to her and it shows. To be honest I think that’s more a problem with the role than with her.
    I’ve never known anyone with such a work ethic and capability. For anyone who knew her in the 1980’s there was only been one place Julia could end up and she’s there now.
    Trouble is she’s gotta make up this role as she goes along. We’ve gotta make it up too. To illustrate: I used to adore the way Keating could skewer his opponents with a withering phrase … who could forget a shiver looking for a spine to run up, souffles not rising twice and so on. Julia can’t do this. Such combative politics sounds shrill and aggressive when coming from a woman. Not fair. Sexist. But also true.
    If I was advising Julia I would be getting her up out of the muck, to stop arguing and to rise above the day to day brawling that passes for debate in modern Australia. More motherhood stuff… mother of the nation if you like… reassuring, confident but firm. More Quentin Bryce than Paul Keating. She’s got a whole team of blokes who can trade insults with Abbott, and she should delegate all that negative stuff over to them.
    That said, I’m actually very wary of the personality politics that has infected us from the USA. It’s a team sport this Australian politics and using the team effectively is the key to successful performance on the field.
    Now, as to your enthusiasm for maverick scientists, yes, science is occasionally – rarely – punctuated by the brilliant individual who stands outside the mainstream and changes the way the world thinks. But it’s a bit like backing a carthorse to win the Melbourne Cup Frank. Once in a hundred years you’ll get some ugly nag like Phar Lap that comes up on the outside. But I wouldn’t go putting my house on any ugly horse in the paddock on that basis. And we’re putting a lot more than the house on this race, mate.
    The fact is that the more of these scientist characters that look at these things, from climatologists to marine biologists and physicists, the symptoms of a rapidly changing climate are popping up everywhere.
    I know a recalcitrant ameliorist like yourself (and myself for that matter) have “issues” with orthodoxy and canonical beliefs, but in this instance Frank, I find myself slavishly (if awkwardly) following the evidence and accepting the dominant view. It’s just too important to be putting the whole lot down on the hope that some Phar Lap will come thundering down the straight at the last minute. That last minute is already here.

  5. Rufus Marsh

    @ Venise Alstergren

    I leave aside the fact that you “fail to answer” all sorts of matters put expressly or implicitly to you (though could assume you have “chosen” not to answer and to ask why) and ask what you consider to be your “original” question and why you think there is some obligation based on your supporting arguments or the context for me to answer it other than in whatever response I have given.

    You haven’t told us what is your basis for claiming to know anything about South or Latin America that makes your assertions or opionions worth attending to. While I have not spent long in Latin America or in many countries there (though I do know and have known quite a lot of South Americans over several decades, including those who are still domiciled in South America) I have been to Sri Lanka more than 10 times, mostly in the last decade, had business and professional dealings there and interviewed politicians, inter alia. Though I find it curious that you ignore the irrelevance of that to what I put to you.

    What I put to you was that your kind of expressed concern for our fellow human beings might be more understandably extended to today’s Sri Lankans (on whose plight there is, in addition to the links I posted, a huge amount of reliable material available) than to tidying up the largely verbal residues of 40 year old barbarities that have been far better superseded in Chile than in most countries that have suffered violence and revolutionary devastation. So what, if I didn’t happen to be well informed about Sri Lanka? The case for concern would still be there and apparent to you if you looked, and the question of your priorities (or maybe just limited sympathies) would still arise.

  6. Frank Campbell

    P.O.: his name’s Madigan.

    Most politicians are like salesmen- well socialised, cheerful, demotic…Fielding, Hockey and Joyce are all intrinsically likeable (nothing to do of course with trustworthiness or anything else). Madigan is the polar opposite. The clubby Senate is in for a shock.

    As the deadly slogan said, “would you buy a used car from Dick Nixon”? Nixon was a socially clumsy, deceitful, foul-mouthed churl. Apart from being a war criminal. Lyndon Johnson was a glad-handing Texan- who also swore like a trooper. He could get away with it. Reagan the B-movie actor could charm a shark into a goldfish.

    Electorally, all this matters. Abbott should be way ahead of Gillard by now, head to head, but people intuitively know that the arm-snapping simian within is controlled with difficulty. But Abbott is proving himself competent and has been gaffeless for months. He’s also a warmer personality than Gillard. No amount of hugging and touching can disguise Gillard’s social awkwardness. On the contrary, it underlines her dissociation. She’s also tone-deaf to language. And one can’t blame speechwriters for the banality of her expression. Such as the endless repetition of “Australians” -as if we don’t know what nationality we are. A lot of this reflects ideology too- infantile nationalism, banging on about “hard work”, “working families” etc. If the ideology is banal, language doesn’t have much chance.

    Psychobabble like this can be quite useful- should be more of it.

    As for having “plenty of time to change (my) mind” about anthropogenic global warming- all progressives will have plenty of time because the Right will probably be in power for a decade. They’ll be in power solely because of climate extremism driven by provincial hubris -the climatically irrelevant and to some degree damaging policies forced on the population.

    All that matters is observational science. That will decide, not infinitely shaggable computer models.

    In any case, courses on the history and sociology of science should be made compulsory from kinder onwards…I can see rows of snotty gigglers now- chanting “40 million doctors can’t be wrong, can’t be wrong; But one Barry Marshall put them right, put them right….”

  7. Rufus Marsh

    @ Venise Alstergren

    Why do you fail to come up with some evidence of your having knowledge or opinions on Latin America, and specifically Chile, which are worth anyone’s paying attention to? Frank Campbell has, and, like most people with a genuine claim to real knowledge in some area, is quite agreeable in his displaying his knowledge and views, his highest level of reproof being that I shouldn’t pay too much attention to what Claudio Véliz writes on Chile because he has moved so much to the right from his days as friend of Allende. (I would be interested to know what Frank thinks of “The Centralist Tradition of Latin America” if he regards himself as qualified to review it. It doesn’t, from memory, have anything much to do with late 20th century politics).

    “How about sticking to the subject matter”!!! You have to be joking or displaying an unusual depth of blindness to what you portray. The Chilean excursion started from an excursion from and excursion which was about preferential voting. Check it if you can’t remember.

    And what did I bring up which upset you? Something which occurred nearly 40 years after Chile’s tragedies of the early 70s – from which it has recovered better than almost any country in the world, save Japan perhaps, or Korea, has recovered from violence, death and destruction.

    In Sri Lanka, there are still people suffering from savage warfare and repression which took place less than two years ago. It is still a poor country with a paranoid ethnic majority added to a ruling clique remincent of the Suharto family which means that, unlike the relatively few Chileans in Australia, we have lots of Sri Lankans in Australia who fear returning to their country.

    I was simply suggesting that a sense of proportion and a breadth of vision and interest might be in order. By all means continue to feel for the thousands of victims of the Pinochet counter-revolution and wish that the perpetrators weren’t too old, if alive, to prosecute, but if you want to direct your anger closer to home in time and space, Sri Lanka would be a good start.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    RUFUS MARSH: You astonish me. You give me links to two reports on Sri Lanka’s recent wars to buttress your dismissive right-wing arguments and so called insight on a subject you voluntarily admit to not knowing much about or having much interest in- South America.

    You quote solely on the basis of booklets and third hand evidence of former CIA and KGB officials-they wouldn’t be at all biased would they? And you accuse people who have had some empirical experience of South America of being a tad choleric. You ignore FRANK CAMPBELL’S plea re: feeling a little bit upset about the political situation in these countries “”‘El sacerdote colombiano Héctor Gallego, llegó a Panamá, procedente de Colombia en 1967. Trabajó en los campos de Santa Fe de Veraguas, luchando contra las injusticias y los abusos de los terratenientes, organizando a los campesinos en cooperativas, llevando la Palabra de Dios a todas las comunidades, denunciando en los medios de comunicación las situaciones injustas.

    El 9 de junio de 1971, mientras dormía en la casa de un amigo, se presentaron tres hombres en un jeep, sacaron al sacerdote Héctor Gallego, le golpearon y le secuestraron. Desde ese día no se tiene noticia de él.” “” Presumably to swat at me for feeling the same things.

    How about you sticking to the subject matter? Instead of waffling on about a subject with which you are A) not interested and B) Knowing little, or anything about the subject matter.

    If I were to offer a critical analysis on an outrage of umpiring on a soccer match between Tajikistan and Iran, also gleaned from booklets, a couple of ex-CIA and ex-KGB reports, followed up by an article concerning the Mujaheddin’s declining influence in the CARs as being the cause of this umpiring scandal you would be quite right to attempt to destroy my argument; on the basis that I have little interest in, or knowledge of soccer, or the countries concerned. I suggest you start applying some of your own rules to yourself, before commenting on other people’s views.

  9. Frank Campbell

    Peter O: “If the traditional left has a role to play – if it can reinvent itself”

    O no Peter O. If the left reinvents itself, it won’t be “traditional”. That’s the point. And if we look back on the Lefts of the past, which one? the New Left? Eurocommunism? The two Stalinisms- Trotsky or the Georgian seminarian? The Labour parties?

    To coin a cliche, capitalism is a moving target. Labour has always been managerial, ameliorative. Trots in the 70s labelled me a Meliorist. A wonderful word, worthy of any Museum of Lexicology. But it was all a lexicon: my Trot mates in London (who needed my van or they’d have to crawl from pub to pub,from demo to demo. They didn’t drive. Think Povey, Hitchens, Downing (Maoist C of E priest)). The Trots were full of messianic zeal, each sect boasting about its membership which was always about to explode, sure that the Rev was at hand if only they could destroy the other sects which had degenerated into heresy…

    Well fuck me dead if they didn’t all morph into corporate suits, right-wing ideologues, gringo libertarians (Downing) and Labour Party depressives in no time at all…which left me, the soggy Meliorist, so far Left you needed binoculars to spot me.

    Labour today is scarcely Meliorist…it is integrated with and serves the interests of corporate capitalism. A full mental and lexical colonisation. And the peculiarities of corporate capitalism should be our starting point. Meliorism is the best we can do for now: comprehend the evils and mitigate them. The environment scarcely rated in 1970-then as corporatism consolidated after 1990, the Green gains slowly began to be rolled back. Income inequality has grown obscenely. Power has shifted sharply to the upper managerial class (well after the trumpeted “managerial revolution” of the late 1950s). The universities have been converted into profit-seeking training colleges. Even local government acts as agent for rapacious corporations. Corporate discipline has been imposed on councillors as it has on academics. If I acted today as I did as a Geelong City councillor in the late 80s, I’d be in jail. “Commercial-in-confidence”? -As nasty as corporate “self-regulation”.

    The minute that debt-fuelled “prosperity” crumbles, the left will reappear. Given the intellectual poverty of the Left, initially we’ll probably see the old format reappearing…but it won’t last. To seriously challenge the corporate state will require a revolution in the left. For a start Green and Labour will have to merge.

    Given that the Global Financial Obscenity is hurting Europe most, look to Greece for a whiff of the future.

    As for climate millenarianism, I’ve spent two tedious years hacking away on Crikey, and years before that elsewhere. I seem to be the only leftist doing this. Pathetic. The critical abilities- and sociological sophistication- of the left are abysmal. Tribal affiliation and relentless heresy-hunting have reduced doubters to silence.
    And of course the cult produces its mirror-image, an irrational counter-cult- which suits the mentality of the far Right perfectly. Climate millenarianism is a gift to the Bolts and Joneses…

    Suffice to say here that the AGW hypothesis is still in doubt, and every one of its corollaries are absolutely in doubt: computer modelling of poorly understood chaotic systems is no basis for radical policy- the rule should be -no “climate” policy adopted unless it has multiple benefits. Until we know a LOT more.

    Oh yes, i nearly forgot- any ‘climate” policy must have a chance of affecting climate- that rules out a unilateral Australian carbon tax, and it rules out the gross class subsidies to the renewable rorts (solar/wind etc).

    But it doesn’t matter anyway- as I correctly predicted when Abbott was elected (against the MSM tossariat)- the Right was on a winner. So what are you gunna do in the political wilderness? Blow up the Latrobe Valley? In ten years time there may be enough observational science to confirm or disconfirm AGW- either way the controversy will be history. If current “carbon” policies are ever implemented, the climate will be unaffected- but there will be collateral damage. Real politics will just have to wait.

  10. Rufus Marsh

    @ Venise Alstergren

    I think I may have even been the first to express appreciation of Frank Campbell giving us the benefit of his no BS first hand memories but, consistently with my still only being slightly interested in Chilean or other Latin American affairs and never having spent much time in South America, I would be interested to know if you can add anything reliable, and on what basis of evidence or personal experience.

    I start with a difficulty about your choleric dismissive and rather careless style. You give absolutely no reason or evidence for ” your complete misunderstanding of political life in Latin America” or what it refers to specifically. And it is decidedly odd to regard as a contribution to rational discussion “your outmoded descriptions and expressions…Castillian centralism…being one”. If you had been paying any attention to anyone else you might have picked me up for attributing “feudal” to Frank Campbell wrt Chile when he said “semi-feudal” (as to which I might have wanted some elaboration but that is btw) but then you would perhaps have noticed that I was drawing attention to a distinction between Latin America’s political history and that of the northern feudal states of Europe that was not mine but made by an undoubted authority on the history of the Hispanic world. Or are you simply making the fatuously obvious point that Castilian centralism long gone in actual constitutional practice? If so, why bother?

    As to my confirming the point Frank Campbell had made that Veliz’s trajectory had been rightwards by referring to his former active enthusiasm for Amnesty International’s (or its forerunners’) assistance to those resisting Franco, what’s your problem? Don’t you think that Amnesty International’s origins (I mentioned the Communist QC I think) were, broadly speaking, of the left?

  11. Venise Alstergren

    RUFUS MARSH: All your right-wing observations about Allende your complete misunderstanding of political life in Latin America, your outmoded descriptions and expressions…Castillian centralism…being one example, have all been of this nature “”Veliz had the advantage for a courier taking messages in and out of Franco’s Spain that he had a Latin American accent. Which does seem to point to a move from somewhere left of centre to the right of centre at some stage……”” Your facts(?) are buttressed by quotes and information out of books and right-wing pamphlets. Did you ever live in any Latin American country? Have you had any personal contacts/friendships/experience of life in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay? Have you ever traipsed through a poverty stricken city like Barranquilla and been offended by the grinding despair of the inhabitants, sat in the clubs of the Hacendados, listening to the snide remarks of American consuls sucking up to their hosts, and introducing third under-secretaries of mysterious origin-short back and sides, fixed grin in place?

    Have you seen the hollow-eyed exhaustion of women who are permanently pregnant, the flies buzzing around the stained nappies of vacant-eyed and listless babies, the starving dogs and the dreary same crop food on the shelves of the local markets? Have you seen the soaring sports arenas-built by governments which are planted in these barrios of filth and despair?

    Please tell me you have experienced these things before arriving at your hateful beliefs which you foist onto a credulous readership of well-meaning Australians.

  12. Frank Campbell

    All this talk of Chile, Panama, fascism and the sorry soggy mess the Left is today reminded me of my first contact with Liberation Theology in Panama City, Padre Felipe Berryman. Another courageous priest in the mould of Hector Gallego. Berryman seemed old to me then- he must have been 30. Berryman worked in El Chorrillo, then as now a notoriously violent slum, where your juvenile correspondent had accidentally fetched up, having bugger-all money.

    What I just found via Google illustrates that the sins of power are resilient. In this quote from 1965 (in LA), Berryman made some mild comments about segregation:

    “We live in a segregated society. God is not pleased. We should not be complacent but should do what we can to work for a true human family. Let us humbly acknowledge our failures and pray together…”.

    “The pastor of St. Philip’s parish directed Father Berryman not to speak at the rest of the Sunday Masses. On Tuesday Cardinal McIntyre ordered him transferred to Notre Dame Academy on the west side of Los Angeles. Father Berryman moved on Wednesday. Auxiliary bishop Timothy Manning told the Pasadena Star News “We had twenty-five or so routine transfers this week” and it was an “ordinary part of the administration of this archdiocese.”

    46 years later, the Catholic church is as reactionary as ever, stuffed with paedophiles…Berryman left Panama and the church (and married a nun) in 1973. Had he stayed, he’d have been as dead as Hector Gallego.

    The notion of linear progress is wickedly misleading, innit?

  13. Frank Campbell

    Peter O: “We could probably have a decent argument about the social justice implications of global warming, but this isn’t the place.”

    True, it’s a shame to allow AGW to blot out everything else. But I didn’t start it. This post summarises my position:

    “Jem: But I’m not a Denier. This Manichean war between Montagues and Capulets, Real Madrid (Abbott) and Barca (Brown) etc etc is the main reason for the present fiasco.
    By creating a fanatical cult, you’ve alienated most of the population. Not just here but everywhere. By creating a fanatical cult, you’ve corrupted/sidelined the entire political debate on everything, not just climate. By creating a fanatical cult, you’ve forced through premature or useless technologies and policies (eg wind, domestic solar, the Severn tidal barrage-almost) creating numerous nasty unintended consequences (rorts, middle class subsidies, misdirection of capital, etc) By creating a fanatical cult, haste, waste and mismanagement is inevitable. By creating a fanatical cult, you’ve failed to heed the warnings of the Royal Society that climate impacts are a welter of unknowns in a sea of Rumsfeldian unknowns- yet policy depends entirely on matching action to those impacts.

    By creating a fanatical cult, you’ve forced Left and Right to take sides. You’ve killed Turnbull and given us a rampant naked Jesuit. As I said at the time (against the Crikey tossariat and the drones of the MSM), the Right was doomed to domestication under Rudd if Turnbull adhered to the climate cult. Abbott saved the Right, and is now set to screw the country. Thank you so much.
    There is another way, but I’m not gunna lead you out of the wilderness until you’re in it. Won’t be long now Jem, will it?”

  14. Frank Campbell

    Mein Gott Venise, someone thanked me for writing something on Crikey…

    “Possibly Central America as well” !? Jeez Veneeze, the murderous interference of the United States in Central America goes back a century. Small and far too close to the monster…I spent a few months in Panama in 1970 (still in short pants), was sucked into the network of Liberation priests and nuns…an amazing ejukation, Joolia, and that’s no Hyper Bole. (I was passed from Catholic hand to hand in several countries. No one ever mentioned God). Anyway, I was taken to a tiny roadless pueblo in Panama to stay with Padre Hector Gallego, a charismatic land-reforming priest. We travelled around his parish by donkey. Everywhere Hector went, he was greeted with delight by the campesinos.

    A year or so later, I was told he’d been murdered. Three soldiers came by jeep at night, dragged him out and threw him into a ravine. Body never found. This was the reign of Omar Torrijos, caudillo, friend of the USA and putative Leftist. Gallego could only have been killed on his orders (he was boss of the army).

    Remembering this prompted me to google Hector for the first time:

    ‘El sacerdote colombiano Héctor Gallego, llegó a Panamá, procedente de Colombia en 1967. Trabajó en los campos de Santa Fe de Veraguas, luchando contra las injusticias y los abusos de los terratenientes, organizando a los campesinos en cooperativas, llevando la Palabra de Dios a todas las comunidades, denunciando en los medios de comunicación las situaciones injustas.

    El 9 de junio de 1971, mientras dormía en la casa de un amigo, se presentaron tres hombres en un jeep, sacaron al sacerdote Héctor Gallego, le golpearon y le secuestraron. Desde ese día no se tiene noticia de él.”

    Colombian priest murdered on 9 June 1971. Fought against the abuses of big landowners (terratenientes- there’s that word again) etc. Remembered by whom? The campesinos of Veraguas…the nuns of the Maryknoll order. That’s about it. And me. And now you.

    I rarely if ever mention Latin America- who gives a damn these days about Latin America? Even the tools to analyse that or any other society are lost or so debased as to be useless. Anyone for class? Or would you prefer a Working Family? Go on, have two. We’re all ABs here…And how did ideology seguey into Values? It was there one minute, gone the next. Hawke…the damned Silver Bodgie- he was last seen rubbing it….Hawkie ended up on a Chinese racecourse with a merc of Rolexed Maoists. Anyway, Gillard’s simplified it all for us- we’re down to two Values now. I’m told she’s working on her gamechanger, so we’ll just have a single Value moving forward. Could be either Edjukation or Werk. Or some creative combination of the two. First Bloke is assisting.

    What a cheerful, humourous, original bunch of neosocialists we’d be if only the vampire squid wrapped around our face could be ripped off…

    Be great to stop the idiotic, futile repetitive headbanging about global warming…
    the obsession which pollutes, marginalises, corrupts every other subject…the obsession which allows the corporate state and its private prostitutes to screw us and our environment to death…

    But maybe this idee fixe conceals a void: the craving for social justice replaced by a carbon wand…


  15. Venise Alstergren

    “”Venise Alstergren
    Posted Wednesday, 15 June 2011 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    FRANK CAMPBELL: Well done for telling it like it was, and congratulations for getting out.

    “”To comprehend the Chile of 1970 you have to realise it was still a semi-feudal society. A tiny white landowning class owned the best land. The indigenous and semi-indigenous peasantry (by far the largest class) had been treated with contempt for centuries. There was little industry. “” All of the above combined with the filthy rotten tricks the CIA perpetrate has been the history of nearly all South American countries. Possibly Central America as well.

    The recipe goes, Take the maximum amount of human misery, add Roman Catholicism. Don’t add any meaningful education, elevate the Hacendados to obscene luxury. Top off with a liberal dose of CIA mendaciousness up to and including supporting drug runners and warlords if necessary. Spying, arming the fas$cist^as and ensuring the peons go hungry. Withhold all birth-control help along with medicines and foodstuffs because “”we don’t like people who are pro birth-control”” disseminate false information; the backing of the candidates of the CIA’s choice-preferably the fa^sci^stas. As in the Argentinian horror, General Videla in the 1970s. Serve according to taste.

    Thank you for telling the Oz reader about the situation in Chile during the destruction of Allende and the elevation of Pinochet in the early seventies.

  16. Rufus Marsh

    @ Frank Campbell

    Your interesting and obviously well-informed post has aroused some memories and a little dormant interest Latin America. I would be interested in your take on the case made by Veliz in that booklet/lecture-delivered-in-London where he made a case I think for Allende, deliberately, or because, as you say, things got out of his control, departing from settled constitutional conventions in Chile (I remember reference in the booklet to a previous President having instituted land reform also). I would be interested in your take on it, though I admit to wondering if you, in the early 70s, had a reliable vantage point to know what the subterranean causes of events might have been. For example, while my friend from ASIS might have known what the KGB was up to it might have been hard to find out on the ground just why some of the more revolutionary supporters of Allende were in a position to force his hand, or at least force him to withold the restraining hand.

    You use the word “feudal” rather as it is used today about Pakistan (though why not India?) and I am reminded that feudal has a reasonably well-defined legal meaning. As a matter of interest Veliz wrote a very readable book titled “The Centralist Tradition of Latin America” which, from memory, treated Castilian centralism and feudalism as starkly contrasting and part explanation for the major differences in political evolution of Anglo and Hispanic territories. No doubt that there were large landholdings by old Chilean upper class families which might have looked to some like the granted rather than bought white owned farms in Zimbabwe (but not feudal). I am not sure whether “feudal” adds anything useful or accurate to the description.

    Veliz’s move to Australia I have heard put down to all sorts of reasons, some of which include the malicious prosecution of him for a supposed currency offence when his Institute needed to pay a foreign lecturer in hard currency, the takeover of his Institute by Marxist students encouraged by Australia’s very own Ted Wheelwright, threats of violence fortified by the actual illegal confiscation of his wife’s families property – for starters. Happily for him he wrote and writes brilliant English as those who remember his devastating review of Manning Clark’s Vol 6 about 1982 would concede. One might find it less easy to agree with his clever but sophistical case for calling critics of Bush’s Iraq misadventure “croakers” as in those who opposed the Peninsular War about 1810 (as if Napoleon wasn’t a rather greater threat than Saddam Hussein). You might call that latter position “centre-right” or “right” though I think it would be more accurate to say it puts him in support of the neo- rather than palaeo – cons (the former leftists – “liberals mugged by reality in one US version” – rather than the foreign policy realists”) which I suspect that he might reject as any true dispassionate scholar should.

    The most recent work of his that I have seen was I think about the foundation and history of Amnesty International, founded, from memory by a British Communist QC. Veliz had the advantage for a courier taking messages in and out of Franco’s Spain that he had a Latin American accent. Which does seem to point to a move from somewhere left of centre to the right of centre at some stage. Maybe what I have heard about the reasons for leaving Chile for Australia have something to do with it. Mugged by reality perhaps.

    What the CIA (and KGB) did in relation to Latin America in the 70s should not surprise anyone if it is placed in the context of the Cold War which was still far from won and lost. As you say or imply I think.

  17. Dr_Tad

    @Peter Ormonde, all you manage to display here is your lack of awareness of the debates around this question.

    First, just because Marx considered Capital unfinished doesn’t mean he thought there was a major problem in that part of his crisis theory. I don’t know why you imply this.

    Second, most of the rebuttals around the issue consist of (1) a claim to prove that Marx’s theory is internally inconsistent and (2) an importation of concepts from outside Marx’s theoretical system to substitute for these alleged gaps in logic. As Andrew Kliman has demonstrated in numerous places, the first part of the rebuttal is usually based on a misunderstanding of what Marx was saying (and hence a “correction” of a logical error that is not actually there) or willful misrepresentation. The second part of the rebuttal then only serves to muddy the issue more because when the new explanation fails to measure up to internal consistency, it is Marx’s initial argument that is blamed (which hasn’t even been followed through).

    Third, your invocation of the energy issue muddies this debate because it is unclear that you are even arguing against Marx at all when you say “he focusses exclusively on labor power and capital but fails to account for the effective subsidisation of labor with fossil fuels and environmental externalities”. Do you even get what he said about what value is in the first place?

    I have not read Sraffa’s book, but the “Marxists” who invoke it play precisely the game above to produce a “physical quantities” rather than value-based account of the workings of capitalism, which is itself bizarrely internally inconsistent. The physical quantities approach has nothing to say about the profit rates Marx wrote about because it doesn’t measure profits the same way (and certainly not in any way that capitalists measure the rates of return on their investments that guide future investment decisions), so its a non-sequitur. My reading of both them and Daly is that they start with the ideological assumption that in value terms capitalism is the equilibrium system of neoclassical mythology, and so have to import externalities to explain or predict crisis. That is, they start by assuming that capitalism is internally stable and the problem that must be fixed is outside the workings of capitalism itself (and so class, exploitation, etc, are just fine, thanks, by implication). That’s a big assumption.

    Finally, a smaller number of critiques accept some form of Marx’s crisis theory in general but claim that the current period is not marked by falling profit rates. That’s partly an argument about assumptions used and data employed. Yet despite disagreements over recent data, few of these critics actually show a consistent recovery to pre-1970s profit rates in the last decade. But at least this debate isn’t one entirely carried out through false claims about what Marx actually wrote (rather, they focus on whether his theory really helps to explain the world).

  18. Rufus Marsh

    @ Frank Campbell

    Fascinating to read your account of Chile’s travails in the early 70s from the point of view of a then junior government official though “fascinating” overstates my interest in Chile in a world of interesting and important events and phenomena. Still, I commend to your attention a short booklet of a lecture or lectures that a former senior Australian diplomat in Chile recommended to me
    Continuities and Departures in Chilean History by Claudio Veliz
    Unknown Binding: 23 pages
    Publisher: Hispanic and Luso Brailian Council (1981)
    Language English
    ASIN: B0007AV138
    I remember it gave me, many years ago, a much more nuanced view of Chile’s long and distinctive history, its society and its politics than your snapshot has given – though you have not sought to understate the number of causal elements I note.

    Also many years ago I remember a senior ASIS officer telling me that the KGB, based in Buenos Aires, had a big hand in the excesses of the let in Chile under Allende. By the way, the above mentioned auth0r Claudio Veliz was apparently a close friend of the Allende family and had been on the left himself. I had some confirmation of this from a senior British Labour government minister who had visited Allende shortly after his election and when I mentioned the Continuities and Departures booklet/lecture to him told me that Veliz had been the interpreter for him and Allende.

    Granted that winning government with only 35 per cent of the vote (and no record of preferences) shouldn’t be overstated as an explanation of anything it does help to explain why, in the context of Chile’s “Continuities” from the early 19th century and through some constitional beginnings of land reform (I don’t remember more than a small element of what Allende was “departing” from) the educated middle classes as well as landowners eventually applauded the lower middle class soldiery which overthrew Allende after he egged on the violent revolutionaries and land grabbers.

  19. Frank Campbell

    Rufus Marsh: “Allende precipitated Chile into disaster after winning only 35 per cent of the vote and attempting radical change.”

    If there’s one thing worse than stalinist airbrushing of history it’s casual, ignorant, one-sentence reinventing of it.

    The Chilean presidential election of 1970 was a three-way contest. Allende won 36%, the Right 35% and the Christian Democrats 28%. Nixon raged against Allende, using the CIA to smear him before the poll. Army chief Rene Schneider was murdered in a CIA-backed plot even before Allende was confirmed in office. His successor, Carlos Prats, was murdered by Fascist secret agents in Buenos Aires in 1974.

    For the mere two and half years of the Allende presidency, the CIA worked nonstop to destroy him. The Pinochet coup in Sept 1973 was backed and partly staged by the CIA. Chilean fascists and the CIA tried everything to destabilise the government, from strikes to bombing campaigns. This naked fascist aggression drove many Chileans to the Left, which resulted in a majority in the 1971 muncipal elections. They were the last to be held for 21 years.

    To comprehend the Chile of 1970 you have to realise it was still a semi-feudal society. A tiny white landowning class owned the best land. The indigenous and semi-indigenous peasantry (by far the largest class) had been treated with contempt for centuries. There was little industry. For foreign exchange Chile depended heavily on copper. Chile imported food- the copper price crashed. Inflation took off. I can well remember the whole country drooling at news of a ship stuffed with Belgian chickens approaching Valparaiso. Times were hard. People swapped eggs for milk etc even in the cities. Merchants hoarded food for profiteering and to undermine the government. A strike of capital was organised. A giant lottery scam (La Manivela) sucked millions from the population- the perps fleeing to the USA. The country was in the grip of a deadly fever. Normality vanished.

    The convulsions increased. The country split into two warring halves- the vicious ancien regime and the Left. The Left consisted of shambolic fragments revolving around a stable symbol- Allende. Sectarianism was rife. All in the context of the Cold War. Allende never had a chance.

    Such was the mania abroad that I, a very junior government official in the Ministry of Social Development, became the target of Left and Right paranoia. My job was to make and administer questionnaires for rural Chile- because there were virtually no statistics about the condition of life of provincial Chileans. Nothing to base reformist policy on…You wouldn’t think there’d be any point in killing me (then, anway), but being a foreigner was enough to spark suspicion. My friends on both sides of the political fence warned me- the stalinist Left had me down as a “Trotskyist Splitter” and/or a CIA plant, while the fascists cast me as a “dangerous foreign Marxist with Cuban connections” (I had none).

    So anyone who attributes the Chilean disaster to a voting system is a fool. Chile was the victim of racism, poverty, the Cold War, and a desperation to escape feudalism by instant parliamentary means. Looking back, the poor bastards were tied to the train tracks of history…

    And tough shit Crikey, I got out before the Pinochet massacre- just so I could harrass the overweight lowpostcode zealots and apparatchiks who now masquerade as the future….

  20. Rufus Marsh

    To Dr_Tad (whose comment seems to have been omitted on this page though posted as an email – not the only one I think) and others who yearn for the old dispensation of the Labor Party seeking to look after a or the working class I invite attention to radical changes which have already occurred and suggest problems with equating the aims of his Labor Party to anything like justice.

    Now that the prosperity of the vast majority of us is supported by the capitalistic success of a very small fraction of the economy, mostly based on our minerals and our primary production (again) there is a tendency in Australia to follow the disastrous path of countries like Greece by allowing the public sector to grow so that ever more people, even if not formally employed by Crown or quango but as part e.g. of public private partnerships, are looking to the state for their incomes. In America already, once thriving states like California have just about succumbed, financially, to “producer capture” by public sector unions (aided by voluntary voting when they have the best chance of getting out the vote). Set aside a number of great servants of the public who love their jobs and don’t demand to be overrewarded, the public sector is ideal for the lazy middle class who, organised and with enough votes, can look after themselves very nicely through something like the modern Labor Party. The old union founded Labor Party wasn’t a party for the poor or under class but now it is quite apparent that the Labor Party is no more concerned with the bottom of the socio-economic heap than the conservatives. Old age pensioners are equally cosseted by both major parties but the unemployed and other outsiders are not part of the Labor Party’s primary constituency either in policy or by aim.

    You may not like freewheeling capitalism which has brought China close to wealth, produced a huge Indian middle class and, in the shape of Australia’s “neo-liberal” renaissance since 1982, made Australians much better off, but you won’t like it if the Labor Party follows the logical path of stitching up the votes of all the dependants on other taxpayers’ largesse.

    Robert Michels “Iron Law of Oligarchy” (see his “Political Parties” first published 1911) makes it convincingly clear that the natural inequality of man will manifest itself in the tough, able and ambitious getting together to try and run any system which includes the descendants of those individuals who split up about 70,000 years ago and started exploring the wider world beyone Africa. That’s why the Adam Smith version has so much to be said for it. Who is more useful, the person who makes a fortune by inventing a better mousetrap or the one with the skills to organise for him/her and mates to be voted into comfort and status for life?

  21. O. Puhleez

    Rufus Marsh (Friday, 10 June 2011 at 2:34 pm): “Vere Gordon Childe writing about Queensland in 1911 in ‘How Labor Governs’?????”

    Actually, Childe is relevant to today, because the problem Guy Rundle writes about here is largely the same one Childe wrote about then. The ALP membership at large would organise and work to get the party’s candidates elected against historically well-resourced and quite determined conservative opponents. Then post-electoral battles had to be fought between the membership and the politicians when in government to get the policies as determined by the party’s own internal democracy put into effect.

    The politicians eventually won that battle. It did not take all that much skill, and nothing you could call principle was involved. The sociologist Dean Jaensch wrote a fine book about it entitled ‘The Hawke-Keating Hijack’. Under the succession of leaders after Whitlam there began the leaching process of the party membership, and particularly under Keating the party became Tweedledee to the Liberals’ Tweedledum; a Laborial melange and as internally lifeless as a discarded oyster shell.

    All Faulkner described was the terminal condition. Rudd and Gillard have shown how erratic ALP leaders can be once cut loose from the control and influence of the people who put them into parliament in the first place.

    The ALP is now on course for a pretty massive defeat at the next federal election, and the country for a couple of terms of government led by Abbott, to take us to 2018. By that time God only knows how many climate tipping points may have been crossed, and how wide the wealth divide would have become in Australia.

  22. Peter Ormonde

    This certainly was “the speech of Faulkner’s life” and he has made it often.

    Labor – as a party of social reform – has an identity crisis, and it is an age-old argument: whether to reflect social and political attitudes (from polls, focus groups and winning elections) or to seek to change those views and interests (and risk periods in the political wilderness of opposition).

    I’ve never found myself agreeing with Tony Benn before and I’m not sure I do now.

    This contradiction has been running ever since reformist policies and parties were operating, but it is now happening on very different terrain… dominated by pollsters, tweets, three second grabs and a fractured notion of class and class interests. Never have people been more willing to switch sides from ballot to ballot. The aim – the exclusive aim – of any politician is to win and hold government. Full stop. So they become followers of polls and focus groups and hawk their opinions and principles for possible votes.

    As the recent NSW polls showed, even Labor’s “core support base” will walk away if Labor in government is seen to stand for nothing other than a mob of career MPs just staying there. They will not come back quickly in my view.

    To be frank, I don’t think there is anything NSW Labor can – or more particularly, will – do to fix this state of affairs. Certainly not its current assemblage of parliamentary incumbents, or the unions (left and right) or anyone else who sees some advantage (personal) in keeping this rotten system going.

    NSW Labor has lost any claim to legitimacy for a generation, I suspect. They really should give the name back, this mob, this “unrepresentative swill”. How sad.

  23. Venise Alstergren

    For once-with Crikey’s permission-I am going to re-print my comment, on the same subject, after reading Bernard Keane’s excellent article.

    “”If this is the end game, and I’ve no reason to doubt you, the ALP will have made forfeit the entire nation. For it has been under a Labor government that nearly all of our recent gains have been made. (Five of the Prime Ministers who had real vision for our country, are Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Curtin and Ben Chifley: the leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, daily struts his destructive stuff, pulling no punches, and using the media to destroy our Prime Minister. Does he have a philosophy, an idea for bettering this country? Not a bit of it. Thus does he illustrate the paralysing instincts of the conservative right wing; laughingly referred to-by themselves-as The Liberal Party. Indeed, it seems as if the Liberals entire rationale is to keep the ALP out of power).

    One wouldn’t wish to be rude BUT, admirable as their aims are made out to be, does anyone envision the Greens producing an innovative and charismatic leader? In their own way they are just as conservative as the Liberal Party. One lot, the Greens, wants socialism for the environment, the Liberals want socialism for the rich, and the good old NCP already has socialism for the farmers. With three Parties out of the running, the sole hope for the future, the Labor Party, is busy eviscerating itself. More importantly it is destroying the Nation.

  24. freecountry

    Captain Planet, things like defending unions can only be means to an end, Mr Rundle is right about that. Sometimes they’re not even that.

    If the ALP had adopted Simon Crean’s attempt a few years ago to break the party free of the ACTU’s stranglehold, unions might have had a reason to evolve and offer something relevant to 21st century society, like their own training institutes, their own accreditation standards, codes of practice and quality assurance programs … things which would be useful enough to employers to be worth paying a premium wage for.

    Instead unions have remained too close to the party and too close to government, and the result is similar to what’s happened to some of the American car manufacturers. They’ve been allowed to ossify into great big rentseeking corporations, still reliving their glory days of the eight hour day and the end of the Vietnam war, still holding an outdated concept of jobs as a sort of private property (ironic considering some of their views on the private property rights of their employers). The high calibre of some of the reforming minds who’ve emerged from the movement, people like Bob Hawke and Bill Kelty, just goes to show how much more the union movement could have become if it grew up and left the protection of the Party.

    But if Guy Rundle is right and John Faulkner has added little to our understanding of the ALP’s chronic decay into chronic introversion, then neither has Guy Rundle. All this meandering through the traces of ideological sub-strata achieves nothing. Neither the ALP nor the Coalition play any great role in politics today other than to engage in a Pepsi vs Coke search for marketing strategies. They both take their votes wherever they can get them, and their searches for “relevance” are no more than quests for a successful marketing strategy. We should review what George Washington said about parties:
    [“One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

    However (they) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”]
    Philosophically, both the labour movement and the liberal movement sought the same thing: advancement in society and in the standard of living. The crucial difference was that Labor saw politics as the prime mover of social progress, while Liberal saw private enterprise as the prime mover and government as potentially its biggest obstacle. In that sense, Fraser was the last liberal in Australian government (not a lefty as many people think these days), even if he missed his chance to remove the chains. Anyway, these concepts are pretty much irrelevant to the parties of today. The parties themselves have outlived their usefulness.

    Rob Oakeshott may have said the most relevant thing in modern Australian politics when he spoke of the “new paradigm”. Nerdy as it may sound, it really harkens back to an old paradigm, a vision of the cut and thrust of ideas taking place right there in the halls of public deliberation, rather than being generated in some back-room marketing office and then bloc-voted in by the dominant party as a fait accompli.

    In 2013 what we will need is a lot of independent Senators. That’s the best suggestion I can come up with. Whatever your preference for government, Labor, Coalition, or even Greens, let’s throw the parties out of the Senate and fill at least one house with people who are authorized to think for themselves.

  25. Dr_Tad

    It strikes me that Faulkner is simply continuing the fine tradition of trying to solve the ALP’s political crisis through organisational means. He’s ahead of Tanner in that at least he is much more willing to locate the problem within the political class rather than subcontract it in part to that nefarious MSM, but neither seem willing to come to terms with the fact that the Hawke-Keating years were an unalloyed disaster for the party’s traditional social base inside the organised working class (but an unalloyed victory for the capitalist class). Therein lies Labor’s impasse.

    The trouble with seeing, as Guy seems to, the problem at the level of the ALP having the wrong kind of reformist ideas or values is that it assumes a qualitatively better variant could have won the day. Yet neoliberalism is not just an Australian phenomenon, rather it is one that has infected pretty much every reformist/social democratic/labourist party on the planet. The reason has more to do with the decline in profit and growth rates since the end of the post-WWII boom, and the demand from capital that these be restored by increasing the rate of exploitation. Labor-type parties adapted to this by sometimes going along with or sometimes (as in Australia) spearheading the attempt to fix capitalism by hitting workers.

    Yet at the end of over 30 years of attacks by various means (wage freezes, privatisations, incomes policies, industry restructuring, outright wage cuts, productivity trade-offs, job cuts, market mechanisms, etc, etc), things are clearly not back to the stability and prosperity of the long boom. Neoliberalism may have made a small minority exceedingly rich, but it has not solved the long-term structural problems of capital accumulation in this country, or indeed most other places.

    Gillard seems to see her task as driving more of that magical neoliberal “reform” so beloved of the elites and the commentariat, even though it is politically suicidal. Why is this so? The secret to understanding the ALP’s mission is its commitment to improving ordinary people’s lives, but only to the extent that is possible within the limits set by capital accumulation and the state. The ALP wants to run that state and once it is allowed to do so is forced to play by those rules. Of course that allows for variegated hegemonic styles to be employed (the neoliberalism of the Accord years is very different to the neoliberalism of Rudd or Gillard), but the fundamental class interest being served is the same.

    Unlike some, I think it is way too early to write off the ALP, however, because the party also draws strength from real social movements, and a revival of subaltern resistance can benefit the ALP despite its rotten record — especially if the party is in opposition, where it has much more room for manoeuvre than when it takes direct responsibility for the capitalist state. It is no error that Faulkner looks back to an era of multiple social movements, sometimes synergistic with each other, for ideological sustenance. But the last thing he sees as necessary is to build such movements today; his formula is for rebuilding the party largely in abstraction from them (and perhaps even from the one link to a real movement, however debased, in the form of the union bureaucracy).

    The trouble I see for the Left more generally (inside and outside the ALP) is that it has not settled accounts with the Hawke years, with many believing the scorecard was generally positive for ordinary people. It wasn’t, but until one accepts that, the crisis of laborism remains a mystery to which partial observations like Faulkner’s (or Tanner’s or Cavalier’s) are applied, but without tangible effect.

  26. aashbolt@uow.edu.au

    At least Rundle is approaching core business, having swatted away the flies of celebrity and trampled on the rights of cattle. Cate Blanchett is not only a very fine actress but also a powerful spokesperson and activist for the environment. The STC follows a green agenda and this alone gives its directors a capacity to speak very publicly for environmental causes. And I write as someone who came to the Labor Party in the early 70s with a theoretical position informed, shaped, some might say over-determined, by Marxism. There were others like me, although most had joined in the 1960s and Rundle is right to point to an increasing decline in theory.

    When John Faulkner and I, amongst others, established the Macquarie University ALP Club in 1973 we were very clear that it would play a radical role on campus. And this it did. It was not subservient to the dictates of the Party machine but responded positively not only to all those social movements Rundle now is somewhat dismissive of but also to a broader social agenda that sought to create a more egalitarian society. John was never informed in any theoretical sense. He had a rapier-sharp wit and a gut instinct for fairness, justice and ultimately equality. Gut instinct alone, however, cannot help create a party with a coherent platform and vision. One is more likely to succumb, as John did eventually, to the vicissitudes of party pragmatism. And part of the reason for that is that he was not connected closely to the social movements that made the new left what it was. Instead, he was supportive in a distant way. He became much more a party operative rather than someone keen to occupy Rhodesian consulates, stand up for the Palestinians or campaign actively for Aboriginal rights.

    So Rundle is right about the importance of policy but that is why, as an earlier commentator noted, he is wrong about the social movements. It just depends upon what social movements he is talking about. Might I point out to this supporter of refugees over cattle (as if the obverse position really exists) that refugee action does not necessarily produce a good society. Opponents of Palestinian justice, like the Jewish Board of Deputies, are very much for refugees. So, too, the Catholic School lobby whose policy of exclusivity starts at the front door of its schools.

    The problem with the ALP is not just one of focus groups, managerialism gone mad or a lack of party democracy. It is a problem of vision and soul and policy. When, as Minister of Defence, John Faulkner pinned an honorary order of Australia medal on General David Petraeus for his stunning work in Iraq that signalled a deep malaise in the Party and in individuals who once identified with the left. The malaise continues as not a squeak can be heard from the Party (or Faulkner) about the Afghan quagmire.

    I would like to think things might have been different had I loaned my works by Lenin, Luxemburg and Lukacs to John. It is, however, more likely they would have been different had he sat with me in the Rhodesian consulate or campaigned in supermarkets against South African produce or supported the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Studies in America have shown that those activists who fought with the civil rights movement down south were far more likely to stay with the left. Their commitment was forged on the battleground not through musty texts. I must stress, in conclusion, that I am very fond of my musty texts.

  27. Frank Campbell

    Labour must indeed be history if Rundle’s Instant Soup is the elixir of political life: urban planning with a dash of “climate change”:

    “using the power of the state to create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like.

    Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.”

    It’s enough to drive anyone to Stockholm.

    Now we know what the future is: urban planning for the lower middle class plus a damn good thrashing for Carbon (note the capital, as befits the Devil).

    Rundle- the weekend policy surfer.

    Faulkner, like Wran, Latham and all the other richly superannuated jetsam, mistake symptoms for causes. We all know that. Even they know that. They can’t dig deeper because they know there’s a void beneath.

    Funny thing is, only the other day Rundle squeakily proclaimed (on Q+A) that the Greens were the answer to the angst.
    But the Greens are the Plymouth Brethren of climate millenarianism…trapped on 10% and reduced to poaching alienated Labour voters. Flogging class-biased low-postcode “climate” revolution doesn’t have the Harold Camping glow it once had… Labour is dying by its own hand, trapped in a maze of idiotic “Carbon” policies which will leave climate unaffected. I’m sure you all know that. But tribal affliation is compulsory.

    It’s time to let go. Only then will there be any point discussing ideology or policy.

    [Moderator: this comment has been edited. Please refrain from personal jibes against commenters and authors of post. Feel free to disagree with them, but insults aren’t necessary.]

  28. Captain Planet

    create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like. Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.

    So, Guy, it is plain that you believe that YOUR pet direct actions arising from isolated social movements, are the true and correct path for the labor party – not those silly and irrelevant direct actions arising from OTHER isolated social movements, which they HAVE been pursuing.

    If only Labor would listen to you, they would be “in power for ever”.

    Never mind the appalling amount of bankruptcies which would immediately ensue if “everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000”, as the resultant house price crash ruins 80% of Australian families financially.

    Never mind that you cannot even build a 2 bedroom flat in any major capital city in Australia for $150,000, let alone buy the land, pay your taxes, put in services, floor and window dressings and paint the place.

    The standard measure of housing price affordability is the median multiple – how many multiples of the average annual income are required to purchase the average dwelling.

    “Affordable” housing worldwide is considered to be housing at around 3.5 times the median multiple. In Australia this would equate to about $245,000, and as a long term goal (adjusted for long term price movements of course) this is an admirable target. A target of $150,000 in the short term is impossible, naive, and a downright threat to the nation’s economy.

    Guy, you are like that dinner guest who knows the only correct answer to everything, and never ceases droning on about it to anyone he can corner.

    A philosophy of life that flows to policy is what Labor needs.

    Yes, unless I missread it, that’s exactly what Senator Faulkner said.

    This piece amounts to saying “What he said was crap. Now I’m going to say the same thing, only I will be right, because he got it wrong.”

  29. Timmy O'Toole

    Yet to read Faulkner’s speech… it’s sitting on my desk!

    I think Rundle has captured a few interesting points on the role of the ALP and social movements (especially in the 70s).

    And I agree with his conclusion- Labor needs a broader philosophy (“of life” or otherwise) than it currently has.

    I foresee Rundle’s analysis potentially going down the “the ALP has too many contradictory groups attached to it (yesteryear it was the Catholics & socialists; now it is inner city intellectuals v suburban workers) and therefore it must synthesise or fail”. This says more about Rundle’s tendencies to assume that politics is driven by fairly homgenous groups with shared interests that bady together to achieve social change as a collective. The fact is no political party is like this, socialist or conservative, and even though there are undeniable tensions in Labor’s base it won’t be resolved through some impossibe over all synthesis between them. Just enough commonality of values and leadership to appeal to both whilst not offending both.

    I really feel that the difference between the two ALP bases is overstated and that middle ground can be met- namely by appealing to the suburbs economically and the inner cities through social programs. The environmental policies should fit in between both groups (you will never appease hard core environmentalists; they will always demand more and we should avoid their extremes- as I think @calyptorhynchus implicitly suggests). Easier said than done, but more than anything the government is simply too socially conservative at the moment. Changing that, with some overarching story about why, would be a useful start.

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