Milo Yiannopoulos
Milo Yiannopoulos? Not left-wing.

Just before the 2016 federal election, the ABC released Vote Compass, a digital tool promising to match you with your ideal party. Use it and you’d only be reminded that there was no ideal party with which you could be matched. Bit like online dating, really: a predictable array of those you just know will screw you badly and/or hurt your feelings.

(May be based on a true story.)

Throughout the West, we swipe left on major parties or we settle for the one we dislike the least. For a voting majority, wages are stagnant and social services have been diminished by programs of austerity or privatisation, but major party policy is yet to address this turn. Western voters move to racism or to far better ideas of revolt; they move to barbarism or to socialism, as they have before. Still. Those big parties keep their economic ideas in the middle’s disastrous extreme.

 

Click to enlarge. Image credit: Quiggledeedee

 

A stark illustration of the difference many voters no longer see has been forced upon the Bundestag. Not so long ago, the coalition between Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats and the social democrats of the SDP would have been unthinkable. Now, those parties voters see as indistinguishable must become indistinguishable in order to survive.

Our prominent commentators say, “there is no difference between left and right anymore”. What they mean is that there is no difference between the major parties. If there is no enduring difference between these political categories for people, how do we account for the rise of Mélenchon, the mouth of Milo Yiannopoulos or the unstatesmanlike heap of luncheon meat that is President Donald Trump? How do we explain US high school kids giving their lunch breaks to the work of Karl Marx?

There are teenagers who can articulate the difference between the categories of left and right better than centrist politicians and journalists. Perhaps because their futures are looking so bad, they must believe that true difference can still exist. They know that any liberal, no matter how publicly kind they are to their rainbow coalition, are always right in private.

For many of us older folks, this distinction has been forgotten. Left has come to mean “Emma Alberici objectively describes outcome in liberal democracies of corporate tax cuts over time”. Neoliberal has come to mean, “anything I don’t like”. And I have come to be very annoyed with a political language that is not so much fluid as it is gaseous.

Ergo, above, a basic political matrix for the visual reference of the ABC editorial department, and below, some examples of both good and misleading usage. You are invited to make additions. You may find the experience less disappointing than Vote Compass.

October 2017: In Bloomberg, Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein pronounces Trump “Marxist”. Incorrect. Trump’s economic policy is in the US tradition of the past 40 years: award contracts to large private firms, reduce taxes on large private firms, invade nations to stimulate own spending on large private firms, fill cabinet with former and future executives of large private firms. Sunstein also calls Russia “Marxist”. Also incorrect. Vlad Putin may have nationalised Russian oil. This doesn’t make him Vlad Lenin.

April 2013: UK Prime Minister David Cameron pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher after her death with the declaration “We are all Thatcherites now.” Correct. The overwhelming majority of Western politicians do continue to hold with Thatcher’s economic principles. These are neoliberal, see following.

April 2016: George Monbiot writes, “Neoliberalism’s triumph … reflects the failure of the left.” Correct and incorrect. Monbiot’s account of the neoliberal era is pretty good — he helpfully points the reader to Hayek, whose work, The Constitution of Liberty, Margaret Thatcher is said to have thrown down upon a Tory table with the words, “This is what we believe now”. We are all Thatcherites now. However, Monbiot is not entirely correct when he says the “left” was not ready with a riposte after the global financial crisis as they were ready, he writes, with Keynesianism in the time of the Great Depression.

George! Two things. First, Keynes, as well you know, was not “left”. He was simply very keen on saving capitalism. The Western left was keen on smashing it, or perhaps popping off to the USSR whose then-thriving economy was not hit by the events of 1929. Second, the left does have a plan. It goes like this (1) wrest control of state (2) assume ownership of all private property through state mechanisms (3) check everyone is feeling okay at regular intervals/provide the leisure, innovation and abundance produced by the age of capitalism to all (4) join international comrades, watch state wither away, presto, communism AKA dictatorship by the people. (5) Don’t be Stalin, avoid things like World War II. (Warning: method can take up to a century.) It is incorrect not to see the sense in this excellent plan. It is correct to read these last statements as indicative of my political bias.

November 2016: The Guardian prints the phrase “testosterone left” to describe — I think — all men who would have preferred candidate Bernie Sanders to candidate Hillary Clinton, a woman who offered a “structurally radical framework,” lol.“Testosterone left” is not really incorrect but does refer to imaginary people.

February 2018: Silicon Valley is described as “left-leaning” in The Australian. The emerging centre for finance and the home to companies that “friend” the neoliberal nationalist Narendra Modi is about as left-leaning as these italics: Incorrect.

Often: Mark Latham is very keen on the word “left”. He may have accidentally applied it correctly at one point, but his custom is to be incorrect. Items he has mistaken for left include Tracey Spicer. Incorrect. Feminism for the one percent is simply neoliberalism and/or classical liberalism in a nice frock. (For correct definition of neoliberalism, see Monbiot above. For incorrect version of classical liberalism, see Tom Switzer or Tim Wilson, neither of whom seems to have read the bit of Adam Smith that says unpleasant things about the rentier class.)

For persons who are openly Marxist, he has begun to use the term “Bernie”. Incorrect. Bernie is a social democrat — a term correctly applied by Wayne Swan to himself. Bernie Sanders says he is a socialist. This is incorrect. What is correct is that I have asked Mr Latham twice if I could interview him for the Crikey Up Yours series, and he has twice said no. I believe he considers this publication too leftist for his taste. This is both correct and incorrect, depending on which bit of us you are reading.

Finally. It is incorrect to call Emma Alberici left, left-leaning, socialist, stupid, Marxist, naïve, deluded, economically illiterate, confused or any of the things she was called for correctly stating that low taxation of big firms had not been shown to offer benefit to workers. However, it may be correct to say her empirical account is consistent with Keynesian theory. Which, as we have reminded George, is not now and never will be left.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW