right queen victoria UK
Queen Victoria Statue at Queen Victoria Building, Sydney (Image: Wikimedia Commons/Coekon)

The Morrison government’s political war on all fronts continued this week, and nothing it did led to any conclusion other than that everything can be trashed to get a political edge.

This is a new style of right politics, something rather more than we’ve seen before. It’s worth trying to get one’s head around it, because their political ambition is now vaulting and global.

The main game is to turn the averted crisis of COVID-19 into an opportunity for a bit of disaster capitalism. The Morrison government knew that it wouldn’t be able to avoid what we’re calling “a recession”, so it’s going to try and get the usual right-wing advantage out of it — disciplining labour, launching further attacks on its institutional power. 

This is a strange type of disaster capitalism, because there’s no actual “disaster”, in Australia at least. There’s a setback, with excess deaths, arising not from a recession of economic activity per se, but from a suspension of whole areas of economic life.

In recessions, governments can say that wages are too high, or profits and financialisation creaming off new demand, and have some validity. In this case, nothing that the economy itself has done has caused the economy to slow down. So there’s no reason per se to change any of those microeconomic settings when it starts up again. 

So to try and do that — to crack down on union power, wages, education fees and the like — you’re starting from an empty pretext. The Morrison government would have preferred to use the recession to create a greater shock, with JobKeeper and JobSeeker curtailed early, deliberately pushing more people into desperation, in order to persuade them to accept greater wage flexibility. Political pressure made that difficult.

But they have continued their other attacks elsewhere. The assault on superannution per se, and industry super funds in particular, is their consolation prize. The war against the international student industry goes on. So too does the war against the alleged wellsprings of radical thinking in the humanities.

It’s relentless, and exhausting, puts Labor and progressives permanently on the defence, and determines that the future course of our country is in the hands of Jacqui Lambie, Rex Patterson and Stirling Griff, the latter a one-man Centre Alliance in the Senate, which is as Adelaide as it gets. 

There seem to be two interconnected things going on with the right at the moment. The first is a “nothing to the right of me” strategy, designed, or simply performed organically, to always occupy territory of any size that the harder, crazier right are staking out.

Hence the absurdity of Adam Creighton’s comparison of wearing a cotton mask to a boot stamping on a human face blah blah. It’s meant to be ridiculous. It’s “absurdity signalling” to conspiratorialists, as is the growing tolerance for the QAnon movement.

But at the same time, there’s a war on to complete the more conventional parts of a destruction of a competent and proactive progressive state. This is not about free markets or deregulation, but about fixed markets and re-regulation in favour of capital.

The Coalition positively wants a more unequal society, with the possibility of penury and collapse in individual lives there as a moral force to implement a certain way of life. It’s a fusion of 19th century liberalism and radical Protestant Christian piety.

What’s interesting is that the UK Johnson government and Australia’s Morrison government now appear to be working in a coordinated fashion, linked together by multiple affiliations.

Compulsory superannuation, as Bernard Keane writes today, is the big target here, for a multiplicity of reasons. The most proximate is that the Liberal party is a client of the banking sector, and superannuation funds create direct competition to their control of capital. Super funds are intended to do this. For decades, the European social democratic movement was advancing the idea that workers’ capital could be accumulated to provide a countervailing power to capital itself.

The most radical form of this was Sweden’s Meidner-Rehn plan of the ’70s and ’80s, by which workers’ capital would simply buy up a majority share in the entire stock market, and then run the economy as a market social democratic entity, oriented towards eventual socialised control.

The scheme was cousin to Rex Connor’s idea of a “resources circuit” of capital in the ’70s — we own our resources sector, use the profits to create a uranium-based energy sector that supplies near-zero cost energy, and that ends our dependence on foreign oil, and round it keeps going.

Parallel to that was the ACTU’s “capital circuit” of owning its own consumer outlets — a petrol station chain, Solo, being most prominent — to keep workers’ money going round within their own control. 

The super scheme we got was a limited descendent of those more ambitious plans, and the right knows it. Paul Keating, in his interview on RN Breakfast this week, made the argument that Labor isn’t making: that the banks hate super, and industry super, because it increases the supply of capital — thus funding our infrastructure boom — and lowers the price of it.

The banks want what banks have wanted for Australia for the last century: a permanently underdeveloped country, where capital scarcity keeps capital prices high. That’s what the non-Labor parties wanted too. From the Bruce government to the Dismissal and beyond, they have wanted to keep Australia as a permanent economic dependency first of the UK, and London banks, and then of the US.

That was the reason for a raft of decisions from the 1920s onwards: allowing UK banks to control capital import to Australia, refusing to develop a broader education and university system in the 1930s, maintenance of imperial/Commonwealth preference, the destruction of the Australian film industry, a deep resistance to the creation of the ABC, the continuation of Australian publishing as a UK rights territory, and so on. 

The right’s schemes are a new version of underdevelopment, and for the same political purpose. Australian underdevelopment was designed to prevent the rise of a progressive class who would challenge the right politically.

They were astute in their judgement; the Whitlam government gained power a decade after the founding of the “second set” of universities in the country. Now, faced with an intellectually weak and self-absorbed Labor party, the right is seeking something they couldn’t dream of, even in the Howard years: to fully roll back large parts of that progressive movement by de-developing Australia.

Thus COVID-19 has proved a chance to destroy the international education industry, whose base in Melbourne has moved the state decisively leftwards (as the state Liberal party has been captured by cultists and crazies). The attack on super, and industry super funds, is a complement to that.

Can this be true? Do the right actually want to destroy a hugely successful sector? Yes, this is now a politics first, last and always movement, a mirror of the Leninism they would once have defined themselves against.

As regards superannuation, they have some advantage on their side because of the paradoxical character of superannuation; a collective measure for the common good that nevertheless individualises management of life welfare. Compulsory superannuation only delivers the vast sums it does because it sequesters workers’ wages. If it was a looser scheme of compulsory employer contribution with voluntary tax deductible workers funds, it would be more consistent — and far less effective in making people fund their own retirements. 

What no one can say in an individualistic age is that you can’t be trusted not to waste your money, because almost everyone wastes their money. So, Labor is placed in the invidious position of attacking the Coalition for “destroying your super” by not raising the rate, when everyone knows that part of that rate is income sequestration.

The Coalition gets to look like the workers’ friend when they allow super release. Part of the reason Labor hasn’t been able to think through this is that their knowledge class paternalism is now so embedded that they see behavioural control of workers as the sole level of social democracy.

Keating’s RN interview showed what Labor has to do to win on this terrain: it has to explain to people what this is all for, to use actual numbers, to demolish the Coalition’s case. The melancholy conclusion about Labor at the moment is that leaders like Albanese and Plibersek never bothered to get their head round the complexities of such to be able to sell it, and the economic burr-heads such as Jim Chalmers are so free-market oriented as to be almost as hostile to ideas of national development as the right.

This is now all taking place within a wider and more extraordinary context — an attempted renewed takeover of Australian affairs by the British right, acting for the establishment. The two rights have becoming ever more tightly fused through the connections via the CT Group, the agency of News Corp playing a dominant role in both countries, the globalisation of banking, and the spit-swapping of the right-wing think tanks in both countries.

What sometimes looks like “Aussies making inroads” into UK markets via entities such as Macquarie and Lendlease is really their relocation of their centre to London, from which Australian development is then run as a subsidiary, subordinated to UK interests.

The right have no loyalty to Australia as an independent country. The Australian right is actively pursuing a policy of renewed reintegration of Australia with UK interests, now that the UK has left the EU. This is especially so now that the US right has taken such an erratic turn in foreign policy, and the Republican party is shared between neocons and neo-isolationists, and its nationalist economics thoroughly cuts us out. 

Thus directed increasingly from London, with an ex-PM who never really identified as Australian trying to rejoin the mothership as the latest example of such, the right is attempting to rewind the tape of Australian history right back to the pre-Whitlam era, and to take us on another path: permanent dependency (then as a farm, now as a quarry), capital dependency (via the destruction of superannuation), and cultural dependency via the destruction of a home-grown humanities sector (which made its own contribution to its demise).

The pandemic is the pretext, political war the means. The Labor party is in no fit state to contest it, and the Australian electorate is so atomised (partly due to the cultural effects of individualised suprannuation!) that they might not even care that it’s happening. The dirty righties are too easy. Have a great weekend.