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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn , the Left and Marxism: With Lessons for Australia and the World

above: British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is seen by many as radical, but his policies are traditional-social-democratic

Dr Tristan Ewins

Australian Labor Party activist and social commentator

British social commentator, Mal Fletcher (On Line Opinion 7/11 ; and ‘2020 Plus’)  warns of the ‘dangers’ of a ‘Hard-Left’ Jeremy Corbyn and the spectre of Marxist and socialist resurgence.   But what’s the reality behind this posturing?  We’ll look at both the claims made against Corbyn and at the deployment of Marxism as a ‘political bogeyman’. From there we’ll look at social democratic and Marxist arguments around economy and society more thoroughly.

Firstly: yes British Labour is turning Left after years of Blairite Centrism.  Corbyn is bringing British Labour back to the ‘relative historical mainstream’ of ‘traditional social democracy’. 

Still, Corbyn’s plans for limited resocialisation (eg: of railways and utilities) threaten a precedent whereby decades of privatisation are not necessarily “a one way street”.  Some on the Right – including so-called ‘Labour moderates’ appear quite frightened at that prospect.  If anything it is they who are ideologically-inflexible on the public sector ; and cannot abide by its extension in any way, shape or form.  But compare this with the 1970s when Labour thinkers such as Stuart Holland (in ‘The Socialist Challenge’)  were demanding “Nationalisation of the Commanding Heights”.   Considered historically, Corbyn is not ‘far Left’ ; but rather is suggestive of British Labour ‘returning home’ ideologically to ‘traditional social democracy’. (although some in the Corbyn camp – and in the ‘Momentum’ movement which supports him - might be more ambitious over the longer term) In light of this, Australian Labor’s Bill Shorten’s ‘shift Left’ appears much more modest. Shorten will not consider resocialisations ; but may pursue ‘a living wage’ (though has equivocated on prior commitments to raise minimum wages), and moderate progressive tax reform.

Other Corbyn signature policies include Free Education, preservation of the National Health Service,  efforts to reduce inequality, and an investment in public housing.  This also means a more-progressive tax system; improvement of wages – including for the working poor;  a proper industry policy ; and public investment in infrastructure.  It suggests a Labour Party which treats social democracy seriously ; not a ‘far Left’ Labour Party ; but a Labour Party which refuses ‘Policy Convergence’ on neo-liberalism and ‘right-wing economic consensus’.  The ‘shift to the Left’ is not ‘extreme’, but nonetheless it is the most significant development on the British Left in decades.

Fletcher seems to agree that ‘planning’ is inevitable ; but poses the question “who does the planning?”.  If planning is not democratic, here, do we suppose it is done by the corporates ‘behind closed doors’ ; with many politicians just taking it for granted that ‘the crucial economic decisions’ are not to be made democratically?  That is: that the job of representative government is merely to ‘provide support’ to the corporates – who are the real economic decision-makers.   Nonetheless, comprehensive economic planning by central government is not the answer either. Not least of all because it could result in unacceptable centralisation of economic (and hence cultural, social and political) power if implemented without safeguards.   Arguably we need both ‘democratisation’ AND ‘checks and balances’ in the economy ; which also translate into political, social and cultural ‘checks and balances’.

That said:  what are we to make of charges of ‘Marxism’ ; and is ‘Marxism’ really such a bad thing?

Capitalism is a real ‘mixed bag’ here: a mix of success and chronic failure.

Market economies involve corporations and businesses which can be driven by the market context to respond innovatively to the intricacies of consumer demand ; and allocate resources as efficiently as they can in order to remain competitive.

On the other hand there is the threat of monopoly or oligopolistic collusion ; as well as planned obsolescence.  Some areas (eg: energy markets) exist in a context where product differentiation is difficult ; many consumers would just like to ‘take such things for granted’.  At the end of the day many of them are simply fleeced by predatory corporations. 

So on the other hand while the traditional Marxist aim of ‘centralising the means of production in the hands of the State’ may seem archaic, great swathes of the Marxist critique of capitalism retain force.  What Marx referred to (in Capital Vol I) as ‘the coercive laws of competition’ means that capitalists are constantly driven to revolutionise the means of production.   Historically, this has led to relative material abundance – which Marx saw as ‘a good thing’.  On the other hand, these dynamics result in inefficiencies, including duplication of cost-structures and premature obsolescence.  To offset this capitalism is forced to adopt a posture of ‘perpetual growth’. This can have environmental and social consequences as ‘the economy’ is decoupled from human need ; and instead the emphasis is ‘growth (regardless of actual quality) no matter what the cost’.  Also today’s capitalist economy is truly global ; and arguably capitalism is ‘running out of new markets to expand into’.  This could lead to serious crises into the future with insufficient markets to absorb capitalism’s ‘excess produce’.

Today,  also, those ‘coercive laws of competition’ might result in ‘an unsustainable race to the bottom on tax’ or with regard wages – which means less consumer demand over the long-run.  It can also result in privatisation of essential infrastructure and functions ; which means the State abdicating responsibility for ‘what it does best’.  Hence the possibility of nepotism and corruption in the context of ‘Public Private Partnerships’ for private sector mates ; and/or full privatisations ‘at a relative discount.’

Privatisation of ‘Government Business Enterprises’ (eg: Medibank Private and the Commonwealth Bank in Australia) also means that those enterprises’ ‘social charters’ are lost.  In many cases that included a responsibility to behave competitively.  Reversion to privatisation can mean a return to private oligopoly ; an inferior deal for consumers ; and in the worst of cases damaging collusion.

At the end of the day workers, businesses, citizens, consumers – all end up paying for this.  But many capitalists support the ‘neo-liberal status quo’ for Ideological purposes ; or because they are fearful of “a foot in the door for socialism”.  (more on that later)

Marxism also critiqued the tendency in capitalism to centralise ownership of most capital in fewer and fewer hands.  That observation remains in force ; and the consequence is “the translation of economic power into political power”.  Narrow-neoliberalism is enforced with the zealotry of “an official ideology” ; as are corporate interests.  Unions are curtailed and vilified ; the wage share of the economy falls ; Media Moguls manipulate the climate of public opinion cynically.  ‘Political Correctness’ is constantly beaten up to divide the constituencies of broadly-Left Parties by attrition. A return to the principles of social democracy is dismissed as ‘populism’.  In Australia specifically we have the Conservatives banning labour movement imagery in workplaces (eg: the “Eureka” flag) ; threatening charities who speak out on public policy ; trying to shut down mass movements (eg: ‘GetUp!’) and prevent them from participating in elections.  (and yet at the same time they still talk of ‘liberalism’ and ‘free speech’)

Capitalist societies dealt with problems of distribution via markets and through the dynamics of  ‘supply and demand’.  This was ‘more efficient’ than the ‘waiting queues’ we once heard of in the USSR ; and market forces also meant innovation and responsiveness.  But ‘the market’ also ruthlessly excluded the poor on the basis of ‘capacity to pay’.  In the West arguably we had greater cultural freedom and innovation.  (though perhaps ‘post-the-Cold-War’ the West does not ‘need’ liberalism and democracy as much as it used to for purposes of legitimation ; hence liberties – and perhaps democracy itself - are under threat)  But the ‘economic abundance’ we enjoyed existed in the context of a global economy where the [economic]  ‘Core’ exploited the ‘Periphery’.  For example, American economic exploitation and subordination of Central and South America ; and the emergence of countries like Bangladesh as ‘the sweatshops of the World’.    The ‘World Economic Order’ will also ‘be up for grabs’ with the rise of China and India; and continuing relative prosperity cannot be taken for granted.

But if a ‘traditional socialist economy’ (along the lines of the former USSR) is not the answer, what is?

Firstly in response to those specific issues just raised:  again considering the Australian context ; a socialist energy policy might provide micro-renewable energy for the poor, and for public housing estates (see: the former South Australian Labor Government’s policy as of February 2018) , to reduce demand on the National Grid, and ensure that everyone can enjoy cooling in times of ‘peak-demand’. (eg: Heatwaves)  The ‘leave it to the market’ response, however, would see vulnerable people (eg: the elderly) ‘opting out’ in the process of ‘supply and demand’ – despite the fact they are the ones who need the product most.  (and human lives are at stake!)  Meanwhile importation of textiles from enterprises who ruthlessly exploit their workers – including unsafe working conditions – might be banned.

More generally: Probably the best Leftists can expect in the foreseeable future is to forge “historic compromises” which deliver security, freedoms, opportunity and happiness for the masses they represent.  We should talk about Marxist ideas on socialism and communism honestly and not closed-mindedly.  But if ever the world does approximate Marx’s ‘authentic communist ideal’ it might never occur strictly via the path Marx predicted. The industrial working-class might never return to the economic pre-eminence that Marx predicted, and to a significant extent as he observed in its early development.  This also means the industrial working class might no longer be considered the ‘universal subject’ bearing ‘universal liberation’.  The reality will be much more ‘messy’ ; and the task is one of building alliances ; and indeed what Gramsci may have called a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’.  This is exactly why efforts to divide the Left’s constituencies against each other are such a threat.

A more ‘rational’ economy means – to begin with – setting the public sector free to do what it does best.  Efficiencies arising from Natural Public Monopolies ; and more competitive markets in the context of Government Business Enterprises with ‘social’ and ‘competitive’ charters ; can mean a ‘better deal’ for everyone . (workers, citizens, business)   And ‘collective consumption’ (via tax) of essential social goods and services (eg: Health, Infrastructure, Education, Welfare Services) also results in a ‘better deal’.   Extension of the public sector in this way does inevitably involve ‘planning’.  And while central planning might not be advisable for an entire economy, there is a strategic place for it.

Most of the OECD is also far from emulating ‘the Nordic Historic Compromise’.  In Australia, specifically, though, we are well behind the OECD average with regard our Tax to GDP Ratio as well. Extrapolating from the percentage gap between Australia and the Nordics, Australia would need to raise tax by around $300 billion/year to match Nordic tax to GDP ratios.  (The current figure may be slightly lower: The OECD recently placed the Nordics at around 45% of GDP ; though Wikipedia suggests in the vicinity of 50% - with 54% for Finland ; Perhaps Wikipedia is somewhat out-of-date ; sadly the Nordic Model continues a slow retreat) And redistribution via tax remains an important lever to ‘grow the social wage and welfare state’.  (which are vehicles not only for redistribution and fairness, but also for ‘efficient collective consumption’)  

But that kind of change ‘does not happen over-night’. A medium term objective for Australia, then, might be to match the OECD average ; and progressively raise an additional $80 billion/year (in today’s terms) ; or otherwise put: raise progressive tax by 5 per cent of GDP.  In the rest of the ‘Anglosphere’ (USA, Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand) progressive parties could do to think on a similar scale over the medium term.

Beyond this Leftists could also think in terms of a ‘democratic mixed economy’.   That is: an economy based on a strategic mix of competitive markets and planning ; but also promotion of economic democracy at a range of levels.  Let the public sector do what it does best ; and don’t necessarily be narrowly Ideological or traditional in determining this. (for instance, strategic and limited public investment in print media may be a ‘cultural imperative’ : where ‘legacy media’ retain great cultural power ; are centralised in the hands of a few ; and where the quality of journalism is declining in that context)  But where market forces act more to the benefit of society than not – then democratise those market forces.  This can mean State Aid in support of mutuals and co-operatives on both a large and a small scale. (both producers’ and consumers’ co-ops)  That could also involve ‘public sector co-investments’ with co-ops to help them maintain the scale necessary to remain competitive.  In specific contexts regions could also contribute: where local jobs are at stake.  It can also mean policies for democratic collective capital formation, and also for (union-friendly) co-determination.  ( ‘Democratic collective capital formation’ refers to a range of policies from Superannuation in Australia (less radical and democratic) to the attempted ‘Meidner Wage Earner Funds’ in Sweden (more radical and democratic) which aimed to compensate workers for wage restraint with collective capital share ; resulting in radical economic redistribution.  ‘Co-determination’ means structural corporate consultation with workers ; including worker representatives on company boards.)

Critics could argue that such policies are ‘a foot in the door for [democratic] socialism’.  And indeed they might well be.  But the ‘Keynesian Post-War Historic Compromise’   - which benefited workers and citizens – was in the interests of business as well.  Resurgent social democracy and democratic socialism today might also (in some ways) be beneficial to business as well as to workers, consumers, citizens.  We should be able to reach a ‘rational consensus’ around a robust mixed economy where the debate is focused on ‘where to draw the line’.  This would mean Liberals, Conservatives, and the so-called ‘Social Democratic (Blairite) Centre’ ceding Ideological ground.  It would result in a rebalancing of class forces ; and for this alone it would be strenuously resisted by many.  The Nordics show both the potential for delivering ‘a good society’ on the basis of similar policies ; and also the possibility of pitched struggles over ‘where to draw the line’ on economic democracy.  Swedish corporates ‘had their way’ in defeating the ‘Meidner Wage Earner Funds’ in the 1980s.  Again, there has been a ‘slow retreat’ since ; but the overall historic example is still inspiring.

Today ‘Labour’, ‘Capital’ and other social forces could agree that a ‘robust mixed economy’ is pretty-much in the interests of all ; but that what Swedish social theorist Walter Korpi called ‘the democratic class struggle’ will continue on many fronts ; and in this process there are ‘no guarantees’.  In this process we could envisage what Gramsci would call a long  ‘War of Position’ or what Kautsky earlier referred to as a
‘War of Attrition’.  They are different conceptions; but are similar in way ; and both are valid in their own sense. ‘War of Position’ assumes a long ‘counter-hegemonic’ struggle – not only a struggle for the state ; but for society’s ‘common sense’ (the Ideological assumptions that are reinforced such as to be ‘taken for granted’ in a given society) ; and the way that Ideology is entrenched in the various institutions and social bodies of civil society. ‘War of Attrition’ meanwhile suggests a ‘wearing down of capitalism’ over the long term ; through social movements, cultural, industrial and electoral interventions – but not a ‘War of Annihilation’ (another Kautskyan term) which assumes more of a ‘frontal assault’ to overthrow the capitalist state.  Importantly, Kautsky supposed there were (rare) circumstances where ‘War of Annihilation’ made sense ; but if pursued under the wrong circumstances this could simply exhaust the proletariat ; see it demobilised or even suppressed or crushed.   ‘Wars of movement’ (the Gramscian term for a ‘pitched assault’ against capitalism) are not to be ruled out in every circumstance ; but where democratic processes could provide ‘a pathway to democratic socialism’, a strategy of ‘revolutionary reforms’ or ‘slow [democratic] revolution’ is preferable.  Though the Left needs to be prepared for the contingency that the bourgeoisie could well ‘dispense’ with democracy itself (as far as it is capable) if its interests are seriously threatened.

Finally let’s remember the underlying human principles of Marxism  ; which were made a cruel mockery of under Stalinist regimes.  Marx saw the material abundance produced under capitalism as creating the economic basis for human freedom.   This could mean a shorter working week, as well as greater opportunity for cultural, social and economic ‘personal growth’ and participation.  In Australia a reformed National Curriculum might also promote active, informed and critical citizenship, amidst a backdrop of tolerance and deep-seeded pluralism.   (though this is more in the spirit of Chantal Mouffe’s  ‘Agonistic’ ‘Post-Marxism’ than the original perspective of Marx) Marx’s overall approach was not a mere ‘bread and water socialism’ ; even though socialists believe there are areas (eg: health and education, water and energy) which demand comprehensive socialised provision.  Indeed there are aspects of the Marxist vision which could be compatible with certain strands of liberalism concerned with personal growth, liberty and empowerment.

Marxism should not be seen as an ‘Ideological bogeyman’ ; especially where terms like ‘cultural Marxism’ are thrown around with abandon – but where few people understand what Marxism really means anymore.   The fact that Jeremy Corbyn is experiencing such resistance to any return to ‘traditional social democracy’ (including substantial disinformation) provides some idea, also, of the resistance and ‘muddying of the waters’ we might encounter if we propose anything more-radical.  But future convulsions in response to capitalism’s shortcomings (or what Marx would have called its ‘contradictions’) are inevitable.  Somewhat ironically: in the ‘big picture’ socialists could well hold the key to ‘saving capitalism from itself’ even while setting the foundations for surpassing it with a far more democratic and free society much further into the future.

April 2018

Monday, January 29, 2018

Left-Turn necessary for Labor at this year’s National Conference to end narrow ‘Policy Convergence’

by Dr Tristan Ewins ; ALP member of over 20 years

In 1998 radical American Leftist intellectual, Noam Chomsky made the telling observation that:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum....”

Another name for this phenomenon is ‘Convergence Politics’.

In Australia there is ‘Convergence’ on the economy, with debates focusing on relatively minor differences ; but where heated debate on the so-called ‘Culture Wars’ fills the vacuum.

Every day in the mass media we are subjected to the positions of ostensibly “Centre Right” and “Centre Left” political parties.  But in reality the ‘relative centre’ has shifted way-right on the economy since the 1970s.  And dissent against that orthodoxy is minimal. Where it occurs it is modest.

The Hawke-Keating years saw convergence on ‘economic neo-liberalism’  in Australia – and there has been no significant turning back since.  Kevin Rudd attempted a Mining Super Profits Tax but was quickly ‘disciplined’ by the mining industry, and removed in short order with a ‘palace coup’.  For a time Sam Dastyari focused attention on corporate tax evasion.  But while corporate tax evasion arguably costs the Australian people tens of billions annually, in reality Dastyari’s proposals were minimal. (in the hundreds of millions)  Julia Gillard delivered a National Disability Insurance Scheme, but it was argued that  ‘savings’ had to be made elsewhere to compensate; the  logic of which was thereafter embraced more enthusiastically by the Liberals.

Under Bill Shorten Labor has committed to reforming Superannuation Tax Concessions, making some cuts in the applicability of Negative Gearing, and reforming Capital Gains Tax Concessions. ‘The Guardian’ argued in 2016 that these measures would save $100 billion over ten years.  This is substantial in the relative scheme of things ; but less impressive when you consider inflation.  Perhaps after that is factored in we’re talking about around 0.5% of GDP in a $1.6 trillion economy.

Shorten received a lot of Kudos from the Australian liberal left (for instance Fairfax journalists) for these ‘bold’ policies. But the fact these measures are considered so remarkable only underscores the reality of ‘Convergence Politics’ in Australia on the economy.

Meanwhile vigorous debate rages in the context of ‘The Culture Wars’. The Equal Marriage debate has been won.  But at a cost whereby Australia’s economic and cultural Right-wing are attempting to claim substantial Christian strata as a ‘base’.  (But this should not be taken for granted; it should be fought ; socially-conservative should not necessarily mean economically-conservative  or economically-Liberal ; nor should ‘Christian’ necessarily mean ‘socially conservative’) 

And now debate turns to the date for ‘Australia Day’ and the content of the National Curriculum – or at least how it is applied in Victoria. 

These debates are truly important. They are more than ‘distractions’.

After the ‘Australia Day debate’ the next logical step is for a Treaty with indigenous peoples.  And Conservative attempts to promote a National Curriculum which mixes Ideological Liberalism with uncritical nationalism – are deeply concerning.  But Labor’s position on the National Curriculum is also arguably too-conservative.   Arguably the National Curriculum should promote  ‘active, informed and critical citizenship.’  Which means deep and inclusive pluralism when it comes to informing students of the interests, social movements and ideological perspectives that have comprised Australian society. Here I am thinking along the lines of ‘post-Marxist’, Chantal Mouffe’s ‘radical pluralism’ , or ‘Agonistic Democracy’ ; and how those principles might be reflected in curricula.

 Nonetheless these debates are more ‘tolerable’ for capitalists and the wealthy than debates which question neo-liberalism, labour market deregulation (but no right to strike),  and ‘small government’.  (Though perhaps the debate on Education is less ‘tolerable’, here, than the Equal Marriage debate.  There is the potential to detract from narrow emphasis on ‘labour market demands’ ; and to encourage critical thinking and active citizenship which may meaningfully strengthen our democracy).  

The debates are substantial ; are not ‘merely distractions’ ; but the way public debate is presented these debates do constantly and over-the-long-term deflect attention away from a substantial, more wide-ranging debate on the economy, and especially economic power and inequality.   

Debates are also framed in such a way as to divide Labor’s traditional constituencies ; with the decline of class as a central ‘reference point’, and erroneous assumptions of ‘essential working class conservatism’ and ‘aspirational’ mentality’. ‘Political correctness’ is also regularly beaten-up in order to weaken Labor’s base via attrition.  In response Labor needs policies and language which promote social solidarity.

But anything which truly questions ‘Convergence’ is summarily dismissed as ‘Hard Left’.   Outgoing Labor President Mark Butler has made welcome demands for internal democratisation . But his description of British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn as ‘Hard Left’ is regrettable. Corbyn is trending towards something more ‘traditionally social-democratic’ ; and has plans for railroad and utility re-nationalisation  that would ‘set a precedent’ whereby decades of privatisation are not necessarily permanent.  The policies are progressive, but not radical ; and Butler’s dismissal of Corbyn shows that ‘Convergence thinking’ still has a strong grip even within the ALP Left.

What would a ‘break’ from Convergence Politics look like?  The author of this article has been working on an updated  (unofficial)
“Model Platform” for Labor (currently in draft form) which is suggestive of a genuine reform footing for the ALP.  As a democratic socialist my long-term aim is the eventual surpassing of capitalism with a truly fair, rational and democratic economy. But even Marx understood that the transition from feudalism to capitalism took centuries. (though Marx did think socialist revolution a nearer prospect at the time)  And now there is the likely prospect ‘a clear and genuine break’ will not occur in our lifetimes.  Though the prospect of further crises and economic convulsions is nonetheless real.  Perhaps ‘barbarism’ is the more-likely prospect ; though we have to fight.

On the other hand, many on today’s Left still look to the Nordics for inspiration.  The Nordic model may not have ‘abolished’ capitalism ; but what some see as ‘the end goal’ is not everything. Billions of people will live in the context of historic compromises we fight for over the decades to come.  Their security, opportunities and happiness truly mean something with or without the over-arching capitalist context.  Yet sadly most in the Labor Party have not supported policies which meaningfully progress Australia towards something ‘Nordic-inspired’. 

The ‘ALP Model Platform’  (otherwise ‘For an Equal and Democratic Australia’) , suggests a short to medium term orientation, which breaks with ‘convergence thinking’, and has the meaningful aim of reaching the OECD average Tax to GDP ratio over as long as three terms of Labor Government.  That means raising progressive tax by $80 billion/year in today’s terms, or 5% of GDP.  (keep in mind the economy is worth over $1.6 Trillion)  It falls far short of the Nordics. (perhaps over $300 billion/year would be necessary) But it is suggestive of meaningful and substantial progress. (no more ‘one step forward, two steps back’ ; ‘the forward march of labour re-commences’)

What this means is substantial progressive restructure of Australia’s tax mix ; funding big improvements to the social wage, welfare, public provision of infrastructure.  It also means National Aged Care Insurance ; slashing hospital and public dental waiting lists ; industrial rights and liberties including a ‘re-regulation’ of the lower end of the labour market which delivers to the working poor ; strategies to improve life expectancy for indigenous Australians and the mentally ill ; progress towards free higher education ; support for mutuals and co-operative enterprise – with strategic public ‘co-investments’ which help these maintain the scale necessary to remain competitive ; an end to insufficient and ‘punitive’ welfare ; a big investment in public housing ; and much more.  These are central to the ‘ALP Model Platform’: a document intended to influence debate leading up to Labor’s National Conference this year in July 2018.

Those who want to support the Model Platform can ‘Like’ the ‘ALP Model Platform Supporters’ Page’ at Facebook and take part in debate there.

Labor has long been a ‘broad church’ with its own ‘internal pluralism’, and that is not likely to change.  But Labor should straddle the political ground across ‘traditional’ social democracy to democratic socialism ; and arguably there is also a place for what may be called ‘classical’ social democrats.  (radicals inspired by the original (largely Marxist) social democratic parties ; and those who followed in their wake)

Arguably a  strong radical-left can also contribute to the climate of culture and public opinion as well.  The Communist Party of Australia never had serious electoral success.  But it was a cultural and industrial power.  Ultimately it broke with Stalinism, also ; and in many ways that legacy is important and valid. 

In the US, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has been registering impressive gains in membership. They intervene within the Democratic Party ; but at the same time they are more broadly-based. They demonstrate how a Left movement can be a cultural, political and electoral force ; but not be restricted to a single electoral strategy.  DSA includes radical perspectives, but are not narrowly Leninst.  Perhaps a similar strategy could also ‘bear fruit’ in Australia ; with a strong challenge against ‘Convergence’ – which all progressives should agree has to end.

The ‘ALP Model Platform' Supporters’ Page can be found here: (PLS Join!)

The current draft of the Model Platform can be found here:

Please join the supporters group ; and get like-minded friends to join if you support a strongly-progressive but realisable platform for the ALP.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The State of Aged Care in Australia Today - by Sharyn Ladiges

by Sharyn Ladiges  (ALP member and activist)

It’s been 20 years since the government brought in the Aged Care Act 1997 to deliver a new model of care for older Australians who could no longer live at home and required assistance with daily tasks. The act aimed to facilitate choice and independence for the elderly, and direct services to those with the greatest needs.

But the legislative change also coincided with an era of advanced ageing and more complex needs in our elderly.

People who had previously entered low-level residential aged care (then called hostels), are now cared for in the community. Once they enter aged care, they’re older and sicker than before, and have more complex needs. Since 2008, the number of older Australians admitted to a residential aged care facility has remained steady, but the proportion of people with high-care needs has progressively increased.

Older and sicker Australians

Currently, around half of people living in aged care have dementia, depression, or another mental health or behavioural condition. The proportion of older people requiring high care for complex needs, which includes assistance with all activities of daily living such as eating and bathing, has quadrupled from 13% in 2009 to 61% in 2016.

When the act was introduced, more emphasis was placed on supporting older people to remain at home for as long as possible. Now, the transition to permanent care only occurs once all options have been exhausted. The needs of the elderly population often outgrow the available community aged care support. This then requires an admission into one of Australia’s 283,000 (subsidised) residential aged care beds. As a result, our aged care facilities are increasingly functioning as hospices for the frail elderly with complex care needs.

The main flaw of the act was to repeal the legal requirement for all aged-care facilities to provide 24-hour registered nursing care to assess and manage resident’s changing clinical needs, wounds and unrelieved pain. So residents have minimal access to this. Too few have access to the necessary help from a geriatric medicine specialist (doctor), psychologist or social worker. And their families have minimal access to psychological and social support, and bereavement follow-up.

Why was the act introduced?

The 1997 act replaced two outdated and confusing 1950s laws to create a single statutory framework for Australian aged care services. It detailed the responsibilities of aged-care operators in relation to quality and compliance. It also empowered the relevant minister to set out principles covering matters such as quality of care, accountability and user rights.

The introduction of the act fuelled a much-needed capital works program funded by low interest bonds from older people entering residential aged care. This was meant to make aged care facilities more home-like, while also meeting care needs.

A major achievement of the act has been the amalgamation of hostels (social care accommodation for older people) and nursing homes (frail aged accommodation with 24-hour nursing care) into a single, user-pays regulated system. Now, people live in one institution, but are classified as having either low-care or high-care needs.

This was to provide older people with an opportunity to “age in place”. So, to have a seamless transition into higher-level care as lower-level physical care needs intensified; and to ensure people living in an aged care facility received all of their care needs in one location.

Major pitfalls of the act

The act’s repeal of the legal requirement for 24-hour nursing care reflected the social model of care underpinning the legislation. The idealistic yet impractical philosophy took the focus away from nursing and medical care. So now, the bulk of personal care is provided by a pool of untrained and unregulated aged-care workers supervised by a very small number of registered nurses.

Registered nurses employed in aged care are central to assessing, planning, monitoring and delivering complex care to older people living in these facilities. But there are too few registered nurses (and they are often managing the facility) so they have limited capacity to ensure the older person’s function, comfort and dignity is optimised, their mobility maintained and dependence minimised.

These skilled nurses also have few opportunities to ensure the resident’s family members receive the appropriate level of psycho-social and spiritual support they often need. Primarily because they’re dependent on the unskilled workers alerting them to changes in the resident’s condition or the families concerns.

Aged care facilities lack the clinical infrastructure of our hospitals. So, if a registered nurse is not on duty, there are few people the unskilled care workers can call for timely clinical review.

If the GP can’t be contacted and the registered nurse is not on duty, an ambulance will be called and the frail older person will be transferred to hospital for assessment.

What needs to happen

Numerous inquiries have highlighted the need for a skilled aged-care workforce to ensure older Australians have access to the level and quality of health care they deserve. These health care gaps persist largely because the act’s principles, while possessing the status of law, are not subject to the same parliamentary control and public accountability.

A new nursing skill mix model is urgently required in aged care to address the level of unmet health care needs. At a minimum, the act should be amended to stipulate appropriate staffing requirements for the delivery of direct clinical care, including the presence of at least one registered nurse at all times. As part of the skill mix, a higher ratio of registered nurses and enrolled nurses supported by a team of care workers is required.

The availability of a nurse practitioner, with advanced training and prescribing rights, and a geriatrician to all aged care facilities would do much to improve timely access to medical care. It’s also likely the addition of this tier of health professionals into aged care would reduce the need for unnecessary emergency department presentations. These are often distressing for the resident and their family, as well as being costly to the system.

Unfortunately, the act fails our most vulnerable members of society and their families by not providing them with the skilled nursing, medical and allied health care they require in their last year, weeks or days of life.

Afterward (by Dr Tristan Ewins, blog publisher)

Sharyn Ladiges
has described the evolution of the Aged Care sector very well, and has made a compelling case for "a new nursing skill mix model" which would include a registered nurse on site at all times.  This has long been a core demand of Aged Care workers, nurses, and families. Also broader 'staff to resident' ratios are necessary to ensure all residents in high intensity care receive the care they need ; including regular turning to prevent bed sores and so on.

Arguably, though, we could do with a National Aged Care Insurance Scheme model involving relatively comparable resources as the National Disability Insurance Scheme  - but hopefully learning from any problems which have been experienced in the implementation of that model.  This would provide comprehensive services for all in need of any kind of aged care: ageing in place ; low intensity residential care ; high intensity residential care...

Firstly we need to get rid of user pays: for both high intensity and low intensity Aged Care (and 'ageing in place') ; and fund fully from progressive taxation.  User pays mechanisms have often been onerous ; have forced the sale of family homes ; have weighed relatively heavily on some working class households.   Aged Australians from all kinds of backgrounds should have access to the same very high quality Aged Care services as one another ; where no-one experiences relatively inferior quality care on account of socio-economic background.

Secondly we need to ensure *happiness* and mental health as well as physical health.  This means ensuring social and intellectual engagement for people of a variety of backgrounds and interests.  It could mean outings ; forums ; access to information technology ; creative and artistic activities ; listening to or even playing music ; mediated discussions ; access to books ; reading and discussing the papers, current affairs, the news ; watching and discussing films, and so on.  This needs to be addressed in both low and high intensity care, and for those 'ageing in place'.  Perhaps more effort and resources need to be put into addressing loneliness amongst those 'ageing in place' alone as well.  High quality food needs to be ensured for all as well ; as does privacy; and access to pleasant surroundings - eg: gardens ; where possible sunshine ; and so on.

Finally , we need to be taking a close look at the 'for profit' part of the residential aged care sector.  Private providers should not be gouging residents and families ; and the sector needs to be thoroughly regulated to prevent 'short-cuts' and so on to reinforce 'bottom lines'.  We need more emphasis on the state sector and on 'not for profits' ; and subsidising these to ensure the highest quality care for everyone.

Thanks again to Sharyn Ladiges for her informed overview of the development of the sector and the issues it faces today.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Philosophical arguments about religion at Christmas

In the light of the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse some people are claiming a general redundancy of Christianity, or even religion in general. How are we to respond these claims (some even go so far as to claim religion is socially-damaging such as to warrant its suppression)? I will argue that there are philosophical reasons still to take Christianity – and religion more generally – seriously. The response will mainly be philosophical – except to express right from the outset my distress at the acts of the abusers, and my hope for justice and for the reform of the churches.

We might begin by exploring some broad philosophical questions.

It's become 'basically accepted' on much of the Left that atheism (and philosophical materialism) represents 'enlightened' opinion. This is the case in sections of the relative Right and Centre as well. Yet most atheists (most likely philosophical materialists) have no answer for the questions: 'how to explain free-will'? ; 'how to explain consciousness?' That is: except to claim consciousness and free will are simply matters of complexity rather than *quality*. And whatever the source of those - what happens when you die?

Assuming there is not merely some physical 'tipping point' where consciousness arises; how do we explain phenomena which are transcendent and do not make sense in ...the purely 'mechanical' schema of cause and effect?

Personally I am strongly influenced by Marxism (depending where you draw the line I might even still think of myself as a Marxist) but I have long harboured misgivings regarding pure philosophical materialism. Importantly, 'philosophical materialism' (the notion there is only 'matter' with no spiritual realm and no 'transcendent' properties) is different from 'historical materialism' or 'dialectical materialism' (which trace the place of economic systems and class struggles in shaping history).

Marx's view also descended from the Young Hegelian critiques of religion as 'self-alienation' (ie people became 'slaves' to doctrines and 'hypothesised beings' of their own creation). Insofar as some doctrines are purely-human creations there is weight to this critique.

One philosophical position, 'Cartesian Dualism', supposes transcendent properties of mind to explain this. Also in the 19th Century the 'Marburg School' and those such as Hermann Cohen (Neo-Kantians) considered a marriage of Idealist/Ethical and Marxist theory. Perhaps that is still of value today.

So maybe there is an after-life for us. Maybe we die - but some part of us lives on in some form. And if this were so, what kind of existence would there be in this 'afterlife'? What of 'the reincarnation of the soul', claimed, for instance, by Hindus and Buddhists? Do we remember past lives? Is there some kind of 'Heaven'? Are there 'unseen dimensions'? Or is the 'afterlife' as brutal as the natural world, which we have only effectively imposed our wills upon during the relatively brief period of civilised humanity? Perhaps life is like a veritable 'minefield', and certain religions (like Christianity) suggest 'a way through'. Finally possibly there is 'nothingness' for us, or at least a very long rest (perchance to dream?).

Importantly, Christianity is divided on the question of 'spiritual resurrection' or 'bodily resurrection', 'faith versus works' and so on. Some Christians might be concerned that I retain doubt about these and other aspects of the faith. But for me there is an interplay of hope and belief. I admit my faith is not perfect, but hope is better than hopelessness. There is still hope for peace of mind and the kind of good and decent life that might follow from that.

And it's not just the Abrahamic religions which have believed in 'the spiritual' but also a whole host of pagan religions with very complex associated beliefs. From Sumer and Ur to Babylon, to Greece and Egypt and Rome. And also consider other (non-Pagan) religions: Hindus, Buddhists and so on. How is it, for instance, that there are clear similarities, say, between Jewish and Hindu mysticism? Is it really all 'made up'? Or do commonalities suggest different religions may be attempting to apprehend the same reality?

If you approach the philosophical issues seriously it's not as 'cut and dried' as you may think ; no matter how fashionable atheist (philosophical) materialism has become.

Some claim the redundancy of doctrines reaching back over 2000 years and more. For instance, imagine "stoning adulterers" in Western societies today! That said many people have attempted, and are still attempting, to "modernise religion". Consider the Reformation; the response of the Counter-Reformation: and Christian churches' grappling with liberalism and the Enlightenment over hundreds of years now.

Largely (with important exceptions) the response of many Christians has been to liberalise. Though sadly the doctrine of 'Papal infallibility' arguably detracts from the ability of Roman Catholicism to respond to and learn from its mistakes (for instance the sweeping dismissal of socialism in Rerum Novarum).

Maybe one day we will fully understand why ancient and contemporary religions have believed as they have. Assuming there is a 'spiritual realm' maybe one day science will openly apprehend it. The Ancient Greek philosopher Democritus suggested the existence of atoms thousands of years before it was scientifically proven in the 19th and 20th centuries AD. And today science is arguably progressing more rapidly than any time in human history.

Some argue "what use believing in what you cannot perceive?" This was certainly Marx's view. He urged humanity to face the world "with sober senses". And to let go of the "opium" of religious belief. Which he understood as easing the pain of the oppressed while detracting from the cause of liberation in the world (not 'beyond' or 'from' it).

But so long as people don't have definitive answers and are questing after hope you can't blame them for exploring religions! Some may point to 'Pascal's Wager': that there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from believing in God. (I like to think my belief is more than a cold calculation however!) Indeed Marx's position in this regard also rested on an article of faith: that 'reality' was only as confirmed by the senses and that, increasingly, there was nothing left which was 'unseen' (especially given the enormous leaps in scientific understanding which were progressing in the 19th Century ; the century, amongst other things, of the Industrial Revolution). The progressive accumulation of scientific discoveries since Marx's time suggests there is still plenty to be scientifically 'uncovered' even in the 21st Century.

One of the most significant problems with religions is that cynical people will exploit other peoples' sincere search for spiritual truth and hope in order to mobilise those people as a 'power base' in the world. And in a way which was not originally intended by the founders of various faiths. I think there is something deeply wrong with that. Arguably this happens with secular ideologies as well - and pretty much any organised interest or system of beliefs.

As a Leftist Christian I also worry at the possible consolidation of Christian communities as a political power base by the Conservative Right: which can only be facilitated further by those escalating voices of intolerance against the faithful (ie against their liberal right to practice their faith).

So religions are deployed regularly to rationalise bloody conflicts and that has also been the case for thousands of years.

In response Faiths have to engage with each other for the sake of peace and co-existence. Those cynical interests (mentioned earlier) will exploit differences in order to create conflicts and ultimately wars, which determine spheres of influence and power in the world. Innocents more often than not 'get caught in the middle'. They become 'fodder' for the 'power-plays' of cynical manipulators.

But at Christmas I still believe that the 'true' Christian church lives on in people who find God and Christ in their own way. Despite the manipulations that go on (wrongly) in the name of religions.

While I have little to do with worldly churches I still consider myself a Christian. I believe in the "unseen" as well as the seen. And I refuse the extremes of 'worldly' material acquisition: the pursuit of exponentially-increasing personal wealth by a small minority under capitalism.

Marx understood that material abundance could lead to a kind of freedom 'in the world'. Freedom from the need for alienating labour, and hence a recasting of the division of labour, enabling much fuller personal development and fulfilment (personal growth through the pursuit of art, philosophy, science and so forth). In other words "the good and decent life (in the world) for everyone".

That said I reject the waste, exploitation, repression, inequality and poverty that goes with capitalism and the subordination of everything to the endless accumulation of personal material wealth. And I believe there is a basis for this in Christianity.

And I believe that a critique of capitalism itself might be derived from scripture.

And yet perhaps "liberation in the world" alone is not sufficient given the human condition; humanity's striving for hope; and unanswered questions as to "what next?" What of eternity?

Finally at Christmas I consider the following from the book of Micah:

"…act justly….,love mercy and…walk
humbly with your God."

Peace and best wishes this Christmas.

This Essay is Dedicated to my Mum, Amy Ewins : I pray we will meet again.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Left-Wing Letters to 'The Age' and the 'Herald-Sun'

What follows are another series of Left-inclined 'Letters to the Editor' I have sent  to 'The Age' and 'The Herald-Sun' between July and November 2017.  Subjects include everything from 'Cultural Marxism' to 'Bracket Creep' and the Australian Welfare System. 
PLS feel welcome to discuss.
Only a few of the Letters were Published ; but I'm hoping consideration of the content here will justify the effort put in to writing the material

Capitalism and the Threat of Destitution

David Penberthy writes as if homelessness and destitution have nothing to do with capitalism. (Activists no help to the homeless, 13/8/17)  Unfortunately this is not the reality. Under capitalism most people do not own significant stakes in businesses themselves.  They have no choice but to sell their labour power to capitalists in order to survive.  In this system average workers can be ‘disciplined’ (kept in line) by the threat of sinking into a class of working poor.  And the working poor in turn are ‘disciplined’ by the threat of destitution ; sinking into an underclass of destitute and homeless.  This is actually functional for capitalists seeking to depress wages and conditions.  The situation is further worsened by ‘punitive welfare’. Benefits are low ; often below that sufficient for subsistence. (scraping by)  Savings must be exhausted to acquire Newstart. Workers’ bargaining power evaporates under these circumstances.  Also emergency housing, welfare and so on cost money. But even Labor governments are continually under pressure to deal harshly with the unemployed ; to cut spending in order to make room for corporate tax cuts and so on.  And attempts to ameliorate the condition of those affected is branded “class warfare”.

What are Shorten’s Tax Plans in Reality?

The Herald-Sun is waging a campaign against what it argues will be an increased tax regime under Bill Shorten. But so far Shorten’s proposals are in fact too modest. Reform of Trusts will bring in maybe one sixteenth of one per cent of GDP. (approximately $1 billion a year out of $1.6 trillion)  Negative gearing reforms will bring in a similar amount.  Contra the Herald-Sun, these reforms will tend to bypass low to middle income earners. Apart from this the Herald-Sun is emphasising Shorten’s resolve not to deliver Turnbull’s $65 billion corporate tax cut over 10 years.  The problem is that when you cut taxes this way it has to be made up for somewhere.  So corporations get a windfall – but Medicare might be ransacked for cash. To get a sense of proportion – it would take perhaps $400 billion in new taxes to bring in enough money to pay for a Swedish-style welfare state!  But if Shorten devoted an additional 2% of the economy ($32 billion) in a first term to reform of Health, Aged Care, Education and Social Security – surely that  would be a reasonable measure from which most people would benefit.

Bolt’s Double Standards on Liberties

Andrew Bolt (August 24th) argues against what he says is a ‘totalitarian’ Left.  But if Bolt is to adopt the cause of liberal rights let him do so without hypocrisy.  Let’s see if Bolt is willing to support rights of speech, association and assembly - without punitive laws, and without the dispersion, vilification and criminalisation of protest movements such as that once associated with the “We are the 99 per cent” cause, occupations against homelessness and so on.  Once the consensus on liberal rights breaks down everyone is potentially at risk.  Both Left and Right need to avoid double standards on liberal rights ; and that includes “celebrities” such as Andrew Bolt. Meanwhile attempts to shut down councils wanting to change the date of Australia Day celebrations – suggests a Federal Government which is not serious about reconciliation with Indigenous Australia.

Refuting Bolt on Welfare

The Herald-Sun (27/8) editorialises that “Welfare is Not a Right” and advocates a crackdown against the unemployed especially.  But at the same time provides scant room for the expression of the contrary view: that Australia already has one of the most punitive and austere unemployment regimes in the developed world.  Instead, the Herald-Sun ought argue for the kind of labour market and industry policy regimes that exist in Denmark.  This requires many billions to work ; but the returns in terms of the creation of more high-wage jobs – pitched to workers’ skill sets – makes it a price worth paying.  Meanwhile Newstart could do to be increased by a minimum $1000/year, indexed.  Job-seekers who cannot even afford transport, decent clothes or internet already have little chance of finding work.  Newstart provisions (introduced under the Turnbull Liberals) forcing job-seekers to exhaust much if not all of their savings before receiving support also need reconsideration. Where’s the incentive to save when losing your job could cost you everything?

Labor’s Modest Tax Agenda

Chris Bowen is laughing off claims by Scott Morrison that Bill Shorten is promoting a ‘socialist’ agenda.  In reality, Bill Shorten is talking about very moderate tax reforms that so-far will struggle to raise $4 billion a year. Or roughly one quarter of one per cent of GDP.  But there's a problem with such suggestions being “laughable” as well.  And that Labor has come to depend on such claims being laughable. Cert...ainly Labor are not outwardly democratic socialists. That applies probably to most Labor MPs 'internally' as well. But the Libs win by default if Labor is too scared to talk about democratic socialism, redistribution, economic democracy, social wage and welfare reform, industrial rights, public ownership and so on. For instance, Labor should be aiming to match the OECD average on tax (roughly 34% of GDP)  and associated social expenditure over several terms. In order to fund reform of education, health, aged care, infrastructure, welfare and so forth.  If Labor 'wins' on the Liberals' terms then the Liberals win anyway - through Labor’s internalisation of their economic and social assumptions and values. Even if Labor achieves government, under those circumstances Labor (and the people Labor represent) lose.

The Truth about the ‘Luddites’ has Lessons for us Today

Rosemary Tyler (Letters, 10/9) mentions the ‘Luddites’ and their response to the Industrial Revolution, comparing them to those who resist Clean Energy today.  But there are important differences.  The Luddites were not just ‘mindless wreckers of Progress’. They were largely skilled crafts-people who were resisting ‘proletarianisation’ and the de-skilling of their industries.  They were forced from their homes ; compelled to be wage slaves in dangerous factories ; reduced to bare material subsistence; compelled to suffer 12 hour days and worse.  They lost creative control over their labours and their labour’s products. The capitalism of the Industrial Revolution created a foundation for economic and scientific progress ; but it often came at a terrible cost.  Today, also, modern capitalism rests upon the brutal exploitation of ‘peripheral’ economies such as in Bangladesh ; but also often the exploitation of working poor within the ‘first world’ itself.  Privatisation is arguably the main driver of the current energy-affordability crisis ; But if re-socialisation is not considered an option (it should be!), other measures must be taken to ‘immunise’ low income workers and pensioners during the transition to renewables and beyond.

Turnbull ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ on Energy

David Ingliss (Letters, 25/9) writes that the “electricity crisis” is the result of “rabid Green ideology”. Let’s get some things straight, though.  The current Conservative Government has had years to prepare for the closure of coal-fired plants such as Hazelwood. It’s Turnbull who has been “asleep at the wheel”. Also global warming is not an “Ideology” ; it’s a scientifically-verified environmental crisis and not necessarily to do with political values. Hence our response SHOULD be bipartisan. Further, if energy had not already been privatised the decision on what to do with the old energy infrastructure (and when) would have been the choice of governments.  Instead it’s out of our hands. If we had kept the old SECV which Ingliss refers to in public ownership arguably energy would be cheaper, and battlers would receive cross-subsidies.  Instead privatised or corporatized energy production and distribution – combined with shrinking economies of scale (as those who can afford to switch to micro-renewables) – means  ‘battlers’ are left with a spiralling cost of living.

Privatisation and Tax Cuts a ‘Two Edged Sword’ at Best

The Herald-Sun (27/9) proclaims the headline “Budget Repair: Nation $4.4 billion better off”.   And Scott Morrison has been boasting the Coalition Governments ‘success’ in bringing government spending down to 25% of GDP.  But do lower levels of government expenditure on services, infrastructure, and social security really improve our ‘national well-being’?   By contrast government spending in Sweden is at approximately 52% of GDP.  (A $400 billion difference if translated proportionately to the Australian context)  The difference is that in this country we have User Pays in everything from Aged Care to Higher Education – which hits those on lower incomes especially hard.  While the Conservatives provide ‘corporate welfare’ with tax cuts valued at about $60 billion over a decade, we treat the unemployed like criminals and allow barely enough (or not enough) for them to subsist and effective search for work.  We neglect state education by comparison ; and we are forced to opt for private provision of infrastructure – which ends up costing consumers AND business more in the end.

Coal Seam Gas a Risk

The Herald-Sun (27/9)  editorialises “Drop ideology and drill” : directing its attention squarely at Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews.   But Coal Seam Gas drilling has extreme risks – such as water contamination and contamination of land.  These risks have nothing to do with “ideology” ; and neither does the need to reduce carbon emissions in the face of a virtual scientific consensus on global warming. Also energy plants like Hazelwood have shut down – increasing the risks of an energy shortage - something governments were left with no control over as a consequence of past privatisations.  Hazelwood had to close sooner or later : but under public ownership could have continued until the State was ready for the transition.  Finally, Australia has ample reserves of gas without resort to coal seam gas (fracking) but the Conservative Government has not properly regulated the industry ; meaning this gas could be exported while at home we experience black-outs. Knowing all this it is Malcolm Turnbull who has been “asleep at the wheel on energy policy” for years ; and now is interested in blame shifting.

The Truth about ‘Cultural Marxism’

In response  to Dr Andrew P.Retsas (3/10/17) : while it’s true that Marx has nothing to do with many modern discourses on sexuality, some interpretations (eg: from Engels on ‘The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State) emphasise the potential of communal social solidarity and organisation compared with dependence on the monogamous nuclear family.  But the reality is that the vast majority of Marx’s work is to do with the struggles of workers to overcome exploitation and oppressive working conditions ; and enjoy opportunities for personal growth through engagement with philosophy, science, art, music and so on.  Critiques of ‘cultural Marxism’ ignore this, and try and use Marx as a ‘bogey’. Marx wants workers’ freed from the oppressive conditions of existence and labour – which in certain ways still prevail today.  Some seeing themselves in the Marxist tradition (eg: some from the ‘Frankfurt School’) lost faith in the working class, so instead looked to racial and sexual minorities, students and women. (for instance Herbert Marcuse in ‘One Dimensional Man’ (1964) But the Heart of the original Marxism is still the self-liberation of working people ; and “From each according to ability, to each according to need” as a doctrine of liberation, human solidarity and justice.

Education must Support Democracy

Anthony Gilchrist complains that “the socialist left has…infiltrated the education system” (Herald-Sun, 12/10) . A few points in response.  Firstly, education should support democracy.  That ought mean political literacy and support for active citizenship. That does not mean ‘indoctrinating’ with one doctrine or another ; but preparing students to make their own free decisions in a democracy in keeping with their interests and their adopted value systems.  Socialism has a place here, as do liberalism and conservatism.  A strong democracy means pluralism (ie: real choices) and not just ‘convergence politics’.  What Gilchrist calls “victim” politics might simply be citizens speaking up for their rights and interests in a democracy.  If we never questioned injustices, indigenous Australians and women would never have gained the vote.  And workers would never have achieved the 8 hour day.

Stop Vilifying Vulnerable People on Welfare

The Herald-Sun (23/10 ‘Trillion Dollar Handout’) is developing a pattern of effectively vilifying vulnerable people in the context of attacks on Australia’s already threadbare welfare system.  In reality the lion’s share of the welfare system is taken by the Aged Pension. (which funnily enough the Herald-Sun rarely talks about) Meanwhile for the vast majority unemployment benefits, disability payments and so on are ‘social insurance’ which ALL of us pay for via our taxes. Instead of vilifying the vulnerable we need an industry policy which actually facilitates the creation of decent jobs.  (as opposed to driving the car industry out of the country as the Coalition Government has done) And given activity tests already exist for Newstart there is no excuse not to raise the payment significantly: in part to support people as they search for work ; during which they need access to decent clothes, transport, internet access and so on.  Further, if the Herald-Sun wants to break the ‘dependency cycle’ and ‘poverty cycle’ it should agree to greater support for sole parents and low-income families ; and provide greater scope for Disability Pensioners to escape poverty traps by engaging in flexible work without losing a very significant part of their payments via means tests.   When those with a serious mental illness are dying on average 25 years younger than other Australians they are not ‘having us on’ or ‘rorting the system’.  See:

All the Usual Complaints from the Right on Socialism

Tom Elliot (27/10)  makes all the usual complaints about socialism that you hear from the Right. But what is socialism really meant to be? I wrote my PhD on this topic so I have a clue.  The totally-reasonable principle underpinning Marx’s philosophy was ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’.  What is more Marx believed in achieving abundance and recasting the division of labour so every individual had the opportunity to engage in science, art, philosophy, popular culture and so on.  Everyone has the right to personal growth and fulfilment. This – and Marx’s passion for extending democracy across the political and into the economy – is what distinguishes him so clearly from those who abused his name ; using it to justify totalitarian regimes.  Countries – such as Sweden and Denmark – who have advanced socialist principles to some extent – have also enjoyed prosperity, equality, full employment and happiness.  We need a genuine pluralism in this country where democratic socialism is part of the debate.

More on ‘Cultural Marxism’

Chris Zappone (The Age, 13/11)  is right to be critical of the widespread condemnation of ‘cultural Marxism’ by people who don’t really even know what Marxism is.  In fact many Marxists were extremely concerned about ‘the cultural turn’ from the 1970s onwards ; with the embrace of ‘identity politics’ and the abandonment of themes of class struggle, economic justice and of the promotion of a democratic socialist economy. On the other hand the intellectual movement began by Adorno, Horkheimer and others was real, and is still real.  But it is very diverse ; and attempts to brand it as some ‘homogenous’ entity comprise something of a moral panic.  Adorno and Horkheimer especially were despairing of the prospects for socialism in an era of totalitarianism ; but they also critiqued popular culture in the West as a medium of social control.  Later critical theorists like Jurgen Habermas were more hopeful ; and Habermas promoted a theory of ‘communicative action’ which supposed a progressive consensus may be possible through dialogue. Contrary to right-wing assumptions about ‘critical theory’ Habermas was decidedly within the Enlightenment tradition.

Kevin Donnelly is Wrong on the English Curriculum

Kevin Donnelly (HS, 16/11) again takes the English curriculum to task, accusing it once more of left-wing bias.  But the modern English curriculum is about more than spelling and grammar. It is about communication life skills which empower students, including the critical analysis of texts.  This need not involve a bias towards the Left or Right.  It is about comprehending and criticising the assumptions beneath texts of both a Left or Right-wing inclination ; and also those which don’t fit within that framework.   The modern English curriculum is also about encouraging students to develop and express opinions. Again, this need not involve a prejudice towards the Left or the Right.  But it does empower students to make informed commitments on social issues , and to express their associated beliefs effectively. There are some Conservatives (but not all I’d argue) who feel threatened by this.

Tax Cuts, Corporate Welfare and Bracket Creep

The Herald-Sun (20/11) editorialises in favour of tax cuts to compensate for bracket creep. A few points in response.   Bracket creep tends to flatten the income tax system over time ; to make it less progressive.   But tax cuts emphasising the upper end can also exacerbate this.  The most equitable way of dealing with bracket creep is to INDEX the lower thresholds to ensure those on lower and middle incomes don’t end up paying proportionately more.  But progressively-sourced increases in tax should not be ruled out.  After all, tax is necessary to pay for Medicare, schooling, roads and so on ; and a National Aged Care Insurance Scheme could be funded via progressive tax ; providing for the health, happiness and dignity of older Australians.  Certainly sweeping Company Tax cuts amount to ‘corporate welfare’ ; where corporations fail to contribute fairly to the infrastructure and services they benefit from ; and hence everyday taxpayers are made to ‘pick up the tab’.