Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

More Letters from a Labor Activist : Dec 2016 – Jan 2017




What follows are another series of letters I have written to the ‘Herald-Sun’ and ‘The Age’during the December 2016 to January 2017 period.   None were published.  But I hope it sparks some thought and some debate amongst readers here at ALP Socialist Left Forum.

Topics include 'Cultural Marxism' , Labor Policy, Pensions,  Green Energy and who pays?,  Islam and Education, Female Genital Mutilation,  What to do about Poverty?, and 'Bolt and Panahi need to Work Out Which Side they are On on Civil Liberties'.....


Dr Tristan Ewins


Hysteria on ‘Cultural Marxism’

"P.Jones (Letters, 29/12/16) again raises the spectre of ‘cultural Marxism’ ; evoking the remnants of Cold War era fear of those movements bearing the name of Karl Marx.  But ‘Critical Theory’ and the ‘Frankfurt School’ (the proper names of the traditions referred to as ‘cultural Marxism’) are radical intellectual traditions which have very little to do with the Totalitarianism and Stalinism which once prevailed in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.  Critical theorists promoted personal freedom, dignity and fulfilment ; and they rejected attempts by Stalin and his successors to crush the independence of radical thought.  Some critical theorists have also promoted the peaceful transition to a democratic socialist order through mutual engagement based on the powers of human reason.  They also subjected past Marxism to criticism on the basis that radicals needed to be open-minded about confronting past errors.  Considered in context, ‘cultural Marxism’ does not deserve ‘the bogey status’ imposed on it by Conservative intellectuals and others who either do not really understand its content ; or otherwise want to distort perceptions in order to create fear and prevent change."



Labor needs a Stronger Agenda ; and not only Defensiveness on Company Tax

Responding to ‘The Age Letters 7/1/17’: While Labor’s opposition to Company Tax cuts is welcome, Australia needs a more robust reform agenda: improving our social wage and welfare state, and providing for vital infrastructure.  Hence a National Aged Care Insurance Scheme to roll back regressive user pays;  and improve quality of life for our most vulnerable. Superannuation tax concessions for the wealthy and the upper middle class could be cut, bringing in tens of billions.  In addition to Capital Gains Tax and Negative Gearing reforms, Australia could also look to phased withdrawal of Dividend Imputation. Reversion to a 75% credit alone could save over $5 billion/year.  Because of their progressive potential, reform of income and other progressive taxes (eg: Medicare-style Levies) should not be ‘taboo’.  Presumed ‘pull factors’ regarding Corporate Taxation can neglect the impact of education and infrastructure in attracting investment.  Infrastructure privatisation increases cost-structures.  And there are economic and moral dilemmas associated with ‘corporate welfare’. Citizens and taxpayers effectively subsidize corporations benefitting from services and infrastructure ; because of a more regressive tax mix (flatter, and/or focusing on consumption) and also indirectly through austerity. Poverty and inequality also affect consumption power, damaging the broader economy.  


The Problems with Tightening Pension Eligibility

Frank Stubbs (Herald-Sun Letters, 7/1/17) argues “the pension is not a right” ; that it should only go to the most needy.  But there are problems with this argument.  In the 1980s Labor introduced superannuation while means-testing pensions.  This enabled a focus on ‘targeted welfare’ ; where we could have both a regime of low taxation – and necessary supports for the genuinely vulnerable.  Superannuation made all this possible.  But before this the Aged Pension was considered a right.  Primarily because people had paid their taxes their entire working lives – and had earned that security.  But “rights” must also be a matter of human decency ; such that we must not allow the vulnerable to struggle in poverty – even if they cannot work.  The problem with superannuation is that it might increasingly see the marginalisation of the Aged Pension, and those dependent upon it.  The consumption power of low income Australians is also affected, harming the economy. In the future conservatives may demand further tightening of pension eligibility; and that would marginalise pensioners, giving rise to further self-interested cries from business, the middle classes, the wealthy -  for pension cuts.   There’s a potential future social cost to cutting pension eligibility.



AN Important Question on Green Energy:  Who Pays?


In response to Matt Johnston (13/1): It is necessary to take action on renewable energy to respond to global warming.  But an additional concern is “who pays?”  Currently, renewable energy is more expensive.  And while many households are taking up ‘micro-renewable energy’, a great many others are ‘locked out’ because they simply cannot afford the investment. But as middle class families opt for micro-renewable energy, this damages the ‘economies of scale’ of the legacy centralised energy industry.  The cost of ‘poles and wires’ and other infrastructure is divided amongst a smaller consumer base.  So consumers on low incomes are forced to pay more.  This is worsened by privatisation: which means providers will pursue profits and avoid cross subsidies for the financially disadvantaged. “Micro-renewables’ are probably the way of the future: but in the meantime governments need to take stronger action to ensure financially disadvantaged customers don’t bear the cost.  Subsidies of various kinds need to negate the entire effect on affordability for low income customers during this transitional period.  (Until technology improves and prices fall)  The timeframe depends on the priorities of government and the progress of research and development.


Responding to Kevin Donnelly on Islam and Education


Kevin Donnelly (Herald Sun, 2/1/17) criticises Islam as ‘inherently violent’ while defending ‘the Western tradition’ against its apparent detractors on ‘the Left’.  Some things need to be stated in response to this.  Firstly, it is partly a matter of convenience.  The ‘West’ supported the Mujahedeen (Islamic fundamentalists) against the Soviets during the Cold War, despite what this meant for women in Afghanistan. Further, Islam is diverse – and potentially open to reform – perhaps like Christianity and Judaism have been.  (partly because of the historic intersection of Christianity with liberalism) In some places ‘a (liberal) Islamic reformation’ may actually be a good thing. (further reform of the Roman Catholic Church would also be good) But in the meantime we should not promote notions of ‘cultural superiority’ to justify interventions which are really geo-political in nature. Also when we defend ‘the Western tradition’ and ‘the Enlightenment’ we should be clear what that means.   It means supporting free and critical enquiry.  The consequence of this also must be that education is not only for ‘fundamentals’ of numeracy and literacy.  There is a crucial place for the Humanities and Social Sciences – in combination with a progressive civics agenda – which promotes political literacy and active citizenship.  Authoritarian responses to protest and civil disobedience are counter to the freedoms we celebrate which originated with the Enlightenment – and the liberal and democratic revolutions that followed.



Responding to FGM:  How Prevalent is it in Australia?

Rita Panahi (16/1) makes some points about the most reactionary practices  Islam, mentioning child brides, ‘honour killings’, and female genital mutilation. Despite allusions to a so-called ‘regressive Left’ any Leftist worth their salt could not help but oppose those practices.   Of course we must support women and girls who oppose and fight against these practices. But there are other complications. Firstly it is unclear how widespread  FGM is in Australia.  In 2010 the ABC reported that 700 cases were presented to the Melbourne Royal Women’s Hospital.   But in 2011 the total Australian Islamic population (all creeds considered) was nearing half a million.  So its important to keep perspective: to support the rights of women and girls ; but also to be aware of possible ulterior motives. Strong cultural differences can be exploited to justify geo-political and strategic objectives.  We need to keep cultural difference and strategic/geo-political issues separate so as to avoid confusion and remain clear about the real motivations and interests behind our foreign policy.

References:





What Must we actually Do in Response to Poverty?

In the Herald-Sun letters section recently there has been some good discussion of poverty. But the problem is on such a scale that it will never be overcome through charity ; and we need action - not only talk. Only government can provide the resources for a definitive solution. That calls for a stronger, fairer welfare system for disadvantaged groups, the elderly and the unemployed ; a fairer, progressive tax mix ; and labour market re-regulation at the lower end.  It also calls for a stronger social wage ;  including more funding for public health and education ; as well as for public housing and emergency accommodation, and energy and water subsidies.  It might also include better-subsidised public transport and internet access. (these are now essentials - for instance it is virtually impossible to search effectively for work now without them)  It could include an active industry policy which offers ‘flexible’ work favourable to employees’ needs ; preventing those such as retrenched auto workers being relegated permanently to unemployment.  And it could involve greater flexibility for pensioners to take on casual or part-time work without foregoing their pensions ; hence avoiding poverty traps.





Bolt and Panahi Need to work out where they Stand on Civil Rights

Andrew Bolt claims “Leftists hate our freedoms” while Rita Panahi gives thanks for liberal freedoms she enjoys in Australia compared with theocratic Iran.  But at the same time Rita Panahi has dismissed civil libertarians as ‘do-gooders’.  And for all his talk, Andrew Bolt has never had anything to say against anti-protest laws introduced by past Liberal governments in New South Wales and Victoria. That includes ‘move on’ laws that criminalised freedom of assembly ; and laws in NSW which could see protestors jailed for several years for civil disobedience.  As well as Federal laws criminalising ‘whistle-blowers’ who reveal details on the treatment of refugees.  Journalists like Panahi and Bolt need to decide what side they are on when it comes to liberal and democratic rights.  It is true that parts of the Left qualify freedom of speech where they believe that speech could be socially harmful.   Other Leftists are nonetheless concerned at possible precedents which could help result in a far more general retreat of liberties.  And the ‘pressure cooker’ effect of suppressed (and sometimes manufactured) grievances which can explode with the rise of populist, far-right-wing movements.  Reality is more complex than you would think reading Panahi and Bolt.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Letters from a Labor Activist ; November/December 2016


above:  Humanity does not Live by Bread Alone ; What about Democracy and Political Literacy in our Educational Curricula?


Letters to 'The Age' and 'The Herald-Sun' from a Labor Activist (November/December 2016) ; Everything from ‘Public Debt Shibboleths’ to Privatisation, Defending Democracy,  The Right Protest, Education for Politically Literate and Active Citizenship, and more ; Please feel welcome to read and comment on the articles, share via Facebook and so on.


Dr Tristan Ewins


Is there a public debt crisis?
  Or is the Crisis one of Private Debt?



(Debt letter One)  (Unpublished)  Regularly we are warned of the ‘immense threat’ of government debt.  But its best, here, to use the measure of ‘net debt’ which also includes revenue from government assets.  (instead of ‘gross debt’ - which does not)  For example, with the privatisation of assets like the Commonwealth Bank gross debt fell, but net debt worsened significantly.  Australian Government  net debt was recently measured around 18 per cent of GDP : approximately $285 billion in an economy around AUS $1.6 billion.  But HOUSEHOLD debt – ie: the debt owed by Australian individuals and families – is over 100% of GDP -  over $2 TRILLION.  Private debt is clearly the bigger threat. The Liberals try and offset private debt with public austerity – in health, education, welfare, infrastructure. But these areas are often more crucial to our well-being than private consumption.  So arguably we need a BIGGER social investment in these areas as opposed to cuts. We need a more balanced approach ; containing debt long term – without gutting public services and infrastructure, or destroying  jobs and growth.  And now is a good time to invest in potential income bearing (and other) government assets – on account of low interest rates.  A big investment in public housing could also make housing more affordable –  making significant inroads into private household debt.  We also need an industry policy to achieve full employment –and full time jobs for those who want them.  That could offset an ageing population without resort to measures like raising the age of retirement.




(Debt letter Two) (Published) Bruce Hambour (Herald-Sun Letters, November 2016)  writes that debt is getting so out of control that welfare must be cut to rein it in. But why start by cutting the payments for some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians when there are other options?  Why not drop massive corporate tax cuts, and other tax cuts for the well off?    Why not cut back Superannuation Tax Concessions – mainly beneficial to the well-off – whom taxpayers are effectively subsidising by tens of billions every year?   Also public sector debt is actually negligible compared with private debt.  (approx. 30% of GDP compared with 200% of GDP)  The housing bubble hasn’t helped ; and what’s needed are big investments in public and social housing (to increase supply), and in infrastructure and services (to ensure quality of life).  Also Conservatives attempt to play the working poor of against the vulnerable welfare-dependent.  (divide and conquer) That’s better fixed by raising the minimum wage, and improving the social wage for the working poor.

Herald-Sun Op-Ed Describes Labor Left Opposition to Privatisation as “Extremist”.


(Published)  James Campbell (Herald-Sun, 24/11) depicts Labor Left opposition to privatization as ‘extremist’.  But what grounds are there for this opinion?   Most Australians did (and still do) oppose privatization of important government assets.  And the longest-serving Australian Liberal Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, presided over a relatively larger public sector (and more steeply progressive income taxes) than Labor governments of the 80s and 90s.  The ‘extreme’ tag is a flippant way of dismissing an argument without having to engage or justify your position.  ‘Natural public monopolies’ (eg: in water, communications, energy) would reduce costs for the broader economy.  And Medibank Private’s recent privatization saw private health insurance costs rise as the newly-privatizated corporation arguably began abusing its market power.   The Commonwealth Bank can also make profits close to $10 billion now.  That means our net government debt position is much worse now because of its privatization.  Since its privatization there have also been problems with fees, and the quality of services for regions and financially disadvantaged customers.

Herald-Sun letter calls for ‘Technocracy’ in place of Democracy


(Unpublished)   Simon Hammond (Herald-Sun, 26/11) claims democracy is to blame for weak and indecisive government .  Instead he suggests a kind of ‘government of experts’. (a technocracy) But the problem is not democracy ; it is particular practices such as poll and focus-group driven politics ; and ‘gotcha’ politics’ which neglect the substance of policy choices.   Another problem is the major parties all aiming for ‘the centre ground’ ; not standing up for their beliefs. (‘Convergence politics’)   That means weaker pluralism. That is, less choice.  In fact we need a stronger democracy.  A free multi-party system is meant to ensure scrutiny of public policy and social issues ; but often media neglect the substance ; and politicians respond by playing to shallow agendas.  We need to transform our society ; which could be achieved partly through educational curricula for active and politically literate citizenship ; which is ideologically inclusive and  encourages students to think about – and stand up for
- their values and interests.

Responding to Andrew Bolt on the causes of the Trump Victory


(Unpublished)  Andrew Bolt calls the Trump election victory “a revolt against the Left’s arrogance” (Herald-Sun, 10/11). But reality is more complex than this.  A neo-liberal consensus  - a particular INTERPRETATION of ‘globalisation’ - has prevailed around much of the world, facilitated by BOTH the parties of the Right and of the ostensible Centre-Left. Working class people who had lost their identity, as well as their economic and social security with the destruction of their jobs – gravitated towards a promise to restore America’s industrial base.   Trump’s old school protectionism might not be the answer, but Nordic-style, targeted industry policy might serve better.   Policies which promote high value-added manufacturing alongside Research and Development, and promotion of information and communications technology industrial development.   The US Left needs to actively court the working class – including white males – with policies that offer the respect and security which could be key to building a broad electoral bloc, and rolling back Trump’s support base.



Why Scott Morrisson and the Liberals are Wrong on Company Tax Cuts

(to both the Herald-Sun and The Age ; Unpublished)  Today (28/11)  it was distressing to see Treasurer Scott Morrison in Question Time defending massive cuts to Company Tax.   He referred to Trump’s objective of a 15% corporate rate, and suggested Australia needs to be ‘competitive’.  But the United States had enjoyed a maximum corporate rate of 35% for many years under both Republican and Democrat Administrations.  Elsewhere, the reality is that high quality social services, education, infrastructure are ‘pull factors’ for investment as well.   And this needs to be paid for somehow.  The Conservative approach is ‘corporate welfare’.  That is: the corporate rate is cut - but workers, pensioners, families ‘pay the price’ one way another.  Through unfair ‘replacement taxes’ like the GST , or through a neglect of services and infrastructure which is arguably bad for investment anyway. We need international agreement to stop ‘the race to the bottom’ in corporate taxation.  Without this the economy will suffer anyway – as ‘corporate welfare’ takes income away from the very workers  whose consumption supports the domestic economy. 


Feminist Revolution must take account of class ; must be based on Mutual Respect and Empathy

(Unpublished)  Trish Thompson (‘The Age’, letters;  30/11) reminds us of “the privileges of being a white heterosexual male”.  But she makes no mention of social class .  That determines our quality of life ; where our kids go to school ; often the quality of our diet and health care; whether we can pay the bills and put a roof over our heads ; what else we can enjoy outside of work.  Other factors include whether or not our work is fulfilling ; and what economic (and hence political) power we have.  Why is class usually forgotten today ; or otherwise relegated to a subordinate position?  Age, body image and disability are also relatively neglected. We are in the midst of what might be called a feminist revolution.  What’s at stake is whether or not that revolution is broadened in pursuit of genuine mutual solidarity and liberation.  Or whether there is a kind of ‘turning of the tables’.  Many men are reacting against discourse they see as inferring ‘masculinity’ and male sexuality are ‘essentially bad’.   Without mutual respect and empathy there will be a reaction and the feminist revolution might fail.



Working Class Men don’t have ‘a lot to gain’ from Deindustrialisation and the Consequence is Unemployment and Poverty


(Unpublished)  Jacqueline Maley  (‘The Age’, 3/12/16)  writes as if men have more to gain than lose through deindustrialisation. The reality, though, is that older skilled manufacturing workers will not find replacement work making use of their skill sets.  And service industry jobs are unlikely to make up for the 50,000 jobs lost in the car industry and supporting industries .  The notion that when men take up service industry jobs that these will rise in stature is questionable.   The balance of trade is another associated concern.  It is a function of capitalism more so than patriarchy that ‘unprofitable’ service jobs are devalued. For example, a better deal for both aged care workers AND residents might ‘eat into corporate profits’ – directly (eg: through higher corporate tax) or indirectly (with a reduction in private consumption power with higher income or consumption  taxes). That said we do need to ‘valorise’ caring (often ‘feminised’) professions.   We need a re-regulation of the most-highly-exploited end of the labour market.  To reform the tax mix and extend the social wage.  Resistance to the extension and improvement of social services is most likely to come from capitalists and their advocates in the so-called ‘political class’ rather than from working class men.

We Must be unambiguous on the Right to Protest ; and stand against even more regressive User-Pays in Tertiary Education



(Part-Published)  David Penberthy  (Herald-Sun 4/12/16) condemns the protestors who disrupted parliament the other day as ‘ratbags’. He goes on to support user-pays in Higher Education, arguing ‘Why should blue collar workers pay for someone’s Law degree?”   In response ; democracies must defend liberal and democratic rights, including speech, association and assembly.  But arguably a mature democracy – which feels secure in itself - accepts there will be occasions where differences of principle become so steep that accommodation must be made for civil disobedience as well.  Such flexibility helps define us as a genuinely *liberal* democracy.   Furthermore: Penberthy’s defence of user pays in Higher Education ignores the fact that were a greater portion of education costs shouldered through income and corporate taxes – then roughly people and interests would pay in proportion to the financial benefit gained.  And if we wanted to reform the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS)  to make it fairer, then we might raise repayment thresholds.  There are many former students on less than the average wage who are forced to repay loans that bear no relation to their actual incomes.  Repayment thresholds have fallen relative to the average wage: and that is unfair.

 

Why Political Literacy, and encouraging Active Citizenship must Have Their Place in Educational Curricula ‘in a strong democracy’


(Unpublished)  There is a developing view (Herald-Sun Editorial, ‘Teach don’t Preach’ , 7/12/16) that ‘politics should be kept out of the classroom’; and that means not only that teachers ‘should not be advocating causes’ – but also that there should be a ‘back to basics’ movement emphasising science and maths.  The problem with this is that education needs to be for life – and while maths and science have their place,  education for politically literate and active citizenship can strengthen our democracy and empower our citizenry to work for their beliefs, rights and interests. To achieve bipartisanship – there needs to be a reformed National Curriculum – which exposes students to the ideas of BOTH the Democratic Left and the Democratic Right, while also imparting an understanding of other ideologies.  As the saying goes ‘man does not live by bread alone’.   An active and informed democracy should have bipartisan support across the Democratic Right and the Democratic Left.

(Unpublished)   Greg Byrne (Herald-Sun, 10/12/16) refers to  education about “gender, ethnicity and class” as “nonsense” that has nothing to do with finding jobs.   But the Humanities and Social Sciences involve research and writing skills ; the construction of detailed arguments , and evaluating complex information.  Also humanity ‘does not live by bread alone’.  (ie:  the labour market and work)  A stronger democracy (based on understanding and participation) rests on citizens’ political literacy (understanding political ideologies, values, movements, processes) and on their powers of expression.   The Humanities and Social Sciences drive us to ask fundamental questions about the human condition ; about ethics ; and thinking critically about democracy, economy and society.   In a strong democracy we must be empowered to make informed choices as citizens – regardless of whether we perceive ourselves as being of  “the Right” or “The Left”.  That means imagining alternatives to current social and economic arrangements in pursuit of ‘The Good Society’. Here,  assessing the balance of wealth, power  and opportunity in society is a legitimate question.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Remembering Fidel



Mourning the Death of Fidel Castro and Remembering
Readers are encouraged to discuss Castro's legacy, and what happens in Cuba now

Tristan Ewins

News today of the passing away of former Cuban Marxist revolutionary and President Fidel Castro.
 

Fidel rose to power through the vehicle of a popular insurgency which overthrew the corrupt US-backed Batista government.
   Turning to the USSR for support, Castro survived arguably hundreds of assassination attempts, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and more.  He built a one-party state – albeit one based on overwhelming popular mobilisation and participation.  Arguably his government was authoritarian: though this must be largely understood in the context of terror attacks, and the aforementioned assassination attempts.   Much like Western intervention in Revolutionary Russia drove Lenin to embrace a spiralling Red Terror (which ultimately descended into Stalinism), Castro embraced authoritarian measures to ward away his adversaries.  Though certainly he was never a monster like Stalin. 

For decades Cubans flourished in the context of a system which prioritised Health Care for all,
  reducing infant mortality, eliminating illiteracy, and reaching out to Cuba’s neighbours  through the vehicle of volunteer doctors and teachers.  Indeed, on many indicators (eg: infant mortality) Fidel’s Cuba out-performed his neighbours, including the United States itself.

Castro was one of the earliest and most consistent opponents of Apartheid in South Africa.
  He actively supported revolutionary movements in Central and South America, including in Nicaragua and El Salvador.  The brutality with which those movements were repressed – with US support – stands in stark contrast with many Western nations condemnation of Fidel’s government as ‘totalitarian’.  Repression of left-wing movements, including the murder of Liberation Theologian Archbishop Oscar Romero ; saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

But when Communism collapsed in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991 Cuba was left exposed to the long-term US Economic Embargo.
   Living standards fell on many indicators.  But still Cubans overwhelmingly supported their government.   Fidel lived to see the Cuban economy recover ; and to see his brother, Raul engage in ‘fence-mending’ with the government of Barack Obama.  Under Raul there were market reforms – which were essential to Cuba’s survival, including its engagement with the rest of the world ;  But Cuba’s identity and orientation remained inarguably socialist.  For instance Cuba remained implacably in solidarity with the Leftist/Bolivarian governments of Venezuela.

All this aside,
 the threat of Terror and assassination do not fully explain or fully excuse repression in Cuba.  There have been extrajudicial executions ; Imprisonment of political prisoners, systemic harassment of critics.  Cuba’s government may have overwhelming popular support: but as Rosa Luxemburg effectively argued in contrast to Lenin and Trotsky: human rights and democracy must always also be rights for those who dare to think and speak differently.  It is easy to romanticise Fidel’s reign given his enormous personal charisma.  But on the Left we must keep in mind the shortcomings, also.  And strive to do better.

Nonetheless for many of us on the Left this is a sad day.
  Fidel achieved so much in his leadership of socialist Cuba.   And socialist Cuba’s survival in the post-Cold War world is remarkable.  Fidel deserves to be remembered for the sum of his achievements and of his legacy.  Some of that is questionable ; but much of it is laudable.   When we remember him let it be in applying those same standards to our own governments ; and the governments of our historic allies.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What the Trump Victory means about 'Political Correctness', 'Anti-Political Correctness' and the American Working Class



above: An Exhausted Hillary Clinton after the Shock Donald Trump Presidential Victory



'Political Correctness' is a common bogey deployed by the Right in order to wedge the Left ; But here 'Anti-Political-Correctness' is the much bigger problem when viewed in perspective ; (As effectively argued by former Keating speech writer, Don Watson)  At the same time the Left needs to 'return to class' ; and engage with opinions we don't like.  The 'political pressure cooker' alternative may blow up in our faces...


Dr Tristan Ewins

In response to the surprise Trump victory in the US Presidential election  I’ve written a couple of letters to Australian newspapers : though neither published yet.  Before engaging in a broader examination of ‘political correctness’ and ‘anti-political correctness’  (which I thought I’d deal with in response to some negative commentary) – here are the letters in their original form.

First to ‘The Age’:

Hard as it may be to believe there’s a silver lining to the US Election result. Instead of being taken for granted one way or another, both Republicans and Democrats will now have to take account of the needs of the US working class. Bipartisan support for the neo-liberal interpretation of globalisation will need to be re-thought. In the mid-West and elsewhere the industrial working class and its sons and daughters have long suffered a deindustrialisation which robbed them of social and economic security and identity. The Right also increasingly uses narratives of ‘Left elites’ and ‘political correctness’ to drive a wedge against the progressive Left. An unambiguous return to class politics could sweep the rug from under that strategy. The old Left made the mistake of taking working class support for granted. Some in today’s US Democrats make the opposite mistake of ‘writing white male workers off’. What we need is a strategy to build a multi-faceted electoral bloc based on a politics of solidarity, mutual respect, and mutual liberation.


And also to the ‘Herald Sun’ ( a counter to Andrew Bolt):


Andrew Bolt calls the Trump election victory “a revolt against the Left’s arrogance” (10/11). But reality is more complex than this. A neo-liberal consensus - a particular INTERPRETATION of ‘globalisation’ - has prevailed around much of the world, facilitated by BOTH the parties of the Right and of the ostensible Centre-Left. Working class people who had lost their identity, as well as their economic and social security with the destruction of their jobs – gravitated towards a promise to restore America’s industrial base. Trump’s old school protectionism might not be the answer, but Nordic-style, targeted industry policy might serve better. Policies which promote high value-added manufacturing alongside Research and Development, and promotion of information and communications technology industrial development. Instead of taking their orientation for granted, the US Left needs to actively court the working class – including white males – with policies that offer the respect and security which could be key to building a broad electoral bloc, and rolling back Trump’s support base.


After I had posted one of these at Facebook I got the response from one reader:

I see, so white males are the most important in all of this are they?

I was surprised at this as I thought many on the Australian Left could see the problems with US politics ; that is – the lack of a clear class perspective; and hence the political alienation of a great many American workers.  Great swathes of the American working class have been co-opted by Conservative interests who play ‘divide and conquer’.   This is similar to the situation in Australia.  For instance where certain media outlets play the working poor off against some of the most vulnerable welfare recipients.  

That strategy is detestable ; but has proven quite effective.

The best response it to build solidarity – and promote the rights and interests of both those on benefits AND the working poor.   More robust labour market regulation and social wage provision for the ‘working poor’ is a crucial strategy in response to those Conservative ‘wedge strategies’ in Australia.

In the US, however, the Democrats have allowed themselves to be wedged by propaganda which emphasizes themes of  ‘political correctness’ , ‘Left cultural elites’ and so on.  (also similar to Australia) What’s more, modern identity politics has paved the way for this strategy’s success.  The class perspective was abandoned.   There has been an emphasis on the privileges of white men – but where class just never comes into the picture.   At its most vulgar and simplistic this is interpreted by some as suggesting there is something just ‘essentially bad’ with white male identity, sexuality and status.  

Race and gender no doubt need to be seriously taken into account when constructing a critique of privilege and power in modern capitalist societies.
  They are a big part of the overall picture.  We need greater equality in the labour market, the public sphere, sport, the home, and so on.  We need a women’s movement which demands these – and more.

But as former Keating speech writer Don Watson effectively argued on QandA recently (I paraphrase) : ‘political correctness can be bad’ ; although ‘anti-political correctness is much worse!’.
   

The lack of tolerance for real engagement with more conservative social perspectives : indeed the tendency to supress debate for fear of being vilified or shamed – actually plays into the Right’s hands.  It can create a ‘pressure cooker’ environment which can finally explode with the rise of a Trump-like character.  And if people are already disengaged because no-one is speaking to their economic and social interests ; and because they are prejudged as ‘red-necks’ – that just facilitates the Conservative agenda.   (not that Trump is ‘traditional Conservative’)

But sure
 - the monopoly mass media does the same thing – but in reverse.  Mostly it fails to engage with progressive perspectives.  Systemically excludes them on any significant scale. Often it facilitates that strategy of ‘divide and conquer’.  It facilitates intolerance, fear, ‘downward envy’ and so on.  Often it is intellectually dishonest.

Compared with so-called ‘political correctness’ the ‘anti-PC’ movement
 is so frightening as it could facilitate a full-on political and social Reaction : perhaps even fascism in some instances.   There is a disposition to wind back past gains: social security and welfare ; affirmative action and women’s right to choose ; the welfare state and social wage. Civil and industrial liberties are mocked, belittled and trivialised.

Here I had chosen in one of my letters to mention white working class men specifically because of their strategic importance ; but also because they matter as human beings ; and should just not be ‘written off’.
 Karl Marx argued for the human liberation of ALL working people.  Facilitating the fullest possible human development of all working people ; and the amelioration (and finally abolition) of alienating forms of human labour under conditions of material abundance.  That is: Marx critiqued physically and/or mentally punishing labour with people treated people like ‘cogs in the machine’.  Where labour was for subsistence ; and its fruits are taken by capitalists in the form of a surplus.  So emphasising peoples’ class interests could be ‘the foot in the door’ – to gain peoples’ trust for a broader strategy of mutual solidarity ; and of building an unbeatable electoral bloc. 

I like to think of the strategy I propose as one of ‘mutual liberation’.
  The aim, here, is not to write off or humiliate those demographics who are considered ‘problematic’.  But rather to suggest that the liberation of each is interconnected with the liberation of all. This should involve a real conversation: about democracy, and about class, race, sexuality, liberal rights, education and civic activism, and gender.   

In Australia right now it could be argued we’re wrapped up in veritable ‘cultural revolution’ with regard to gender and sexuality.
  Broadly this revolution is a good thing.  But arguably sometimes ‘the Left’ gets it wrong.  Privilege can be conceived of in a overly-simplistic way: not only neglecting social class , but also age, disability, body image and so on.  What is more: real privilege is complex.   If we are to employ an approach of ‘intersectionality’ (ie: the various forms of privilege and the ways in which they intersect) we need to use those more complex variations on that framework : which look to specific experiences.  Not ONLY the large scale social relations of inequality and oppression ; but ALSO the highly individualised experiences.   When we accept this we can see that we ought not judge any person until we fully understand their individual circumstances.  Without accepting this we are left in the position of unnecessarily alienating some people: people who might otherwise be convinced if there was a strategy of respectful engagement.  

But where the project of liberation is subverted into becoming a project of ‘turning the tables’ this also can fuel a political and social reaction.
  It can ‘blow up in our faces’ with exactly the opposite consequences to what we aspired towards.

So the Trump electoral result is a real wake-up call for the broad American Left.
  ‘Class’ has to return to the front and centre of progressive American politics.  Promotion of working class interests is a good thing in itself ; but also ‘a foot in the door’ for a broader engagement on the project of mutual human liberation. 

Active and targeted industry policy is a desirable strategy to engage with the needs and aspirations of the traditional industrial working class.
  To achieve full employment ; and the creation of secure, well paid jobs.  The movement for a $15/hour minimum wage needs to be fully embraced – and even updated to account for inflation and a rising cost of living. Industrial rights and liberties are paramount.   The neo-liberal interpretation of free trade and globalisation needs to be re-thought in a way which does not undermine popular sovereignty.  While nonetheless encouraging nations to take advantage of each others’ specialisations and comparative advantages.   And making the most of everyone’s  ‘skill sets’ ; not leaving them on ‘the labour market scrapheap’. And the benefits of the social wage and welfare state need to be sold to layers of the working class which used to enjoy such benefits provided through the private sector.
Finally I should mention the fact that despite being slaughtered in the electoral college vote, Hillary Clinton won a clear majority of the popular vote.   In this scenario the ‘industrial rust belt’ really was critical to the Trump ‘electoral college landslide’.  That’s the sense in which we have ‘a silver lining’.  That those displaced by a decades-long process of deindustrialisation must finally be taken seriously.  That workers’ interests more broadly will be embraced as being of real strategic value.  That the working class will no longer be practically ‘invisible’ in American politics.

The question of Trump’s ‘mandate’, however - and the ‘mandate’ of the Republicans more broadly – needs to be viewed in this context.
  Also it is cause to apply a critical eye to the US electoral system.  It demands constitutional reform.

Finally: although Bernie Sanders will not likely re-emerge as a Presidential candidate in four years time, nonetheless the movement he helped create is far from exhausted. If anything it may gain momentum if Trump’s failure to deliver disillusions parts of his base.
  Economically Left: they are in a position to appeal to workers’ interests.

Hillary Clinton has not ‘shattered the glass ceiling’.
  And indeed while her victory would have been of great symbolic importance – it is actually POLICY and how it affects specific groups which matters most.  Clinton will not likely return ‘for another shot’ in four years’ time.   But also it really is only a matter of time before a woman ‘takes the top job’.  Also she was the first woman candidate to run in a US Presidential election.  And she won the popular vote.  Regardless of her flaws: that will go down as history.