I've been wondering for a long while why I'm not sufficiently left-wing to be accepted amongst lefties as one of their own, nor gung-ho enough to be a marketeering neo-Christian hypocrite, which seems to comprise the Right these days. Clive Hamilton 's Quarterly Essay, 'What's Left?' may have answered that for me. A tad flippantly, I tried to sum up how I felt a couple of years ago here, but Hamilton's argument is of course a thousand-fold more elegant and extensive. Read an extract here.
To summarize what Hamilton's argument, the reason that the Labor party has so neatly inverted itself is because its unfailing efforts on behalf of the working class (poor men) has proved so successful. Workmen on $50,000 a year aren't being oppressed any longer. Hamilton argues that the supplementary left philosophies of feminism (women), multiculturalism/antiracism (minorities exploited for cheap labour), gay rights and environmentalism are flagging, their forces spent after their political capital was exhausted through success.
This is why I'm not really left wing - because there is no longer any immediate need for me, or most people to become involved in justice politics. Hamilton admits there are glaring ommissions in the general advancement of equality - Aboriginal health, for one - but that the major work of traditional left-wing politics has been done. I agree. There are still remnant socialists, spending their lives trying to blot out memories of Mao and Stalin by loudly dubbing John Howard a Nazi; still identity politics aficionados trying to clamber up the final tenth of slippery slope to something called equality, to equality with straight white men, when all the historic evidence shows that group solidarity comes about through oppression, not success.
What Hamilton doesn't touch on (at least, as far as I've read) is that the Labour social-democratic model has proven itself as a method of raising people out of class divisions. So, my pipe-dream suggestion for Labour is this: To prevent further infighting, factional wars, election failures and general self-destruction, both wings of the Australian Labour Party should look to Keating, the Asian-focussed neo-liberal neo-Laborite, and immediately outsource themselves overseas, where there is genuine need, where working classes still exist and class divisions are ethnicized and keenly felt, where unions are needed more than anything else, where politics and emotion are vividly part of life. Try Papua New Guinea for an intractable starter; stop in Indonesia and fight on behalf of the non-Javanese, non-Indonesian military, on behalf of the ethnic majority against the richer Chinese shopkeepers and business owners, take on the Phillipines where hostages are the conduits for Robin Hood politics, taking from rich Chinese and giving to the militant dumpster dwellers; help the rural and non-Han Chinese gain political traction against the newly-urban Communist Party, industralists, militarists, nationalists. Look to the Party's brave past and the massive gains it has made in Australia to raise the working class into aspirational territory; replicate this model rather than dithering between Right and Left when the words have almost entirely lost their historic meaning.
I find it intensely interesting when people of any political persuasion come up against the contradictions inherent in their chosen philosophy. So, for example, when a conservative Christian tries to justify the death penalty by ducking and weaving around Thou Shalt Not Kill like a boxer. Or when a sanctimonious leftie tries to lay claim to being both feminist and a cultural pluralist, as if the patriarchy is something found only in white Western societies. It lends itself to some innovative self-blindness, as they try to juggle the accepted new left wisdom of tolerance and the hallowed old left gospel of equality for women. Most seem to solve the problem in the same way physics has dealt with the currently impossibly problem of equalising laws on a micro scale with laws on the macro scale. On their own, the posited laws governing small-scale movement of atoms and the tiny subatomic flora are experimentally accurate, but they do not work when applied to large scale movement of spheres like planets. Same goes for the large laws, which don't work when applied to small things. So the status quo is two seemingly incompatible ideas coexisting quite happily. Political-minded people have the same adeptness at accommodating flaws in their ideas and, if confronted, are able to ready decent defences. One phenomenon I notice is the idea of isolated frames of reference - so feminism is only applied locally, whereas cultual tolerance is meant to be applied both locally and abroad.
I'm trying to start up a regular thinking night at my place, in Melbourne, Australia. I want to fend off intellectual drought and the attraction of television, now that I'm a working drone partaking of The System. Drop me a comment if you're at all interested. Yes, I'm somwhere in the Fitzroyalty-Carltonia nexus of impoverished privately-schooled uni students and people who can pronounce latte successfully.