“Ideology as a word evokes a negative response. That is because we think of ourselves as having a vision and values, while people we disagree with have ideology. But whatever you choose to call it, as Labor plumbs the depths, it is clear we don’t like our politics without it.”—Lindy Edwards, "Why Rudd will rue his pragmatism", Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 2013
“Socialism is, essentially, the tendency inherent in an industrial civilisation to transcend the self-regulating market by consciously subordinating it to democratic society.”—Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, p.242
“Canberra is a city of suburban strip shops that lead to shopping centres in malls that lead to plazas. For decades Canberra life has played itself out in the strip shops that serve most suburbs. The small suburban centres are where you’ll find the best bars, restaurants, music venues, bookshops, cafes and clothing stores. Visitors who go to Civic in search of the city’s ‘life’ miss the point and leave disappointed. Canberra does not readily disclose itself.”—Paul Daley, “Canberra”, p.105
Some things about Canberra irritate - even infuriate - me. Not least its social claustrophobia, its veneer of smug self-satisfaction, its self-absorbed NIMBY-ness and its pervasive self-defeating defensiveness.
Nonetheless, after living here for twenty years I get angry when outsiders revert to the old clichés when criticising the city as a soulless place of endless roundabouts and meaningless public monuments, of sub-standard restaurants - a ‘lights-out’ place populated solely by drone-like bureaucrats and politicians. That these criticisms are made by people who’ve rarely been here, learnt the city’s story of its raison d’etre annoys me more because Canberra, as the national capital, is every Australian’s city.
Canberrans are notoriously satisfied with their lot. They also have a great sense of entitlement. With their big houses, first-class schools, their pristine blue-skied winters and hot dry summers, with their garden suburbs separated by bush corridors in a natural mountainous amphitheatre, with their proximity to some of the continent’s best beaches and skifields, with their beautiful multi-lane traffic-free roads and bike paths, and with their abundant fine restaurants and sporting facilities, why wouldn’t they be?
It’s surprising, then, that they should be simultaneous so conspicuously self-conscious, hyper-defensive and incredulous that Canberra isn’t Australia’s envy.
This is not the type of proud parochialism that has defined the ‘mine is bigger than yours’ grudge contest between Melbourne and Sydney since early colonial days.
No, it’s a tetchy defensiveness bordering on paranoia that is firmly rooted in Australia’s underlying contempt for Canberra, a place that has been vilified and misunderstood since it was named a century ago.
Unless you are part of some Unite-esque scheme to join up as part of a grand revolutionary plan, why would you bother shelling out for a membership card?
Annual conferences are an expensive joke; when it comes to policy, the people at the top are usually a law unto themselves. That only leaves the election of leaders, a ritual that periodically creates small membership surges, before they quickly fall away. Primaries involving registered supporters might be part of the answer, if only as a means of pulling people into parties’ orbits – but unless they fit into a bigger project of collective empowerment, they could just as easily feed the power of the current elites.
Parties, then, need to somehow be both looser and more democratic. But to be loosely organised is often to be dominated by shifting elites, who simply expect members to stuff envelopes and wave flags (witness the US). Democracy necessarily entails a defined body of people. Can all of this be resolved?
John Harris, “Falkirk has revealed the rotten state of our political parties”, The Guardian, 8 July 2013
As relevant to Australia as it is to Great Britain
“Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. The best program, when well argued by the wise and well-intentioned, is assumed to prevail in the end. Political action is disconnected, in this worldview, from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.”—Bhaskar Sunkara
“What is required is a renewed sense of being on the side of the future, not stuck in the dugouts of the past. We must admit that the old forms of the welfare state proved insufficient. But we must stubbornly defend the principles on which it was founded – redistribution, egalitarianism, collective provision, democratic accountability and participation, the right to education and healthcare – and find new ways in which they can be institutionalised and expressed.”—Stuart Hall, “The Kilburn Manifesto: our challenge to the neoliberal victory”, The Guardian, 24 April 2013
“Maybe the most fundamental reason the Left has been suspicious of such [utopian] visions is that they have so often been presented as historical endpoints – and endpoints will always be disappointing. The notion that history will reach some final destination where social conflict will disappear and politics come to a close has been a misguided fantasy on the Left since its genesis. Scenarios for the future must never be thought of as final, or even irreversible; rather than regard them as blueprints for some future destination, it would be better to see them simply as maps sketching possible routes out of a maze. Once we exit the labyrinth, it’s up to us to decide what to do next.”—Seth Ackerman, “The Red and the Black”, Jacobin
“The left still can’t cope with the fact that its ways of organising, priorities and language bear little or no relevance to the lives and habits of others.”—Mark Perryman, The Revolution is Just a T-shirt Away
After the Second World War, the pressure of the countermovement made decommodification the unacknowledged motor of domestic politics throughout the industrialised world. Parties of the working class, acutely vulnerable to pressure from below, were in government more than 40% of the time in the postwar decades – compared to about 10% in the interwar years, and almost never before that – and “contagion from the Left” forced parties of the right into defensive acquiescence. Schooling, medical treatment, housing, retirement, leisure, child care, subsistence itself, but most importantly, wage-labor: these were to be gradually removed from the sphere of market pressure, transformed from goods requiring money, or articles bought and sold on the basis of supply and demand, into social rights and objects of democratic decision.
This, at least, was the maximal social-democratic program — and in certain times and places in the postwar era its achievements were dramatic.
But the social democratic solution is unstable — and this is where the Marxist conception comes in, with its stress on pursuit of profit as the motor of the capitalist system. There’s a fundamental contradiction between accepting that capitalists’ pursuit of profit will be the motor of the system, and believing you can systematically tame and repress it through policies and regulations. In the classical Marxist account, the contradiction is straightforwardly economic: policies that reduce profit rates too much will lead to underinvestment and economic crisis. But the contradiction can also be political: profit-hungry capitalists will use their social power to obstruct the necessary policies. How can you have a system driven by individuals maximizing their profit cash-flows and still expect to maintain the profit-repressing norms, rules, laws, and regulations necessary to uphold the common welfare?
“It would be a great error for the Left to confine its concern about the Government to the latter’s actions during the life of the present Parliament: for there are crucial questions about Labour policy which lie in a longer perspective. No doubt, the Left does have to concern itself with questions of immediate policy and with the Government’s actions; and it must do all it can to make its influence felt on present issues. But it also needs, and needs very badly, to direct its attention to Labour’s longer-range aims and prospects. In any case, the immediate and the more distant are obviously related; the Left’s present attitudes and reactions to Government policy can only have coherence and vigour if they are part of a broader perspective; and such a perspective is important not only in terms of the Government’s present actions, but even more in terms of its tendencies for the future. These tendencies, it will be argued here, make it essential for the Left to work out a clear set of policies and alternatives. The Left does not at present have such policies. Its failure to develop them in the next year or so would have crippling consequences for itself and for the Labour movement for many years to come.”—
Ralph Miliband, “What Does the Left Want?”, January 1965
“Properly understood, multiculturalism doesn’t sanction a form of relativism. In practice, as I’ve shown, multicultural policy in Australia has been circumscribed by the civic values of liberal democracy. Culture isn’t a blanket excuse. Any right to express one’s cultural identity has been accompanied by a responsibility to adhere to the rule of law and parliamentary democracy, and to respect individual liberty and equality in its various forms.
In a liberal democracy that protects individual liberty and is governed by equality, there are some cases where we must decline to endorse some forms of diversity. What multiculturalism requires – this is the nuance that isn’t always understood – is that any refusal is done in the right way. Namely, it must be done with what Taylor calls a ‘presumption’ that we owe equal respect to all cultures; that all cultures may have something important to say to all human beings.28 That we are talking only about a presumption is the key point: it is something that may be rebutted. Multiculturalism doesn’t ask for an automatic judgement of equal value and worth.”—“Don’t go back to where you came from” - Tim Soutphommasane (via bloggingthebookshelf)
“The 20th-century left had two main founts of inspiration. One lay in Western Europe—above all, the France of the Revolution and the Germany of the Marxist labour movement. It represented the coming future of the most developed and powerful region of the world, supplying ideas and programmes, principles of organization and models of change. It also provided important material support: France was open to radical exiles from every country; the well-organized, dues-paying German labour movement helped to fund its poorer brethren (the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung still does so today). The other source lay on the periphery of global power and wealth, where revolution occurred under the leadership of political currents inspired by European Marxism. The Soviet Union was the first and greatest of these centres, with China and Cuba following in its wake. They offered models for taking power and transforming society to would-be revolutionaries everywhere, not to mention direct financial assistance. At present, Latin America—with its complex social configurations and ideological bricolages—is the nearest thing to a world centre we have today. But that is not much to speak of. The 21st-century left is most likely to be de-centred, and besides, Latin America is probably too small a region to light a planetary beacon—even if the social changes now under way are carried to their utmost limit. For a new left to have true global significance, deeper roots will have to be dug in Asia.”—Goran Therborn, "Class in the 21st Century", New Left Review 78, November-December 2012
“Yes, politics does imply elections and elections imply parties (and programmes). Of course, a party that is merely an electoral machine has actually abandoned politics. But a movement without an electoral intervention is doomed to lose out in the final analysis. Yes, we can hope to influence the mainstream, to push it towards the left, and above all to use our power in the street to change the political context. But being satisfied with that is letting down all those who need more, those who cannot afford to leave the same corporate-sponsored caste in power year after year.”—Mike Marqusee, "Politics, our missing link", Red Pepper, September 2012
“Politics turns itself into a laughing stock when it resorts to moralising instead of relying upon the enforceable law of the democratic legislator. Politics, and not capitalism, is responsible for promoting the common good.”—Jürgen Habermas
The twin propositions that ‘more education is better’ and ‘the more people who are educated the better’ appear uncontentious. However, how ‘better’ is defined is crucial. When you ask people why they think education is important, most, including educators and a lot of parents, point immediately to its personal, instrumental value in ensuring a high-paid and rewarding job. After all, that’s been the predominant public story for decades now. And such thinking is almost certainly partly responsible for the push for greater ‘choice’ in education and the shift by the children of the well off into the private system. Such thinking appears to inform the contemporary discussion about economic growth and productivity; education, especially ‘skills-based’ education, is seen as a panacea.
The contribution of education to individual creativity, health and wellbeing or to wider social objectives like reducing prejudice and improving our democracy might be tossed in as an afterthought. And, God forbid we should even hint at woolly ideas like the sheer glorious excitement of learning, the delight of mastery, of bright curiosity satisfied and of play. Even when these more expansive, less readily measured effects of a good education are mentioned, they are often a cover for a tight focus on test results and school exit performance, a mandatory nod on the school website or in the glossy prospectus, but not a real test of worth. There was a time when it was not considered naive to talk about education in expansive terms; there was a time when teachers were generally revered and the idea that learning could be ‘for its own sake’ was not considered quaintly old-fashioned. Of course, education was particularly valued because it offered the less well off a path to improvement, but such improvement was not thought to be limited to the material; what my parents wanted, at least, was for me and my brother and sisters to experience and know more about the world than they did and to transcend what they saw as the intellectual limitations of a country upbringing.
There are many educators and parents who believe that the way we now think about education and measure achievement dismally fails to capture all the facets of young people’s lives. The fear is that the restricted focus on vocational preparation and testing may result in young people being denied opportunities for genuine intellectual discovery and creativity. Correspondingly, the nation may be starved of the ingenuity and problem-solving needed to respond to pressing social and economic dilemmas.