Monday, September 28, 2009

Just what is "The Left" in Australia

Over the last week the Australian newspaper has run a series of articles by so called "left thinkers" under the banner of What's Left. Pieces so far have been by by a politician (Julie Gillard), a number of academics (David McKnight, Robert Manne), a CFMEU trade unionist (John Sutton), a writer/commentator and former speechwriter (Dennis Glover), the new hot and supposedly, left leaning columnist for the Australian (Tim Soutphommasane) and today- Monday- by the head of a Labour Think Tank on the issue of market design (David Hetherington).

Writing in Crikey Guy Rundle reckons that that The Australian's real purpose was to make the left look rather bereft of ideas, and in that regard he argues, they succeeded. Rundle argues that none of the writers chosen were able to articulate what the core principles of the left actually are and all failed to present a positive program for reform (as distinct from reactive policy). Rundle certainly has a point. They were hardly an inspiring or radical collection of articles.

With the exception of aspects of David McKnight's piece, which among other things urges those on the left to pay greater attention to the politics of the everyday, particularly the significance of the family, there was little of substance or radical in the articles appearing in the Australian.

Guy Rundle in his first and second piece in Crikey has laid out a much clearer analysis of the left in Australia and presented a series of clear challenges and actions that the left could pursue. His analysis and synthesis, is far more credible than the Australian's commentators.

In his first piece Rundle argues that the left has been captured by Labourism which in turn freezes social relations in such a way that certain types of powerlessness and inequality are cemented in place and those outside the mainstream are largely ignored. Rundle writes:
" labourism has been so successful at separating the fate and destiny of the mainstream from the marginal, that the latter have no political clout- and the former have no real feeling of common cause beyond (politically insufficient) compassion.
Rundle makes the point that economic power and control has to be transferred to social and public control. He argues that institutions that serve public and social needs- such as Telstra, universities, schools, health care, mineral resources, finance sector etc- are by their nature social and commonly owned, and whilst they could still be run by the market with a certain rate of surplus and profit, returns to private shareholders should always be secondary to their social returns.

Rundle outlines that a left agenda should include:
  • transitioning large public utilities to part or total public ownership
  • scehmes for social banking and finance that would make housing more affordable
  • the use of super funds and other worker derived capital for social investment and reinvestment
  • public bond issues as an alternative way to fund infrastructure
  • defunding elite private schools whilst increasing funding to public schools and communty and smaller private schools
  • assisting the development of local economies and post capitalist production systems

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