Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Left Turn: some of Australia's leading leftist thinkers think afresh

Looking forward to reading the new book Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left  edited by Antony Loewenstein** and Jeff Sparrow* both fine Australian writers, thinkers and campaigners.

Antony Loewenstein points out that the book is not a manifesto for change but rather a collection of interesting ideas that don’t necessarily get aired or discussed.

 The book is published by Melbourne University Press. A short review of the book is here  and a Facebook site for discussion of the book is here.

More about Anthony Loewenstein is here and some of Jeff Sparrow's writings are here.

A discussion between Antony and Jeff at the book's launch is available (here) on the Readings website. Extracts are below.

Antony Loewenstein: You were an activist before you became a writer and editor. Why do you think the Left still matters?

Jeff Sparrow: Because Australian politics has reached a dangerous impasse. The world situation is becoming increasingly fraught, and yet the simplest of reforms now seem entirely off the table. Climate change provides an obvious example of the growing gulf between what needs to happen and what’s actually being offered but there are plenty more instances.

Crucially, the range of ideas given serious consideration in Australian public life has become scarily narrow. In some ways, you could say the real division today lies not between the two main parties, but rather between the beliefs accepted by all political insiders (neoliberal economics, support for the US alliance, moderately conservative social norms, etc) and any other ideas whatsoever.

What’s more, the central tenets of that insider consensus seem impervious to external challenge. In other fields, being wrong about everything would be considered a career handicap. In Australian politics, the pundits who touted for the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have only become more influential, just as the economists who entirely failed to predict the GFC or the European meltdown dominate the discussions.

That’s the idea behind this book. It’s an attempt to open up debates, to give to voice for arguments from the Left, positions that generally don't get much of a hearing.

JS: As an independent journalist, how do you think the Left should react to the deep distrust of the mainstream media, especially when it comes to war, politics and protests?

AL: Not just whinge about it but both better critique the failings of the corporate media and support alternatives to it. Take the post 9/11 period. Far too many mainstream journalists haven’t just been physically embedded with the American and Australian military in Iraq or Afghanistan, they've been embedded psychologically with patriotic fervour. ‘Our’ side doesn’t commit crimes, we’re told, it’s an aberration if soldiers massacre civilians. This is pure propaganda and not the impression of civilians in a range of countries we're occupying, including Afghanistan (I just returned from there and heard it myself).

In Australia, there are few Leftists given space to challenge the establishment line over war and peace. There are occasional voices contesting this policy or that strategy but few who have consistently claimed that the ‘war on terror’ is more about instilling fear in the community than killing our enemies.
The writers in Left Turn don’t merely complain about the status-quo; they try to give alternatives to wilful, mainstream media blindness.

AL: Why hasn’t the Left been more successful in articulating alternatives to the GFC? Does the Occupy Movement represent an answer?

JS: The general cynicism about so many institutions, from newspapers to politicians, often translates into a disengagement from politics of any kind. Voters disenchanted with the major parties are just as likely to tune out from political discussions as they are to explore alternatives.

That's why the Occupy phenomenon was so important, since it managed, even if only briefly, to capture the political imagination. In my chapter on Occupy, I quote the American writer Barbara Ehrenreich: ‘Perhaps the best kept political secret of our time,’ she says, ‘is that politics, as a democratic undertaking, can be not only “fun”, in the entertaining sense, but profoundly uplifting, even ecstatic.’

There was certainly something of that in the Occupy protests. It’s the sentiment the Left needs to recapture — an ecstatic sense of the possibility of real change.

JS: Are you optimistic about the political future?

AL: I have no faith that the major parties in the West are interested in or capable of serious reform. We see this in Australia, Britain, America and much of Europe. These are political hacks who live and breathe the neo-liberal agenda despite its public popularity being at an all-time low. In my view, third or fourth party alternatives are vital to resurrect of true democracy.

But I have some hope in independent and online media to investigate parts of our world that can inform a deeper political understanding in our own country. In a globalised media environment, we can see instantly the failings elsewhere and hopefully learn from them.

A largely unregulated market system remains in place across the West and Occupy offered a small window into a far more equitable system. An issue like climate change will only be solved this way. Furthermore, if more people realised the realities of our foreign policy on the nations suffering because of them, I like to believe the political elites would be forced to adjust accordingly.

*Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland literary journal. He is the author of a number of books including Killing: Misadventures in Violence and the forthcoming Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship.

**Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of two best-selling books, My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism.

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