FEET OF CLAY

 

Contrary to his popular image as a champion of the underdog, former  Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam eventually  pushed the Australian Labor Party to the right. Much like the New Zealand Labour Party, the ALP is today a  barrier to a revival of the radicalism with which Whitlam is today so fondly (and wrongly) identified. Tom Bramble looks back at the times of the man who ultimately betrayed the people who put him into office.

GOUGH WHITLAM  has died at age 98. I await the torrent of tributes from politicians who will praise his government’s social reform program in Australia but who themselves have spent their entire careers trying to bury it – free education, expansion of welfare programs, land rights, women’s rights, improvements to public service conditions and so forth.

Whitlam’s was the last Labor government that actually introduced reforms that improved working class life as opposed to the “reform” agenda of subsequent governments that have stripped away the meagre protections afforded Australian workers.

But the Whitlam government was a product of its time: it emerged out of a wave of working class and student militancy in the last years of the long post-war economic boom. This drove Whitlam into terrain that no subsequent Labor government has gone.

Its main priority was to give Australian capitalism a new lease of life, modernising it by cutting tariffs, recognising China and expanding public health and education to improve productivity (i.e. the rate of exploitation).

It needed to do these in an environment where workers, students, immigrants and Aboriginal people were banging on the door demanding change.

Whitlam, although having the image today as a crusading reformer, was right wing. On taking over the leadership from Calwell in 1967 he pushed the party’s policy on Vietnam hard to the right; he purged the left wing Victorian branch and made an open pitch to the middle class.

He supported state aid to private schools, opposed union action on political issues and strongly backed the US alliance. Whitlam joined the Liberal government in denouncing the 1969 motion passed by Victorian unionists calling on Australian soldiers in Vietnam to mutiny. If the left in the party today hails Whitlam as its hero, its predecessors hated his guts.

The ruling class, which had been prepared to give him a go in his early years, turned on the prime minister in 1975 not because he was a mortal threat. The working class militancy which had driven his reform program did not abate during his term in office. In 1974 the strike rate peaked.

At the same time the world economic crisis arrived on Australian shores. The ruling class now demanded a savage attack on the working class to squash strikes and roll back wages and welfare reforms. The government tried to oblige. The reformist treasurer Jim Cairns was sacked and replaced by the right wing former Ipswich cop Bill Hayden. The new treasurer’s first budget put the whole reform program into reverse.

And when the crunch came, the limits to Whitlam’s reform project were demonstrated starkly. Whitlam came from the establishment – he was a QC whose father had been Crown Solicitor – and he never broke from it. When the ruling class turned on him in 1975, he capitulated.

While urging his supporters to “maintain your rage” against the Kerr Coup, his actions (helped in large part by the ACTU and left union leaders) demobilised the hundreds of thousands of working class Australians who saw the coup, rightly, as an attack on the things they had won. They were loyal to Whitlam as a symbol of the gains that they had made since the late 1960s. Whitlam, however, betrayed them by channelling their anger into an electoral contest which, once the mass campaign had been choked off, had only one possible outcome – a landslide to Malcolm Fraser.

The Labor leaders, crying today for Whitlam and waxing lyrical about the wonderful era of reform, have moved so far to the right that Fraser, the wealthy grazier from western Victoria and tool of big business, is now to their left. That is the best indicator of Labor’s entire trajectory since 1975 and confirmation that the party is an absolute barrier to a revival of the radicalism with which Whitlam is today so fondly (and wrongly) identified.

Dr Tom Bramble is Senior Lecturer in Industrial Relations at the University of Queensland Business School. His most recent book (co-written with Rik Kuhn ) is 'Labor's Conflict: big business, workers and the politics of class'. He also edited the Victoria University Press memoirs of Jock Barnes, the New Zealand trade unionist. He is a member of Socialist Alternative.  This article was first published by Red Flag.

THE FAT CATS ARE GETTING FATTER

While the cheerleaders for neoliberalism try to downplay its significance or sweep the figures under the carpet, the stark and ugly fact is that  the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else.

THE FAT CATS are getting fatter at the expense of everyone else. In fact the level of economic  inequality is widening at an accelerating pace.

According to the Global Wealth Report  2014 published by  the Credit Suisse Bank, the richest 1% of the world's population now own 48% of the world's wealth. The top 10% owned 86% and the bottom 50% owned less than 1% of all the wealth. Indeed billions of people have nothing at all.

Inequality is now at its highest level since the Great Depression.

Aid agency Oxfam said in a media release:

“These figures give more evidence that inequality is extreme and growing, and that economic recovery following the financial crisis has been skewed in favour of the wealthiest. In poor countries, rising inequality means the difference between children getting the chance to go to school and sick people getting life saving medicines."

Inevitably this accelerating rate of inequality  leads to calls for more legislation and more government controls to prevent the level of inequality getting any wider. But while  controls can be brought to bear on the activities of the wealthy elite, this would make no difference to those whose income is either derived from working for wages or who have no source of income at all.  The way out is to remove the unjust economic system that is at the root of the problem.

As economist Michael Roberts has observed:

"All class societies have generated extremes of inequality in wealth and income.  That is the point of a rich elite (whether feudal landlords, Asiatic warlords, Incan and Egyptian religious castes, Roman slave owners etc) usurping control of the surplus produced by labour.  But past class societies considered that normal and ‘god-given’. Capitalism on the other hand talks about free markets, equal exchange and equality of opportunity.  But the reality is no different from previous class societies."

DISRUPTION : A CALL TO ACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE



SHOT DURING THE  the 100 days prior to the September 21, 2014 People's Climate March in New York City, Disruption  is intended to motivate viewers to take action on the issue of climate change. The audience is taken inside the People's Climate Mobilization Hub, a New York office space where organizers and activists strive to set in motion the largest climate rally in history.

Citing historical movements such as women's liberation and civil rights as major influences in the decision to facilitate a march, organizers share a unified belief in the power of people coming together in the interest of a common cause.

Disruption declares that the preservation of our natural resources is a long-term investment more valuable than the profits of an economic system incompatible with the needs of the planet.

JENNIFER HAS A BIG BOTTOM

Politically aware pop music is not dead!

IN DAYS LIKE THESE, in these troubled times, isn't it good to know that there is a international pop star talking about the real issues? Isn't it inspiring to know that there is an artist who is willing to express our anger and frustration with the world as it is?  Who speaks of a better world?

I'm sure you have guessed who I'm talking about. Yes, it has to be Jennifer Lopez . She is the voice of a generation brought to you by Pepsi.

Lopez  hails from the land that gave us Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez,  Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen and inspired Tracy Chapman to write 'Talkin' About A Revolution'. Naturally she would record a song called 'Booty'. After all, as she once reminded us,  despite the fact she's filthy rich, she is still 'Jenny from the block'.

While Tracy Chapman sang of 'wasting time in the unemployment line' Lopez  sings of having a big bottom.

Lopez captures the essence of late capitalism, the twilight of a failed economic system, in these withering lyrics:

Big, big booty
What you got a big booty
Big, big booty
What you got a big booty
Big, big booty
What you got a big booty
Big, big booty
What you
(Ain't that a freak)
Big, big booty
What you got a big booty


 John Lennon or Benny Hill  could not have said it better.

For those of you out there who think pop music no longer acts as a cultural  flagbearer  for wider  political and social movements, you have obviously not heard 'Booty'.  When Lopez sings 'Mesmerized by the size of it/ You can fight it if you like take your time/I can guarantee you'll have the time of your life/ Throw up your hands if you love a big booty', you know she really means it.

LYING BY OMISSION

Seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is also a socialist - which the corporate media have ignored.

WHILE THE Nobel Peace Prize is not all it is cracked up to be (think Barack Obama), it was still a wonderful achievement that seventeen year old Malala Yousafzai won the prize this year.  She shares  the award with another children rights activist, Kailash Satyarthi of India.

What has been less wonderful has been the news coverage of her award. I made a point of watching the coverage on the evening news bulletins of Prime, Television One and TV3 yesterday. The all lied abut Yousafzai, not blatantly but by omission.

All three news shows  took their  stories from overseas sources and all three stories  failed to mention that Yousafzai is a socialist. They highlighted the fact  that  she began  campaigning for the education of young Pakistani girls' from  the age of 11, three years before she was shot by the Taliban. What none of the stories mentioned  was that, shortly before she was shot, she had attended a Marxist Summer School run by the Pakistani section of the International Marxist Tendency. She spoke in the debates. This  important  part of her life was 'deleted' by the corporate media.

From her hospital bed in England she  sent a message of thanks and encouragement  to her Pakistani comrades:

  “I’d like to thank The Struggle and the IMT for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism. I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It’s important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren’t we doing it ourselves?

    “I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.”


In her memoir,  I Am Malala,  she writes of her father ‘wanting to end the feudal and capitalist systems in our country, where the same big families had controlled things for years while the poor got poorer.'

While her political views are still forming it is also true that the corporate media have already begun to  sanitise her political convictions. If it has its way, she'll be tranformed into another corporate apologist like Bono. So it is up to the rest of us to celebrate the real Malala Yousafzai. Let the truth be known.

NAOMI KLEIN : "CLIMATE ACTIVISTS NEED TO GET COMFORTABLE ATTACKING CAPITALISM"



Naomi Klein talks with David Roberts of Grist about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.

YOUNGEST WINNER OF NOBEL PEACE PRIZE


NOTHING NEW FROM MIKE TREEN

Mike Treen, the National Director of the Unite Union, was last seen campaigning for the election of a Labour-led government and 'market solutions' to climate change. He has now conveniently embraced the views of Naomi Klein. 

 THIS WEEK Mike Treen, the National Director of the Unite Union, tweeted that Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything, is a manual for a new movement. He followed that up with another tweet highlighting Klein's view that there are now no non radical solutions to tackling climate change.

All well and good. I agree entirely that Klein's book, which has been ignored by the mainstream media in this country, is a very important work. I also agree that we can only come to grips with climate change and the ecological crisis generally  through radical means.

But while it is convenient  for Treen to embrace the views of Naomi Klein now, views which are not dissimilar to those of the ecosocialist movement, where was he  before the election?  That's right - he was urging support for the grand 'progressive coalition', which included a Green Party advocating neoliberal solutions to climate change.

I did not hear Treen  offering any criticisms of the Green Party's views then. Instead  he was dismally  supporting the election of Labour-led government which, among other things, would have allowed further deep sea oil exploration and believes in market solutions to the climate crisis - like carbon trading - which Klein completely dismisses as no solution at all.

It's hard not to interpret  Treen's  sudden u-turn as anything  but opportunistic. I'm afraid that people like Mike Treen (and it is not just him) talk a big game in the 'downtime'  between elections but when the parliamentary seats are again up for grabs,  they all wheel in  behind the Labour Party - which has had disastrous consequences for three elections in a row. You kind of think Treen and company might have learnt something by now.

Having helped to fracture the left by his misguided and disastrous support for the merger of Mana and the Internet Party, Treen now wants the left to regroup and reorganise.  But the devil is in  the detail.

While Treen criticises the Labour Party for failing to encourage strategic voting, particularly in Hone Harawira's former seat, he comprehensively fails to answer  the fundamental question: What is to be done  about the Labour Party? 

In the absence of any clear rejection of the Labour Party, we can only assume that Treen and the usual suspects will be calling for yet another vote for yet  another 'progressive coalition', led by yet another 'lesser evil' Labour Party  in 2017. This is the failed electoralist strategy all over again which will see, for the next three years,  a whole load of rhetoric and commentary against the Key government in the blogosphere but zero opposition on the streets and in the workplaces. The CTU will make sure of that.

This is not good enough.  Mike Treen might think Naomi Klein's new book is a manifesto  for a new movement but a new movement requires new thinking. And there is certainly nothing new about continuing to support a politically bankrupt Labour Party.

SOUND AND FURY SIGNIFYING NOTHING

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman  tries to scapegoat Internet Mana. Meanwhile The Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury decides that Russel Norman is no friend of his - which is not what he was saying before the election.

GREEN CO LEADER Russel Norman knows why Labour lost the election. Simple really. It was all Internet-Mana's fault.

Norman told the Waatea News that Internet Mana were 'a guided missile aimed at the left.'

"I mean we had enough trouble with John Key standing up every day telling all his nonsense about us and on the other had we had to deal with these crazies. Having them on the radio and tv all the time talking their nonsense, it was like ‘Oh god,’ it did make it incredibly difficult to change the Government at that point because a lot of people who might have voted for Labour went ‘Oh god, if a vote for Labour means a vote for Dotcom and Harre, I’m not going to do that.'"

With the Green Party flatlining at the election and  not picking up the fifteen plus seats  it was confidently  predicting,  Norman has to find someone else to blame. Otherwise some  people may start questioning the political direction that he has taken the Green Party.

Under Norman the Green Party has embraced the neoliberal orthodoxy with Norman declaring himself to be more a supporter of the market than the National Party.  While climate scientists  are warning of the danger that the planet is under from  a predatory economic system, Norman  talks fondly of the environment movement working with big business. That he has got away with this junk while passing himself off as 'left' is indicative of something  seriously rotten with  New Zealand's so-called  'progressive politics'.

Which brings us neatly to The Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury.

The Green Party's shift to the  right, of course, did not occur overnight. Although if you were to believe Bradbury it is as if  Russel Norman and the Green's have suddenly, out of thin air, morphed into a party  that is 'open for business with National' (Bradbury's words).

But just a few short few weeks ago Bradbury  and his mates  were promoting the Green Party as an important partner in a grand 'progressive coalition'. Back then though Bradbury had nothing to say about Norman's open declaration  of support for market economics.  Maybe he thought no one would notice.  But we also need to remember that this is the genius who said  the lack of support for the Internet -  Mana Party merger from some socialists was due to the fact that we're not happy people.

But now Bradbury has leaped to his keyboard - because Norman has taken a swipe at Internet-Mana.

Bradbury apparently can have it both ways. He can support the right wing politics of  Labour and the Green's before the election but, after the election,  he can suddenly become a  flagbearer for the left again, waving his sword of justice and self-righteousness at people like Russel Norman. I think Norman and Bradbury deserve each other.  But I think the left deserves a  whole lot better than these two political imposters.
 

A PIG HEADED REFUSAL TO LOOK FACTS IN THE FACE

Labour and its supporters fail to acknowledge that a slavish commitment to the neoliberal orthodoxy has led to its election downfall - again.

I WAS AMAZED TO hear the CTU's Helen  Kelly argue on TV3's The Nation that Labour lost the election because  it failed to communicate its message and policies to the electorate.

I think  exactly the opposite is true. I think the electorate had a pretty good idea of what Labour was about and didn't much like it. So they did not vote for Labour or did not vote at all. Labour are not so much regarded as a political friend and ally  but as another occupying power in Parliament.

Kelly  though seems blindingly oblivious to Labour's unpopularity. Perhaps she needs to get out more. While she has no problems with Labour continuing  to pursue the neoliberal orthodoxy its potential supporters certainly have. 

 But honesty seems  to be short supply in the Labour camp. It's supporters seem to have adopted General Melchett's dictum that 'when all else fails, a pig headed stubborn refusal to look facts
in the face, will see us through.'

 If Labour's supporters were being honest then they would front up and admit Labour has no new ideas. Instead we get the kind of ducking and diving that has been on display from commentator Chris Trotter over the past few days.

Having enthusiastically endorsed David Cunliffe as Labour's future his new excuse to explain Labour's defeat is that Cunliffe went to sleep over the first few months of his leadership. That's a nicely convenient explanation because that means Trotter does not have to  take any responsibility for his own part in Labour's downfall. But, to be fair to Chris, he's not the only one who has fled from the scene of the wreckage, claiming they had nothing to do with it.

While Trotter might argue that Cunliffe sat on his hands for the best part of a year, the fact is that Labour failed to  do anything about reinventing itself after its defeat in 2010. While I was arguing that Labour was a political dead zone, Chris Trotter was quoting Jim Anderton  at me  about building  "your footpaths where the people walk.” The obvious difficulty for Trotter though is that Labour  did not build its footpaths where the people walk.

But Trotter seems to be having another go at it. He quoted Anderton again in a recent post. This time though he seems to want to build his footpath directly to the house of Labour MP Stuart Nash. He's the MP who said last week that Labour lost the election because it was too left wing.

We need to remind ourselves that  it was Labour that began the process of overturning the gains of the social democratic era in favour of business interests. It has been committed to the neoliberal orthodoxy ever since.

Labour has no answers, certainly for ordinary people who now have three more years of John Key, Paula Bennett and company to look forward to. But, unlike comfortably well off political commentators and trade union leaders, ordinary people are not insulated  from the impact of neoliberal economic polices.

That Labour does not have any answers for us is a disgusting display of the irrelevance of not only Labour but of the parliamentary system itself.

The present pathetic  squabble over who should lead Labour is  simply an indication of what lies ahead for Labour politics over the next three years. Once again it highlights  the need for an independent alternative to Labour,  one that is committed to  the interests and concerns of ordinary people, one that does not promote and defend market values and one that does not make deals with political forces unfriendly to the interests of ordinary people.

DON'T VOTE, WON'T VOTE

The Did Not Vote Party attracted nearly a million non votes this year. It was another highly successful non election campaign.

NEARLY A MILLION PEOPLE did not bother to vote this year. There was hope in some quarters that the improved number of people voting in advance of polling day would prove to be the  precursor of a strong turnout on election day. This was not  the case.

The cold hard  fact is that year's result  ranks as the third-worst turnout in the last 100 years, with the number of non-voters almost tallying to the number of votes that went to National. The Did Not Vote Party could well have formed a minority government.

Clearly the CTU's 'Get Out and Vote' campaign had a near zero impact, although that's not what the CTU said three days  before the election.

CTU vice President Richard Wagstaff  said that ' tens of thousands of workers from all around New Zealand have embraced the Get Out and Vote campaign.' The problem was that the CTU was preaching to the already converted. Telling  people who have every intention to vote that they should get out and vote is hardly a triumph.

Just like last time people are speculating as to why may people went missing in action on election day. And the same old explanations have been offered, including  that perennial  favourite, ' voter apathy'. It certainly is  a strange  phenomenon this apathy. At election time apathy suddenly engulfs  the nation, with people drowning helplessly in a stew of  sloth  and  gripped by a mystifying inability to get out of bed.

The  most popular 'solution'  to the problem seems  to be to force people into voting by making it compulsory. Presumably if you still don't vote you will be sent  to a 'Civic Education' internment camp will you be taught the error of you're lazy ways and  forcibly reminded  as to why we live 'in one of the best little democracies in the world'.

What is interesting  is that Statistics NZ surveyed why people did not vote in 2008 and 2011. This revealed that 40 percent of  people did not vote because they were 'disengaged  from the democratic process'.    They did not vote because  they did not think it would  make any difference.

And they are dead right.

It does not matter who you vote for you because you will  still end up with a government pursuing the neoliberal orthodoxy that has strangled this country for three long decades.

Despite Labour wanting  people to 'vote positive' it is not a positive message to tell 'disengaged voters' that you remain committed  to the neoliberal orthodoxy. Which is what Labour did all the time. 

Similarly  the endorsement of the neoliberal orthodoxy by  Green co-leader Russel Norman would have hardly inspired the disengaged voter to rush out and vote for the Green Party. And they didn't

The fact is that we no longer have a proper functioning  democratic system, merely the facade of one. It is fiction to talk of the 'democratic process'  if our only contribution is to vote every three years for parliamentary parties that will just continue to enforce the neoliberal orthodoxy.

But rather than declare  the emperor has no clothes, the liberal chattering class that writes for blogs like The Daily Blog and The Standard  would rather moan  abut voter apathy and demand compulsory voting for us all.

That means that they can continue  to posture about how  awful John Key and the National Party are without making  any commitment to real change.  My fear is that we're going to have to put up with this nonsense for the next three years as well.


A WORLD TO WIN, A PLANET TO SAVE

"the denigration of collective action and veneration of the profit motive..has infiltrated virtually every government on the planet, every media organisation, every university, our very souls."




 THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: CAPITALISM VS THE CLIMATE
Naomi Klein (Simon &Schuster)
 SINCE THE publication  of No Logo in 2000 Naomi Klein has commanded a global audience that few of her  contemporary left wing writers and  activists can command. Her books invariably  top bestseller lists around the world, she speaks to packed meetings everywhere and  she is in demand for interviews from a mainstream media generally unsympathetic to people who hold similar views to that of Klein.

All of this highlights why she has become a poster girl for the left,  a description that Klein herself would not be comfortable with. But there she is  - in an interview  in the  August  issue of Vogue magazine no less.

But her embrace by the mainstream media has not  been a result of Klein watering down her politics to be more 'palatable'. She has never  tried to second guess what the media or public wants. Indeed, her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate sees Klein move to a more consistent critical position on capitalism. While some 'left wing' writers are keen to keep capitalism off the agenda of discussion  - 'move on, nothing to see here' -  Klein places it at the heart of her book. There is no compromise.

Klein signalled her intentions for  her new  book  in several articles and interviews  preceding its publication. She says that we must move  on from endless ideological debates. Klein's view is straightforward: the life support systems of the planet are being destabilised and dismantled  by capitalism and we must act now.

This is a view that won't sit well with that section of the environmental movement that still thinks a environmentally friendly capitalism is possible, a view held by the New Zealand Green Party. One of its co-leaders. Russel Norman,  recently declared he was 'more pro market' than the National Party. He'd have little to talk about with Klein.

In her book she devotes a chapter to false solutions to the ecological crisis proposed by people like Norman  including carbon trading, geo engineering and alliances between the environmental movement and big business.  Her views on why 'green billionaires' like Bill Gates won't save us are  thoroughly researched, inexorably logical and demolish the myths  of a 'green capitalism'.

Writes Klein:  "In virtually every country,the political class accepts the premise that it is not the place of government to tell large corporations what they can and cannot do, even when public health and welfare — indeed the habitability of our shared home — are clearly at stake. The guiding ethos of light-touch regulation, and more often active deregulation, has taken an enormous toll in every sector.... It has also blocked commonsense responses to the climate crisis at every turn."

Klein's alternative  is  for a systematic and radical break  with free-market orthodoxy. This would include large scale investment in the public sector in such areas as transport, housing, infrastructure and services.  But it would be a mistake to assume that Klein is simply calling for mild Keynesian-inspired reforms, a more 'regulated' capitalism. A simple 'tweaking' of the system won't do. She says that "dealing with the climate crisis will require a completely different economic system'

Klein quotes climate expert Kevin Anderson that we might have been able to avert catastrophe  using “significant evolutionary” strategies if we had acted at the time of the 1992 Earth Summit or as late as the year 2000, but now only “revolutionary” strategies will work.

If people are unclear clear as to who  the planet's real  enemies are, Klein makes it abundantly  clear:  'an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process and most of our major media outlets'. She goes on to say that the ''denigration of collective action and veneration of the profit motive..has infiltrated virtually every government on the planet, every media organisation, every university, our very souls'.

The politicians have failed the planet and the solutions must come from...us. She writes: “It is slowly dawning on a great many of us that no one is going to step in and fix this crisis, that if change is to take place it will only be because leadership bubbled up from below.” The emancipation of the planet must be achieved by the people of the planet.

She writes vividly of grassroots resistance around the world from the fight  of the Northern Cheyenne to prevent coal mining on their Montana reservation,  to the villagers in Greece's Skouries forest to oppose open cast mineral mining.

On a recent The Colbert Report, Klein told host Stephen Colbert: “Capitalism is a machine based on short-term profit and growth and the climate needs us to contract.So you have this tension between a system that needs to grow, grow, grow indiscriminately, and a planet going, ‘Guys, I have had it.’”

This Changes Everything is not only a book that demands to be read but one that demands to be acted on.

Share

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More