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Re: <nettime> The New "Left" - OR why inequality is politically useful
Phil Graham on 23 Aug 2000 14:26:35 -0000


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Re: <nettime> The New "Left" - OR why inequality is politically useful


" The first and last duty of the Labor Party is to win elections. What it
has to do to win them is to create an electoral majority. In other words,
it has to be attuned to popular culture and to the needs, interests and
desires that course through popular culture. ...  Of importance to that
goal are the rhetorical means by which majorities can come to see
themselves in the party's words and images. There is no democratic polity
anywhere in the world that has ever managed without so called "spin". Spin
is what makes democracy go around."  -- McKenzie Wark
<http://media.socialchange.net.au/pluto/fabian-pluto/m_wark.html>

"... it is common opinion among us in regard to beauty and wisdom that
there is an honourable and a shameful way of bestowing them. For to offer
one's beauty for money to all comers is called prostitution ... So it is
with wisdom. Those who offer it to all comers for money are known as
sophists, prostitutes of wisdom" Plato --- apology

McKenzie,

I hope you realise that you are exposing your political position as being
far-Right once again, as a believer in the fundamental inequality of
people, and as a sophist of the first order. You do so by buying into the
discourses of (eg) the Cato Institute, and acknowleding the
americanisation of "politics" (which has now been reduced in any case to
mere entertainment in the US) in Australia. You have no right to call
yourself a labor politician whatsoever, neither do most of your comrades
on the New South Wales Right. 

The disturbing part is that you do all this seemingly without any
understanding of what you are talking about at all (this is especially the
case since you now apparently acknowledge points I made to you some months
ago here to help clarify some of your earlier misunderstandings). In so
far as that is quite clear, I suppose your political position could be
euphemistically labelled "reactionary", or more correctly, "populist".
Reactionaries and populists will do whatever it takes to gain power and
maintain the staus quo. 

The single shred of your argument which contains some semblance of
assumptions of human equality reminds me of a recent report from the US
which tried to prove that there was obviously increasing amounts of
equality in the US over the last 30 years because almost everybody had at
least one (or more) television(s) and much cheaper phone calls. 

Let me point out some of your confusions:

At 08:25 AM 21/08/00 +1000, you wrote:
This radio program transcript phil points to is a good summary of where
what i would call the conservative left is at now.

The conservative Left? Do you mean the people who hold onto the idea that
the fundamental assumption of human dignity for _all_ is axiomatic for
leftist politics (from each according to their abilities; to each
according to their needs)? The program I pointed to actually canvasses the
spectrum of current leftist positions, including the beloved Third Way of
Latham, who threatened police action after I pointed out that he might
wish to reconsider his terminology since Hitler, Mussolini, and Mosley
(among others) used it in the 1920s and 30s. I am happy to post that
correspondence here for general viewing if you want. 

[snip]

It makes no sense to talk of left and right any more without adding at
least oner other dimension to the analysis. It could be conservative /
progressive. 

That is what I told you months ago when you were bitching about "the Left" 
and the whinging criticisers therein, about people's tendency to
criticise, and about the uselessness of criticism to today's democratic
process. But since you seem not to believe in democracy, and have embraced
the Plutocratic attitudes of the "new left", and because you seem to
strenuously exercise a weird sort of amnesia every time you to write in
order to pursue your reactionary politics of populism (by which I mean
deploying any political position whatsoever to gain power), I don't expect
you to remember or even acknowledge that. All Labor has done for the last
20 years is to intellectually cower before the deterioration of civility
in Australia and throughout the world. In fact is has actively encouraged
that deterioration. 

Some, like Guy, see politics as a matter of resisting change.  Isee it as
tring to get benefits from change for working people. 

Oh yes ... and what usages, meanings, power relations, and human processes
have you rolled up, smoothed over, and hidden in this vague nominal use of
"Change"? You attribute, in technocratic fashion, agency to some entity
called "Change". It might as well be "God" for all the sense it makes. The
effect is to recast the defining argument into a binary non-issue: "either
you're for change or against it". Thus we define one's politics in
relation to an anthropomorphised "Change". How utterly scholastic (18th
century Jesuitical to be precise). 

"Change" is not an agent, it is an effect of human agency, of what people
do. The qualitative aspects of "change" in human societies depends on who
is doing what to whom, who has the right to decide who gets to do what to
whom, and what effects that has on everybody. To recast the whole of
leftist politics as a reaction to "change" is to eschew any responsibility
for change itself. That is why I accuse the New-Far-Right-Left of being
nothing but a pack of reactionary populists. 

And what about non-working people, McKenzie? While you're "tring to get
benefits from change for working people", implying that the God, "Change",
will bestow benefits if we worship it in the right manner, I wonder what
you'd expect from the God of Change for non-working people, actual and
potential. Would you continue the forced labour program of the current
regime? It's very popular amongst the voters, after all. You clearly think
that a tax on everything is good for us. Now there's a libertarian for
you. 

And what are the benefits for the working people that this God will grant? 
Four-wheel drives and digital televisions? Less working hours? cheaper
ISDN? What? 

Another way to see it would be to overlay the left right distiction with
the American terms communitarian / libertarian. You could read Guy's
position as communitarian in these terms, mine as libertarian. 

You could also read the works of Lewis Caroll as nominalist philosophy. Or
you could read it as so much nonsense for the intellectual enjoyment of
children. The idea of a Libertarian Labor party is so utterly nonsensical
- politically, culturally, historically and logically - that I must assume
that you are merely manufacturing nonsense for the intellectual enjoyment
of adult children (i.e. idiots). Therefore it needn't make any sense. 

Your position reminds me of the kinds of anarchists who assign themselves
ranks, like "commandante", and insist on a party structure in which to
practice anarchism. Do you share the libertarian belief that the only role
of government is to protect private property and maintain a standing army? 
I note here that the Labor Party has endorsed legislation for the
deployment of the Australian army against its own citizens on a shoot to
kill basis, requiring only the consent of three ministers. 

For Guy, for the Arena group, and many on the 'left' community is an
absolute good.  I don't agree. Community vcan also be oppressive and
conformist. 

Again, you bundle up the whole of human relations and history into a
nominalisation, "community", and then say it "vcan also be oppressive and
conformist". Well you have come rather late to the political question and
its conundrums, not to mention the fundamentals of leftist thought.
"Community" is the most basic presupposition of human life, not one of its
qualitative aspects. Community is non-optional. The qualitative aspects of
community are a function of political practices. This is the political
question: "how can we best live together?" I should not have to explain
such basic questions and concepts to someone who professes to be a Labor
Party Man. 

  A left or social libertarian, however, would not agree with right
libertarians that the market is the only guarrantee of liberty,

Since when has the "the market" been a guarantee of anything, let alone
liberty? What utter nonsense! Do you think that Nazi Germany did not have
a market? Stalin's Russia? Do you think that there has ever been
interfamilial relations that were not based on either trade or war or
both? 

What causal relation has "the market" with liberty? Absolutely none. 

Furthermore, I am interested in what you mean when you use the term " the
market". We are all supposed to assume, I suspect, that you mean "free
trade", an oxymoron. No trade is free, by definition. The larget single
market today, besides the trade in imaginary financial products (which is
just about to pop), is armaments. Now that is the libertarian wet dream.
Arms for everybody, the ultimate protection of private property, the
ultimate guarantee of "the rule of law". We have two Gods now: "The
Market", which causes liberty; and Change, which offers benefits to
working people if worshipped correctly. We need a Third for the religion
to be complete. 

but would look to a wider range of institutional means for maintaining the
possibility of autonomy and community by choice. 

A "social libertarian" ... you mean "anarchist", don't you? That's the
socialist version of libertarianism. You seem to want an Anarchist Party,
another oxymoron, and libertarian institutions through which to exercise
the tenets of libertarianism. Huh? Excuse me? 

Here we see your confusion about political meanings fully blown: "a wider
range of institutional means for maintaining the possibility of autonomy
and community by choice." Gerunds are a useful way of hiding meaning. For
instance, you use the word "maintaining" when you clearly mean "enforcing"
or perhaps "managing", which is in any case a gerund for the processes of
institutional control of the people by a few people. When juxtaposed to
"institutional means" and the "possibility of autonomy and community by
choice", "maintenance" becomes enforcement by non-human agencies, i.e.
"institutions". This human agency disappears further from the political
picture. 

I love technocratic verbal groups like "look to". They're always religious
in nature and always refer to some vague reference to the future, like
"possibility" or "opportunity" (the scholastic form would be "we should
_look to_ God for guidance"). What does "look to" mean? It could mean
"consider", "think about", "try", "use", "create", "impose" in this
context. What do you mean? My supposition is that "Institutions" is the
Third God in your social libertarian Pantheon. 

What sort of institutions are you talking about? Are you talking about the
privatisation of the public good, or should it be government institutions
that maintain "the possibility of autonomy and community by choice"? All
these vague words hide an authoritarian imperative (whether governmental
or private) which you couch in the latest jargon to repel investigation. 
"Opportunity" and "possibility", in the way the New-Far-Right-Left uses
them, are really unique neo-liberal shams. The implication is that "we"
(meaning the we who control what citizens have access to) provide
institutions that (somehow) create "opportunities". So if people don't
"grasp" the opportunities, it is their own stupid fault. "Opportunities"
and "possibilities" are like "change". They are qualitatively neutral. You
talk of autonomy (literally, making one's own laws) as if it could exist
outside community, as if it had any meaning for someone other than the
lone Robinsonade of ideal Liberalism

Again, I repeat, community is not a choice, it is a fact. You owe your
life, your wage, and your freedom to your community, your network of
relationships. You are paid from the public purse, as I am. You and I are
free to say what we want within the bounds of decency as determined by the
institutions of our community. You would rather replace those (by now
depleted) institutions with ones of your own making. You think, then, that
institutions of your design will be less oppressive than the institutions
we have now. I do not. 

On the right, the tension between communitarian / libertarians is well
understood. On the left, less so. 

So you are suggesting that the Left takes the lead of the Right. I am glad
that you admit as much. It makes you much easier to understand. 

Also not yet understood are the alliances of convenience between left and
right communitarians. 

Or, as you demonstrate, between the left and right libertarians, or,
anarchists and libertarians. Otherwise you would realise that one believes
that community is the foundation of society, the other believes that the
individual is the foundation of society. One believes that government
should not exist because it is unnecessary; the other, that government
exists to enforce law (which is therefore assumed to be unquestionable and
pre-given), and "maintain" a standing army to protect the state. 

The anti-globalisation demonstrators have often not faced up to the fact
that they are lending support to Buchanan and Le Pen. 

What an oppressive, conservative, apologistic statement. There is no
homogenous group of "anti-globalisation demonstrators". In what looks like
pure authoritarian language, you bundle up dissent against any number of
trends (global debt, third world work practices, media monopolies,
cultural colonialism, neo-mercantilism, deregulation [which is a euphemism
for corporate lawlessness], increasing inequality, etc ad infinitum] all
under one of your nominal groups, "anti-globalisation demonstrators", and
say they lend support to two entirely different movements, one Christian
fundamentalist, the other European fascism. The effect appears like an
attempt to entirely delegitimate a healthy radicalism. That is a part of
what Timothy Bewes calls "the epidemic of consensus". It is resignation of
the highest order; an order to either join a Party in the political
oligopoly of consensus or just shut up. 

There's an extraordinary silence about the economic racism of opposng
globalsation from a 1st world perspective. 

Oh yeah ... that's a good one, though somewhat hackneyed since it has been
used by the Right, the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank for some years
now.  "Economic racism" and "globalisation" ... how vague and imprecise
your terminologies are. Who the hell do you think is pushing
"globalisation"? The people of Lagos? Burma? The Phillippines? China?
Idaho? India? Mount Isa? What about opposing "globalisation" from a third
world or second world perspective (Australia is part of the second world
after all)? Is everybody who lives in Third World conditions of a
particular "race"? Do they even live in a limited geographical area? Is
everybody who lives in First World conditions white? No. Me, I have
english, irish, scottish, aboriginal, spanish, and jewish "racial"
heritage. I live in the Second World, economically and geographically
(this last defined by the OECD. I used to live in the Third World
economically and in the second world geographically. Where would you put
me in your economic race-map? 

The other corner of the square, the connection between left and right
libertarianism, recieves much more attention. Personally i'm mre
comfortable making concessions to personal freedom than to communal
prejudice. 

The concept of personal freedom is a communal "prejudice". ALL communities
also have their advantages: art, culture, social support, technologies,
health care systems, education systems, friendship, etc. You enjoy most of
the advantages available to humans at this stage of history. That is
perhaps why you are such an advocate of personal freedom. Freedom, as you
use it here, is a negative concept, used mostly for oppression throughout
history. It implies the right to do whatever you want to do. It implies
the right to say whatever you want to say. It ignores power imbalances
entirely and contains no qualifying premises. 

In any case, as some of the more farcial outbursts at the Australian Labor
Party conference showed, its hard to have a civilised debate on these
matters. 

Do you mean that people should be unemotive if civilized? The perversion
of reason as an ideal is founded on the separation of emotion from thought
and history. That appears to be your project. You appear to be a
worshipper of power. 


The concept of the 'aspirational voter' was coind by Labor machine guru
John Della Bosca, not by me. Kevin appears to give me credit for it that
isn't warranted. Whatever one thinks of his views, 'Della' is a key figure
in the electoral success of the Labor party in the state of NSW. 

You imply that the Man of Power must be respected. Is that what you mean? 
Is that the democratic stance of the personal freedom advocate? How
confusing you are. 

In a country where voting is *compulsory*, getting an electoral majority
on the left side of politics is a strange business! 

What has compulsory voting got to do with getting an electoral majority of
the "left"? Nothing. All it does is commit Australians to half an hour of
participation in the "democratic" process of an oligopolistic political
system, thus giving the appearance of legitimacy to an oppressive
political system run by the Labor and Liberal parties, which is in any
case bought and paid for by its business patrons. 

All of your confusion and populism, it seems to me, stems from your
fundamental political conception: 

"The first and last duty of the Australian Labor Party is to win
elections" 
<http://media.socialchange.net.au/pluto/fabian-pluto/m_wark.html>

So much for your "aerials instead of roots". I understand completely why
you don't want to acknowledge where you're coming from. 

Phil Graham




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Opinions expressed in this email are my own unless otherwise stated.
Phil Graham
Lecturer (Communication)
Graduate School of Management
University of Queensland
617 3381 1083
www.geocities/pw.graham/
www.uq.edu.au/~uqpgraha
http://www.angelfire.com/ga3/philgraham/index.html
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