Can Australia's socially democratic Left defeat neoliberalism?

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Marriage equality rally, Sydney, 10 September 2017 (Image via @sallymcmanus).

There is an urgent need for an organised political Left to challenge current neoliberal economic and social policy, says John Passant.

IT HAS BEEN an interesting week.

Here in Australia, the "No" case in the same-sex marriage debacle is spending five times as much as the "Yes" campaign.

Prominent reactionaries like Senator Eric Abetz and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott are leading the "No" defence of the indefensible with lies and nonsense.

After an anarchist in Hobart allegedly head-butted Tony Abbott, it gave him the perfect excuse to claim victimhood for the "No" case in the homophobic hate fest that is the same-sex marriage postal survey. This reverses reality since until recently in the West, the demonising, persecution and killing of gays and lesbians has been a constant in society.

Today, there is still physical violence against the LGBTI+ community and the "Yes" side. There is also societal violence, such as the marriage discrimination, we currently have in Australia. The divisive hate-filled homophobic debate forced on us by the reactionary right and their allies – Malcolm Turnbull especially – is another example of this systemic violence. 

Then there is One Nation. Last Friday, High Court Judge Justice Patrick Keane ruled that "Senator" Malcolm Roberts was a British citizen as well as an Australian one when he nominated for the Senate. His Honour summed up the situation both in relation to Roberts but also to much of the reactionary right when he said that some of Roberts' answers to questions from counsel showed "the extent to which Senator Roberts' subjective beliefs and objective reality diverge"

The biggest gap between reality and belief is most clearly expressed in the climate change debate, where a small group of deniers like Rupert Murdoch and Donald Trump continue to defy logic. They are a very powerful group and almost exclusively inhabit the right wing of the political spectrum, expressing the interests of those elements of capital locked into coal-fired power. 

As AGL shows, the more perceptive energy producers and suppliers know coal’s days are numbered, coal barons like Adani and politicians, both Labor and Liberal, do not. The lack of urgency from even those who understand the problem indicates the power of the coal industry and the inertia of change in capitalist society, even when faced with an existential threat.

While the idea that the reactionaries and populists are divorced from objective reality might give us some solace, the problem with the nutcase theory of politics is that the reactionary right is not, by and large, comprised of nutters. Tony Abbott is not a nutcase. Peter Dutton is not a nutcase. Donald Trump might be erratic and possibly unhinged, but the forces of the elite and those below that he has coalesced are not. Malcolm Roberts… 

What we need to understand is why these people – people who seem to be divorced from our reality – have power and win elections. They represent a significant section of society. For example, in the same-sex marriage survey, they are winning the support of 35 per cent or more of the population

In the U.S., of course, Trump won the presidency admittedly with a few million fewer votes than Clinton. Nevertheless, almost 63 million Americans voted for Trump.  

With 77 primary votes, Malcolm Roberts is no Donald Trump. However, he received enough preferences from Pauline Hanson to be elected as the second One Nation Senator from Queensland. The party won 230,000 votes in Queensland alone.

At the next Queensland State election (due by 5 May 2018) One Nation might well determine who governs in the State, either through preference flows or, with 15 per cent of the vote, possibly on the floor of the Queensland Parliament if it wins enough regional and rural seats.

Why is there this resurgence across the globe in populist and reactionary right-wing formations? The decades-long march of neoliberalism and the uncertainties of economic life, unemployment, casualisation, the decline in living standards, increase in inequality and loss of government services, all contribute to this trend.

There is another factor,  too — social democracy's embrace of neoliberalism. Former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating began the neoliberal experiment in Australia, shifting wealth from labour to Australia’s capitalist class. 

Of late, there has been a resurgence of social democracy in the U.S. and the UK as well as other major capitalist countries. Jeremy Corbyn has lit a fire in the UK. His imitators across the globe have sniffed the winds of change and are even occasionally hiding their neoliberalism in the cloak of Corbynist rhetoric.

Even Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten has begun the makeover to Corbyn-lite, talking about inequality. His policies are "wet lettuce socialism" compared to the upfront nationalisations and other policies of Corbyn and the UK Labour Party. However, unlike Sanders or Corbyn, the world socialism will never pass Shorten’s lips.

There is no Jeremy Corbyn in Australia. There is no one in the Labor Party who has played the same role he has for over 30 years and has the same ideas, let alone enthusiastic membership or other support, that Corbyn does.

As the slanging match between Trump and Kim Jong Un escalates dangerously, as the threat of climate change grows apace, as the reactionaries grow across the globe while here in Australia, One Nation gains new followers and the conservatives win some support through their homophobic campaign, there is a need, now more than ever, for a fighting political and industrial left. This force of the left needs to defend the gains already won and challenge every neoliberal economic and reactionary social policy.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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