Monday, April 11, 2011

More on the future of the ALP

We are all doing it, writing about the future prospects for the ALP. Writing for National Times a Melbourne lawyer and long-time ALP member poses the question Should the ALP labour on, or is the party over?.

It is probably best described as a classic in its analysis. It trumps out the whole "the market has won" but the ALP has lost its social voice. I think he is right to point out that without an ideology the ALP doesn't stand for anything ... or stand a chance. The NSW Right displaced the achievement of power for any other goal, and so once it achieved power the only thing it knew how to do was to distribute the rewards of power.

But the Left I may say was not much better. Before my departure from the ALP the first time (in the early 90s largely because of time commitments) I had been revolted at the site of Senator Bruce Childs proclaiming to the Bennelong FEC (he was duty Senator) how great two wins for the Left had been. The first was against a broad-based consumption tax and the latter retention of tariffs to protect the Clothing, Textiles and Footwear industry. He didn't seem to get the contradiction between believing the price of goods to consumers should not be driven up by policy and yet advocating protection that drove up the price of goods. It didn't have a coherent economic narrative.

The writer draws on the Fukuyama thesis in The End of History that the great debate of the twentieth century had been settled saying;

The collapse of the centrally planned economies discredited that model of society and vindicated market economies, in which the role of government was to regulate lightly to ensure the efficient function of the market.

However he goes on to express his own reservations with markets and expressed the view that;

Had that direction [of Hawke and Keating] continued, Labor might have produced a coherent ideology for the 21st century, based on the idea that the market is a good servant but a bad master and reserving sufficient scope for government intervention to underwrite basic living standards: capitalism with a heart, if you like.

He goes on to suggest that social policy alone might not be the saviour,

Having embraced the right's economic policies and been wedged out of any meaningful differentiation from the right, can Labor find salvation in social policy? The answer is a resounding ''no'' and the reason, ironically, is because the right has converged with the left on social policy, thereby creating a strong consensus similar to that which prevails in economic policy.

Firstly I think that the conclusion of the victory of market economies needs to be seen in the broader context of Phillip Bobbit's work - in particular Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century. This is his analysis of the issues confronting us now based on his historical analysis in The Shield of Achilles. That work advances what could be seen as a modern rework of dialectic materialism, arguing as it does that the "world" (read Europe and the European invaded world) has gone through a series of revolutionary phases out of which a new system of government has emerged.

The last phase of this was the war that ran from 1914 to 1990 between totalitarianism and market economies (as best described in Fergusson's The War of the World).

But we don't really know what the market state needs to look like, and it is incredibly exposed to terrorism. I'd extend the definition of terrorism though to include "corporate terrorism" by which I mean the actions of Transnational Corporations and their ultimate disregard of social institutions.

One difficulty for the left in all this is finding out what it stands for. One consequence has been a modern version of the "left" that defines itself by opposing anything the USA stands for - and hence will side with misogynist and oppressive regimes in opposition to the US (in particular the left's view of the war in Iraq).

Part of the difficulty is created by thinking that only the left has "compassion", which is not true. It is not even as simple as the left's greater belief in equality over the right.

Ultimately what should unite the left is the concern over power. Unions represent the need to empower workers against the interests of capital, feminism is a response to the power of men in society, the new left concern about the US is a dual concern over its single power as a "super-power" and the economic power of the many TNCs that call it home.

There is a place, indeed a need, for a strong social democratic party. It needs to be internally structured democratically for internal governance, the development of policy and the selection of candidates. But it needs a political philosophy and core set of beliefs that it seeks to promote.

That could be the future for the ALP if it is willing. Or it is an opportunity for an entirely new structure.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

No comments: