Just to save certain fuckers the trouble, let me tell them what this pre-election advice sorely lacks in advance. These are the things this post will not have:
- Any faith in the Coalition whatsoever. Seriously. Fuck these people or, more to the point, fuck their fictions that concentrated wealth produces broad prosperity or that broadly applied austerity ever produced anything but greater debt. I have no interest in arguing with neoliberalism and I rather think that the last forty years has proved that it just doesn’t deliver to anyone but a tiny group of turds.
- Any nostalgia for the ALP or admiration for its present. I have no personal positive memories of a party who introduced HECS fees by the time I was old enough to vote. I know that the organised dream of my mail-sorting grandparents was interrupted well before my conception. The only thing I really liked about Paul Keating was his (very) smart mouth. That guy spoke as Churchill would have if importuned to host an RSL floorshow. He was fucking hilarious. But, there’s a reason that the Coalition celebrates him today as a great economist. He was not an economist truly committed to the project of income equality. And, Bowen is not much better.
- Antony Green. I am not a psephologist. Of course, everyone and their data dog lays claim to understanding the mystery of the Senate ballot paper and the internet is full of suggested “hacks”. Many persons appear to believe that Australian democracy can be disrupted by voter ingenuity much in the way that transit was disrupted by Uber. This is actually true, but not in the way that is generally thought. Which is to say, Uber first smelled lemon-fresh, but quickly made things stink even worse of unequal arse. This brings me to my next shortcoming,
- Optimism. I do not have any at this time. I am pessimistic about the value of optimism, which is why I shall not vote Greens, both the most optimistic and most (putatively) left party.
I am not optimistic about the near future of Australian democracy. This is for many reasons, which I often describe in professional writing. But, I’m going to try to condense these concerns into just a few paragraphs because I know you don’t have very much time before you start drinking yourself into the paralysis necessary to endure the sham of tomorrow.
To do this, I’m going to look briefly at recent events in Britain. This is for two reasons. First, distance can be useful to make a point. Second, fuck me, how interesting have British politics become? As distinct from our own campaigning present, which has in recent days begun to focus on the dreary issue of same-sex marriage. Which I am going to have to talk about, for no more than a paragraph, I promise, before we get into Brexit.
I do not wish here to affront those of you wistful SSM romantics who believe that love is only love if it is ordained by the state. Let’s all pretend that same-sex marriage is a wonderful idea and let’s pretend that in 2008, there was no comprehensive Commonwealth legislation passed that extended to all Australian domestic partnerships, whether same- or opposite-sex, those rights previously only available in marriage. Even if I allow, for the purposes of argument, that same-sex marriage has some transformative power, you can probably allow that its passage into law is maybe not the big deal that both its opponents and proponents have made it appear. I mean. Come on. Do you never think that same-sex marriage is consuming a little more airtime than its likely social impact deserves? On both sides? It’s not going to ruin Australia and it’s not going to improve it, either.
So. Let’s now look at Brexit to explain why I am such a pessimist, who will pessimistically vote tomorrow for the ALP.
Many persons from the (putative) left, even and especially here in Australia, saw the Remain vote as the just choice. This was largely down to, as an old friend described to me by phone this morning, belief in the maxim that “you are judged by the company you keep”. Which is to say, if a Baby’s First Fascism playgroup like UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, supported Leave, you probably shouldn’t.
I told my old friend, who was distantly in favour of Remain, that I would therefore judge him by that pillock, David Cameron. And that he could judge Leave voters by their proximity to the dreamy Tariq Ali.
If you are a leftist who was unaware of #lexit, the campaign by leftists to exit the EU, then you may wish to look into it before despairing that Remain was defeated. Or, you just might be content to read my shit about it, which may demonstrate how our western political imaginations are presently so constrained, that there is no fucking point at the moment for voting for anyone other than those tools in the ALP.
While it is absolutely true that some people did vote Leave because they are racist, it is also true that some people voted Leave because no one gets to vote for any business that the EU does at all.
For many people in many member states, the EU has rained down shit. A greater proportion of UK citizens live in poverty now than did before the Maastricht Treaty—and this explains why older persons who have watched their incomes stagnate and social equity diminish were more likely to vote Leave than youngsters, who have no memory of life before the EU and see it largely as a provider of greater cross-border employment. Which, on the face of it, it is, but not without the fairly significant shortcoming of creating poverty throughout the union.
Of course, many of these young people, who did not, in any case, vote in large numbers in the referendum, claim that their Remain stance had less to do with personal advantage and much more to do with their hope for an inclusive, anti-racist Europe.
I believe them. But, I also believe that they are wrong to think that the EU is not itself a kinda racist and certainly exclusive institution.
Think about what that ideological latrine Farage says, and then I’m going to ask you to compare it to what some powerful advocates of the EU say and ask if you can spot the difference.
Farage talks about national character. He is quite cunning, so he doesn’t out-and-out say that foreigners are bad, but he does lay the blame for the destitution of the British underclass at their feet.
Farage rode around in a bus with “We send the EU 350 million pounds a week. Let’s fund our NHS (national health service) instead” written on the sides. You can probably agree that many people saw the sense in such a slogan, especially as their own health had become palpably worse under the EU. But, hours after Farage had disembarked the big red social equity bus, he told Good Morning Britain that it had been a “mistake”. And then he started banging on about the Commonwealth. Like that’s even a thing.
Farage took a perfectly decent political impulse from the electorate and shat on it as soon as he could. He knew that people were hurting. But, the material pain that many people feel as the result of the EU is not, I’ll wager, as important to him as the cultural pain he feels every time he sees someone in Glorious England with brown skin.
Farage is vile, but interesting. His operations provide a fascinating, almost reverse illustration of what is currently occurring on the liberal-left. Farage conceals his cultural bias from others inside a material one. The liberal-left conceals its material bias (even, increasingly, from itself) with a cultural one.
Farage, I believe, has a cultural agenda, but he pretends it is a material one. He says “I want to give you back your social safety net”, but what he actually means is “I want to give you back your pale nation”. The liberal left, such as many of those who support Remain, say “I want to ensure that we have a colourful and diverse nation!” when what the actually produce in their radically uncritical support for the EU is, in fact, an undemocratic system of trade relations that has created (and was intended to create) real, demonstrable inequality.
So, what we have in the UK is a shrewd right that pretends it’s being all economically rational, but is ultimately committed, à la Trump, to some bunghole idea of cultural purity. And we have an intellectually muted liberal-left that pretends it’s being culturally inclusive, but is ultimately committed to a program of trade that makes quite a few Germans and some rotters in London rather rich.
You can say you’re inclusive and that you love diversity until you’re a uniform shade of blue in the face. But, if you’re simultaneously lending your faith to an organisation that is accountable to nothing but the highest tiers of the finance sector, then the possibilities for this inclusivity are extraordinarily limited.
Now, even if you happen to be the sort of liberal-leftist who thinks that “equal opportunity” is the mark and the goal of a good society—you know, you’re happy if there are more women on boards and more people of colour with their unequal share of the wealth and more lesbians on TV etc.—you kind of have to admit that certain ethnic groups have been fucked by the EU. Notably, those with whom we enjoy a particularly intimate relationship here in Australia, the Greeks.
Angela Merkel leads a nation that is the greatest beneficiary of the EU and so, of course, she is one of its strongest advocates. It’s worth looking at how her speech becomes quite racialized when it suits her, which is usually around the time of some financial crisis.
It was in 2008 that this champion of the EU first brought up the figure of the Swabian Housewife. This fictional creature is praised by Merkel for her inspirational thrift. This housewife makes do! This housewife doesn’t overspend! This housewife works hard and is all that is good about Germans.
It was during talks with Greece on what was never a Greek financial crisis that Merkel relied, however subtly, on some less positive ethnic stereotyping. The Lazy and Corrupt Greek who Retires Too Early was invoked to chastise an entire nation.
Now, if you want to read about the self-serving practice of the EU elite from someone who was actually pro Remain, see Yanis Varoufakis, the guy that actually had to sit there as Merkel, the Swabian Housewife, made all sorts of slights against the character of his countrymen. No matter that Greeks work longer hours than Germans, receive asmaller post-retirement pension than Germans, sustain less household debt than Germans and employ fewer public servants than Germans. The EU applied punitive measures to Greeks on the fucking basis that they were lazy good-for-nothing Anthony Quinns who cared to do little more than daub themselves in ouzo oil as they baked in the Aegean.
Fuck off. Germany needed Greek poverty much more than Greece needed German cars. Germany needs poor member nations, inter alia, to keep its trading currency low enough to export its (admittedly very good) stuff to China. For the EU to punish Greece on the basis that it was “irresponsible”, which it actually isn’t, and to keep it firmly in its impoverished place (austerity doesn’t work to improve a national economy for all; I mean, how are you going to sell shit to people who have no money and need to spend more money on things the government no longer provides, like the NHS?) was an act of material violence greased by bigotry. Which is not that dissimilar from Farage, who commits acts of bigotry by pretending to hate material violence.
So THIS is what we think of as “left” or, at least, as diverse and inclusive? You know, it is entirely possible to think of trade that crosses borders as undesirable and still think of asylum seekers crossing borders as something that needs, very urgently, to happen.
None of which is to say that I would have certainly voted Leave in the UK. I may have been swayed by Varoufakis’ argument to Remain and make those fucks accountable. But, I certainly wouldn’t have got all poopy with Jeremy Corbyn, the popularly elected Labour leader who is now in the shitter for not doing his bit to convince his supporters, who have been fucked by the undemocratic power of the EU, to vote for the undemocratic power of the EU. And now these liberal-leftists are turning on him, accusing him of anti-Semitism and calling him “unelectable”. When what they mean is undesirable, because Corbyn’s argument is largely a material one. And the liberal-left has a great fear of the material, which it has now given over entirely to the right side of politics.
If you talk about money, apparently, you’re a racist or a fascist. Or, at best, insensitive. I have heard many times people form the putative left say “We live in a society! Not an economy!” What the blind shit does that even mean?
Impoverished people do not have the luxury of believing that they live only in a “society”, which has now become a synonym for culture. If you’ve ever been short of the rent one month, you’ll know what I mean. I can pretend that I live only in a “society” in those years where my gross income exceeds 60K. Otherwise, I am keenly aware of life within an economy.
As I have written elsewhere, tomorrow I will vote 1 Labor, and not for the belief, such as Varoufakis has, that this is an institution that can be reformed. I think they’re fucked and, as I have written elsewhere, I think many of their candidates are as enamoured of the idea of a “society” or a “culture” and their role in forming these things than they are in even acquiring a basic understanding of how the labour market works. I genuinely think I understand labour supply and demand better than some ALP candidates, and that is fucking depressing because I am really not that good on shit like that. As will be plain to more economically literate readers.
I will Vote 1 Labor because it is the party that least elevates the idea of the culture. The cultural right of the Coalition wants a better (read: whiter and more uniform) culture and its material right just wants the same falsely “equal opportunity” as Merkel. And the Greens want a better culture, too. And, yes, I know they have their private conversations about transforming the economy, but unless they lead us all openly in this material conversation, there is really not much point. Particularly at this moment in time where we see large numbers of people actually attending lectures by Varoufakis or the born-again Keynesian Paul Krugman or turning out in the tens of millions to hear Bernie Sanders offer his new New Deal. We are ready in the west for some boring conversation about money, especially as so many of us find we have so little of it. And if the Greens led that conversation and didn’t conceal it with a “We Need To Be More Inclusive and Care More” moralising message of culture, I would vote for them. I would tell you to vote for them.
The idea of the culture has become such a preoccupation. Of course, I’m not saying that the culture doesn’t matter and I am not saying that you shouldn’t call sexism out when you see it or crowdfund more inclusive TV shows or whatever. Do that stuff. But, do not allow this to be a proxy for the things of the everyday: education, health, leisure, transport, labour etc
By no means do I think that the ALP offers Australia anything close to the radical reorganisation that would provide these things. The one thing it offers is a scintilla of tedious, economic talk—and I am referring particularly here to the debate on negative gearing which is a great example of something very boring becoming a hot topic. The end itself to the negative gearing concession on established properties won’t change our housing crisis much. But that we have been engaged with that fucking tedious conversation to the point where many of us actually understand it—and I am so heartened by how many young commentators have explained it to their peers outrunning the typical “old people culture blows” and restoring a “neoliberal economics blows” material perspective—is a really good thing.
Our political imagination has been impoverished by the topic of the culture. While it is absolutely true that the ALP has made only the merest efforts to enrich it, it’s the only party that has. And, yes, they are fucks. And, yes, there are true problems with the aging ideologues of the right. And there are one or two Labor MPs whose likely defeat by the Greens I will privately enjoy because they are doucheburps whose interest in their constituents does not even come close to their fondness for their careers. And, yes, there are some really awesome people in the Greens. I would much rather be stuck next to Senator Ludlam on a bus than someone from the Shoppies.
But until the Greens have the courage, and the confidence, to commit themselves, and all of us, to a frank economic discussion, I cannot vote for the culture.
I am sorry this was so long. I hope this clears things up in your mind about the relationship of the material and the cultural a little (which I KNOW is a mutually constituting relationship because I don’t live in 1870, but I think many people on the left have forgotten that it is a mutual relationship, when they attribute so much to the culture, or are afraid to attribute it publicly). I hope that I have expressed that the fear that I have about how the dominance of the culture in our political imaginations limits our material future, which expresses itself as cultural in any case. Less importantly, I hope you don’t think I have any sort of real or abstract intimacy with the ALP, who can bite me, but for whom I will still vote. Because without an economic conversation, there will be no economic future for so many of us.
And, no. The “economic” conversation neoliberals have is not authentically economic. It is deeply moralising and cultural; it is about the undeserving poor. For more on that, see this very readable book, which I linked to earlier, on the profoundly moral history of economic liberalism.
I realise “Vote Labor to guarantee the future open conversation of the left” is a statement about as convincing as “David Bowie’s best single was Blue Jean”. I understand why some might think I am either a party hack or a naïf or an oldie clinging to a verdant shred of youth. My claim is that I think we need to put the culture in its proper place. Which is not nowhere, but just a little south of everywhere. And I do respect your decision to vote Green, and I don’t think you’re dumb or guileless for casting it.
Right. I’m not much of a drinker, but I think a fucking sparkling is deffo on the cards.