Our political addicts probably understand that originally the machine existed to create the outcomes. But over time, the outcomes only exist to ensure that the machine exists. The outcomes of politics are the short, hurried breaths of a drowning body as they occasionally surface in rough surf. The fight is with the current, the breaths prolongs the fight, but the fight is all that matters.
The international labour, social democratic and progressive movement has been on a rather impressive losing cycle. From embarrassing failures by Shorten and Clinton to disastrous collapses in the UK, decades of arrogance and aloofness have caught up. The third way appears as a survival strategy against capitalist realism rather than any kind of coherent long-term political ideology and narrative. As our progressive movements grapple with new class paradigms and a mass radicalisation across the globe, we continue to be subjected to tired and breathless takes on ‘what the Left doesn’t seem to get’. Ironically, those takes come from the very people whom guided our movements into cataclysmic electoral results. Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, they find themselves stark and without a clue – gripping to lines from a Maurice Glassman essay they half read through three years ago. The political class at the very least, can see that the problem is the deep chasm between their class and those they represent. A fine example can be found in the completely different perspectives between UK Labour members and UK Labour MPs on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Despite almost winning in 2017, those MPs and pundits persisted with attacks and condemnations of Corbyn’s style, politics and mannerisms as if to ensure, rather than predict, the 2019 collapse. Those four years of insurgency triumphed. And for what? A return to normalcy, where the political addicts can hold their office hooked on ‘black tar’ gossip, deals and disasters - far removed from the consequences of inaction on climate change, the great economic stagnation and slow collapse of our communities.
Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s failure at the December 2019 poll will be a gut-wrenching jolt to those who had hope based on his 2017 results. The loss though, will come as no surprise to those who never wanted him there in the first place. There can be no mistake that Corbyn’s failure was a self-fulfilling prophecy. His leadership was hounded by undermining, bad faith, conspiracy, condemnation and counter reaction. He was opposed by as many within his party as he was on the outside. When people spend four years calling a man unfit to lead in any op-ed, column, Facebook post, tweet or comment — it should not be shocking that portions of the voting public adopt this perspective. This perspective, that Corbyn and his ideas were always going to fail is not grounded in any reasonable historicity or fact. Those familiar with UK politics reflect on their darkest years of opposition, as Thatcher and the Conservatives ran roughshod across Great Britain with vicious cuts. Corbyn was immediately constructed as a late coming Michael Foot tribute act. Foot was long servant of Labour, but his age and peculiar style made him unpopular and unsuccessful as leader. Corbyn, famous for wearing op-shop suits and homemade knitwear was immediately chucked in this same corner. Despite calls from every two-pint demagogue for more ordinary people in politics, the act of wearing an ordinary or ill-fitting suit was political suicide. David Cameron, the ultimate symbol of the Etonian-Oxbridge-City of London express’ excess, bellowed at Corbyn to put on a proper suit, do his tie-up and sing the national anthem. The contrast between calls within the Labour movement for more ordinary, working class, unfiltered and genuine candidates is contrasted with the consequences for Corbyn. I find myself guilty of the same sins, even as a rabble rousing socialist. I notice if the belts of MPs match their shoes, I notice if their pants aren’t properly hemmed and tailored, I notice if their sleeves fit wrong. It’s a subtle and ingrained prejudice that shouldn’t matter for a second. But like our own Julia Gillard, we are often victims of conspiracies outside of our hands and making. If we’re going to be dinkum about opening up parliamentary representation to working class people, single mothers, migrants, First Nations people and more – then we have to break the self-fulfilling prophecy of style, decorum and politick. There’s no point in making room, when their presence is still detested.
We, too easily, accept the chorus of pundits as if dropping out of touch political takes took talent or skill. A vicious and conniving pack hunts across the US, the UK and Australia for ideas that could alter the miserable norm. Chasing their urge to condemn change in whatever manner they can, cutting down those with ordinary, leftist or unpolished sensibilities. Corbyn eventually did clean up, adopting a navy suit and red tie. But almost magically, by the time he had the attacks moved along. His past as a stalwart of the peace movement and his willingness to search for and find friends for peace wherever and whenever he could find them began to haunt him. For every mistake, a victory. His willingness to work and meet with those involved in the Troubles and Irish politics is vindicated by a resilient peace based on mutual obligation, communication, trust and a shared path forwards. I have no way of predicting it, but when peace comes to the Middle East, North Africa and the Levant, Corbyn will again be vindicated when today’s terrorists embrace peace tomorrow. Corbyn and Labour were victims of a pattern that progressives have been powerless to react to. First in the US, then in Australia, and then in the UK - organised, vindictive and unashamed disinformation campaigns.
It is often said that when America sneezes, Australia catches a cold. And at the risk of ‘Franksteining’ an analogy, the same can be said of our progressive movements. I watched with dismay as American ‘progressives’ bit deep on a conspiracy of Russian interference in their elections, ignoring their own deep flaws, failures and arrogance. Ignoring their flawed and failed election system. Ignoring their own consistent and bloody intervention in other countries. Worst, ignoring what had actually happened. Few could be said to be more out of touch with reality than America’s liberal elite. Their outright fear of the uncouth, unpolished and unapologetic supporters that Bernie Sanders attracts illustrates how rarely they interact with the ordinary masses. But what this political class fears more than anything is their replacement within the political system. What can we confidently say about a Bernie or Corbyn led government? No roles and zero say for the professional political fillers. Freedom from hundreds and thousands of bland, boring and historically unimportant political operators. Like parasites they feed off of our struggle, embedding themselves in jobs as commentators, consultants, coordinators and advisors. Of all of the creatures of the political aristocracy, the addict is the worst and the most dangerous. Which is precisely why they must end. The politico addict lives for the machinations and the process. They are addicted to the idea of politics and the action of politics. Their heroin is the wheeling and dealing, the knifing, the money, the prestige and the pressure. But they are not addicted to the outcome. The addiction to politics distracts us from the supposed purpose of politics.
An addiction to cigarettes is not only fuelled by the nicotine but the circumstances of nicotine consumption. The slow drag in morning sunlight, quick puffs out the front of a nightclub or a shared smoke with a co-worker on stressful days. All of these scenes would be possible without the cigarette. All of them would be enjoyable, even addictive. But to the addict they’re much better with the substance and before long the substance justifies the other rather than the inverse. Our political addicts probably understand that originally the machine existed to create the outcomes. But over time, the outcomes only exist to ensure that the machine exists. The outcomes of politics are the short, hurried breaths of a drowning body as they occasionally surface in rough surf. The fight is with the current, the breaths prolongs the fight, but the fight is all that matters.
The politico addict blames all but themselves, just as an ordinary alcoholic finds anyone but themselves to blame. The state politicians blame the federal politicians. The federal politicians blame the state politicians. It’s some other faction’s fault. Those bastards. When they are addicted to the system, it is impossible for them to recognise their own complicity in the evils of that system. We consent to the creation of an effectively useless class of hack addicts. They have no other skills, no other employable assets outside of work that fulfils their addiction. And we see in candidates like Keir Stamer and Elizabeth Warren an acceptance by that class of addicts that more of the same cannot continue. Something must change, but not too much. Elizabeth Warren, a person who to me is indistinguishable from Rachel Dolezal. A fraudster and liar who benefitted from claiming the identity of a person of colour and the trauma of First Nations people. As for Stamer, one of the few responsible for Labour’s disastrous Brexit policy, he ignored every warning that a people’s vote campaign would be viewed as a betrayal and worse by the North and Wales. As the third way dies and the neoliberal capitalist consensus crumbles, the addicts are jumping ship. Finding safe passage with those who would change enough to placate public anger, but keep the addicts and keep giving them their fix.
Western Australia is a rare state and a rare government, as it has tradespersons within its cabinet. I don’t think that a trade certificate is the measure of working-class identity, or some standard. But someone with a trade certificate not only taking an interest in politics but getting elected certainly is rare. The unapologetically right-wing John Curtin Research Centre (JCRC) had a rare win, advocating for the establishment of quotas for working class representation in parliament within the ALP. A quick fix for a question that has yet to be properly investigated: why would the working class want to spend any time with the parasitic political class? Quotas and affirmative action within progressive movements have been extremely effective. I am certainly someone who sees value in exploring options for quotas on POC, First Nations and class representation in Parliament. But I worry it would just be setting them up for misery. Taking them from their family, community and sense of place – to be left in cavernous, daylightless parliaments and electorate offices, paid handsomely to tell their constituents there’s no money in the budget. Hardly an image of hope.
It’s ideas like the JCRC’s on working class representation that empower the secondary economy of politico addiction: commentary and condemnation. Few gigs on the planet seem to be as profitable as declaring the ‘Left’ an echo chamber. They take to Twitter and our TV sets to declare that just because our ideas are ‘popular online’ does not mean that they are in the ‘real world’. This ‘real world’ being a place these hacks haven’t inhabited in decades. All of this of course ignoring how comprehensively progressive political movements have been smashed online in elections in the US, UK and Australia. Ignoring as well, the success of the American left’s internet war against Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. With the polls turning rapidly in Bernie’s favour, it’s plain to see the success of the campaign to isolate, investigate, expose and then destroy corporate and centrist opponents to Bernie. It’s almost as if our hacks couldn’t read, those responsible for our defeat here and in the UK gloat openly about how they created echo chambers, misinformation and loyalty. Posted to YouTube is an account of how social media feeds for political clients were ‘sanitised to downplay criticism and negativity in order to give the impression of broad, enthusiastic support’. We scoff, they laugh. They win. Even when the lessons are plain to see – some talking head knows better.
This identity crisis within labour, social democratic and progressive movements is entirely of our own making. The causes and those responsible are plain to see. Those we call on to vote for us can see – why can’t we? And if by some cruel joke, we now see those same architects of our pain paid to create the solutions. After the ALP’s rude shock in 2019, we were all subjected to repeat, absurd puff pieces from the people who lost us the last election. A full fortnight of Shorten confidants positioned as some voice of an outer metro, silent majority. As if these Senators, MPs and advisors were a forgotten and stamped down corner of the party. I worry we now wander into an absurd reality where our defence of jobs and economic opportunity becomes a defence of capitalism. We now leap to defend coal jobs, but never leap to address the economic uncertainty that makes those coal jobs so important. A comprehensive policy of cart before the horse. Without comprehending the mess we are in, we stand little chance of forming a capable movement. Without comprehending the role apparatchiks, hacks and parasites have played in our decline, we will never clear the space for new ideas and new people. Whilst we persist, heels dragging with the rebranded ideas of 80s and 90s, we will continue to lose those we have relied on for centuries, and whom have relied upon us. If we allow their hope to crumble and allow capitalist realism to take permanent hold on the working and underclass, we will never know victory in the 21st century.