Phil Graham on 23 Aug 2000 03:16:58 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> The New "Left" - OR why inequality ispolitically 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 

"... 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


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.


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 /

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 

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 

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 

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.

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

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

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

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 

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"

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


"We no longer have roots, we have aerials."
  -- McKenzie Wark

On Sat, 19 Aug 2000, Phil Graham wrote:

 > This is a useful and interesting story on the "Left", and not only in
 > Australia.


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Phil Graham
Lecturer (Communication)
Graduate School of Management
University of Queensland
617 3381 1083

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