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The left in Australia has no class

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 18 June 2012

The meltdown in global financial markets had some commentators, most prominently Robert Manne, advance the view that neoliberalism was finished. The dominant economically rationalist strand of liberal ideology, which coloured policy making in the preceding 30 odd years, was revealed to be intellectually bankrupt. Like night follows day this meant, we were told, that neoliberal ideology would no longer influence public policy.

We needed to gear up for a left turn.

The sentiment was captured in a collection of essays on neoliberalism with the triumphant title Goodbye To All That.


But "all that" has hardly gone.

Quite to the contrary throughout much of the western world fiscal austerity, following an initial Keynesian priming of the pump to bail out the rich from the consequences of their own greed has held sway. In many parts of the world the crisis is being used as an opportunity to further liberalise labour markets and to continue the erosion of the welfare state.

In a useful and highly readable series of essays for "the new left," published under the heading Left Turn, the editors, Antony Lowenstein and Jeff Sparrow, studiously avoid this error.

You will struggle to find anywhere a triumphal dismissal of neoliberal ideology or the notion that the broad contours of policy making shall soon shift toward a more social democratic, let alone socialist, direction. This forms one of the important premises that underpin the book, and it can be readily discerned in discussion of issues that go beyond the purely economic.

For instance in Chris Graham's essay on Aboriginal disadvantage and dispossession, which burns the reader's hands so do his words set page after page on fire. Graham relates that, "suicide and self-harm rates in many Aboriginal communities are world beaters." Aboriginal children, in the world's wonder economy, as young as 10, hang themselves out of sheer hunger. Where Jacinda Woodhead draws a link between the co-option of feminism by the public relations industry and neoliberalism. Woodhead observes, "in an era dominated by market logic, the most successful feminist is the one with the most successful brand."

Indeed it is the very absence of alternative voices that compels the authors to put pen to paper.


Lowenstein and Sparrow write that it was the discerning of a "weird inversion" that motivated the book. That inversion is identified as; "the more difficult and pressing the challenges facing Australia and the world became, the less discussion ensued about solutions that might be available."

The forgoing constitutes the analytical strength of Left Turn. It is the best book written for a broad audience that encapsulates a left wing analysis of contemporary Australian society and politics. The book is self-consciously published for what it calls "the new left."

However, the book contains a number of significant flaws and omissions that need to be brought to relief if "the new left"project is to be successful.

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This is a review of Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left edited by Antony Lownenstein and Jeff Sparrow and published by University of Melbourne Press.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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