by PETER HEHIR
The ideologies of capitalism and socialism are perceived to be irreconcilable. Individual freedom and the desire to accumulate wealth without government hinderance is pitted against the recognition of the necessity of the State to provide a humane, fair and sustainable society; one in which we all can flourish.
But are they diametrically opposed?
Without a viable political alternative, Australian politics and indeed that of most of the Western world will continue to lurch between a quasi-democratic imitation of true democracy and a faux form of socialism.
It’s as inevitable as the swing of a pendulum, with a cycle and a repetition that achieves nothing, just the illusion of movement. Motion that goes nowhere. All the while both systems preside over an ever widening gap between the wealthy and the poor. And neither give voice to the environment.
Hammered out in the early 20th century following the war to end all wars, the social experiment that spawned the emergence of both Stalin’s socialism and Hitler’s fascism rode the crest of a popular wave. Both promised a brighter future. Just as Trump does today. Both rode to power on the back of ‘us and them’. Sections of the population were identified, scapegoated, and targeted by the popularist leaders as the cause of the social malaise. Blame was apportioned and the inevitable mass killings followed.
History proved that both were abject failures.
The denial of the conservatives on both sides of politics to entertain the possibility of a causal relationship between the use of fossil fuels and the climate crisis, is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s protracted fight for their right to knowingly continue to sell a lethal drug.
The failure of the Liberals, the Nationals and the ALP to realise that without clean air, food, water and a healthy biosphere, both humans and the planet face extinction. We live on a finite planet with finite resources. Continuing to consume those resources for short term gain without regard to the environmental and social impact, confirms our path to oblivion. Primary school students everywhere know that habitat destruction ensures the eradication of species.
And we are destroying our habitat.
Environmentalists, especially the hugely popular David Attenborough, have shone a light on the ever accelerating rate of the decimation of flora and fauna in every corner of the planet. Attenborough’s footage, from his early black and white film to his current high resolution videos, catalogues irrefutable evidence of the ongoing eradication of species.
As a result, the majority of the world’s population, especially so those in the educated West, are well aware that the Amazon, once seen as the lungs of the Earth, is disappearing before our eyes. We know that micro plastics are now at the poles, in the oceans, the deserts and atop Mt Everest. This would have been inconceivable thirty years ago.
There have been many attempts to introduce a third major party here. All have failed. Even the Greens, who it could be argued are the social and environmental conscience of the Australian Labor Party, have stalled.
The ALP is split on what are seen as ideological divisions. But is the Left truly socialist? And is the Right truly democratic?
It’s perhaps more accurate to describe the Left in the ALP as tertiary educated, middle class, white collar and Protestant; and the Right as secondary educated, working class, blue collar and Catholic. Ideology comes a distant last if it’s even considered at all.
Bruce Petty’s 1980’s cartoon of the inner workings of the ALP machine is a superb satirical work capturing the riven nature of so called left wing politics.
Had the ALP not deserted its base and moved away from its blue collar roots The Greens would not exist. In Australia The Greens have taken the moral, social and environmental high ground.
But they are widely seen just as a party of opposition. Quick to point out the failings but unable to proffer a cohesive set of alternatives. They are almost as internally split as the ALP. Drawn from a broader base, their members are aware of the nexus between fossil fuels and the climate crisis, and they all share an environmental perspective.
But for many that’s where it stops.
In the eighties the West German Greens clearly saw that the mass of humanity and the environment were being exploited. Petra Kelly, Rudolph Bahro and Gert Bastian merged the best of the East/West ideology and gave birth to the following four pillars.
Nonviolence, which no sane person could argue against. Ghandi’s salt march proved just how effective a tool this could be. Protection of the world’s biomass; again a no brainer. Social justice, which remains an utterly foreign concept to those who are well off. And grass roots democracy – an equally impossible concept to grasp by those on the power side of the master/servant paradigm.
Imagine a political party that campaigned to put those concepts into practice. One that advocated for a sphere of economic activity that brought them all together.
Imagine a ceasefire declared against plants, animals and humans; a workforce drawn from the under-employed where the profits from socially useful goods would be shared at the point of manufacture between those who created them. Where planned obsolescence was recognised as a major design and production problem – one that achieves nothing, except to accelerate environmental degradation.
Socialist? Perhaps. But no more so than the partners in a law firm or a medical practice, or those who collectively pay premiums to an insurer.
In the 21st Century it has to be possible to envisage a society where social justice and the planet’s essential life support systems coalesce. Australia is one of the very few countries in the world free enough to entertain the emergence of such a political alternative.
Surely we would all support any and all efforts to save planet Earth, ensuring that our children still have a home.
The activists among us recognise that politics is a numbers game. We also know that we are powerless to act while ever there is no real political alternative to Tweedle dumb and Tweedle dumber.
Australia’s Political Wonderland
This article was first published in Pearls and Irritations.