My latest piece at Overland Journal — “Not a crisis of misogyny: a crisis of political authority” — went up yesterday. It was written in response to a series of recent arguments on the Left, most especially “If Julia Gillard isn’t safe from the Liberals’ sexism, who will be?” by Van Badham, which appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday.
Here’s a snippet from my article:
[I]f the only road to defending ourselves from nasty governments depends on restoring the authority of politicians and the institutions of rule they inhabit, we have a real problem, because we remain at their mercy. And if the way to stop Abbott is to downplay the current government’s failures, to reject the disdain so many people feel for official politics, then the Left cuts itself off from very healthy disrespect for those in power – a disrespect that, in the past, it would’ve been trying to mobilise.
Painting ordinary voters as complicit with Abbott (because they are sexist or at least won’t stand up against sexism) is designed to shift the blame for the political establishment’s decay away from it. Worst of all, it has the effect of shutting down debate about the way forward for the Left generally – and on how to deal with the problem of women’s oppression specifically – reducing it to a question of first lining up with Gillard politically.
The discussion under the post has been wide-ranging, but I think it’s worth highlighting my response to a really interesting argument made by BCC, who said:
But I think on one key aspect, you’ve actually got your priorities the wrong way around. A new left isn’t going to form without both input and strength from strong grassroots movements — feminist, trade union, indigenous, environment etc — and even more, a central orientation to building and supporting said movements.
I totally agree that we need a grassroots resurgence, social resistance on a greater scale. But we also need to ask ourselves why since the great Seattle protests a series of wonderful resurgences — against corporate globalisation, for refugee rights, against the War on Terror, against WorkChoices, for serious climate action, etc. — have briefly disrupted or shifted things but then we seem to be left with very little politically better on the Left. Indeed, I would argue that while the radical Left has engaged and built all those struggles, seemingly paradoxically the reformists (Labor, Greens) have gained far more politically. Worse, since 2007 those movements have largely evaporated, leaving organised radicals even more isolated.
My argument (and here I’m being very general) is that the Australian radical Left has not understood how to be political in a way that can build a truly different type of hegemony. We have often been great activists, have built organisations and have argued a lot of ideological positions. But we have not built a new hegemonic project. And part of that comes from a movementism that starts from a correct rejection of bourgeois parliamentarism but thinks that you can merely counterpose subaltern resistance to it. You cannot; we need our own politics — not in a sense that overrides the tremendous disruptive and creative force of mass movements, but a politics that understands how and how hard we have to fight against the structuring and disorganising politics that centre around the state.