By Liam McLoughlin 6/05/2015
I have a problem. I’m falling in love with two older men at once. In both cases it’s long distance and neither knows I exist. The first man, Jeremy Corbyn, swept the UK Labour leadership contest with 59.5% of the vote and made me weak at the knees with his first public speech. The second, Bernie Sanders, is leading one-time-shoe-in Hilary Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire and his position on tax reform is enough to give you butterflies. I’ve got stiff competition for both men.
In the UK, hundreds of thousands are sweet on Jeremy Corbyn. Not since the great Cardigan Mania of 1973 have we seen anything quite like Corbyn Mania. The leadership victor signed up 10,000 volunteers for his campaign, more than his three rivals combined. 190,000 people have joined Labour since the May 2015 election and it’s not for the inspiring performance of Ed Miliband. What explains Corbyn’s unexpected success? As important as they are, his choice of shorts and ‘nice Dad’ look alone cannot alone explain his explosive popularity. It’s something altogether more seductive: authentic political vision.
In an era so denuded of basic principles of fairness, equality and justice by free market fundamentalism, Corbyn’s socialist platform is like an unexpected buffet for starving tourists re-enacting Christ’s 40 days and 40 nights in the desert and massively regretting it. Reading like an inventory of progressive wet dreams, Corbyn wants fairer taxes, sustainable wages, free education, serious climate action and poverty elimination. Weirdly, despite what frothing tabloid journalists and ex- Labour PMs will tell you, so do ordinary people. Apparently they’re not convinced plummeting corporate tax rates, stagnating wages and the carpet bombing of social services are that good for them. According to Jeff Sparrow, 84% of Brits agree with Corbyn that the National Health Service should stay publicly run, 66% agree that the railways should be nationalised and 60% share his support for rent controls.
Young hearts are also running free from elite-backed neoliberal Hilary Clinton and running off with the homespun democratic socialist Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic nomination race, leading directly to a welcome spike in punnery #feelthebern. He ‘s attracted over ten thousand people at rallies in LA, Seattle, and Phoenix, has reached 1 million donations faster than any presidential campaign in history, and is a good chance of defeating Clinton in crucial early primaries. His capacity to sincerely articulate just alternatives to the morally bankrupt status quo goes hand in hand with his vague resemblance to an aged George Castanza.
Like Corbyn, Sanders brands himself as socialist, albeit closer to Scandinavian social democracy than your pure grade socialism.
His 12 step agenda for America includes breaking the power of Wall Street firms, redistributing wealth to the poor via tax reform, establishing universal health care, expanding social security, growing trade unions, creating worker co-ops and raising the minimum wage. And again these views echo public opinion. 77% of Americans believe ‘there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and corporations’, 61% agreed the economic system in the US ‘unfairly favours the wealthy and 57% think the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes.
So is Australia next? Well, every sensible News Corp journalist worth their pay packet will give you ten reasons why it won’t happen and even if it could, why it’d be the worst thing since women getting the vote. As outlined by Christian Mccrea in The Monthly, they’ll tell you ‘Australia is five years behind the UK and the US, that greater taxation isn’t yet popular and appealing, that our political right hasn’t completely fractured yet...’ blah blah blah, best not to waste any more word count on vested opinions. Greg Sheridan was out of the gates early but a procession will follow in coming months. In news about as shocking as the discovery that Mr Bean doesn’t make a great orator, elites from the corporate media/finance consensus, who do pretty bloody wellfor themselves out of the iniquitous status quo, want to keep it that way. Der.
It’s not like you can even rely on Fairfax to fly the flag of a better world, if Nick Dyrenfurth’s piece is to be believed. He jumps on the conservative trounce-Corbyn-bandwagon, dismissing his “Jurassic Park-era suite of policies”. Given the film was released in 1993 the metaphor is not only inaccurate but confusing. These days an anti-austerity economic platform backed by 41 leading economists is your ticket to the Triassic.
So, much like Nicolas Cage in 90s classic The Rock (the one without the dinosaurs), let me jab you in the heart with an antidote to the life-denying poison of the mainstream press and give you four reasons for optimism about a Corbyn/Sanders inspired socialist turn in Australian politics.
First, we share the same fertile soil for socialism as our US/UK cousins because we face the same deeply unpopular neoliberal project of redistributing wealth to the rich, slashing social services and ripping up the Earth. In line with the socialism-for-the-rich approach of our big brothers, Australia’s company and top income tax rates have nosedived in recent decades. Company tax fell from 49% in 1986 to 30% in 2015 while the top income tax rate sunk nearly 20% in the same period. Surprise surprise, Australia is a much more unequal place than 40 years ago, with the income share of the top 1% doubling and the top .1% tripling in that time. There’s a rising gap between company profits and employee wages and 2.5 million Australians live in poverty. Voters aren’t happy about these trends, with over 60% thinking large businesses, mining companies and people on high incomes should pay more tax and 74% agreeing the gap between high and low incomes has become too large.
Meanwhile Joe Hockey’s March 2014 pet project to pummel health and education were defeated by popular outcry and it’s clear from recent polling that punters were appalled by Abbott’s Jurassic Park-era stance on climate change. In fact, a 2013 article by Australian socialist organisation Solidarity (boo socialism, boooooooo. Where’d you get your garbage ideology, the bin?) titled The Myth of Conservative Australia found such progressive leanings of much of the Australian public on a wide range of issues.
Second, public dissatisfaction with the deplorable state of both sides of Australian politics is palpable. Lack of trust in government sits at 72%, while half of voters think government is run for a ‘few big interests’. Dissatisfaction with Abbott hovered around 60% and you can expect Turnbull's rating to plummet when his honeymoon ends, much like it did the first time. 50% of voters aren’t very much impressed with Shorten either. People are well fed up of our dismal current stock of corporate flesh-puppets masquerading as barnyard animals. The electorate has been pleading for a progressive leader to articulate socialist dreams for years. Some thought Kevin07 was it, but realised the honest mistake about three seconds into his victory speech.
Third, like a fire that hasn’t quite lit yet, there are sparks of resistance to the status quo all across the country. People are mobilising in greater numbers than in recent memory, with many thousands turning out for March in March, bust the budget, climate, anti-racism, Indigenous closures, gay marriage and refugee rallies. There’s also a heartening shift in public opinion on refugee policy in the past few weeks and burgeoning social movement and social media infrastructure boosting these developments. The fact that Getup and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre have 300,000 and 200,000 Facebook likes respectively is much less meaningless than it sounds. 350.org has had massive success with its divestment campaign and is now reaching out to unions to bolster the climate fight. It’s exactly this kind of social movement alliance which, as Naomi Klein points out, will be essential to breaking through the neoliberal consensus. Meanwhile millions of bleeding hearts balloon when one of our leaders articulates this resistance.
Finally, there is a clear historical precedent for a movement driven socialist turn. In a piece called Whitlam’s Legacy and the Death of Social Democracy, Jean Parker shows that it was the worker, gender equality, anti-war, and Indigenous land rights movements of the late 60s and early 70s that prepared the ground for Whitlam and his legendary agenda of social reform.
Just as I dream of consummating my international love triangle with Corbyn and Sanders in some kind of orgiastic international socialist overthrow of neoliberal dictatorship, I also have more parochial sexual fantasies. I close my eyes and see the remaining vertebrates of the Australian Labor Left learning lessons and taking heart from the Corbyn/Sanders revolution. I see them shedding the soul-crushing shell of corporate welfare, offshore detention and climate inaction. I see them rejecting the drones of the Labor Right and hooking up with the Greens to pose a powerful alternative vision for this country.
The kindling, logs, and scrunched up bits of The Australian are all assembled in the campfire. It’s high time members of the left gathered round, lit a match and sang Coombuyah. As outsiders we can direct social movement pressure towards leading lights of the socialist left to boldly go where they dare not until now.
So to Tanya Plibersek, Anthony Albanese, Melissa Parke, Penny Wong, Doug Cameron, Adam Bandt, Lee Rhiannon, Sarah Hanson Young, Richard Di Natale, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, I say this.
Seduce us, there’s a place in our hearts for all of you.