06/04/2004 - 22:00

Labor loses its ideology

06/04/2004 - 22:00


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DON’T be baffled by the latest bout of factional feuding within Western Australia’s ruling Labor Party.

Labor loses its ideology

DON’T be baffled by the latest bout of factional feuding within Western Australia’s ruling Labor Party.

Factional rivalries have been the order of the day since Labor was founded 104 years ago, and that applies as much in Western Australia as other States.

It’s worth noting that many of those attracted to Labor’s ranks – as well as abiding by fantastic notions of humanity – are natural conspirators, lovers of the clandestine.

Many early Labor activists sought to create an equalitarian society Down Under.

One reason this desire was strong was that so many of those gravitating to early Australian Labor hailed from class-ridden Great Britain – England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

What such early true believers opposed was a society with lords and ladies – so egalitarianism became an article of faith, with ‘comrade’ replacing ‘Mr’ and ‘sir’ in party forums.

That commitment was quickly applied to economics, meaning so-called public ownership of production, distribution and exchange – socialism – which became a pivotal plank 20 or so years after the party emerged.

Added to this was a strong belief that wars were caused, not by sneaky politicians and generally reinforced by politically motivated mass hysteria, but rather by so-called capitalists, the manufacturers of guns and munitions.

That thinking – markedly boosted by the carnage of the Great War, which was sparked in Sarajevo by a 19-year old Bosnian student assassin, not a capitalist – made Labor a honey-pot for all forms of pacifism.

Another not insignificant milestone in the party’s collective life was the emergence of the Soviet Union in the 1920s.

Although most ardent Australian admirers of that increasingly murderous hellhole joined the Communist Party of Australia, a significant segment of Labor’s activist strata also saw Sovietism as the way to go.

That meant many in Labor’s industrial wing (unions) and branch structure sympathised with Moscow and its policies until the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

The obverse of this 60-year love affair with leftist totalitarianism by Labor’s fellow travellers was mounting contempt for the US and all it stands for, which they regarded as a capitalistic Sodom and Gomorrah.

That’s also why so many in leftist ranks closed their eyes to all forms of political criminality – from the murder of millions of peasants by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s to subsequent suppression of liberty in Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, Mao’s China, and Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Add to these types lapsed non-conformist Christians, secular utopians, humanists, Irish Catholics bitter about their

homeland’s treatment by the English, battlers who simply believed in a fair-go for all, varying types of dissenters (including dogged anti-Communist social democrats), plus some outright careerists, and you had a cross-section of any factionalised  State Labor Party. And, of course, each was invariably led by a ‘strongman’.

That’s essentially how things remained until about 1989, the year of the unexpected victory of Poland’s worker-created Solidarity Movement over that country’s Bolshevik general, Wojciech Jaruzelski, quickly followed by Mikhail Gorbachev’s dismantling of the USSR.

Increasingly since 1990 Australia’s so-called ‘true believers’ have been looking for different causes.

Iraq’s liberation from Saddam Hussein and his criminal underlings by the coalition of the willing last year has breathed life into many Labor activists – including Federal Labor leader Mark Latham – who are afflicted by anti-Americanism and/or pacifist inclinations.

Australia’s left-of-centre political landscape after about 1990 was further complicated by the emergence of the Greens, whose origins can be traced to Labor’s long-time pro-Soviet frontbencher, Jim Cairns, who in later life stressed the importance of love and nature over science and technology – and peace at any price.

But because Labor’s first 90-years were faction-ridden – left, right and centre – the party has been incapable of dismantling them. So they still exist.

Rather than vanish, they persist and sometimes split.

In WA, for instance, the right is presently divided into old and a new factions, largely because party strongman and former premier, Brian Burke, remains a formidable behind-the-scenes operative, to  the displeasure of Premier Geoff  Gallop and Attorney-General Jim McGinty.

Although Labor’s traditional factions have persevered, what’s missing now is the ideological commitment that initially nurtured them.

WA Labor’s current factional brawling has nothing to do with ideologies.

All the factions are now merely vehicles for careerists to latch on to, to ensure they gain pre-selection for the safest possible seats and, in the process, help promote factional buddies and pals into comfortable taxpayer-funded jobs.

Essentially, today’s factionalism is driven by jobs, perks and promotion.

And that, first and foremost, means factions must acquire and holds as many parliamentary seats as possible.

And when it comes to pre-selection brawls, all gloves are off.

After such disputes end, jobs for pals either as press secretaries, personal assistants or advisers to State and Federal Labor ministers – as well as appointments to State and Federal qangos – follow.

The more seats a faction commands, the more ancillary jobs that faction can parcel out.

Don’t listen to anyone claiming Labor’s present factional brawling is about ideas or ideals. Those days are over.

The brawling is about big salaries, offices, with soft leather chairs and jarrah-top tables, that overlook the Swan River, interstate and overseas trips, and the power to promote the next generation of young Laborites who, more often than not, hail from student union ranks on Perth’s four publicly-owned tertiary campuses.

That, incidentally, was why Education Minister Alan Carpenter so promptly introduced compulsory student unionism after winning the 2001 election with, not coincidentally, enthusiastic Greens support.

That move also explains why so many Labor and Greens MPs today have tertiary qualifications – generally arts degrees – and little experience in the ‘school of hard knocks’.





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