Guest post by Dr Sacha Blumen: Helen Razer and inner city left politics

helen-380x587-290x385Sacha Blumen writes:

Helen Razer launched a storm with her piece in Crikey last Friday slamming the Australian ‘Left’. To Helen, it has had a misdirected focus on symbols of cultural identity rather than the substantive issues of material conditions and social and economic class. She drove home the point:

Because the “Left”, such as it is, is not able to think about systems; about social and economic class. It has not only borrowed the cheesy stupidity of Andrew Bolt; it has borrowed the idea of his “individual” as well.

The “Left” now hungers for symbols of cultural identity and spurns the idea of class. Or, indeed, of material conditions.

Nowhere, for mine, is this more starkly drawn than in plaintive chalk on sidewalks as queer activism gives up its campaign for mental health reform and supplants it with the symbolic fight for an equality that already exists in law. Nowhere was this in sharper contrast than on the day of Gillard’s misogyny speech wherein many single parents (chiefly women) were consigned to Newstart.

As so often, Helen has articulated a view whose clarity cuts through the messiness of day-to-day culture and politics.

Her piece struck a chord with me, particularly in relation to inner-Sydney politics over the last 13 years. (I moved from Brisbane in 2000 to inner-Sydney.) While Helen’s piece was about national cultural politics, I see it also played out in inner-Sydney cultural and electoral politics.

I’ve variously been an observer, active participant, and critic of inner-Sydney community, electoral, and ALP politics. It’s often struck me that ‘progressive’ politics in inner Sydney has been somewhat misdirected – in the way Helen wrote.

It would be expected the ‘Left’ and progressive side of politics would display interest in material conditions – e.g. housing that isn’t too expensive, being able to access health services, personal safety, educational opportunities, and business investment leading to jobs.

However, with some exceptions, the focus of progressive politics in inner Sydney often seems misdirected.

The clearest recent example of this was the Taylor Square rainbow crossing campaign and #DIYRainbowCrossing movement. What had been a hamfisted removal by the NSW Government of the temporary rainbow crossing was somehow turned into a fight for civil rights by local politicians, Mardi Gras, and community members who would think of themselves as ‘progressive’.

Now, while there’s nothing wrong with people drawing rainbows on footpaths, it doesn’t do much to improve the material experience of lgbti people. Nor does it do much for civil rights, as glbti people in NSW have almost precisely the same legal rights as everyone else.

While people were chalking rainbows on footpaths, a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry recommended reforms to provocation laws that will have a material impact on lgbti people in time. This recommendation would have been the outcome of the efforts of many, especially the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. A material outcome.

This isn’t to say that symbols aren’t important. But material-related issues are as well.

The somewhat odd focus of progressive politics in inner Sydney was displayed in the major campaign issues in the October 2012 by-election for the State seat of Sydney (triggered by Clover Moore’s resignation from Parliament).

While election campaigns always have their own logic, it may be instructive to examine them. The major issues in that by-election appeared to be:

  • anger at the State Coalition Government supposedly forcing Clover out of Parliament (when in fact they had made her to choose whether to be Lord Mayor or an MP)
  • local parents wanting a new Government high school in the inner city – when there was an underutilised high school close by in Alexandria
  • whether the electorate would benefit from having a Government MP or an Independent MP who would ‘stand up for locals like Clover did’, and
  • marriage equality.

In addition, there were promises of new government subsidies to help small businesses navigate the online world and changes to Oxford St in Darlinghurst to improve the retail disaster that it is. Banning goat racing also made an appearance.

Now while each of these things may or may not be worthwhile (e.g. the new high school felt like pandering to a noisy local parents’ campaign who wanted convenience, and the banning goat racing had featured in Clover’s recent Parliamentary work), there seemed little focus on things that were, on reflection, probably more important.

A selection of materially important issues in inner-Sydney – to me – include addressing the generally high cost of housing, assisting people experiencing homelessness, and enhancing economic activity (hence jobs). A major aspect of the last issue has been to improve transport infrastructure (as well as encouraging private sector investment).

Did these things make an appearance in the by-election campaign? Not really – except in the promises by the Independent candidate to improve Oxford St – which he would have had little chance of implementing.

The ongoing lack of focus on the high cost of housing in inner Sydney is another failure of progressive politics. To date, most of the focus has been on ensuring there is ‘affordable housing’ in the area – i.e. categories of housing with cheaper rents. There has been little focus on attempting to impact the general (average) costs of housing.

Local elected officials have seemingly been more concerned with representing NIMBYs against high-density developments and sending messages that the State Government is requiring a certain level of development than in introducing policies that might impact general housing costs (to the extent that is possible). As part of this, the message from local progressive officials has been that population increases can substantially occur in currently non-residential areas. There would be a limited impact on residential amenity.

To my knowledge, the only person in electoral politics recently bringing up high housing costs was Cassandra Wilkinson – when she was a preselection candidate for Labor Lord Mayoral candidate for the City of Sydney last year. Fortunately, the issue is gaining more prominence in progressive circles with the McKell Institute publishing a report on the issue in 2012. It’s telling that one of the report’s priority areas was: A more intelligent civic dialogue about the need for housing – ending NIMBYism’s threat to our children’s futures. A breath of reality.

In addition, I have found it particularly astonishing that there doesn’t seem to be a larger focus on addressing acute disadvantage in inner Sydney. There are many disadvantaged people in the area as well as pockets of disadvantage – in particular in Woolloomooloo, Millers Point, and Surry Hills. While there are the complexities associated with disadvantage found anywhere, local politics seems more focussed on issues of amenity – e.g. footpath gardens and parks.

Perhaps this focus away from material things reflects the interests of the generally higher-income residents of inner Sydney. Maybe this is the post-material world. Helen Razer wrote about how the ‘Left’ has lost itself with a focus on individualism and symbols. Maybe this can be seen in part in inner Sydney – in which there seems a greater focus on symbols, amenity and convenience than the more important material conditions.


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115 responses to “Guest post by Dr Sacha Blumen: Helen Razer and inner city left politics”

  1. Luke Whitington

    Nice article Sacha.
    This raises the issue of ‘who is the Left’ that is being spoken of by Razer and others. It comes very close to being a straw man. The actual Left, the people who call themselves members of the Labor Left, and the non-Labor socialist/communist organisations, are very focused on the material rather than the symbolic issues. But if you mean Clover, Greenwich and the Greens, then yes, this criticism is quite valid. But they don’t purport to be the Left, they say they are Independent and Green. The Labor candidates for Sydney City (with the possible exception of Wilkinson, who seemed to be running for the Libertarian Party on some occasions) and for the State seat of Sydney (including you, as evidenced by this article) were all focused on material disadvantage, the high cost of housing and sustainable, good-job-producing growth. Some may have had different solutions to those problems, (eg. some people don’t think that housing shortages are simply solved by more supply of expensive properties), but they were all motivated by a desire to fix them. Also, there is a bit of a false dichotomy here- people can walk and chew gum at the same time. The same people who are the biggest champions of greater economic equality are often the ones going out at night chalking up the streets with rainbows.

  2. Ronson Dalby

    “people can walk and chew gum at the same time”

    That is the reaction I had to both this article and Razor’s and consequently I feel I have wasted my time reading both of them.

  3. Peter Murphy

    Thanks, Sacha. Razer attempted to keep it real; you succeeded. Both of you identified a worrisome detachment between symbolic and realistic actions, but you took the care to identify the actual areas affected.

    Razer’s article shat me a little. Up here in Queensland there’s lot of action by the organised “left” – unions and the like – to stop Newman’s punitive privatisations. People are using hard measurements of jobs lost and budget costs and debt figures to fight it. It’s damned hard to find anyone who supports symbols like rainbow crossings but are for asset selloffs.

  4. Liz

    There’s goat racing in Darlinghurst? Where?

  5. BilB

    I see a lot in Sacha Blumen’s article preamble that rings true.

    I think that we are suffering from a lack of vocal people with vision. But also Sydney is a city that has overmatured and is slowly oozing towards a different type of city, perhaps New York like to some degree. Sydney has some charming niches but these are inhabitted by the well healed non left leaning. The rest of the city is just a bunch of uninspiring buildings with lots of roads and a sprinkling of token parks. Sydney sufferes from over commercialisation. In this phase most people are relatively comfortable, but uninspired and have slipped into a whinge mode uncertain of what makes them feel unsatisfied.

    At the youth end of the spectrum there is some vibrance, and endless distraction. Phones, texts, pads, games, drinking, and endless driving has not lost its glow yet. These people have not yet discovered that there is a need to be proactive to defend our standard of living.

    In other words no shxt has hit the fan for many years sufficient for people to have a cause of significance to motivate the greatness of mind that exemplifies the left really being the left. Everything is just a bit too easy. Not that there are not issues, they are just not important enough yet or are perceived to be beyond the scope of individual effort.

    I agree whole heartedly that affordable accommodation is the elephant with no room to fit into. Here again our packaged lifestyle has created an inflexible accommodation model reinforced with high tensile council regulations. We were very successful in creating this, only now it is over priced and unbreakable.

  6. Robert Merkel

    The ongoing lack of focus on the high cost of housing in inner Sydney is another failure of progressive politics. To date, most of the focus has been on ensuring there is ‘affordable housing’ in the area – i.e. categories of housing with cheaper rents. There has been little focus on attempting to impact the general (average) costs of housing.

    What would you propose to do about the “general costs of housing” in inner Sydney?

  7. Martin B

    As well as the whiff of false dichotomy in regards to people, I suspect there’s also a little of it in regards to issues. I am no expert but I would have thought that discrimination in the workforce and rental markets were not insignificant in terms of adding to material disadvantage for LGBTI people and symbolic issues are a perfectly valid way of addressing these. And I think it’s well accepted that these cultural factors can have a very direct impact on the health and wellbeing, particularly of young people.

    Of course I don’t disagree that material issues remain of prime importance, but frankly I’m a little wary of drawing a line between (good) materialists and (irresponsible) symbolists.

  8. Lefty E

    Yeah, fair days income for wogs, poofters, reffos and bitches!

    You see the problem.

  9. Damian

    A good read Sacha. Yep agree with a lot of this.

  10. faustusnotes

    The “inner city leftist” is a shibboleth created by the right and only ever deployed by leftists as a rhetorical tool to rubbish people they disagree with. Any leftist who deploys this rhetorical device is just groping for a cheap way to kick their allies when they disagree with their priorities, and relying on the implicit bully-boy presence of rightists like Bolt to give their message extra power. It’s cheap political grand-standing of the worst kind.

    It’s beneath us.

    Also beneath Helen Razer is posting an article critical of the inner-city left on the day that Jeff Hanneman’s death was announced. She should have been writing a peon to Slayer, rather than using cheap staged right-wing political antics to put down people with different priorities to her.

  11. faustusnotes

    ooh, I used a Cthulhu reference and got chucked into moderation!

  12. Chris

    I as a progessive member of the Anglican clergy (not in Sydney) recently went to a left-wing nosh up, and I was amazed to find numerous people who thought left-wing politics was largely about smashing the Church and establishing some sort of pure secularism. The underlying issues were sex and gender, and the Church was cultural enemy number one.

    While I can understand all of that, it is concerning that human compassion and practical assistance were not big ticket items. It seems these functions are relegated to community and religious organisations, whereas the fashionista concerns of the contemporary left are altogether more airy. It appears now to be more about self-realisation.

  13. Helen

    Helen Razer is a trollumnist. I see even LP has been successfully trolled.

    Don’t have the time to address all this. Where to start.

  14. Emgem

    It seems to me this article was written by someone who has not being living in inner Sydney very long. Low cost housing may not have been the focus of campaigns by the Greens or independents in this election, but they certainly have been in the past. There is all ready an existing program to develop low cost housing in the City of Sydney, though the use of levies on new developments and the sale of city property. Would that more local councils were required to

    I also find the notion that NIMBYism is driving the lack of low cost housing laughable. Projects that generate studios costing $400,000 are not adding to the stock of low cost housing.

  15. Tyro Rex

    Speaking as someone who used to be a long-term (life) resident of inner-Eastern Sydney I find this an interesting topic but one I’m not sure exactly what I think of it. I think the symbolic, personal issues are important (although not always) but I do think that sometimes there isn’t enough emphasis on material conditions. However I’m not actually sure that’s a phenomenon that’s unique to inner-city Sydney.

    I will point out that I never found Clover Moore to be any sort of “progressive” candidate. Far from it. She was always the representative of the gentrifying classes.

  16. David Irving (no relation)

    I was pretty underwhelmed by Ms Razer’s latest effort. I think it fits well (you know what I mean) with her recent “Feminism: UR doin it rong” piece.

    Contrarianism is all very well in its place, but Ms Razer does it badly.

  17. Luke Whitington

    Chris, what was this ‘left wing nosh up’? There are really only about three in Sydney per year that can be described that way. We are not really being clear in this about who this supposed ‘Left’ is and where and when they say or do anything. Do we mean your average SMH social liberal columnist, commentator or contributor, or do we mean real Lefties, unionists, socialists, political organisers and propagandists? A few of those may be occasionally a little bit culture war obsessed, but most aren’t, in my experience.

  18. Sacha Blumen

    Thanks for everyone’s comments – just read them and I’ll reply this morning.

  19. eilish

    Shorter Razer and Dr. Blumen: lefties are wankers.

    Tremendously helpful.

  20. Martin B

    That’s an unfair characterisation of the argument.

    Now if I were to unfairly characterise the argument I would say that it is: rather than wasting their time on social movements and The Greens, leftists should concentrate on advancing their economic and cultural interests through the old-style materialist instruments of the ALP and the trade unions (even though the ALP has been complicit in establishing the neo-liberal economic orthodoxy in Australia and sections of the trade union movement remain overtly hostile to the cultural interests of women and minorities).

    But like I said, that’s unfair…

  21. Mark Bahnisch

    I sense a few buttons are being pushed.

    It’s all very well to say “false dichotomy”, but actually there is great importance in the level of emphasis for those who don’t see cultural/materialistic politics as dichotomous.

    But there’s also a good reason why the cultural/material opposition can be dichotomised – at both ends of the spectrum, people do deny the importance of the other pole. I’ve observed a number of inner city campaigns in Brisbane and Brisbane Central in 2007 and 2006 which were virtually politics free, unless politics is understood as bourgeois position taking. Similarly, there are old school Labourists and Marxists who deny the importance of the cultural and symbolic realms, and of contestation within them.

    Some of this we can see being played out at the moment.

    Think about Richard Denniss’ (correct) critique about the self-righteousness inherent in government subsidies for personal renewable power sources. Tax revenue is distributed to those who are already advantaged – through home ownership and informational capital – who then receive an economic benefit denied to those who are not, and moral capital through seeing themselves as virtuous in their energy use. It does nothing to address economic inequality and little to address the dominance of dirty power sources.

    It’s a parable.

    There’s a lot of it around, and it’s akin to the NIMBYism that Sacha talks about.

  22. Mark Bahnisch

    Further to that, I don’t see any good reason why arguing that more emphasis should be placed on material issues is somehow left-bashing, or whatever. What’s wrong with internal dialogue? Why do some people feel the need to take it personally, and respond in a wounded fashion?

  23. Katz

    Speaking as a resident of Inner Melbourne, and therefore definitionally susceptible to a Helen Razer c*m Fronte Populaire spray, let me state unequivocally that Inner Sydney can never have too much/little* goat racing.

    * strike out whichever does not apply.

  24. FDB

    I saw a fox in North Carlton the other night, bold as brass.

    I want to know what Adam Bandt and the Greens are going to do about it.

  25. Adrien

    The Left has lost its way through symbolism and stupidity

    Wow! Really? What elucidation. Perhaps the above should be the subtitle, the headline reading: D’uh!

    Andrew Bolt is to David Marr as a Kraft Single is to raw milk chèvre.

    I reckon David Marr’s more like the goat’s cheese you buy in Coles.

  26. Katz

    What’s Coles?

  27. Martin B

    Tax revenue is distributed to those who are already advantaged

    Don’t let facts get in the way of a good story, Mark

    The top 10 Victorian solar postcodes** are as follows:
    1. 3564 Echuca 13.3% of houses have solar power systems
    2. 3690 Wodonga 13.2%
    3. 3551 Emu Creek, Axe Creek, Myrtle Creek 13.2%
    4. 3818 Drouin, Jindivick 12.9%
    5. 3023 Caroline Springs, Deer Park, Burnside 11.6%
    6. 3029 Hoppers Crossing, Tarneit, Truganina 11.6%
    7. 3024 Wyndham Vale, Mambourin, Mount Cottrell 11.3%
    8. 3037 Calder Park, Sydenham 10.9%
    9. 3076 Epping 10.2%
    10. 3173 Keysborough 9.8%

  28. Martin B

    What’s wrong with internal dialogue? Why do some people feel the need to take it personally, and respond in a wounded fashion?

    Razer’s article has called ‘the “Left”, such as it is’ thoughtless, stupid, Bolt-esque, individualistic and unable to think about class issues.

    Do you really think that is a model for respectful dialogue?

  29. Ambigulous

    Katz 26 re “Coles” ::
    refer to Sparkly Bear shopping precinct, Brunswick, inner Melbourne.

    Is it a mystery that goats assume such importance? The delicious chevre delighting Ms Razer is likely an artisan chevre deriving from small stables of Inner Sydney Racing Goats. Stop the racing, you stop the artisan chevre. [see Marx, Engels "Der Kaese"]

    In Inner Melbourne, the equivalent pastime (Billy Cart Racing) was always hindered by the lack of steep, cobbled lanes. Then it was banned. But note the etymology of ‘Billy Cart’: yep, goat-drawn vehicles.

  30. Peter Murphy

    Further to that, I don’t see any good reason why arguing that more emphasis should be placed on material issues is somehow left-bashing, or whatever.

    Of course not. Titles like “The Left has lost its way through symbolism and stupidity“, however, do sound an eensy-teensy-weensy bit like left-bashing to my jaundiced ears.

    If we’re going to get into internal dialogue, can I advise Helen Razer to pass on the strawman arguments next time?

  31. FDB

    Stop the goats!

  32. Martin B

    Heh, someone had to say it ;-)

  33. Mark Bahnisch

    Do you really think that is a model for respectful dialogue?

    No, I don’t. But the post here is not by Helen Razer, but by Sacha Blumen.

    It would be nice if his arguments could be debated on their merits.

  34. Mark Bahnisch

    Martin, I didn’t say anything about inner city folks in what I wrote there.

    Perhaps I am grumpy today, but I am really getting tired of the willingness to extrapolate rather than read.

  35. FDB

    Agreed Martin.

    Somebody needed to cast their flimsy cloak of dignity aside, and I have no regrets.

    And Adrien – which Melbourne Coles are you shopping at? Because Ambigulous and I can assure you the cheese selection at the Sparkly Bear outlet is first-rate. French racing goat chevre, hand rolled in charcoal dust if you please.

  36. Martin B

    But the post here is not by Helen Razer, but by Sacha Blumen

    Who introduced it with the quotes from Razer, described it as an example of “clarity” and said that he agreed with much of it.

    Obviously if he had said “what a stupid way of talking about the problem, but lets see if there’s anything under there” the effect would have been somewhat different.

  37. Martin B

    Perhaps I am grumpy today

    Don’t worry, I’m sure I’m sounding as grumpy as you!

    but I am really getting tired of the willingness to extrapolate rather than read.

    Like attributing an emotional response to people rather than engaging with the things that have been said about how cultural and material factors can be mutually entwined?

  38. Mark Bahnisch

    I don’t follow, Martin.

  39. Katz

    It’s getting on everyone’s goat.

  40. FDB

    You’re not kidding.

  41. Katz

    Typical of the nanny state.

  42. FDB

    “Typical of the nanny state.”

    Though if you’ve got the cash, mere regulations needn’t stand in the way.

  43. Katz

    Capricious comment, FDB.

  44. Helen

    Took the chevre to my levres, but my levres were dry.

  45. Katz

    You need a cup of tea, an ibex, and a good lie down.

  46. Peter Murphy

    I don’t know wether to laugh or cry.

  47. FDB

    Lucky it isn’t Satyrday. With a punfest like this, we might awake tomorrow to find our pantysgawn.

  48. Katz

    It’d be a matter of looking back in angora.

  49. FDB

    Katz WTF? They’re racing bunny rabbits in Inner Western Sydney now?

    I assume this involves a mechanical greyhound.

  50. Katz

    Wiki informs me that angora can refer to rabbit, goat or cat.

    You had me in a panick there for a while FDB.

  51. BilB

    I can’t best that so I’ll just sip and chuckle.

  52. Tim Macknay

    This thread strikes me as just more of the same old bleating.

  53. Lefty E

    Yes, though I do take Mark’s general point, Solar PV is not really the best example of it – as the largest uptakes turn out to be in relatively lower income areas, as Martin B demonstrates of VIC. (And even if they werent, the stuff about increasing costs on general consumers is a pack of baldfaced lies anyway. It actually reduces the costs on the general consumer by lowering peak demand prices. Brian linked to this recently).

    But its certainly been spun the other way, which makes me ask how much of this is debate, in the end, spin designed to fox the left into internal disputation.

    I think we’d need to plumb that issue by issue rather than generalise, but I suspect quite a few.

    Though I love the man more than Id admit in some circles, if you wanted to pick the moment and place where material and symbolic politics parted ways in Australia it was probably under His PJKness. This separation came from the centre of politics rather than the left: and it was the accomodation with neo-liberalism and a new focus on symbolic issues. Targeted welfare slowly replaced universalism. None of his 3 Rs was redistribution.

    Though I dont dismiss Razer’s article a lot of blame sheets home to the ALP and Union movement in the end. Who was it that deradicalised workplaces? Was it the left? Or the major union almagamations and withdrawal of the shopfloors in favour of Accord style elite corporatism? And then, why wouldnt the left the back equality in a whole range of issues left on the table that may be described (wrongly, in my opinon) as non-material?

    Why wrongly? The reason I do find this dichotomy unconvincing is a simple fact of political life: you cant make effective material claims if you have no symbolic power or capital.

    I once spent a PhD making this argument. Here’s the simplified version of the truth folks: the labour movement spent an awful lot of its early energy running a pride movement – an identity deserving of rights and decent conditions. They were considered and treated like pigs by the upper classes before the 1890s. Hence, in part, their strategic affilations with imperial racism – we deserve to be treated as white men (which they also believed as products of their time). And then, to their credit, they were actively involved (with some resistance i sectors) with women’s enfranchisement, and later with organising other ethnicities becuase they smelt change, and a better recruitment strategy and a more effective industrial strategy.

    Much of that messy evolution the was later described by some Marxists, with ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’, as ‘false consciousness’.

    Truth is there never was a purely ‘material’ phase of any struggle. The whole dual concept is flawed and always was. You need respect if you are going to make claims.

  54. Mark Bahnisch

    Thanks, Lefty E – note that I said it was Richard Deniss’ argument. It’s an argument – perhaps it requires empirical verification. I’m personally not familiar with Victorian suburbs, towns and postcodes, so Martin’s list doesn’t mean a lot to me, though I got the inference.

  55. Mark Bahnisch

    which makes me ask how much of this is debate, in the end, spin designed to fox the left into internal disputation.

    That sort of goes to my other point (and I don’t comment on Razer’s motivations). What’s wrong with internal argument over priorities? Her stance is in a sense a radicalised mirror of others. Within a lot of these “cultural” circles, there is an over-sensitivity to criticism. Perhaps she doesn’t help there, but I suspect she’s making a rhetorical point by personalising her critique of personalisation.

  56. Ambigulous

    Helen@44

    And good ole boys sippin’ coca ‘n chais
    Singin’, “This’ll be the day m’goat dies”

  57. Martin B

    FWIW I don’t actually think that the subsidies were the ideal policy setting and it goes almost without saying that much more policy effort needs to go into providing incentives for these kinds of things in public housing and rental properties (although the latter at least is an intinsically harder policy task).

    But IMHO it is far too simplistic to just say that this is ‘just’ a case of wealth redistribution upwards with no broader social or environmental benefit. As LE says it’s a bit more complex than that. (I could also note that exactly the same argument is made about government investment in tertiary students, but we wouldn’t accept that now, would we?)

  58. Lefty E

    Well the entire deficit would be covered by one year’s worth of negative gearing losses to the ATO (to encourage further bourgeois 2nd home investment in a completely unproductive sector of the economy), and we are arguing about pennies by comparison, (and something with demonstrable social benefit by comparison) but isnt that always the way?

  59. jules

    Now, while there’s nothing wrong with people drawing rainbows on footpaths, it doesn’t do much to improve the material experience of lgbti people. Nor does it do much for civil rights, as glbti people in NSW have almost precisely the same legal rights as everyone else.

    While I’m not lgtbi and don’t live in inner city Sydney or inner city anywhere, i dunno if this is true. If you mean “material experience” then cos everything is ultimately material experience, visibility and being a visible part of the community is a part of it. Especially for people who get vilified all the time, are subject to heaps of violence and abuse and, in parts of Australia, were effectively illegal less than 20 years ago. Ownership of public space is a material thing too.

  60. BilB

    LeftyE,

    The historical aspect is interesting, and I suggest that the long labour movement history has yielded results. People are educated, cared for, healthy, paid acceptably, equal, and recreated. The big conceptual battles are won. The Job is done. What is left is the maintenance process leading to many small hot-spots, and issue fragmentation that takes on the appearance of whinging.

    Part of that maintenance is the re-emergence of housing affordability, sufficiently significant to have triggered a Global Financial Crisis from the US. And dramatic shifts in the global economy have caused major issues with employment nature and security, sufficiently significant to throw Europe’s economies into crisis.

    I think that the “material” argument is a valid one.

  61. Lefty E

    What’s wrong with internal argument over priorities? Her stance is in a sense a radicalised mirror of others.

    Yes agree Mark, no problem, as long as they are prepared to receive an argument in return. Its one of the those thing that sounds ok in general, but then it turns out both sides mostly agree on specific examples.

    FWIW, I dont regard issues like violence, abuse, sexism, homophobia, racism as ‘non-material’ – not even in some abstract sense, or least not usefully so. Suspect most on both sides of this debate would either.

    Solidarity normally starts with deciding everyone is equal, despite what we’ve been told. And if so, then they deserve equal rights in a range of areas, not all of which may satisfy the workeriest of workerists. C’est la vie, thats the logic of equality. I see no contradiction in pursuing it in all areas at the same time.

    Maybe there a re some issues, but eg, if a gay couple deserves to be married and adopt a kid, then they deserve prioroty for housing commission like any other family.

    If it seems to have become divorced from wages housing etc over time, (which I somewhat doubt from experience) Id also point at least one little finger at unions and the ALP for taking material claims out of ordinary people’s shopfloor hands over time. Though I d equally point to the unions as bodies that have carried on their share of valued work on wider issues of equality.

  62. Lefty E

    What is left is the maintenance process leading to many small hot-spots, and issue fragmentation that takes on the appearance of whinging.

    Agree with that Bilb. The classic one for me which hasn’t been dealt with is the climate crisis – if this can be described as ‘non-material’ then sound the bells for the funeral of this dichotomous concept. Its going underwater.

    I think that the “material” argument is a valid one.

    I dont dispute this are issues better described as economic than social or political. I rather dispute the idea that certain types of struggle have an inherently different logic to them. The ‘we are the 99%’ deal is classic strategy to maximiise indentification build alliances, claim you’re worthy of better treatment, and then claim it. and minimise the opponents social capital. This is exactly what a pride movement does. What labour movements have always done.

    Homeless people are not necessarily drunken reprobates etc. people with mental illness are not necessarily dangerous. Therefore they deserves houses, or deinsitutionalisation. And so on.

    I think we’ll always find hard won equalities in any area an ally in other struggles. And if it prove otherwise, well then, know who your enemy is. Chances are it aint those seeking legal equality in some field.

  63. Mark Bahnisch

    I dont regard issues like violence, abuse, sexism, homophobia, racism as ‘non-material’ – not even in some abstract sense, or least not usefully so. Suspect most on both sides of this debate would either.

    No, I don’t either, Lefty E. But that’s part of the point. In Brisbane thousands will turn out for marriage equality rallies. Very few take action when there are serious issues at stake around violence, health and mental health among lgbti people in disadvantaged communities. I’m not saying this as a “critic”, but reporting what people who work in the affected community tell me, which greatly frustrates them. You can see where this cultural activism starts to reflect a real dichotomy, in terms of people’s practices, not their stated politics, which may well encompass those concerns, but which are out of sight of their lifeworlds much of the time.

  64. Lefty E

    I see what you’re saying there Mark, sure. Of course, sometimes we are looking at different historical phases of a movement and its too early to conclude why one is smaller than the other. Others just have an easier time getting into the mainstream, and yes, some play out better with pre-existing norms.

    Anyway, to summarise my above blather: all so-called ‘material’ struggles involve identity politics, always have. The bearer of that identity might be a larger group, but youve still got to convert them to seeing themselves that way. Solidarity politics always was identity politics. The workers are alright – not some deformed lower species beset by vices which condemn them to their station. On this basis we claim everything labelled ‘material justice’.

  65. Mark Bahnisch

    Well, I’m not sure we’re agreeing, Lefty E, though I’m a little pressed for time to consider the implications of your argument. I think “identity politics” might be the wrong analytical category here, as I suspect it’s collapsing too much which perhaps needs to be differentiated.

  66. Martin B

    I’m sure most of us would agree that that is a problem in the broader sense.

    But is too much focus on the big symbolic issues a symptom or a cause of that? There are a whole host of things that would need to be unpicked before you could even tentatively make a claim there.

  67. FDB

    “In Brisbane thousands will turn out for marriage equality rallies. Very few take action when there are serious issues at stake around violence, health and mental health among lgbti people in disadvantaged communities.”

    No doubt that’s the same the world over. I don’t think it’s materialism versus symbolism though. Causes with a simple and clearly defined goal (changing the Marriage Act, not going to war in Iraq etc) are a lot easier to mobilise people around. The underlying issues may be quite nuanced and complex, and be both material and symbolic, but the objective is simple – let gays marry, don’t send troops to Iraq.

  68. Russell

    “People are educated, cared for, healthy, paid acceptably, equal, and recreated. The big conceptual battles are won. The Job is done.”

    In a globalising world, the job is not nearly done. The recent news from Bangladesh requires us to ask how the left here can participate, internationally, in raising the conditions of workers, particularly where those conditions desperately need improving.

  69. akn

    Ah, a discussion about the failures of the ‘inner city left’. I’m so glad I no longer live in the inner West of Sydney. None of this applies to me!

    But a discussion of what it means to be ‘left’ without any mention of the failed projects of communism, socialism and social democracy without which mention it can mean nothing to be ‘left’.

    It’s over.

    Razor misapprehends the left’s ‘cultural turn’, sparked by Raymond Williams in the Anglophone countries which was an attempt by the left to rip back the role of cultural producers and interpreters from the bourgeoisie.

    Anyone with a hankering for freedom, the sort of freedom that the left once promised, could do no better than turn to Kropotkin and a modern, rationalised approach to Buddhism

  70. Peter Murphy

    Speaking of marriage equality…

  71. FDB

    Peter – not much of a scoop there.

    A lobby group intends to back candidates who support their cause.

  72. Lefty E

    I think “identity politics” might be the wrong analytical category here, as I suspect it’s collapsing too much which perhaps needs to be differentiated.

    I agree here, Id call it making symbolic claims for recognition. Always a key part of redistribution struggles.

    Possibly getting away some from the original post – but the idea that mass movement dont centrally employ ideas of identity in so-called ‘material’ struggles is a myth – or perhaps more accurately, the idea that they get ‘consciousness’ of working class identity out of crates on the shopfloor by simple virtue of economic position. In fact, it always involved exactly the same sort of campaigning now dismissed as ‘identity politics’ to progressively build those unities among the target group.

    Nationalists had a much easier time of that task too, so its was hard work. Political work.

    What Im suggesting is that the much maligned ‘identity politics’ isnt really so different from so called material struggles, when you boil it down. Both involve strategic claims for rights-bearing identities, which therefore deserve material justice.

    To (more clearly) return to the post’s theme:

    Now, while there’s nothing wrong with people drawing rainbows on footpaths, it doesn’t do much to improve the material experience of lgbti people.

    I dont know about that. Disrespect is a ‘material’ experience. In fact, id go further, its more likely to mobilise people than the brute fact of inequality. Look across history, its only when you encode inequality as a disrespect to a group of people that theyll revolt.

    Youre unlikely to get material justice if you cant also get respect.

  73. Mark Bahnisch

    I’ll think about that some more, Lefty E. Essay marking is doing my head in at the moment.

  74. Mark Bahnisch

    But is too much focus on the big symbolic issues a symptom or a cause of that? There are a whole host of things that would need to be unpicked before you could even tentatively make a claim there.

    If one were to be a materialist, it would be tempting to argue that the dependent variable is inequality. In other words, the more focus on symbolic politics, the less shift in distributional fairness. A bit of quasi-Marxist macrosociology, if you like ;)

  75. Mark Bahnisch

    In truth, though, it is probably both a symptom and a cause. That’s how stuff actually works. Useful to posit hypotheses though – that’s what we’re doing in a sense.

  76. Sam

    It seems to me this article was written by someone who has not being living in inner Sydney very long.

    How long is very long? Blumen says he’s been living in inner-Sydney since 2000. That’s got to be long enough to understand the issues.

    Anyhoo, nothing beats the revelation that there is goat racing in inner-Sydney. Who knew? Goat feta at the Crown Street deli in Surry Hills is perfectly understandable. But goat racing?

    On the more substantive issue, class analysis is back, baby, and has been back since the Occupy movement. Identity politics is sooo 2009.

  77. Lefty E

    I guess Im arguing this: the raw fact of inequality doesnt actually do much to a situation in terms of its politics.

    Its when some organisers come along and succesfully encode that inequality as a form of disrespect to a group, you get political mobilisation. After all, the culture of the status quo is normally suggesting this is right and proper under God.

    Degrees of inequality may make that process more or less likely to result in success, sure, but inequality itself doesnt really generate much on its own. Its just a big dumb set of social relations.

    This is the problem with materialist analyses – they assume some sort of culturally generative capacities in such situations. Never really worked well of course, hence, for example, Lenin rolled in with vanguardism. For good or ill, one thing it did was make the left look like every other movement for change: involves agitators and organising and shifting people’s perception of their identities and rights and legitimate expectations.

    Whats that got to do with the post? Im no longer sure. :p Ive been thinking about something else while ranting. Suffice to say: ‘material’ v ‘identity’ politics is an dichotomy based on some pretty bad and failed ideas.

    Sure, lets get back to housing, income, health and so on. Not convinced we ever stopped, but in case we did, it will still involve suggesting certain people of deserving and worthy of more respect and equality. Pehaps it will all prove to have been essential work.

  78. Lefty E

    Hmm, I triggered moderation!

  79. akn

    Lefty E @ 64: I agree on respect. An old mate wrote a great book, For Freedom and Dignity . For added sophisticated social theory you can’t go past Axel Honneth on respect.

  80. Martin B

    Spelled too many words correctly LE. They had you for an imp.

  81. FDB

    But apparently his grammar is unimpeachable.

    Harrumph!

  82. Martin B

    Heh, I was thinking that it was a novelty to be defending LE’s syntax :-)

  83. Lefty E

    Heh. Hey you should see my handwriting. Let’s just say Ive got a great font for radio.

    Akn, yes indeed on yer man Honneth there. The only Frankfurt Cat Ive ever had my time for.

    As I move in ever narrowing concentric circles towards a point related to this post, (while looking at my watch and mixing tracks on an Mbox), lets me lastly proffer this: I sense in the ‘lets get material again’ a remnant of the old and discredited idea that one way is ‘scientific’ the other utopian, by which we mean deluded and false.

    And I also sense a bit of straw guy – meh, maybe some people got into chalking rainbows, I dunno. They were probably the same people running endless small groups in dark times, building slowly the sort of change that takes ages, rewards them little, but makes for a good life and nearly always results in the eventual defeat of a conservative sacred cow.

    When you call ‘time for a serious issue now!’ youll probably find your real problem wasnt them at all, and they have a helpful thing or two to tell you about organising.

  84. Golly Gosh

    I remember seeing a lad taking his mother’s goat for a walk one evening in inner northern Melbourne. I thought it was absolutely splendid. It really brightened my day and still makes me smile.

  85. philip travers

    I didn’t think,you could take Helen Razer seriously about anything .I sort of like her from her attempts at humour in the past .Like preferring a wet Klennex tissue rather than a spider’ web for near entry to a new life .Perhaps she could impersonate what a non-individual sounds like blowing across a late night wine bottle opened and empty. With some goat cheese in mouth! So I guess the bountiful Crikey will from now on leave names off their articles,because they are of the universal- mind- thought- feeling !? Or perhaps it is like PA or Pigs Anatomy [cannot get spelling right tonight] where a proximity to as Sigmund the Fraud would say …anal eroticism!?

  86. faustusnotes

    In most cities, essential urban transport infrastructure – heavily supported by taxes past and present – goes through very wealthy inner city areas. I guess that’s just selfish of those wealthy folks, and we should close all roads and railway stations between the city and Ashfield. I note too that it was those pesky lefties, by and large, who demanded more public transport in those areas. Another example of selfish lifestylism. Those lefties should, in the spirit of social justice and equity, have demanded that the trains which go to good, serious, working class people in Campbelltown and Rooty Hill should start at Ashfield.

    Oh, what, not all government spending is about equity? Who knew! You mean solar panel tariffs are about saving the planet and not redistributing wealth?

    That (incorrect) analysis about selfish feed-in tariffs for solar is an example of what i was talking about in my moderated comment at 10. The commentator thinks government should prioritize something else more important, but instead of engaging the policy on its merits, that commentator chooses to engage in hippy punching. Because it will win them this policy debate through leveraging the forces of reaction, and that’s more important than changing the overall policy dialogue so that this kind of bullying and facile mud-slinging stops happening.

    I note that among the industrial left, this hippy-punching tactic is particularly popular when opposing AGW mitigation measures. Could this be because these old-school leftists can’t really accept the science of AGW, but know they will be laughed out of town if they say so openly? Could it be because the victory of environmentalists over AGW represents the final nail in the coffin of the industrial left? Can’t fight that kind of historical inevitability with reasoned policy debate – but fortunately the conservative media have provided a wide range of epiphets that can be used in place of actual argument …

  87. faustusnotes

    Is the spam filter starting to twig to tone? My grumpy comment got moderated!

    [There now - Ed]

  88. Helen

    *Stands, applauds FN*

  89. jules

    FN – well said (especially the last paragraph @ 10).

  90. Chris

    That (incorrect) analysis about selfish feed-in tariffs for solar is an example of what i was talking about in my moderated comment at 10.

    The analysis is not just about the FiT but also the capital subsidies for installations. And the analysis by postcode needs to be taken with a grain of salt since although average incomes may not be high within a postcode, it doesn’t mean individuals who took advantage of the FiT and solar PV rebates have low incomes. I’m an example of this. I think its more more accurate to say the solar rebates/FiT are redistribution to the middle from the high/low incomes. For example, those who rent can’t access the FiT or solar rebates.

    The analysis also just counts number of installations rather than the size of the installation. For example I know people who now have a tax-free income of >$10,000/year from the FiT because they installed a very large (in a residential context) system. Pay off time for captial including loan interest is <7 years and after that its literally money for nothing.

    But back to your other point about whether its saving the planet or redistributing wealth I think there is a fair criticism that the residential solar PV rebates actually do both badly. If we want to save the planet then we'd get better return on investment encouraging mid-large scale solar systems (or wind). We'd certainly prioritise solar hot water over solar PV in most circumstances.

    And if we want to do wealth redistribution in a saving the planet manner we'd be better off installing PV (solar and hot water) on public housing.

    But the way the solar PV schemes have been framed appears to maximise political return rather than either "saving the planet" or wealth redistribution.

  91. faustusnotes

    You made a big mistake there Chris: you attempted to engage with the policy and debate the best way to achieve a set of practical outcomes. That’s not this thread is for: it’s for hippy-punching people who have different priorities to you.

  92. Golly Gosh

    Oh cut it out faustusnotes. There is a real point being made here and I can think of several examples from when I lived in the inner north of Melbourne, ten years ago.

    A good example of the inner city leftists putting the ethereal before the material is opposition to urban consolidation. The local branch of the Greens opposed the building of a high rise apartment block on High Street in Northcote on visual amenity grounds, that is to say, they worried that it would diminish the view from the top of the old Northcote tip, some 500 metres away.

    Of course, they also tried to add some legitimacy to their campaign by invoking the stereotype of the greedy developer.

    I found this episode disgusting. Melbourne has more expensive housing than most of the major cities in Europe and it also has relatively low urban density, yet the Greens valued a dubious claim of visual amenity (I stood on top of the hill myself. Any change in visual amenity would have been negligible.) over creating more supply to meet housing demand.

    I suppose I identify more with the old blue collar left than the new left and its post-material and often selfish concerns.

    Good to see Helen Razer, Sacha Blumen and Mark Bahnisch acknowledge this issue.

  93. Lefty E

    You havent provided enough info there GG to assess whether or not its a good example or not.

    It might have been a shitty development, with no low cost housing in it, creating road and parking problems, and butt ugly to boot. Thats the normal proposal you get from developers, by the way, and GRN councillor have been known to oppose these on all the above grounds which are clearly ‘material’ concerns and legitimate ones.

    So, by the way, have ALP councillors.

    So maybe a bunch of cashed-up yuppies went and bought elsewhere, and everyone ended up happy. Big deal.

    Im not saying thats what happened, but you havent established this as a valid ‘example’ in the slightest.

    In fact, I havent seen a really good example on the whole thread, now I think about it.

  94. Golly Gosh

    Lefty Elitist (I imagine the E still stands for elitist, please correct me if I’m wrong),

    Re-read your own @93 as it is a perfect example of the problem we are discussing.

    Your sneer about cashed up bogans yuppies – the wrong sort of of people (sniff) – says a lot about you and the “left” with which you identify. Goodness me, some of these people may not have even gone to university! Some may even work with their hands, oh the horror!

    Predictably you wheel out all the standard development objections, for instance you invoke the old chestnut about butt ugly development, an argument that cannot be falsified because aesthetics is a matter of personal taste.

    You also set the developer the impossible task of providing low cost housing, something that is not possible in an area where demand for housing far exceeds supply. Low cost housing in such circumstances requires government intervention.

    As various studies demonstrate, inadequate parking, another one of the objections you employ, is actually the best thing since sliced cheese since it encourages public transport use, smaller cars (they fit better into tight spots) and car sharing schemes.

    BTW, the development is the newish apartment just northeast of Separation and High Streets, Northcote.

  95. Martin B

    I think there have been a few decent examples, but they have all been examples of how material politics involve cultural symbolism. Agree that there’s been a dearth of examples suggesting neat separations (bearing in mind that Mark’s example is a complicated question that is not at all easy to attribute one way or the other).

    I’m not actually that impressed with the Greens efforts in my part of Melbourne in terms of promoting higher density and resisting falling into a defence of existing homeowners property values. But I’d take a whole swag of convincing hat the old-school industrial left with its focus on material politics is any better. Sadly it’s one of those issues that doesn’t consistently get traction in any political grouping.

  96. Lefty E

    You also set the developer the impossible task of providing low cost housing, something that is not possible in an area where demand for housing far exceeds supply. Low cost housing in such circumstances requires government intervention.

    Nope: its not only possible, its compulsory in the Brisbane City Council, for example. Matter of political will. You can make developers provide low cost housing.

    Otherwise your post seems to have missed the point completely or deliberately distorted it: I didnt mention ‘inadequate parking’, and the smarmy half-smart bits only demonstrate you didnt get the point of my post in the least.

    So lets try again: You still havent established why the perfectly routine actions of councillors (not just GRNs) in responding negatively to large development applciaiton and community concerns its ‘an example’ of this central allegation of this post. Happens all the time – with all stripes of local councilllors. One of the reasons the state govt set up VCAT.

    You still have put forward no evidence at all as to why we should consider it in the category. Maybe it was just a shit development.

    I support higher density in the inner-city, by the way. It doesnt follow that I therefore support a particular proposal cos its … large.

  97. Golly Gosh

    Lefty Elitist:

    “I didnt mention ‘inadequate parking’”

    I’m sorry but you said

    … creating road and parking problems

    Why road and parking problems did you mean if you didn’t mean “inadequate” parking.

  98. Golly Gosh

    Sorry, that should be:

    What road and parking problems did you mean if you didn’t mean “inadequate” parking.?

  99. Golly Gosh

    Lefty E:

    “Nope: its not only possible, its compulsory in the Brisbane City Council, for example. Matter of political will. You can make developers provide low cost housing.”

    Nope. Developers can produce dense, cheap low quality housing (a supply side response) but they can’t do anything about the demand that forces up prices.

    Brisbane City Council, like most councils, has token policies with limited funding, if their website is accurate. The developer requirement appears to be a figment of your imagination, but even if it wasn’t it would not address the crux of the problem, that being a massive excess of demand for inner city housing.

  100. Lefty E

    And perhaps Im being ungenerous, but I cant say Ive seen any examples here. The solar PV is the sort of thing that sounds like it might be a good case – until you examine it.

    Part of my problem with the whole thing is this: I joined the GRNs not because I wanted to go all ‘post-material’ or something. Far from it. I actaully doubt it has a single member with that motivation.

    The old framework of material/ ideal concerns cant really get itself around the environmental crisis, though nothing could possibly be more material an issue. Dismissing it alternately too radical, or merely some middle class ‘lifestyleism’ is a symptom of that confusion.

    Id turn all this on its head a bit: one of the reason I vote GRN is that they haver more progressive policies on industrial relations and other ‘old left’ issues than the ALP does. They arent neoliberals on core economic issues, which sets them apart completely from the ALP. They never get any traction on these fronts, true enough, and part of that is political demand driven in an environmental crisis, but if youve ever wondered why the GRNs have a hardcore left of industrial lawyers, unionists and ex-CP members, thats why. IMHO, Its just a more left wing party on old and new left issues.

    So forgive me if I have little truck with the central premise here. Im in the GRNs because its less wishy-washy, small-l liberal and (dare i say) less inclined to spurn ideas of class than the ALP.

  101. Lefty E

    In practice the BCC used to insist on it for larger developments in the inner city, at least back in the Tim Quinn days. I’m in a position to know this, and you’re just googling mate. It was an arrangement frequently made with developers in the late 90 and early 00s.

    It was a good thing too. Presumably that all changed to motherhood statements under Newman – I havent lived there since 2001, but the point remains it can be done, because it was. Even today all developers are forced to contibute to parkland – either on site, or the equivalent in a form of levy toward parkland in general, which is a direct parallel: Councils have the power to do all place all kinds of social benefit resitrictions on developers.

    These usefully augmented public housing – but of course social housing is the main game (not all of which is public). All developments create traffic flow, tram flow and parking issues, not least at the corner you mention. And get real: those yuppies arent going to be happy about not parking all their cars, and the councillors know it too.

    Anyway, none of this was ever much related to the point: your ‘example’ didnt really demonstrate much about the material v psot-material left at all. Local councillors tend to come under pressure not to support big developments. All of them. Thats why the VIC govt took many of their powers away with VCAT.

    And finally, Golly Gosh, do try to stick to the point in future too: your attempts at bait and troll above bored me, and only made you look a bit precious about being disagreed with.

    Follow my lead at 93 – its a good tone for blogging: forthright, yes, but also impersonal. For that matter, any of the other numbers above offer a pretty good guide to mature blog behaviour as well: excepting 94 & 97. My advice is to lose the smarm. Or at least get good at it.

  102. Golly Gosh

    Well let’s stay nice, Lefty Elitist.

    You used a pejorative term to describe certain people, those who’ve risen above their station, undesirables and unfit to live in the inner city. My rejoinder was very much indicated. Plus you hardly help your case by calling yourself Lefty Elitist.

    Mark Bahnisch hit the nail on the head when he said this:

    Think about Richard Denniss’ (correct) critique about the self-righteousness inherent in government subsidies for personal renewable power sources. Tax revenue is distributed to those who are already advantaged – through home ownership and informational capital – who then receive an economic benefit denied to those who are not, and moral capital through seeing themselves as virtuous in their energy use. It does nothing to address economic inequality and little to address the dominance of dirty power sources.

    The counter claims put here are absurd. I live in a tree change country area with markedly below average incomes but with above average solar roof panels. The solar roof top panels are on top of the roofs of the tree changers houses (including mine!) and most of us tree changes are older folk with money to spare because we sold our houses in the big smoke. Thus fails Martin B’s argument.

    Second, even if it is true that solar roof panels will deliver a net saving in the long run, the government could have achieved greater GHG emission reductions at less cost by pursuing other options. As Prof John Quiggin notes:

    Like quite a few commenters, I think subsidies for rooftop solar PV installations are not a first-best policy option, and probably not even second-best.

    Thus the argument that this was ever good policy fails.

  103. Brian

    GG, Quiggin wrote that over three years ago. I’m not sure he’d be of the same view still.

    This graph is doing the rounds right now.

    Renewables are becoming disruptive. As the man said:

    Again: there is one kind of energy that gets more expensive the more it is used, and one kind that gets less expensive the more it is used.

    Give rooftop solar another five years and then pass judgement. It’s possible the Government may have picked a winner!

  104. Helen

    I suppose I identify more with the old blue collar left than the new left and its post-material and often selfish concerns.

    I am viewing the spectacle of Razer, this commenter and others engage in what is obviously pure identity politics, individualism and tribalism while claiming the opposite, with much irritation.

    Lefty, also, what you said about Green politics being very material. Saving the friggin water table here, for instance, it doesn’t get much more material than that.

  105. jules

    Lefty, also, what you said about Green politics being very material. Saving the friggin water table here, for instance, it doesn’t get much more material than that.

    I’ll second that.

  106. Liz

    Here’s an interesting rebuttal to Helen Razor by Elizabeth O’Shea.

    http://overland.org.au/blogs/loudspeaker/2013/05/helen-razer-symbolism-and-the-left/

    I follow Helen on Twitter and one of the ironies, to me, is that she spends an awful lot of time and energy the gay marriage campaign. If you think it’s not important, then don’t spend so much time talking about it.

    Incidentally, I actually have a lot of sympathy for her idea that the gay marriage campaign speaks to deeply conservative desires, as shown by the fact that David Cameron supports it. OTOH, I think if people want to get married, it’s not my business to argue they should do otherwise. Talking to gay friends about the issue, they seem pretty split about it.

  107. Peter Murphy

    And Guy Rundle replies to O’Shea.

  108. Martin B

    LE has a nice way of framing the issue, which I will leave to him should he choose to share.

    My way of framing the issue is that campaigning for gay marriage may well embody a limited understanding of rights and freedoms, but campaigning against gay marriage shows no understanding at all.

  109. Lefty E

    LE has a nice way of framing the issue, which I will leave to him should he choose to share.

    Why thanks Martin B.

    Yes, my own view is that gay and lesbian folk deserve the right to say no to marriage as an instituion, just as much as they deserve the right to choose it.

    Currently they dont enjoy either.

    I hope this takes some of the “gays in teh military!’ style conservative taint away from the issue, which I know some lefties have reservations over. I used to, but no longer do (FYI, the turning point was when one of my married friends made the “its not that important” speech. Suddently it seemed monstrously hypocritical to me).

    In sum: our gay and lesbian friends deserve the right to reject the institution of marriage, should they so choose.

  110. akn

    I have a close relative who is out; he sees the issue as a matter of equality of rights. I suggested to him that marriage was an institution deeply oppressive to women and that it is the site of all sorts of deeply insidious oppressions, power plays and exploitation; he responded that it was still a matter of formal equality for him and others like him, that is, for people who are marginalised in the exercise of their rights by prejudice against their sexuality.

    The problem with this discussion is that it has been framed in terms of left and right. This is not meaningful. There is nothing intrinsically to the left or right about equal social recognition and respect for people of minority sexuality.

    Liberalism must be tested against its own claims. The contest around social recognition and an equality of rights under liberalism provides a framework for advancing democratic practice; this is the traditional left’s best way forward for now. Old fashioned equality.

  111. Liz

    Peter Murphy @107. And Jeff Sparrow does a nice rebuttal to Rundle, in the comments. It’s like ping pong, isn’t it?

  112. Helen

    Razer’s piece can be read in full here.

  113. Golly Gosh

    Well I certainly agree with you on that one, Lefty E. Gays should have the same right to marry as heterosexuals. Hopefully gay marriage will help legitimise being gay and de-legitimise anti-gay reactionaries who make preposterous claims about the likely consequences of gay marriage.

    It was a gay couple of thirty years standing who inspired to leave the big smoke for a tree change.

    Rundle’s argument was rather patronising, I thought.

  114. faustusnotes

    Also Helen, we have the spectacle of Helen Razer claiming the left has taken on Bolt’s notion of the “individual,” while using a central theme from Bolt’s rhetorical playbook – the mythical inner city leftist – to attack her opponents.

  115. alfred venison

    i’m going to stick my neck out here and then go to work. i think what is affecting this lapse of critical thinking & engagé politics at the grass roots is the latest iteration of communication technology – electronic communication via the world wide web. its harold innis all over again, except we’re living the primacy of print, and the institutions & practices it sustained, giving way to the primacy of the electronic web. electronic media are supplanting technologies grounded on print & the book and people in a world comprised largely of appearances & images are no longer constrained to engage in critical thinking which a book world/ print world phenomenon par excellence. technology today does not support the kind of thinking you lament the loss of. -alfred venison