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What’s that? A socialist future? Over to you, Professor Quiggin!

A letter from the Convenor

What’s that? A socialist future? Over to you, Professor Quiggin!

What being a socialist means is… that you hold out… a vision of society where poverty is absolutely unnecessary, where international relations are not based on greed… but on cooperation… where human beings can own the means of production and work together rather than having to work as semi-slaves to other people who can hire and fire.
Bernie Sanders

I think socialism comes from the heart…
Jeremy Corbyn
Frankly, I was surprised when I saw the title of Professor John Quiggin’s upcoming talk at October’s Politics in the Pub in Mullumbimby. Perhaps if I’d seen his recent publications list I would have known that he’s been reflecting on democracy and socialism for quite some time. It’s nonetheless interesting that a professor of economics at one of our sandstone universities would talk so openly about socialism. Let’s face it, it’s not something most economists do.

Socialism is a word that, until recently, had more or less disappeared from the political mainstream, mainly because its detractors equated it with communism and – horror of horrors – collectivism.

But the worm has turned. References to socialism are now bandied about with surprising regularity. It has even featured in election campaigns in the US and UK, and some in the corporate media have dared revive its lexical presence.

That said, the dastardly idea has yet to make a serious appearance in parliamentary Australia. But you never know. Maybe, just maybe, Bill Shorten will be sufficiently emboldened by the success of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn to let the word trip off his tongue, even though socialism really isn’t his thing. Bill’s not exactly a fearless warrior, and with both eyes fixed on next year’s election, he’s unlikely to utter the unmentionable in public. You can understand his sheepishness. Just imagine if he began to wave the red flag at press conferences. What would happen?

Well, in Queensland, where just about every newspaper is owned by a certain Rupert Murdoch, the knives would be out, with images of Lenin and the Gulags on every front page. There would be talk of commie wreckers, dictatorship, summary executions and control by the polit bureau. The Australian would go equally ballistic, sending out its rat pack to discover dirt on every ALP apparatchik. The campaign would be relentless.

But, and here’s the thing, muck raking of this sort may not work any longer. Look what the Murdoch press set out to do in the UK when Corbyn became the opposition’s ‘socialist’ leader. To say he was vilified would be the understatement of the century. His ideas, mental health and apparent links to nefarious entities was the stuff of daily news. The British economy, it was alleged, would collapse, with unemployment queues snaking around every block in every city. And yet, when Corbyn was able to speak directly to the people, when it was confirmed that he didn’t eat babies, and (most importantly), when people saw the media campaign for what it was – character assassination on a grand scale – his popularity, especially among the young, soared.

Now, as the Conservative party implodes, Corbyn stands every chance of leading the Labour Party to victory at the next general election, something unthinkable just eighteen months ago. And all this on a platform of reigning in the greedy finance houses, nationalising this and that, abolition of student fees etc.

In short, Murdoch has had his nose rubbed in the proverbial, and it’s become clear that if certain ‘radical’ ideas get out there – especially in the context of entrenched inequality and division – they have every chance of being taken seriously.

Which brings me back to Australia… Former PM, Kevin Rudd, recently stuck his neck out to denounce Murdoch’s News Corp as “a cancer on democracy”. Strong stuff. It’s true that the corporate media in Australia has fermented great timidity in our political culture, with few willing to risk their careers to take on the might of the moguls. You can understand why. Once the hacks get their claws into you, watch out. And with the Liberal party keen to dismantle the ABC and flog it off to the private sector (is Rupert hovering in the wings?) there’s never been a more worrying time when it comes to public broadcasting, and the media more generally. Sure, there are many alternative outlets on the net, many of them excellent, but they’re still accessed by a minority in this country.

What passes for news in the mainstream media is risible. The fact is that the likes of News Corp, Fairfax and our TV news programmes operate within very narrow infotainment parameters. As John Pilger recently noted, the big stories about corporate greed, dispossession, war-mongering, cruelty and the rest are, at best, confined to the margins, and mainstream investigative journalism has generally failed to tell us how power works.

Trivia, titillation, parochialism, celebrity and so forth tend to dominate the airwaves, an approach which serves the interests of the rich and powerful. The assault on the ABC – not exactly the most radical of news stations – is not simply an attempt to disassemble a public asset. It’s also about ensuring even more concentration of media ownership among the usual suspects, meaning an even narrower articulation of “news”.

So, to talk about socialism in this context is interesting indeed. It’s risky business. But it’s a pivotal moment to do so. We’re in a period of profound change. We’re seeing the fracturing of the neoliberal consensus and a preparedness of millions of citizens to look toward alternative political possibilities. John Quiggin is among the few economists in Australia to really expose the vacuous nature of neoliberal “zombie” economics and the consequent assault on democracy.

So, good on John. Let’s hear what he has to say about life in a socialist future, and why this might be preferable to the current order of things. See you at Ngara Politics in the Pub, Wednesday, 24 October, at the Courthouse Hotel in Mullumbimby.

Cheers
Richard Hil Convenor

Oh, and one last thing – just in case you’re wondering – Politics in the Pub events are now also happening in Lismore and in Kyogle. We’ll keep you informed about all their upcoming talks as well!

Remember to come early. Dinner is available from 5:00pm. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are available.
For further information, phone Jeannette Martin on 0412 322 255 or email ngarainstitute@gmail.com.
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Thank you!

New Politics in the Pub is a Ngara Institute initiative organised by local people for a local, national and international audience.

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