A class war election

Until quite recently, any discussion of income inequality in Australia was met by howls of “class war” from the political right. Particularly under Abbott, the right wanted to fight on culture war issues, while treating economic policy as a matter of competent management, in which the conservative parties were assumed, by default, to be superior.

Suddenly, however, it appears we are going to have a class war election, largely because of the choices made by the Turnbull government.

The obvious starting point is the trigger for the (presumed) double dissolution, the bill to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a regulatory body designed to be more hostile to unions than the Fair Work Commission and related bodies. At the same time, the government has promised to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, a regulatory body established by Labor with the opposite intent.

While anything is possible, the most likely outcome is that the ABCC bill will be passed by the Senate with amendments calling for things like a Royal Commission into banks, an inquiry into corruption in business, tax evasion and so on. To get the double dissolution, Turnbull will have to reject those amendments. So, the big question arising from the putative basis of the election will be “who are the real crooks here?”.

Turning to policy, the tax reform fiasco has pushed Turnbull to a position where, according to leaks, the only tax measures in the forthcoming Budget will be a cut in company tax rates and the abolition of the budget repair levy on high income earners (despite the obvious fact that the budget has not been repaired. I have to say, I find this difficult to believe. Surely the government has some kind of rabbit in the hat to obscure the fact that they are giving only to the rich, while taking from the poor. But this is unlikely to succeed in deceiving many.

Then there’s health and education. Abbott was thrown out, in large measure, because he broke promises to match Labor on the Gonski and NDIS reforms. Turnbull was part of the LNP government elected on the basis of those promises, and is bound by them just as much as Abbott was. But, like Abbott, he is breaking his promises in a class-war fashion. In order to keep the (bipartisan) promise that no rich school would be worse off, he is breaking the promises made to poor state schools.

In all of this, the class war aspect is pretty much undisguised. The one issue where Turnbull wants to maintain the old rhetoric relates to personal background. According to his backers, it’s perfectly OK to attack Shorten on the basis that he is a former trade union official, but it’s class war to mention that Turnbull is a multi-millionaire advocating policies that benefit him and people like him. Good luck with that.

44 thoughts on “A class war election

  1. That…

    ““Tax havens perform an important function by putting downwards pressure on domestic tax rates”. Chris Berg IPA”

    …is a real gem, Rog. Grammatically correct, and that is all.

  2. J-D
    I have a mental illness and I was not offended. My impression was that Collin was suggesting psychopathy not an actual mental illness.

    And while I don’t speak for all mentally ill people we aren’t delicate little flowers that have to be treated with care all the time.

    I am medicated primarily to protect me from myself. The modern conservatives needs to be medicated to protect society from them. They become lethal when they’re anywhere near the seat of power.

    Also, you remind me of this guy.

  3. In general, commenters should avoid the use of terms implying mental illness in political opponents, and I absolutely ban any such use in relation to other commenters.

    There are some serious issues that can’t be avoided, such as the prevalence of sociopathic traits among leaders, the role of psychological defence mechanisms in climate denial, and so on. But I’d prefer that these issues be dealt with in specific threads, rather than being used as throwaway lines.

  4. Class war appears to have recurred throughout history. It is not at all difficult to find examples of slave revolts, plebeian revolts, peasant revolts and worker revolts down through the ages. In these revolts, the hidden social and economic war breaks out as open war, as revolt and reaction. I guess in discussing “class war” here, we are discussing the latest modern phase of the hidden social and economic war against the poor and the weak. We are discussing also the concomitant amassing of more wealth and power by the already privileged.

    Inequality and and class war, hidden or open, seem to occur under a number of different power systems and economic systems. Inequality itself must be the predisposing factor for open rebellion. That would appear to be a constant throughout history. Raise rates of inequality and injustice high enough and open rebellion will occur. What is different, over time, are the ways inequality and injustice are generated. Each political-economic system, especially each more evolved and developed political-economic system, finds innovative ways to conduct the hidden class war.

    Any class conflict of interest must be about the extraction of a surplus from production. The emperor’s granaries must be kept full. The billionaire’s off shore accounts must be kept bulging. The surplus essentially funds two things, opulence and security. Opulence is easy enough to understand but security is complex, multi-level undertaking. Maintaining the security of opulence and privilege is the really expensive part.

    There are some systems under which inequality and injustice will never be overcome. The ills are inherent in the system. A slave system is one example. Autocracy is another. Plutocracy under capitalism is yet another. Inequality and injustice will never be overcome under capitalism, especially not under corporate capitalism. All the observable trends are running the other way and have been since the neocon revolution commenced about 40 years ago. Piketty demonstrated the inevitable logic of capitalism when returns on capital are greater than growth. He demonstrated that for much of capitalism’s history returns on capital have been greater than growth. It took world wars and world depressions to temporarily alter this fact (by provoking a period or two of atypical high growth after capital destruction). High growth has been shown to be a temporary condition of the system never likely to return again. Capital destruction now is unlikely to provoke high growth due to resource and biosphere system constraints as limits to growth or at least limits to rapid growth. We appear to have entered a new era of long-run stagnation, sometimes called “secular stagnation”.

    I used to be a supporter of the Keynesian style, mixed capitalist economy. I used to think it was a tolerable compromise. Now, the plutocratic and corporate powers have shown that they are not interested in compromise. They are not interested in letting the people have a fair share. Class war is going to be continually intensified under this system, especially under stagnation conditions. This is very clear from recent history. The facts have changed, or perhaps they have been better elucidated by the progress of history since the collapse of the “Golden Era” of Keynesian Capitalism and the recognition of limits to growth or at least limits to growth rates. Since the facts have changed, or been thrown into better relief by the economic events of the last 40 years, I have changed my mind.

    To call “class war” with intellectual consistency one must first critically evaluate and reject the system which generates the class war. One cannot consistently call for an end to this particular class war (the one of late stage corporate capitalism) without calling for an end to capitalism itself.

  5. Some have argued for a class war for many, many years.

    Class war in the public service?

    Unfortunately their Trot-antics have devalued their contribution.

    John Passant is another ANU-trot, who is also making useful theoretical points but also steeped in trot-antics.

    In general the class warriors are mostly trots-on-campus not class conscious workers in the workplace.

  6. Given that the ‘workers’ side of the class warfare is no longer something widely felt as applying to ‘us’ – less identifying by ordinary Australians with socialist type values and certainly less Union membership than ever – the perception for the other side may be that they are in a better position than ever to win a class war. I suggest the low income types that vote for conservative parties tend to do so on the basis of hot button/ dog whistle politics that aim to get emotions running high – and if the pollies can press the right buttons people to get them “worked up” they are likely to stop taking in information and stop thinking and evaluating their options rationally -and will be induced to vote against their own broader interests on issues that they are not so engaged with.

  7. @Ivor

    I will have to plead my own ignorance here. I don’t understand your point. When you say “some have argued for a class war” do you mean they have argued for the view that class war is occurring or they have argued for a class war to be begun? (I would argue that class war is always going on under capitalism and other exploitative political-economies. It is just a matter of whether it is hidden or open. Wars do have truces, accommodations, lulls and new outbreaks too.)

    Also, what are Trot-antics? I don’t know what these are. I mean I have heard of Trotskyites. I assume their “antics” must mean their tactics. I infer this since you indicate some of their theoretical points are useful in your opinion. I am not a Trotskyite BTW so anything critical of Trots won’t offend me.

  8. As Donald Oates pointed out Hockey has already named the war and the players.

    This is the battle of the “Lifters and the Leaners”.

    I suspect to be a respectable class battle we need another class and in view of the Panama papers that other group could be called Launderers (taking everyone else to the cleaners). So we have the class struggle of the…

    “Launderers, Lifters, and Leaners”

  9. @BilB

    Sounds about right. Lifters are the people who actually do the paid work or would do it if there was enough paid work for everyone. Leaners are those who lean on the lifters and take a cut for doing nothing. That is the leaners take a cut for the difficult job of “owning”. Launderers help the non-working leaners increase their cut further.

  10. @Ikonoclast

    I suppose you need years of experience to recognise Trot-tactics. However as a thumbnail sketch:

    IN a union or social movement – the trots will organise separately typically as: the Left Opposition or camouflaged as “rank-and-file” opposed to reformists.

    In a Left Opposition – the trots will organise separately typically as: the Radical Left Opposition opposed to collaborationists.

    In a Radical Left – the trots will organise separately typically as: The Militants opposed to Stalinists.

    Even in an organisation of “Militants” the trots will organise separately typically as: True Revolutionaries opposed to sell-outs.

    And in revolutionary mass movements – why even here the trots separate themselves telling all that their organisation is the – wait for it – “The Vanguard”.

    They will split every organisation they join up with, and when all the damage is done – they will then start splittig amongst themselves.

    When unions take combined action to defend working conditions – the trots will be those with banners and leaflets calling for a General Strike.

    They are very, very, slow learners.

  11. @Ken Fabian

    Different categories of low-income people have different reasons for voting for conservative parties, but you’ve missed at least one important one.

    The strongest single indicator of how people are likely to vote is not the size of their incomes but the source of them. People whose incomes come from an ownership interest — whether that’s in the form of shares and other investments or in the form of being proprietors of their own businesses — are the ones most likely to vote for conservative parties. Some of those people have high incomes but some of them have low ones. This is the main factor in explaining why some of the parliamentary seats with (statistically) populations with the lowest incomes are among those that most reliably elect members from the conservative parties: they are rural seats where there are lots of people who own their own farms or small businesses without necessarily making a lot of money out of them.

  12. @Ikonoclast

    Obviously there can only be conflict over inequality if there is inequality. In the absence of inequality there can be no conflict over inequality, but that doesn’t prove that in the absence of inequality there will be no conflict at all.

    Also, even if it is plausible to suppose that the frequency and intensity of conflict within society vary with the degree of inequality within society, it does not follow that the degree of inequality within society is the only variable that affects the frequency and intensity of conflict within society. History does not support that conclusion.

    Finally, since the degree of inequality can vary within the context of the same system, it is not correct to conclude that the only way to reduce inequality is to get rid of the whole system; to insist on getting rid of the whole system as the only method or only object is likely to hinder the reduction of inequality.

  13. Makes me think of Les Miserables…….(wo)man the barricades and all that.

    (Facetiously) I blame those economists and social scientists who peddled the ‘rationalization’ and end of history lines.

    Which is only equalized in silliness by socialism/communism leading to the state melting away leaving a kind of Arcadia.

    Did/do people like Malcolm believe their current tosh/version of Land of Cockaigne? or was it all a cynical dead end con which is really running out of steam as evidenced by continued use of the old methods ….. like appeals to the nation.

  14. @J-D
    Alternative or perhaps complementary theory: people vote according to tribal loyalty, without much regard to whether their favourite’s policies are actually in their own interests. ‘I vote for the X party because they’re my kind of people/ the people that I aspire to emulate.’

    I wouldn’t expect that too many of Trump’s poor white male supporters are struggling small capitalists. Or as Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times blog recently, the modern Republican party is a ‘giant bait and switch exercise’ *the aim of which is to con poor whites into voting for the interests of the one per cent* (the words in asterisks are mine, not Krugman’s)

  15. My Dad had a favourite saying at election time: ‘The Liberal Party believes in class war and the Labor Party doesn’t.’

  16. @john

    It’s not an alternative theory but it may be a complementary one.

    I was commenting on the empirical facts about who votes for which party. If it’s true that self-employed people are highly likely to vote for the Coalition parties (which was my observation), that raises the question ‘Why do self-employed people tend to vote for the Coalition parties?’ Your theory that self-employed people tend to vote for the Coalition parties out of tribal loyalty is one possible response. Obviously that in turn raises the question ‘Why do self-employed people feel a sense of tribal loyalty to the Coalition parties?’

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