Friday, September 29, 2006

Weasel words

Not surprised but disappointed by the response to the Queensland coroner's report on the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee. But what purports to a commentary in the Courier-Mail is a remarkably alarming piece of work. It does admit once that:
Hurley, the coroner believes, was fatally at fault and lost his cool after being hit by Mulrunji and beat him, rupturing his liver.
But it seeks to trivialise this fact by effectively equating it with a whole series of other events and process from the slow process of the enquiry, to the dysfunctional Palm island community, to the bungles of Liddy Clark, the 'overly prompt' release of the original medical report etc. Presumably the Courier-Mail would be correctly critical of someone who said that no one emerged with credit from the events of September 11, 2001? The terrorists did behave very badly but there was a context and they had been provoked etc. etc.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Post-communism adrift

I am writing a paper on Indian Communism for a conference in December. One aspect will be a comparison with post-communist parties in Europe. They are not doing well. The Hungarian Socialists are battling riots after the Prime Ministers unfortunate video confession. A striking debacle was that of the Polish ex-Communist 'Democratic Left' fell from 41% in 2001 to 11.3% in 2005, probably the worst electoral collapse for a social-democratic party in history? The Polish election brought to power the rabidly homophobic Law and Justice Party, which draws support from anti-Semitic catholic extremists. Initial interpretations, such as that of Geoff Eley, of the surprising electoral comeback of ex-Communists saw them as a belated social-democracy trying to defend structures of social protection. But says the BBC on Hungary:
Despite greater freedoms, many Hungarians feel they have been marginalised and left behind in a fast-changing nation as a small and powerful elite get richer at their expense.
It seems similar in Poland; perhaps why 265,000 have emigrated to the UK after Poland joined the EU.
In Poland and Hungary the ex-communists seem to uphold the liberal banner against the nationalist and Catholic right. But their failure to deal with economic grievances has enabled the illiberal right to appear as the voice of the disenfranchised. Looks rather like how the failures of Arab left paved the way for Islamic fundamentalism.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Demanding the impossible

Recently read the 1968-72 volume of Tony Benn's diaries. Interesting Benn convinced himself that the radical socialist left was the vehicle to achieve his values, but these values are actually very post-materialist ones of democracy and participation. In another era he might have been a third wayer and his son is very content in Blair’s cabinet. But you finish the dairy seeing why Benn could never attract majority support; perhaps like the Europhile social democrats who he opposed he was in Labour but not of it? Benn's crusade was a sign, and a contributor to, of the collapse of old Labour, of corporatism, bureaucracy, midnight strike-averting deals sealed over beer and sandwiches at No. 10 etc. Many of Benn’s criticisms of old Labour were appropriate but he seemed to believe that the good things about old labour could be salvaged from the wreckage. But it was Tony Blair not Tony Benn who became new Labour and it couldn't have been otherwise. Tax-and-spend corporatist labourism had its flaws but it was a package. This seems to be something that Mark Bahnisch, one of the ex-Lathamite 'waiting for Julia' crowd fails to realise. If you want to achieve the traditional goals of social democracy (as distinct from a generic radicalism' than tax-and-spend corporatist labourism is the way to go not cosying up to Crikey-ite stray economic libertarians, at best you'll get Tony Blair and then David Cameron.

Pru Goward and Communism

I think neither Pru Goward or Greg Smith should stand down consequent on their (likely) endorsements as Liberal candidates. The Australian makes a reasonable case that for Smith given the standard of NSW politics:
Clinging to his office, no matter how pure his motives, will just end by turning the DPP into a circus.
But if you hold a position requiring objective and independent judgment you have to be able to separate your personal views, we all have views and opinions, but we can distinguish these from our official functions. It is a skill you have to develop but it can be done. If Smith and Goward don't display independence fair enough but they deserve a chance. Here I see an echo of the American debate (in Australia taken up by Greg Melleuish) where conservatives have claimed that because liberal Democrats are substantially overrepresented among college academics their teaching must be biased and hence a political balance must be enforced among academic staff. But academic teaching is like exercising a judicial role one is required to develop impartiality and objectivity. The best recent discussion of this issue was by Stanley Fish:

KEVIN BARRETT, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison...who has a one-semester contract to teach a course titled “Islam: Religion and Culture,” acknowledged on a radio talk show that he has shared with students his strong conviction that the destruction of the World Trade Center was an inside job perpetrated by the American government. The predictable uproar ensued, and the equally predictable battle lines were drawn between those who disagree about what the doctrine of academic freedom does and does not allow. Mr. Barrett’s critics argue that academic freedom has limits and should not be invoked to justify the dissemination of lies and fantasies. Mr. Barrett’s supporters (most of whom are not partisans of his conspiracy theory) insist that it is the very point of an academic institution to entertain all points of view, however unpopular. (This was the position taken by the university’s provost, Patrick Farrell, when he ruled on July 10 that Mr. Barrett would be retained: “We cannot allow political pressure from critics of unpopular ideas to inhibit the free exchange of ideas.”). Both sides get it wrong. The problem is that each assumes that academic freedom is about protecting the content of a professor’s speech; one side thinks that no content should be ruled out in advance; while the other would draw the line at propositions (like the denial of the Holocaust or the flatness of the world) considered by almost everyone to be crazy or dangerous.
But in fact, academic freedom has nothing to do with content. It is not a subset of the general freedom of Americans to say anything they like (so long as it is not an incitement to violence or is treasonous or libelous). Rather, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to study anything they like; the freedom, that is, to subject any body of material, however unpromising it might seem, to academic interrogation and analysis...whether something is an appropriate object of academic study is a matter not of its content — a crackpot theory may have had a history of influence that well rewards scholarly scrutiny — but of its availability to serious analysis... it would not be at all outlandish for a university to hire someone to teach astrology — not to profess astrology and recommend it as the basis of decision-making (shades of Nancy Reagan), but to teach the history of its very long career. There is, after all, a good argument for saying that Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dante, among others, cannot be fully understood unless one understands astrology...The distinction I am making — between studying astrology and proselytizing for it — is crucial and can be generalized; it shows us where the line between the responsible and irresponsible practice of academic freedom should always be drawn. Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply. And this is where we come back to Mr. Barrett, who, in addition to being a college lecturer, is a member of a group calling itself Scholars for 9/11 Truth, an organization with the decidedly political agenda of persuading Americans that the Bush administration “not only permitted 9/11 to happen but may even have orchestrated these events.” Is the fact of this group’s growing presence on the Internet a reason for studying it in a course on 9/11? Sure. Is the instructor who discusses the group’s arguments thereby endorsing them? Not at all. It is perfectly possible to teach a viewpoint without embracing it and urging it. But the moment a professor does embrace and urge it, academic study has ceased and been replaced by partisan advocacy. And that is a moment no college administration should allow to occur. Provost Farrell doesn’t quite see it that way, because he is too hung up on questions of content and balance. He thinks that the important thing is to assure a diversity of views in the classroom, and so he is reassured when Mr. Barrett promises to surround his “unconventional” ideas and “personal opinions” with readings “representing a variety of viewpoints.” But the number of viewpoints Mr. Barrett presents to his students is not the measure of his responsibility. There is, in fact, no academic requirement to include more than one view of an academic issue, although it is usually pedagogically useful to do so. The true requirement is that no matter how many (or few) views are presented to the students, they should be offered as objects of analysis rather than as candidates for allegiance. There is a world of difference, for example, between surveying the pro and con arguments about the
Iraq war, a perfectly appropriate academic assignment, and pressing students to come down on your side. Of course the instructor who presides over such a survey is likely to be a partisan of one position or the other — after all, who doesn’t have an opinion on the Iraq war? — but it is part of a teacher’s job to set personal conviction aside for the hour or two when a class is in session and allow the techniques and protocols of academic research full sway. This restraint should not be too difficult to exercise. After all, we require and expect it of judges, referees and reporters. And while its exercise may not always be total, it is both important and possible to make the effort. Thus the question Provost Farrell should put to Mr. Barrett is not “Do you hold these views?” (he can hold any views he likes) or “Do you proclaim them in public?” (he has that right no less that the rest of us) or even “Do you surround them with the views of others?” Rather, the question should be: “Do you separate yourself from your partisan identity when you are in the employ of the citizens of Wisconsin and teach subject matter — whatever it is — rather than urge political action?” If the answer is yes, allowing Mr. Barrett to remain in the classroom is warranted. If the answer is no, (or if a yes answer is followed by classroom behavior that contradicts it) he should be shown the door. Not because he would be teaching the “wrong” things, but because he would have abandoned teaching for indoctrination. The advantage of this way of thinking about the issue is that it outflanks the sloganeering and posturing both sides indulge in: on the one hand, faculty members who shout “academic freedom” and mean by it an instructor’s right to say or advocate anything at all with impunity; on the other hand, state legislators who shout “not on our dime” and mean by it that they can tell academics what ideas they can and cannot bring into the classroom. All you have to do is remember that academic freedom is just that: the freedom to do an academic job without external interference. It is not the freedom to do other jobs, jobs you are neither trained for nor paid to perform. While there should be no restrictions on what can be taught — no list of interdicted ideas or topics — there should be an absolute restriction on appropriating the scene of teaching for partisan political ideals. Teachers who use the classroom to indoctrinate make the enterprise of higher education vulnerable to its critics and short change students in the guise of showing them the true way.
I would add that anyone who is a member of the 9/11 conspiracy movement bears the burden of proving that they can conduct themselves impartially in the classroom. It is clear that Barrett has failed his test. The fact that Smith and Goward are/will be Liberal candidate is not to me evidence of bias in pursuit of their duties. Would one dispute the ability of pre-Vatican II Catholics such as Gustav Wetter or Frederic Copleston (remembered now for his multi-volume history of philosophy and a debatewith Bertrand Russell on the existence of God) to teach non-Thomistic philosophy? It is less clear on pre-1956 Communists, but contrary to Sydney Hook, who argued:

According to Hook, anyone who remained a Communist provided "prima facie evidence that he is a hardened conspirator and that he accepts its orders and directives." Covering all bases, Hook concluded that anyone who was a Communist without being a "hardened conspirator" would be "ineligible on grounds of lack of intelligence for any responsible job."(p. 89) Since American Communists were members of "the international Communist movement" which is "a clear and present threat to the preservation of free American institutions and our national independence," they met the "clear and present danger" test for revoking any free speech rights. (p. 109)
I would argue Communist Party membership although it would raise suspicion of bias should not have disqualified one from teaching. It could depend, what did Andrew Rothstein prescribe as reading when he taught Soviet history? But Maurice Dobb (see his article here) and Ronald Meek obviously deserved academic positions. Those who want Goward and Smith to resign are adopting the same position that Hook did on Communists.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blaming ourselves?

An original but predictable take (via Michael Berube) on the question of who was to blame for September 11 by Dinesh D'Souza whose work guides many Australian 'liberal' intellectuals such as Barry Maley. D'Souza gave us Illiberal Education the guidebook of the campus culture warriors on how political correctness is destroying allegiance to the achievements of western civilisation. In his new The Enemy at Home D'Souza shows how:
<> In THE ENEMY AT HOME, bestselling author Dinesh D’Souza makes the startling claim that the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist acts around the world can be directly traced to the ideas and attitudes perpetrated by America’s cultural left. D’Souza shows that liberals—people like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Barney Frank, Bill Moyers, and Michael Moore—are responsible for fostering a culture that angers and repulses not just Muslim countries but also traditional and religious societies around the world. Their outspoken opposition to American foreign policy—including the way the Bush administration is conducting the war on terror—contributes to the growing hostility, encouraging people both at home and abroad to blame America for the problems of the world. He argues that it is not our exercise of freedom that enrages our enemies, but our abuse of that freedom—from the sexual liberty of women to the support of gay marriage, birth control, and no-fault divorce, to the aggressive exportation of our vulgar, licentious popular culture. The cultural wars at home and the global war on terror are usually viewed as separate problems. In this groundbreaking book, D’Souza shows that they are one and the same. It is only by curtailing the left’s attacks on religion, family, and traditional values that we can persuade moderate Muslims and others around the world to cooperate with us and begin to shun the extremists in their own countries.
As Osama Bin Laden said in his statement after 9/11:
We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity; to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest.
Why is this crackpot politics so influential on the American right? Timothy Noah has an explanation:
the main driving force is the bankruptcy of contemporary conservatism as represented by the Bush administration. An aggressively interventionist foreign policy has stumbled badly; a sharp cutback in taxes has failed to bring prosperity to the middle class; and, since Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans, citizens have come to regard governmental incompetence less as a reason to vote Republican than as a reason to hold Republicans responsible for indifferent stewardship. Things have gotten so bad that the GOP may conceivably lose control of both the House and the Senate in the coming midterm congressional elections. When you don't have anything new to say, and what you've been saying in the past no longer has much plausibility, you have three choices. You can shut up. For conservative commentators, this is inconceivable, not to mention financially ruinous. You can re-examine your premises. This is not the conservative style. Or you can pump up the volume.
In Australia there those, such as Jason Briant, who want to see an American-style 'conservative movement'. For the time being Australian conservatives can ride on Howard's coat tails, how might they respond to a change of the political climate?

Values confusions

This strange debate on Australian values is curious. James Jupp has said most of what needs to be said. Reflecting on this issue in context of writing a lecture on multiculturalism. We should remember that there has been along succession of statements on multicultural policy, all of whom have stressed that diversity exists within a framework of unifying values: democracy, the rule of law, English as the dominant language etc. The Howard government has talked about multiculturalism less and has added the prefix 'Australian' but its policy statements, which have been endorsed by Howard build on their Labor predecessors. the National Multicultural Advisory Council set up by the government (which has no members with any union background) was entrusted with the task of drafting a policy that stressed the objective of national unity, yet references to these policy documents seem to be totally absent from the current 'debate'. The government quietly let the Council for a Multicultural Australia lapse. When Howard talks about 'zealous multiculturalism' is he repudiating his endorsement of existing policy? If so it rivals Peter Beattie's performance on Queensland hospitals! The title of the discussion paper on the test is 'Australian citizenship; Much more than a ceremony' , isn't a marriage a ceremony, a funeral, Anzac Day? It gets more confused with an editorial The Australian to whom multiculturalism was something in the 1980s and 1990s (what about the Galbally report of 1978?) and with the would-be court philosopher of Australian PMs Paul Kelly who doesn't mention existing policy once. Adam Kotso (via Brad de Long) identifies a feature of conservative rhetoric as:
The "blank slate" -- the topic at hand is to be treated as though no one in the history of humanity had ever discussed it before this discrete occasion.
How much of this vendetta against existing citizenship rules is driven by annoyance at the fact that the more non-Anglo migrants are the more likely they are to take up citizenship? In 1996 it was 58% for British migrants and 90% for Vietnamese. Kelly tells us that:
As the debate about security and identity intensifies, successful nations will demand a unifying idea that transcends the "ahistorical notion of human rights" or a cultural pluralism based on individualism. This leads directly to Howard's emphasis on unifying Australian values.
When I see the term 'ahistorical' along with 'positive', 'organic' 'dynamic' etc. etc. I yearn even for the days of Hayek whose Road to Serfdom does a good job of skewering such meaningless adjectives. It is precisely the concepts of human rights and liberal democracy that provide the basis for a civic nationalism worth defending, why else would we be concerned about the rise of fundamentalism if not for this. Perhaps opposition to torture is one of the ahsitorical individualist principles Kelly rejects? What’s the real agenda? I see at least two: 1) population trends suggest that Australia’s ethnic composition will change drastically over the next century. This is an electoral challenge for the conservatives as for the US Republicans keeping people off the electoral rolls is one solution; 2) Kelly is a high immigration man, a citizenship panic could divert people from considering the economic consequences of skilled labour migration. Kelly almost admits the later:
Let’s remember that citizenship policy is a means to an end. The end is to allow Australia to keep running a successful high intake non-discriminatory immigration policy in coming decades. This is what the debate is about. It means maximising community support for immigration.
My translation: let them in but don't let them vote!

Friday, September 15, 2006

From World War I to III (or IV?).

When I saw the title of an article in the London Socialist History Group newsletter 'Revisionism and the new imperialism' I thought they had pipped me to the post on some thoughts of mine. Not so but the article claims that conservative historians are proposing a more sympathetic view of World War, in particular of the western front generals such as Haig, and equating the current war on terror to that against the evil German Empire. In Australia the old Anzac mythology of incompetent British generals etc. is echoed in some criticisms of the US. It is partly the latest version of the old left nationalist position. However few of the war on terror's critics explicitly refer back to WW I. On the 'other side' John Hirst published two articles in Australian Historical Studies years ago defending a Hughesite position on the war (themes repeated by him here) and occasionally Gerard Henderson has defended our involvement in the war. I see more interesting parallels: 1) Those on the self-defined 'pro-war left', such as the signatories to the Euston Manifesto (in Australia Pamela Bone) echo to me the argument of those socialists who supported their home countries in WW I. The level of personal acrimony, division and accusations of betrayal is very like that among socialists after 1914. Although there were those now forgotten who tried to steer a middle course; 2) how to understand imperial Germany. For along time the left position tended to see Germany as wronged as or no guiltier than the other powers for the war (these debates were linked to the evaluation of the treaty of Versailles and are sometimes raised today in debates about culpability for fascism and terrorism). After 1933 this caused tensions on the left between anti-fascists and pacifists. Views on Germany were challenged by Fritz Fischer's work in the 1960s he stressed the culpability of the ruling class for the war linking German expansionism to the elite's anti-socialist struggle at home. This was developed in the theory of the 'sonderweg' (separate path) that Germany had not experienced a bourgeoisie revolution and remained dominated by an archaic feudal elite hostile to liberalism and democracy. Fischer's work was welcomed by the German left because he seemed to suggest continuity between Wilhemite imperialism and Nazism. The right preferred to see Nazism as a horrifying aberration. Are the Middle Eastern Islamic countries archaic in this sense? But Fischer's evaluation of German society was challenged by Marxists such as David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley they argued that Wilhemite Germany was by any reasonable standard bourgeois, in their view Wilhemite imperialism and later Nazism were the results of capitalism rather than the reflection of distinctive pathologies in German society. Might we see Islamic fundamentalism and fascism as aspects of modernity and late capitalism rather than archaic and backward-looking movements? 3) German political structures. Defenders of the current pro-war position often stress the fact of elections in Israel and Iraq, but Wilhemite Germany has elections, indeed more Germans had the franchise than in Britain and the Wilhemite electoral system was free of the fraud and racial exclusion that operated in the US. But the German parliament did not exercise effective control over the German government. Neither does the current Iraqi parliament; 4) German political evolution. World War I in Europe was a democratising force governments had to appeal to the working class as Geoff Eley argues, and in Germany there was a steady trend towards democratisation, German trade unions, in exchange for their support of the war as Gerard Feldman shows gained increasing political influence. Was it a war for democracy by 1918?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Introductory chapter on Australian politics

I have posted a draft of an introductory chapter, 'Australia: distinctive democracy' on Australian politics here. It is for AIX290 Australia Today an introduction to Australia subject for international and exchange students. Any comments valued.

American primaries & Mulims in US politics

A big round of primaries just in. Lincoln Chafee the very moderate Republican Senator defeated his more conservative challenger in Rhode Island. Chafee despite often voting against his party was heavily backed by the Republican leadership would believed (surely correctly) that he was the only Republican who could hold Rhode Island (which last voted for a Republican president in 1984). It means that the Democrats will face a much tougher battle to win Rhode Island which would be essential to their hopes of a Senate majority. As a Democratic blog said 'damm'. Hilary Clinton easy victory against her anti-war challenger in New York. In Minnesota a Muslim African-American won endorsement for a safe Democratic seat, he would be not only the first Muslim congressman but also the first African-American from Minnesota. More on his primary campaign and background here. Some might anticipate a tough campaign for him, but the 2005 Pew public opinion survey (available from here) showed that 54% of Americans had a very or somewhat favourable view of Muslims compared to a total unfavourable of 24%. On the follow up from another primary Lieberman has a 13% lead over Lamont in Connecticut. Lamont is viewed more unfavourably than Lieberman, a sure sign he has let Lieberman set the agenda. I wouldn't think this gap is unbridgeable but this statement from Lamont’s communications director suggests a campaign in serious trouble and some alarming self-delusion:
"These numbers don't reflect what we've been experiencing out on the trail and in the community. We are not running our campaign based on the polls, and if we were we wouldn't be here at all."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Queensland conclusions

Voters were more tolerant than I expected but I was right about Toowoomba North. Perhaps Toowoomba is going the full circle from old Labor country town alienated by Whitlam back to new Labor Brisbane suburb. Toowoomba South will be interesting when Horan retires if he has the personal vote some claim. Swing in Fitzroy may indicate impact of WorkChoices and Cunningham definitely blamed union campaign for her loss of support in Gladstone. Will make new federal seat of Flynn in central Queensland (includes Gladstone) interesting. Looks like Bundaberg is gone, the independent might be blamed but perhaps there was a vote against Labor that voters were determined to make given the hospital scandal, thus they were determined to vote for Nationals whether as first or second preference. The example of personal votes for other sitting MPs suggests the National may be around for some time. When I suggested health was going to have a bigger impact on Labor Mark Bahnisch said:
I very much doubt voters think the Qld opposition can do a better job on health. Based on the polling Graham Young and I have been doing, which is discussed on Currumbin2Cook, most voters accept that health is a complex area not amenable to quick fixes, and are sceptical of the quick fixes on offer from both sides.
Seems he was right, Labor like John Howard, can benefit by diminished expectations. There has been a rather pointless debate about increasing accountability in Queensland by restoring the Legislative Council. Proportional representation would be a better idea.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Queensland election

The consensus seems to be an easy Labor victory in Queensland. I have my doubts as I have argued on the Pollbludger here and here. Labor is seen as performing badly on health, and health affects everyone. Much has been made of the bad Coalition campaign but how much does this actually influence voters, as distinct from the pundits? There are still voters to decide and I think they will break against Labor. Betting markets should pick this up but as they become more popular I think they follow the polls. I see opinion poll fetishism in the current analysis, a government in power for 8 years and with its record under challenge will lose ground. I actually think Beattie is the best of the current crop of Labor premiers but that is not saying much. If Labor holds Toowoomba North and Bundaberg I will be happy, these are my surprise predictions. I doubt Nita Cunningham had much of a personal vote in Bundaberg judging by the 2004 swing so I think Labor's margin is healthier than it looks for the retirement of a sitting member. After Cheryl Dorron being so unlucky in Hinkler in 1998 and 2001 it would be good to see a female member of the left win in the Bundaberg region. Toowoomba North might be the Labor equivalent of Keppel in 1992-2001; as well Toowoomba is being pulled into the Brisbane orbit.

Islamo-fascism confusions and Comintern lessons

Useful article at CJR Daily on the strange career of the term 'Islamo-fascism'. In part this is linked to the silly comparison between now and the 1930s on which I have posted earlier. But the articles referred to are lacking in any analysis of the policies of Islamic regimes. It is as silly as the use of the term 'populist' by the left to identify politicians they dislike; John Howard, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Jeff Kennett all received this treatment. Populism is a style of government but it does not provide the content of government policies, regimes of the left such as Peronism, Langism or even PASOK in Greece are not explained by designating them populist, see Sassoon on PASOK. Fascism is more than a style of politics, it is a specific form of radical populist conservatism that sweeps aside the traditional parties of capital, but has the reluctant acquiescence of capital in doing so. Fascism uses an anti-capitalist and revolutionary demagogy to gain popular support, even if most of its support comes from the electorate of the traditional right. Georgi Dimitrov correctly highlighted fascism's appeal in his addresses to the 1935 Comintern congress he saw the success of fascists in invading the rhetorical terrain of the left and the same argument was made by Franz Neumann. Stephen Schwarz at least sees that fascism has a relation to conservatism, but then seeks to distinguish it on the grounds that it replaces ruling elites, but fascism replaces the political elites not the economic ones. Katha Pollitt is better and highlights the modernising nature of the fascist regimes of the 1930s in contrast to fundamentalism. I would go further fascist ideology was not just uniforms they had a fairly coherent model of economic management based on Listian autarky as Michael Mann argues, Islamic fundamentalism has no program of disengagement from the capitalist world economy. Perhaps the major similarity between fascism and Islamic fundamentalism is that they are both in part the results of the failures of the left, something which Dimitrov did see. But even if fundamentalism and fascism are distinct they are both forms of populist conservatism. Similar tactical points arise: how to turn the ideology of the regime against it, how to use its rhetoric strategically, Palmiro Togliatti is good on this. Why do even 1930s Stalinists like Dimitrov and Togliatti show more insight than the contemporary revolutionary left?

Friday, September 01, 2006

US and Australian election outcomes

Fascinating analysis of the relation between overall party support and seats won in the US Congress on Charles Franklin’s Political Arithmetik. In Australia the divergences between votes and seats won are the subject of intermittent controversy. Labor has sometimes (more often than the conservatives) won a majority of votes but not a majority of seats. On some estimates during the 1949-72 era of uninterrupted Liberal-Country coalition government Labor won a majority of votes three times. In this US case it is sometimes argued that all electorate contests are individual and unique and that it makes little sense to speak of a national vote. But polls are taken on the 'generic' vote and for months have shown the Democrats at least 10% clear. The Australian evidence would suggest that any election with a 55:45 split means a landslide majority in seats. Franklin shows how final overall democrat votes tend to be less than the generic votes recorded in polls. Why? Are these Democrat identifiers recording a personal vote for popular Republican incumbents? Then there is the Australian question of the relation between votes and seats. Franklin has a graph of the relation between Democrat votes and seats 1946-2004. I have done this for Australia using the two-party preferred Labor vote; this was not counted before 1984 so I have used the estimates here and seat percentages from here. The two graphs are not that different. Interesting, obviously weird and wonderful outcomes do occur in individual American electorates but overall these tend to cancel each other out. Note also that the Democrats do better at converting votes into seats, slightly over 49% of votes give them 50% of seats but in Australia a 50% Labor vote yields only 47.5% of the seats.

A book for the times

Read Leicester Webb’s Communism and Democracy: a survey of the 1951 referendum last night. Very interesting. When I think of the Communism debate I tend to think of Soviet espionage, emphaised in the work of John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr. But what Webb brings out is that the debate was much more about the broader sedition issue. Communists had been jailed for seditious statements on the lines that Australian workers would welcome the Red Army etc. but the government focus was on industrial relations, it was the perceived meanings of actions (that is strikes by Communist-led unions) rather than words that were central. Webb shows how the Courts, even before the Communist Party case, were loath to read seditious meanings into actions. The discussion of newspapers is interesting Webb argues that although editorials and sometimes subheadings were slanted the major newspapers in competitive markets provided fair coverage of both arguments. From my examination of the Sydney Morning Herald in the early 1930s I would concur, it despite its wild editorial partisanship provides a better news coverage than The Australian today. Webb also discusses the controversy about the accuracy of Roy Morgan's opinion polls which over predicted the final 'yes' vote; again his son's polls are still in the news. Webb suggests that ethnic Germans may have voted 'No' and the Lutheran church recalled the WW I experience. His suggestion that Labor's thinking was informed by the experience of Chifley government's battles with Communist-led unions is something I had not though of before. I liked his statement that:
Those who know the political life of the labour movement, with tis mixture of idealism and corruption, of massive loyalties and bitter sectional feuds, of over-rigid disciplines and seething discontents, will recognise in its frequent surface agitations a sign, not of decadence, but of vigour and essential cohesiveness.