December 13th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY : Does a new ALP leader mean a new direction?

EDITORIAL: More Australian industries to be sacrificed

HONG KONG: Pro-democracy party triumphs in HK election

DRUGS: Parliamentary Committee recommends dumping Harm Minimisation

COMMENT: Internet porn's innocent victims

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Somnambulists at the wheel / West and rest / Knopfelmacher's view

LETTERS: Who's looking after NSW's water?

LETTERS: Cane farmers feel 'alienated'

LETTERS: Prohibition never works - says who?

LETTERS: The morning-after pill in schools

LETTERS: Tariff cuts and unemployment

LETTERS: Good counsel

MEDIA: The blindness of the affluent

TRADE: US-China exchange rate battle to affect Australian exporters

WTO: International trade policy: where to next?

BOOKS: AN AUSTRALIAN IN ASIA: Cities of the Hot Zone, by Greg Sheridan

BOOKS: Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

BOOKS: The Fields of Coleraine, by Frank Gardiner

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Somnambulists at the wheel / West and rest / Knopfelmacher's view

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, December 13, 2003
Somnambulists at the wheel

As I write this, the latest round in the titanic struggle for the Labor leadership has twitched to its close - with all the emphasis being on the Titanic bit. As Simon Crean said in his resignation remarks, there was no push from the general public, nor Labor voters, for yet another leadership change, for replacing one somnambulist behind the wheel for another. No - power-brokers (such power!) and the usual malcontents and full-time troublemakers in the Parliamentary Labor Party, plus the journalists, brought this about.

"The language uninviting
of the lumpen Lefties fighting".

The whole talk is about Leaders - not Policies nor important issues - except as ways of distinguishing one warring faction from another, or as clubs whereby to batter the Government, no matter whether its policies be right or wrong, or ones which the Opposition itself would otherwise accept, or, even, have supported in the past.

This gang warfare psychology fits our media like a glove because they are only interested in elections, polls, leadership contests and spin.

Kim Beazley seemed to be easily the best of a totally mediocre bunch; people who are legitimised only by reporters and spin doctors (themselves with no legitimacy); for the grassroots party has vanished.

There were some pretty crucial matters and necessary decisions facing this country: Iraq; terrorism; people smuggling and its entrenchment in our media philosophy; the black holes of health and education; evidences of widespread turpitude in our corporate sector; and the chaos in our legal systems with rival fiefdoms trying to invade one another's turf and with prospects of cheap, speedy justice a thing of the past.

Beazley understood the gravity of at least some of these matters and didn't see Labor's role simply as crouching under the bridge with all the other old trolls waiting for Billy Goat Gruff and friends to gallop past on the way to somewhere.

The electorate has had seven years of spoiling and blocking and wants Labor to change. But just as anti-Semitism was the glue holding together that intellectual shanty town called National Socialism, it may be that our ALP can now only function on rancour, fillibustering and eating one another.

West and rest

Owen Harries has been giving some very interesting Boyer Lectures this year - with excerpts being reprinted in each Friday's Age. In presenting a succession of lucid and heterodox insights into our sprawling, periodically chaotic and repetitively violent world of international politics, Harries is clearing the air of much misplaced passion and self-indulgent sloganeering.

The politically correct - who come from every direction, not merely our contemporary Left - may find this approach challenging.

He reintroduces the question - "Can Democracy be imposed not only on virgin soil, but soil already thickly planted with other vegetation? Fascism, Communism, the One True Religion - e.g., Islam, etc - can be by force, which may involve totalitarianism. But democracy? Harries is of course using the Middle East as his example.

Take a country with a strong, authoritarian, patriarchal history - and with no separation between church and state. Well, it was done - internally - by Turkey under Ataturk; while other Muslim states have pushed the mullahs into the shade and piecemeal secularism has been occurring. But, can it be introduced from outside, protected by the gun? Will the local inhabitants gratefully accept the proffered changes which is what the US is hoping for? And can it all be accomplished by a deadline when the enemies of the new democratic order in Iraq - both inside and outside - simply bide their time, waiting for the exit of the occupier?

There is an old military maxim, "Never keep a land army in Asia" (another maxim: "Never march on Moscow").

In the past it was possible to keep foreign troops in the Middle East and in Africa. But the Russians showed us all the pitfalls in Afghanistan. So the West, and particularly the US, is facing a changed situation.

Even if she were to get a democratic regime in place in Iraq - one that firmly established itself - could she, would she, extend her democratic secularisation project to the other hard cases in the region? If not, a new Iraq, isolated, may need an alliance system blessed by the West to survive.

In the period after World War II, we saw Nationalism and Communism appear to almost merge - so as to terminate Western political control. Now we are seeing militant religion, overlapping with nationalism, appearing to reinvigorate the same crusade. In reality, Western controls and influence are, nowadays, far less onerous: very often no more than indirect overtures. Yet they are sufficient to call up cries for jihad and the need for weapons of mass destruction. Until they are acquired, the attack against the West - if necessary everywhere - goes on until the hardline Muslim states do get their WMDs, or the West's nerve cracks.

The nerve of the US hasn't cracked - yet - but that of many in the West has.

Although we associate liberal democracy and capitalism, it ain't necessarily so. Liberal democracy without free enterprise, turning into some version of capitalism seems difficult to conceive, but a closed or repressive society, underpinned by capitalist economic forms is not only possible, but happens. China is a current example.

Many American, and most Western political actors, would secretly (or not so secretly) accept Muslim states which traded with us, didn't attack us or our friends, and didn't arm against us. Forget the other stuff about human rights, democracy, the state of women, etc. It's their business.

Bush, in a way, is pushing the Woodrow Wilson attitudes of 1918. Although Wilsonianism failed, its supporters still say that this was because America walked away; so Wilsonianism was never carried through. So ... we got Hitler.

Who knows if this is correct?

I think Owen Harries is a realist - certainly not a Wilsonian. He might agree that it really is a situation of the West versus the rest, but believes we might just have to live with this state of being, and see if at least some of the militant ardour dies away. But meanwhile, terrorism has to be crushed - if possible - otherwise it will take on a life and an ideology of its own. There may be hosts of idealistic people out there looking for a good cause - but so are there lots of destructive ones, dysfunctional ones, waiting for a black flag behind which to gather.

Knopfelmacher's view

Some of Dr Harries' observations reminded me of remarks of Dr Knopfelmacher after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final unravelling of Communism. While overjoyed, he wanted to sound some warnings.

In a gruesome sort of way, the sight of functioning Communist states which, despite the realities, still appealed to many dissatisfied or destitute people in countries elsewhere, put a check on the behaviour of Western employers and politicians.

They couldn't afford to appear totally indifferent to the plight of the poor and the destitute - certainly not to those in their own societies. Nor could they blithely adopt policies which actually created more poor, more destitute, for the Communist advocates were going around still saying that everyone had a job under Communism, everyone enjoyed free social services, and that there were none of the insecurities built into life under capitalism ... in socialist societies.

The kind of Communist societies being operated were, in fact, found to be abominable, so when the ideological competition of Communism was removed, and the Communist states collapsed - revealing themselves as failed states - capitalism was vindicated and triumphalist.

Dr K's fear was that they - the Western rich and powerful - could once again behave as they pleased. And what they wanted was minimum state intervention, free trade and the destruction of all tariffs and quotas; reducing state controls over the market, finance, banking, corporate behaviour. All these controls on capital, over employers, etc, had been introduced in earlier times partly to reduce the desire of the Western poor to revolt. Bismarck led the charge in the 1880s, avowedly so as to keep out the social democrats.

With the coming in of the Welfare State, fears of revolution and social upheaval, so rife in the 1800s, slowly disappeared in the West. The Russian Revolution and then the Great Depression gave the upper classes a great fright but widespread government intervention restabilised the ship.

Since that time, capitalism has been a continuing success, while communist systems malfunctioned until they collapsed.

But now this self-interested moderation of the reformed business classes, bankers and entrepreneurs everywhere, may just disappear. Dr K was concerned that the new, unopposed power of world capital and industry could whittle down - even abolish - all the gains the Western poor and the little people had made over the past century. If that were to come to pass, calls for socialism might start up again, or even new potent extravaganzas of the Far Right from people feeling they had nothing to lose. This would be a world without work and with safety nets being continually pulled away, while at the same time, the gap between rich and poor was widening.

Dr K hoped that the rich and the greedy of the West mightn't just snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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