OPINION: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Why I lost faith in the Left
, November 14, 2009
Similar to Labor luminaries Julia Gillard and John Sutton, I also had a working-class upbringing and our family home was dominated by left-wing values.
We lived on a housing commission estate in the northern Melbourne suburb of Broadmeadows, Dad was a member of the Australian Communist Party and I was enrolled in the Eureka Youth Movement.
I still remember Dad screaming in rage at Robert Menzies (aka
"Pig Iron Bob") on the black-and-white television, and glossy magazines with heroic pictures of Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong glowing with paternal care and revolutionary zeal.
Dad taught me that the cry of liberty, equality and fraternity promised a utopia, one where injustice, discrimination and poverty would disappear and all would live according to Karl Marx's maxim: from each according to his ability, to each according to their need.Anti-war protests
It was no surprise that I joined the Secondary Students for Democratic Action in my final year of school and marched in anti-war protests at university. On starting my career as a secondary school teacher it was only natural that I joined the left-wing Victorian Secondary Teachers Association and became the school's branch president.
Given my background and an interest in politics, the next step may have been to join the Australian Labor Party. I never did and, in fact, I turned my back on the Left and joined the Liberal Party.
Why? Looking at my father I realised that the socialist dream, in part, was driven by class bitterness and the politics of envy. Following Edmund Burke, I also realised that the need to conserve was equally as important as the need to change and that evolution was preferable to revolution.
As Burke predicted, the French Revolution descended into terror and brutality. Since then, history is littered with tyrants such as Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot who killed and enslaved billions in the name of socialism.
Once society's safeguards and institutions are destroyed, there is nowhere to hide.
George Orwell was another reason I became a conservative. His 1945 classic Animal Farm
not only presents an allegory of Communist Russia's descent into totalitarianism and the gulag: it also tells us the Left's romanticised view of human nature is misplaced. While Boxer the horse is worked to death, the pigs luxuriate and learn to walk on two legs.
There is also something soulless and reductionist about a Marxist view of the world. As noted by American political and social activist George Weigel, "the deepest currents of history are spiritual and cultural, rather than political and economic". To say that great literature, art and music are simply the results of power relationships denies the creative urge driven by moral and spiritual forces.
The longer I taught in Melbourne's working-class, multicultural western suburbs the more I also realised that the Left's campaign to use education as a tool to enforce its ideologically-driven view of the world was wrong and counter-productive.
In a speech to the Fabian Society in the mid-1980s Joan Kirner, one of Gillard's mentors and soon to be minister for education, argued that instead of imparting knowledge, education had to be "part of a socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system".
The academic, competitive curriculum, one that represented a ladder of opportunity for working-class kids like me, was condemned as elitist and guilty of reinforcing inequality. As teachers, we were taught that knowledge was simply a socio-cultural construct and left in no doubt as to which side of the class war we should be on.
To gain promotion I had to show evidence of implementing the Kirner Labor Government's left-wing policies on multiculturalism, gender equity, non-competitive assessment and overcoming disadvantage.
Ironically, the flagship of Kirner's education revolution, the Victorian Certificate of Education, had the opposite effect of what was intended. Working-class and migrant students, those who could not afford tutors and whose parents were not academically minded, were further disadvantaged.
Fast forward to Kevin Rudd's education revolution and it appears that education is no longer an ideological battleground. Not so. Gillard's promise to positively discriminate and introduce quotas for disadvantaged students to enter university is straight out of Kirner's Fabian manual.
Under a raft of national partnership agreements, school funding, government and non-government, is also now tied to schools implementing the federal government's cultural-left agenda in curriculum, teacher training and registration, overcoming disadvantage, the early years of childhood and promoting more equitable outcomes for so-called victim groups.This article first appeared in The Australian (October 16, 2009). Kevin Donnelly is author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars, available from News Weekly Books.