From edition

Carole Ferrier, INTRODUCTION

The once-yearly Australian issue of politicsandculture is edited by Associate Professor Carole Ferrier at the University of Queensland with the input and assistance of a Board of Editors:

Professor Ann Curthoys, History, Australian National University
Dr Nicole Moore, English, University of Tasmania
Dr Ian Syson, Humanities, Victoria University of Technology
Associate Professor Andrew Milner, Comparative Literature, Monash University
Mr Dan O’Neill, English, University of Queensland
Professor Stephen Knight, English and Cultural Studies, University of Cardiff
Dr Maryanne Dever, Women’s Studies, Monash University
Dr Rebecca Pelan, Irish Studies, University of Belfast
Ms Carolyn Hughes, English, University of Queensland
Dr Janine Little
Dr Allan Gardiner
Dr Brigid Rooney, English, University of Sydney
Professor Jon Stratton, Cultural and Media Studies, Curtin University
Mr Peter Thomas, English, University of Queensland

The review articles in this number have all been anonymously refereed by members of the Board and other specialists.

Carole Ferrier


This issue of politicsandculture is the first of the planned once-yearly numbers produced from Australia, and an example of positive globalisation, as distinct from the viciousness of global capitalism against which many of us here have been demonstrating in S11, M1, and subsequent mobilisations paralleled around the world. As well as creating its own miserable manifestations of capitalism, Australia has imported many from the United States: McDonalds and Coke, much spiritually impoverished (mis-named) popular culture via Death TV (as Lawrence Ferlinghetti called it), and the Wackenhut Corporation who operate (with considerable viciousness) all the detention centres for asylum seekers and many of the private prisons in Australia. But also, all along, and especially after the Second World War, many fruitful progressive interchanges between the United States and Austral(as)ia have existed for a long time. The Aboriginal Rights movement of the 1930s drew upon the African American civil rights campaigns, and the Black Power movement of the 1960s was fired by the American example. The women’s and gay liberation movements in both places borrowed ideas and theory from each other, and learnt from each other’s struggles around issues like abortion, and combating the Far Right. Employees in unions have also offered solidarity to each other during major strikes.

In relation to organised politics on the Far Left, Australia’s Communist Party, founded in 1920, was a highly significant force through much of the Twentieth Century, in terms of relating to and leading on-the-ground struggles of the working class against the brutality, exploitation and chauvinism of a capitalist system. It lost much credibility with militant workers during the Second World War when CPA members became the strongest advocates of war production and insisted that, for the time being, the only enemy was German fascism that was attacking the Soviet Union. But it continued to organise effectively through the 1940s and 1950s for Aboriginal and women’s rights as well as for workers’ wages and conditions. Somewhat bemused by the rise of the New Left in the 1960s, having decided as the 1970s went on that it could not beat it, it joined its movement-oriented politics and eventually liquidated itself. The legacy of the Communist Party is an ambiguous one: on the one hand the Trotskyist and anarcho Marxist currents to its Left took much of the Party’s often heroic practices of education, organisation, agitation and propaganda as a model; on the other, the imperatives of Russian imperialism (after the Stalinisation of the Communist Parties was completed with the loss of the Russian Revolution in the late 1920s) produced contradictions that many within and outside the CPA remained unable to analyse critically, in order to be able to retain a belief in the possibilities of revolutionary socialism. A tendency around much of the Left to be less critical of Russian than of American imperialism was encouraged by the polarisation that occurred during the Cold War period of the 1950s when many were savagely persecuted under the Menzies government (though this did not approach the draconian excesses of McCarthy).

Currently the main groups on the organised Far Left in Australia are International Socialist currents and the Democratic Socialist Party. Parallel to recent developments in Britain, these and other Left groups and individuals have formed a Socialist Alliance to offer a coherent alternative to an increasingly rightward-moving Labor Party (that may well win power at the next Federal election), and to the class collaboration of the Democrats and Greens. Some candidates will be run at the next election (although doing this at all, and the degree of emphasis the Alliance should place on this strategy has produced much debate); it is unlikely that anyone will be elected, but the preferential system means that it is possible to vote for a Left candidate and the preferences to then flow on to Labor or Greens. This avoids the dilemma some had in relation to voting for Nader at the last American election.

As workers within or associated with the Universities, the writers of the reviews in this issue are facing many of the same issues as their colleagues in the United States. Those of my generation came into the educational institutions in the late 1960s formed by the New Left, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the anti-Springbok Tours campaigns. We were committed to instituting a more egalitarian system which did not only study different and more representative texts (those that offered black, women’s, working class and gay perspectives) but also studied them with a vastly more enlightened and comprehensive set of methodologies than the pseudo-objectivity that functioned in our own educational experiences to entrench the power of white middle class homophobic masculinism. We had some considerable successes (although the extent to which these spread through the society in general has been grossly exaggerated both by `backlash’ proponents and the self-appointed scourgers of the politically correct).

The universities did change after the 1960s, but education has been looking very different since the 1980s. Humanities in particular have been put on notice to demonstrate their `usefulness’ to a new generation of `clients’ or `consumers’ who are encouraged to expect to be equipped in one institution of capitalism for a job in any other. We are constantly having to defend, in public universities, the role of the independent and critical acadmic against rising offensives by collusory administrators seeking to make the University a money-making business. Until recently, there were no private Universities in Australia; they were funded by the Federal and State governments. This reinforced the ideology of academic freedom and disinterested critique although, even then, much research in the sciences was financed by business. Now with ever-decreasing government funding, the Universities are being bullied into managing their own crises caused by underfunding and, day by day, being pushed into various small compromises with economic rationalism that add up to major changes in the understanding of the academic and collegial community that is the University

Huge shifts have taken place as well in the world around us (outside the Universities, outside the nation states) since the 1980s. The demolition of the Berlin Wall, and the apparent end of the Old Cold War with the emergence of a United Nations that looks hardly distinguishable from the United States, has meant a shifting in balances of power, and wars for cheap oil or the continuing maintenance of past imperial dominance. The American military-industrial complex, and the Australian ruling class’s alliances with it, has continued to be enormously influential in all sorts of ways on everyday life in Australia – and in more complicated ways now with t
he dissolution of national(ist) capital, and what some see as the potential de-development of the United States to a situation much closer to the vast wealth and power differentials in the `Third World.’

In Australia, as with those of you who are reading this issue in the United States, we engage in daily international cultural interchange and borrowing of texts/ideas/activism. We live in similar class societies but many aspects of the disempowerment of the marginalised are as interesting for their difference as their similarity in the two places. All the reviewers in this issue are Australian, but many of the texts are not (hopefully several reviews that were not done in time will find their way into the next issues!) We hope that an increasing readership for politicsandculture on our respective sides of the world will increase our counter-hegemonic understandings and our abilities to resist – in smaller or larger ways – the enemies of socialism and human liberation.

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