Paul Howes

I keep getting hits to my blog from users either searching for the term ‘Paul Howes’ or clicking on a link from his Wikipedia entry. Both lead to a post dated February 1, 2008, and titled Would the real anarchists / Trotskyists… (Et cetera). It explores the wonderful world of radikal yoof: “If a man is not a socialist in his youth, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 30 he has no head”. And so on and so forth, in a number of variations, and with various attributions. Visits spiked considerably when PM KRudd got knifed, and again, sharply, following the 2010 Australian federal election, and Howes’ profile on Australian Story earlier this week (with almost 300 visits to the page in question).

After drawing the short straw and fronting ABC’s Lateline in June in order to effectively assume, on behalf of the Labor Right, credit for Julia Gillard’s coup (“Boo! Hiss!”), Howes was the subject of Australian Story: one called, appropriately enough, ‘Labor of Love’. It aired just one week after the same show done a piece on Van Rudd, the Social Revolutionary Revolutionary Socialist Party member, artiste, and ‘nephew to the stars’. The RSP being, of course, the recent (2008) split from the Leninist party which Howes joined as a teenager, and which helped both introduce him to the wonders of Castro’s Cuba and to thereby deprive him of his illusions:

I attended a 3 hour speech from Fidel whilst there – it played a key part in my decision to become an avowed anti-communist.

Having watched the Lovely story of Howes’ transformation from homeless-teenage-Trotskyite to youngest-boss-of-Australia’s-oldest-and-arguably-worst-Union, I don’t know that it contained any revelations. The question was asked how is it that someone so young so-young-and-so-gone, let’s-chase-the-dragon, oh could assume a position of such authority. But if the trade union movement is understood to be the property of the ALP — and it is — then the answer is not very hard to find.

The disavowal of political ambitions at the end of the piece was an especially nice, comic touch.

Beyond this, the irony in Howes’ recent scribblings on the threat posed to Australia by watermelons is made rather obvious by his own dilly-dallying with the DSP. It also demonstrates a central political weakness. After all, the ALP remains, formally at least, committed to ‘democratic socialism’. “The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.”


In eulogising Laurie Short, another former-Trotskyist-turned-Labor-icon, Howes writes: “Though there may be many generations between me and Laurie I feel great affinity with him, not least because we have held the same office but because we both began our political lives on the far-Left and ended as committed democrats – hostile to the authoritarian Stalinist model which dominated the communist ideal.” Billionaire amateur Marxologist Clive Palmer argued in relation to the KRudd Government’s Resource Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Profit Tax (a tax which Howes, on behalf of the AWU/ALP, was highly vocal in supporting): “I think it comes from Das Kapital in 1868. The super tax comes about by Marx and Engels and their famous work which inspired the Russian Revolution.”

The political potential/threat of Fabianism may only be taken seriously by billionaires, Fabians, and other members of the chattering classes, but conflating it — and the redistributive effects of a tax increase on mining super-profits — with the various ‘Stalinist’ regimes that were the end-products of Bolshevism, is a bit silly. Further, it’s worth recalling that resistance to state tyranny has been a part of Western workers’ movements since their inception, and that the authoritarian models which have dominated the communist ideal have also generated moar radical, libertarian forms of opposition to this domination. In other words, Howes’ argument that the consumer/citizen has only two choices — Coke or Pepsi, Democracy or Communism — is mistaken. As a keen student of history, Howes would know this.

The terminology of political and social discourse is vague and imprecise, and constantly debased by the contributions of ideologists of one or another stripe. Still, these terms have at least some residue of meaning. Since its origins, socialism has meant the liberation of working people from exploitation. As the Marxist theoretician Anton Pannekoek observed, “this goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a new directing and governing class substituting itself for the bourgeoisie,” but can only be “realized by the workers themselves being master over production.” Mastery over production by the producers is the essence of socialism, and means to achieve this end have regularly been devised in periods of revolutionary struggle, against the bitter opposition of the traditional ruling classes and the ‘revolutionary intellectuals’ guided by the common principles of Leninism and Western managerialism, as adapted to changing circumstances. But the essential element of the socialist ideal remains: to convert the means of production into the property of freely associated producers and thus the social property of people who have liberated themselves from exploitation by their master, as a fundamental step towards a broader realm of human freedom.

As for stories of radical sons and daughters… they are indeed numerous. By way of explanation, I prefer the crass, the gross and the vulgar, material explanations to be found in any Economics 101 class.

And Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.

See also : Who Are They? Jenny Turner reports from the Battle of Ideas, London Review of Books, Vol.32, No.13, July 8, 2010.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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20 Responses to Paul Howes

  1. Clicked on the Wikipedia link for Paul Howes Monday past.

    Australian Workers’ Union is very general.

    Thank you for the point that the Labor party is indeed a party of “democratic socialism”.

    And for this:

    “Further, it’s worth recalling that resistance to state tyranny has been a part of Western workers’ movements since their inception, and that the authoritarian models which have dominated the communist ideal have also generated moar radical, libertarian forms of opposition to this domination.”

    I agree with the first part; and yes the authoritarian-libertarian tensions in the second part are strongly implied.

    In regard to democratic socialism: I have been doing some reading from Arthur Calwell’s BE JUST AND FEAR NOT. He wrote about “The early days of the Labor party” and “The making of a socialist”.

    What has been the effect of Castro’s speeches on you? Christopher Hitchens said as much as Paul Howes in that regard.

    “Hell hath no fury”…

  2. @ndy says:

    What has been the effect of Castro’s speeches on me?

    Not much.

  3. Billy Bollox says:

    Whats all that mean? a whole heap of yoof links?

    Howes is a chubby little fucker isnt he, didnt the fuckwits who run the AWU advertise for his position in the national papers?

    how in the name of fuck an ex bank johnny rose to be the leader of the great unskilled proletarians of Australia has got me rooted.

    for some reason the ABC is pushing the line that howes can be/do anything he wants – am I fuckin blind or is he not just another chubby power hungry geek suckin the pole of the powers that be from Tel Aviv to the BCA?

  4. @ndy:

    Appreciate the pointers to the Green Left Weekly articles about Howes.

    I did read them all.

    How he thinks of himself (thought, rather!) and how others think of him.

    It was a busy (nearly) two years for Howes.

    The three later articles about gatherings say something.

  5. lest we forget says:

    i’m not sure how chubby he is, but he definitely looks like your typical left activist. you know, the type that masks their failings with the fairer sex with an out-spoken social agenda, you know the type, hey andy.

  6. anonymous says:

    I missed that show, thankfully. However I had the misfortune of meeting him when he was about 15 and he was a total wanker. Him and his friends were full of stories about how he did this and that improbable heroic whatever (like giving legal advice at Redfern – a 15 year old – wtf?!). At that time he had returned from Cuba and said he “critically supported” it. I’m also quite certain he was never homeless, in fact he seemed quite cashed up at the time.

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  8. You should start the we hate wanker Paul Howes page says:

    Does Porky Pig wear pants?
    Paul “Porkies” Howes – badly behaved teen who ran away from home… let’s all shed a tear.

  9. Paul Howes says:

    Looking for my own blog via google I happened upon this post. I take no responsibility for my namesake’s behaviour!

  10. LeftInternationalist says:

    Howes has been able to exude a strong sense of self delusion from the beginning of his political life. From his idealist beginnings believing that Cuba was a socialist utopia, to his current career as a Labor hack and apologist, it doesn’t appear as if he has changed much. Making it all the more hypocritical of him to denounce radicals who are actually universally consistent in a radical defence of liberty, democracy, and emancipation. Or even for him to denounce the ‘watermelon’ (GASP) Greens.

  11. @ndy says:



    Obviously, Paul’s not the only public figure to have had a brief flirtation w socialist ideas as a yoof who came to the not-unreasonable conclusion that the ALP affords many moar opportunities than, say, some tiny political sect. Otherwise, he seems to me to be a capable individual who–again, like many others before him–has managed to carve a successful career outta the labour movement. Barring some disaster, I fully expect him to be warming his bottom in Parliament in a few years time.


    The stuff about the Greens shouldn’t be taken too seriously: it’s said for effect, and must be understood in context. Again, further evidence that Howes is a capable individual.

  12. LeftInternationalist says:

    I don’t deny he’s not stupid- he’s certainly a great opportunist. I have no problem with people working in the ALP, feeling they will actually be able to, in some way, influence policy and be part of a (though dwindling) mass organisation to effect change. I just have a problem when they get all antsy about REDS under the bed, especially when they themselves have come from something of a radical background, and they are talking complete claptrap. From what I remember (and my memory ain’t what it used to be) unions are still the biggest mass organisations in Australia, and despite something of a decline, they appear to be picking up some more membership and strength over the last few years (should mention also the big numbers- tens of thousands from what I remember- Americans joining unions in this great wave we are currently experiencing). For example, in the book All That’s Left: What Labor Should Stand For (the longest suicide note to a faded dream of social democracy in history, and a call to get more ‘serious’ and ‘realistic’ and ‘business friendly’, all wrapped up in progressive rhetoric, of course) Howes’ contribution is called ‘Twenty-First Century Unionism’- here are some excerpts:

    “My union, the AWU, has experienced three years of consistent growth since the 2007 election… other large scale unions are experiencing a similar trend in membership numbers.”

    Speaking of the ALP-ACTU Accord of the ’80s and ’90s:

    “Those reforms… demonstrated how progressive Australian unions can be in dealing with the change that is needed to make our economy competitive” “When you look at the history of the Australian union movement, it has never been a movement of wild eyed revolutionaries” (AHEM: I nominate the IWW as wild eyed revolutionaries in the union movement).

    But perhaps what disgusts me most in his contribution is a kind of sickly, progressive patriotism. Lindsey Tanner seems to be deluded enough to think Labor’s only having problems because people are too ‘cynical’. Some of his marvellous recommendations are:

    “…increasing anti-terrorism protections. Extending mutual obligation in welfare benefits…”

    Ie, “I’m so sorry Mr Poor Unemployed Person, here have some money, as long as you sign this ‘mutual obligation’ contract, take your economic discipline with a smile and return to the workforce as a panting wage slave to the nearest boss post haste!”

    I really do hope years from now I will not end up like these people, with my politics a desiccated corpse, as an apologist for all kinds of tripe and authoritarianism- as long as it’s committed by the ALP. If committed by the Liberals, see treason.

  13. LeftInternationalist says:

    Howes should remember- it’s capitalism that IS the crisis.

  14. @ndy says:

    Yeah OK.

    Leaving aside Fear of a Watermelon Planet…

    I haven’t looked at union figures for a bit, but did a while ago.

    I couldn’t be arsed finding the latest figures right now: maybe later. The overall trend is general decline, w some exceptions, and industrial anomalies. Recent years suggest a reversal in some areas.

    Of course, size isn’t everything. The two largest unions–Howe’s and the SDA–are–as Howes’ boast might suggest–also in large measure (medium- to large-sized) businesses as well as “mass organisations”, deeply embedded in state infrastructure. (By way of example, check the bios of union officials for cross-membership on the boards of numerous financial and other institutions.) Of course, they’re also a crucial part of the Labor machine, which dominates the labour movement in this country and has done since the early 20th C (and much of the v late 1800s). Their activity is largely subsumed to the interests of their leadership and recruitment campaigns are increasingly conducted in the same manner as other NGOs (cf. WorkPartners).

    Challenges to Labor hegemony have been rare (IWW, CPA) but there’s some evidence to suggest that the stranglehold is weakening of late.

  15. @ndy says:

    As an aside, I really don’t think it matters what Paul Howes thinks.

  16. LeftInternationalist says:

    The potential is there to break the stranglehold, to be sure- it just has to crystalise into some kind of mass, popular democratic political project. However, if you have a strong left/radical presence in the mass organisations, including in unions, is it not better to stay there than to be outside it, where it is much harder to affect? For example, when there have been big upsurges in the past, even the widely discredited Labour/Social Dem parties start using more radical rhetoric, and often their votes have skyrocketed, when the whole rest of the Left has already declared them sunk and posing themselves as an alternative. Would not Labour/Social Dem parties be far more terrified if there were UK Militant equivalent organisations within these parties, posing a real threat to the leadership and power of the reformists? At the very least it will keep them on their toes- I think this is shown by the sigh of relief when Militant split and much of the org chose to work outside of the Labour party- the party hacks breathed a sigh of relief, and the radicals have not been influential or popular since.

    Back to Unions…

    Certainly [there’s?] been a bit of a drain of unions from the UK Labour Party. I’m not quite sure what would be the best path, whether unions that split from the ALP should join the Greens/Socialist Alliance/some united progressive alliance of parties, groups, civil society and social justice organisations- along with some attempt to form some kind of co-op, credit banks/worker associations/collectives, open places for meetings, political discussions, clubs, etc, maybe some kind of mutualism/market socialism within the belly of the beast- alternative institutions as such. Maybe some kind of Mondragon set up? That’s probably the best we can hope for at the moment. Because as much as I might like to see it, I don’t see the IWW becoming anything like a mass organisation for a long time. And I need them to be big! After all, storming the Winter Palace is peanuts compared to storming Kirribilli House. And we’ll need every hippie, crackpot, Trot, Wobbly, anarchist, commie, greenie, socialist, disaffected Laborite, punk, 68er, Situationist, Autonomist Marxist, Negri-ite, and general red/black flag waving crazies to pull that off.

  17. @ndy says:

    The potential is there to break the [ALP’s] stranglehold [over the Australian labour movement]…

    Oh sure, it’s possible. And one day this hegemonic role will end. All things must pass, after all.

    …if you have a strong left/radical presence in the mass organisations, including in unions, is it not better to stay there than to be outside it, where it is much harder to affect [change]?

    Leaving aside how one measures such things… maybe. Dunno. Better for whom? Much depends on who you are. I mean, partly, it’s not necessarily a choice as such. That is, individuals occupy all sorts of job roles, and the form their labour takes determines their opportunities for participating in unions. For many–in fact, the majority of workers–union membership is the exception rather than the rule, and the exception to this rule is concentrated in a few industries. A typical union member is older, skilled, and male.

    In terms of ideology, it’s customary for those who conceive of themselves as being ‘left’ or ‘progressive’ to support unions in general, but in the particular instances I’m familiar with, it’s common for this support to be conditional. That is, unions are generally considered to be piss-weak. Participation may make sense–and provide individuals with an opportunity to exert an influence they otherwise wouldn’t–but again, much depends on who you are/what social position a person is allocated, by choice and circumstance.

    To put it another way:

    And yeah, there is a certain political dynamic which can influence the policy direction major parties take. It’s sometimes referred to as recuperation. In Australia, the major parties, to a greater or lesser degree, have absorbed recent waves of xenophobic sentiment (tho’ the reasons for this are not necessarily straightforward) by (re-)constructing a Fortress Australia. By the same token, war tends to favour incumbent parties. Trotskyist entryism can has effect, but the history of Militant is kinda complicated I guess.

    Finally: yes, there’s scope for all-sorts within the labour movement. Fabians like Race Mathews have long been proponents of some Mondragon-like assembly, and mutual aid societies, workers’ co-operatives and so on have long formed part of the Australian labour movement. Their fate is an interesting story. The other important factor to consider in the context of this disco is the existence of a more general critique of unions as being far from antagonistic institutions but an essential part of contemporary capitalism which function in order to discipline workers and impose work. See, for example, Zerzan’s short 1975(?) essay on Organized Labor versus “the Revolt Against Work”.

  18. LeftInternationalist says:

    Speaking of Paul Howes’ disappointment with Castroism first hand, there appears to be a whole bunch of leftists who have yet to jump the Castro ship (though it seems a little late in the day to STILL be defending that sinking ship). I am extremely glad to see that Marce Cameron, author of the blog Cuba’s Socialist Renewal, views Socialist Alternative as having a “utopian, anarchist pipe dream of how they imagine socialist democracy should function in a Third World country besieged by imperialism” and that those damn fools just don’t understand that “Without a Marxist-Leninist party at the head of the Cuban Revolution there would be no revolution.” I could imagine no greater compliment to SAlt.

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