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:
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.