“I worked myself up from nothing” (Et cetera)

Why I left the lefties
Kevin Donnelly
The Australian
October 16, 2009

In summary:

Kevin Donnelly had a working-class upbringing. He lived in a working-class suburb. His father was a Communist. As a student, he took part in protests against the Vietnam War. He went to University. He got a job as a teacher. He joined a union.

Then he joined the Liberal Party.

Why did Kevin join the Liberal Party?

Because he realised his father was a dreamer. Because socialism is driven by “class bitterness and the politics of envy”. Because Edmund Burke was right when he emphasised the need to conserve, not revolutionise, social institutions. Because evolution is better than revolution, and “[a]s 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.”

In addition to Burke, Kevin blames the work of George Orwell, especially Animal Farm.

As for Marxism, there is “something soulless and reductionist about” it: “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”.

After abandoning his job as a teacher, Kevin got a gig with Kevin Andrews as his Chief of Staff.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Still, I have a few minor quibbles with Kevin.

To begin with, ‘the left’ is rather more extensive than the CPA (or the ALP). Thus Orwell, whom Kevin cites with approval, was a ‘leftist’, and his parable was intended to debunk the myth of ‘Soviet Russia’, not ‘socialism’, something to which he remained committed until his death. Further, while there are economistic, mechanistic and reductionist interpretations of Marx’s thought, his writings have been proven to be rather more fecund than Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia might otherwise suggest.

A movement of the left should distinguish with clarity between its long-range revolutionary aims and certain more immediate effects it can hope to achieve…

But in the long run, a movement of the left has no chance of success, and deserves none, unless it develops an understanding of contemporary society and a vision of a future social order that is persuasive to a large majority of the population. Its goals and organisational forms must take shape through their active participation in political struggle [in its widest sense] and social reconstruction. A genuine radical culture can be created only through the spiritual transformation of great masses of people — the essential feature of any social revolution that is to extend the possibilities for human creativity and freedom… The cultural and intellectual level of any serious radical movement will have to be far higher than in the past… It will not be able to satisfy itself with a litany of forms of oppression and injustice. It will need to provide compelling answers to the question of how these evils can be overcome by revolution or large-scale reform. To accomplish this aim, the left will have to achieve and maintain a position of honesty and commitment to libertarian values.

~ Noam Chomsky, Radical Priorities, pp. 189-90

See also : Kevin Donnelly, John McIntrye, and the right to indoctrinate while sucking on the taxpayer teat…, loon pond, September 29, 2009.


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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8 Responses to “I worked myself up from nothing” (Et cetera)

  1. @ndy says:

    Correction: bad article on Orwell from an unreconstructed Stalinist and member of the Stalin Society.

    Orwell’s criticisms of the ‘Soviet Union’ were hardly original — rather, he popularised them in a moral fable.

    And he was not a ‘Trotskyist’!

    The Soviet Union Versus Socialism
    Noam Chomsky
    Our Generation
    Spring/Summer, 1986

    When the world’s two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it requires some intellectual effort to escape its shackles. One such doctrine is that the society created by Lenin and Trotsky and molded further by Stalin and his successors has some relation to socialism in some meaningful or historically accurate sense of this concept. In fact, if there is a relation, it is the relation of contradiction.

    It is clear enough why both major propaganda systems insist upon this fantasy. Since its origins, the Soviet State has attempted to harness the energies of its own population and oppressed people elsewhere in the service of the men who took advantage of the popular ferment in Russia in 1917 to seize State power. One major ideological weapon employed to this end has been the claim that the State managers are leading their own society and the world towards the socialist ideal; an impossibility, as any socialist — surely any serious Marxist — should have understood at once (many did), and a lie of mammoth proportions as history has revealed since the earliest days of the Bolshevik regime. The taskmasters have attempted to gain legitimacy and support by exploiting the aura of socialist ideals and the respect that is rightly accorded them, to conceal their own ritual practice as they destroyed every vestige of socialism.

    As for the world’s second major propaganda system, association of socialism with the Soviet Union and its clients serves as a powerful ideological weapon to enforce conformity and obedience to the State capitalist institutions, to ensure that the necessity to rent oneself to the owners and managers of these institutions will be regarded as virtually a natural law, the only alternative to the ‘socialist’ dungeon.

    The Soviet leadership thus portrays itself as socialist to protect its right to wield the club, and Western ideologists adopt the same pretense in order to forestall the threat of a more free and just society. This joint attack on socialism has been highly effective in undermining it in the modern period.

    One may take note of another device used effectively by State capitalist ideologists in their service to existing power and privilege. The ritual denunciation of the so-called ‘socialist’ States is replete with distortions and often outright lies. Nothing is easier than to denounce the official enemy and to attribute to it any crime: there is no need to be burdened by the demands of evidence or logic as one marches in the parade. Critics of Western violence and atrocities often try to set the record straight, recognizing the criminal atrocities and repression that exist while exposing the tales that are concocted in the service of Western violence. With predictable regularity, these steps are at once interpreted as apologetics for the empire of evil and its minions. Thus the crucial Right to Lie in the Service of the State is preserved, and the critique of State violence and atrocities is undermined.

    It is also worth noting the great appeal of Leninist doctrine to the modern intelligentsia in periods of conflict and upheaval. This doctrine affords the ‘radical intellectuals’ the right to hold State power and to impose the harsh rule of the ‘Red Bureaucracy,’ the ‘new class,’ in the terms of Bakunin’s prescient analysis a century ago. As in the Bonapartist State denounced by Marx, they become the ‘State priests,’ and “parasitical excrescence upon civil society” that rules it with an iron hand…

  2. P J says:

    Chomsky’s line of argument is facile.

    It appears he follows the ‘great man’ theory of history –

    “men who took advantage of the popular ferment in Russia in 1917 to seize State power”

    So according to Noam the Russian Revolution was nothing other than a seizure of power by some men! This was one of the arguments by bourgeois historians against the October Revolution.


    “The taskmasters have attempted to gain legitimacy and support by exploiting the aura of socialist ideals and the respect that is rightly accorded them, to conceal their own ritual practice as they destroyed every vestige of socialism.”

    In the period from Lenin to Stalin the Soviet people moved from wooden plough farming to atomic science, defeated fascism and built a socialist economy. All this is dismissed as “ritual practice” by the Anarchist utopian Chomsky.

    PJ … (the unreconstructed)

    Kevin blames Orwell’s Animal Farm as the book that changed his outlook. The core argument of Animal Farm is that all human projects end in failure because of so-called human nature, the logical extension of this argument (and the reason the bourgeoisie love the book) is that it is better to accept one’s lot in life.

    His father should have dropped him on his head… (maybe he did?!)

  3. @ndy says:


    A few things.

    Chomsky’s views on history and social change are fairly well-known — what with him having written and spoken about the subject for the last four or five decades. One of the more obvious features of his analysis is that he does not subscribe to the ‘Great Men of History’ thesis. Further, there is no contradiction between arguing that the Bolsheviks “took advantage of the popular ferment in Russia in 1917 to seize State power” and that the basis of this seizure was — as he notes — ‘popular ferment’. It’s also worth drawing attention to the fact that I have published an extract from his essay, not the essay itself, and his argument — which is essentially a re-hash of arguments that have been circulating on the radical left for the last nine decades — finds fuller expression there (but which also finds some echoes in his essay on the Spanish Revolution).

    Regarding the period from Lenin (1917) to Stalin (1922), Maurice Brinton, among others, has documented the Bolshevik/Communist war on ‘Soviet democracy’.

    As for Orwell, the ‘core argument’ is not that humanity is doomed, but that placing one’s faith in others to liberate the working class is stoopid. As a dead German Jew put it: only the workers can make a workers’ revolution (not a party acting on its behalf). Or, as the communist Otto Ruhle put it, ‘The Revolution Is Not A Party Affair’.

  4. dj says:

    I would just like to say that in no way do I think Kevin Donnelly is a wanker. He is more a muppet in my opinion.

  5. @ndy says:

    True that.

    Amazingly enough, Bert & Ernie have composed a reply to The Muppet’s non-sense, which I think is probably the clearest exposition of the failings of his critique of our education system.

  6. @ndy says:

    Oh yeah.

    All this is dismissed as “ritual practice” by the Anarchist utopian Chomsky.

    Again: nonsense. Anarchists ain’t utopian — we just got the ‘Jukebox Lean’!

  7. Run to Paradise says:

    Kevin Donnelly – Class traitor and stinky poo head.

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