Australian far left

There is no such thing as the ‘alt left’

Earlier in the week, a journalist at the ABC asked me some questions about whether there was such a thing as the ‘alt left’ and the possibility of left-wing violence in the twenty first century. I responded, but in the article published, there were no quotes from me. As the article has attracted significant criticism online, I thought I would quickly post my original comments (only with a slight edit). 

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The term ‘alt right’ was first used as a branding tool by those on the populist and far right, who wished to do away with the connotations with traditional far right politics and white supremacism. It is often used nowadays to describe the various groups and individuals who inhabit the space between hard right conservatism and the organised far right (primarily in North America), with a lot of crossover with what some people have described as right-wing populism.

Some have proposed that a left-wing populism is necessary to counter right-wing populism, but the term ‘alt left’ has not been a popular term and it is not a very useful one. Some on the American left, particularly around certain podcasts, have described themselves as the ‘dirtbag left’, which has been used to identify a ‘non-PC’ left – although this is a mixture of left contrarianism and class reductionism (seeing class as the most important form of oppression to the detriment of any other struggles against oppression). It is unclear how far this concept has permeated into the organised left in North America, such as around the Democratic Socialists of America – although the self-described ‘dirtbag left’ have championed the DSA in the past.

Some others have used the term ‘alt left’ to describe websites that support Jeremy Corbyn, such as The Canary or Skwawkbox in the UK, but I also don’t find this useful. Left populist might be a better term.

The far left has traditionally been organised around distinct political parties or entrist groups inside parties such as the Labour Party in Britain. The decline of the organised left outside the Labour Party, particularly in Britain, has meant that there are more independent leftists inside Labour nowadays, although these activists should not be labeled ‘alt left’.

The number of left-wing organisations involved in explicit political violence in the Western world have been minimal. The Weather Underground in the US, the Red Army Fraction in West Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy captured the headlines in the 1970s, but they were always on the fringes of the left.

Other leftists have been involved in direct physical action over the years, such as militant anti-fascism, but this has primarily been a self-defence measure against racist, fascist and state violence. Destruction of property at demonstrations, such as those committed by some anarchists, has been sensationalised in the media over the years, but is also a minor part of left-wing activism in most Western countries.

Far right terrorism and political violence is far more prevalent and dangerous than any militant left-wing activism. The right have attempted to portray ‘antifa’ as a violent and organised left-wing movement, but antifa is a broad term used to describe various and often unconnected people involved in anti-fascist activism. The supposed ‘extremism’ of antifa is a moral panic stirred up by the right and perpetuated by conservative media.

I would like to return to this topic in the near future, but due to time constraints, this will do for now. 

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Talk for SA History Festival – 11 May, Box Factory, 2pm

Adelaide peeps, I have been invited by the South Australian branch of the Labour History Society to give a talk as part of South Australia’s History Festival. I will be discussing the book that I co-edited with Jon Piccini and Matthew Worley, The Far Left in Australia since 1945, particularly how we put it together and why this kind of history is needed now. See the flyer below for event details.

There will be copies of the book on sale. If you can’t make it, you can order it from Routledge here (currently at a discount price!).

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Far left book launch at Historical Materialism Sydney (13 Dec)

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I am happy to announce that Jon Piccini and I will be launching the book that we have co-edited with Matthew Worley, The Far Left in Australian since 1945, at Historical Materialism Sydney next month. Joining Jon and I will be contributors Ana Stevenson and Isabelle Barrett Meyering, as well as Hannah Forsyth.

The launch will be at the University of Sydney Business School on Thursday 13 December at 4.15pm. More details about HM Sydney are here.

If you can’t attend the book launch, you can still pick the book up on sale for only $40 from Routledge here. Or if you’re in Melbourne, grab a copy from the New International Bookshop.

New article: ASIO and the Women’s Liberation Movement

This is just a quick post to let you all know that Australian Feminist Studies has just published a special issue on the history of how the personal became political in Australia, co-edited by Michelle Arrow and Angela Woollacott. The special issue features my article, ‘When the Personal Became Too Political: ASIO and the Monitoring of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Australia’. You can find it here.

Communist Party of Australia’s Rupert Lockwood on the Common Market (c.1961)

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In the early 1960s, Britain first tried to join the Common Market. The British Labour Party, the trade unions and the Communist Party opposed this, arguing that it was creating a supranational capitalist entity that served no purpose for the British working class (or the other working classes of Western Europe). This can be seen in the literature on the Common Market by the Communist Party of Great Britain produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Australian labour movement and the Communist Party of Australia also opposed Britain’s entry into the Common Market. In the early 1960s, CPA journalist Rupert Lockwood wrote a pamphlet for the Sydney Branch of the Boilermakers’ Society that outlined the Communist-influenced trade unions’ position towards the Common Market.

As part of my endeavours to make some of the more hard-to-find resources on leftist history, I have scanned and uploaded a copy of this pamphlet. In the era of Brexit, I thought it would be interesting to revisit this pamphlet of an earlier era of ‘Euroscepticism’ on the international left.

Guest post at Verso blog on the ‘long 1968’ in Australia

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I am excited to let you all know that the Verso Books blog published a piece by Jon Piccini and I on the old left, new left and the ‘long 1968’ in Australia. It is based on the introduction to our new book (co-edited with Matthew Worley), The Far Left in Australia since 1945, which will be published by Routledge in July.

You can pre-order the paperback version here. We will hopefully having a book launch in Melbourne in late August. More details to follow!

The cover is ready!

Very excited to unveil the cover of our forthcoming edited volume, The Far Left in Australia since 1945. It will be published by Routledge as part of their Studies in Radical History and Politics series in February next year. A paperback version should be available for the Australian and New Zealand market at the time as well. More details on the book can found here.

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We thank Meredith Burgmann for allowing us to use the cover photo. According this blog post by Kurt Iveson, the women featured in the photo are (from left to right) Glenys Page, Lyn Syme, Rhonda Ellis, unidentified, Michelle Fraser, Janne Reed, Caroline Graham.