||Issue No. 141||21 June 2002|
Interview: The Fels Guy
Solidarity: Life or Death?
Unions: Back to Basics
International: Global Terror
History: Sorry Business
Technology: Future Active
Satire: Executive Presents PowerPoint Eulogy at Mother’s Funeral
Poetry: Santa Claus Was Coming to Oz
Review: Dial 'M' For Minority Report
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Tom Bites Back
Root Canal Therapy
Jock or Janus?
One of David Williamson's classic character creations is Jock in "The Club" (1977). "The Club" is a dissection of the internal politics of a fictitious AFL club and Jock a crusty ex-player who divides his time between engaging in internecine warfare with the coach and talking up the good ol' days in comparison to the miserable present and hopeless future.
An active member of any organisation instantly recognises Jock. The ALP has more than its fair share of Jocks, whose doleful cries that the Party is abandoning its traditions have been heard for over 100 years.
Once more there are calls within the Party for reform. Once more the apostles of atrophy defend their vested interests from these calls behind an ill-informed or cynical appeal to tradition. They argue only to the rhythm of forebears turning in their graves. Before we listen to these Jocks we should look back at the unhappy history of those who see the past as inherently more virtuous than the present and hopeful than the future.
The Early Years
The first "Jock" of note was Vere Gordon Childe. Childe was an Oxford educated pacifist and archaeologist who worked with the ALP in its early years. In 1923 he wrote a bitter treatise, How Labour Governs, A Study of Workers Representation in Australia, in which he decried the Party for degenerating into a "vast machine for capturing political power". It escaped him that this was precisely the reason the Party was established.
Childe preferred a mythologised past to a complex present. He envisaged the founders as an "inspired band of socialists" when they were actually a rough blend of trade unionists and single taxers, free traders and protectionists, workers and small businessmen, optimists and malcontents. Childe's delusion inevitably clashed with the reality of the machine set up by these people, resulting in his sour tome.
Other Jocks denounced developmental strategies pursued by Watson and Fischer, such as establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Navy. Scullin's Depression government wore the ire of Jocks for supporting "sound finance", lowering budget deficits and cutting labour costs. Frank Anstey was a prominent Jock who characterised the adoption of "sound money" as the transformation of Labor from the worker's party to a cats paw for international finance - London Jews in particular. If you take out the explicit anti-Semitism he could have been an anti-globalisation protester.
Accusations of betrayal have generally arisen from a misunderstanding of early Labor history. The Party was established to give those without capital a voice in existing power structures. Labor was an indigenous creation, forged from Australian experience rather than European ideology. It is still at its best when rooted in contemporary reality.
Chifley and Curtin
These two very complex men are done the great disservice of being regularly wheeled out like religious relics every time a Jock wants to make a point about tradition.
It is forgotten that both were criticised by Jocks of their time for the very necessary introduction of conscription, use of the military to replace striking communists, inclusion of Australia in the IMF and the GATT and adoption of the then Keynesian economic orthodoxy in preference to the installation of a command economy.
Whitlam, Hawke and Keating
Williamson's Jock gazes up to the pictures of past Club greats on the walls and describes them variously as "great names from a great club" and "hacks and dead-beats". Similarly, the gap between the Whitlam and Hawke-Keating governments was short enough for some Jocks, who spitefully resented Whitlam's initial success, to turn around and use him as a vitrified icon with which to belt Hawke and Keating about the head.
The reasons for the denigration of Hawke and Keating by the Jocks are well known - privatisations, deregulation of the labour and financial sectors, tariff reduction, welfare reform, friendliness with the USA and so on. Yet the closer you compare them with the saints of the idealised past the more the similarities eclipse the differences.
Nowhere is this more evident that in the musings of Graham Maddox, especially his The Hawke Government and the Labor Tradition (1989). He complains of Hawke's pro-Americanism. Yet what of Curtin's forging of the American alliance and close working relationship with staunch Republican MacArthur? He lauds Whitlam's centralisation and then attacks the excessive use of legalism by Hawke. What about the role of constitutional legal argument in extending the reach of the Commonwealth? He criticises Hawke's sale of uranium to the French. Didn't Jim Cairnes push for a similar sale to the Shar of Iran? He rebukes Hawke over his lack of consideration for democracy in East Timor and Fiji. What of Whitlam's recognition of Communist China and acquiesce to the annexation of East Timor? Maddox upholds the Whitlam Government as the most authentically Labor of all and yet labels its last budget as the beginnings of economic rationalism, which to him is the essence of tradition betrayed.
Jocks always view the past through rose coloured glasses when it suits them, but view the present and future through glasses of an altogether different hue.
Whoever next leads Labor in government is going to have to contend with the current crop of Jocks to get there. I have no doubt that we will all bear witness to the irony of the Hawke and Keating governments being cited as exemplars for the next Labor administration. Jocks of the post-materialist left have already beatified Keating for his efforts on the Republic and Reconciliation after years of excoriating him for espousing the centrality of wealth created in free markets to the Labor project. I suspect that when there is a new Labor government to demonise they will surrender even these residual criticisms and perhaps even forgive Hawke for winning too many times.
Change as Tradition
Jocks are not wrong to cite tradition as a central consideration when weighing up proposals for reform. They are wrong to require slavish adherence to specific aspects of the status quo based on a tradition manufactured from rusty and ahistorical anecdotes. Tradition should facilitate and guide change, not retard it. Indeed, one of the great traditions of the ALP is its commitment to change to meet contemporary aspirations and problems with modern social and economic ideas.
Keating called this true tradition of change "the crossing of the Rubicon". Another Jock, Peter Beilhartz, sees it simply as a betrayal of tradition and matches Keating's classical allusion by referring disparagingly to Labor's "Janus face". Though meant as an insult I think I prefer Beilhartz's allusion. Janus is the Roman God of new beginnings. He sits atop doors, archways and entrances with one face pointing to the future and the other to the past. Janus represents past and future wisdom and his temple doors were opened when Rome was at war.
Federal Labor has lost three wars on the trot. Unlike Janus it has refused to open its doors to new ideas. There are sensible arguments for and against certain suggested reforms. But opposing an idea simply because it runs counter to tradition is not only weak but also, and paradoxically, counter to Labor's tradition of change. If the Party wishes to avoid a decade of irrelevance it will have to do a little better than that. It must ask itself - do we want to reform as we have before, Janus-like, with one eye on the wisdom of the past and another on our aspirations for the future or do we just want to bury our head in our Jocks?
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