I worry that Australia is sleepwalking its way to disaster. Political correctness, identity politics and cultural Marxism have run through our institutions at an astonishing rate. Sometimes I’m asked why I wasn’t saying these things when I was leader of the Labor Party in 2004. The answer is straightforward: none of these issues were current 14 years ago. They simply didn’t exist.
Australian politics has been through a remarkable period of change. Prior to the election of the Rudd Government in 2007, the budget was in surplus, our electricity supply was stable and affordable, political correctness had disappeared and only a few nutters on the extreme Left of politics were trying to subdivide the nation into the identity-tribes of race, gender and sexuality.
Now a madness has over-run Australia’s institutions. We have experienced a revolution, not over-night as Marxists once recommended, but a decade-long period of radical change. It has been a cultural invasion, with an alien, mutant ideology turning our country upside down. Everywhere I travel parents, grandparents, workers and students, patriots each of them, tell me how concerned they are about Australia’s direction.
Our abiding national traditions of freedom, meritocracy and a fair go have been lost, not just in the Left-leaning public sector but also large parts of corporate Australia. An aggressive social engineering project is trying to redefine our lives: our language, our feelings, our behaviour, our sense of what it means to be an Australian.
Having, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, lost the political war over economic policy, the Left got smarter. It shifted its focus from material Marxism to cultural Marxism. Instead of trying to socialise the means of production, it is now trying to socialise the means of individual expression and belief. It’s trying to colonise all aspects of public life, institution by institution, to make Australia match the Leftist mould.
The pall of political correctness has re-descended on society. We thought we had defeated it in the 1990s but typically from that era, we underestimated the Left. While normal people were celebrating the end of Soviet totalitarianism, the social engineers were reassembling themselves and their strategy, like a scene from a Terminator movie.
The Left has been remarkably successful in its cultural invasion. It has taken control of public broadcasting, most private media outlets, universities, government schools, major political parties, the public service, large companies and PC-enforcement bodies like the Human Rights Commission. The rest of us are the resistance, fighting the national takeover.
Australia is experiencing its worst-ever period of political censorship. People are now expected to talk the same way, approving of wacky concepts like ‘gender fluidity’, ‘gendered language’ and ‘unconscious bias’. They are also expected to condemn the sins of ‘white male privilege’, ‘European invasion’ and ‘cultural appropriation’. For those who refuse to comply, the outrage industry quickly moves into overdrive, expelling them from the public arena and even their place of employment.
These changes have been incredibly divisive, turning Australians against each other on the basis of belonging to different identity groups. The Left used to assess society and its politics through class analysis. Now it’s obsessed with judging people by their skin colour, genitalia and sexuality. It thinks the path to a fairer society is to keep groups of people separated from each other: the rise of a new, corrosive brand of segregation.
This marks a complete transformation in Leftist technique. Progressive ideals used to be based on the virtue of people working together in cooperation, building the habits of trust and social capital. This was a core element of ‘collectivism’ – a belief that individual self-interest and community needs could coexist. My views have always been framed this way. I haven’t changed, but others from a Labor background have abandoned the basics of social democracy.
Identity politics relies on a radically different notion: that individuals need to be lumped into competing race, gender and sexuality cohorts, the interests of which are said to be mutually exclusive. Very few people live their lives this way. Who wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘I’m black or white, male or female, straight or gay’, instead of acknowledging ‘I’m a worker, a parent, a student or a community member’?
Leftists are trying to divide society in artificial ways, to provoke dissatisfaction and conflict, to use identity as a way of upending the stability and success of Western civilisation. Class warfare has been replaced by identity warfare.
In the old schema, the challenge for progressive politics was to reconcile individual and collective interests. The glue that held these two concepts together was meritocracy. If people were treated fairly – that is, on merit (regardless of race, gender and sexuality) – they would be more inclined to feel good about society and participate in community-based organisations and projects. They could advance their own interests, plus the common good.
Incredibly, large parts of the Left have abandoned merit as a guiding principle. The introduction of employment and other selection quotas has downgraded the importance of individual talent, picking people instead on the basis of skin colour, genitalia and whom they might be sleeping with (sexuality). This is the new primitivism of the Left: promoting people because of their appearance, rather than their ability.
It’s a step back in time, akin to the methods of the Middle Ages when personal appearance was paramount. Take, for instance, the recent work of Don Watson, Paul Keating’s prime ministerial speechwriter. One would normally expect Watson, a leading intellectual of the Australian Left, to be a rusted-on supporter of merit. Think again. He has written of how, “Meritocracy is the name our neoliberal lords of condescension go by. It is as much the antithesis of the fair go as a hereditary monarchy.”
Watson has no problem in going back to hereditary systems of government. He has lost faith in liberal democracy, complaining of how, “At least feudalism didn’t tell the poor that personal inadequacy was the cause of their miserable condition.” Watson’s solution to social injustice is ever-more identity politics, junking merit as a failed experiment of the ruling class.
This is the insanity now gripping the Left. If it were just a couple of kooky individuals speaking this way, it could easily be dismissed as an aberration. But it’s more than that. It’s a dominant strand of political thought, controlling perhaps 80 percent of the management practices of Australia’s institutions. That’s what makes it so alarming.
Origins of Change
Where has this regression, this new Left primitivism come from? What are its political and intellectual origins? Three sources stand out.
The first concerns the rise of virtue signaling. The worst thing that happened to the Left was it got wealthy. Materially, it has been the great beneficiary of the Information Technology revolution, spawning millions of affluent Silicon Valley-types: working in industries like online media, advertising and design. Very few of them have any contact with poor people. They live and work in an abstract world of image and word manipulation.
Yet these activists also need to prove their Leftist credentials, to impress the dinner-party-set with their ‘compassion’. Getting to know and helping the poor is out of the question, so the easiest, most convenient thing to do is to signal their virtue on identity issues, to pretend they are empathising with a just social cause.
I grew up in a Labor Party that told me to look through minor genetic variations in people, such as race, gender and sexuality. Icons like Gough Whitlam said these things were irrelevant to a person’s character and community contribution. Now, in a moment of madness, the Left has positioned identity at the centre of political debate.
In terms of social justice, what is to be gained from encouraging society to judge people by skin colour and genitalia? It’s a recipe for bigotry, as the Left has demonstrated in recent times with its attacks on white people: heralding the rise of anti-white racism in Australia. Our national debate has degenerated into identity groups attacking each other, seeking revenge for past grievances, real and imagined. Social capital has collapsed, the antithesis of what progressive politics is supposed to achieve.
Ultimately, virtue signaling is an incredibly selfish practice. Its sole purpose is to get the Bourgeois Left off the hook, to help them feel progressive, even though they live in big houses in exclusive suburbs. This is the new world of Left elitism: people who have such a high opinion of themselves they think they have the right to tell others how to live their lives. Their self-image is that of social and moral commissars, deriding the plainness of suburban life.
The second driver of change can be traced to the historic failure of Julia Gillard’s prime ministership (2010-13). The Left in Australia invested heavily in our first female national leader, believing it represented a new dawn in ‘gender equality’. They saw Gillard as having the potential to permanently change the tone and content of public debate, opening up new opportunities for other identity groups and widespread social engineering.
The Left also supported her open borders strategy, with 50,000 asylum seekers trying to enter Australia by boat. In their eyes, it was a step towards a borderless state. Yet the policy ended in 2000 people drowning at sea, the greatest humanitarian disaster in Australian history.
On both fronts – gender and refugee policy – the Left’s hopes were shattered. The Gillard Government was an electoral disaster, so bad that Labor had to admit it had made a mistake in knifing Kevin Rudd. Even though he had sabotaged the party’s election campaign three years earlier, Rudd was brought back to the prime ministership in 2013.
The Left could have responded to Gillard’s failure by acknowledging her errors and trying to learn from them. Instead, it doubled down. It went harder in pushing identity politics, seeking political power by non-parliamentary means in its march through Australia’s institutions.
The same thing happened in the United States when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016. The identity-Left went into denial, finding solace in the demonisation of their opponent and a delusional self-affirmation of their own beliefs.
The third driver of change has been the rise of post-structuralist Marxism in our universities. Karl Marx wrote of how history was propelled by economic structures, hence his advocacy of working class revolution. In the 1950s and 60s, mainly out of continental Europe, a new strain of Marxism emerged. It directed the revolutionary cause away from material concerns and focused instead on questions of identity.
Post-structuralist Marxism argues that the true power of capitalism lies in its repression of individual feelings. Ruling class control of the media, education system and prevailing cultural norms has denied people true consciousness of their race, gender and sexuality. Everything we know about ourselves is said to be a ‘social construct’. Capitalist hegemony (or thought-control) has forced people into supporting the status quo. The nuclear family, for instance, is depicted as an oppressive institution, pushing upon children acceptance of gender stereotypes.
This theory is closely related to post-modernist thinking, an academic fad promoting scepticism about the reliability of ‘recorded history’ and ‘observable truth’. It is argued that, far from being universally valid, the information and know-how that guides our lives has been manipulated to support existing political hierarchies. What might appear to be factual and rational in the public’s mind has actually been constructed to serve ruling class interests. In many respects, post-structuralist Marxism and post-modernism are two sides of the same coin.
The goal of this movement is to destroy existing social institutions and replace them with the notion of ‘fluidity’. It wants young people in particular to feel agitated about their identity, to break free from the hegemony polluting their minds. This is, for instance, the intellectual underpinning of the Safe Schools curriculum developed at La Trobe University and the equally insidious Respectful Relationships program from Deakin University.
School students are taught that nothing in the world is stable. If they wish, their feelings about gender, sexuality and other allegiances (such as nationalism) can change on a daily basis. Students are encouraged to dismiss the traditional pillars of learning, to see things such as written history and biological science as mechanisms of capitalist control.
The aim of post-structuralist Marxism is to create radical social change through identity agitation. The cleverness of this approach lies in its Trojan Horse tactics. Safe Schools is said to be an anti-bullying program and who could argue against such a goal? Respectful Relationships is depicted as an anti-domestic violence measure – again, a sugary-sweet façade disguising the true nature of its teaching materials and background literature.
This excerpt was taken from Mark’s new book Take Back Australia: Saving our country, our culture, our civilisation. You can purchase a copy by visiting Wilkinson Publishing.