This weekend, protesters will be heading to the streets to participate inMarch in March across the country. Organisers have said the weekend of protest “signifies the people’s vote of no confidence in policies of the government that go against common principles of humanity, decency, fairness social justice and equity, democratic governance, responsible global citizenship and conserving our natural heritage.”
With the election of Tony Abbott to the lodge, the left seems to have adopted many of the right’s oppositional tactics. There is the same heavy focus on “lies”, “broken promises” and “secrecy” – a focus on Abbott’s character and not much in the way of presenting new policies. These are linked to similar destabilisation tactics – highlighted by a recent petition which has gained over 60,000 signatures – calling on the governor general to sack the government.
All of this is based on an ongoing claim, yelled very loudly, that the Abbott government is illegitimate due to his apparent reliance on the Murdoch media to get elected. This argument, whilst as weak as Abbott’s claims that the Gillard government was illegitimate, but seem to be just a fervently believed.
Instead of licking our wounds and creating an alternative approach, we have focused on tearing the government down, and using whatever arguments and tactics we can find to do so. After years of hammering Abbott for this brand of politicking, one could ask why the left is following suit – it seems like a rather hypocritical move.
Investigate further though, and you can see that the use of these tactics is a worrying symptom of a fundamental crisis in politics. Over the past decades the left has lost its social base, leaving it weak as it faces the Abbott government. Union membership is at an all time low, a drop in numbers that is being met with a significant drop in influence. The environment and climate movement is facing similar problems,struggling heavily to deal with recent political realities. The neoliberal agenda is slowly crushing progressive politics, leaving us stuck with these sorts of attack-based campaigns to beat our opponents.
The crisis represents an overarching general dissatisfaction with politics and politicians, and a strong dislike of our political system and processes. A recent Newspoll survey highlights this really well: on nearly every issue both major parties have gone backwards in recent months, signifying a shift away from any trust of our political leaders. And the left has been just as culpable.
And this is where adopting Abbott’s tactics becomes problematic. In the short term, it seems like a good strategy, but the long term damage will be real. In using this strategy, the left have failed to understand this anti-politics sentiment. We have in fact bought into it – playing an insider game focusing on broken promises, parliamentary tactics and media games, whilst effectively ignoring any real and substantive issues.
A new approach needs to be found. We need to recognise that this dislike of politics is actually a good thing: the rejection of a system that now largely serves the interests of the upper classes. The left now needs to tap directly into this sentiment.
There are plenty of successful examples of this. Russel Brand’s comments last year, for example, struck a chord largely because of his anti-establishment or anti-politics tone. The same can be said for the success of the Occupy movement. A bit closer to home and the climate movement has managed to gain significant momentum recently through going around standard political channels and directly taking on the power of the fossil fuel industry. The asylum seeker movement is also shifting its course – with the successful boycott campaign over the Sydney Biennale growing new energy for the campaign.
These tactics are about tackling the system from a different angle. They’re about challenging the power systems that are stacked up against us, and building a sustainable social base to do so. They are about doing the hard work of rebuilding our social movements, and rebuilding them to take on the systems that underpin our political system.
March in March doesn’t do this. Neither does attacking Abbott’s broken promises, calling for him to be sacked, or claiming his government is illegitimate. We have to do better than this.