Left Q/A: The populist right and the anti-globalisation backlash: how should the left respond?

Date: Thursday 2nd Feb, 7pm (doors and bar open at 6:30pm)

Venue: Bella Union Bar,  Level 1, Trades Hall , 54 Victoria Street (corner of Victoria & Lygon Streets), Carlton South (enter via Lygon Street)

Brexit, the election of Trump, and the rising popularity of several other ‘populist’ right figures around the world, calls for much reflection and debate on the left. Come listen to and discuss these crucial issues with panelists from various left traditions.

Panelists include:
Arran Gare (Philosopher, Swinburne Uni, author The Philosophical Foundations of Ecological Civilization),
Sue Bolton (Councillor for Moreland, Socialist Alliance),
Graham Dunkley (Vic Uni, author of ‘One World Mania: A critical guide to free trade, financialisation and over-globalisation‘)
Louise O’Shea (Socialist Alternative)

NIBS Holiday Close-Down

Hi all,

NIBS will be open, as normal, until Friday 23rd December

We will then close down from 24th December to 30th January.

We will reopen on Tuesday 30th January at 12pm.

We wish all our supporters and customers a happy festive season and a new year full of creative and enjoyable activism as we struggle for a better world.


Red Review – December 2016

No 1, December 2016, Marko Beljac. 

Richard Seymour, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, (London, Verso, 2016).

The neoliberal era, to no small degree, has been characterised by an assault on democracy. cobyn

Viewed discretely neoliberalism assails public education, public housing, public transportation, public enterprise, even public space be damned, in short anything with the word “public” in front of it.

This is because in whole neoliberalism represents an attack on the public, and an attack on the public requires an attack on democracy. One manifestation of this attack on the public is the hollowing out of formerly mass based political parties, which increasingly function as branded electoral machines selling imagery and symbols to the public as the “masters of mankind,” to use Adam Smith’s phraseology, privately pursue their “vile maxim,” namely “all for ourselves and nothing for other people” what sometimes is called “the profit motive.”

The masters prefer hollowed out political parties for they are more amenable to their control. In the absence of a mass social base electoral machines ultimately are at the beck and easy recall of capital, as that walking and talking brand, Kevin 07, no doubt still is unable to recognise. So we had New Labour, New Democrats and the all the frothy rest.

Strangely, to the well-heeled that is, the public, that ignorant and meddlesome outsider, is increasingly assertive. Through Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the US, Nuit Debout in France, the Indignados and Podemos in Spain, and mush else besides we see the public clamouring for more sway in the way society is governed.

A glittering academic career waits for thee who can write a PhD explaining this strange phenomenon to the masters, whilst outlining a way to assuage the beast without affecting the interests of the overseers too unduly. Less glamorous, but of more human value, would be an analysis of this happening of the people for the left as we continue the struggle to reverse the neoliberal tide.

Richard Seymour’s book, on the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour Party leadership, is a welcome and splendid contribution to the defence of the public as it is one based on rich analysis and insightful historical context.

The foregoing observations on the essential character of neoliberalism are of no small relevance as Seymour identifies this public mobilisation, not so much socialism, as the essence of the Corbyn phenomenon in the UK. Crucially, the Corbyn mobilisation does not mean that the left “is suddenly vibrant and full of beans and power.” Rather, “in circumstances, which defy analogy, there is a chance for radical politics to make an utterly unexpected rebirth.”

Seymour notes that Corbyn has been opposed not just by the tabloid Murdoch press but also the left liberal media, and he catalogues with detail the offensive waged against him in The Guardian and The New Statesman. Those of us interested in a rebirth of radical politics in Australia would do well to make note of this.

We tend to associate the rise of Corbyn to a popular tsunami that overwhelmed the constituency party, or branches as we say in the antipodes, but Seymour shows how, and more importantly why, key trade unions provided critical support for Corbyn.

Seymour observes that, “throughout the period of Blairite dominance,” unions “had been sinking into an existential crisis.” This was because their “social depth had declined, the legislative climate has remained abysmal, industrial action has sunk to all-time lows, levels of manufacturing have continued to decline and the private sector is overwhelmingly non-unionised.”

The unions turned to Corbyn because they had to. Although Seymour focuses his analysis on the political wing, and discusses the industrial wing of the labour movement largely in the context of internal Labour Party affairs, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the rebirth of radical politics requires the rebirth of a grassroots union movement dedicated to waging class struggle at the point of production.

So long as the asymmetry of power between labour and capital obtains at the workplace the neoliberal era will endure. A mass based and democratic political party of the left might be necessary but it by no means is sufficient.

Seymour, rightly in my view, tends to deemphasise the radical nature of Corbyn’s policies. To be sure Corbyn is a long standing socialist campaigner, but many of his policies fit the Keynesian mould, an indication of how rightward the political culture has tacked, with some added commitments to nationalisation in limited domains. The programme of Corbyn’s mentor, and predecessor, Tony Benn, known as “the alternative economic strategy,” was more radical. For instance, it included stronger commitments to industrial democracy and workers’ self-management.

But, as Seymour states, Corbyn represents a rebirth. We have yet to relearn to crawl let alone walk once more.

Seymour writes incisively of the problems that Corbyn’s project faces. He notes that the Labour Party remains weak, and still is wedded to a conception of success understood in electoral terms.

But success needs also to be understood in organisational and ideological terms, Seymour relates. One of the key reasons why the left finds it difficult to slay the neoliberal dragon is because it lacks a viable and coherent ideological counter narrative. A rebirth of radical politics must not only mobilise the public at the organisational level but it must also feed into renewed intellectual vigour.

One problem, even though he writes pre-Brexit and Trump,that Seymour discusses is right wing populist appeals to racist and other assorted vulgar sentiment. In the 1964 Smethwick by-election, Seymour writes, the Tories defeated Labour with the slogan, “if you want a nigger for a neighbour vote Labour.” The Tories of course cared not a jot for Sid Abbott and the travails of his blessed house, but racist and nationalist mobilisations are understood to be potent weapons for the attack on the public and unless this weapon is blunted radical politics will not ripen to maturity.

Another problem, not addressed by Seymour, is social democracy’s requirement for present and future economic growth. This growth imperative needs to be balanced, if not countermanded, by ecological considerations. A tough sell even in the best of times.

Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders demonstrate that a rebirth of radical politics and the rolling back of the frontiers of capitalism requires an insurgency from below, an insurgency from within the left and the labour movement. Such an insurgency is the essential midwife for the rebirth of radical politics.

I cannot but highly recommend Seymour’s book to those interested in bringing something akin to Corbyn’s rebirth of radical politics to Australia.

New Jacobin Out Now: The Party We Need

Description from Jacobin website:

“When we were planning our new issue many of us didn’t take the prospect of a Trump presidency too seriously. The lead that Hillary Clinton had built seemed insurmountable — and, beyond the backing of organized labor and other Democratic Party stalwarts, she had the support of every major sector of American capital.

It’s with some luck then that our fall issue focused on the bigger picture. And at 170 pages, we managed to do just that, with only a bit of unnecessary prognostication.

We wanted to give readers a glimpse of the myriad visions of Jacobin contributors who are looking to the future and working for change. The issue covers the rise and fall of the Socialist Party of America — “the party we lost.” We also explore why we were never able to build a sustainable labor party, as well as what at last building “the party we want” would look like. Finally, we asked a host of activists and scholars what “the party we need” should be organizing for in the here and now.”

Online NIBS Gift Vouchers – Now available

A NIBS gift voucher would make a wonderful present for your progressive (or not so!) friends and family this Christmas.

To order a print off a gift voucher now simply click on the button below and you can choose a printable gift voucher for an amount that suits your needs. The voucher than can then be given as a gift and redeemed at the bookshop in Carlton.

Buy Gift Certificates

New Books in November

Mind of Islamic State – Robert Manne – $23

Who Rules the World – Noam Chomsky – $35img_4707

Fight Like a Girl – Cllementine Ford – $30
In the Vales of Tears on Marxism – Roland Boer – $48

A Handful of Sand: The Gurindji Struggle, After the Walk-Off – Charlie Ward – $30

Why The future is Workless – Tim Dunlop – $30

Not just for this Life: Gough Whitlam Remembered – Edited by Wendy Guest and Cary Gray – $30

The Extreme Centre: A Warning – Tariq Ali – $20

In Defense of Housing – David Madden and Peter Marcuse – $43

Grand Hotel Abyss – Stuart Jeffries – $39

The Panama Papers – Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier – $27

Climate Politics and the Climate Movement in Australia – Verity Burgmann and Hans A Baer – $45

Red Professor: The Cold War Life of Fred Rose – Peter Monteath and Valerie Munt – $40

The End of the Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men – Robert Jensen – $25



Subversive Cinema: Capitalism Documentary Part 5 & 6 (of 6)

Thursday November 24th, 7pm

New International Bookshop, 54 Victoria St Carlton

Entry: $5 or $3 for NIBS members

Book here.

In November, we continue our screening of CAPITALISM – an ambitious and accessible six-part documentary series that looks at both the history of ideas and the social forces that have shaped the capitalist world.


We will screen episodes 5 & 6:

Episode 5: Keynes vs Hayek: A Fake Debate?
The ideological divide between the philosophies of John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek has dominated economics for nearly a century. Is it time for the pendulum to swing back to Keynes? Or do we need a whole new approach that goes beyond this dualism?

Episode 6: Karl Polanyi, The Human Factor
An exploration of the life and work of Karl Polanyi, who sought to reintegrate society and economy. Could the commodification of labour and money ultimately be as disastrous as floods, drought and earthquakes?

Description and Trailor for each episode found here: http://capitalism.vhx.tv/

From Mao to Now: The Ongoing relevance of Marxism in China

From Mao to Now.jpg

Author Roland Boer’s argues that anybody who wants to understand contemporary China simply has to have some understanding of Chinese Marxism. As such, Roland has spent the last few years developing and teaching a massive online course on the nature, debates, and practices of Marxism in China today. Roland will discuss Chinese Marxism as well as the practicalities of developing such a course.

Roland Boer is Professor of Literary Theory at Renmin (People’s) University of China, Beijing, and Research Professor in Religious Thought at the University of Newcastle, Australia.