Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Deluded Leftist memories

By Gerard Henderson

As someone once said, old soldiers never die. Quite a few, having abandoned the sword, keep battling with the pen or keyboard. So it is with the Pakistani-born British radical Tariq Ali. Once one of the most prominent student radicals in the West during the late 1960s and early 1970s, he is looking back with fondness on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the student revolutions that are said to have shaken the world in 1968.

Last Saturday the Herald carried Ali's recollections on 1968 under the heading "The year that changed the world". On the same day The Weekend Australian Magazine's cover story focused on seven Australians who recalled "the year the world changed". Both Ali and those of his Australian counterparts who remain on the left exhibited a lack of comprehension about what really happened or, rather, did not happen in 1968.

According to Ali: "What was remarkable about 1968 was the geographical breath of the global revolt. It was as if a single spark had set the entire field on fire." He was referring to attacks on US forces in Vietnam, demonstrations in such Western democracies as the US, France, Italy, Britain and West Germany, along with opposition to the communist totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. But the fact is that the US was not militarily defeated in Vietnam in 1968 nor were the Western democracies overturned that year. Indeed, Richard Nixon was elected US president in November 1968.

Some of the Australian activists of four decades ago exhibited a similar sense of self-delusion. The painter George Gittoes recalled that "everyone was mad in 1968". The newly retired Labor politician Meredith Burgmann declared that "anyone from that time will tell you - we really thought the revolution was about to happen". According to the filmmaker Albie Thoms, in 1968 or thereabouts "everyone started self-medicating". Even today, the likes of Gittoes, Burgmann and Thoms seem unaware that about 1968 they mixed with a few members of the left intelligentsia. At the time the overwhelming majority of Australians were a quite sane lot who did not believe in the likelihood of imminent revolution and were not into the drug culture.

There is little evidence to support the view that 1968 was the year that changed the world. During the 20th century many years were more significant, including 1914 (the outbreak of World War I), 1917 (the Bolshevik Revolution), 1933 (the coming to power of Hitler's Nazis in Germany), 1939 (the outbreak of World War II) and 1989 (the effective collapse of European communism).

Certainly 1968 was a big year for news. In addition to violent student demonstrations in the Western democracies, 1968 witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in the US. Yet, despite such traumas, Western democracy prevailed as an institution. Within a little more than a decade the Conservative Margaret Thatcher was in 10 Downing Street in London and the Republican Ronald Reagan resided at the White House in Washington. Meanwhile, the Liberal Party's Malcolm Fraser prevailed over Gough Whitlam in late 1975. At the time Fraser was the enemy of the left intelligentsia Down Under.

It is true that 1968 was significant in that it marked the beginning of the decline in European communism. The Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 discredited European communism, even though its demise was to take a further two decades. Those who resisted communist totalitarianism in Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, the Soviet Union and elsewhere were the real heroes of 1968. The fact is that most of the student demonstrators and their fellow travellers supported communist dictatorships elsewhere. Most notably in China, where Mao's Cultural Revolution turned an entire nation into a prison ruthlessly administered by the communist elite. Later the 1968 set was to support the communist revolutions in Vietnam and Cambodia, which led to mass murders, incarcerations and refugees. And, of course, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro remains a leftist hero to this day.

As the one-time leftist David Horowitz wrote in his autobiography Radical Son, the New Left in the US "was not an innocent experiment in American utopianism, but a self-conscious effort to rescue the communist project from its Soviet fate". This succeeded for a while when, following the cancellation of military aid by the US Congress, the anti-communist government of South Vietnam collapsed in 1975 in the face of the Soviet-supplied North Vietnamese Army. But in time the likes of China and Vietnam abandoned the hardline communism for which they were admired by the student revolutionaries in the West.

Many of today's baby boomers, in Australia and elsewhere, have never expressed regret for having supported some of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known. Take, for example, the British commentator Beatrix Campbell, who has a regular slot on Phillip Adams's ABC radio program Late Night Live. Writing in the Sunday Times on October 28, Neil Lyndon commented that Campbell is "never called to account for the fact that as a young subeditor on the communist Morning Star newspaper she took state-subsidised holidays in the odious Eric Honecker's East Germany".

The events of 1968 had little impact in the West. As David Caute pointed out in The Year Of The Barricades, the New Left in the West at the time engaged "in a murderous battle with the state, supposedly to arouse the working class from its torpor, in reality to play out social frustrations and personal fantasies". It was much the same in Australia, albeit without the extreme violence. This is widely accepted today, except by those old soldiers who seem to remain fossilised in 1968.


First love yourself ....

Paul Hasluck, a talented writer who went on to become Australia's Governor General in the 1970s, recalled scenes which were commonplace during his childhood in Western Australia in the 1920s in his autobiography, Mucking About.
Kalgoorlie schoolboys seemed to be given to chanting derisive rhymes. There were convent schools as well as state schools. The state school urchins used to follow the convent boys down the streets chanting.
Catholic dogs jump like frogs
And eat no meat on Friday.
Catholic dogs jump like frogs.
In and out of the water.

Hasluck's recollection reminds us that not so long ago -- within living memory -- it mattered very much whether you were Irish or Polish, Jewish or Protestant, Chinese or Filipino. But those difference -- as pundits analyzing Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses never cease to point out -- seemed have become less important over the decades. In that context, Bishop Nazir Ali's warning that "no-go" areas have cropped up in Britain are all the more astounding. The perverse accomplishment of the Multicultural Project has been to reverse the process of community building it set out to hasten.

Why this paradoxical result should be the case is an interesting question to consider. Hasluck's biography itself provided a clue to the answer. The public space increased as love for the nation increased. As people began to identify themselves as Australians the relative differences between them decreased, as did the jeerings. But not only did a healthy patriotism actually expand the public space, it was, Hasluck argued, the prerequisite to respect between nations -- an observation that would shock the politically correct multiculturalist, who normally believes the precise opposite. Hasluck's argument is simple and commonsensical and for that reason probably incomprehensible to the post-modern. Describing his feelings following a return from England as a child, he wrote:
My own deeper love and knowledge of Australia is refined by a shared love of England. In love of our country each of us realizes a common humanity coming from deep wells. A feeling for one's own country is the clearest way to feeling deeply for men in other countries. The folly and failure of so many attempts by internationalists to do good comes from the fact that they lose sight of the true goodness in other countries when their own senses are blunted to the goodness of their own.

The observation that a genuine appreciation of other cultures must begin with a respect for one's own may seem self-evident until one realizes how rarely it is made. That argument naturally extends itself to a critique of multiculturalism. Having destroyed the feeling of security that comes from belonging to a larger home, the country, multiculturalism has left nothing for individuals but a retreat into the doubtful safety of sect, race and tribe. The Pale is back; and we are all beyond it.


Shakespearean Marxism axed

DESPITE his humiliating electoral defeat, former Prime Minister John Howard has won a final battle against some of his greatest foes - the left-wing forces of political correctness. Postmodernism, under which senior high school students were controversially asked to interpret Shakespeare from Marxist, feminist and racial perspectives, has been quietly dumped by the NSW Board of Studies.

The board is adamant it is just a "normal turnover" of the list of elective subjects offered to HSC candidates in the English Extension 1 course - rather than a reaction to critics who savaged postmodernism as subverting the classics by failing to help students appreciate them or gain full meaning of the texts.

But students who opted for the postmodern elective in previous years are horrified at its passing, among them outstanding all-rounder Mikah Pajaczkowska-Russell. The former Sydney Girls High School student, who has just scored a UAI of 99.75, said critics misunderstood the value of postmodernism for HSC English. "It is so easy to criticise texts . . . but they are not about undermining Shakespeare or traditional texts," she said. "They look at truth and reality . . . I find it invigorating." Ms Pajaczkowska-Russell, who will take an arts/law degree at Sydney University this year, singled out the postmodernism elective for special praise among her 11 HSC units.

But to Mr Howard, who campaigned long and hard to reinstate traditional values in school curriculums, postmodernism was "anything I don't like". His government threatened to cut education funding to states that did not fall into line on a raft of Commonwealth demands. Postmodernism will be dropped from the list of electives available to students in HSC English Extension 1 from 2009.


India Resisting Correctness

The cricket brouhaha continues in Australia:

"India have suspended their tour of Australia while they appeal against the suspension of spin bowler Harbhajan Singh for racial abuse.

Singh was banned for three Tests after he was alleged to have called Andrew Symonds - the only non-white player in the Australian team - a "monkey".

And the Indian cricket board (BCCI) have responded by halting the tour with two matches of the four Test series still to play. A statement from the BCCI said: "The board will appeal to the International Cricket Council to review the decision of the match referee and suspend its operation till the appeal is disposed of."


Comment by JR: Nobody knows the exact conversation that was the basis of the uproar but the black guy came up to the Indian while the Indian was at the crease (i.e. about to bat) and started to abuse him. So the Indian probably said something like: "Get lost, monkey". That is a grave sin in politically correct circles but the Indians obviously regard it as a reasonable comment in the circumstances and one not deserving significant punishment.

I have had Indians tell me with evident passion that cricket is their religion so continuation of the ban on the Indian player will be very badly received in India and will certainly lead to animosity against Australia -- so I do hope that commonsense trumps political correctness eventually. New Zealanders still bear a grudge against Australia over a cricket incident (just say "underarm bowling" to any Kiwi and you will see) so arousing Indian hostility as well would be most unfortunate.

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