“Extremism” is a common trope of the establishment commentariat when decrying anyone whose views fall outside the narrow neoliberal political range of the major parties.
From the perspective of arch-conservatives at newspapers like The Australian, even the Greens appear as wild-eyed fanatics, ever ready to cast off their mask of respectability and reveal themselves as bomb-throwing, civilisation-threatening anarcho-communist hippies.
For the most part, the self-appointed defenders of neoliberal good sense have been content to ignore far left groups such as Socialist Alternative. In recent weeks, however, the “ignore and hope they’ll go away” strategy has been summarily cast aside.
In its place we have the “expose socialists for the freedom-hating, law and order-despoiling, loud, unpleasant and unwashed fringe element that they are” strategy. The message is that Socialist Alternative is an extremist organisation, a crazed, cult-like fringe group bent on the destruction of all the good and wholesomeness of capitalism.
We actually do want to destroy the reality of capitalism. But whether such an endeavour is “extreme” really depends on your perspective.
It’s natural for highly paid newspaper columnists to want to defend a system that benefits them. If you grew up in an environment of well-to-do respectability, if you breezed through university with support from your parents and got a well-paid, secure job in the city through one of daddy’s school friends – then of course the idea of risking all of this for something radically different is going to seem quite extreme. Criminally insane even.
But that isn’t how everyone lives. In fact, it’s the reality today only for a small minority at the top of society.
For everyone else, things look rather different. A chronic lack of jobs, leading to the emergence of a permanent underclass of unemployed and under-employed people. Cuts to basic services like health, education and welfare. Continuous attacks on the working conditions that make life bearable for those who do have a job – on penalty rates, basic job security and so on. A lack of housing, putting home ownership out of reach for increasing numbers. Little or no investment in the kind of social infrastructure that helps make towns and cities liveable – public transport, parks and sporting facilities.
And when you look at it with regard to the system as a whole, the picture is even bleaker. It’s no accident that, as Frederic Jameson famously noted, for many people it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. It seems like every second day we get another report from scientists highlighting the very real prospect of global environmental collapse. At the same time, almost $2 trillion every year is poured into that great bastion of order and respectability, the global arms industry.
The kind of people who write diatribes against the “extremism” of Socialist Alternative are the same people who, for example, see any real attempt at addressing climate change as tantamount to a communist conspiracy, and who positively gushed over the government’s decision to spend more than $12 billion on fighter jets, at the cost of health, education and welfare.
They support a system that threatens the future of humanity. Socialists argue for a radical change in direction – a revolution in which power is wrested from those who currently rule society and put into the hands of the vast majority, the working class, who have no interest in pursuing short term power, profit and privilege at the cost of our collective future.
Who, then, are the real extremists?