Barnaby Joyce and the economics of One Nation
Sometimes those from small business backgrounds can rise above their curse and achieve bourgeois greatness. John Howard did. So too did Bob Menzies.
Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke are Labor examples.
What these leaders have in common is that in power they governed in the interests of big business, that small elite who make the major decisions about investment, wages, employment.
But there is a darker side to the petit bourgeoisie. Historically they have been the class from which fascism crawls.
Essentially fascism is an expression of that middle class, a class caught between big business and big labour. The fascist forces give expression to that sense of helplessness, often with anti-working class and anti-capitalist rhetoric .
They back this up by building street fighting gangs from among the unemployed and non-unionised sections of the working class. Depending on the specific circumstances this too can be couched in anti-capitalist terms.
Thus the fascists in Germany proclaimed themselves national socialists.
Australia has had a strong undercurrent of fascism in political ranks. During the Depression the rise of the New Guard meant Australia had, at one stage, a powerful fascist force.
The rise of One Nation expressed that same hopelessness of the petit bourgeois – a class in crisis both because of change and more generally because of position – balancing between the forces of labour and big capital.
In the case of One Nation it furthered its appeal, especially among the more backward elements of the working class,with racist rhetoric aimed at Aborigines and Asians.
But One Nation collapsed. After the Asian economic crisis passed (and had little impact on Australia) ongoing economic growth quietened the concerns of the small town accountants, family farmers and other petit bourgeois elements.
Couple that with the incompetence of One Nation’s leadership and the the disparity of its constituency’s immediate concerns and it meant that John Howard could corral those forces behind the Coalition with dog whistles to their racism and sops to their vital role in society.
The Nationals relationship with One Nation was ambiguous. This was a fight for the very soul of the constituency. Yet the concerns of One Nation were and had to be the concerns of the Nationals.
In essence One Nation rejected economic rationalism, argued for government intervention in the economy for the benefit of its middle class base against big business, and wanted ‘Australian control of Australia’. They were a crypto-fascist movement.
Senator Barnaby Joyce is a suburban accountant from St George in outback Queensland. He is now, after the Abbott coup and his appointment as the shadow Finance Minister, the second most important Opposition economics spokesman.
Barnaby Joyce has embraced the description of the Nationals as agrarian socialists.
This is because it carries with it a concept of opposition to big business and this resonates with his petit bourgeois constituency. Big business treats us all, including small business, like rubbish. We are nothing compared to their need for profit and reinvestment to make more profit and reinvest it.
The Nationals’ response: Government will rule in your interests and attack big business with all the power it has.
Thus much of what the Nationals propose is about government action, government interference in the market.
What Senator Joyce has said recently shows he is incapable of moving on from his small business background and that of his political base.
Here are a few snippets.
The Government should break up the banks’ power. Finance capital, through its interest rate pricing and lending practices, is a common target for the disaffected middle class.
But he also said that the Government should ban Chinese investment in Australia. Indeed his later clarifications – that he was referring to all sovereign investment into Australia – reinforce the national aspects of Joyce’s conservatism.
This idea of Australia as an autarchy is a common pipe-dream among the far right (and stalinists and labor leftists too).
It creates a foreign bogeyman and allows the middle class to concentrate their economic anger on convenient targets.
Senator Joyce also warned against the possibility that the US could default on its debt. Evidently the Opposition’s second most important economics spokesman draws his analysis from Newsweek.
What next? Law and order policy taken from the pages of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and the Herald-Sun in Melbourne? Oh, I forgot, we already do that.
Joyce went on to specifically mention Queensland as an Australian state where that was a real possibility of default. All the Australian states have triple A credit ratings.
This debt-phobia expresses something real coming out of the petit bourgeoisie’s experience. Their conditions of life, their need to borrow to survive, make debt a bad thing (and I might add anger with the banks a natural emotion).
Of course you can’t just transfer the thinking of a small town accountant to running the country.
But that is what Barnaby Joyce is attempting to do.
So while he appeals to his class base and their supporters, he has alienated important sections of Australian capitalism like the banks and some in the mining industries.
In this he is following the leader of the Opposition whose narrow sectional rejection of the pathetic Emissions Trading Scheme has displeased finance capital and the more far-sighted members of the bourgeoisie.
Big business, with the exception of the coal cabal, strongly support the Labor Party.
To appeal to big business to come back and to the petit bourgeoisie and backward sections of the working class, the Abbott faction of the Opposition has concocted or is concocting a contradictory mish mash of policies.
From a new improved workchoices, to refugees, to the rejection of the ETS and complaints about interest rates and the stimulus package, Abbott and Joyce hope to fill the gap left by the bourgeoisie’s seemingly long-term desertion to Labor.
Remember, these rabid nationals are only a voting heartbeat from Government.
Once again the lesson to me seems clear – the left needs to build a mass movement fighting for justice and equity across Australian society – for real action on climate change, against racism, for jobs and better wages.
In doing that we can drag the debate to the left and challenge the swing to the extreme right that is inherent in Joyce’s latest comments.