Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

Styles (1969)

The cultural history of Australian youth for the past few years has been a succession of (only rarely-resisted) artificially promoted styles in dress, music, cars, drinks, and in fact anything else people can be persuaded to buy. The dialectic of tight pants/flared pants, mini skirt/maxi skirt etc., continues without sign of a final synthesis. It is alleged by some that this, highly profitable, cyclic movement is completely external to the person and is only a function of capitalist manipulation. If this is so (and believed to be so), then those youths suspicious of capitalism should show signs of stylistic stability.

But no. Instead we find the most ardent pursuit of cultural styles: the self defined left nowadays defines itself emotionally and culturally instead of intellectually and ideologically. Added to this enthusiastic acceptance of the market we find that "leftism" itself has no unity: it is a succession of styles which are so strongly adopted that most individuals leave the left when the styles go out. We have had the extended Victorian age of leftism - the drab anti-style of stalinism. Today, liberated from orthodoxy, the left rushes, almost en masse, from one position (style) to another within a year. It happens so fast that last year's styles from overseas may arrive simultaneously and contradict one another, e.g. the May revolt in France and the works of Marcuse struck the left's imagination almost simultaneously leading to the inevitable question: "does France refute Marcuse or does Marcuse refute France?"

Consider the list - National Liberation; Cultural Revolution; Worker-Student Alliance; Urban Guerilla Warfare; Participatory Democracy; etc., etc. An idea emerges somewhere from someone's or some peoples' concrete experience and gradually is refined and articulated for that specific situation. It is noticed by the Press, or is spread in left journals, and, suddenly uprooted from its context, it is transported with all its attendant slogans, methods and errors to a completely different situation. In its new home it is no longer subjected to the criticism it received when it was a relevant idea. It becomes an absolute - a style has arrived.

In the cultivation of the new style people go to ridiculous lengths. Movements are set up aping the overseas movement (which alone has content) in name and form. Copies of overseas posters are made or imported at a ridiculous expense, for hanging in kitchens, bedrooms and toilets. The overseas literature is extensively read - an error because nearly all leftist literature is written with an ideological pen; it distorts the actual situation and abstracts from the real origins of the idea or movement supposedly under study. Finally the vocabulary and interests of the overseas group is adopted, and the style crystallises.

Due to the relative backwardness of the Australian left, and to the difficulties of communication, the style at each university varies. Brisbane is basically defined by the worker-student alliance; Monash by the somewhat bastardised maoism of the Langer group; Melbourne and Sydney by the early sixties form of the American new left. There are, of course, other forms of leftism at these universities. Those who differ from the dominant style of a university will most likely form the core for the creation of the next style or will associate with other dissidents to form an Australian left, viz one not obviously related to any overseas group or situation.


Space does not permit a discussion of all styles so I will concentrate on the Melbourne group. The several characteristics of this group are:

  1. A (possibly excessive) concern with the morality of actions by politically responsible individuals or groups. A basic tenet (which I accept) is that an administrator is to beheld responsible personally for any of his official actions. However, apart from quoting the Nuremberg judgements, nothing has been produced to support this belief, so it is seen to be held on emotional grounds. (Anarchists hold it as a practically justified position - see Stuart Christie's article in Treason 3/7/69.)

  2. An analysis of all political events in terms of a we - they dichotomy, i.e. a concentration on the phenomena of power elites. There is a tendency to concentrate on the obvious point viz that elite groups hold nearly all social and political power, rather than the important point that the people have allowed this to happen. There has been no informed analysis of the problem of "voluntary servitude".

  3. The use of specifically american terms of analysis. Possibly the best term here is "military-industrial complex". Quite often we are told that Australia is become a militarist society, and more occasionally that we have or are getting a "military - industrial complex". Are we?

    The American system of defense procurement involves the letting of contracts for research and development, and manufacture to private industry. Very little is produced by government factories or developed in government laboratories. Also, firms develop unsolicited systems for sale to the government. Thus, continual government expenditure on defense is necessary for the defense industry to survive. In Australia the department of supply employs about 22,000 people for research and development, manufacture and inservice testing. Very little is contracted out to Australian companies e.g. Collins and Plessey. All large equipment is bought from overseas e.g. Mirage, F-III, Charles F. Admas class destroyers, etc. With this situation, Australia's defense industry probably will never be particularly profitable. And the defense expenditure is too low to be tied to the American system and yield the superprofits desired. It is unlikely that Australia will ever have continuous defense expenditure as in the American system.

A start has been made on the task of analysing the Australian reality. Until some headway is made, overseas experience may be assumed irrelevant.

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