Progressives Don’t Need a New Narrative

the-golden-ruleProgressives don’t need a new narrative. We already have one. We just need to stop neglecting it.

Remember when you were a child and you used to ask your mum for a new toy and she’d say ‘you have plenty of old toys that you hardly ever play with, why don’t play with them?’ Sometimes you would. After going through the old toy box, you’d rediscover an old favourite – a Game Boy that just needed new batteries, or a skateboard you’d forgotten about over winter which just needed a dust off and could entertain you for hours. That’s what we need to do with the progressive narrative. We need to dig it out of the back of the cupboard, brush it off, polish it up for modern day usage and all sing it from the roof tops. We don’t need a new one. We just need to up-cycle the old one.

I have read so many articles recently by fantastic left-wing voices and by impassioned people who care deeply about defeating dangerous ideologues like Donald Trump who will make the already bleeding wound of inequality hopefully not irreparably worse. Owen Jones asked the question: ‘Can the US left craft a populist alternative that convinces the millions of Americans who are angry and despondent about a society rigged against their interests? The future of the American republic is uncertain – and it may depend on the answer to that question’. Rutger Bregman suggests that too often it ‘seems as if leftists actually like losing’ and that the old-school underdog socialists are ‘Dull as a doorknob. They’ve got no story to tell; nor even the language to convey it in. Having arrived at the conclusion that politics is a mere matter of identity, they have chosen an arena in which they will lose every time’. Even though Bregman has some fantastic policy ideas, as usual, he hasn’t answered his own question: ‘what will this progressive story look like?’. So, once again, we’re all left feeling around in the dark for a unified thread to hold all our well-meaning ideas together.

In Australia, a divided progressive movement is hampering progress. Rather than fighting for and with Labor, the party of the working class, many of the more privileged progressives, who mostly live in inner cities and don’t identify as working-class, nor see any point in joining a union, have leached away to a new toy: The Greens. This leaves progressives fighting amongst ourselves with the battlelines drawn over identity politics versus labour movement priorities, and the old progressive narrative discarded by the side of the road.

I read with a mix of amusement and annoyance that ‘200 of the most exciting young people’ who were invited to attend the ‘Junket’ conference are not just fed up with Labor, but are also fed up with their newer toy, The Greens, and instead showed ‘strong support for some kind of new organisation, potentially even a political party… to channel the frustration felt by young people, and other sections of the population’. Maybe I’m just tetchy that I wasn’t invited, because I’m clearly not young or exciting enough, but the idea that young progressive Australians aren’t content to join the Labor Party and make it their own, or even to join the Greens (because that’s less work than changing the Labor Party), no, they are now wanting something brand new again, to wipe the slate clean, yet don’t seem to be able to actually explain what it is their new party would be except that it would ‘un-fuck politics’ (their words not mine). Well, that just shows how we got into this mess in the first place, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this article is not going to be yet another contribution to the ‘progressives need a new narrative’ debate without giving you my concrete suggestion about what that progressive narrative is, because that would be hypocritical. No, as I said, we already have a narrative which is perfectly useful and relevant to all of us – the inner-city-lefties, the working-class-suburbanites, the rusted-on-Labor voters, the environmentalist-hipster-Greens and the even-more-hipster-too-cool-to-join-someone-else’s-movement progressives. We just need to be better at talking about it. And most importantly, we just need to be better at talking about it AS A UNIFIED MOVEMENT. IN SOLIDARITY! As a shorthand, we could call this narrative the Golden Rule. This is what it looks like:

Your rights are my rights. Your community is my community. Your environment is my environment. When you are better off, I am better off. When you are sick, I am sick. When you are poor, I am poor. We are all in this together. So, we need to work together to uphold each others rights: rights at work, right to be free from harm, free from discrimination, free from poverty, a right to a good education, good healthcare, a right to marry who we love, to live peacefully practicing any or no religion we like. When you have a job, I have a job. When your environment is safe, my environment is safe. When you are prosperous, I am prosperous. When you are happy and well, I am happy and well. We all do our bit and everyone benefits. I care about you and you care about me. The community is better off when the community is better off. That is all that matters.

That’s the story we should be telling. Try it on. It goes with everything you want and everything I want too. And if it sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re already using it and just didn’t realise it was right there in front of you the whole time. Now, let’s stop wasting time looking for it and get to work using it.

Watch this space for more suggestions of how this narrative works in practice.


  1. Victoria, your Golden Rule is admirable, but it is all inward-looking, focussing on no-one except Australians. May I suggest it also needs an outward-looking dimension?

    Australia is one of the world’s most free, most prosperous, most enjoyable environments in which to live. Why then do we continue, year after year, to demonise and punish those who come here from cruel regimes, seeking a better life?

    Of course we need to get on with each other. Every word you write in your Golden Rule is itself golden. But Australia continues to demonise, imprison, and torture, people whose crime amounts to no more than responding to our open invitation since our signature was attached to the UN Refugee Convention in 1954.

    We’ve been committing these crimes against humanity for nearly two decades now. Can we not apply your Golden Rule to refugees who are merely responding to our treaty commitment? Is that so hard? Are we really going to continue crediting the ‘Saving Lives At Sea’ bullshit, or are we going to grow up as a nation and share our well-being with the dispossessed of this world?

  2. I am thankful that although I have mental illness trouble with major depression and anxiety, I missed out having insatiable greed, Queen Victoria, those with this unfortunate affliction seem to be rich people, which again thankfully I am not. We don’t need to have a new narrative to apply kindness, compassion, empathy and love, what we need to do is to spread our narrative world wide, but not by using religion, because religion is the path to evil where those with insatiable greed work to rob our population.

  3. Howdy Victoria!

    What an excellent article. The Golden Rule speaks to the heart of liberalism. It is a wonderfully simple idea that can be expressed in many different ways. It also speaks to the hypocrisy of the conservative Christian voter.

    I hope that your idea is picked up by the liberal progressive in Australia and the States.


  4. I loved your blog. You made many points that I believe in too. But, I think the simple story about wanting what is right for every human being has always been what my generation has believed in. The problem, I believe, is that suddenly, for some reason people became ashamed of calling themselves liberals. They wanted to reinvent the wheel and recreate what we believed in, and in doing so divided our party rather than uniting it together. So someone decided to change liberal to Progressive to be politically correct and confused the hell out of generations of people who had been fighting for equality for years and then suddenly we were told that our ideas were old school and not “with it” any more. There was discrimination between new Progressives who snubbed their noses at old liberals.( Instead of understanding that we all wanted the same thing.)

    I protested in the 60’s, and have been fighting for equality since I entered college in the fall of 1967. I knew I was young, vocal, and liberal. And now at 67, I am still protesting and marching for the same rights I fought for all those years ago. The basic difference is, I never called myself a progressive. I just continued to fight for equality for everyone. Those who got too caught up in trying to rebrand themselves got lost somehow.

    The fight for truth and justice does’t need a name. It just needs an honest heart and a conscience. When I went to the Miami Pop festival in 1968 and Jimi Hendrix played the National Anthem with his guitar (and his teeth) and Richie Havens sang “Freedom”, we weren’t confused about what we wanted to happen. I don’t think my generation got confused. We never gave up fighting for the rights of others. I just felt that in this election, many people decided that going their own way would make a statement. And that I believe was their downfall. People took sides when they should have been uniting together against Trump. Those of us who tried to warn others against this had seen the consequences before of not voting or third party voting. But, never before were we faced with a dictator the likes of Trump. I hope and pray we can get out of this mess.
    We can do it, but only by joining forces, young and old, every race, every gender, every faith, together!! Then and only then will we over turn this tyrant and let freedom ring again. Peace out.

  5. Victoria, before discussing a possible need for a new narrative, you, along with all the people calling for a new narrative, need to learn what a narrative is.

  6. America’s New Left had many of the qualities needed for a full-on democratic socialist movement, from a strong intellectual base to millions of feet on the ground.

    The fatal mistake they (we) made was unconscious intellectual elitism. The movement did not develop solidarity with the unions and blue collar workers in general. They were natural allies against the ruling class, but were rarely included in our organizing and recruitment. Consequently, they were co-opted by the conservative powers, and whenever we marched & demonstrated, we were almost sure to be met by angry mobs wearing hard hats and carrying clubs. Any attempt to energize and build a new, new left must begin with the college-educated activists reaching out to the blue collar workers. A new movement with revitalized trade unions as a prime pillar is the only way to a truly representative movement. From the moment Reagan grabbed the working class (“Reagan Democrats”) the left was emasculated. Now, thanks to Trump’s naked grab for Fascist power, we are finally re-mobilizing. The right is building a replacement for democracy they call “anarcho-capitalism” as the Cato Institute calls their corruption of “libertarianism.” Those on the left should first google “anarcho-syndicalism,” the original left-wing libertarianism built from the ground up with a strong trade union base. Then find Rudolph Rucker’s book on anarcho-syndicalism and Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” David Koch makes it required reading for his tea party, AFP, top planners & organizers. It is an excellent guide to how left-wing groups fail and why the tea party had such success.

  7. I agree with what you say. Except for one thing. Your bit about Labor and the Greens etc. and “changing them from within”. Look, are you saying that those of us who have a problem with some Labor policies etc. (e.g. their apparent stubbornness – let’s call it that – around the refugee issue?) just hold our noses and vote Labor first, then use our voices to call them out? How is that supposed to work when we’ve been trying to engage with (e.g.) local Labor MPs and such for ages and it’s such a hard-headed process that we barely see change? I put Labor second and yes, Greens first. I will work alongside and with you all the same. I understand that as a white progressive Catholic cisgender woman I have privilege. But I’m not some latte-sipping gentrified inner-city nob who votes Greens without thinking. I acknowledge they have problems too – some of their decisions under Di Natale (e.g. choosing to side with the Coalition to pass certain measures rather than with Labor against them – and their “holier than thou” attitude with some things, gah) sit uneasily with me. If you want the progressives to unite, how about you – all of you – stop giving those who choose a different progressive party a sneering short-shrift? I’m trying to listen and contribute.

  8. Hi there, You have performed a fantastic job. I’ll certainly digg it and individually suggest to my friends. I’m sure they will be benefited from this site.

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