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Comrades among the ruins of neoliberalism

  • 03 July 2019


Feeling wretched is one thing. But is there anything worse than feeling both wretched and alone?

I remember in the early 90s going along to the Fairfield School of Arts in the outer south west of Sydney to hear Nidia Diaz, a leader within the left in El Salvador who had been imprisoned for 190 days by the right-wing regime and had written a powerful prison diary called I Was Never Alone. I had learned a very modest smattering of Spanish from my friends in the local community but couldn't really understand this beautiful language and had mistakenly thought that there was going to be an English interpreter present.

It was a strange and enchanting experience. A bit like opera, which my old man had given me a love for, I couldn't understand the words but I could feel the passion, not only from the speaker but from her audience, who were not so much an audience as a collective conversation partner. After the speech, some of the local members of the Latin American community took me over to Nidia to introduce me to her, and later I read her book and was struck by how the overpowering sense of being alone amplifies the pain you are going through.

I have read many accounts similar to Nidia's. In each of them there is the rhythm of sadness and hope, often unthinkable suffering, torture, loneliness, isolation. But the remarkable thing is the difference it makes when you know you are not alone.

I have also spoken with many people who are utterly alone; people for whom every day feels like a losing battle for survival from below the poverty line; people who have been made to feel that they deserve whatever wretchedness they are forced to endure; people who feel guilty because they are poor or because they are convinced, not without reason, that in the eyes of the world they are failures.

While the Prime Minister likes to remind us that his government is on the side of those who 'have a go', and who therefore deserve 'a fair go', these are the people who are wrongly framed as not having had a go, as just not trying. Why else would they be not getting a fair go in the land of the great fair go?

It is no surprise that in many cases the people who feel the sharpest pain from inequality also believe the