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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Neither Opportunism nor Self-Destruction - Standing up for Socialism in today's ALP

Dr Tristan Ewins

This is a response to comments at the ALP Socialist Left Forum Facebook page where contributors argued to the effect that Labor is "a party of government" ; that being a defining difference between us and the Greens. But do we sometimes take compromise too far?

I'm hoping this leads to some genuine debate.

As we argue in the ALP "We're a Party of Government".  But how do we govern? Do we press democratic socialist reform as hard as we can? Do most of our MPs even believe in democratic socialism anymore - let alone talk about it openly and publicly? Do we walk the best line between opportunism and self-destruction? Or are we too opportunistic?

There have been improvements under Shorten ; for instance action on Negative Gearing. But we need more ambition. For instance - aspire to raise progressively sourced revenue by 5 per cent of GDP over several terms ; to fund progressive social wage and welfare state initiatives from that. To remove regressive policies such as superannuation concessions for the unambiguously well-off.  (including the upper middle class) And re-regulate the lower end of the labour market.

The Greens can make proposals they will never have to implement, yes. Though the inverse of that is that they say things we feel we cannot ; Whatever their flaws (there are many ; including the occasional distortion of the truth to better their position as against us in marginal inner city seats) - at least it adds to debate and puts more radical ideas up for open deliberation.

But there is a long history of regressive tax restructuring and tax cuts ; privatisations ; deregulation and user pays ; capitulation to the Ideology of small government.

As the Socialist Left we are meant to be the main internal obstacle to opportunism in the ALP ; and the main impetus for democratic socialist reforms.

We need more policy and ideological ambition ; but to further this we need tolerance and acceptance of internal debate and the rights of our rank and file to mobilise around socialist ideological and policy agendas.

We look to SL MPs to lead and inspire ; but they are also caught in a bind ; in Canberra they represent the Party ; they compromise heavily when pressed if that is what is dictated by the ambition of taking government in the midst of disinformation from the media and elsewhere.

Yes compromises need to be made. But do we take it too far? And if we don't maintain a robust internal culture and a more general counter-culture - how long before we abandon socialism entirely? How long before young small 'l' liberal activists declare 'the Emperor has no clothes' ; Because we mouth platitudes about socialism - but so many of us no longer know what it means. Already many speak of 'the Left' and not only 'the Socialist Left'.

The relative centre has shifted in this context where progressive ideas were seen as a 'threat' to the dictates of opportunism. Internal discipline and structures of patronage will not save the cause of socialism ; the ground will shift under peoples' feet ; and what remains of the radical edifice will collapse. Unless WE stop it from collapsing ; by working to restore a socialist counter-culture within the Party ; within the Left ; and more broadly as well.

And if we see the job of building a counter-culture as the work of a Party and not of a Faction ; Well what happens when there is no one significant left to do that job? What happens is that our ideological and cultural base is eroded until there is nothing left. Or we are only a 'tendency' within a much broader ALP 'liberal-left' which views us as an anachronism.

We cannot accept this.  Both the development of a counter-culture and participatory development of socialist inspired public policy are goals we must advance at every opportunity"


  1. I'd like to rehabilitate opportunism and adventurism from their connotations developed in 1930's Russia.

    Reformists have to seize opportunities for major reform when they have the numbers and popular support.

    Adventurism is a telling jibe to those who put forward transitional demands unsatisfiable within capitalism based on ideological projection these demands because so impractical devalue their constituent words which lose their meaning because of everyone's common sense rejection of impracticality.

    Rather, do nothing governments need criticism rather than bold reformists who use the opportunities that arise.

    And, governments that grovel to 1% lobbyists are not opportunists they are influence bought by lobbyists.

  2. Well put. Some of the learnings from the US election were that the left has become mired in identity politics and given up being economically progressive. When Sanders and Corbyn offered an economic platform, voters responded. The old economy male workerz are frightened and need an alternative to right wing popularism.

    The Greens are socially progressive but prone to vote for regressive measures on welfare etc. Enviro policy, refugees, they do pull the ALP left. The most common criticism of Labor is that in being pragmatic on climate or refugees, we stand for nothing. Power is useless if you adopt low ambition policies to get there - part of the same 'corrupt establishment swamp' critique that resonates. However we live in a real world, the Greens missing out on a decent emissions scheme shows the danger of ideological purity without accounting for what is politically possible. The history of the labour movement is building on small gains

  3. The Thatcherite dogma that there is no alternative (TINA) is being challenged by those who want to end neoliberal dominance and its austerity economics for the immense majority. Leaders in this movement spring from rank and file support amongst the working class: Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, Bernie Sanders in the USA.

    Same thing should happen here and moves are underway to make it so, most notably by the new Secretary of the ACTU who recently pointed to the fact that the neoliberal policies which have dominated government actions, since Gough Whitlam's government was dismissed, have resulted in the top 1% in Australia owning more of the wealth than 70% of the population, most of whom make their living from selling their skills for wages.

  4. I'm going to comment on this piece meal.

    Re: We look to SL MPs to lead and inspire ; but they are also caught in a bind ; in Canberra they represent the Party ; they compromise heavily when pressed if that is what is dictated by the ambition of taking government in the midst of disinformation from the media and elsewhere.

    I don't think anyone in political circles understands what is going on in the minds of the population. The general public are not largely listening to the disinformation and are sophisticated enough now (yes even the hillbillies are) to identify the manipulation of information. People actually want more change than anyone in the party is offering, but they don't want it from the Labor Party.

    Don't get me wrong they have little faith in the Greens either, and the Liberal Party are largely seen as corrupt nest featherers; but the Labor Party is seen as opportunistic (as they are indeed). It doesn't even matter that they propose changes that people actually want. The Labor Party has a history of never repealing draconian changes brought by Liberal governments, and so they offer no hope for people of real change that will rebalance our society in the interests of average working men and women.

    About half the people I speak with (and I speak with random members of the public on this every day) are resigned to a future without. They are resigned that their fate has been decided already to be hard work and struggle, with various interpretations of what struggle means.

    The other half are casting about for real change and recognising some home truths that are currently bigger than and outside the political debate. They are the ones who recognise that we need community and they all think that we need leaders who will disempower large corporations, reduce the reach of all levels of government, and develop mechanisms whereby community is strengthened and communities are empowered to make their own decisions. By communities they mean local communities.

    That this is not viable is generally understood but they have no faith in central governments who have successively sold them down the river to the corporations (banking, mining, fuel, resource management) that override the interests of many to fuel the self interests of a few. That is, most people know we are slaves and do not want to be slaves any more. That is because we are at a time when there are people alive who remember when we were not corporate slaves.

    Perhaps when everyone now over 55 is dead, they will accept slavery as the norm, and then the ALP will be the preferred party. Because the ALP wants to reorganise the slavery so the people get a little more in the way of services. But do not fool yourself into thinking the ALP have any intention of freeing the slaves. Because we know they do not.

    1. Good points!

      I do think that a distinction between the leadership of the ALP and the rank and file needs to be made. I don't accept the notion that underpins the decisions which have been made by the Hawke/Keating governments or the leadership which has grown up swallowing neoliberalism and the political policies which flow from same. Every political party which bases its policies and political direction on the use of market forces to provide the best outcome will eventually fail to serve the interests of those who actually produce the wealth of Australia, the working class. As long as there is no acknowledgement of the fact that people who are obligated to sell their skills for their market price to buyers amongst the capitalist class and that buyers and sellers have conflicting interests in the market, the party leadership will fail immense majority of citizens.