3769SOCIALISTS AND THE "LATHAM EXPERIMENT"
- Dec 15, 2003This is the second part of my reply to Bob Gould on what
Socialists should be doing in order to further the cause of
Socialism in this country in the present circumstances.
Of course let me state at the outset that this discussion only
arises because of the weakness of the Socialist movement in a
relatively affluent, industrialised Capitalist Democracy like
Australia. There is no avowed Socialist Party with broad electoral
support in this country so Socialists adopt the tactic of "entryism"
in relation to the A.L.P. or Greens or persist in the attempt to
bulid a genuinely revolutionary mass party. I believe that Bob
Gould's ideas are influenced by a certain romantic illusions he may
have about the A.L.P. which may have had some validity 50 years ago
when he embarked on this project but which bear little relation to
reality today. The A.L.P. is a very different creature today to what
it was 50 years ago. It was a very different creature in 1984 to
what it was even in 1974.
The A.L.P. has never been an avowedly Socialist Party but rather
one committed to civilising Capitalism. In the period before
Socialism becomes a possibility Socialists can lend limited support
to such a party in order to make Capitalism as humane and civilised
as possible. That is why the debate about the current nature of the
A.L.P. is of such importance, some would contend such as myself and
most notably WSWS that with the election of Mark Latham the A.L.P.
has cast aside the last vestiges of social-reformism and has moved
to openly embrace a free market perspective. If this is indeed the
case then Socialists need to fundamentally reassess their attitude
toward the A.L.P.
The rise of the Greens represents a significant development in
Australian politics and presents immediate opportunities for
Socialists. Following the next Federal Election, the Greens will
obtain the balance of power in the Senate and stand to perform well
in or even win several seats in the House of Representatives. This
is the most exciting development on the left in years. The Greens
victort in the Cunningham by-election was significant in that for
the first time sections of the Working Class were prepared to
support an electoral formation to the left of the A.L.P. For now I
would encourage Socialists, as individuals to join the Greens and as
individuals to develop and accentuate those parts of its platform
which are Socialist. This is by no means an ideal situation but it
does offer Socialists the best opportunities for the time being.
Socialists who choose to remain within the A.L.P. should do
everything in their power to defeat the perspective of Lathamism.
However in this regard I think the horse has already bolted. If this
strategy were to work it should have been used to defeat the Free
Market reforms introduced by Keating from 1984 onwards. This
fundamentally altered the philosophical direction of the A.L.P. and
as I have pointed out cost the A.L.P. between 10-15% of its
Although Socialists are numerically small in Australia, certain
Socialist Policies are extremely popular among broad sections of the
Australian Community. Medicare is one example of this. Some polls
place its support as high as 85%. These Australians already accept
that the basis of healthcare in this country should be social need
rather than private profit. Socialists should use this as a base. If
85% of Australians believe that Social Need should be the basis of
HealthCare then they may come to accept it in other areas as well.
There are reforms which would immediately benefit the poor. Medicare
should be defended and extended, it should include Dental Care. It
should also be extended to the care of the elderly. Pensions and
benefits should be increased, the top rate of Company Tax should be
raised to that of the top level of income tax. Socialists should
fight to see that the principle of Social Need is accepted in as
many spheres of the economy as possible. Socialists should fight for
this perspective in whatever organisation they are in.
I believe that the attempt to bring about a common perspecrive
among the various Socialist groupings is a good one. I became quite
interested when it appeared that the Progressive Labour Party looked
like it might have been able to garner some level of popular support
on the left of the A.L.P. Ultimately the A.L.P. will not move left
unless it is challenged on the left for electoral support. Following
the 1999 State Election there was an article on the backpage of the
S.M.H. about how the Progressive Labour Party gained some 30 000
votes for the Legislative Council. This elicited my attention. This
must have been achieved on a largely word of mouth basis as I had
never heard of the organisation before. At the 2001 Federal
Election, I actively sought them out on the ballot paper and gave
them my first preference in the Senate, their Senate candidate
received 50 000 votes in N.S.W. Sadly the Progressive Labour Party
seems to have faded away following this high point and was unable to
even gather the required signatures to be placed on the ballot at
this year's State Elections. Still I believe this is worth
investigating and may have some relevance to future S.A. campaigns.
Recognition is an important factor. How many voters know that a
Socialist Alliance candidate is in fact standing in their
electorate? Do S.A. candidates door-knock their electorates. Does
every booth have somebody handing out How to Vote material on
election day. Do S.A. candidates receive publicity in the local
papers, is campaign literature distributed to households before
election day. All these things contribute to candidate recognition,
I am aware that S.A. doesn't have the resources to carry out these
campaigns at least not in every electorate but they would in my
opinion go a long way to significantly improve the S.A. vote.
Socialist opinions should be expressed in the mainstream press
where this is possible. Socialists should write letters to the
mainstream press challenging the prevailing bourgeois orthodoxy on
any number of subjects. Brent Howard seems to be very successful at
this. However I am amazed to read the letters sections of the
mainstream press and not see the often obvious Socialist viewpoint
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