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SOCIALISTS AND THE "LATHAM EXPERIMENT"

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  • michael berrell
    If WSWS s interpretation of Mark Latham s elevation to the Labor leadership is correct, Election of new Labor leader marks unabashed embrace of free-market
    Message 1 of 40 , Dec 4, 2003
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      If WSWS's interpretation of Mark Latham's elevation to the Labor
      leadership is correct, Election of new Labor leader marks unabashed
      embrace of free-market agenda
      www.wsws.org/articles/2003/dec2003/lath-d04.shtml
      and I believe it is, then Socialists both within the A.L.P. and
      outside should carefully consider their attitude to the "Latham
      Experiment". Socialists both within the A.L.P. and outside it should
      do everything within their power to defeat the "Latham Experiment",
      ultimately this means ensuring the defeat of the A.L.P. at next
      year's Federal Election. Socialists should give serious
      consideration to placing Labor LAST on ballot papers or at least
      offer a double-sided How To Vote Card whereby voters can make up
      their own minds as to whom to place last. Socialists should work
      hard to facilitate the victory of Greens Candidates, both in the
      Senate at the expense of the A.L.P. and in those seats in the House
      of Representatives where they have a chance of winning. Socialists
      should work particularly hard to facilitate the victory of Greens
      Candidates in the seats of Denison(Tas), Melbourne(Vic), Sydney
      (NSW), Cunningham(NSW) and Throsby(NSW).

      Why? This is the only leverage Socialists have over the A.L.P., in
      a sense the move to install Mark Latham as Labor leader was a clever
      one. With the rise of the Greens as a political force the A.L.P. no
      longer needs to appease Left-Wing voters. The A.L.P. recognises that
      it has already lost many of these voters to the Greens, but it also
      knows that it can count on regaining many of these votes through
      preferences. The only way these voters can hurt the A.L.P. is by
      witholding preferences or directing them elsewhere. The A.L.P.
      recognises that it needs to gain votes at the expense of Howard, and
      what better way than by electing someone like Latham who essentially
      speaks the same language on Refugees and aspirational voters.


      Howard will find Latham a very difficult political opponent to
      deal with. The old tactic of "Wedge politics" won't work with
      Latham. Traditionally this has meant carving off parts of Labor's
      Blue Collar constituency to the right on Social Policy, essentially
      to get working class voters to vote against their own economic
      interests because they share Howard's conservative social views on
      Aborigines, I.V.F. for single mothers, refugees and lately the self-
      injecting room in Kings Cross. However this won't work with Latham
      because he shares many of Howard's prejudices. The only way Howard
      can beat Latham is to "wedge" Labor's constituency on the left. This
      became apparent listening to Australia TalksBack last evening.
      Latham will be unable to meet the expectations of 'left' voters on
      the issues of refugees and economic policy.

      I think Socialists need to understand just what has happened here.
      A section of the ruling class has come to the realisation that it is
      impossible to get what it wants in the way of Neo-Liberal reform
      under a Howard Government with a perpetually hostile senate. This
      section of the ruling class has come to the realisation that the
      only way to revive the Neo-Liberal reform agenda is through the
      election of a Latham Labor Government. Watch the editorials,
      particularly of the Murdoch Press, if Howard is unable to give them
      what they want, they will have no hesitation in endorsing a Latham
      Labor Government. Howard has effectively been placed on notice. And
      make no mistake the ruling class still has a long way to go in
      getting what it wants in terms of further Neo-Liberal reform. It
      demands nothing less than an end to Universal Health Care, the
      complete Privatisation of Telstra, the dismantling of what remains
      of the Welfare State, the complete de-regulation of the Labour
      Market, the break up and privatisation of the A.B.C., an end to free
      education, the scrapping of pensions and when these have been
      achieved new demands will be made.

      I think many Socialists failed to recognise the danger Latham
      represents, jaded by years of betrayals by Social-Democratic
      Parties , they perceived last Tuesday's contest as being another
      between TweedleDum and TweedleDee but there were real differences.
      Kim Beazley is a moderate Social-Democrat with still some attachment
      to the traditional Social-Democratic beliefs about redistribution
      and so on, whereas Latham is essentially a radical Tory, an
      instinctive Thatcherite, his ascendancy did mark a fundamental
      change in phiosophical direction on the part of the A.L.P. Latham
      cleverly and cynically used his apparent anti-americanism to give
      him the advantage over Beazley, to effectively hoodwink sections of
      the left. It will take about six months for these sections of the
      left to wake-up to what Latham is really about.

      Latham may or may not win next year's election, the more I think
      about it the more I think he will win. Howard will be unable to
      employ wedge politics against him and I think it is becoming
      apparent from initial reactions that the Australian people are in
      fact desperate to get rid of the Howard Government, the most
      divisive and reactionary in the nation's history. Latham will be an
      unmitigated disaster for Labor as PM. I think sometime during his
      term the left will have had enough, probably when he attempts to
      introduce time limits for Welfare payments, and he will precipitate
      a major split in the Party. Failing that his radical Neo-Liberal
      agenda will eventually see Labor suffer an electoral debacle every
      bit as catastrophic as 1996. Once again I call on Socialists both
      within and outside the A.L.P. to do everything in their power to
      ensure the defeat of the "Latham Experiment."
    • michael berrell
      This 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
      Message 40 of 40 , Dec 15, 2003
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        This 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
        electoral vote.

        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
        expressed anywhere.
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