SOCIALIST SENATE CAMPAIGNS FULL OF INTEREST
- Both premier Socialist organisations in Australia, the Socialist
Alliance and the Socialist Equality Party are set to run Senate
Tickets later this year in the Federal Election Campaign. Both
organisations run high profile internationally renowned web sites,
The Socialist Alliance, Green Left Weekly and the Socialist Equality
Party The World Socialist Web Site.
In announcing that the SEP would be contesting the Federal
Election National Vice President Linda Tenenbaum said that the
organisation was not necessarily looking to win votes, always a bad
sign when someone says that. And yet both organisations should be
confident of polling quite well. How does at least 50 000 votes
sound? Improbable, fanciful? Yet that's what the Progressive Labour
Party managed to poll in the Senate in N.S.W. at the last Federal
Election in November, 2001. I personally cast one of those 50 000
votes. Why? The Progressive Labour Party first came to my attention
following the N.S.W. State Election in March, 1999. It's performance
attracted the attention of the Sydney Morning Herald. At that
election the Progressive Labour Party with almost no publicity
certainly none that I was aware of managed to poll 30 000 votes in
the States Upper House. I beleve the Progressive Labour Party polled
particularly well in the old coal mining seats around Newcastle.
So next time I looked for them on the ballot paper and others must
have too because at the Federal Election in November, 2001 they
nearly doubled their vote to 50 000. I have never heard a
satisfactory explanation as to how they managed this. Some suggested
they benefitted from the similarity between their name and the
Australian Labor Party and that's possible but I reckon that counts
for no more than 10% of their vote. People aren't that stupid I
remember that two "Paul Keatings" contested Blaxland in the 1987
Federal Election and most people managed to find the right one.
I'm guessing that a lot of people like me were not voting for that
organisation's particular programme but rather looking for any
Socialist Party that might emerge to challenge the A.L.P. on the
left. And for a while the Progressive Labour Party looked like i
might be it but sadly for them they were unable to muster the
required signatures to appear on the ballot paper at the 2003 N.S.W.
State Election and so the inexorable rise of the Progressive Labour
Party came to an end.
Since then from what I can gather the Progressive Labour Party has
fallen into something of a decline but every cloud has a silver
lining and their demise presents opportunities for other Socialist
Organisations principally the Socialist Alliance and the Socialist
Equality Party. Namely where are those 50 000 votes going to go to?
Back to the A.L.P.? Possibly there will be an inevitable swing back
to Labor particularly in Western Sydney in the absence of a wedge
issue like Tampa. To the Greens perhaps? The Greens polled their
best result at the last Federal Election and yet the Progressive
Labour Party still polled 50 000 votes no these voters are looking
to casre a vote for an avowed Socialist Party therefore the vast
bulk of those votes are 'up for grabs.'
The Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Equality Party will be
competing head on for those 50 000 votes. Given that Green Left
Weekly has undoubtedly the higher profile in Australia as opposed to
Internationally it should be in a position to win the majority of
those votes say 30 000 in addition to the votes it received last
time. And yet I would guess that neither organisation is even in its
wildest dreams is imagining it will poll anything like 30 000 votes.
The question then is why not? Where are those 50 000 votes recorded
by the Progressive Labour Party at the last Federal Election going
to go? Remembering that the Progressive Labour Party ran almost no
campaign and has a very modest web site. Perhaps there is a lesson
there that there is more to winning electoral support than having
a 'whiz bang' web site. If neither organisation is seriously
considering gaining up to 30 000 votes at the next election both are
selling themselves short.
I heard Nick Beams at a public meeting last Sunday in Sydney. He
is without doubt a brilliant man. He could easily be a professor of
Economics at any major University in the World. And yet he chooses
to devote his talents to a small Marxist sect. He would easily wipe
the floor with any major bourgeois commentator that you could name.
He is able to provide a rigourous Marxist analysis of every
significant trend in contemporary Capitalism. He wrote a detailed
rebuttal of Keith Windshuttle on WSWS. There have been thousands of
words devoted to Windshuttle's book in the mainstream press and yet
I can't recall Beams name being mentioned in any of them. On Sunday
Beams provided a devastating and insightful critique of the reasons
why The U.S. invaded Iraq and yet those views are hardly mentioned
in the mainstream press. I ask myself the question if I didn't have
the internet or I hadn't read "The Workers News" would I have ever
heard of Nick Beams and the answer is unquestionably no.
Nick Beams needs to get his analysis of contemporary Capitalism
and the War in Iraq out beyond the tiny circle of the Socialist
Equality Party and those who regularly read the web site and into
the mainstream. I see no reason why his views on Iraq or on the last
budget or globalisation would not be published in the Sydney Morning
Herald for example. His views need to reach the widest possible
audience. And by the way Green Left Weekly could do with a "Nick
Beams" someone who can give a thorough, rigorous and insightful
analysis of Capitalism from a Marxist point of view. GLW is
currently lacking in that department in my opinion. Jon Pilger is
possibly the closest equivalent it has in that regard.
I think WSWS suffers too in its over reliance on the internet. It
has almost a fetish about it as though it will solve everything. At
last Sunday's Meeting Bob Gould asked the leadership what would it
replace Unions with? They blustered something like the Working Class
no longer needs Unions because it now has the Internet. Clearly
nonsense. In the lead up to the election campaign both Socialist
Alliance and Socialist Equality Party need to be selling printed
publications outside factory gates, they should be seeking this
direct and immediate contact with the working class. They should be
handing out fliers in the city at lunch time perhaps in Martin Place
or outside Town Hall Station. In those electorates they decide to
target they should be conducting door knocking campaigns and above
all else where they can seeking to have their views aired in the
mainstream press including the local papers in the seats where they
are running. One reason why Socialist Alliance votes have been up
until now very low is that most people would be unaware that a
Socialist candidate is in fact running in his or her electorate. The
mainstream parties usually letter box at least three times during an
election campaign more in the marginals of course two of these drops
are literature about the candidate. The final one is the "How to
Vote" usually delivered on the Sunday Night before the election.
Many voters turn up to the polling booths on the Saturday with these
How to Votes in hand. They have already made up their minds. If you
are simply handing out material on election day you have already
lost these voters. Voters need to be aware that a Socialist
candidate is running weeks in advance of polling day. Where possible
Socialist candidates should seek to be included in debates with the
other candidates or hold public meetings during the campaign not
only in the city but in the electorates where they are running.
Finally let me reiterate if both the Socialist Alliance and the
SEP are not seriously expecting to receive at least 30 000 votes at
this years Federal Election then both organisations are selling
- --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, "michael berrell"
> Both premier Socialist organisations in Australia, the SocialistI think you'll find that the SEP are not registered as a party for
> Alliance and the Socialist Equality Party are set to run Senate
> Tickets later this year in the Federal Election Campaign.
the upcoming federal election whereas the SA is.
So the SA will appear on peoples' tickets as SOCIALIST ALLIANCE
whereas the SEP will be listed as individual Independent(s). A
similar formatting will cover the Socialist Party if it decides to
stand in a Victorian seat or Senate as it too is unregistered.
This will be the first time the SA will contest a federal poll as a
registered party and probably the first time since the laws were
changed --and made stricter and less democratic -- that a
avowedly 'socialist' formation will contest a federal election and be
listed that way on the ballot paper.
The Progressive Labor Party is primarily a Hunter Valley/Newcastle
phenomenon as there it had the backing of a lot of local CPers(like
the TLC's Peter Barrack) after that party's demise and the failure of
the New Left Party to prosper. However, the main theoretical
underpinnings of the PLP were sponsored by the late Bob Leach who was
a Brisbane based academic and ex ALP member. He tried to apply the NZ
experience uncritically to Australia. If memory serves me correctly,
the PLP also had a branch in Melbourne which later disbanded. It was
made up of a few folk who later moved elsewhere in politics.
If you think, Michael, that the SA can do so well at this poll, I
suggest you sign on and support the SA campaign by hooking up with
your local SA election campaign committee. The SEP will be
restricted by its very small size, limited number of candidates
(usually in outlying urban seats in the lower house) and the fact
that they are not listed on the ballot paper as of any denomination.
However, they have been able to attain some good voter returns
occasionally in those areas where they have concentrated their
campaigns -- such as in outer Wollongong over slag heap issues.
If the SA does OK in this upcoming poll its relative success will
hamper the prospect of both the SEP and the SP to sustain themselves
with an electoral presence as a face for socialism. In both instances
the Alliance says the solution is simple: come affiliate to us and
stand under our umbrella to get the word out. But that is unlikley to
happen in the foreseeable future given both the SP's and the SEP's
hostility to the Alliance.
You can find exchanges on this matter re the SP and the SA in the
pages of Alliance Voices at:
I couldn't agree more about the need for Socialist Parties to be
registered in order that they appear on the ballot paper under their
party affiliation rather than to appear as 'ungrouped' or
unspecified independents. If this is indeed the case with the SEP
then it is disappointing.
I had another look at the Progressive Labour Party's web site last
night and in fact I had underestimated the total they received in
the Senate in N.S.W. at the last Federal Election. According to the
web site they in fact received 70 000 votes not 50 000 as I stated.
This amounted to 1.77% of the vote or to look at it another way they
got about a quarter of the way to having someone elected. I think a
party needs 7 to 8% in order to have someone elected to the senate.
Of coursew had they replicated this result at the Election for the
N.S.W. Upper House they could well have had someone elected I
believe A Better Future for Our Children elected someone to the
Upper House with about 1% of the vote. Unfortuneately however
because of undemocratic laws passed by the Carr Government the
Progressive Labour Party were unable to muster enough signatures in
order to receive registration and therefore appeared on the ballot
paper as 'independents' their candidates still managed to poll quite
well in the Newcastle/Hunter region but they estimate that the
failure to appear on the ballot paper under the banner of the
Progressive Labour Party cost them at least 2% of the vote.
Come hell or highwater Socialists must appear as such on ballot
papers if they are serious about attracting electoral support which
after all is the whole aim of the exercise. Often voters will be
confronted with a long list of independents on ballot papers with no
idea of what they stand for in my experience if in doubt I place
such candidates toward the bottom of preferences and I bet many
others do as well.
The Progressive Labour Party web site also mentioned that in the
same election the Socialist Alliance polled just 0.03% of the vote.
Dave this has me genuinely perplexed. The D.S.P. or Socialist
Alliance should on paper have enormous advantages it publishes an
internationally respected Socialist newspaper and we've all seen the
figures relating to the number of 'hits' it receives and so on. And
of course the same can be said for WSWS in this regard. In addition
the D.S.P. or Socialist Alliance also has a powerful presence on
University Campuses which gives it access to a significant bloc of
18-25 yr old voters, often young, impressionable and idealistic.
When at the Asian Pacific Solidarity Conference a couple of years
ago I mentioned the Progressive Labour Party I was told that it
virtually has no younger members its membership is very old, it
would seem that it breaks all the rules and yet was able to trounce
the Socialist Alliuance at the last Federal Election.
One disturbing lesson might be that high profile web sites count
for almost nothing in attracting electoral support. For example if
one 'googles' Nick Beams name it comes up everywhere, his opinions
are well respected and have wide currency across a great range of
forums his articles are even re-printed on non-Socialist sites which
is a good sign as it shows that his opinions are respected by friend
and foe alike. Now its just possible that a lot of what he writes
is 'snake oil' I'm not well versed in Economics to know but somehow
I doubt it, he has authored a well respected book on globalisation
any number of articles he has written could well be the basis for a
doctoral thesis and I assume he has extensive academic
qualifications in the field. If anyone knows anything about his
academic background I would appreciate hearing about it.
In any case he is an enormous asset not only to the World
Socialist Web Site but to the Socialist Movement in general but I
don't think his talents are being utilised effectively. His views
and his analysis of Capitalism should be front and centre before the
Australian public rather than as some cult figure on the margins of
cyberspace. If either or both the Socialist Alliance and the
Socialist Equality Party are resigned to getting something like
0.03% of the vote in this years Federal Election then neither
organisation is fulfilling its potential and that is primarily why I
have written these posts. Both organisations if they are serious
should be seriously looking to at least replicate the performance of
the Progressive Labour Party at the last election.
- --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, "michael berrell"
>If either or both the Socialist Alliance and theI
> Socialist Equality Party are resigned to getting something like
> 0.03% of the vote in this years Federal Election then neither
> organisation is fulfilling its potential and that is primarily why
> have written these posts. Both organisations if they are seriousof
> should be seriously looking to at least replicate the performance
> the Progressive Labour Party at the last election.Well, Michael -- I've appreciated all your posts about electoral
statistics and the meaning of various trends. But the reality is that
thus far the socialist vote has not been a significant aspect of
elections for more than fifty odd years. In 1947 (I think)when the
CPA had a majority at the ACTU congress AND some 23,000 members I
don't think you'll find much electoral clout either side of those
Similarly if you check out the history of the Qld red north, the CP
had a major grass roots relationship going with that area before it
began to return CP councillors and later a member of state parliament.
What we are experiencing with the historical rise of the Green vote
is a very new phenonmenon which charts a major break in Australian
Personally I have a lot of difficulty reading electoral trends as
they impinge on votes for the SA. I thought the 5% in Tassie recently
against 14% for the Greens was a very impressive return. However, you
need to factor in the Green vote when discussing what could be
achieved under your scenario of more than 0.03%. The Greens do occupy
a reasionable amount of progressive electoral space.
I see the PLP result in the Newcastle region as a significant
isolated process which has special historical roots going back as I
suggested. That they weren't replicated elsewhere despite attempts to
establish PLP branches is an indication of the uniqueness of the
PLP's voter impact to the Hunter Valley. Similarly, the Greens in Qld
have not broken out any where near the level they have in NSW. And
there are particular reasons for that too I feel.
But I also suggest you get involved in the SA campaign so that you
can relate to the problems any minor party formation faces. This is
politics that doesn't translate to ready formulas. For me a major
marker is the SA vote relative to the Green vote. And the Green vote
had to start somewhere too and it began its climb in very small
returns but that was in a situation where they already could claim
parliamentary representation as there was a fusion between the
Tasmanian forests campaigns and the NDP success. Basically that gave
the Greens as an electoral exercise a free kick. But Graham
Richardson was able to stall very effectively the Green momentum
through a whole series of ALP manoevres.
The SA vote basically has to start from scratch. There are some
earlier campaigns by various formations we can employ as markers --
but generally it's very much a DIY election for the Alliance.
In the case of the PLP I think it does get a reasonable amount of
votes on the basis of its name alone -- "Labor" + "Progressive"-- as
do the Greens for patenting a colour -- regardless of anything else
they do or don't do. In terms of a logo we've got a "socialist" tag --
pure and simple. Even the SEP doesn't have that as their name seems
obscure to me and could just as easily refer to a "social credit"
or "welfare rights" party.
But the name of game is not just one of generating a radical symbol
on a ballot paper -- important as that is --but one of merging the
voter support for the SA with a broader, outside elections process of
day to day campaigning. The SA's manifesto -- Another Australia Is
Possible -- puts that perspective very well I feel.
Also, as the hopes of the Labor faithful rise they begin to close
ranks and generally start the business of shepherding a return to the
ALP as the only course possible. So with a major divide in the
electoral sphere -- beween the Libs and the ALP -- folk will put
their energy and votes where they think the emphasis should lie. Many
of these people do not recognise how the preferential system of
voting works so they partake of a Vote I ALP approach (or a VOTE !I
Greens ) despite their enthusiasm for the SA in terms of platform and
policies or activity.
Factors like these complicate voting patterns. All parties also know
that the more work you do in the seats electioneering, and the more
seats you stand in, the more votes your Senate candidates will get.
This is a cornerstone of Greens and Democrats strategies. Any cursory
analysis of voter trends will confirm that even to the level of booth
returns which vary relative to whether or not your party staffed that
But as I point out, this will be our first federal campaign as a
registered party so whatever impact we make is hard to judge before
- --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, "dave_r_riley"
> If the SA does OK in this upcoming poll its relative success willI rather doubt that somehow. If any small socialist organisation
> hamper the prospect of both the SEP and the SP to sustain
> themselves with an electoral presence as a face for socialism.
polls well it will likely have a very small but positive impact on
the ability of other small socialist organisations to poll well.
> You can find exchanges on this matter re the SP and the SA in theIn what issue number?
> pages of Alliance Voices at: