100,000 progressive Australians provide the push to sink the Howard government
On November 24, about 100,000 campaigners from the left side of Australian society turned out nationally to staff about 6000 polling booths in 150 seats, providing the push necessary to sweep the Howard Tory government out of power.
Australia has the most comprehensive bourgeois democratic electoral system in the capitalist world. The first element is the compulsory vote. Australians are obliged by law to vote. In practice, about 13,650,000 people are on the roll out of a total resident population of about 21 million. Perhaps a million residents aren’t yet citizens and a few million are too young to vote, but the 13,650,000 represents a higher proportion of registered voters than anywhere else in the world. Registration is a routine process, as the federal electoral office regularly trawls the electoral rolls to remove ineligible people and conducts drives to get new voters enrolled.
The Tory government, with a very clear class consciousness of voting patterns, recently changed the rules a bit to make it more difficult for young people to enroll in the week after the election was announced, and it doubled the period required for permanent residents to obtain citizenship from two to four years. Nevertheless, most of the eligible population is registered to vote.
In practice, between 95 per cent and 97 per cent of those enrolled actually do vote.
The second element of the electoral system that’s inherently progressive is the preferential vote, which enables or obliges people who vote for candidates other than the three major parties to indicate a preference when their vote is eliminated.
The third major element is the fact that in five of the six states and the commonwealth, upper houses that originated as reactionary appointed bodies have been transformed by a combination of popular agitation and the self-interest of Labor governments into elected bodies with proportional representation. One state, and two territories, however, don’t have upper houses.
This combined electoral system, with all its democratic elements, tends to polarise the population between Labor and the conservatives on class lines in individual seats, but allows scope for radical minorities that can muster a reasonable amount of support to be represented in the upper houses.
For this reason, Australian elections lead to a turnout of pretty well the whole population. Some allegedly socialist cranks rail in a totally un-Marxist way against the compulsory vote and against the distribution of preferences, but happily the overwhelming majority of class-conscious workers ignore them.
By contrast, elections in Britain and the US these days rarely penetrate the most exploited parts of the population and the turnout of the adult population is extraordinarily low. That’s not the case in Australia.
In this recent election the Tories stirred up an enormous hornet’s nest with their reactionary industrial relations laws designed to make trade union activity extremely difficult, and/or redundant, and force most of the work force on to individual contracts rather than collective agreements. That led to a very substantial trade union mobilisation against the conservative government.
The Liberal-National coalition also antagonised the overwhelming majority of non-English-speaking background migrants who now predominate in the industrial workforce, with racist laws requiring people to learn English before they become citizens, and answer 200 ridiculous questions about alleged Australian history according to the Tory version. The reactionary requirement to answer questions also antagonised the more literate section of the population, who know considerably more about Australian history than John Howard does.
The rabid, mindless racism of the Australian Tories surfaced during the campaign in an attack by Kevin Andrews, the immigration minister, on African refugees from Sudan. They don’t fit in, you see, and according to Andrews they’re a discordant element in Australian society and their numbers must be cut. As if traumatised refugees from a hellhole have to somehow cure their traumas before they count as refugees.
The rabid underlying Anglo racism of the Tories burst into the light of day in the last week of the campaign when leading members of the NSW Liberal Party were caught red-handed distributing fake leaflets, forged in the name of a non-existent Muslim organisation, supporting both terrorism and the Labor Party in the election.
In a broadly multicultural and diverse country such as Australia has become, such acts of racism have clear consequences. The Tories lost the seat in which they distributed the pamphlet by a swing of 9 per cent, one of the largest, and the Labor vote went through the roof in all the electorates with substantial NESB populations, hitting 75 per cent in some seats.
The racism of the Tories was also a major contributing factor to the defeat of the Tory prime minister in his own seat, which has a large migrant component from China, Korea and the Indian subcontinent.
The Tories also suffered a serious backlash against the abolition of of the Community Develpment Employment Program for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, and the effective abolition of land rights in that territory.
One wonderfully ironic consequence of this was that the Liberals lost the seat of Leichhardt in far north Queensland, which is the stamping ground of Howard’s favourite Aboriginal leader, who reciprocates by praising Howard and who has for a long time advocated abolition of CDEP.
Mal Brough, the unctuous former army officer who directed the federal government’s military style intervention in NT Aboriginal communities, amid a propaganda offensive about pedophiles and alcoholism, also lost his seat. Child abuse and alcoholism are certainly problems in some NT Aboriginal communities, as they are in many other communities in Australia, but the Howard government’s intervention, after decades of neglect of Aboriginal communities by conservative governments, was a pre-election stunt by a government that had for a year or so recognised that it was in trouble and spiralling towards defeat.
The new Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, ran a pretty conservative small-target strategy, agreeing with the government on many things, but he remained generally committed to the withdrawal of operational Australian troops from Iraq and to general rhetoric about abolishing the government’s industrial relations system, although his model contains some of the features of the government system.
The Labor-ACTU campaign against the government’s reactionary anti-union laws was very effective, even far outside the direct orbit of trade unions. The Tories responded with eccentric, almost to the point of madness, attacks on the rather conservative Labor leadership as a tool of the unions, and as incompetents who couldn’t manage a modern economy.
The Tory advertising had something of the macabre quality of the Grim Reaper television ads of a few years ago on the AIDS threat, and the authorisation of these weird ads was run through so fast as to give the impression that they were trying to disguise the fact that they were Liberal Party ads.
This stuff went down like a lead balloon in the electorate. The print media and free-to-air television spent a fantastic amount of time trying to demonise Labor, although the Murdoch papers gave up towards the end, after doing everything they could to help Howard. In the last couple of days several of the main Murdoch papers endorsed Rudd, hoping to get some leverage with a rather conservative Labor leader.
It was a pretty weird campaign all round.
The Labor-Green preference deal and the united front
Politically, the necessary Labor-Green preference deal was one of the high points of the campaign. Some elements in the Labor Party, including significant figures from the ostensible left, particularly in Victoria, were trying to tout a preference deal with the reactionary pentacostal religious right party, Family First. This was effectively blocked by the better elements of the NSW left and the national office of the Labor Party in a bloc with the NSW right of the party, which is run by hard-nosed and realistic electoral bean-counters. That combination was essential to the effective united front with the Greens.
This electoral arrangement set the seal on the evolution and development of a very significant, rather defensive mass movement to bring down the Tory government, which culminated, as electoral movements do, on election day.
This mass movement had four distinct elements:
1. A traditional, trundling ALP-trade union mass political formation, which managed to staff about 95 per cent of the 6000 polling booths, as it usually does when the mass movement is on the rise.
2. The smaller Green electoral mass party, which manages to staff about a third of the 6000 booths Australia-wide.
3. The new Your Rights at Work mass organisation, which is pretty robust in slightly different ways in NSW, Victoria and the other states.The NSW YRAW has perhaps 40 committees around the state, including provincial centres and country towns, and is a non-sectarian formation of the Labor right and left, consciously developed by Unions NSW and its innovating, progressive secretary, John Robertson.
4. A fourth component was the rapidly developing GetUp organisation, organised largely through the web, put together by rather ambitious people out of the Greenpeace milieu, but which manages to mobilise thousands of people.
My calculation is that on election day, on the booths, the Labor Party and trade unions mobilised its usual 50,000-60,000 nationally. The Greens mobilised perhaps 20,000-30,000 nationally. And probably nationally 20,000 or so were mobilised by YRAW, and some thousands by GetUp.
It adds up to a mass movement of 100,000 people Australia-wide, the biggest electoral mobilisation in several generations, by the proverbial country mile.
The conservatives didn’t know what hit them, and were left scratching their heads, spluttering and grieving, as were the right-wing commentariat who dominate the newspapers. A lot of those people actually believe their own bullshit when they pontificate about their self-interested opinions coinciding with the national interest.
The 100,000 who mobilised on the left side of Australian society had other ideas, which proved considerably more in tune with the mood of the population, and the Tories were swept from power electorally.
The wall to wall Labor government in every state, territory and federally, with a significant Green component everywhere, with which the Tories tried to scare the population, is now the reality. That’s why an increasing number of the political rodents are swimming away vigorously from their shipwreck.
It must be stressed that the enormous scale of the swing to Labor and the increase in the Greens vote, combined with the shattering defeat of the conservatives, is an enormous victory for the working class and the whole left side of society.
This fact is considerably more important than the relatively right-wing nature of the Labor government that has been elected. There’s a crazy streak of “the worse the better” underlying the political outlook of many isolated socialist groups.
For instance, Tom O’Lincoln ends a contribution on Marxmail the day after the defeat of the Tories with: “It was delightful watching the conservatives crash and burn last night, but today we have a new set of conservatives in power.” There’s an element of truth in that, but the strategic outlook, or more correctly the lack of one, that it so succinctly captures, is an absolute blind alley for any perspective of mobilising the working class and the progressive side of society in the struggles to come.
One should consider the alternative. Had the conservatives won again, the demoralisation, frustration and decline of the workers movement and the progressive forces would have dramatically accelerated.
The defeat of the Tories, not just a passive defeat, but a defeat brought about by an extremely broadly based mobilisation, at its high point involving 100000 people on election day, reopens the possibilities of further development of the labour movement, the trade unions and the progressive forces in a mass way.
It doesn’t sound to me as if O’Lincoln has even noticed the enormous sense of satisfaction felt by everyone who isn’t brain dead on the left side of society in the past few days. In my patch around Newtown, 80 per cent of the people are smiling, and the small number of cranky Tories in these parts look suicidal.
The conservative aspects of the new government, which the left side of society will mobilise against in due course, while significant, are in this political context a secondary question.
The weirdest and saddest thing I saw on election day was at the booth where I did my five hours working for the Labor Party (as I have done for more than 50 years), at the church in the middle of Newtown opposite the Dendy Theatre. At about 2pm a little conventicle of Tom’s co-thinkers in Socialist Alternative assembled (in somewhat reduced numbers) as they often do on Saturday afternoons, and held their little socialist prayer meeting outside the cinema.
The first half of the proceedings consisted of their Sydney political shepherd giving them a solemn sermon for half an hour, and for the rest of the time they fanned out and sold a few magazines to people going to the cinemas, sublimely oblivious in a superior sort of way to the bustling electoral activity taking place on the other side of the road.
On the election side of the road large numbers of Labor, Green, Stop the War, and two or three young Socialist Alliance booth workers did our reformist electoral activity, directed at the population going in to vote, in a congenial, united way.
The curious behaviour of Socialist Alternative seems to me the high point of the evolution of a rather sizeable socialist group into a wooden-headed political sect. (I hear on the grapevine that Socialist Alternative, which is pretty large in Melbourne, has been instructed to start studying Left Wing Communism, not with any intention of training their members for serious intervention in the workers or Green movements, but with an eye to a turn being made by the leadership to the idea of themselves running in elections like the DSP-Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Party.) Whom the gods wish to destroy, or terminally disorient politically, they first send barking mad. Comrade Lenin is probably scratching his head in the mausoleum at the behaviour of some people who consider themselves Leninists.
The relatively conservative nature of the new Labor government poses the task to all serious socialists, leftists, radicals and trade unionists, of a careful mobilisation around a minimum program of carefully thought out and serious challenges to the right-wing trajectory of the new Labor government. This mobilisation should proceed within the traditional structures of the Labor Party, the trade unions and the Green small mass party, and in society at large.
For reasons that should be obvious to anyone who’s not politically brain dead, it should proceed in an objective fashion, without undue abuse of leaders who are pushing in the wrong direction.
The first careful shots have already been fired in the appropriate direction in the past few days. Warren Snowdon, the serious and civilised left-wing MP in the Labor Party, who represents the rural parts of the NT, has throughout his campaign come out in a forthright way against the bad aspects of the Tory government’s Northern Territory intervention.
Today he’s able to point to the fact that his vote went through the roof in Aboriginal areas all over the territory. In some mobile polling booths at outstation communities he got 95 per cent of the vote and his vote dramatically increased in the Aboriginal community that has been most subject to the Tory government’s invasion.
The conscientious and serious Aboriginal minister in the NSW government, Linda Burney, has made a forthright statement that the bad aspects of the intervention in the territory should be immediately ditched by the incoming Labor government.
John Robertson, the secretary of Unions NSW, has asserted quite properly that the union campaign and Work Choices were the major factor in the Labor election victory and respectfully proposed that the new government promptly make the major changes the unions want. Rudd has already replied, equally respectfully, that Robertson is wrong, so the struggle is obviously going to proceed on those matters.
Derek Belan, the NSW secretary of the National Union of Workers, who is often a kind of lightning conductor for unions that are part of the NSW right faction, but are also industrially militant, has also made very forthright demands in the past few days, as have electrical trades union leader Dean Mighell and other trade unionists.
The wish list of the most conservative forces in the new Labor government, whether ostensibly on the right or left, includes distancing the new government from the trade union movement and if possible diluting trade union institutional influence in the Labor Party. That’s going to be very hard for them to achieve. (Ironically, while this is going on, some simple-minded ostensible Marxists are also advocating disaffiliation of unions from the Labor Party, which in these circumstances is to effectively vacate the field to the conservative forces.)
The whole tradition of Labor has been built around the trade union movement for more than 100 years. At a tactical level, Australia is not a unitary state, like Britain for instance, it’s a federation of six states and two territories, and all the Labor factions, right and left, in all states and territories, have their essential base in union votes at Labor Party conferences. They are unlikely to relinquish this power base voluntarily, particularly as the trade union movement, even in its currently reduced form, has been shown to be such a powerful force in the successful campaign against Work Choices.
Opening skirmishes in the struggles to come have already begun in NSW about the state government’s obvious desire to privatise electricity and the Sydney Harbour ferries.
Another important developments in recent days has been the change of leadership in the NT government. One of the most outspoken opponents of the Howard government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities, the Aboriginal MP Marion Scrimgour, has been elected as Labor deputy leader.
The labour movement as a whole is a complex mixture, with its organic base in plebian class forces, with a long history and with a curious mixture of sentimentality and occasional brutality. Successful electoral leaders such as Rudd have a great deal of authority initially. In current circumstances that authority extends throughout the left half of society.
The dopey rhetoric of exposure, practised by some on the left, leads nowhere. In the left half of society there is a big audience for serious challenges on policy, but none at all for dopey exposure rhetoric.
Even battle-hardened lifelong leftists like myself and tens of thousands of others have a kind of grudging respect for Rudd and his obvious electoral political skills. We know we’ll have to contest with him on policy questions, but it’s total stupidity to make any of that personal.
The far left and the elections
People in the Marxist tradition like myself worked hard for a Labor Party victory, and I argued strongly for an electoral united front with the Greens. I had literally hundreds of conversations with customers in my shop about electoral issues. I also spent some time trying to introduce quite a number of younger far leftists of my acquaintance to the complex realities of class politics in Australia.
The International Socialists, somewhat reduced, and the Solidarity group, made a shift towards the Greens, and ended up participating in a relatively non-sectarian way in the Green campaign. Judging by the ones of my acquaintance, they learned a lot from that experience.
The incurable political sects, such as the Socialist Equality Party and the Socialist Alternative, in slightly different ways, proceeded in their lofty propaganda group superiority, and the increasingly bizarre SEP definitively crossed the class line by directing some of their preferences to the Tories. This is entirely consistent with their proposition that the trade unions are finished, their advocacy of leaving the unions and their politically incomprehensible core proposition that the only political task in the world is to build their organisation.
The Socialist Party, in Melbourne, a saner and nicer group of people than the aforementioned groups, persisted with its metaphysical proposition that somehow there will be a major break from Labor in the foreseeable future. Their candidate got a ludicrous vote.
The DSP persisted with its obviously phoney proposition that it is some kind of alliance and ran token electoral campaigns in a number of places. Its candidates also got ludicrous votes. In places where the Socialist Alliance and the SEP were top of the ballot paper, they got votes of more than 1 per cent. In all other places, where they were in the middle of the ballot paper, they got 0.3, 0.4 per cent, etc.
One thing about this electoral curiosity is that enables an accurate estimate of the size of the donkey vote, when the donkey has a socialist label. The donkey is obviously around 0.7 to 1 per cent.
When you get down to 0.3 or 0.5 of the vote, you’re obviously at the point where the vote consists of a bit of residual identification with the word socialist, and the other kind of donkey: the person who just votes for someone on the list without knowing who they are.
The real clue to this is the SEP and SA votes for the Senate, which are state-wide votes. The Senate votes for both groups were all in the .000 of a per cent range, which suggests residual identification with the word socialist isn’t very high. The DSP majority is squirming trying to put a brave face on the bankruptcy of its electoral strategy.
Routinely, Norm Dixon abuses me and Ed Lewis, and the indefatigably confusionist Dave Riley writes reams of material abusing everyone who doesn’t roll over to the project of the DSP majority. Dixon is deliberately misleading about the vote for Socialist Alliance, and ignores the significance of the donkey, and Riley attacks all the other groups for assorted crimes, one of which is that they don’t automatically accept his group’s leadership.
Dixon and Nick Fredman try to exaggerate the number of people who mobilised for the Socialist Alliance nationally. They’re obviously gilding the lily. Internally, the DSP minority give them hell for the obvious bankruptcy of their strategy. Norm Dixon’s argument that the only honourable strategy for socialists is his group’s electoral approach comes hard up against objective reality. In the face of the enormous political upheaval involved in the overthrow of the Howard government, the Green Left list has been mainly preoccupied over the past few days with an increasingly myopic preoccupation with the size of the DSP’s vote. Analysis of the election on Leftwrites has not gone much deeper than that.
The small socialist groups live in a pretty weird world. The DSP majority representatives constantly argue that they’ve been squeezed a bit by the Greens, etc, but nevertheless their vote is respectable, which is obvious nonsense. The Greens have announced that they expect to pass the million vote threshold nationally in this election. Equating the Socialist Alliance with the Greens, and even more with the Labor Party, is like equating a flea with an elephant or a brontosaurus.
People who argue this way are certainly un-Marxist in their methodology, but in the normative world in which we live from day to day, they’re on the edge of slipping over the edge into certifiable lunacy. On these questions they’re barking mad.
Dixon, Nick Fredman, et al, when their vote is carefully scrutinised, shift ground a bit and say the vote doesn’t really matter, it’s the exposure they gave to socialist ideas, the recruits they made, etc. That’s also nonsense. When you get your modest number of cadres out into the field and direct them like the British generals did at the Charge of the Light Brigade, to achieve impossible tasks, these modest numbers of enthusiasts inevitably collide with reality, as they did on election day and during the election campaign. Trying to impose impalatable and unscientific schemas on the mass movement can only produce demoralisation of the cadres, despite the hearty face Norm and co put on things and the abuse they direct at anyone on the left who dares to disagree with them.
There’s a long history in the Marxist movement, over 100 years, of socialist groups degenerating into sects and I’ve been witness to that process with a couple of them. A critical part of the process of degeneration into a sect is self-important leaderships persisting with unsound perspectives, which forces the leaderships to adopt an increasingly authoritarian posture and style and to increasingly abuse their opponents on the left. That’s pretty much what happened to groups such as the SEP and the Spartacists, and in my view that’s pretty much what’s happening to the DSP leadership group right now.
As Trotsky said somewhere, one feature of developing sectarianism is that the sectarians become increasingly exasperated with the world for not conforming to their schemas.
At least it must be said for the DSP majority leadership that they advocated a preference for Labor and the Greens, and the people who turned out to work for them on the booths would have learned a bit more about mass political processes than they knew before. A lot of them aren’t entirely hopeless despite the nasty rhetoric of their leadership, and the younger ones may learn a bit in the future.
The relevance of the defeat of the Howard government to some recent arguments on some socialist discussion lists
In answer to Louis Proyect and Joaquin Bustello on Marxmail, and in a different way to Norm Dixon, socialist organisation of the appropriate sort is necessary and you can’t jump over the hundreds of activists in the socialist groups. From my point of view, they’re still my comrades up to a point, and the task is to educate them about the type of socialist organisation that’s necessary, rather than writing them off in favour of arbitrarily singled out notions of which Third World figures are leaders of some arbitrarily defined mass movement.
Some random experiences from election day
As I’ve said, I did my bit as usual at the Newtown church for the Labor candidate, and a number of my co-thinkers did similarly in different places, a number of other co-thinkers worked for the Greens, and quite few worked for Your Rights at Work, all over the place.
They all report a fantastic atmosphere of united purpose between the Labor, Greens, and YRAW booths workers. Booths everywhere were swamped, relatively speaking compared with other elections, with booth workers from the left side of the left-right and class divide in Australian society.
The Tories were flabbergasted and demoralised by the enthusiastic turnout on our side of politics.
I went back to the shop about 5pm, had an hour’s restless nap, and went down and worked in the shop while watching the results on television until about 9pm, as I usually do, to get an idea of what was happening. I thought we’d win, and I even thought there might be a landslide, but one is never entirely sure until the votes start to roll in. Half the customers in the shop stayed for a few minutes to watch the TV before leaving.
About 9.30pm my companion, who always scrutineers for Labor at the church in Newtown, picked me up. Her report was fascinating. At the Newtown booth, which is usually hotly contested between Labor and the Greens, with the Greens slightly in front (it’s the biggest Green-voting booth in the country) there was a swing to Labor in the House of Reps and a swing to the Greens in the Senate. Labor won the booth in the house rather comfortably, which is unusual there, and demonstrates the point that a united front demeanour actually helps the Labor candidate electorally.
We went first to Labor’s party for the seat of Sydney at a bowling club in the city. The 400 or so Labor supporters present were euphoric. I got a good reception personally. The past few elections it has been a bit tense at election night parties between some of the Labor people and myself and a few of my friends because of our well-known advocacy of a united front with the Greens in this seat, which is the hub of the turf war between Labor and the Greens in the lower house. That tension has evaporated and most people were very friendly.
The most extraordinary thing was that when Bob Brown appeared on the television making his conciliatory speech towards Rudd, he got a rousing ovation from this assembly of hardened inner city Labor supporters. I’ve never seen that before.
After a couple of hours we went on the Sydney-wide Greens party at the Alexandria Hotel. It was winding down, but my acquaintances among the Solidarity and IS people who had been working for the Greens were pretty excited, confirmed in their tactical orientation towards the Greens, and they reported an equally amazing phenomenon at the height of the Greens gathering, of 500 or 600 hardened Greens supporters clapping every Labor victory enthusiastically.
It was the night of the united front.
About 12.30 my companion and I headed off to a private party at the home of a very old friend of mine on the far left. There were 20 or so hardheads still dancing. My friend had gone to bed, but someone told me that he had reported the same phenomenon: that on the booths around the Leichhardt area, where the battle between Labor and the Greens at the municipal level is intense, the atmosphere was one of extraordinary unity against the main enemy, with old opponents on the left treating each other as blood brothers.
I didn’t get to bed until about 2am, and I slept pretty restlessly. The next day, just about everyone who came through the shop was smiling.
On the Sunday, on the television coverage, other aspects of the victory began to emerge. Labor had recaptured its hegemony in north Queensland, from Gladstone northwards.
The wonderful image of the Labor bloke who got the biggest Labor swing in the country in the north Queensland seat of Leichhardt, which stretches from Cairns to the Torres Strait, was very striking. A picture of this youngish new Labor member of parliament, and his obviously Asian wife and his two kids, encapsulates the new Australia.
In politics and history, many things are never quite lost. In the worst periods of racism, it was always pretty hard for the ruling class to enforce racism in far north Queensland, given its mixed population and proximity to Asia. In the 1930s the area was called the Red North, well now it’s kind of the Pink North, again.
In the afternoon, a young bloke who works in the shop described a kind of Don’s Party in reverse organised partly by his family, involving 20 or 30 pretty ordinary people broadly on the left side of society and he reinforced my impression that everyone around here was smiling. There were literally thousands of little Don’s Parties all over the country on election night.
Joaquin Bustello on Marxmail has for some time been advancing an argument that a working class “for itself” never existed, right back to Marx and Engels. That’s a bit of a fraud. The working class for itself has in fact existed at various times, and at the other times a working class with less class consciousness “for itself” has existed. One of Lenin’s great contributions to Marxism, which actually was a substantial development of Marxism, was that the class “for itself” aspect needed to be sharpened and developed by the independent activity of socialists in the working class and there is an ongoing need to struggle for socialist organisation to develop the class as it exists into a class for itself.
The Stalinist-Zinovievist aberration, which preoccupies Bustello, Louis Proyect and others, did enormous damage to the notion of independent socialist organisation, but conceptions of independent socialist organisation need to be improved, developed and modernised in line with current objective circumstance, not ditched, on the basis of all the now-existing historical evidence and experience.
Bustello’s entirely literary abolition of the working class and the trade unions in favour of a totally abstract Third Worldism, and a dictated support for which ever Third Worldist leadership he nominates, leads nowhere politically. The concrete experience of the 2007 Australian election indicates a number of things: the trade unions and the working class still exist in a primary and objective way. The huge influx of migrants from all over the world in the past 50 years has transformed Australia and the labour movement quantitatively and culturally.
Every generation of migrants that has come into this country, in their large majority, initially form part of the working class, usually its most exploited section, and they inevitably are drawn into the existing class alignments in Australian society. The same applies to the historically exploited and attacked Aboriginal people. These days they are, in their overwhelming majority part of the left-labour movement side of Australian society. An artificially, mentally and abstractly constructed Third Worldist nationalist kind of politics has no almost no purchase in Australian society.
The new forces in the workers movement on the left side of Australian society include vast cohorts of people of colour and NESB migrants. Any realistic class politics in Australian society must include these considerations as a central focus of socialist politics.
To sum up, on the basis of recent Australian developments, the working class still exists as it has for 200 years or so. Its consciousness “for itself” still waxes and wanes. From the Marxist point of view it is still ought to be the primary aim of socialists to attempt to develop the consciousness of the working class into a class for itself. To that end, socialist organisation cleansed both of myopic sectarianism and the degenerate over-centralisation that arose essentially from the Stalinist counter-revolution, is still a necessity.
The massive defeat of the Howard Liberal government in Australia (led by George Bush’s last surviving Iraq war ally) was produced essentially by the 100,000-strong mobilisation of the left side of Australian society. This defeat of the Australian Tories, and the mass mobilisation to bring about their defeat, opens up real possibilities for rebuilding the workers and socialist movements. These developments and possibilities obviously won’t proceed in any sort of straight line. Society and class politics rarely produce straight lines, but nevertheless we should sieze the day.
This item was discussed on the Green Left Weekly discussion site and Marxmail. The GLW discussion is indexed at the bottom of the GLW screen, the Marxmail discussion can be followed through Next by Thread in the Marxmail archives.