Australasian Spartacist No. 237
Election 2019: Bread and Circuses for Workers and Oppressed
For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
Break with Laborism!
The following was published as a leaflet on 5 May.
There is no party standing in the upcoming federal election that allows workers to cast a vote in their own class interests. On the core interests of the capitalist class, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Liberal/National Coalition march in lockstep. Most workers don’t need to be told that Scott Morrison’s Liberal/National Coalition is their enemy. The Coalition is an open representative of the filthy rich owners of the banks, the mines, and other big business—in short, of the capitalist class. In government it has overseen the last six years of grinding capitalist austerity. Alongside its massive military spending, crude racist scapegoating and commitment to further attacks on the trade unions, the Coalition’s only other major policy appears to be big tax breaks for the wealthy.
As for Bill Shorten’s ALP, faced with disgruntlement among its working-class base at declining living standards and with high levels of poverty, youth unemployment and homelessness, it cynically postures as a defender of the interests of “ordinary people” against the “top end of town.” Pushing the myth that it will deliver a “living” minimum wage, “fix” schools and hospitals, and deliver “a fair go for all,” the ALP hopes to shore up electoral support at a time when many voters are responding to today’s economic malaise and social reaction by looking outside the two major parties, including to the bourgeois Greens as well as “independents” and small right-wing populist and fascistic outfits.
A social-democratic, bourgeois workers party like the ALP, on rare occasions, particularly during heightened periods of class struggle when the contradictions between its pro-capitalist leadership and proletarian base are exacerbated, can feel compelled to draw a crude class line against the capitalist rulers. In those circumstances Marxists may choose to offer such parties critical electoral support as a tactic in order to show workers with illusions in that party, that once in power, it will defend the interests of the bourgeoisie and not the workers. However this tactic has absolutely no application in this election. Given the ALP’s open commitment to capitalist rule it would be class treachery for socialists to give it even the most savagely critical support.
As Marxists our fight for socialist revolution begins with the understanding that the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are counterposed. What is urgently needed is a class-struggle fight, championing the rights of all those under attack. This perspective is anathema to the pseudo-socialists who repeatedly give electoral support to the Greens, in order to pressure the Labor Party. The Greens are a small capitalist party that dress up their class allegiance with some small-l liberal “progressive” views appealing to the petty-bourgeoisie. It is outright class betrayal for a party claiming to be socialist to offer any support to these representatives of the class enemy. In the upcoming election we say: No vote to the ALP! No vote to the bourgeois Greens! Workers and minorities need a revolutionary workers party!
Bipartisan Capitalist Reaction at Home and Abroad
While the ruling Liberal/National Coalition government promotes itself as the steadier hand to administer Australian capitalism, the ALP makes no less a claim to that mantle. Even the Reserve Bank agrees with Labor that, with wages so stagnant, some wage growth would be good for the capitalist economy. Both the Coalition and Labor have spent decades vying with each other over who can most aggressively prosecute the bogus “war on terror.” This campaign has in fact been a war of terror. It has been a pretext for imperialist military adventures abroad and for strengthening the repressive powers of the state at home, intensifying all-sided state repression particularly targeting the besieged Muslim minority.
Both parties uphold the racist brutality at the heart of Australian capitalist rule. This includes overseeing the institutionalised state terror against, and neglect of, Aboriginal people, who suffer huge rates of poverty-related illness, massively disproportionate rates of incarceration, and killings at the hands of cops and screws. The ALP also barely differentiates itself from the Tories over the harsh treatment of “illegal” refugees, remaining committed to enforcing the barbaric system of mandatory detention, including on offshore hellholes such as Manus Island and Nauru. Against the bosses’ divide-and-rule measures we say down with the racist “war on terror.” There needs to be a class-struggle fight for the rights of Muslims, Aboriginal people and refugees. The unions should take a stand against racist cop terror and champion the struggle for full social equality for Aboriginal people. We need a proletarian-centred struggle against deportations, for the closure of the detention centres and for full citizenship rights for all those who have made it here.
Along with the Coalition, Labor has always been loyal to the reactionary U.S./Australia alliance including supporting the mobilisation of Australian forces for blood-drenched military incursions overseas, from Korea to Vietnam, to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria today. When Shorten speaks of greater self-reliance for Australian imperialism, he is simply expressing the aggressive “little Australia” nationalism that has always been a staple of Laborite reformists who dream of a greater role for lackey Australian imperialism in the region. Indeed, like the Coalition, the ALP is committed to maintaining Australia’s neocolonial grip on Papua New Guinea (PNG) and over the rest of “its backyard.” Acting as the counterrevolutionary gendarme of the southwest Pacific and junior imperialist partner to the U.S., Australia is engaged in its biggest military build-up since World War II. Much of this is naval and will be heavily integrated with U.S. military systems. The ultimate target is the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state [see article back page].
When Shorten declares Labor will be “less antagonistic towards China” and will deepen “ties without compromising national security,” he is in no way questioning Labor’s commitment to capitalist counterrevolution in China or adherence to the U.S. alliance. These comments simply reflect the concerns of significant sections of the ruling class who do not want to undermine Australian imperialism’s lucrative economic ties with China, its major trading partner, by being seen to openly side with their U.S. great power ally in all of its anti-China machinations, including its trade war. Committed to the strategic goal of overturning the 1949 Chinese Revolution, much of the Australian bourgeoisie would prefer to achieve their counterrevolutionary goal through economic penetration while continuing to enrich themselves.
In the event of a military conflict between China and the U.S. there is no doubt on which side the ALP would stand. Staunchly anti-communist, one of the ALP’s greatest crimes against the international proletariat was the Hawke/Keating government’s aggressive role in the U.S.-led 1980s Cold War drive to restore capitalism in the former Soviet Union. In this they were backed by almost the entire reformist left in Australia. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the world’s first workers state in 1991-92 was a massive defeat for working people across the globe. Standing in proletarian internationalist opposition to the U.S./Australia alliance and for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state, we demand: U.S. bases and Marines out of Australia now! Not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! All Australian troops out of the Middle East! Australian imperialism keep your bloody hands off the South Pacific and Southeast Asia!
ALP Spin Doctors at Work
Alongside snake-oil assurances that it will “fix” schools and hospitals and provide a “living” minimum wage, the ALP has made a bevy of election promises, including an increase in childcare subsidies and ending the freeze on Medicare. While concrete measures to alleviate ever escalating cost of living pressures would be welcomed by workers, we warn they should have no illusions in the ALP. When last in government, then led by Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard, the Labor Party slashed funding for Medicare rebates and oversaw a massive redistribution of wealth from the working class to the bourgeoisie, rising levels of homelessness and a nightmarish health system.
Labor’s empty claim that it will deliver a “living” minimum wage rests on approval from the very same “Fair Work Commission” (FWC—Labor’s rebadged Arbitration courts) that has policed a steady decline in wages! Like all courts, Arbitration is a bosses’ court. It is not some independent arbiter or “safety net” for workers but a safeguard for the bosses to firmly constrain workers’ struggles. Militant workers from the Melbourne docks to construction sites around the country know from bitter experience that struggles that end up in the FWC die there.
Falsely claiming to “stand up for workers,” Labor also declares it will restore recent cuts to penalty rates, crack down on “dodgy” labour-hire companies, and abolish the witchhunting Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Again, it was the previous Rudd/Gillard Labor governments that stripped away many union conditions and laid the basis for cuts to penalty rates. These same Labor governments were in the forefront of the bosses’ war on the construction union, overseeing in excess of $2.5 million in fines against Victorian building unions in one year alone. The Rudd/Gillard regimes wielded the ABCC for years before transferring many of its coercive powers to a rebadged apparatus called the Fair Work Building and Construction Inspectorate.
If Labor claims today that it will abolish the hated ABCC, it leaves in place a plethora of anti-union laws, including harsh penalties that apply to all unions and their members for taking “unlawful” industrial action. With friends like these who needs enemies. In 2012, as federal Workplace Relations minister, Shorten accused union picketers at Grocon’s Emporium construction site in Melbourne of “intimidation, violence and thuggery.” In 2016, the day after a union-busting royal commission led to the arrest of CFMEU construction union leaders, he announced a policy for more fines to penalise union officials.
In a recent interview with the Australian Financial Review, Shorten declared that he takes “his inspiration from Bob Hawke” and was brought up in the “Kelty/Hawke/Keating tradition.” The tradition he refers to is the Prices and Incomes Accords of the Hawke/Keating Labor governments (1983-1996). The Accords were a series of nationalist, no-strike agreements between the government, ACTU and bosses, which oversaw the slashing of wages and conditions and a vast haemorrhaging of members from the union movement. Unions that rejected this “consensus” model such as the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF) were ruthlessly smashed by the Labor government with the connivance of the ACTU.
Union Tops Corral Workers Behind ALP
With discontent over stagnant wages, erosion of conditions and anti-union attacks creating pressure at the base, the union tops have rallied workers around their “Change the Rules” campaign. While allowing workers to let off steam, the bureaucrats push the lie that the ALP is the agency through which workers will get relief from draconian anti-union laws. In the last round of national rallies, in early April, the union tops mobilised up to 100,000 workers on the streets of Melbourne, turning this example of potential union power into a highly orchestrated tame-cat election rally for Labor. The ACTU is mobilising hundreds of unionists in marginal seats, and pouring more than $10 million of workers hard-earned union dues into an advertising campaign, to get the ALP elected.
Buying the “Change the Rules” bill of goods requires a big dose of collective amnesia. In the mid-2000s, faced with mounting anger over the Howard government’s Work Choices anti-union attacks, the union tops mobilised hundreds of thousands of workers on the streets behind their “Your Rights at Work” campaign, successfully diverting palpable outrage into a vote for Labor at the 2007 election. On taking the government benches, the ALP introduced most of the anti-union “rules” that workers are protesting against today! (See “For a Class-Struggle Fight to Defend the Unions!” Australasian Spartacist No. 235, Winter 2018.) Saddled with their current pro-capitalist, Labor-loyal union misleaders, many workers see no alternative but to vote through gritted teeth for the ALP and hope that, if elected, they will sell them out a little less cheaply this time around.
In the meantime the ALP and union tops work overtime to poison the consciousness of workers with nationalist protectionism. Under the ALP’s “Fair Go Action Plan,” Shorten vows to tighten overseas worker visa requirements, raising the slogan “local jobs for local workers.” This, and similar demands, have long been the rallying cry of the Laborite trade-union misleaders. The scapegoating of “guest workers” and pursuit of nationalist protectionism is deadly to proletarian unity, serving to divide the working class in the face of the bosses’ union-busting attacks. The true allies of the proletariat are not the “local” bosses but workers of the world.
Against the union tops, who rarely lift a finger to mobilise their base to defend workers’ livelihoods, a class-struggle leadership of the unions would say to hell with the bosses’ Arbritration courts and anti-union laws. Using the methods of the class struggle—strikes, mass pickets and occupations—it would demand hefty wage increases, union control of safety, hiring and training, and fight for full-time jobs, putting the union-busting labour-hire parasites out of business. To fight unemployment (now at almost twelve percent for youth) it would demand a shorter work week with no loss in pay to spread the available work around. It would fight to organise the unorganised, including “guest workers,” into the unions with full rates, conditions and responsibilities. Bringing “guest workers” and other new layers of immigrant workers into the unions would help forge a living bridge to proletarian struggles overseas. Against the years of cuts by Labor and Coalition governments, such a class-struggle leadership would fight for equal wages for women, and take up the demand for free quality 24-hour childcare and free healthcare at the point of service, including free abortion on demand. Such measures would draw wider layers into combat against the bosses’ attacks and help rebuild the union movement.
Using these and other transitional demands to rally the proletariat around its felt needs, a class-struggle opposition in the unions would sharpen the contradiction between the objective interests of the proletariat and the policies and actions of its Laborite leadership. It is only through such a political struggle that the ALP’s working-class base will be won away from its pro-capitalist leadership, providing the basis for forging a revolutionary Marxist party. Only such a party, steeled against nationalism, class-collaboration and fealty to the state, will be able to lead the most advanced layers of the class at the head of all the oppressed to liquidate the whole rotting system of capitalist wage slavery.
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Party! For a Workers Government!
We are not indifferent to gains, however small, won by workers against the bosses. Nevertheless, as is always the case under capitalism, reforms benefiting the proletariat and oppressed are only ever a faint and highly reversible glimpse of what workers would achieve once they have overthrown capitalism. The latter cannot be achieved as long as the union tops and their ALP parliamentary representatives (and their left tails) get away with duping workers that their interests can be fulfilled through the ballot box.
Groups such as Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, who are running candidates under the Victorian Socialist (VS) banner, are part of the syphilitic chain that promotes the Laborite parliamentary road. In the recent Victorian state election, VS treacherously called on people to preference the bourgeois Greens and social-democratic ALP. Far from a step in the direction of revolution, VS are hostile to the perspective of workers revolution and an obstacle to advancing the class consciousness of workers. While their policies include a few supportable demands, to the extent any reference is made to the capitalist state it is for its reform, demanding “no police involvement in industrial disputes,” and to “cut military spending.”
The capitalist state, which consists at its core of the cops, military, courts and prisons, exists to uphold the class rule of the bourgeoisie against the struggles of working people and the oppressed. It cannot be reformed in the interests of the oppressed; it must be broken up through socialist revolution and replaced by a workers state. VS do not broach the subject of sweeping away the capitalist system. These counterfeit socialists at best put forward a slightly left social-democratic platform for what they perceive will be a kinder, fairer capitalist system that will “tax the corporations and the rich.” For more on these charlatans, see “Victorian ‘Socialists’ Swimming in the Mainstream,” (ASp No. 236, Summer 2018/19).
As an act of political hygiene we particularly warn against the misnamed Socialist Equality Party (SEP), which is also standing candidates in the upcoming federal election. This dubious outfit is willing to fly whatever flag suits it at any given time (see “David North’s ‘ICFI’: From Support to Capitalist Counterrevolution in the USSR to Great Russian Chauvinism,” Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League No. 11, October 1997). Today these political bandits conflate the unions—the economic defence organisations of the working class—with their pro-capitalist leadership branding the unions as “reactionary.” This directly aligns with the bosses’ anti-union attacks and is an open apologia for strike-breaking.
The road to addressing the burning needs of working people and the oppressed lies not through bourgeois parliament but through the class struggle. With its numbers, organisation and ability to shut down production, the working class is the only class with the social power to transform society by sweeping away capitalism.
The indispensable instrument in the struggle for socialist revolution is a Leninist-Trotskyist workers party. Such a party would be a tribune of the people, taking up every manifestation of capitalist oppression. It would stand for the expropriation of the banks, mines and industry and fight for a workers state based on a collectivised, centrally planned economy, committed to eliminating all exploitation and poverty. The Spartacist League of Australia is dedicated to the task of forging such a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party, winning to its banner the most class-conscious workers and their allies in the fight for world socialist revolution on the road to a communist future. For a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia!