The forward march of the Greens halted?*

by · November 30, 2010

The Victorian Liberals’ victory came as unsurprising to me, and not just for the reasons outlined by the ever-perceptive Peter Brent. There has been voter crankiness against state and federal Labor governments that reflects the exhaustion of the party’s attempt to use technocratic managerialism as a substitute for traditional social democratic politics. As Left Flank has pointed out, this strategy emerged from the peculiarities of neoliberal ideology:

In the neoliberal mindset, none but the most perfunctory social decisions can be made independent of an apparently external market logic, thus downgrading the importance of democracy. This phenomenon first became apparent at the state level in Australia, as governments (mainly Labor) reduced their mission to something analogous to managing a business, devoid of any consideration of variegated social interests (apart from those of the boss’ bottom line). Increasingly dismissive of any social base for their actions, they came to project their role as one of a technocratic fix. That this fix was implicitly in the interests of the business class was elided with talk of a post-ideological era. The ideology of the day was that there was no ideology anymore.

For those who are demoralised by the big swing to the Liberals it is vital to recall that the ALP’s long-term project of undermining the interests of its core constituencies and thereby further limiting the already minimal democratic choices on offer means that it would be wrong to read into the result any profound shift to the Right in Victorian politics (just as it was premature of some to claim that Victoria is a left-wing state because of its high combined Labor and Greens vote at the federal election). While the ALP retains the support of the majority of workers, its abandonment of any systematic delivery on their class interests has meant that the strength of that support is much weaker than it has been for a long time.

If this election represents a strong anti-Labor swing, its deeper ideological and political meaning is more complex. Voters were told it’s all about “management” and so, angry with the erosion of services under Labor, decided to opt for a new management team.

The Coalition worked hard to project an image of moderation rather than any return to Kennett-style radicalism. Looking at the Liberal website, for example, reveals a bland selection of policies to improve services, including a plan for a statewide transport authority that is part-copied from the Greens. The ALP’s site is even more depressing, trying to out-neoliberal the Liberals with attacks on Bailleau’s “splurging” on election promises prominently displayed on the front page. This doesn’t exclude the possibility of Bailleau “doing a David Cameron” and introducing harsh cuts if economic conditions deteriorate, but he will have little popular mandate to do so.

Greens disappointment

Yet the question of the Greens’ disappointing showing is of more concern to the prospects of Left alternatives emerging from this impasse of mainstream politics. At around 10.6 percent their statewide vote was just over 0.5 percent up on 2006, and they have almost certainly lost an upper house MP. This compares poorly with their vote of 12.6 percent in the House of Representatives in August. In some key inner city seats there were impressive primary vote swings to the party, but not enough to make up for the Liberal decision to put the Greens last on how-to-vote cards, thereby denying them a lower house seat. The result is not a disaster, but it calls into question the Greens’ strategic orientation.

The key to understanding the Greens’ problems in Victoria is their effective acquiescence to the depoliticisation (and neoliberalisation) of state politics, despite their claims to stand for something new and different. A look at their policy statements demonstrates a slightly more progressive version of the managerial imperative. Policies are built around the primacy of markets, although with a bit more regulation thrown in and a marginally greater role for government investment. The state finance and taxation policy barely mentions the devastating legacy of the Kennett years, which was largely retained by Bracks and Brumby. There is no substantive critique of privatisation of public services and the Greens’ economic policies are generally uncritical of the shift of wealth to big business and the rich. Taxation should be “fair, efficient, sustainable and progressive” but the meaning of this remains ambiguous. Indeed, “Taxes should be used, alongside efficient regulation, to set a framework for market activity in which capital is most profitably deployed for environmentally sustainable, productive, and socially progressive purposes.”

The party’s “Top 10 Reasons to Vote Green” statement is similarly vague. In fact, five of the them are platitudes about the party itself: “The Greens stand up for what’s right, not just what’s easy”, “It’s the party changing Australian politics”, “The Greens have vision”, “For a more powerful vote” and “Because politics can be different”. It’s all very self-referential.

Combined with the mixed messages implicit in their attempts to secure a preference deal with the Liberals, the effect was to protect rather than break the cosy economic rationalist duopoly of the major parties. Candidates like Brian Walters may have claimed his party was up against a “grand conservative Coalition […] between Labor and Liberal”, but the Greens made little effort to define that conservatism or how they were different to it. It was a classic case of seeking electoral advance through positioning as being “neither Left nor Right”. The preference fiasco also hurt the Greens because it made them look opportunistic, more like power-hungry major party politicians than the “different politics” they so frequently promise.

Perhaps most tellingly, the ALP was able to win back the support of key unions, in part because of the preferences issue but no doubt also in part because the Victorian Greens don’t even have an industrial relations policy!

Forward march halted?

Claims that the Victorian result represents the high water mark of the Greens’ advance (i.e. it’s all downhill from here) rest in part on the idea that the party’s potential social base is narrow and that the major parties will reassert their formerly hegemonic position. Yet the social conditions that created space for a third political force to the Left of the ALP remain in place. Thirty years of neoliberal consensus between the major parties, the resultant alienation by the ALP of its traditional base, and the emergence of progressive social movements and associated intellectual critiques over the last decade have not simply evaporated. Indeed, there are clear signs they have intensified in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but not any Left of Labor force can automatically fill such a space. To do so requires a strategy that understands the nature of the opportunity and orients on systematically exploiting it. Prior to the last few weeks the Victorian Greens had ridden a wave of progressive sentiment, assuming their recent federal success would translate into state voting patterns (and overselling the likelihood of winning extra seats).

However, the dismay with Victorian Labor’s performance is not based around the same issues that damaged its federal counterpart. The Australian Greens, with clear positions on climate, the mining tax, Afghanistan, gay marriage and asylum seekers, were able to differentiate themselves from a Labor Party that was lurching to the Right. At the campaign launch Bob Brown talked like an old-fashioned social democrat, with a vision for progressive social change. This represented product differentiation, but it also cracked apart the idea that there was no alternative to the lack of difference between the major parties. In other words, the Greens were able to provide cohesion and focus to more inchoate left-leaning dissatisfaction with the ALP. This was most obvious in Adam Bandt’s campaign for Melbourne, where he was able to build appeal through confronting the ALP’s failure to act like a “real” Labor party, garnering significant support from constituencies formerly believed to be off-limits to the Greens (such as trade unions and public housing tenants).

Faced with the more traditional “bread and butter” economic and social issues animating dissatisfaction with Brumby in Victoria, the state Greens had no clear alternative program on offer. While it is true that the blandness of the election made such positioning harder, there was obviously a large pool of bitterness toward the Brumby government among working class voters, one that the Greens simply didn’t know how to capitalise on. Voters in the end stuck with the devils they knew because there was nobody seriously shifting the mainstream debate.

In Overland Journal I suggested that the contradictory nature of the Greens left the party vulnerable to setbacks if it didn’t find a way to push deeper into the ALP’s heartlands. After decades of neoliberal hegemony, simply being a slightly nicer variant of the mainstream consensus is no guarantee that voters will choose the Greens over Australia’s oldest political party, one that maintains significant social roots inside the working class. The Right inside the Australian Greens has in recent years been waging a campaign to moderate the party’s social and economic stances, move resources to mass media campaigns rather than grassroots organising, and to seek alliances with either major party to prove its ability to be part of “responsible” governments. These trends have been most fully realised in Tasmania, where the Greens have joined a Labor government committed to a conservative economic agenda, but they operate nationally. Such moves serve to dilute a major factor in the Greens’ success on the mainland — its ability to cohere a progressive constituency around key political questions that have led ALP voters to lose faith in their traditional party. By failing to pursue such a strategy in 2010, the Victorian Greens have set back their electoral fortunes. The danger in the longer term is that they will draw a profoundly conservative conclusion from the result, that they must move further into the political mainstream rather than challenge its shaky foundations directly.

*With apologies to Eric Hobsbawm

Filed under: ALP, class, Featured, Greens

Discussion22 Comments

  1. coyjoshu says:

    Yeah great article Tad. Will be interesting to see what conclusions the vic greens do draw. We'll know soon enough no doubt!

  2. Reggie says:

    Just another boring analysis of politics on the internet. Everyone's an expert. There is no profound reason for election results. People just get sick of a party that's been in power too long. People also change there vote due to media propaganda. Nothing more, nothing left. All parties are equal despised by the population.

  3. Geoff Robinson says:

    There were big swings against Labor in safe working-class Melbourne seats, sadly this may cost Collen Hartland her Council seat in favour of Bob Smith the definition of Labor deadwood.But Labor did lose votes because of cost overuns and admin stuffups and given calibre of Labor MPs should we be surprised? These problems do say something about the decline of public sector capacity. Its reasonable for Greens to argue that they could be better managers than Labor and to appeal to left of centre voters on this basis.

  4. Dr_Tad says:

    Geoff, I think the problem with cost overruns and admin stuff-ups are linked to Labor's reflex acceptance of the managerial imperative inside a generally neoliberal framework. As government subcontracts more and more of its functions to the private sector it loses control of costs (and becomes less of a price competitor to the private sector generally).We see this all the time in NSW, whether through direct sell-offs or PPPs or simple subcontracting of construction. The goal is no longer the public good but private bottom lines and credit ratings.The Greens engaging in the "good managers" game without breaking from the market logic that lies behind it means they must be good managers on capital's terms. The experience of the Vic Greens on Yarra Council is of responsible economic management leading to service cuts. Similarly for Nick McKim in Tasmania, whose first act as minister was increasing public housing rents.Finally, the idea of the Greens as "good managers" in mainstream terms is hard to buy. They are not the Liberals or Labor, with proven track records running governments. Voters need better reasons to break from the major parties than that (and they chose Bailleau in the end, anyhow).

  5. Kieran Latty says:

    Hi Tad, I think the desire to be a 'good manager' in an objective (when not spoiled by neoliberal ideology) manner leads to progressive outcomes. Sincere 'economic rationalism' or more properly 'rational economics' is damn near revolutionary in the current context; A 'good manager' would not have sold Telstra, and then had to pay them out to get the infrastructure back.A 'good manager' would not have sold the commonwealth bank, and surrendered the governments ability to determine retail interest rates and the availability of credit. A 'good manager' would not try to sell the states cash-cow electricity monopoly's. A 'good manager' would have enabled unions to have some oversight over the insulation program on safety grounds. A 'good manager' would close tax loopholes and raise rates on the highest earners to improve public finances. A 'good manager' would drive up the rate of public investment in infrastructure, especially public transport. A 'good manager' would dampen the housing bubble through addressing the supply bottlenecks, (see point above, plus public construction) and demand push (capital gains exemptions, low housing rates)A 'good manager' would not hesitate to borrow money to invest in projects with a social ROR above the interest rate.etc . . .

  6. Boris Kelly says:

    Tad,I think the Ballieu factor is important in reading this result. It is quite significant that he has distinguished himself from the Abbott 'brand' and plays as more of a small 'l'. Abbott was reticent about Ballieu's decision to ignore the Greens but, in hindsight, will see it as a deft strategic move. I imagine Turnbull will have some positive takeaways from the Ballieu result. Oddly, the election result could be interpreted as a shift the left, albeit from the rightist Abbott benchmark. Long bow conceded.I disagree with those who say the 'it's time' factor was a major determinant. This swing came late and can be aligned with the Green preference snub. The Victorian ALP was the strongest performer in the federal election and I reckon there was a certain hubris at work in the Brumby camp.As for where the Greens go from here? They can only go left and work very hard to build alliances with increasingly disaffected unions.The cultural tension between their current electoral base and the working class constituency they need to reach can only be bridged by significant green-left alliances that would, in effect, split the ALP.Not convinced this will happen. However, the Riordan incident is symptomatic of the tectonic fault lines in the union/ALP relationship in NSW and Ged Kearney's statement today is also significant. She called for unions to adopt a more independent stance vis a vis political parties etc etc Pressure builds.

  7. Peter Patton says:

    as a substitute for traditional social democratic politicsWhen did these halcyon 'tradition' times ever actually exist? Also, it is not correct to speak of 'social democracy' in the Anglo-Australian context. 'Social democracy' has always been a continental European things. 'Democratic Socialism' was the go in Australia, before the ALP's Neoliberal revolution.

  8. jikajika says:

    apologies for long comment – seems i had more to say than i first thought!

  9. Dr_Tad says:

    SORRY, BLOGGER IS ACTING FUNNY AND THIS DIDN'T GET THROUGHjikajika has left a new comment on your post "The forward march of the Greens halted?*":imho, around the time Howard went down the Vic Greens had two options:- continue the long-term grassroots organising to form alliances with the working class left and consolidate and promote the good work of their Green councillors in local government, or- short-term electoral campaigning in the hope that they could seize enough momentum to win state seats.they chose the last option – i think partly because a lot of party members began to believe the hype, partly because there was an influx of active members who had more personal ambition than political ideology, and partly because of a widespread distrust of the working class and a misunderstanding of and lack of sympathy with progressive politics.there are a lot of people in the Vic Greens who do not have any real understanding of political philosophies and you mention, many in the party acquiesce to neoliberalism, largely because they do not understand how neoliberalism manifests and exerts influence.this means there is widespread distrust of a position which publicly opposes neoliberalism and provides a clear alternative.the decision to campaign to win elections instead of to build broader support in the left was a fuck up. in the past the party had incrementally improved at the ballot box largely because it was a slow-burner and stuck by its principles.trying to make itself more broadly electable in the short term only made it less electable in the long run.kearney's statement is interesting for future developments, but i cannot see the union movement waiting around while the greens try to agree upon a political ideology, and whether they focus on good policy outcomes instead of election victories.Boris says the party 'can only go left and work very hard to build alliances with increasingly disaffected unions'. i think that it should, but I am not sure that it will.there is a good chance the Vic Greens will try to play disaffected unions for votes.but unions are not stupid. they have been around for a long time – much longer than the greens.if they think the greens are trying to play them for easy votes, they will resist green i think there is some possibility that the party may move more emphatically in the direction of conservation rather than progression.

  10. Alan B says:

    In Queensland, at least, the core Green issues (water, coal, coal seam gas) involve alliances with farmers, not workers.

  11. Alan B says:

    Sorry, that was too strong a statement. I should have said "alliances with farmers, more so than workers", or something like that.

  12. jikajika says:

    but Alan B why is that the case?For example, there is considerable union opposition to the privatisation of public assets in QLD.Yet a brief scan of the Queensland Greens website reveals mostly releases about coal seam gas, and one pissant little release about the sale of QLD forestry plantations. Nothing about privatisation of Port of Brisbane and Queensland Rail.I realise QLD is more decentralised than VIC, but this just seems bizarre to me.

  13. Dr_Tad says:

    Peter, I have tended to use the term "social democracy" to encompass social democratic parties as well as those that call themselves "Labor" or "democratic socialist". A useful definition is those parties “which have a programmatic commitment to some form of socialism and some link (organisational, traditional or ideological) with the working class, but whose practice is predominantly parliamentary and reformist.” [See: Birchall, I. (1986) Bailing Out the System: Reformist Socialism in Western Europe 1944-1985. London: Bookmarks]. They are all variants on working class oriented reformist socialism, which I think is their essential character.In that sense, I think the ALP has changed in the last three decades in that there has been a conscious jettisoning of some of those characteristics in favour of an authoritarian liberalism by a professional political class increasingly distant from its traditional working class base, but that process is far from complete.I am certainly not arguing there was anything "halcyon" about the old state of affairs. In fact, some of Labor's greatest crimes against its supporters have been carried out by MPs miles to the Left of the current mob.

  14. Dr_Tad says:

    jikajika, thanks for your insights about the Victorian Greens. They have always seemed to be a coalition of very different groups and individuals, held together only by their sudden success (benefiting from the party's national profile in a state where the ALP is relatively weak organisationally). Outside of inner Melbourne it is not clear to me that they have strong organisational and political roots of the sort the NSW and Tasmanian parties have managed to build.I agree the union leaders aren't going to wait around for the Greens, but then they have no clear vehicle for their discontent either. The German example is interesting, with Left union officials forming the WASG in reaction to Schroeder's neoliberal reforms, which then formed part of Die Linke. I'm not saying that's a model for here, but that unexpected realignments can occur as a result of a crisis of working class political representation. One thing that obtained in Germany that is missing here is a significant rise in working class resistance.I agree with you about Alan B's point. The Queensland Greens have long had a powerful tendency within them who share Drew Hutton's analysis that labour movements are the enemy of the Green movement because they are (allegedly) irrevocably tied to "productivist" or "industrialist" ideology. Hutton is worth reading because he has theorised, more than anyone, the post-class, "new social movement", "beyond Left and Right" aspects of Greens thinking. It is my understanding that the Queensland Greens have made some efforts around privatisation, but it has been peripheral to their overall strategy. On the other hand, the NSW party has a really good record on opposing PPPs and privatisation and has made some tentative union links as a result (at both official and rank-and-file levels).

  15. Peter Patton says:

    3. Leftists have to have this debate very openly and very loudly. My theory is that reactionary and liberal forces within the middle class public sector left, such as academics, were responsible for this substitution of 'Social democracy' for 'democratic socialism' in Australian and the UK. Even more treacherously in Australia, the trade union movement were co-conspirators.Why?Because a huge swathe of non-working class people usurped the former working class institutions and presumed leadership and spokesperson positions. Having lived o/s for most of the 1990s, when I returned in the late 1990s, One Nation was not the most shocking change I encountered, No, it was trade union leaders talking about "working people, and the Orwellian and abominable "working families".This was not a creation of Rudd; it was a creation of the unions in the mid 1990s. There are two profound ramifications of this censoring of "class" from even trade union discourse.(i) Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull would be among the hardest working families you could imagine.(ii) Those people who are not working (such as the unemployed and the disabled) become Unpeople.4. My asking you when were these halcyon days of social democracy was rhetorical, but your answer is concerning. You did not explicitly identify any time period. But what you did say was: In that sense, I think the ALP has changed in the last three decadesThe implication being that it was 1970s – dare I say Whitlam era. This attitude is rife among baby-boomer leftists. But it ignores that Whitlam was a mere 3 years, and even he was a right-winger (though certainly a leftist in the nationalist sense), who rose to power by crushing socialist influences in Victoria.5. It is on this point that the current leftist as 'Social democrat' and 'progressive' completely misunderstands Hawkeating. It must be repeated in letters ten feet high, that government was NOT 'Social Democratic'. The Hawkeating government was purist Neoliberalism, and revolutionary at that. The Neoliberalism Hawkeating inflicted in Australia was every bit as pure as Thatcher's, and I argue even more so. In fact, I argue that the two most significant figures of Neoliberlism were Paul Keating and Bill Clinton. All these 'progressives' and 'Social Democrats' (let's call them the PSD) are in complete denial about this.Margaret Thatcher had nothing like the impact of devastating trade union membership numbers as Hawkekeating did. Similarly, the way that history has recorded Howard and Workchoices as the most violent attack on the working class is an outrageous and gutless conspiratorial lie by the PSD. Howard and Workchoices were merely incremental erosions of working class security, compared to the revolutionary assault by Hawkeating. There is no doubt that the trade-union's most worthy moment in my lifetime was its brilliant campaign during the 2007 election. But where were they in 1993 and before? I'll tell you where. Collaborating with Milton Friedman and Hayek, that's where!6. Finally, and where all this was leading, is that somebody needs to knock the delusion and denial out of the PSD and it might as well be me. THE GREENS ARE NOT A LEFT-WING PARTY OR MOVEMENT.Anyway, I am sorry to have gabbled on, but I hope you take the time to respond, even if it is to tell me I don't know what I am talking about! :)

  16. Peter Patton says:

    Oh know, points 1 and 2 have vanished somewhere, which really makes the rest sound much different than it was intended.

  17. Dr_Tad says:

    HERE ARE PETER'S POINTS 1 & 2 (IS THIS A MESSAGE WE SHOULD MOVE TO WORDPRESS?!?)Peter Patton has left a new comment on your post "The forward march of the Greens halted?*":Thanks for that clarification, Dr Tad. Not meaning any disrespect but I think that answer you just gave actually contains a significant amount of why the Left is in such disarray.First I'd just like to say how refreshing your presence in the blogosphere is. One of the very few people to use an explicit class – Marxist even. I used to be a Marxist – honours degree in Marxist economics – and Socialist, but no more. I still share the same left wing take on where our society falls short. While I still use of Marxist techniques and conceptual apparatus, I am no longer persuaded by Marxist Socialist solutions.Having said that, I first came across your disco blog, because I have been to every single one of those Spanish clubs you wrote about.However, I still like the company of marxists, so I can keep my old skills reasonably sharp, so I hope you don't mind if I provide a few of my own Marxian critiques of your reply.1. Contrary to the catch-all definition of 'social democracy' you quoted from Birchall, it is crucial to acknowledge and respect the significant differences between social democracy and democratic socialism for both conceptual reasons and strategic.Please note I am far from any Trot, or any revolutionary at all, but I note that collapsing crucial concepts under the milquetoast 'social democracy' and don't even get me started on the so-doctor's-wive and so meaningless "progressive".1. 'Social democracy" is NOT about 'Socialism' or even worker organization and agitation, even in ambition. Social democracy allows the capitalist system, but taxes a decent part of its profit to spend on social services, which while tending to serve as wealth distribution, particularly to the working class, it is not a transformative project. Indeed, the post-WWII European social democracies were a concession to the working class by the capital owners to bribe them away from Communism.2. Democratic socialism – the Anglo-Australian political program until the 1980s – was explicitly aimed at knobbling the very basis of our society's whole inequality, particularly the subordination of the working class. And that is the exploitation at the heart of the wage system. Democratic Socialists seek to knobble the exploitative power of capital owners by decreasing the amount of our economy, which is directed by owners of private property.Democratic Socialism proudly seeks to nationalize industry where possible, and to use political struggle – through the trade union movement – to weaken the complete dominance private capital owners have over workers. Te post-WWII British State was inspired by Socialism – and did quite well – not Social democracy. In Australia, Chifley's aim to nationalize the banks was not a Social democrat at work, but a democratic socialist.

  18. Dr_Tad says:

    Peter Patton,Nice to meet a fellow music enthusiast and Leftist! The comments section here is probably not the best place for me to reply to your argument in detail, but you raise very important questions. Later this week I hope to review Bramble & Kuhn's new Marxist history of the ALP and that may clarify some of where I'm coming from.I will say this now: My lumping of reformist tendencies associated with the working class under one definition is not an attempt to deny real differences between them (or within them over time) but to recognise that to think outside capitalism requires a non-reformist project; i.e. one that rids of us the capitalist state rather than seeking to capture it, as all those strains do. And by state I mean not only the apparatus of bourgeois rule (the state "machine") but the ensemble of relations of domination that constitute the state understood more widely in the way that Gramsci, Marx or even Hegel would have recognised.I do have disagreements with some of the historical interpretations you raise, but I think the key thing is that I see far more continuity than discontinuity between Curtin-Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke-Keating and Rudd-Gillard, because they all seek to manage the existing set of relations of domination, albeit each in different circumstances, by different methods and through the use of different ideological tools.The neoliberal takeover you speak of is the process that has dominated the ALP for the last 30-35 years, at first taken up pragmatically and then cohered into a project as a response to the needs of Australian capitalism faced with the return of serious crisis in the 1970s.To answer your specific question: I don't think the ALP has ever really had a halcyon era of any type of reformist politics, but that doesn't stop me registering the important changes that have occurred over time.Hope that goes a little way to addressing this discussion.

  19. Peter Patton says:

    Dr. TadThanks for the reply. Unlike you, I could never get through a night at Ku/Space/Amnesia on Red Bull! Ditto, late night blogging! I'll come back and fine tune the lazier historical and taxonomical characterizations above soon.However, I am delighted to read that at least one of the fora, which runs on the egregious incoherencies, I allude to above, seems to have read my objections and is atoning appropriately in their linked blog! :) I feel confident that the particular individual this "social democratic/progressive/whatever" fora is dissing is one you and I will join hands in also dissing!

  20. Peter Patton says:

    [Admin]: Would you mind incorporating that link into HTML, please? It was not my attention to draw attention its name in that way.

  21. Peter Patton says:

    I will say this now: My lumping of reformist tendencies associated with the working class under one definition is not an attempt to deny real differences between them (or within them over time) but to recognise that to think outside capitalism requires a non-reformist project; i.e. one that rids of us the capitalist state rather than seeking to capture it, as all those strains do. And by state I mean not only the apparatus of bourgeois rule (the state "machine") but the ensemble of relations of domination that constitute the state understood more widely in the way that Gramsci, Marx or even Hegel would have recognisedThis much I get loud and clear from your writings. Perhaps the reason is, I was educated in Marxism, and boy can I sniff the real deal 100 metres away! :) And my primary bugbear (the universal invocation of "Social Democracy"/Progressive) is precisely because it elides your broader aim. By silencing the word "Socialism" – in favor of the anodyne and somewhat incoherent (to me at least) "Social" you will overwhelming be read as another Robert Manne, JQ type, who advocates markets, Keynesianism, and oh yeah, gay marriage!Your disagreements with my historical interpretations are also mine, now that I am re-reading and blogging, with not even so much as a Red Bull fuelling me. OK, let’s try again.I have no interest (and no doubt nor the education) to get bogged down in the Byzantine nomenclature and taxonomies that Marxists are wont to do, with the one exception of this Social Democracy vs. Democratic Socialism. Both the ALP and British Labour explicitly rejected "Social Democracy". Let me preface the following by of course acknowledging that a political party’s founding document is all very sweet, and all, but policies successfully enacted while in government is not everything; it’s the only thing! In 1920(?), the Party CHOSE to insert the following, which the Trade Union Congress already had [I am selecting the most appropriate one’s here, so of course the numbering is not the same as the actual document]:The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of:(i) the democratic socialization of:(a) industry;(b) production;(c) distribution and;(d) exchange;This objective is explicitly and unapologetically Socialist, of a form predicated on Marxian economic analysis. To be sure, it equally rejects the revolutionary aspects of Marxism, and of earlier Socialist movements in Europe, but it does not shy away from either the word, or what it means. This is not your wishy-washy milquetoast of "Social Democracy" – state-funded milk for primary school children – or "progressive" – gay marriage and Apology to the Stolen Generations [and please note, I am not ridiculing any of those policies]. After WWI, and especially by the early 1920s, it was perfectly respectable to be a Leftist and dissociate yourself from revolution, Communism, socializing industry, and rhetoric which returned to the fundamental exploitation at the root of the wage relation. But neither the Australian trade union movement nor the ALP chose to shy away. Now, on the Australian front, my invocation of the bank nationalization clearly amounts to little more than straw in its isolation, but the other much more persuasive evidence I proffer, is the history of Australian Constitutional referenda. Now, the conventional wisdom is that the very low success rate is that Australians are "conservative" and so on. But when you actually look at which referenda were defeated from 1910 to 1948 [naturally Labor’s control here was lost until 1973], only 2 out 21 passed. Of the 19 which failed, 8 were direct attempts at national socialization (particularly of monopolies), while at least another 4 were Socialist-like. So, at least until the 1940s, the ALP was still plugging away; but incontrovertibly with decreasing huff or commitment.

  22. Peter Patton says:

    Similarly, in the UK neither did the British Labour Party opt for "Social Democracy". In fact it was more proudly "Socialist" than we were. It was precisely British Labour’s 1918(?) decision to identify as a "Socialist" party, which influenced Australian a few years later. As well as Clause Four (whose abandonment by Tony Blair in 1995, I witnessed while living in the UK at the time), the Atlee government not only campaigned and won the 1944 election in an explicit nationalization agenda, but followed through! They nationalized energy (coal, gas, and electricity), telecoms, transportation (all of airlines, roads, trucking), major manufacturing inputs (iron and steel), health (the NHS), broadcasting (BBC). This is not Keynesianism, nor mere Social Democracy/Progressive. Now, it came to a screaming halt in 1945, for all sorts of reasons, which we would probably agree on.My point here merely is that the choice of the Anglo-Australian trade union and Labo(u)r parties to explicitly identify as "[Democratic} Socialist" and not mere "Social Democrat" is silenced in contemporary discourse, which contributes overwhelmingly to much of the incoherence. The point my Red-Bull "Plus" post the other night clearly forgot was that what I think is crucial in reinscribing this distinction is why it failed, when, and whose interests were behind that failure. The whole debate takes on a completely different tone when we start asking, "who stole Democratic Socialism."The neoliberal takeover you speak of is the process that has dominated the ALP for the last 30-35 years, at first taken up pragmatically and then cohered into a project as a response to the needs of Australian capitalism faced with the return of serious crisis in the 1970s.I like this very much but might frame it a little more delicately. Kawkeating never took up "Neoliberalism". Firstly, both were well part of that labo(u)r movement, which had abandoned Socialism – democratic or otherwise – following the Split. Keating for NSW Catholic tribal reasons, and Hawke because he simply never, ever was even remotely persuaded by Marx/isms. Further, The word "Neoliberalism" simply did not exist then. In fact, even the man whom I cut my Marxist teeth on – David Harvey – does not use it until about 2004. Even Michael Pusey’s "economic rationalism" reads nothing like the discourses on "Neoliberalism" which flourish in 2010.Rather, Hawkeating were responding to the 1970s ‘fiscal crisis of the state’. They needed money from somewhere, which taxes were not supplying – privatization. Their decision to make inflation public enemy number one was not the result of a ritual conversion under the nefarious potions of Hayek and Friedman. Rather, it was because we were screwed if it kept up. Now, it is at this point that I have no doubt we will have all sorts of disagreements. :) Fine by me. But let’s just straight what was lost first, and reinscribe in public discursive space the rhetoric and taxonomies appropriate to Australian history.