Why left wing people should join/remain in the ALP

A workers’ party without popular support is a phantom and a body without a head. Socialism and/or social democracy cannot be implemented democratically without a workers’ party with mass popular support.  This is, amongst other reasons why I will never leave Labor for organisations such as Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative.

The Australian Labor Party was founded in 1891 by union members and workers – depending on your preference – either under the Tree of Knowledge or in a pub in Balmain. Since that time Labor has remained constantly in touch with the working class and lower middle class.  Even during the worst polling of the Gillard leadership, Labor still commanded 25-28% of Australia’s primary vote and affiliation with the majority of Australian unions.  During this remarkable period there was nothing to suggest that support for Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative improved.  To me, this fundamentally proves that left-wing organisations other than Labor are simply not an option for young left activists looking to make a difference.  In order to implement socialism via the democratic tradition, it is essential that a party has the popular support of the working class and the support of the majority of unions in that nation. Without the support of these two groups, that party is nothing.

In recent times, Labor has made a considerable lurch to the right on a number of issues. Our recently introduced asylum seeker policy, our stalling on marriage equality and our lack of a clear social democratic vision has been disappointing.  But, disappointment in its self is not reason to abandon the ALP.  The recent democratic reforms to the ALP and the attempts at reinvigorating local branches provides current ALP members with an opportunity to both influence the future of the ALP and the nation in a way that activists simply could not if they were a member of a smaller left-wing organisation.

There has always been criticism from the radical left as to the nature of the ALP.  Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the progenitor of the disastrous Russian experiment, criticized the ALP for the fact that it did not aim to overthrow capitalism. Lenin even went as far as to call ‘liberal-bourgeois party’.  Indeed, he was fundamentally correct that the ALP was a party that sought to restrict the excesses of the free market, not replace it with a full blown socialist state.  In his unlikely push for the Division of Fremantle, Socialist Alliance candidate Sam Wainwright alleged that you cannot fight Coca Cola with Diet Coke (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6j8CaprAsI).  Well Mr Wainwright, you cannot fight Coke with Grandma’s lemonade either.  The ALP is simply not concerned with a revolution.  In the time and luck that it would take to establish a revolutionary socialist state, serious and meaningful reforms could have been delivered to the working people. As much as I admire Wainwright’s passion, it is impossible to ignore the fact that majority of significant positive reforms this country has had legislated are either the direct or partial responsibility of the ALP. His party has done, well, nothing. Medicare, DisabilityCare, Gonski, the NBN, public transport, Superannuation, the Racial Discrimination and Sex Discrimination Acts, the Education Revolution, major infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme and the Hawke/Keating economic reforms have all been the responsibility of the ALP.  These have all brought, and will bring, significantly more equality and prosperity to the Australian people. The unprecedented success of a party founded by striking shearers under a tree in Queensland cannot be ignored.

As a young member of the left, my dissatisfaction with some current policies of the ALP will always be trumped by the successes of the past and the bright promise of the future. Labor was never founded to overthrow capitalism and roast Gina Rinehart over a fire, it was founded to give ordinary Australians a fair go.  Those who wish to be part of an organisation that is more specifically focused on a revolution are welcome to do so, but for me Labor will always present a significantly more rewarding and likely opportunity to enact social democratic reform and change the lives of ordinary Australians. There will always be times when I will disagree with the direction of my party, but its democratic nature will allow me to influence the future direction.  Even now union and Young Labor activists are speaking out against the PNG Solution and calling for a multilateral humanitarian approach the the issue.  We can speak out.  We should speak out.  But your voice is worthless without the ALP.

So join the ALP or join a campaign.  Help shape the future of Australia, use the mainstream popularity of the Labor party to enact the policies you want to see.  It’s the only way you will ever see Australia anything even close to social democratic or socialist.  The ALP offers an opportunity to young left activists that no other Australian organisation can do:  a real opportunity to change lives.  Because that is why we’re in this.  We’re socialists because we are dissatisfied with the individualistic greed dominated nature of capitalism.  We want a government that legislates for the working class and businesses that run for prosperity rather than profit. Labor is the only party that delivers a realistic opportunity of these reforms.  So join the ALP and change the world.

Caleb W Gardner is a Law/Arts student from Perth, WA.  He is current the President of NDA Labor and the Secretary of the Sunset Coast Branch (WA) of the ALP.


  1. Firstly, you talk of ‘activists’. Where are they? I’ve never seen them in real life. In fact, my experience of the NLS, as an active socialist, is that they do nothing to take up political issues, and even counterpose their events to demonstrations! And then you NEVER see any members of Labor at ANY rally!

    The argument that the Socialist Alternative hasn’t gained mass support is reflective more of a dead political climate and mass defeat of the union movements (thanks in no small part to Hawke’s government itself!) Even the Workchoices campaign met a defeat due to a vote labor campaign.

    Labor has support from the Unions. True, the Union Bureaucracy loves the ALP. But any serious Union militant would despise them as the neoliberal fuckers they are. Did labor come to help the Grocon dispute, or Bob Carnegie? No, they in fact fucked them over with the fairwork laws!

    And lastly, when did Lenin ever talk about the ALP? Seriously, I thought he had more important issues on his hands.

    PS. The Russian Revolution was defated due to Russia being isolated and decimated following a civil war. That is what allowed a state bureaucracy to undermine workers government and reestablish capitalist relations in Russia.

    1. “you NEVER see any members of Labor at ANY rally!”

      I was tempted to just straight up ignore your comment on the basis of that fantastically huge generalisation. But I won’t, because it’s important to call you out on it.

      I would take the argument that Labor members are not concerned as involved with rallies on social and political issues as say Socialist Alliance or Socialist Alternative. But it is my experience that very little comes out rallies appropriated by radical left-wing groups for the sole purpose of promoting revolutionary vanguardism. Whilst, quite a lot comes from policy change.

      Your excuses for Socialist Alternatives failures are cute. Have some responsibility though and accept that SA does not represent anyone but themselves and their failures are directly linked to their complete lack of a popular platform.

      I pointed out that there are some things that I personally find disappointing with the ALP. I acknowledge that Labor’s response to Grocon and Carnegie is unacceptable. But the current political climate has put the ALP on a knifes edge, and so I can’t blame them from keeping quiet.

      Keep making excuses for Russia, I’m sure someone will believe you someday. Best of luck with the Revolution – I’ll stick to making actual positive change for the working class.

      Thanks for the read.

    2. Lenin passed judgement in 1913.

      The SPD also took a keen interest in the development of Labor, r.e. achieving socialist goals through the established political processes. In particular, a handful of German migrants promoted the Lassalle cult within the SAADV, a German-South Australian worker’s club.

  2. Nonsense. Labor are not legisalating anything for the working class. In fact they have most impact on workers at state level and we have personally suffered heavily under Labor policy that has outsourced work and privatised many governemnt services. Rudd himself is walking proof that privatising services concentrates wealth and ripping off the taxpayer is why he is worth 50 million through his wifes brain dead work of opening employment offices. Ever been to one? They are useless. Money pit for those in the “club”

    Privatisaiton, Neo Liberalism., less union representation all have happened under Labor. They detest the working class. Now they say they will not change superannuation for 5 years so that means the aged pension will have to be lowered, that means if we get the pension will have to be older because we cannot afford to keep the rich happy unless we will work until 80.

    Russia? Lenin? WOW You have no clue even if we went hard left we would still be a rigth wing nation, we are not even close to centre so no need to tak of left wing activists or extremist, centrist is extreme left these days . Vote for either you are part of the problem.

    1. “They detest the working class.”

      Well, there goes your argument…

      That’s an absolutely ridiculous assertion and you know it. Labor has never served any other purpose than to improve the lives of working people. Just because you disagree on the political mechanics of how they achieve doesn’t mean their intentions have changed.

      “Vote for either you are part of the problem.”

      Wrong. If you are not part of either you are part of the problem. The changes you want to see made will NEVER happen without the ALP and the Union movement. Any left wing person who believes they can make a difference without the ALP is living in a dream world.

      So don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

  3. Hi B4lmain — rest assured that when you leave university, you rarely if ever see any members of socialist alternative ever again (unless you wander back on to campus). You find ALP members however in every profession and walk of life, from teachers and nurses, to electricians and construction workers, cleaners, lawyers & pharmacists, farm-hands and train drivers, not to mention retired workers and retired unionists.

    Reuben, judging solely by his comment here, appears to be an entirely ignorant socialist. Especially on matters which I doubt he has any real knowledge about (Grocon/Carnegie).

    1. Thanks for the read.

      My greatest disappointment with the radical left is their obsession with student politics. I know many activists who have spent 10 to 15 years hanging about in student politics. Wasted time in my books. Had they applied themselves to the ALP is such an obsessive manner, many of them would no doubt be on their way to public office and making an actual difference for working people.

    1. Cheers mate. Thanks for the read.

  4. This goes for the UK Labour Party also. As a left winger in the UK, I have always been at odds with the political parties here and have in the past joined the Soc Workers Party, the Socialist Party and any number of Marxist-Lenninist Parties, only to realise that they will never work because they can never agree on such trivial matters, including those that occurred over a hundred years ago!

    I realised some years ago that the Labour Party can and should be the Party for the Left, especially as it was set up by trade unions for the working people. Whilst LPs around the world have tended to move further towards the right, it is our duty on the left to join these LPs and change them from the inside. Only then can we stop complaining about what they have or have not achieved.

    1. Totally agree mate.

      Thanks for the read comrade.

  5. […] An interesting series of articles popped up recently. One talked about how the Greens are going to be the biggest losers from the upcoming Federal Election. Another article opined why people with left wing views should be joining the ALP rather than the Greens. […]

  6. You could definitely see your skills within the work you write.
    The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to say
    how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

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