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.