Australasian Spartacist No. 229
Coalition Scrapes In as Millions Snub Major Parties
Bosses Demand Savage Austerity
For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Capitalism!
Following the 2 July federal election for both houses of parliament, the Turnbull-led Liberal/National Coalition were returned to government with a paper-thin majority in the House of Representatives. With a more than 3 percent swing against it, the government also lost ground in the Senate entrenching its minority position there. To pass legislation, the Coalition will have to negotiate with Labor, the Greens and a throng of populist and rightist elements from protectionists like the Nick Xenophon Team, through to representatives of Pauline Hanson’s fascistic One Nation party. This electoral outcome will almost certainly prolong legislative paralysis on the economic front and could open up a period of political instability. A class-struggle leadership of the proletariat would seek to take advantage of this situation. In contrast, fearing any extra-parliamentary social struggle, ALP leader Bill Shorten, whose party received its second lowest primary vote on record, quickly pledged that the “Opposition” would help “make this parliament function” in the national interest.
The 2016 election resolved nothing for the capitalist rulers, who were hopeful of finally securing a parliamentary mandate for the Coalition’s austerity agenda. Relentless government and bourgeois media calls for a “stable” majority government fell on deaf ears. About 5 percent of voters spoilt their ballot and, despite Australia’s undemocratic compulsory voting laws, close to one million didn’t bother to vote at all. Of those who submitted a valid vote, more than one quarter rejected the major parties. This reflects a trend from the U.S. to Europe that has seen restive populations, suffering under the ongoing destructive effects of the world economic crisis, seek recourse in alternatives considered outside the “political mainstream.”
The swing against the Liberal Party has strengthened the position of the rural-based National Party and opened up a schism in the Coalition as the more right-wing elements appeal to the racists, misogynists and homophobes who voted for Hanson’s One Nation and other rightist “independents.” Leading the conservative charge is Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who appealed to his “30,000 to 40,000 followers” to build a new political movement to the right of the Coalition. Bernardi and others are being spurred on by the bourgeois media who are demanding that Turnbull offer conservatives more weight and influence in his government.
With key planks of the government’s anti-working-class agenda, such as restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, now under some threat from a fractious Senate, the election outcome has been met with fury from the big bourgeoisie who decried the result as a “disaster.” Seven Group Holdings executive chairman, Kerry Stokes, declared “I don’t know any way of dealing with that [the election result] now to gain stability.” With the financial credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s now placing Australia’s AAA sovereign debt rating on “negative watch,” the Murdoch press has demanded the newly elected parliament adopt the Coalition’s program to slash the budget deficit regardless of the election outcome. Less restrained was billionaire retailer Gerry Harvey who, frustrated by the constraints of bourgeois democracy, stated “The only cure we’ve got is to have a dictator.”
There is widespread fear and insecurity amongst working people. Rising joblessness and homelessness and crumbling transport, education and health services have compounded decades of declining living standards. This helps explain why Turnbull’s trickle-down narrative of large tax cuts for the bourgeoisie to deliver “jobs and growth” did not resonate in the heavily immigrant and proletarian constituencies of Western Sydney and elsewhere. The ALP’s fraudulent promises to administer a capitalist society of “inclusive” growth through bolstering education and “defending” Medicare did gain some traction and managed to fool some of the growing numbers of desperate people.
Successive Liberal/National Coalition and Labor governments, despite ritual ALP posturing, have aggressively enforced the bosses’ attacks on the proletariat and minorities. By endlessly pushing protectionist and nationalist poison into the ranks of the organised working class, while stymieing class struggle, the trade-union misleaders have played their role in paving the way for rightist forces to appeal to the disaffected and downtrodden. The ACTU tops’ class-collaborationist nationalism was on display after the election when they declared that the vote “for the ALP, minor parties and independents” represented “a clear demand from the Australian people that Mr. Turnbull and the Liberals must work with cross benchers, the senate and unions—and not just their usual friends in big business—to govern for all Australians” (ACTU media release, 11 July).
In counterposition to the union misleaders, who help perpetuate this irrational profit system of racism, exploitation and war, the proletariat desperately needs a class-struggle leadership of the unions committed to mobilising workers independently of the capitalist rulers and their state. Such a perspective is a precondition to the necessary struggle to overthrow capitalist rule through workers revolution. We reprint below our 15 June pre-election leaflet. In pointing out there was no choice for workers and the oppressed, it drew a proletarian class line in the context of the bourgeois electoral circus then under way.
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JUNE 15—With the minerals resources boom at an end and rising levels of government debt, the Australian bourgeois rulers are seeking to further slash social services and welfare payments while driving down wages and conditions in order to boost their profits. Throughout the capitalist world, the persistent effects of the 2008 global economic crisis continue to ravage economies and it is the working class that is being made to pay as workers are driven into part-time and casual work, and face rising unemployment, homelessness, and crumbling infrastructure. Both across Europe and here, such conditions have helped spawn and embolden extreme rightist, anti-Muslim and outright fascist forces, protected and nurtured by the state and the mass media.
To thwart inevitable struggles against the bosses’ attacks, the Australian government is strengthening state repression while pushing crude chauvinism to divide workers, hoodwinking them into thinking that their enemies are not the capitalist rulers at “home” but some external “threat.” Vast sums of money are being spent on Australian imperialism’s military participation in bloody slaughter in the Middle East and to back the U.S. “pivot” to Asia. This “pivot” militarily targets China as part of a U.S.-led goal to restore untrammelled imperialist exploitation there.
It is understandable that many want to see an end to the Liberal/National Coalition government, which has done its best to grind down the victims of capitalist greed. However, whichever of the two major parties wins the 2 July federal election, the result will be continued attacks on the working class and poor. The Labor Party (ALP) parliamentary “Opposition” led by Bill Shorten is committed to much the same vicious state repression and cuts as the Coalition. The only point of “difference” is that Labor say they want to enforce austerity more slowly and with “fairness.”
The high levels of cynicism and distrust in the major parties point to how irrelevant the whole electoral circus is to the needs and aspirations of working people. Karl Marx captured the essence of bourgeois parliamentarism when he declared that under bourgeois democracy the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament.
Of the many parties standing candidates in this election, not one draws even a crude class line in defence of the rights and interests of the proletariat. What is desperately necessary is a class-struggle fight, championing the rights of all those under attack. A precondition for successful struggle is mobilising the working class independently of all wings of the capitalist class and its state. Workers need to be won from Laborite reformism, which subordinates workers to the capitalist state, to the understanding that only proletarian class rule can truly begin to transform society in the interests of all the oppressed.
Within the left, however, many opponents of a revolutionary class-struggle perspective have for years given electoral support to the bourgeois Greens in order to pressure the ALP, to which they are wedded above all else. The Greens are an outright capitalist party based on small-“l” liberal elements of the petty bourgeoisie who, sometimes posing as friends of the oppressed, seek a kinder, gentler capitalist system. For the reformist left to call for a vote to a bourgeois party is class betrayal.
Unlike the Greens, the ALP is a bourgeois workers party—thoroughly pro-capitalist in its leadership and program while having organic ties to the proletariat through the unions. On rare occasions, often during heightened class struggle, when the contradictions between the leadership and proletarian base compel a bourgeois workers party to draw a class line against the bourgeoisie, Marxists may choose to offer such parties critical electoral support. The purpose of this tactic is to demonstrate that despite the claims of the pro-capitalist leaders to represent the interests of the workers, in practice they betray them. When applicable, the tactic of critical support is a tool for building a revolutionary workers party, allowing even a small revolutionary nucleus to gain a hearing amongst the most advanced elements looking to one or another reformist party. However, this tactic has no application in this election. Given Labor’s open commitment to the bourgeoisie it would be class treachery for socialists to give it even the most savagely critical support. We Marxists say: No vote to the ALP! No vote to the bourgeois Greens! We need a revolutionary internationalist workers party!
Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee
The Coalition government, led by multi-millionaire merchant banker Malcolm Turnbull, is the unalloyed representative of the big bourgeoisie whose fabulous profits are derived from the exploitation of workers’ labour power. The Coalition’s recent budget promised massive tax cuts for the top end of town. At the same time, on top of the billions of dollars already slashed from schools and hospitals, they plan to cruelly rip hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from Aboriginal and homeless services, women’s refuges, and aged-care and mental health services.
In response to the budget, Shorten’s ALP has postured as a defender of working families and “battlers.” This is a shameless lie. At best the ALP offers little more than a return to the days of the racist anti-union Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments of 2007-13. Notwithstanding the concerted campaign by the Murdoch press to depict today’s ALP as “anti-business,” there is no question that both major parties are committed to the neo-liberal mantra of “fiscal responsibility.” Seeking to convince the bourgeoisie that they can be trusted to oversee austerity, the ALP has already begun outlining billions in cuts to the national budget.
Turnbull orchestrated an early election over the question of reinstating the witchhunting Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). If re-elected they will seek to restore the ABCC, which targets the construction union for state repression. Despite their ties to the union movement, the ALP has carefully avoided giving the impression that they might defend the unions. While Labor say they are opposed to the reintroduction of the ABCC, the last federal ALP government oversaw fines in excess of $2.5 million against Victorian building unions in one year alone. In 2012 Shorten accused thousands of CFMEU supporters picketing the Grocon Emporium building site in Melbourne of “intimidation, violence and thuggery.” With the CFMEU in the crosshairs of state repression and with unionists being dragged before the courts, it is desperately necessary to fight. What’s needed are strikes backed by mass pickets, black bans and occupations in defiance of the bosses’ anti-union laws, courts and penalties.
The Coalition, if returned to government, will also escalate their attempts on behalf of the bosses to erode penalty rates for shift work. This would drive some of the country’s lowest paid workers, many of whom are women, further into desperate need. Additionally, those who are under 25, have been out of work for six months and are on Newstart benefits, will be pushed into a so-called “internship” to work for $4 an hour, 25 hours a week. This scheme provides another source of cheap labour for the bosses to exploit. Special measures need to be taken by the unions to organise the unorganised—disproportionately youth, women and immigrants—and to champion their rights. A class-struggle leadership of the unions would fight for fully unionised workplaces, with trade-union control of hiring. This would undercut the bosses’ attempts to hire who they want on the most exploitative terms.
Terror for the Oppressed...
The ALP and Coalition are united in their support to the bourgeoisie’s reactionary social agenda at home and abroad. This includes overseeing the institutionalised racist state terror against Aborigines. While Indigenous people make up only 3 percent of the country’s population, they form 28 percent of Australia’s prison population. Their rate of imprisonment has doubled in the last 25 years. The imprisonment of Indigenous women has risen by 74 percent in the last 15 years and Indigenous youth comprise 50 percent of all juveniles in detention!
State killings of Aboriginal people on the streets and in the lockups continues unabated. According to official figures, in the 25 years since the 1991 whitewash Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, 340 Indigenous people have died in prison, most as a result of state violence and neglect. This was the fate of Julieka Dhu, a young Aboriginal woman arrested in Western Australia in 2014 for unpaid fines. For three days she suffered in agony in a police cell, wracked by fever, paralysis and vomiting. She eventually died after twice being carted to hospital in the back of a police van and then thrown back into jail, dismissed as “a druggie.” Underscoring the cruel hoax of former Labor PM Kevin Rudd’s 2008 “apology” to Indigenous peoples, thousands of Indigenous children continue to be forcibly removed from their families by the state. The backdrop to this scandal is the 2007 federal state intervention into Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, enforced by both Liberal and Labor governments and which has wreaked social and economic havoc on those communities.
Whipping up “border security” hysteria, both Shorten and Turnbull are also jointly committed to enforcing the mandatory detention of refugees, who have been buried alive in centres like Sydney’s Villawood and offshore hellholes such as Manus Island and Nauru. Racist state terror against the Indigenous population and exclusion of particularly Asian and brown-skinned people has, from its “White Australia” beginnings, defined the brutal reality of Australian capitalist rule. Against the bosses’ divide-and-rule measures there needs to be a class-struggle fight for the rights of Aboriginal people and refugees. We demand: police/military get out of Aboriginal communities! Close the detention centres! No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all who have made it here!
Both the Coalition and Labor have aggressively pursued the bogus “war on terror,” a cover for intensified all-sided state repression. Last year, the government, with Labor’s support, rammed through another tranche of “anti-terror” laws, further bolstering state power and shredding the democratic rights of all. “Metadata retention” laws give more than 20 “law enforcement” agencies unhindered access to the metadata of the population’s electronic communications.
In this creeping police state, raids on union offices and people’s homes have become commonplace. The reactionary wave has even lapped at the doorstep of the ALP itself. On 19 May the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the Melbourne office of ALP senator Stephen Conroy and an ALP staffer over alleged leaks to the press related to the Coalition government’s handling of the National Broadband Network. As a piece in The Age queried, how did the police know which premises to raid if the metadata of politicians, staffers and/or journalists wasn’t accessed? These AFP raids are designed to intimidate and deter anyone from releasing information or speaking out against government lies, dirty tricks and repression. We stand opposed to the “war on terror,” which in the first instance is a war of terror by the state against the Muslim minority but whose draconian measures are ultimately aimed at the proletariat.
...and Billions for the Military
The “war on terror” has also provided bourgeois governments with a rationale for imperialist war abroad. Building on the war-mongering of the previous ALP government, the Coalition aims to spend about $1 trillion over the next 20 years on a massive military build-up. This will include recruiting thousands of additional troops and purchasing new aircraft, warships, missile systems and submarines. With Labor’s full backing, the Turnbull government oversees the Australian military’s bombing raids in Iraq and Syria as part of the murderous U.S.-led coalition. Australia and all imperialist forces out of the Middle East! Both parties fully support the U.S. “pivot” to Asia. In 2011, the ALP’s then-PM, Julia Gillard, stood alongside U.S. President Obama to jointly announce that U.S. marines would be based in Darwin. This is part of Australia’s contribution to the U.S.-led military encirclement of China, which includes hundreds of bases deployed from Central Asia, through to Australia and along the east Asian Pacific rim to Japan and South Korea.
Last year’s biennial U.S./Australia war games, “Talisman Sabre,” involved some 30,000 military personnel from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand as well as 40 Japanese troops embedded with the U.S. marines. Conducted in Northern Australia, part of the operation, according to left-liberal journalist John Pilger, simulated choking off the Straits of Malacca. Most of China’s trade passes through these straits before it reaches the South China Sea, where the U.S. is engaged in regular military provocations against China. As part of our proletarian internationalist program we stand opposed to the reactionary U.S./Australia alliance and demand all U.S. bases out of Australia now! Not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military!
Against the anti-China military build-up in the region we stand for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese deformed workers state. We support China’s development projects—including military installations—in the South China Sea. The 1949 Chinese Revolution was a world historic victory against the rapacious imperialist powers and their blood-drenched Chinese satraps. Despite the revolution being deformed from its inception by the rule of a nationalist Stalinist bureaucratic caste, it resulted in a collectivised economy that delivered great gains to the Chinese worker and peasant masses. Although years of “market reforms” have resulted in the growth of a layer of capitalists on the mainland, the Chinese economy as a whole is not organised on the basis of capitalist production for profit. Alongside our unconditional military defence of China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist rulers, whose mismanagement and pipedream of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism helps pave the way for capitalist counterrevolution.
Not Protectionist Poison But Proletarian Internationalism
Far from fighting to mobilise for a proletarian internationalist perspective, the trade-union misleaders are fundamentally loyal to the bourgeois order and bow to the bosses’ repressive state apparatus, which consists at its core of the cops, courts, prisons and military. The union tops’ commitment to the “national” interest is sharply expressed through their poisonous campaigns against overseas products and workers. More than two years ago it was announced that all car assembly plants in this country would shut down by 2016-17, throwing tens of thousands out of work. In response, the union tops sat on their hands while calling for a government that “stands up for jobs” through “a recommitment to Australian naval shipbuilding” in order to support “our Navy and our manufacturing industry.” Earlier this year, the South Australian peak union body ran a flag-waving campaign for the federal government’s new fleet of submarines to be built in that state. Such nationalist campaigns serve to line workers up behind the predatory interests of their “own” Australian imperialist rulers.
Protectionism feeds the reactionary climate, sowing divisions amongst the working class. The true allies of workers are not the “local” bosses and their state but workers across the world who face the same attacks. In response to the social decay wrought by the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing and elsewhere, a class-struggle leadership would raise the demand for a shorter work week with no loss in pay to spread the available work around. It would raise the demand for a massive program of public works, with workers paid at full union wages, to replace the run-down schools, hospitals and public transport systems and provide decent housing for all. By linking the fight for jobs with the demand for free quality childcare, health care, education and public transport, such a struggle would bring together wide layers in opposition to the bosses’ attacks. These demands point to the need for socialist revolution and the construction of a society run by those with their hands on the levers of production—the working class.
Today the union tops are working overtime to get the ALP elected, treacherously pouring millions of dollars of workers hard-earned union dues into electioneering in marginal seats. They have mobilised a small army of volunteers to convince voters to put the Coalition last on their ballots. This strategy sows illusions in the ALP while exemplifying yet again the sham that is bourgeois democracy. The union bureaucrats are more than aware that they need only convince around 30,000 voters in 21 marginal seats to switch their vote and Labor will get into office. For its part, the Coalition also seeks to shore up support in marginal seats by cynically drip-feeding funds for community services into such electorates.
Laborite reformism is the key obstacle to revolutionary struggle in Australia. A class-struggle opposition in the unions would seek to exacerbate the contradictions between the aspirations and objective interests of the proletariat and the policies and actions of its current social-patriotic, Labor-loyal leadership. It is through such a struggle that the ALP’s proletarian base will be politically won from its pro-capitalist misleadership and a revolutionary Marxist party forged that can lead the working class in sweeping away the capitalist order. Expropriating the banks, mines and industry, proletarian revolution will establish a workers state based on a collectivised, centrally planned economy and workers democracy. This regime will reach out to workers across the planet in the struggle for world socialist revolution.
Reformist Left in Thrall to Bourgeois Greens, ALP
Over the last decade, one of the main beneficiaries of the growing disgust with the major parties, especially with the ALP, has been the Greens. They have accrued significant support for their brand of sugar-coated capitalism, including from some trade-union leaders. While the Greens like to speak out about refugee rights, gay rights and against anti-union laws, they helped prop up the 2010-13 Gillard-Rudd minority ALP government. In July 2013 it was the Rudd government which introduced the current draconian regime of mandatory offshore detention of refugees arriving by boat. As for pledges of “peace,” the Greens are thoroughly loyal to the Australian imperialist military. While the Greens participated in protests against the imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003, founder Bob Brown declared: “Our one point of unity is heartfelt support for our loyal Australian defence force personnel in Iraq” (Greens media release, 21 March 2003).
Betraying working-class independence by supporting the capitalist Greens has become standard fare for the reformist Laborite left. In the last federal election, the Communist Party (CPA), Socialist Alliance (SA) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt) all pushed a vote to the Greens as a means to pressure the ALP. In the upcoming election, the CPA calls for “the election of the Australian Greens and left and progressive candidates.” Meanwhile SA, who are standing candidates, have called for “preferences to the Greens and then Labor.” In opposing a vote to the Greens we also oppose a vote to those like SA who give electoral support to the Greens. As for Solidarity, they argue “Everybody needs to get active to make sure we get Turnbull out.” Read: restore the ALP to government. Looking to the Greens as their agency to help ensure an ALP victory, these Labor-loyal reformists argue that the Greens “should be putting their commitment to workers’ rights [!] at the forefront” by giving “a clear commitment that they will direct preferences to Labor .”
As an act of elementary political hygiene we warn against the misnamed Socialist Equality Party (SEP), who are fielding a slew of candidates in the upcoming election. Local adherents of David North’s self-styled “World Socialist Web Site,” the SEP are political bandits, willing to fly whatever flag that suits them at any given time (see Hate Trotskyism, Hate the Spartacist League No. 11, October 1997, “David North’s ‘ICFI’: From Support to Capitalist Counterrevolution in the USSR to Great Russian Chauvinism”). It should be enough to know that these pseudo-Trotskyists say that the trade unions are “reactionary” and should be opposed. By conflating the trade unions, which are the economic defence organisations of the working class, with their pro-capitalist misleaders, the SEP line up behind the bosses’ anti-union attacks, providing an apologia for strikebreaking.
In political opposition to the social-democratic ALP and all the “socialist” opponents of proletarian revolution, we seek to build a workers party that is capable of leading the fight to sweep away the capitalist order through socialist revolution. As we stated following the savage cuts announced in the 2014 Abbott government’s budget:
“Almost every gain of the working class, including the right of unions to exist, has been won through class struggle against the capitalist rulers . There should be massive strikes and proletarian-led protests drawing in oppressed layers—Aborigines, the unemployed, the disabled and homeless—to oppose the government’s attacks. The proletariat needs to inscribe on its banner: Not the bosses’ parliament but a workers government—the dictatorship of the proletariat—where those who produce the wealth run the society.”
—“For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Bosses’ Onslaught!” Australasian Spartacist No. 223, Winter 2014
We in the Spartacist League say that the proletariat and oppressed minorities need a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party built on the model of the Russian Bolsheviks who led the great 1917 October Revolution. Such a party would seek to mobilise the working class in its objective and historic interests to throw off the yoke of bourgeois rule and in doing so reach out to the millions of exploited masses from Indonesia to the Philippines and to the powerful Japanese working class and beyond. A successful workers revolution, establishing a workers republic of Australia, part of a socialist Asia, would be a part of the struggle for a world communist future, where each would work according to their ability, and each would take from society according to their needs.