Elections of Racism, Rampant Militarism!

No Vote to Labor!

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 188, Spring 2004.

SEPTEMBER 10—With over 22 percent of the population officially living in poverty, the sick and disabled unable to afford decent medicines or care, repression against trade unionists, Aborigines and immigrants confronting cop raids and the Australian military assisting in the bloody occupation of Iraq, it is understandable that many want to see the end of the hated Howard regime. However, whichever major party wins the upcoming federal elections, it will mean continued attacks on the working people and oppressed in the interests of the profit-hungry capitalist rulers.

Latham’s Australian Labor Party (ALP), a very right-wing bourgeois workers party, is committed to delivering more of the same racist reaction, strong state militarism and cuts to social welfare programs as the Liberal/National Coalition. We Trotskyists of the Spartacist League say there is (to our knowledge) no party standing in these elections that offers workers the opportunity to vote for their own class interests, however crudely, against their class enemy, the capitalist rulers. We say no vote to the racist, anti-working-class ALP! What is necessary is a class-struggle fight, centred on the trade unions and drawing in all those under attack, against the bosses and those who administer for them.

Central to the platforms that the Howard Coalition and Latham ALP are standing on are “national security” and “war on terror.” The ruling classes of imperialist countries around the world have seized on the criminal slaughter of innocent people in New York on 11 September, 2001 and in the Bali bombing the following year to put in place so-called “anti-terror” laws, which in fact shred the democratic rights of all. While immigrants are the immediate targets of the “anti-terror” laws, these laws are also designed to silence dissent and go after the left and the organised working class, giving the bosses far greater capacity to spy on unionists as well as attack and disrupt strike organising. Indeed, earlier this year in Melbourne, building unionists, who have been fighting against a federal government union-busting vendetta, found their office bugged.

The ALP has actively assisted the government in ramming through its “anti-terror” laws. Scandalously, West Australian maritime union leader and Socialist Alliance member, Chris Cain, has bought into this nationalist “anti-terror” campaign. In backing a claim made in parliament’s Watching Brief on the War on Terror, Cain argued that, “The major ports are open to attack, (but) if you go up the Eastern coast line there’s 6500 vulnerable kilometres...” (Australian, 29 June). In doing so Cain has not only fed the racist campaign against refugees but come in behind the very state forces arrayed against union militancy today.

The ALP on Refugees and Iraq

Among sections of Labor’s working-class base—particularly immigrants—and liberal-minded professionals there is revulsion at both the government’s persecution of refugees and the ALP’s fulsome support to this. At last year’s ALP conference, Latham defeated internal dissent to his refugee policy from “Labor for Refugees” and aggressively reaffirmed ALP support to mandatory detention. Now, seeking to deflect opposition to ALP refugee policy among potential Labor voters, Latham has attacked Howard for his sinister lies in 2001 that refugees aboard the “Siev 4” threw their children overboard. But in doing so Latham was careful to avoid any actual defence of refugees. Indeed, the ALP is pushing for more vicious “border security,” arguing for a coastguard with high-speed helicopters armed with machine guns to intercept refugee boats. We say: No deportations! Asylum for all refugees! Down with racist immigration laws! Full citizenship rights for all who manage to make it here! Down with the anti-terror laws!

Spurred on by anger at the growing racism and militarism in society, hundreds of thousands of people marched in demonstrations last year against the war on Iraq. Hoping to co-opt such sentiments as well as continued unease about the ongoing occupation, earlier this year Latham promised to withdraw Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas. But following blowback from the U.S. administration and a frenzy by the local bourgeois media, Latham has quickly backtracked and promoted the right-wing militarist Kim Beazley to the opposition front bench. And ever since then shamefaced Labor politicians have been queuing up to swear allegiance to the counterrevolutionary U.S./Australia alliance and ANZUS treaty. The ALP emphasised its longstanding support for U.S. spy bases in Australia such as Pine Gap, which doubtless assist in deadly bombings in Iraq and target the bureaucratically deformed workers states of China, North Korea and Vietnam.

While worrying about Australian troops in Iraq and “terrorism” in the region, Beazley pontificated, “We must convince our [U.S.] ally that it is in the general allied interests that we should concentrate on the South-East Asian region” (Australian Financial Review, 27 May). This sums up Latham’s earlier talk of “bringing our troops home” which had nothing to do with anti-militarism but everything to do with the transferral of military resources to enforce lucrative Australian imperialist investments and interests closer to “home.” Indeed, the ALP has recently been pushing for a more sizable infantry to intervene in “regional crises,” and “welcomed” the proposed purchase of a $450 million cruise missile system, which would make the Australian air force the most powerful in the Southeast Asian area.

Similarly, the Greens, who sometimes posture as peaceable folk, and who even call for the “demilitarisation of the South-East Asia-Pacific region,” have in the recent period been strident regional militarists. Last year the ALP and the Greens backed the colonial-style Australian military occupation of the Solomon Islands which only last month led to desperate protests by imprisoned islanders against their inhuman treatment. And with anti-communist Greens leader, Bob Brown, in the forefront, both the Greens and Labor have been belligerent in their attacks against North Korea. We fight for the unconditional military defence of the Chinese, North Korean, Vietnamese and Cuban deformed workers states, including their right to nuclear weapons to defend themselves against the imperialists. We say: Down with the anti-communist U.S./Australia alliance! U.S. bases out now! Not one person, not one cent for the Australian imperialist military! From Iraq, to the Solomons, to PNG to East Timor: racist Australian imperialist troops/cops get out now!

For International Class-Struggle Action!

An economic adjunct to the U.S./Australia alliance is the recent Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a reactionary trade bloc between the two imperialist states. Mindful of elements within the union bureaucracy pushing protectionist tariffs, the ALP initially stalled on supporting the agreement. However later, while generating a media circus which played on the desperation of many people for cheap medicines, the ALP gave its support to the Bush-Howard agreement. Labor’s condition for supporting the deal was government acceptance of a Labor amendment that would only very partially deter drug companies from using the FTA to increase the price of pharmaceuticals. But in June this year, the ALP voted in favour of legislation that will drive up the cost of subsidised medicines by an estimated whopping 21 percent, thus adding significantly to the bills of those suffering from chronic and life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and AIDS. This, combined with Latham’s recently released tax policies, which would actually make things financially worse for the very poor and many sole parents, speaks volumes for the contempt in which the ALP holds workers and the downtrodden.

Meanwhile, with its visceral hatred of working people, the openly pro-business Howard government has gone after the ALP for allegedly wanting to strengthen the power of the unions. Hardly. Aside from tepid remarks about collective bargaining, the ALP has assiduously avoided giving the impression that it might defend union struggles. This was graphically seen when Latham, following the provocative 2 September High Court ruling which further severely circumscribed the legal “right” for unions to take industrial action, responded that nothing could be done. The imprisonment of union militant Craig Johnston by the Victorian state Labor government of Steve Bracks, and the vicious attacks on the jobs and conditions of low-paid school cleaners by the NSW Labor government of Bob Carr, give workers a portent of the approach a federal Labor government would take to the unions.

We say there should be class-struggle actions to demand freedom for Craig Johnston. Down with all the bosses’ anti-union laws! Key to defending the unions and unleashing working-class power is a political break from pro-capitalist Laborism. Down with nationalist protectionism, which lines up workers behind their exploiters at home and divides them from their true allies—the workers of the world! The protectionist notion that workers and capitalists have a common “national interest” in protecting local industry is a fraud. Any partnership between workers and the bosses only serves to stop workers from fighting against the capitalists and their decaying system, which is the real cause of unemployment as well as poverty and war.

What is needed to defend workers’ jobs and conditions and make new gains is hard class struggle: strikes and mass pickets. To secure what working people need requires taking the means of production out of the hands of the capitalist exploiters through socialist revolution. Then, with the working class organised as the ruling class, a workers state based on democratically elected workers councils (soviets) would begin to reorganise society to the benefit of those who produce the wealth and not the wealthy few.

Fake Socialists: Wedded to Labor, Supporting the Greens

Given the ferocity of government attacks over the last eight years, mostly backed by Labor, the Greens have begun to attract significant numbers to their brand of sugar-coated capitalism. Their opposition to anti-union laws as well as their strident protectionism has also seen them become popular with some sections of the trade-union bureaucracy.

Yet despite an occasional policy that seeks to ameliorate the most vicious aspects of capitalist rule, the Greens, who base themselves predominantly on the liberal petty bourgeoisie, are a fully-fledged capitalist party that stands in defence of the profit system. While opposing the mandatory detention of refugees, the Greens buy into the bosses’ attempts to whip up nationalist fervour by relentlessly targeting “foreign ownership” and promoting national “self-reliance.” Likewise, while they were present at protests against the war on Iraq, they are thoroughly loyal to the Australian imperialist military and its occupation forces in Iraq. When the invasion of Iraq began last year, Bob Brown rushed to declare that “the hope must be that the war will be short and swiftly remove Saddam Hussein.” He continued: “Our one point of unity is heartfelt support for our loyal Australian defence force personnel in Iraq” (Greens media release, 21 March 2003).

One might expect that the Greens’ commitment to the capitalist order would give purported socialists some pause. To the contrary, from Socialist Alternative to Socialist Alliance (SA) to the Socialist Party (SP), there has been a wave of left groups promoting electoral support for the bourgeois Greens. One of the most shameless in this exercise of class betrayal is SA, which is dominated by the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP). SA see the growth of the Greens as “very positive.” In some respects this is not surprising given that SA push many of the same liberal illusions, particularly on the question of the capitalist state. For example, SA’s promise to “halve spending on defence” is an open commitment to maintain the imperialist military which, along with the cops, courts and prisons, forms the core of the capitalist state that today kills Iraqis, attacks Aborigines, incarcerates refugees and keeps the working class down.

What SA is centrally about is an ALP electoral victory through preferences. Sometimes disguising this push for a Latham government with the catchcry of “Throw Howard Out,” SA bleat, “Only a strong left vote can force Labor to be better than Howard.”

The SP, affiliated to the Committee for a Workers International, also call for a vote to the Greens. However, they simultaneously call for “a socialist mass workers’ party” that would “mobilise the broadest amount of support from unions, community organisations student organisations, existing socialist and progressive parties....” “The programme of such a party,” they continue “would be around basic issues such [sic] defending Medicare and the PBS, free education for all, opposition to racism, support for union coverage for all workers etc.”

What SP are projecting here is a party consisting of members with widely divergent levels of class consciousness. Unity in such a politically heterogenous party can only be maintained on a lowest common denominator program where the more politically advanced workers are swamped and weighed down by backward layers more under the sway of bourgeois ideological influences. Such a party would, for example, be incapable of fighting against the nationalist poison of protectionism, since protectionism currently has wide support in the workers movement, including from most of the more militant workers and unions who could support the SP around “basic issues.” Similarly, such a party would end up often supporting the capitalist state and sometimes even promote Australian imperialist interventions. After all, the union leaderships and most “existing socialist and progressive parties” that the SP propose to “mobilise the broadest support from,” accept the “need” for the imperialist military and, along with the SP, marched in demonstrations in 1999 for Australian troops to East Timor.

In short, a workers party like the one SP propose, that does not recruit to clear revolutionary principles, will be incapable of winning the working class from Laborite nationalism and subservience to the capitalist state. At best it would be a left version of the ALP, i.e., a new political obstacle to workers revolution.

Unlike SP, we Trotskyists of the Spartacist League, section of the International Communist League, seek to build a genuine communist vanguard party. Such a party of the working class would be built on the model of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, which led the October 1917 Russian Revolution, the only consciously-organised successful workers revolution to date. Forged in the struggle to split the working-class base of the ALP from the nationalist, pro-capitalist tops, a revolutionary workers vanguard party in Australia would be cohered on a program that is openly revolutionary and internationalist. This party would take up every manifestation of capitalist oppression and would seek class-struggle unity with the working masses of Asia, from the combative proletariat of Indonesia and the Philippines to the powerful working class of Japan. In the course of struggles it would unite and politically prepare workers for the inevitable crises of the capitalist system and at the decisive moment, in the footsteps of the Bolsheviks, lead the proletariat in a socialist revolution.

ICL Home Page