A Defence of the Socialist Objective

Our Opposition Leader in NSW has encouraged a debate within the Party of what is an appropriate “Objective” for the 21st Century. I listened to Luke’s address and whilst I recognise the thrust and the genuineness of the sentiments of much of his argument, I (and am sure others who read or listened to it) would feel if not offended, certainly disappointed, in his analysis and commentary specifically on the socialist objective. 

I am afraid that for many in party the commitment to the objective is not a sentimental attachment, but rather a very real commitment. Like it or not I and many of our comrades actually consider ourselves socialists and believe that a democratic socialist Australia is the best option. To suggest that our commitment to this ideal is ‘sentimental’ could be considered by some as dismissive of the motivation that many Party members had in joining the ALP. I am not of course referring to the history of ‘carpet-baggers’ on the Right who join the ALP as a method of promotion, or, in some instances, a mere ‘business opportunity’. I am speaking of the huge majority of members who join the ALP with a very  real sense of commitment. And the core of this commitment is the “socialist objective’ that is printed on every ALP ticket issued, and even, as I recall, was stated in the old branch ‘pledge book’ that had to be signed every year.

Updating of the National Platform is of course critical in ensuring that our Party is able to respond  to changes in objective conditions- be they social attitudes, environmental concerns or economic conditions.  However, there is a very distinct difference between short and medium term policy objectives and responses, and core values. The “Socialist Objective’ falls into the latter category.  I know that many, particularly on the Right,  argue that the ‘socialist objective’ is meaningless. I disagree. I think that this shows, in some instances, a shallowness of thinking or a wilful blindness to the direction the party has taken since the leadership of the likes of Hawke et al. It is almost a ‘justification’ for the Party having  moved away from its core principals. Indeed, rather than argue for a re-adherence to our core principles, many seek to abandon them.

I particularly take issue with Luke’s analysis  that there need be no difference in the provision of services by the public sector vs the private sector. It is not only the quality of the service, but the treatment of the workers who provide the service. Private sector provision by its very nature requires a profit- often in the vicinity of 20% gross- which manifests itself by either attacks on wages and conditions ( defence of which is much weaken since the abandonment of all encompassing award provisions some 20 years ago), or by reductions in the number of staff to deliver the service ( the capitalists call this ‘productivity improvements). The utilisation of competitive markets raises the potential, or more likely the certainty, for a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of wages and conditions, rather than a qualitative improvement in either services and /or working conditions. If Luke doubts this ( which he shouldn’t given his union background), simply look at the wage and condition relativities between ASU workers and PSA workers doing essentially the same job albeit in private sector v public sector. To suggest that the recipients of the service get a better deal through the private (for profit) or not-for-profit sector is utter nonsense. The quality of the service is provided by the commitment of the worker providing the service The same would apply to public  sector ( owned and operated) housing and community/social housing. The current problems for public housing are a lack of investment by a succession of governments and that fact that many aspects of the day-to-day maintenance requirements have been ‘contracted out’. Trying ensure quality of service provision by  contractual arrangements will inevitably lead to a reduction in both quality and flexibility as the private sector cut corners to maximise profit.

This is not to defend unequivocally the management of the public sector, but rather to point out that the solution is not bringing the private sector/community sector on board. Market based ‘solutions’ are what has got the so-called centre-left into  public distain and distrust in much of the western world. Workers do not see the ‘centre-left/social democrats as providing a solution or response to the crisis of international capital and globalisation- hence the rise of parties such as Syriza in Greece and Podermos in Spain but also parties of the xenophobic right (UKIP, Front Nationale etc).

I am afraid that the model being proposed has the flavour of  the Blairite / New Labour model- Blair who was touted as the so called moderniser, and so feted by the conservative media,  fundamentally destroyed the British Labour Party by disengaging the working class core vote in pursuit of the middle class, often playing to the arguments of identity politics and managerialism. Addressing issues of identity politics should be a ‘no brainer’ for a party of the left as they fundamentally address issues of discrimination. But in and of itself, ‘identity politics’ are not antipathetic to a ‘liberal’ party ( see the US Democrats). Unless you accept  Lenin’s analysis of the ALP ( look it up if you are not familiar) then the ALP is not a ‘liberal’ party but rather historically a party of the working class/Left. The ‘socialist objective’ distinguishes the ALP from a small “l” liberal party. Our historical commitment to the trade union movement, our commitment to public ownership of core and essential services and enterprises, appropriate levels of market regulation , and our commitment to fair wages and conditions - that can only be achieved by the existence of a public sector that sets appropriate community standards- are our core commitments and principles.

The existence of the ‘socialist objective’ allows many of us to accept the compromises that Labor in Government are ‘forced’ to make. This is deeper than a mere ‘sentimental attachment’.

Rather It goes to the core of those of us on the Left who continue to adhere to the Labor cause- and don’t walk away and join minor parties who trumpet their ideological purity-and who consider themselves ( and will remain so) Socialists.

Paul Pearce, member since 1974, former Mayor of Waverley and Member for Coogee


Showing 41 reactions

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  • commented 2015-07-21 10:53:11 +1000
    Thankyou for the commentary Arthur. It would be nice if some of this would be incorporated in the Platform, though I am thinking by now the factions may have already resolved most of it. I’ll respond to some of your comments.

    I think on the democratic mixed economy we need to be specific in the Platform: Not just a variety of public ownership – buy State Aid for co-ops, mutualism, collective capital formation. self—employment, co-determination. We also need a short-medium term ‘cap’ on State Aid however. Because the business reaction could be overwhelming. And re: protections against privatisation – one of the most important things we can do is to re-socialise in areas of the most strategic and practical importance. There are probably complications here so I’d be interested in any ideas how to overcome that.

    re: Being more specific again ‘Fulfilling lives’ has connotations as well. re: Shorter working hours, greater cultural, social and educational opportunities, and opportunities for civic activism.

    Re: free speech – maybe exclude clear hate speech, but I’m not sure about ‘dissention’ – what do you mean by that?

    re: Aged Care Insurance. I think its on most peoples’ ‘radar’. I think most people will have had a grandparent or parent in care; or are elderly themselves. I think most working class people could relate to arguments about the unfairness of user pays here. But we do need to campaign on the issue, yes. It needs to be a priority to raise the profile – like how we campaigned on NDIS. Aged Care Insurance can also cover older disabled people who are not covered under NDIS.

    re: Local Government I think my point was about funding and not corruption. I’d guess corruption is a serious issue. But a more progressive funding mechanism stands in its own right.

    Problem with Higher Education is that once you make HECS fairer there are higher priorities. (eg: Aged Care Insurance, Medicare Dental – between the two of them what if they cost $15 billion to do properly – or even more? And then we had to find money for NDIS and Gonski too….) We could achieve a lot, say, if we raised tax by 2.5% of GDP on taking government. (that’s around $40 billion) But even with that kind of money there are serious limits. My priority would be raise re-payment thresholds so they are significantly over AWE.. Increase the Student Allowance very significantly – which benefits students when they are poor and most vulnerable.. Forgive debts for specific groups. (eg: people with an acquired disability) Other reforms into the future yes. But even with $40 billion we need perspective re: priorities. Though aim to raise progressive tax more also over a 10 year period.
  • commented 2015-07-20 21:46:19 +1000
    For what it is worth here are a few comments to your points, I hope it gets others involved.
    For new participants Tristan’s comments start with a * and my responses with a bullet point..
    Please help make this a worthwhile discussion and disuss what you would like to see in the future and in particular from the ALP
    • Some of this may fit in with a ‘broad statement of principles’; Other parts may fit in as specific elements of a policy platform. We can break it up along those lines later if you like. I could probably try and reduce it to ‘five of the most important dot points’. But that would inevitably mean a loss of some content.
    • I know this will frustrate you because you want something simpler… I’ll come back to this and try and distil it into something more basic.
      • It is not something simpler as much as something that a broader spectrum of voters can relate to as far as their and their families lives.
      Perhaps you could come up with some suggestions upon reading too;
    • Most broadly: A democratic mixed economy and a democratic society; including government assistance for democratic enterprise
      • Democracy with protections. Democratic elections/governments but what about the democracy of our countries resources and other assets, how do we ensure they are equitably shared and protected? That a government (such as the current one) can’t sell off our assets without recourse to the people.
      • Words are not enough, there needs to be a legal barrier to random disposal of assets natural or manmade.
      • How does Labor phrase that in their platform
    • A strong role for government in striving for fair and equitable outcomes when it comes to income, wealth, power, and cultural opportunity – achieved through welfare, infrastructure and social services, but also through regulating wages and conditions
      • Yes, but again words need to be put into action and locked in with a strong regulatory process
    • A strong role for government to ensure economic stability and prosperity; including a robust role for the public sector
      • I agree totally. Some thought needs to be given to prevent/reduce the effect of born bureaucrats or life long positions. Equally how the revolving door is avoided where there is not continuity government to government. It is wasteful and destructive.
    • Respect for all labour, and for all peoples’ need to lead fulfilling lives;
      • Labor and Conservatives have been equally guilty of stereotyping workers. Every real job has merit and should be treated with respect. The really big question is how to get balance between the top end that often don’t produce anything but manipulate money to make money against the factory worker or service provide that produces and really does contribute. Stronger taxes at the high end with less loopholes and increased superannuation at the lower end??
    • Respect for peoples’ liberties – free association, assembly, speech, faith and the freedom to withdraw labour and engage in pattern bargaining
      • A fine balance between the first group and the right to spread hate and dissention, The later simply should go without saying but again like our resources our industrial liberties are at the mercy of the ruling government.
    • Respect for human dignity throughout peoples’ entire lives – including through programs like NDIS, but also a new and comprehensive National Aged Care Social Insurance Scheme which gets rid of inequitable user-pays and radically improves the quality of care
      • As silly as it sounds these policies need to be sold to the public.. Generally public education etc. is accepted as we grew up with it and everyone has the opportunity to utilise it. Schemes like the NDIS address issues that the general public does not relate to unless they have a close friend or relative that will benefit. It is simply not on the average person’s radar. Part of being a successful society is to share, the current race to inequity must be halted and reversed.


    • There needs to be a basic shift in our education system with more emphasis on the social aspects of life like disabilities, like problems of aged people, respect and compassion. Maths, English, computers etc. are still critical but in the long run do not replace the social issues and unfortunately we can’t rely on parents to carry out the teaching
    • A fair welfare system which does not demonise or humiliate the most vulnerable; Abolish labour conscription of all kinds; Increase welfare payments by $35/week and Raise the Minimum Wage
      • Agreed
    • Assistance for disadvantaged groups ; work towards a Treaty with Indigenous Australia; fight stigma with regards the mentally ill; ‘Close the gap’ on life expectancy and poverty for Indigenous Australia and those with a mental illness * Make and Facilitate big Investments in renewable energy at both a micro and macro level.
      • A treaty is a must if we are to recoup our self-respect as a nation. Most people do not realise it but somewhere in their head is a level of guilt about our failure to adopt even basic respect for the disadvantaged.


    • Affordable power is a basic need in our society and should not be politicised and locked into a favoured few big businesses to control. Renewables are the answer particularly with the elimination of hugely wasteful and costly distribution systems. Every town should be self-sufficient in power, renewables allow this.
    • Reform the tax system to pay for better social services, infrastructure (including NBN fibre-to-the-home) and welfare – and make the tax system fairer; Remove inequitable superannuation concessions that are costing taxpayers tens of billions a year
      • Again a no brainer, Out of control tax breaks on super and negative gearing, share trading etc. need to be killed off or limited.


    • I live in a rural community and on NBN fixed wireless, it is a joke and limits what I can do. Infrastructure should be fairly distributed, better the rural and regional situation the less pressure on the cities
    • Specifically extend Medicare to include comprehensive Dental cover; consolidate bulk billing
      • Absolutely but with fair compensation to doctors particularly in small practices. Medical centres are not the answer where you lose continuity of care due to multiple doctors. Care has become a victim to money.
    • ‘Untied’ Federal funding for local government to create the conditions for lowering council rates – which tend to be regressive by comparison
      • Local councils are vulnerable to rorting and abuse from poor councillors and petty bureaucrats. If your suggestion is to work there has to be a big increase in training and external monitoring.
    • Promote a vigorous participatory democracy ; no attempts to blackmail or repress social movements; Promote meaningful and authentic pluralism (a variety of political viewpoints across the left-right spectrum) ; Support civics and citizenship education all the way through to Year 12 including an emphasis on active citizenship and political literacy.
      • See my previous comment about social instruction in schools. Your suggestion here would be part of that
    • Also support educational opportunity throughout peoples’ entire lives – not JUST for the labour market; but also to ensure opportunity for personal growth
      • Arts and culture are key to a balanced society; the arts are currently vilified as wasteful and for the elite. Largely due to being totally drive by the dollar through our school system
    • Equal opportunity in Health and Education – Implement Gonski fully; Restructure HECS to make it fair (eg: higher repayment thresholds); Support the Humanities and Social Sciences
      • Yes but work towards a free or minimal cost higher education system perhaps driven by need. What skills will we need in the future, and a requirement to work in the field for x number of years?
      • A rural service component could also play a role.
    • Community processing and raise the humanitarian migration intake to at least 30,000 – Link with education and training and job placement
      • Certainly a rise in humanitarian intake is a must and stop the demonization of any and all.
    • A big investment (perhaps $10 billion or more) in public and social housing; increase supply to bring prices down; and combine with investment in infrastructure
      • Definitely, A system to address tenants failing to observe minimum care standards is needed.
    • Achieve the 40% minimum target for Labor women’s representation in Parliament; Work on ways to achieve representation and fair outcomes for other disadvantaged groups as well – whether on the basis of disability, race, religion, sexuality, class
      • A target by way of education, empirical targets may not give a satisfactory result. We need to be educated on the benefits of a balanced workforce at all levels
    • Where possible promote multilateral disarmament and peace ; Facilitate this through an independent foreign policy Again: I can probably make it simpler – and boil it down to some very basic dot points – But inevitably that results in a loss of content. But as opposed to a ‘broader statement’ suitable for a Platform – the following are what I think could be ‘big issues’ for the public if we campaign smartly and with dedication: There’s a fair bit of repetition – so I hope you can forgive that. Here I’m trying to focus on what could ‘resonate with voters’ this time….
      • Certainly a far more questioning approach to participation in foreign wars.
    • NDIS and Gonski again – as well as NBN – Finish what we started!
      • High priority but these policies must be sold to the public as benefits before the argument is lost to cost.
    • A big new National Aged Care Insurance Scheme – Providing for our loved ones who are amongst the most vulnerable of all.
      • Yes
    • Invest in Public housing which could rectify the bubble and make housing affordable again * Take the environment seriously – and let the Clean Energy Finance Corporation do its job
      • Yes
    • A compassionate and decent refugee’s policy
      • The argument was lost on this by the less open minded (Abbott & Howard) appealing to the underlying racist that exists in many Australians including immigrants from the 50’s and 60’s. More good news stories, demonstrate their contributions etc
    • Abbott has stuffed the economy costing over 50,000 jobs because of the loss of the automotive industry; Whatever Abbott may say Labor is a ‘safe pair of hands’ and does not let extreme Liberal ideology gets in the way of managing the economy for fairness and full employment;
      • Labor has lost this argument at every turn. The fact of the better economic performance, better social policy, better living standards etc. have simply not been sold adequately. Until recently Murdoch and the likes of Jones and Bolt have set the running. Social media and the rise of smaller independent on-line news outlets is bringing this into balance. Look at the current campaign about Bishop, this would have been buried and gone a few years ago. Labor need to hire some good social media people to tell it how it is and the leader need to stand up and be counted.
    • Get rid of unfair superannuation concessions costing tens of billions and reform tax more broadly: Use the money to implement reforms such as comprehensive Medicare Dental
      • Already covered
    • Fund the ABC and SBS and respect their independence
      • No Brainer and get back to guaranteed independence
    • Raise the Minimum Wage and reform welfare
      • Big subject but a necessary reform
    • Reform taxation for fairness and increase tax on the top 15 per cent ; Use the money for many purposes (as previously mentioned) – including to invest in infrastructure like roads and rail – to bypass failed policies on user pays and privatisation
      • Serious tax reform to stop the rich end avoiding paying tax, personal and business


    Begin a Treaty process re: Indigenous Australia; as well as promoting Constitutional Recognition and removal of racist elements in the existing Constitution.
    • Already discussed.

    My Summary
    Your points are far more likely to resonate with the average voter and for the most part will certainly affect their day to day lives.
    Great policy that provides fair and balanced benefit needs to be publicised, spreading the word at all levels from the leader down. Consistency mixed with fairness and commitment just may win the day, but spreading the word including the benefits and restraints is a must.
    A new look ALP would help, less reliant of political junkies and unions and more on average people coming up through the ranks as we had 10 or so years ago will also go a long way to opening people’s minds and hearts. Remember there is still repair work to be done, this is so obvious when against the worst imaginable government Labor only has a 5% lead.. That beggars a basic question “What are we doing wrong”
  • commented 2015-07-20 19:11:10 +1000
    Tristan, let’s both resist the mutual temptation to go another 20 rounds. We disagree. That’s cool, but I doubt more threading is gonna help any more. See ya.
  • commented 2015-07-20 18:36:19 +1000
    Well it would be good to get more peoples’ opinions. SO pls other readers join in! :-) I would much rather debate this with a wide range of people. Almost 240 people have liked the OP. But Matt, its mainly just you, me and Arthur discussing the Objective throughout the thread. I hope that changes after this.

    I’d be interested in hearing what policies you’d support, though, in comparison with my policy proposals. I’m assuming you have ideas of substance and not just throwaway slogans.

    Interestingly there do seem to be conflicting interpretations of socialism. The OP talks about a mixed economy with strategic public ownership and regulation of markets. The actually-existing Objective commits us to the socialisation of industry etc “to the extent necessary” to end exploitation.

    This is repetitive – but the argument is important: If we have a Marxist interpretation of exploitation then that would mean much more sweeping socialisation than the OP suggests. If we just mean ‘poor pay and conditions’ then the implications are much more mild. If we have an (unrevised) Marxist definition – the ‘Blackburn amendment’ is redundant anyway – because full socialisation is already implied.

    I believe in a democratic mixed economy. That means fighting exploitation, alienation and inequality through a mixture of democratic forms. Public infrastructure, government enterprises, natural public monopolies – but also co-operatives large and small, as well as democratic collective capital formation, co-determination, mutualism, self-employment etc. If as self-identifying democratic socialists and social democrats we could accept the model of a ‘democratic mixed economy’ – which included a very significant role for market relations – as opposed to that shibboleth of a full-fledged ‘Command Economy’ – I could support that. (the ‘Command Economy’ is hauled out as a straw man by Rightists despite very few socialists actually continuing to support it ; and is often conflated with a ‘mixed economy’ by ideologues who accept nothing less than laissez faire)

    But Matt – again if you want to demonstrate substance what about outlining short-term and long term policy agendas and the values which inform them?

    I fear you are just attempting to undermine from within, however – because you have a (probably justified) hatred of Stalinism – but cannot bring yourself to concede that figures like Kautksy and Martov fought not just Stalinism – but even Bolshevism in its pre Stalinist form – right from the start. It goes against your conceptual paradigm. So you ignore it. Along with the whole variety of democratic socialist perspectives which have nothing to do with Stalinism, Maoism or anything of the sort.

    But there’s some truth in the argument many peoples’ socialist politics lack substance. People do not always say what they mean and do what they say. Some people betray their avowed principles daily. They talk of democracy and liberties – but behave like thugs, betray their comrades, lie in order to justify it – and in order to consolidate their own networks and power bases.

    But this ‘pointless’ thread is about getting to the substance of the debate on the Socialist Objective. That forces people to think about the issues beyond the point of shallow ‘tribal’ political affiliation.
  • commented 2015-07-20 16:44:20 +1000
    I don’t underestimate it, I just think it is the triumph of form over substance. In terms of pointless, I was referring to this thread.
  • commented 2015-07-20 15:02:03 +1000
    No it is not pointless. Theory without practice misses the point. Practice without theory only glimpses ‘the small picture’ and ‘the short term’. It becomes opportunistic and focused on slogans, spin, and ‘day by day management’ in response to the media cycle and so on. It is just a very involved debate which I understand not everyone has time for. But if you want to see what I stand for in a practical sense see my post on policy – a few posts back in the thread. If the debate is pointless then it begs the question why the editors of this publication chose to reserve a whole section to discussing the Socialist Objective – with a whole series of posts on the subject. I think you underestimate the support for democratic socialism on the ALP Left.
  • commented 2015-07-20 14:48:24 +1000
    This is such a pointless debate. I need to turn my kind back to the productive change work on my list. See ya.
  • commented 2015-07-20 11:32:13 +1000
    Matt; now you’re just playing a logic game with words. I am saying we are a plural movement – and to recognise that. Recognise democratic socialism is a vital and ongoing tradition at work in the Labor Party – but alongside other traditions. You think pluralism within the Party is joke? It is simply the fact of the matter. We are a party which includes democratic socialists, social democrats, Fabians, and proponents of and indigenous labourism. In ‘the bigger picture’, though, we are a Party of the broad Left – a plurality of broad Left perspectives. (emphasising ‘broad’ – because some of us are close to the centre)

    You argue that what matters is that ‘some forms of words are 100 years old’. Well how far does the idea of democracy go back? Are J.S.Mill and liberalism generally ‘outmoded’ because the language of liberal rights is ‘too old’? Is all that matters ‘the intellectual fashion of the day’? How about underlying substance?

    Yes sometimes we need new language. There are new phenomena. For instance the power of the new information technology – and ‘the networked society’. Many (not all) workers no longer combine in association and through class struggle – because the nature of much (but not all) work has changed. Even though the Swedes show there are strategies to fight this. (again, they have over 70% Union Density)

    And you are saying ‘drop the word socialism altogether’. Which is like saying ‘drop liberalism’ for instance. Because socialism is a core political tradition of Western society. Ideas of social and economic inequality are not ‘outmoded’. Neither are ideas of a democratic and mixed economy. Finally, ideas of a ‘Third Way’ which try to break from that tradition ultimately distinguish themselves from what came before by incorporating elements from authoritarianism and neo-liberalism.

    You also say ‘stuff all this shit’ as if theory doesn’t matter. But theory informs practice and practice informs theory.

    Slogans are important come election time and can suggest a deeper substance – but on their own do not form a policy or a coherent perspective. ‘Equality’ is fine – but what KIND of equality? Economic equality? Political equality? And then more specifically what kind of economic equality? Does it infer redistributing wealth and power? What does that mean when it comes to our view on private property? What does it infer for economic democracy?

    Whether we believe in Keynesian economics, or in the consequences of capitalist monopolism, expansionism and instability – theory really matters. It provides us with a ‘big picture’ to understand the world – how it moves and how it works.

    So I have tried to provide a ‘practical policy-centred’ statement in another recent post in this thread. This is intended to show the practical ramifications of a democratic socialist or social democratic position. But without a theoretical position on authentic democratic pluralism I would not have had the framework from which to conceive of a radical civics and citizenship agenda based on critical/active education and active citizenship.

    To Illustrate a point on theory, consciousness and ‘pragmatism’. When the right-wing German Social Democrats embraced a purely ‘pragmatic’ approach to politics before WWI it meant embracing nationalism and militarism. That ended pretty badly for Germany – and for the Left. Without a critique of imperialism, nationalism, militarism – the social democratic movement – and especially the German unions – wilted under pressure and accepted the First World War. In fact for most of the unions and the party right-wing it was even worse than this. They embraced the War enthusiastically.

    Yes its hard to impart these ideas to a labour movement where class consciousness and struggle are in decline; and where people are mainly just concerned with immediate issues around wages, conditions, welfare etc. (all of which matter a great deal) But there are strategies to develop a more mobilised and engaged society. Around participatory media, life-long education, active and critical citizenship, civics and citizenship education, ideological literacy. The article you linked to argued that new IT provides the framework for ‘switched on’ ‘networked’ ‘critical thinking’.

    If anything your position – coming from within the Left – shows we have to work a lot harder at consolidating our position. Without consolidating as such we will just drift and dissolve into the dominant Ideology of the day. To begin more people will identify as social democrats in a way which opposes it to democratic socialism rather than recognising the common roots; and then that might dissolve into social liberalism as with Bowen; and finally people will embrace ‘Third Way’ politics ala Blair and Clinton. Which means embracing a technocratic, cosmopolitan, sometimes-authoritarian Ideology which takes much from neo-liberalism, and which is about Convergence with the Liberals – and not pluralism. That’s not my idea of ‘social democracy’ or of a ‘Good Society’.
  • commented 2015-07-20 08:36:28 +1000
    Tristan, if they are your foundations but not mine, then they aren’t ours. Der.
  • commented 2015-07-20 08:34:53 +1000
    Tristan, it’s a minority of a minority who hold to such outdated concepts, evidenced inter alia by your tendentious responses. One can’t draft a constitution saying we are “pluralist” and expect anyone to take it seriously, nor impose a form of words dating from 100 years ago when we were stripped back to a rump following our first split and think it represents contemporary Labor. Arthur is spot on, stuff all this crap: what do we stand for? Fairness, equality, democracy, opportunity, progress. A share of the things that make life worth living.
  • commented 2015-07-19 21:40:33 +1000
    Thanks Tristan, I have had a brief look at it but will reread tomorrow and return with comments.
    On initial read it looks like it would resonate better with more voters and should create more discussion as it is closer to peoples hearts, families and pockets which is what I would expect from most thinking/caring people
  • commented 2015-07-19 20:01:58 +1000
    Matt they’re not YOUR foundations; but they ARE the foundations for a great many of us; A pluralist ALP has to recognise that; As surely as I recognise the influence of the Keynesian post-war compromise, and of indigenous labourism on the Party. If I can recognise you surely you can recognise me.

    Also if you identify as a social democrat then its worth observing again that social democratic tradition begins with the 19th Century Social Democratic Parties – which saw no difference between social democracy and democratic socialism for many decades. Indeed for a long while most of them (not all) identified as Marxists. When the movement split into Communist and Social Democratic camps after 1917 even then a great many social democrats continued to identify as Marxists. See: the Austro-Marxists for example. Hitler destroyed Marxism and radical social democracy on the Continent – except for the underground resistance. After WWII radical social democrats tried to rebuild – but much of the world found itself divided along Cold War lines. Its around then that the post-war Keynesian social democratic compromise arose in the West – and prevailed overwhelmingly until the 1970s. But the Nordics achieved some even more robust outcomes. Since then social democracy has been in retreat – and ‘Third Way’ theorists herald the liquidation of the greater part of our traditions. The question now is whether we embrace an insipid Third Way or a more robust and radical social democracy. And for the sake of drawing upon a very rich tradition – it is best to identify social democracy AND democratic socialism as the same movement. We can interchange the language depending on our audience. What matters is that we hold on to the substance.
  • commented 2015-07-19 19:46:20 +1000
    Arthur: ok ; To try and render what I’m arguing for into something less abstract, and probably easier to understand for the ‘average punter’ :-)

    Some of this may fit in with a ‘broad statement of principles’; Other parts may fit in as specific elements of a policy platform. We can break it up along those lines later if you like. I could probably try and reduce it to ‘five of the most important dot points’. But that would inevitably mean a loss of some content.

    I know this will frustrate you because you want something simpler… I’ll come back to this and try and distil it into something more basic. Perhaps you could come up with some suggestions upon reading too>
    • Most broadly: A democratic mixed economy and a democratic society; including government assistance for democratic enterprise
    • A strong role for government in striving for fair and equitable outcomes when it comes to income, wealth, power, and cultural opportunity – achieved through welfare, infrastructure and social services, but also through regulating wages and conditions
    • A strong role for government to ensure economic stability and prosperity; including a robust role for the public sector
    • Respect for all labour, and for all peoples’ need to lead fulfilling lives;
    • Respect for peoples’ liberties – free association, assembly, speech, faith and the freedom to withdraw labour and engage in pattern bargaining
    • Respect for human dignity throughout peoples’ entire lives – including through programs like NDIS, but also a new and comprehensive National Aged Care Social Insurance Scheme which gets rid of inequitable user-pays and radically improves the quality of care
    • A fair welfare system which does not demonise or humiliate the most vulnerable; Abolish labour conscription of all kinds; Increase welfare payments by $35/week and Raise the Minimum Wage
    • Assistance for disadvantaged groups ; work towards a Treaty with Indigenous Australia; fight stigma with regards the mentally ill; ‘Close the gap’ on life expectancy and poverty for Indigenous Australia and those with a mental illness
    • Make and Facilitate big Investments in renewable energy at both a micro and macro level.
    • Reform the tax system to pay for better social services, infrastructure (including NBN fibre-to-the-home) and welfare – and make the tax system fairer; Remove inequitable superannuation concessions that are costing taxpayers tens of billions a year
    • Specifically extend Medicare to include comprehensive Dental cover; Consolidate bulk billing
    • ‘Untied’ Federal funding for local government to create the conditions for lowering council rates – which tend to be regressive by comparison
    • Promote a vigorous participatory democracy ; no attempts to blackmail or repress social movements; Promote meaningful and authentic pluralism (a variety of political viewpoints across the left-right spectrum) ; Support civics and citizenship education all the way through to Year 12 including an emphasis on active citizenship and political literacy.
    • Also support educational opportunity throughout peoples’ entire lives – not JUST for the labour market; but also to ensure opportunity for personal growth
    • Equal opportunity in Health and Education – Implement Gonski fully; Restructure HECS to make it fair (eg: higher repayment thresholds); Support the Humanities and Social Sciences
    • Community processing and raise the humanitarian migration intake to at least 30,000 – Link with education and training and job placement
    • A big investment (perhaps $10 billion or more) in public and social housing; increase supply to bring prices down; and combine with investment in infrastructure
    • Achieve the 40% minimum target for Labor women’s representation in Parliament; Work on ways to achieve representation and fair outcomes for other disadvantaged groups as well – whether on the basis of disability, race, religion, sexuality, class
    • Where possible promote multilateral disarmament and peace ; Facilitate this through an independent foreign policy


    Again: I can probably make it simpler – and boil it down to some very basic dot points – But inevitably that results in a loss of content.

    But as opposed to a ‘broader statement’ suitable for a Platform – the following are what I think could be ‘big issues’ for the public if we campaign smartly and with dedication: There’s a fair bit of repetition – so I hope you can forgive that. Here I’m trying to focus on what could ‘resonate with voters’ this time….
    • NDIS and Gonski again – as well as NBN – Finish what we started!
    • A big new National Aged Care Insurance Scheme – Providing for our loved ones who are amongst the most vulnerable of all.
    • Invest in Public housing which could rectify the bubble and make housing affordable again
    • Take the environment seriously – and let the Clean Energy Finance Corporation do its job
    • A compassionate and decent refugees policy
    • Abbott has stuffed the economy costing over 50,000 jobs because of the loss of the automotive industry; Whatever Abbott may say Labor is a ‘safe pair of hands’ and does not let extreme Liberal ideology get in the way of managing the economy for fairness and full employment;
    • Get rid of unfair superannuation concessions costing tens of billions and reform tax more broadly: Use the money to implement reforms such as comprehensive Medicare Dental
    • Fund the ABC and SBS and respect their independence
    • Raise the Minimum Wage and reform welfare
    • Reform taxation for fairness and increase tax on the top 15 per cent ; Use the money for many purposes (as previously mentioned) – including to invest in infrastructure like roads and rail – to bypass failed policies on user pays and privatisation
    • Begin a Treaty process re: Indigenous Australia ; as well as promoting Constitutional Recognition and removal of racist elements in the existing Constitution.
  • commented 2015-07-19 17:52:38 +1000
    Hi Matt & Tristen
    I have been following your conversation up to a point and agree the thrust of it is to resolve what is the basis ethos of the modern Labor Party.
    From my less educated but equally interested position The Labor Party has lost its way, many of the general Labor voters do so out of long term loyalty or because they believe they still represent the worker etc.
    However many also openly state that Labor has moved so far to the right that they are simply another conservative party, sacrificing their values to the racists, the corporations, and the economic rationalists.
    So I ask, with your very good and in-depth conversation is it engaging the members & supporters, will it win over converts, help defend against Abbott’s filthy mouth.
    The conversation should be engaging hundreds of members but is limited to 2 obviously very smart people.
    How can you turn this to a discussion to engage others, get a real grass roots discussion about where the party is and where is it going. Not classic tags like Social Democrats etc that mean very little to the average punter who is scared about who will defend us against the entitled and the ruling elite.
    Basically in the most basic terms what does Labor really stand for and how to get our leaders to live and breath it on our behalf and the long term benefit of Australia.
    Thanks
  • commented 2015-07-19 16:01:42 +1000
    They aren’t our foundations.
  • commented 2015-07-19 15:08:22 +1000
    Matt; It’s an Interesting article you linked to; (other readers SEE: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun )

    I agree with much of the analysis about capitalist fragility; the desirability of a more mixed economy including co-ops and not just relying on the state sector; and the fact the proletariat no longer sees itself as such. I also agree that the ‘information commons’ has seen a huge informal economy that is not grasped by capitalism…. Though 2008 shows capitalism is still crisis prone – and the article recognises it is unfair as well (pension cuts, concentration of wealth etc)… Whether or not socialism is part of the answer rests largely on how we redefine it….

    Good arguments about the labour movement forcing capitalists to modernise in the past, and what a weak labour movement means for all of us….. Good stuff re: capitalism being an obstacle to realising the potential of new technologies to enable free time, cultural participation, personal growth for all of us…. Also Good re: Marx foreseeing some of these developments….though of course not their literal form…

    The article argues the prior path to a kind of ‘post-capitalism’ is closed; but a new path opened up re: collaborative production… Hence a ‘non-market’ sector… And ‘networked’ and well-informed human beings… Ok this is good so far….

    I think the author has picked up on some important long-term trends in capitalism… The identification of ‘networked’ and ‘informed’ human beings is important; But it could go the way of ‘bread and circuses’ too if we’re not careful… It rests upon our own agency…

    The author thinks ‘the old path to post-capitalism is closed’… IT changes everything yes. But as I argued before many workplaces are still factory-like – including re: white collar jobs…. The old working class IDENTITY is fading – but the working class itself is not gone… rather we need to ‘modernise’ working class identity for the sake of inclusive solidarity… Meanwhile conflicts of class interest remain pertinent – and therefore so does class struggle – modernised for the new economy and the new society….

    The state alone is not the answer – but there remain crucial natural public monopolies. (eg: communications infrastructure, energy, water, transport infrastructure). And there remain many other ideas of potentially productive public sector intervention. (eg: providing public space; encouraging competition – eg: through government business enterprise in insurance, banking etc)

    The author chooses not to focus on austerity but what he sees as more important long-term trends… A lot of what he says may come to pass… Certainly socialism has to ‘modernise’ to take account of new realities. But that doesn’t mean it should be ‘removed from the scale’ And if the author’s vision takes decades to emerge – defending social democratic and democratic socialist institutions and reforms in the mean time still counts for billions of living, breathing human beings who aspire to ‘the good life’ and ‘The Good Society’….

    Capitalism is still unstable, unfair and wasteful. Extending social and economic citizenship as still crucial. And it doesn’t need to happen via the old mechanisms of the command economy…. There’s a big role for State Aid for democratic enterprise (eg: co-ops) to assist in the transition… But the product would be a ‘democratic mixed economy.’

    The problem is that you (and the author) are arguing that because so much has changed that socialism is no longer at all relevant. Instead of modernising democratic socialism you argue we have to dump it… Problem is you’re assuming an unchanging paradigm which is pretty-well Stalinist. Meanwhile some of the arguments surrounding other socialist projects remain… (ie: arguments for the public sector; eg – natural public monopoly; arguments against exploitation; arguments around utilising the new technology to free humanity rather than enslave it; arguments around democratic collective capital formation as a road to economic democracy; arguments around the social wage and welfare state; the VERY PRINCIPLE ‘from each according to ability to each according to need…) None of this needs to be dragged down into history’s dustbin along with Stalinism… And changing circumstances – eg: a shrinking industrial working class – mean we need to change tactics and strategies – NOT that we have to change values – or embrace a ‘blank slate’ when it comes to our ideas and analysis….

    Mind you the author’s gradualist radicalism is better than some apocalyptic visions once entertained on the Left… Though really an ‘apocalyptic’ scenario is still possible – Just not desirable…. His ‘Project Zero’ sounds a lot like communism – just with the name changed – and the roadmap reconceived…

    Meanwhile ‘building alternatives within the system’ sounds a lot like ‘counter-culture’ and ‘growth from within’; Like Austro-Marxism – but taken to new heights because of information technology….

    I enjoyed reading the article. But if anything it provides some directions which -if taken on-board – could revitalise and modernise the socialist project rather than destroy it….
  • commented 2015-07-18 20:43:32 +1000
    Also I’ll try and read the article you linked to tomorrow, Matt.
  • commented 2015-07-18 20:37:54 +1000
    Matt; The idea of dropping democracy is meant to sound ‘dumb’ as you put it. The point is that you don’t abandon a core foundation for your values, identity and analysis because of the fear you will be misrepresented in the media and by right-wing organisations. Sure you might make tactical compromises – but you don’t abandon your very foundations.

    Now you say it is not a ‘core foundation’ for you and many others; and that for you its not about the IPA and criticisms coming from the Right. For you the argument is about whether we were ever socialists – and whether democratic socialism has anything to say in this day and age….

    But there are plenty of others – including down here in Victoria – who feel differently. You should notice I made conciliatory suggestions – that is, that we should recognise the plural nature of the modern party. But that democratic socialism be recognised as a core and enduring tradition. (alongside others such as Keynesian-inspired social democracy and labourism) What is wrong with that? ON top of that we could embrace the goal of achieving a ‘democratic mixed economy’ which could be the basis of a compromise in both the Objective AND the Economic Platform. For example See: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=17468

    In the meantime I stand by my analysis – especially notions of political, social and economic citizenship – as the concepts at the core of a modern democratic socialism. Do you disagree with these notions of progressively extending political, social and ultimately economic citizenship? If so, how and why? That’s really the crucial question I’d like you to answer as it goes to the heart of what I mean when I argue for democratic socialism.

    Finally you say “the vicissitudes of industrialisation no long tell”. Well yes and no. Many modern clerical jobs are just as mundane, repetitive and alienating as the old industrial working class jobs. Some such vocations even draw people together in factory-like environments. Class consciousness is in decline partly because of a ‘mistaken identity’ when it comes to the working class. Many white collar workers still tend to see themselves as ‘middle class’. This contributes to the demobilisation of the labour movement and chips away at class-based solidarity. Also the anti-union Ideology is reinforced almost daily in the monopoly mass media. And the view that unions are to be treated primarily as political power bases – even if this means acting against the interests of the membership – can only weaken organised labour in this country over the long-run. BY comparison Swedish Trade Unions still enjoy union density rates of over 70 per cent. (compared with 18 per cent in Australia) Sweden shows drastic decline is not unavoidable.

    To conclude, democratic socialism itself has always been a plural tradition – but generally associated with political, social and economic equality, and the extension of democracy. Liberalism remains a vital ideology – especially as promoted by radicals such as Rawls. So does democracy itself. So why is democratic socialism different? Or is it just a tactical question of divorcing ourselves from associations with Stalinism or even Leninism? Or for the sake of appearing to be a ‘moderate’ ‘Centrist’ Party?

    Sure you could say Social Democracy is also about political, social and economic citizenship… Democratic socialism and social democracy mean different things to different people. But when I speak of social democracy and democratic socialism I think of the tradition beginning with the world’s great Social Democratic parties – for whom democratic socialism and social democracy were ‘the same movement’. I also think of the theoretical and practical-political innovations of the Swedes especially. If we’re to be an inclusive Party we need to recognise those traditions as part of our heritage and as part of our practice.

    For the LEFT especially there shouldn’t be any question of our supporting this. If you believe in a moderate social liberalism (I don’t know that you do; I don’t assume) – then people who feel that way might be better off in Centre Unity. (except parts of the Right have drifted SO FAR into neo-liberalism that the Left itself might be drawn right-ward to fill the vacated ideological space) That’s the path to ideological liquidation and the end of our movement.

    (Mind you – while the debate over the Objective has serious long term ramifications the most crucial policy debates for the immediate future will be around tax reform (increasing and reforming the mix of progressive tax), unfair superannuation concessions, social wage and welfare extension, infrastructure including public housing etc… Without providing enough flexibility – as against an on-paper commitment to ‘small government’ – we won’t have the scope to deliver genuine economic and social reform if we retake-government. That is a truly crucial question for all of us – self-identifying social democrats and democratic socialists alike….
  • commented 2015-07-18 18:11:21 +1000
    It’s not about the IPA. We just aren’t socialists in the true historical meaning of the word, and personally I doubt we ever really were.

    In any event, the word has no meaning (other than as a throw back) in an age when the vicissitudes of industrialisation really no longer tell.

    Class consciousness has, to the extent it existed in advanced economies, evaporated to be replaced by a new consumerism. To want to contest this is good, but we should not imagine we can fight neoliberal ideology with an ideology invented for a very different time and contest.

    We are not fighting capitalist roadsters any more. It’s much more complex than that.

    This article was insightful to me about where our politics on the Left should be: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

    As to the argument about dropping democrat, well, that’s just dumb.
  • commented 2015-07-18 17:59:59 +1000
    more typos; sorry again
  • commented 2015-07-18 17:41:38 +1000
    Matt ; the East Germans also called themselves Democrats. So does that mean we should drop reference to the word ‘democracy’? Socialism still has plenty of resonance in the Nordics, Holland, France – where there are strong left/democratic socialist movements. The socialist Left is also very strong in parts of Central and South America. So the movement as such is not dead yet. Though I certainly am willing to recognise that there are other vital currents within the ALP, such as an indigenous labourism. If only the Right will agree to recognise democratic socialism as a vital and ongoing current as well.

    The reason socialism does not have the same ‘resonance’ in this country for now, however, is partly our own fault. (ie: the Labor Left) We are the main democratic socialist presence in this country. But because we don’t think it’s the work of a faction to engage in counter-culture – we abrogate our responsibility to pursue a cultural struggle to keep our traditions alive. So we leave it to the Trotskyist groups – and some tendencies in the Greens. And the Trotskyists at least promote it in a very narrow sense as if nothing had changed since 1917 – and for some of them as if radical social democrats (such as myself) are ‘the enemy’.

    This is a debate we have to have within the ALP Left. And arguably it needs to be supported by publications such as this; but also through forums and conferences, and perhaps even informal schools. In short learn the lessons re: the early success of radical social democratic parties.
    That said there are reasons why socialist consciousness has declined. The industrial working class has shrank and the broader working class has changed its composition. The broader labour movement has been stigmatised in popular culture and as a consequence of our own emphasis on the ‘virtues’ of industrial peace from the 1980s. Finally socialism was stigmatised as a consequence of the Cold War – a cultural war waged over several decades – culminating in Thatcher and Reagan and the embrace of privatisation, ‘small government’, assaults on organised labour, support for dictatorial and murderous regimes etc, assaults on the poor and on welfare.

    The Stalinists were also murderous. But the damage was done – not only to democratic socialism, but the social democracy and US left-liberalism as well.

    According to your logic, Matt, the Americans should ‘drop liberalism’ as well ‘because of the job done on it’ by Reagan and those who followed him.
    SO all that consider: why might socialism resonate today if only we found the courage to argue for it?
    To start people still remember the chaos of the Global Financial Crisis. They remember that governments had to ‘bail out’ the big banks and finance houses. And then for the public sector to withdraw as if nothing had happened – except for many countries (eg: Britain) the cost was in the tens of billions. And there is no guarantee the same thing won’t happen again.
    So capitalism remains unstable. It is also wasteful and unfair. There are duplications in cost structures as markets go places they never really should have. Many forms of market failure persist everywhere. There are Public Private Partnerships which are basically licenses for private corporations to fleece the general public. The rights of labour are under attack – not only wages and conditions – but industrial rights and liberties. The vested interests in the energy sector obstruct attempts to introduce reform for the sake of the environment. Inequality is getting worse and worse – with more and more wealth concentrated in the hands of the top 1% and the top 10% ; with relatively negligible wealth for everyone else – and an entrenched underclass which owns practically nothing.

    Also The fact capitalism is reaching its limits in terms of the expansion of the world market means desperate measures such as increasing the retirement age and increasing working hours. Yet there’s also a parallel tendency towards underwork. In fact ‘socialist’ policies such as promoting natural public monopolies are one option to promote efficiencies that flow on to the private sector and increase capitalism’s survivability – while at the same time beginning a shift (perhaps) to something better.

    Welfare rights are also under attack; The vulnerable are stigmatised on the understanding money saved as a consequence can go towards corporate welfare – and also reduce the bargaining power of workers because vulnerable job-seekers ‘are not allowed to say no’. And we have punitive labour conscription policies that look like the sort of thing that would come out of Nazi Germany.

    Amidst this democratic socialism starts to look pretty good. Again: look to the parties of the Left and Centre Left in the Nordics for instance. Look to Norway’s socialisation of its oil profits. Look at Denmark’s labour market policies. Look at past successes in Sweden – full employment – much of it high wage – AND low inflation. And look at Sweden’s ‘near run thing’ on wage earner funds – Perhaps with a bit more tactical compromise earlier on it would have been a significant leap forward to Swedish Social Democracy.

    But we should be clearer what we really mean when we speak of socialism. This is necessary to establish how and why democratic socialism is a better alternative to ‘laissez faire’.

    For me it is simply this.

    a) It is the movement which sought to extend all manner of rights on the basis of the goal of ‘equal association’ as the fair and just response to ‘the social question’.

    b) It is the movement which campaigned for free, universal and equal suffrage – and largely won. This was against the stands taken by Conservatives – but often even my self-avowed Liberals. (eg: in Germany)

    c) It is the movement that fought for social rights of citizenship – welfare, industrial rights, a mixed economy and social wage – and consolidated many gains for several decades in the post-war world.

    d) It is the movement which seeks to reconsolidate those gains – but also extend them to include “economic citizenship” – That is a diverse ‘democratic mixed economy’ – not just based on ‘central planning’ – but on a mix of markets and planning; as well as natural public monopolies, government business enterprises, cooperative enterprise of many types, collective capital formation, co-determination and so on. And with no delusions as to the reality of global capitalism we’re living in – and the constraints that puts upon us for the time being. Until we are much stronger internationally.

    e) Finally it is a movement which has a critique of capitalism based on the associated waste, unfairness and instability. It is the movement which seeks to empower all human beings to reach their full potential. Through cultural participation and education. Through active citizenship in a robust democracy. By breaking down inflexibilities in modernity when it comes to alienation and the division of labour. Because that is the stuff which impoverishes peoples’ lives – condemning them to nothing but ‘a hard slog’ just to survive.

    If after all this you cannot see that there are still strong arguments for democratic socialism I’d be interested in your notion as to what the alternative is, and how it differs from what I am proposing.

    And yes I know these are complex arguments. But we can’t allow ourselves to be frightened into avoiding a genuine debate because the IPA might take us out of context. If ideologically “we are constantly on the run” because of fear of misrepresentation by right-wing forces and by the monopoly mass media – then ultimately we will abandon social democracy and liberalism as well. Because there are anti-democratic forces in this country who will not let up until our regime of social, civil, political and industrial rights have been driven back as far as possible. Until the ABC, for instance, is turned into the mouthpiece for a virtual one-party state. Because today’s big ‘C’ Conservatives are not really convinced democrats, liberals of pluralists. They have precisely the ‘whatever it takes’ approach which we have to deny if we are to hold on to our ‘ideological and ethical souls’….
  • commented 2015-07-18 12:31:23 +1000
    And a “full stop” doesn’t make your argument any more compelling.
  • commented 2015-07-18 12:30:30 +1000
    And you can’t get around the fact that the East Germans, for example, also called themselves democratic socialists. Plus a few more.

    I know the history of socialism well: it is a highly contested word, not at all clear cut. It comes from a time that has largely past and, consequently, has lost its ideological resonance.

    And, in any event, I maintain it really doesn’t describe the Labor tradition in Australia at all. You said earlier we should respect this tradition in our history, well perhaps we ought to respect some of the others too, not preference one which doesn’t pass the pub test and appeals to a very small, and diminishing, circle of our members and supporters – almost an echo chamber of activists.

    No one in my branch, made up of good, solid Laborites, would call themselves a socialist. And none of them would identify with it being in our rules.

    This is a tired and arid debate that only lefties could have.
  • commented 2015-07-17 09:59:17 +1000
    Matt: First: Again I reject the opposition between democratic socialism and social democracy; I identify with radical social democracy whose substance is also in line with my understanding of democratic socialism.

    Secondly: Even if you prefer a more moderate interpretation then still that doesn’t get around the fact that the Fabians, and moderates like Anthony Crosland have clearly identified as democratic socialists as well.

    Thirdly, markets are not exclusive to capitalism. Marxists such as Ferenc Feher, Agnes Heller, Gyorgy Markus – suggested a ‘dictatorship over needs’ in the former Eastern Bloc and Soviet Bloc. BY this they meant to reject comprehensive central planning, embracing bigger role for markets. This is compatible with a bigger role for Co-ops as well… So you can easily be a socialist and see a role for markets in providing a flexible means of individual needs-structure determination. (this doesn’t negate a role for natural public monopolies, universal social insurance etc though)

    You suggest all this is semantics. It is not. It goes to substance. Democratic socialists have long embraced a role for markets in a mixed economy. (Personally I would argue for a ‘democratic mixed economy’) The strongest opponents to Stalinism and even Leninism have been other socialists.

    You say ‘we have never acted like socialists’; but this stems from your misinterpretation of socialism’s substance. Democratic socialism is not Stalinism or ‘big ’C’ Communism’. Full stop.
  • commented 2015-07-17 01:28:56 +1000
    Tristan, I compare communism to fascism. I am quite comfortable in tabulating the death and suffering of millions at the hands of communists: the Katyn massacre, the Holodomor, the Cultural Revolution, Shining Path and many more. None of which is a defence of anyone else. I am not saying it all the same, I am saying it has nought to do with us and, given its associations, we should junk the term democratic socialist which doesn’t mean much to most Labor members I know – including many from the Left which I am a member of too. I don’t really care what Anna Burke said, I care what we all do: when we decide we are going to address climate change by nationalising the coal industry and closing it down, maybe then I will buy the line we are democratic socialists. Given leading lights of the Left – Greg Combet, Mark Butler and Penny Wong – not to mention quite a few Right eminences too have long supported a market based approach I think you are stretching the semantic resources of the language too far, mate. We have never acted like socialists, we have always acted as progressive social democrats and we should be happy to own that record, because it’s a strong and vital one. I therefore completely reject the notion any such change would be a “rebuke to the Left”. What a crock.
  • commented 2015-07-16 22:33:54 +1000
    btw for the record I don’t know whether Anna Burke is a Fabian specifically.
  • commented 2015-07-16 22:31:48 +1000
    Matt: You want to compare democratic socialism to fascism? What about Truth? Does that count for anything? Think of the human cost of World War One – tens of millions. Think of Cold War atrocities – Chile, Nicaragua – half a million slaughtered in Indonesia. Why are these forgotten, and have no ramifications for the credibility of capitalism?

    At the same time the strongest opponents of Stalinism and even of Leninist strategy were to be found on the democratic socialist (even Marxist) Left. Kautsky, Luxemburg, Martov just to start. I repeat myself here because I think the point needs to be driven home that it is ingenuous to paint all socialism as being in the same category as Stalin, or even as Lenin or Trotsky.

    You may think this is ‘too complex to explain’. I disagree with the notion we could not explain that democratic socialism and ‘big ’C’ Communism’ are totally different creatures. But what counts are the practical commitments to a stable,mixed and democratic economy, and the benefits of the social wage and welfare, as well as the rights and dignity of labour.

    BTW need I remind you that Anna Burke – from Labor Unity in VIctoria mind you – claimed she was a socialist on QandA not that long ago? How many other caucus members are Fabians also we could ask… So much for no-one in caucus being a democratic socialist.

    Also you argue we should be social democrats and not democratic socialists. Depending on interpretation radical social democracy and democratic socialism are the same movement. The world’s first modern social democrats arose in mid to late 19th century Europe. They considered themselves Marxists, though some were Lassalleans. (too involved to explain Lassalle here) They were also amongst the very first to fight for FREE, UNIVERSAL AND EQUAL SUFFRAGE. They did so at a time when the vast majority of liberals would not dare demand anything as radical as democracy. Though some radical liberals – like J.S.Mill were sympathetic towards socialism; specifically Mill was sympathetic towards Robert Owen – who was a socialist but not a Marxist. (Marx called him a ‘Utopian’)

    Of course if by ‘Social Democrat’ you mean the Keynesian Social Democratic mixed economy – that’s fine. It’s a position that in fact is well to the Left of our recent practice. Its a workable compromise for the immediate future. (ie: as an influence on our policies – though it is too narrow a position to encompass a new Objective) I also accept that there’s an important place for it in modern Labor; as well as for our indigenous labourism. Our democratic socialist heritage must be remembered and accepted as a vital and ongoing current within modern Labor. To deny it would be such a rebuke to the Left that it would seriously impede solidarity and good will within the Party.

    BTW you ignored what I said about Chris Bowen and Anthony Crosland. Another Labor Unity member who draws inspiration from a democratic socialist.
  • commented 2015-07-16 19:56:39 +1000
    No one in the caucus is a democratic socialist. That’s wishful thinking: nothing in their actions suggests anything of the sort. Social democrats, yes: but don’t mistake that as advocacy for centrism, just honesty about reality. On you other points, I reckon that 75 years on, people remember fascism too.
  • commented 2015-07-16 11:19:37 +1000
    Matt ; Ok – Well Jack Lang was a radical but not a socialist really. Though Whitlam comfortably fit within the Fabian category. From Hawke onward our leaders tended to disengage from socialism. Though Rudd had his version of Social Democracy (at least he had an ideology) – and perhaps deep down Gillard remained a democratic socialist.

    And the majority of Left MPs and activists over the years have been democratic socialists. We still account for roughly half the movement federally.

    WHAT SHOULD THAT MEAN?: Well, If we wanted to ‘say what we mean and mean what we say’ as Foley puts it – we would recognise the plural nature of the Party. And that would have democratic socialism and radical social democracy as ‘core and enduring traditions which inform our values, strategies and policies’. But we would have to recognise the historic traditions of labourism and of the Keynesian social democratic mixed economy as well. I think I could accept that as a compromise.

    ALSO: CHRIS BOWEN says he’s a ‘social liberal’ yet he borrows his most developed positions from British Labour MP and intellectual Anthony Crosland – who identified as a democratic socialist. So there we have perhaps THE leading intellectual figure from the NSW Right drawing inspiration from a British democratic socialist (reformist) figure.

    Finally you say the Objective has done us damage. Every policy position and analytical posture we adopt helps and hurts us in different ways. By ‘moving to the Centre’ we have alienated a LOT of people and lost hundreds of thousands of voters to the Greens. Yet also There may be some people who are still in a ‘Cold War mindset’ – perhaps because they or their family members suffered at the hands of Stalinist totalitarianism. But it’s over a quarter of a century since the collapse of ‘Communism’. That old way of viewing things will pass ; and in the meantime we can honestly insist we are liberals when it comes to civil rights – as well as democratic socialists and/or social democrats when it comes to economic justice and rectifying the inadequacies of laissez faire.
  • commented 2015-07-15 18:58:53 +1000
    The thing is, Tristan, we are not democratic socialists and never really have been. That’s what I mean when I say the average punter doesn’t think of all the nuance and shades of grey that reference to Jaures, Bernstein, Blum or Wigforss entails (good academic knowledge). And I disagree with you: this old fashioned objective has and does do us damage.