There is a widely held view that Labor is the party of compassion and justice, of equity and the fair goand progressive values. Or rather there was a widely held view. After the Rudd government’s decision to deport asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea some may be starting to see the party in a less favourable light.
That is a good thing. But this PNG decision isn’t a one offsell out or a result of a takeover of the party by the forces of evil. It is consistent with everything Labor stands for and has stood for in its 123 year history.
Labor is a capitalist workers’ party. Its raison d’etre is to manage capitalism. If that means, in the view of its parliamentary leadership, deporting asylum seekers to PNG it will do so.
Certainly as a colonial settler state the ideological glue the Australian ruling class has used to unify workers with their class enemy, the bosses, has been fear of the “other”. Initially (and still) that was Indigenous Australians, part of the de-humanisation of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders used to justify killing them and stealing their land.
It has also involved fear of the “other” from other countries, expressed most notably in the White Australia policy but also more recently in the Yellow Hordes and the Red Threat sweeping down from Asia into Australia.
Boat people, refugees, asylum seekers became the new acceptable “other” that doesn’t alienate the ruling class and workers of countries withwhich we trade heavily and from which we import skilled and semi-skilled labour.
The new target means the ruling class can vilify and demonise asylum seekers in the hope that it will cement workers to the bosses rather than any sort of class solidarity that might challenge the dominance of capital. It is the new White Australia.
Labor is as aware of the value of this ideological glue to capital as the Liberals, and until recently was losing the argument with and votes to the Opposition. Its decision to deport asylum seekers to PNG is its attempt to both strengthen the glue and win lost votes back.
Of course because the ALP is both a capitalist party and a workers’ party, it reflects to some extent the desire of workers under capitalism for a better world, for reforms, for equality and fairness. However as a generalisation progressive demands are only on Labor’s agenda if there is a campaign, especially by workers as workers, or a mass movement of tens if not hundreds of thousands fighting on the streets for change.
The three decades of class collaboration, begun by Hawke Labor and the Accord, have destroyed working class militancy and rank and file union organisation. Strikes are now about one or two per cent of what they were in the late 60s and early 70s and the consequence is a Labor party totally wedded to neoliberalism and the occasional rationalisation of services dressed up as reform.
Across the globe the welfare state is under attack as profit rates decline. Marx argued that there would be a tendency of the rate of profit to fall because of the way capitalism is organised.
Workers are the source of value. Yet competition drives bosses to invest more and more in capital at relatively less on workers. This means, even with countervailing tendencies like lengthening the working day, cutting workers’ pay and state services like health and education, and increasing productivity that profit rates will fall over time. Only a massive devalorisation of capital – the creative destruction some capitalist economists talk about – can restore profit rates, but then only at terrible human cost.
As the pool of profits out of which state services can be funded dries up, Labor, like the Liberals, attacks them. Whereas the Liberals want to use a meat axe, the ALP at the moment uses a scalpel.
Labor’s recent history as the party of war or support for it, as the party now of the racist Northern Territory intervention, of cuts to public service jobs (over 5000 went last year), of refusing to increase Newstart, of not seriously addressing climate change (other than through half-baked market ‘solutions’ to a problem the market creates), of increasing inequality with over 2.2 million Australians living in poverty, of attacking single parents, of an increasing gender pay gap, of oppressing gays and lesbians, of sending asylum seekers to PNG, all raise an important question. Why support Labor? Why be a member?
For many activists and young leftists that question is already answered. They don’t support Labor. But they are looking for a political home.
What is missing from Australian politics is a radical, indeed a revolutionary and specifically socialist alternative to the ALP.
If you want to join the fight against the barbarities of capitalism, if you want to fight the system that breeds injustice and inequality, war, racism and homophobia, that sends vulnerable asylum seeks to rot in PNG,or even if you just want to find out more given that Labor is not an option,then you should consider one of the revolutionary socialist groups in Australia like Socialist Alternative.
The author is a member of the Socialist Alternative and blogs at enpassant.com.au