Barely a month goes by, it seems, without Australians being treated to
boasts of the ‘fresh’ and ‘innovative’ policy direction and
leadership taken by such relatively articulate Labor figures as Federal
MP, Mark Latham. Here, the "old" is taken to be traditional
social democratic/democratic socialist values and policies: income
redistribution, a robust welfare state, progressive labour market
regulation, economic democracy and the mixed economy. The "new",
by comparison, is any policy initiative that moves terms of debate to the
neo-liberal right. Whereas democratic socialist ideas are lampooned as
redundant ideas of ‘the Old Left’ (often arbitrarily and absurdly
linked with Stalinism), such crude caricatures are not extended to the
enduring values of political liberalism, which have retained their force
since J.S.Mill (who, incidentally, had little trouble recognising the
socialist movement as a valid potential co-traveller with his own liberal
tradition). These caricatures are extremely selective, in keeping with an
underlying agenda of liquidating social democracy and democratic
socialism, and narrowing the political field.
Political ideologies should not be thought of in the same sense as
consumer brands, where the new is always exciting and the ‘old’ is
discarded as worthless. Political values are enduring and constant, as the
survival of political liberalism has shown, and the values of socialism
– extended democracy, compassion and social and distributive justice –
are enduring also. Pressure, however, is beginning to mount once more for
the abandonment of the ALP’s Socialist Objective as part of the
so-called "modernisation" process. As always, modernisation of
this sort amounts to change for the sake of change – and it is not
accidental that such change inevitably involves the progressive
dissolution of social democratic/democratic socialist commitments.
In 1913, V.I. Lenin observed: "Actually [the Labor Party] is a
liberal-bourgeois party, while the so-called Liberals in Australia are
Although few of us today would identify as Leninists, Lenin’s
observation retains a degree of force. The Liberal Party is, indeed, a
conservative party: a party of privilege and reaction. Labor, by contrast,
borrows heavily from political/social liberalism – in particular small
‘l’ liberalism. This does not necessarily present a problem unless
this aspect of our ideological inheritance is seen as a substitute for
democratic socialism, rather than a complementary influence.
Equal opportunity and civil rights are at the core of the modern ALP’s
philosophy, and as such it is right that we recognise the debt we owe the
liberal tradition. But, as history has also shown, the aims of progressive
liberalism (for example, equal opportunity) are not all realisable within
the narrow constraints of narrowly economic liberalism or
neo-liberalism. Equal opportunity, of employment, education, or
expression, depends on a redistribution of opportunities that can only be
achieved through democratic socialist/social democratic means.
Liberalism, then, (at least, the small ‘l’ liberalism of ‘equal
opportunity’), is part of the way forward. It forms part of our
ideological inheritance and, to be meaningful to us, should not be
separated from social democracy. Socialist policies of redistribution and
social provision thus form a crucial and necessary condition
of achieving liberal ends. The democratic socialist/social democratic
tradition, however, was always more ambitious, aiming for extended
democracy (including economic democracy), socially just outcomes,
provision of goods and service on the basis of need, social inclusion and
solidarity, and human liberation.
The democratic socialist tradition as expressed through the Objective
aims for real democracy, in the economy, the state, and broader civil
society, as opposed to the rule of wealth. It seeks to abolish poverty and
social injustice, and to precipitate a more just, compassionate and humane
order based upon dignity, autonomy and human solidarity.
Specifically, the 'Socialist Objective' (taken here as referring to the
entire body of the Party's objectives and principles, not merely the
'socialisation objective'), aims (among other things) for the following:
"c) Redistribution of political and economic power so that all
members of society have the opportunity to participate in the shaping and
control of the institutions and relationships which determine their lives.
"d) Maintenance of and support for a competitive
non-monopolistic private sector, including small business and farming,
controlled and owned by Australians, operating within clear social
guidelines and objectives.
"l) Equal access and rights to employment, education,
information, technology, housing, health and welfare services, cultural
and leisure activities and the law.
"j) The abolition of poverty, and the achievement of greater
equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity.
This is part of a submission to the ALP's Macklin Policy Review. The ALP's socialist objective will probably be considered at the Special Conference on October 5 & 6.