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Responding to Chris Bowen on Labor's 'Socialist Objective'

By Tristan Ewins - posted Friday, 10 July 2015


In a recent Fabian Pamphlet ('What is Labor's Objective?) Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen makes his case against the existing Socialist Objective of the Australian Labor Party.

He observes its current form:

The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.

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And he contends in response that:

the socialist objective [does not reflect] our ambition for a modern, fair, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, outward looking, multicultural country.

Thereafter Bowen rejects those parts of the Objective which propose "the establishment and development of public enterprises" as well as "democratic control of Australia's natural resources". Specifically he suggests the privatisation of Qantas was justified; and that the alternative was a waste of public funds.

Continuing, he rejects what some have come to call 'State Socialism'; but nonetheless argues the case for an effectively Crosland-ite agenda involving equal opportunity in education and life chances; but equality of outcomes in health. (Anthony Crosland was an important reformist democratic socialist thinker within British Labour who – beginning around the 1950s - proposed an emphasis on public services and social infrastructure as opposed to socialisation of industry) Bowen reinterprets this agenda as a more robust social liberalism – which cares about the individual in all their dimensions - when considered in contrast to "classical liberalism"

Bowen also argues for "a decent community environment" with government ensuring the provision of "hard" as well as "soft" infrastructure; which means not only "transport and roads" but "a liveable community with attractive public art, open spaces and a good environment."

He concludes the Objective is out of date because it says nothing about multiculturalism, indigenous rights, engagement in the Asia-Pacific, preservation of the natural environment and action on climate change, and also equality of opportunity in education and equality of outcomes in health.

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He states: "We should mean what we say in the socialist objective. Currently we don't. It clearly does reflect the modern Labor challenge, and with some updating it could very easily do so."

Response

First, Bowen would be wrong to suggest that a Socialist Objective for the Labor Party would have to exclude indigenous rights, the environment, the nurturing of a multi-cultural Australia, or engagement in our region for the extension of beneficial trade and the preservation of peace. It is true that the Objective was originally penned in the 1920s and probably needs to be updated. But Australian socialists – and indeed Australian Communists as well – were amongst the first to promote these causes; as well as the cause of free, universal and equal suffrage. It is not a stark choice: of 'these important modern causes on one hand, OR of socialism on the other'.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.
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