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Anarchism and the death of social democracy

By Marko Beljac - posted Thursday, 22 December 2011

Gillard's ministerial reshuffle has been likened to arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Analysts differ on what constitutes the sinking ship; is it Gillard's prime ministership? The Gillard government? The Australian Labor Party?

All seem agreed, however, that Gillard's ministerial reshuffle will do little to alter the ultimate fate of the sinking ship, whatever it may be.

The underlying motivation behind the reshuffle has also attracted the attention of analysts as it seems to have rewarded the froth - Arbib probably doesn't know how to spell his own name and Shorten's ego hides an essential mediocrity, which brought Gillard to power and supported her "leadership" at the recent National Conference. The reshuffle itself appears also to have been enabled by the defection of Peter Slipper.


The entire affair is mainly a sideshow best left for discussion on ABC Insiders, which usually focuses on such trivialities.

My interest here is directed toward the ship, not the deck chairs.

I submit that what is sinking is social democracy itself.

That social democracy would fail was foreseen eons ago from within the Left, most specifically from the libertarian wing of socialist thought otherwise known as "anarchism" or better still "anarcho-syndicalism."

But why say that social democracy has failed?

We forget that what we call "social democracy" initially was meant to serve as the parliamentary road to socialism. To be sure social democracy, especially that associated with the German SPD, in its early days was programmatically Marxist. But the revisionism of Eduard Bernstein served to codify the practical existence of a more evolutionary and parliamentary approach to socialism. In other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where Marxism was not as prevalent within the labour movement, such codification wasn't really necessary.


The key idea of the social democratic approach was that socialism could come about by something akin to an algorithmic procedure; step-by-step through piecemeal reform enacted by democratically elected governments, rather than through a singular extra parliamentary revolution.

This idea found its most important expression in Australia with the socialist objective of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

In reality social democracy, to a greater and lesser degree, everywhere became associated with the development of a social contract between capital and labour. Australia was no exception.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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