once upon a comrade .....
Australian Labor Party federal parliamentarians Melissa Parke and Anna Burke moved in caucus on Tuesday to end the Party’s support for offshore processing of refugees. The motion said that the party “shall no longer support the transfer of asylum seekers by Australia to Manus Island or Nauru and shall call for the detention centres in those places to be closed down forthwith”. It didn’t go to a formal vote. It was lost on the voices. This means it wasn’t even close.
An insider said that apart from Parke and Burke some members of the Left supported it.
An alternative motion, from Immigration spokesman Richard Marles and seconded by New South Wales right-wing machine man Sam Dastyari, said that ‘the Abbott government should strive to ensure its obligations for the well-being and safety of all persons at the Manus island and Nauru detention facilities are subject to independent oversight.’ It also said claims for asylum “must be processed in a timely manner to avoid asylum seekers being left in a state of uncertainty and fear”.
In other words it is business as usual from Labor for imprisoning asylum seekers and a green light for the Abbott government to continue sending innocents to the concentration camps offshore
This sop of a motion was carried on the voices. This means it had overwhelming support.
The struggle in defence of asylum seekers is a hard one. The rock solid support among a decent minority of the population for refugees is a base on which we on the left can continue to build and help mobilise. The recent bosses’ Budget opens up the opportunity to link the defence of asylum seekers to the defence of those attacked by Abbott and Hockey.
There may be an audience for the argument that the same logic that sees successive Labor and Liberal governments demonise and maltreat innocent but powerless peoples from other countries sees them attack the poor and workers in Australia in their Budgets and other policies.
While the caucus decision on supporting offshore processing was no surprise, it does raise the question, at least to me, of why do decent, caring Labor Party people remain in the ALP?
Of course it is not just refugees. The ALP is today a party of neoliberalism. The debates between Labor and the Liberals are between different members of the family over how to sell the family silver.
I’d ask Labor members and Labor supporters to think about the role of the ALP in managing capitalism. This means it adopts the dominant economic ‘philosophy’ of the time – Keynesianism in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and neoliberalism under Hawke and Keating from the early 1980s on. In that case what we have is a continuum since 1983 – Hawke and Keating leading to Howard, Rudd and Gillard leading to Abbott.
But at least Labor are the lesser evil, aren’t they? Well, not exactly.
The main task of neoliberalism is to shift more of the wealth we workers produce (creating more surplus value in Marxist terms) to capital. It does this in a number of ways, including lengthening the (unpaid) working day, cutting real wages, privatising government enterprises, cutting per capita spending on students, the sick, attacking the welfare state and social wage and so on. Part of hiding this shift involves creating fake ‘enemies’ like refugees to divert our attention away from the real enemies – the bosses and the capitalist state.
It is no accident that it was arch neoliberal Paul Keating as Prime Minister, along with left-winger Gerry Hand as Immigration Minister, who introduced mandatory detention of asylum seekers.
Through co-opting the union bureaucracy, Hawke and Keating were more successful in cutting real wages than Thatcher in the UK could deliver by outright attacks on unions. The Accord and the class collaborationist philosophy that underpinned it have produced a serious weakening of the strength of the trade union movement, the destruction of any hint of membership participation let alone control and the almost complete collapse of class struggle as a weapon in our armoury to stop the bosses’ attacks. No wonder then that the share of national income going to capital is at its highest since records began to be kept in 1960, and that to labour at almost its lowest.
My own view is the ALP as a capitalist workers’ party has for a range of reasons, especially to do with the decline of the strength of the union movement in the context of a global crisis of capitalism resulting from the decline in profit rates, morphed into a CAPITALIST workers’ party on the way to becoming a capitalist party. (I expand on this in more detail in an article on the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and the ALP to be published in the Accounting Research Journal on 7 July.)
This is not about saying join this or that socialist group although I do think groups like Socialist Alternative are worth having a look at. It is about asking Labor members and supporters who want to understand the degeneration of their party to do so in the context of its managerial role in Australian capitalism and to see that degeneration as part and parcel of that role.
It is about saying that the fight for asylum seekers, for equal love, for increased wages and jobs, for safety on site, for better pensions, for more spending on education and health, for taxing the rich, for addreessing climate change in a concerted and effective way, in short for a better world, starts outside the ALP, by joining us in the struggle on the streets and in our unions and workplaces for progressive change.
Let’s be clear. I believe these can be won with intense class struggle. Without it they will remain a dream. Of course class struggle that wins gains from the bosses then has impacts on the bourgeoisie and their profit rates. It means that as profit rates continue to decline as a consequence of the way production is organised under capitalism, gains will be harder and harder over time to win and eventually impossible.
That tendency to decline will see the ongoing class war of the last 30 years intensify. We need people on our side who understand this process and are prepared to join in the fight against the bosses and their rotten system in all its manifestations. That means understanding the nature of capitalism as a system exploiting workers. Staying in the Labor Party or supporting them doesn’t do any of that.