Brumby's Labor: Kennett with a human face

Wednesday, August 14, 1996

According to DAVE HOLMES, Melbourne secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), Victorian ALP leader John Brumby's bid to be that state's Tony Blair represents no big shift in political perspective.

In assessing what all this means, we should first put it in perspective. The DSP has always argued that the ALP offers no real alternative to the Coalition, either federally or on the state level. It is simply a lesser evil: on all the big issues there is a bipartisan approach; they're simply squabbling over image and minor details.

In the March state election, Labor's policy was notable for what it did not promise rather than what it did. For example, it offered no real opposition to privatisation. While it went on record as opposing the break-up and sale of the SEC, coming from the party that under Cain and Kirner sold off the huge Loy Yang B power station to the US power monopoly Mission Energy, this was scarcely believable.

And Labor's supposed "opposition" to the horrendous City Link tollway project was extremely ambiguous, to say the least. You couldn't really call it opposition. In fact, it proposed its own cut-down version of City Link. It was the same with the Albert Park Grand Prix. There was never any clear commitment to dig up the track, restore the park and move the race somewhere else.

So when John Brumby says Labor is no longer opposed to privatisation, City Link or the Grand Prix at Albert Park, we should understand that this is more a shift of image and perception than of substance.

Brumby and Theophanous have argued that in a future election there is no point opposing things that have already happened. This argument is the epitome of opportunism. In modern society, the big corporations and the governments that are their creatures are always creating "facts". They create them daily, every week, every month.

In Victoria, casinos are built, freeways are constructed, parks are taken over, government assets are sold off. If, after every fresh atrocity the ALP says it's now a "fact" that we can't oppose but have to simply try to regulate, then what use is Labor to ordinary people? None whatsoever!

Middle ground?

Brumby wants to take the ALP to the "centre". But there is no "middle ground" in modern society. Today the capitalist class and the governments that represent it are carrying out a tremendous offensive against working people. They want to slash social spending drastically, whether it's in health, education, welfare, housing or whatever, and redirect government spending to subsidies, concessions and tax breaks to big business — all in the interests of Australia's competitiveness in the jungle of international capitalism.

The only realistic alternative is to try to organise a massive fight back of the labour movement, the community and student sector like we saw in France at the end of last year, and ultimately to fight for a new type of society where human beings and their needs and concerns are at the centre rather than the profits of a handful of millionaires. That is, we have to fight for a socialist society.

Social democracy, which aimed to humanise capitalism, to make it more acceptable, is finished. Its parties may linger on, but they have a new agenda. No serious section of capitalist opinion is going to underwrite a new rise of the welfare state.

Brumby's move to the "middle ground" is simply Kennettism with a human face, a more "caring" version of the Coalition. This is a shift not to the centre but even further to the right. It's all to do with making the ALP more acceptable to capitalist opinion and laying the ghosts of the past, the financial scandals of the Cain-Kirner period, to rest.

Along with all the careerists, there are still many honest rank and file members in the ALP who believe that it should be a different sort of party. It's hard for ALP leftists to accept that it is a bosses' party, a capitalist party. In the view of the DSP it's never been anything else. It's essentially like the US Democratic Party. It defends the interests of the big corporations but has the peculiarity of a big working-class electoral base, although that's now disintegrating.

Now we need to work towards building a genuine radical workers' party, an activist mass-based party controlled by the membership, which will engage in struggle in workplaces, factories, campuses, communities and in the streets as well as in the electoral arena. It will try to develop a coherent challenge to the austerity drive, and beyond that to work for a new society. That is what the DSP is all about.

Those labour movement activists and socialists who have hitherto worked within the framework of the ALP should consider whether it is high time to leave the party, to put their efforts somewhere else, even if a new formation can't be created overnight. The presence of decent left-wingers in the ALP simply makes a fundamentally rotten outfit look better.