Socialist Alliance: Put real change on the agenda

February 21, 2010

Green Left Weekly spoke to Socialist Alliance national convener Peter Boyle about the political dynamics of the coming federal election and asked him what sort of campaign the Alliance was intending to run.

Liberal-National opposition leader Tony Abbott is gaining in the polls against PM Kevin Rudd. Are we seeing a swing to the right in public opinion in Australia?

Politics today in Australia, as in the US, is being shaped by growing disillusionment with the politicians who were elected on the slogan of "change" but have delivered no real change.

The shine is beginning to come off both Rudd and Obama and right-wing politicians are capitalising on this. In the US, we've seen the so-called "Tea Party" movement and the right-wing demonstrations against Obama's promises to deliver more public health care.

And in Australia, we've got a new right-wing propaganda offensive about climate change and a resurgence of racist propaganda against refugees, Aborigines and Indian overseas students.

Abbott's tactic of polarising the debate around climate change takes advantage of the fact that Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is a fraud and is losing public support — down from 67% in July 2008 to 56% in February, according to ACNeilsen polling. It also takes advantage of recent propaganda by climate change denialists.

It is clear there is a lot of public confusion about climate change and a significant amount of climate change scepticism in the working class and even among militant trade unionists. But it would be an exaggeration to see this as evidence of some massive public swing to the right in Australia.

So far Australia has got off relatively lightly from the global recession because of the continuing boom in mineral exports to Asia. But there is a lot of hidden pain in the working class.

Many workers have been forced to accept a cut in hours worked or in pay and conditions to keep their jobs during the global recession. At the same time, many working class families are burdened with massive debts for homes, cars and other things.

So far Abbott is only making marginal gains. The latest Newspoll, published in the February 16 Australian, showed a further 3% slide in Rudd's approval rating to 55%. Labor's primary vote has dropped below 40% for the first time since 2006. The Coalition's primary vote is said to be holding at 40%.

Rudd has warned supporters that Labor could lose the next election "if two or three people in 100 changed their vote at the next election".

But most likely, the Coalition is using Abbott's attack offensive to whittle down the ALP's lead, in preparation for a more serious bid for government in the federal election after next.

Many GLW readers are appalled at the blatant appeals to unreason by the likes of Abbott and notorious climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton who recently toured Australia.

These new right-wing propaganda offensives are trying to mobilise public grievances around a highly contradictory political platform.

They are trying to tap public anger about being forced to bear the burden of bailing out capitalism once again but also trying to deflect that anger away from the capitalists.

In the US, Noam Chomsky has warned against the left simply deriding the ordinary people who are sucked into things like the Tea Party movement. These are people whose grievances are justified, Chomsky said.

The real question is why the left has so far failed to organise and mobilise people around real solutions to the problems capitalism is causing.

That is the broad challenge for the left in the coming federal elections. We've got to take up these real grievances and talk about real solutions.

And, if we want to do this, we have to tell the truth about the Rudds and Obamas. We have to show that while they've been claiming to be the politicians of change, in fact they've been bailing out the big capitalists and waging bloody wars around the world to protect the interests of those big capitalists.

What sort of federal election campaign is the Socialist Alliance planning to run?

Our branches are carrying out candidate preselections and working out just how many positions we can contest. We are a small party with limited resources, but we are going to make the biggest impact we can.

We should have Senate tickets in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia at a minimum and a number of House of Representative campaigns in every state.

We'll seize on the climate change denialists' propaganda offensive as an opportunity to engage in the public debate around this critical issue.

We plan to issue an updated climate change charter, which will outline in detail the serious public investment that needs to be made in renewable energy and public transport if there is to be a serious response to climate change.

We are organising another big international Climate Change/Social Change conference in Melbourne over November 5-7 that will provide a focus for discussion on ecosocialist alternatives to the climate crisis. Monthly Review editor and respected author John Bellamy Foster has agreed to be the keynote speaker.

We'll also focus our election campaign on racism and war. The Labor government has adopted what some of its political advisors justify as "anti-wedging" tactics. These include its attacks on Aboriginal people with the NT intervention, persecution of refugees, the attacks on Indian students, the overseas education scandals, and others.

In fact, Labor stole the Coalition's racist politics on these issues, and in the process reinforced racism in Australia.

Our anti-racist message will be combined with an anti-war message because racism is reinforced by the imperialist powers in their so-called "war on terrorism" — actually a war on the Third World.

The success of the new right-wing offensives on climate change and racism in influencing the working class flows from the refusal of Labor governments, state and federal, to defend even the most basic interests of the working class.

Under Rudd, Labor has betrayed its promise to rip up Work Choices and continues with the hated Australian Building and Construction Commission secret police.

The Socialist Alliance campaign will fight for the total repeal of all anti-union and anti-worker laws and call for independence of the trade unions from the ALP.

The fourth central federal election message will be the need to build a real political alternative to the major parties.

The absence of any real political alternative feeds public confusion on climate change, racism and the importance of trade unions, and hence provides the opening for right-wing political offensives like the one that we now confront.

The Greens will still be seen as the most viable electoral alternative. The latest Newspoll shows the Greens have a primary vote of 12% — up from 7.8% in the 2007 federal election.

Our message about building a real political alternative has to include a call for unity with the Greens around progressive issues. We direct our preferences to the Greens and in some cities there may be opportunities for further electoral co-operation.

But there is also an opening forour argument for building a "real political alternative" that comes from the fact that we are still in the wake of the biggest public bailout of the capitalist system in history.

Worldwide, trillions of dollars of public money has been shelled out worldwide to bail out the banks. The list of bankrupt governments is growing.

By telling the truth about this massive public bailout, we can spell out what a "real alternative" is in more clear, anti-capitalist terms.

The real political choices now before society go well beyond this or that single issue. There's an urgent debate about core values.

The future of our planet hangs on society breaking from the unsustainable values of greed, pillage of the Earth and the exploitation of people that has been imposed on this continent for the past 222 years.

Under this system, as Hugo Chavez quipped in Copenhagen last December, if the planet was a bank they would have saved it already.

It is time to take the advice of Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, the first and return to the indigenous values of respect for the land, community first and living cooperatively.

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