Towards a socialist Australia

Unless greenhouse emissions are swiftly curbed, the result will be environmental catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale.

This is an extract from Towards a socialist Australia, produced by the Socialist Alliance and its affiliate, Resistance. Read the full text online at .

Why socialism?

The rise of resistance to dictatorships, corporate rule, military occupation and corrupt politics, which has occurred in the 21st century, brings new hope for humanity.

The revolutions sweeping parts of Latin America and the Middle East, which put democracy, the planet, and the rights of all people at their centre, are an inspiration across the globe to all who believe that fundamental social and political change is both possible and necessary.

The current ecological and economic problems facing the world have happened precisely because we live in a political and economic system that puts profits ahead of people and the planet — capitalism. To save ourselves and our planet we need a sharp change of direction towards a new people-centred form of social organisation — socialism.

Imagine a society where each individual has the means to live a life of dignity and fulfilment, without exception; where discrimination and prejudice are wiped out, and where all members of society are guaranteed a decent life, the means to contribute to society and where the environment is protected and rehabilitated.

This is socialism — a truly humane, a truly ecological society.

Our world is in turmoil

One way or another, the 21st century will be decisive for the fate of human civilisation.
Unless greenhouse emissions are swiftly and drastically curbed, scientists tell us, the result will be environmental catastrophe on an almost unimaginable scale, threatening the survival of life on the planet.

Alongside this developing ecological disaster, after close to four years, the system shows no sign of being able to escape its worst economic slump since the Great Depression. The slump shows the four-decade long structural crisis of capitalism was not resolved and is deepening.

As their dilemmas mount, the capitalist response to these challenges is either denial, quack “remedies” or business as usual and, above all, savage attacks on the welfare and democratic rights of working people. Huge resources are misdirected into war and repression, rather than on solutions to the problems we face.

Billions wasted on corporate handouts and war

Australia is a wealthy, industrially developed country. We have the resources to give everyone a decent, comfortable life and provide aid to our poorer neighbours.

Yet calls to address the state of the public healthcare system, housing, welfare and social services are met with the mantra: “Where’s the money going to come from?”

While social programs face endless cutbacks, "corporate welfare" is booming with handouts, tax breaks, concessions and cosy contracts such as public-private partnerships.

The official company tax rate is a very low 30% but many big corporations pay far less. Faced with opposition from the mining industry, the federal ALP government watered down its projected mining super-profits tax.

Billions are wasted on militarism. Up to US$6 trillion — more than the total cost of World War II — has been spent on the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which Australia has been an enthusiastic participant. These countries have been wrecked and hundreds of thousands of people killed and displaced.

Bipartisan support for the Australia-US war alliance makes Australia complicit in the human and ecological disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australia has sent police and army units to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville and it continues to maintain a military presence in East Timor.

When people flee war, seeking refuge and a new life in our country, they face being sent for “offshore processing” at prison camps in Nauru or Manus Island in PNG, potentially waiting years for resettlement, at a cost of millions of dollars each year. Refugees also face the threat of deportation and discrimination.

Our economy must be owned by society

Under capitalism, a tiny handful of people — the capitalist class, “the 1%” — control the means of production, distribution and exchange. They own the corporations that own the mines, factories, banks, transport networks, supermarket chains, media empires, and so on. Managers sympathetic to capitalist interests control the superannuation funds in which workers are forced to invest part of their wages.

The Murdochs, Packers, Harveys, Rineharts, Forrests, Lowys and others dominate the headlines, but behind each of these pillars of Australian capitalism is an army of workers whose stolen labour makes up their profits.

Much of the precondition for these massive profits is created through the capital investment market. In Australia, around 75% of this is workers’ superannuation contributions.

The economy is a social enterprise. We all depend on it and the labour of working people keeps the wheels turning. But because the capitalists control it they get the profits and workers’ wages never reflect the full value of what they produce. The fight for a decent wage is a constant struggle against entrenched corporate power, backed by the state.

The market-based system is represented in the media as all-powerful and constant. Any possible alternative is excluded. But our economic and social relationships are a human creation, and as such, they can be changed.

Our economy must be socially owned and controlled. Key sectors of the economy should be placed in public ownership under worker and community control. The privatisations of recent decades should be reversed and the public sector massively expanded.

With the economic levers in the people’s hands, society could make a conscious plan focused on meeting human needs. Combating climate change and building a sustainable economy would be the most urgent priorities.

Plans would be democratically decided. Workplaces would be controlled by their employees. There would be no obscenely overpaid CEOs and insecure, badly-paid workers with no say in what happens. The work week would be significantly reduced enabling workers to play a much greater role in political and cultural life.

Democracy under capitalism: formal and limited

Capitalist democracy is highly restricted. Every few years we get to choose which of two neoliberal parties will govern on behalf of Australia’s corporate elite. So much of the electoral spectacle is theatre as the media tries to pretend that there are real differences between the pro-corporate Coalition and the equally pro-corporate Labor Party.

The very limited democracy we have does not extend to the economy, the workplace or the state bureaucracy. There, ownership rights, managerial prerogatives, hierarchy and subordination rule largely unchecked.

The civil liberties we enjoy are real and important. They are a result of past workplace and community-based struggles. But they are fundamentally undermined by severe practical limitations inherent in the way capitalism works.

We generally enjoy the right of free speech, although laws, by-laws and special powers enable the state in some instances to restrict our right to political expression and protest. The corporate media is privately-owned and essentially run in the interest of the wealthy and powerful. Working people’s interests are not represented.

Workers’ ability to fight for better wages and conditions are limited by anti-union laws that criminalise industrial action (except under very limited conditions), outlaw solidarity actions by unions (e.g. secondary boycotts) and make workers and their unions unequal with employers before the law. Meanwhile, employers can legally lock out workers without pay, close down industries and force thousands out of work.

Under capitalism, sexism, racism, homophobia and discrimination against people with disabilities restricts participation in political life.

For real democracy, for people’s power!

We need a radically different political system, a system of participatory democracy that empowers the big majority of people who are currently excluded.

A first step is social ownership of the economy on which we all depend. Real democracy is impossible if one part of society owns the economy and the other part is compelled to work for them.

The political system requires fundamental change. Representatives should receive a worker’s average wage. They should be subject to recall through a simple process if their electors are dissatisfied. The voting age should be lowered to 16 years.

All public officials in leading positions should be subject to election and recall.
Workers should be able to elect their managers and collectively direct their workplaces. Anti-union laws should be scrapped.

The main goals and targets of economic activity should be popularly decided.

The mass media should be placed under the control of the community to reflect the interests and concerns of ordinary people.

[Read the follow-up “How will we get there?” in the next issue of Green Left Weekly.]