Why socialists should vote for socialist candidates


Resistance has been actively challenging PM John Howard's agenda at every step along the way — from protesting his racist attacks on refugees and Muslims to leading student walkouts against the Iraq invasion in 2003 and the introduction of Work Choices in 2006. A defeat for the Howard government on November 24 will be a victory for all the movements that have defended workers' rights and the environment and stood up to his pro-war policies.

However, regardless of who wins the elections, it is going to take a continuation and strengthening of these movements if we are going to see the end of Work Choices, real action on climate change or end Australia's involvement in the "war on terror". Resistance argues that voting alone is not enough to change the world. Real improvements in our lives don't originate in parliament, but from ordinary people — workers, students and pensioners — acting to defend their interests.

This is not a reason, however, to abstain from participating in elections or pretending it doesn't matter who wins. Rather, it is exactly why Resistance is supporting the Socialist Alliance, a party that stands for repealing Work Choices, voluntary student unionism and the anti-terror laws (to name a few) and argues that we need more than reforms to the existing system to make it more green and humane. Socialist Alliance, as the name suggests, stands for socialism — for society's wealth to be democratically owned and managed so that people and the environment are put first.

Resistance advocates that people vote 1 Socialist Alliance, 2 Greens and then Labor before the Liberals.

Today, the primary aim of socialists running in elections is to use them as a platform for winning people to our ideas. By running in elections, the Socialist Alliance is following the example of past socialists, such as the Bolsheviks in Russia, who despite the undemocratic nature of the tsar's parliament, used it as a platform to promote their ideas.

Resistance finds it remarkable that a number of other socialist groups in Australia, including Socialist Alternative (SAlt) and the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), both of which were once affiliated to the Socialist Alliance, have not been arguing the case for a socialist vote. Instead, both organisations have been arguing through their publications for a vote for the Greens, with little mention of (let alone support for) any of the socialist candidates.

In an article in the November edition of Socialist Alternative titled "Kick out Howard, but vote Green to oppose Rudd's right wing agenda", Mick Armstrong writes: "We need right
now to start building a party ... that attempts to cohere a concerted fightback to win reforms in the here and now and that is ultimately prepared to challenge the whole basis of capitalist rule." He then goes on to call for a vote for the Greens.

We can only assume that SAlt believes that supporting the Greens over the Socialist Alliance will aid that goal, even though SAlt does not explain why it thinks this.

The ISO at least tries to explain its position in the November 16 Socialist Worker: "[While] Australia's preferential voting system means voters can vote 1 socialist, 2 Greens, 3 Labor, the unfortunate reality is that the socialist electoral presence is currently so negligible that it is irrelevant."

This same argument could be used to say that because the readership of Socialist Worker is "negligible" it is therefore "irrelevant".

While currently the Socialist Alliance receives a relatively small vote, the question should be, how do we change this?

The reality is that while the majority of electoral space to the left of Labor is taken up by the Greens, the Socialist Alliance, in part by running in elections, has made gains in raising the profile of socialist ideas in Australia. The financial support it has received recently for the first time from a number of trade unions suggests that there is potential for its networks and support to expand.

We stand alongside the Greens in building a left-wing alternative to Labor but running in the elections independently does not create a barrier to this. For example, on November 9, Saeed Khan, the Greens candidate for Grayndler, was happy to speak at a Socialist Alliance election campaign launch.

In a letter to SAlt and the ISO, Socialist Alliance Victorian Senate candidate Margarita Windisch, wrote: "Socialist Alliance is running on an explicit anti-capitalist platform calling for a socialist transformation of society... We know that only socialism can save humanity and the planet from destruction. If we want to win the battle against corporate power, the question of unity on the left and the progressive movement will have to take centre stage. We hope you will be there with us. Voting socialist in the upcoming federal election is a good start."

[Chris Peterson and Simon Cunich are members of Resistance, a socialist youth organisation affiliated to the Socialist Alliance]