Even the paid professional commentariat working for the privately owned media as well as the ABC have long publicly recognised a significant sameness between the Australian Labour Party (ALP) and the Liberal National Coalition (LNC). The convergence between the ALP and the LNC was recognised in the 80s by the wit who described them as tweedle-in and tweedle-out. They have both become open parties of the system, supporting liberal capitalism. The ALP long ago watered down its “socialist objective” stating its support for the private ownership of the means of production. Today, the ALP of 2013 is even more openly pro-capitalist system than ever. Whatever pretense social democracy once had that it had socialist or progressive aims, it has long been bankrupt. The ALP certainly abandoned that social democratic space, however Rudd and others might try to re-define social democracy.
It is perhaps tempting, to see the Australian Greens filling a social democratic space. There is no doubt it has attracted quite a few people who have been activists on the Left, the student left, the environmental movements and who see the Greens as being a continuation of social democracy of one kind or another, even a left social democracy. Australian Greens leader, Milne, on Saturday after Rudd announced the September 7 election, presented the contrast between the two “old” parties as that between compassion and cruelty, and then offering a ‘sustainable Australia”. Perusing the Australian Greens website and quickly browsing over the gamut of policies, many of them appear to be the kind of policies that one might find in a more-or-less softish social democratic party. However, in one sphere – the general ideological or philosophical perspective – the Greens are a very anemic green.
In the past, at least to some extent, a core advocacy of social democracy was the need for the redistribution of wealth, from the wealthy (property-owners) to those who were poor, or at least not wealthy (propertyless, at least in the means of production). There was an assumption that the wealthy would not voluntarily relinquish their wealth beyond a stingy minimum. There would have to be a struggle, in the workplace for a redistribution from capitalist owner to the wage-earning worker, and in the political sphere for a sufficient level of progressive taxation to provide a decent level of public services, infrastructure, health and education.
Such a redistribution would need struggle against the class of property owners, although – as far as social democracy was concerned – not to the extent of “redistributing” the right to own the means of production from the current class of owners to the society as a whole. Social democracy was not radical, let alone revolutionary. But it could not avoid advocating a struggle for redistribution, even if its practice often fell short of this.
The Australian Greens have made gains in some electorates in the recent elections, as a result of the alienation of the ALP’s marginal left constituency and their geographic concentration. Perhaps, the extent of the ALP’s brazen adoption of meanness in its new Pacific Solution ‘solution’ may help the Greens vote increase a bit more – perhaps. Their anemic ideology will never inspire a serious proportion of the people (i.e. the working class) into struggle against the self-centred and self-serving property-owning elites that dominate society. They present a social-democratic style vision of the future – moderating the excesses of liberal capitalism and improving (a little) the level of welfare. However, neither redistribution nor struggle feature in any central way in their ideological personality. Anemic in spirit and denying the reality of a fundamental mal-distribution of wealth that must be seriously ameliorated if there is to be any social progress.
The ALP let the foot in the door to the abandonment of traditional social democratic advocacy of redistribution when the Whitlam government first talked up and then started to implement the principle of ‘user pays’ for public services, instead maintaining the overwhelming reliance on progressive taxation. Thus the journey was started ending in the current insane revenue crisis of current governments: government revenue crisis in the midst of abundance, while being peered own upon by the 1% whose ownership over the society’s wealth is reaching truly obscene levels of concentration.
The Greens will never inspire many more people than they are now, certainly not to struggle. They may talk up compassion rather than cruelty, but without fighting hard to win back the legitimacy of the idea of redistribution and progressive taxation as central to social democratic ideology and policy for a society, their anemia limits them only to some insipid vote increases.
Of course, the abandonment of “traditional social democracy” by the ALP and the anemia of the Greens attempt to fill that space are not accidental nor a manifestation of character weaknesses of ALP and Greens politicians. The economics of late capitalism, with its declining rate of profit and accumulating contradictions, makes it impossible for capitalism to grant concessions to redistribution without threatening the whole system. For almost 40 years ideological campaigns to win a stronger hegemony for “economic rationalism’ and more recently neo-liberal ideas to which the ALP surrendered in the 1970s and 1980s have eroded the presence of the old traditional working-class, social democratic ideology.
The understanding of the need for struggle will have to be revived, requiring not only examples via defiant campaigns against inhuman and exploitative policies but strong explanations and analysis of how class society actually works. And the struggle will need to go beyond redistribution of wealth from capital to labor to “redistribution” of the right to control capital (via the ownership of the means of production) from 1% of the population to society itself.