Stop Abbott, fight Gillard—vote left and build the movements

Abbott is running the most right wing Liberal campaign seen for a long time. His racist fear campaign about refugees and his promise to turn the boats back has recommitted the Liberals to the very worst aspects of Howard’s policy.

Similarly, his comments that we are facing an “armada” of asylum boats that need to be stopped by force have many scared of a return to the darkest days of Howard. His opportunism on climate change encourages the climate deniers.

Bob Brown warns that Abbott wants to cut 12,000 public service jobs. Nobody in his or her right mind would want to see an Abbott government in office.

Thankfully the opinion polls so far point to a Labor win with an increased vote for The Greens.

But the tragedy is that Gillard has taken Labor to the right as she has tried to shore up the falling poll numbers under Kevin Rudd.

The problem with Rudd is that he was too right-wing already. Rudd talked about social democracy and rhetorically condemned “extreme capitalism” and “excessive greed”, but remained wedded to the market (see How do Rudd go wrong so fast).

Like Rudd before her, Gillard’s has allowed Abbott to set the terms of the debate—over refugees, the economy and government spending, and climate change. Any initial hope that Julia Gillard would deliver change is long gone.A determined union campaign could have forced Rudd and Gillard to deliver over work rights or the ABCC--and is still what will be needed after the election

The movements
It didn’t have to be like this.

Labor could have buried Abbott by standing up to his racist fear-mongering, doing something substantial on climate change and doing something for working families instead of endlessly talking about it.
The failure of the left to demand it off them and the tendency to go quiet for Labor got us nowhere.
Rudd got elected on the back of the union movement’s campaign against WorkChoices, but promptly turned his back on the union movement.

The trade union leaders turned “Your rights at work—worth fighting for” into “Your rights at work—worth fighting and voting for.” Now it is clear why there has to be a fight.

Even at the ACTU Congress, the union leadership was pushing for a Labor government to commit to a new round of industrial relations reform. The ABCC (Gillard’s “tough cop on the beat”) continued to harass construction workers and drag workers before the courts.

The back down from national strike action by the teaching unions allowed the Labor government to get away with the agenda of NAPLAN testing and teacher bashing.

South Australian CFMEU member Ark Tribe is back before the courts, facing jail, as Solidarity goes to press.
A determined industrial campaign could have put an end to the ABCC. Construction workers in Western Australia have openly defied industrial laws and the bosses have been unwilling to use the courts against them.

A determined industrial campaign will still be needed under a new Gillard government.

Union action when ABC Learning closed could have saved hundreds of childcare centres and pushed for a nationalised free, child care service. Instead, the market prevailed and hundreds of jobs and childcare places were lost.

Similarly the climate campaign has been badly let down by the mainstream NGOs and its own lack of organisation.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to see action on climate change. But unless that sentiment is mobilised, then any move on climate change will be confined to what the top of society and the carbon polluters will allow.

When Rudd abandoned his CPRS, The Greens called for negotiations. Where was the call to demonstrate for meaningful action on climate change? Without taking on the system, there will be no action on climate change.

Gillard promised at the National Press Club to restore the budget to surplus and warned of “unpopular cuts” if she is re-elected. She wants more markets in health and education.

The back down on the mining tax tells its own story of who will pull the strings of the next Labor government. If ever there was an example that real change doesn’t come through parliament, this Labor government is it.

Vote left
We must keep Tony Abbott out of office. Voting Greens 1 and Labor 2 will send Labor a signal that its policies are unpopular and that it doesn’t have to capitulate to the right.

A bigger Greens vote will can help give people confidence that an alternative is possible.

But the real fight is not about the numbers in parliament or the balance of power for The Greens (see Greens balance of power not enough to bring change).

The lessons are clear—we can’t leave it to Labor or even Greens senators to deliver real change on union rights, renewable energy, refugees—we will need protests, strikes and demonstrations to fight for them.


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Labor conference runs dead on refugees

Labor's underwhelming announcement on the refugee intake set the scene for an equally underwhelming and orchestrated Labor conference.

Labor conference endorses Albanese’s conservative agenda and military build-up

Anthony Albanese and Defence Minister Richard Marles staked their credibility on defeating dissent over AUKUS. It was not much of a gamble.

French riots a rebellion against poverty, racism and police

Riots swept France in early July after cops shot dead a 17-year-old, Nahel M, and then lied about it.


  1. Is it really worth voting? At any time in the last decades we could say ‘vote left and build the movements’ — what has it achieved?

    We ought to build the Left and stop worrying about who holds government. The Left has lost any capacity to influence what the government does.

    The trajectory of the Greens simply shows where we end up when we invest our desires in the state. We ought to stop encouraging people to take elections as signs of whether ‘an alternative is possible’. This just misdirects people, and there has been far too much of this recently.

    There is much work to be done. The election is a distraction from politics.

  2. I understand your dismay with the parliamentary process Eli, but we’re not advocating voting Green as a way to win change – but because a vote that is clearly to the left of Labor can be a boost in the arm for people who were so dismayed that Labor did not deliver. I think it does matter that we keep Abbott out, to show that dismay with Rudd has not turned into conservative ideas regaining a stronghold.

    Whether revolutionaries like it or not, the vast majority of people will be worried about who wins the election and see their vote as important.

    For that reason the political activity around elections is also an opportunity to mobilise those campaigning in the elections in a more ongoing way, i.e., to grow the left. If we abstained from the process we would be cutting ourselves off from the ability to argue to many that what matters is not the balance of power in the Senate, but the quality and depth of mobilisation for change on the streets, in workplaces, etc.

  3. Josh: people who are poor and vulnerable are part of the debate about whether we should bother voting — they are not its object. The Left hasn’t really talked about systemic questions for a long time, and so naturally the laws of this society are the limits of what we can think. Part of what the Left ought to do — if it isn’t just not-the-Right — is put the phenomena of election into the systemic question of how capitalism is reproduced.

    Amy, you say: “I think it does matter that we keep Abbott out, to show that dismay with Rudd has not turned into conservative ideas regaining a stronghold.” Do the results of election show this? Do they have that sort of value? I don’t think we should assume that people are conservative. We should assume people aren’t, but are being given very little scope to express their desires. The presentation of elections as significant facts adds to the sense that if our desires — say for equality — are outside the alternation of liberal political parties they are wrong desires, of no relevance in this society. The way the Left has not challenged democracy — as it a form of the state(and we could add as an analogy the way that the Left has actually celebrated state organised industrial arbitration) — has meant that elections of necessity seem important. It should be insisted that their is a larger historical question to be looked at, that this puts capitalism into question, and that this is what politics is about — not which party you vote for. If people ant to vote they ought to, but I think this has nothing to do with politics.

  4. It’s completely wrong to say the election result does not matter to revolutionaries, and has nothing to do with politics. What was the effect of Howard’s victory in 2001, or 2004 on the wider left? The left was shellshocked and demoralised for months afterwards–because the conclusion most people on the left draw from a Liberal victory is that the majority of people are too right wing to be any kind of force for change, and so we can’t do anything (or at best we can fall in behind Labor or electoral solutions)–even if these conclusions are wrong.

    It’s hard to know who you are talking about Eli when you say “the Left has not talked about systemic questions for a long time”. Actually the problem is that the people on the left who do talk about the limits of parliamentary power and the need to challenge capitalism as a whole are few in number and far too isolated on the left. You can’t break out of that isolation by simply denoucing the people on the left and in wider society who have not yet reached revolutionary conclusions–you have to build bridges to argue with and show by example (where you can) why looking to parliament to change things will fail. Otherwise you are just talking to yourself.

  5. James, I said: “We ought to stop encouraging people to take elections as signs of whether ‘an alternative is possible’.” I didn’t say anyone was to be denounced to their workers’ council.

    Your argument contains some faulty logic. I’ve said that encouraging the belief that elections indicated something about politics is problematic, because they don’t indicate something about politics, but are a distraction from politics — they are not to do with politics but with the repression of politics, they are something like its opposite, they are the sort of thing politics is a break with.

    You’ve said that election results matter to revolutionaries (whatever that means today) because people believe that the results of elections indicate something about politics. The reason people were shell-shocked, as you say, is because they held the belief that elections indicate something about politics — the belief I’m saying needs to be discouraged. Your article is encouraging this belief by saying that a vote for the Greens can indicate something about politics, that it ‘shows’ something about politics. You are encouraging people to invest something of their desire in the state. If the Left was built separately and against the state, as a force against it, then the demoralisation you talk about wouldn’t be an issue. People wouldn’t be investing their desires in such a bad and bullying lover.

    I don’t think the ‘number’ of people who are against capitalism is too few — their are more than enough to change the world. I think their ‘isolation’ is a choice that they’ve made collectively — In Australia particularly they haven’t wanted to ask the Leninist question: how in this conjuncture can a communist politics be developed?

    However, isolation is the wrong word and concept. The propblem is visibility and noise. We aren’t making enough noise and making systemic questions visible. The Left hasn’t talked about systemic questions for a long time because it hasn’t had a voice — without a voice one cannot talk; it doesn’t exist at the level of society; only in scattered corners — which means it inexists. It isn’t a problem of isolation, it is a problem of strategy. Your continued focus on the state is simply counterproductive.

  6. Eli, It’s hard to tell what you mean since you seem to use words like “politics” to mean something different to what the rest of the world does. But what you do say also makes no sense. Denying that election results mean anything is silly–whether we have a Labor or Liberal government means plenty to the possibilities for class struggle. We might wish that the left and the working class didn’t have the illusions they do that parliament and who is in power can change things, but sadly they do, and you can’t wish this fact away.

    It’s impossible to build the left “separate” to the state–it can only be built by putting demands on the state, or the government of the day. Seeing through their own experience that capitalist governments and the state are not interested in ordinary people’s welfare is the best way to break their illusions that looking to parliament, as opposed to building grassroots struggles, can change things. This is how the left has been built in the past–through involvement in the struggles of students and workers trying to change the world.

    Clearly you disagree fundamentally and are off in your own fantasy world.

  7. Sydney, the two premises you are putting forward, and seem to be thematic in Amy’s and James’ comments, are: (a) the working class and the Left sadly hold illusions about parliament and who is in power, and (b) the Left can ONLY be built by putting demands on the state.

    (a) Do ‘the working class’ and the Left hold illusions about parliament and who holds power? This would be the case if they were putting their faith in the parliament and who holds power against some other option. The problem today is that there is no other option, the Left has withered away. If we survey the battlefield, the parliament and who holds power is the only game in town. Where else, materially, would ‘the working class’ and the Left invest their desires? The various social movements provide one answer, but these have failed to bring any coherence to the Left and stop its withering away; in their necessary particular differentiation they are unable to provide a body to the Left. ‘The working class’ and the Left aren’t deluded, they are taking the only option on the table. It may be a bad lover, but but at least they are not alone.

    In What is to be done? this is exactly the option Lenin suggests pseudo-revolutionaries will leave for ‘the working class’ and the Left, the social democratic option to vote for the Left-wing parties to ‘show’ something about politics and abandon hope. The way you present things, it appears that ‘revolutionaries’ hold the truth about capitalism, and that ‘the working class’ and the Left will hopefully one day catch on and break with their illusions ‘by seeing through their own experience that etc…’ because demands have been put on the state. That is just elitism. That is just an Idealist conception of reality. Against this, and given the options (or lack of), faith in democracy is a reasonable belief.

    (b) Can the Left ONLY be built through putting demands on the state? Demands on the state are not the way Left is built. The Left is built by forcing the state to act in some way that seemed impossible, that it seemed would never happen. It isn’t about demanding something from the state, but asserting that the state is going to have to change its laws around new social conditions that people are not going to be patient about anymore. It is about forcing the state to do something, not demanding that it do something.

    For example, campaigns around gay liberation didn’t demand validity from the state. The state has been forced over time to change laws because gay people have forced society to grow-up about sexuality, by making homosexuality more visible (or less invisible) and not something to be apologised for or embarrassed about (and there is a long way to go on this). The civil rights movement in America is the same, as are major labour struggles. On the other had when the Left was unable to force the state not to invade Iraq, it was unbuilt.

    Politics is always about a declared orientation to the state: with or against. The way that the word is commonly used, and that you appear to want to sustain, is incorrect. Politics isn’t about what goes on in the parliament and who is in power, nor is it what Lenore Taylor has called ‘the art of compromise’. What goes on in parliament is the administration of a society, and with the economic rationalist turn it has become the administration of an economy. What does that have to do with politics? That is a field of consensus: they all agree on what is to be done in the parliament: administer the economy, keep it growing and ticking over. What does that have to do with politics? Politics is about a break with consensus. Politics is about breaking with the state.

    The fact that we aren’t even able to, or allowed, to sustain the simple idea that the parliament and who holds power aren’t political questions shows the withered character of the Left. It shows its disorientation and its desperation to hold onto some socially valid dialogue, to not be totally sidelined. It shows confusion and weakness. How can we orient ourselves against the state if we aren’t allowed to develop a position separate to the state? If we have always to position ourselves within the trivia of the parliament and who holds power, and what the next budget will look like, and will their be austerity? The question of Dual Power needs to be returned to as a serious figure of political action. Unless there is a power built separately to and against the state, then the battle is over and we lost.

    Again: we ought to stop encouraging the belief that the election matters. We ought to stop encouraging people to invest their desire in the state. The Left, as a power, is in no position to battle the state. It shouldn’t pretend that it is. Acknowledging this is the first step to being serious, ‘professional’ as Lenin said, about politics.

  8. Additionally to point (b): even forcing the state to do something isn’t the only way to build the Left. Developing dialogue, community, media, all manner of discussion are equally important ways of developing the Left. The suggestion that ‘putting demands on the state’ is the ONLY way to build the Left, reduces politics to one sort of practice. I think that is a bad move.

  9. Eli, You clearly are not even familiar with the basic ideas of Marxist and socialist politics, such as why most of the time revolutionary socialist ideas are only held by a minority of society, how mass struggles can arise as a result of capitalism forcing workers to fight, how the hold of reformism can be broken etc.

    Before you accuse us of anything else, I suggest you go read something like How Marxism Works which lays out some of these basic ideas in a little more depth than a 750 word editorial on the federal election. See http://localhost/

    You also seem to have a lot of time to play semantic games. Now you want to draw a distinction between putting demands on the state and forcing it to act? How can you force it to act if you don’t demand that it does something? One has to come before the other.
    Also, no one things campaigning against state actions is the ONLY way to build the left. But I think it is a required part of building the left. Of course you have to do other things, combat racism and reactionary in the working class, politically educate people, debate with people with different idea to you etc.

    Belief that parliament can change things is not simply a product of there not being an alternative approach with weight behind it. Otherwise how do mass struggles erupt after periods of low struggle, or where struggles are defeated like the early 1930s or the 1950s? As Marx argued, capitalism “produces its own gravediggers” ie it forces the working class to revolt because it is crisis prone and creates mass unemployment and misery.

    You still haven’t made a single argument to support you thesis that what the state does shouldn’t matter to the left (you say it isn’t “political”). What about when it sacks thousands of public sector workers, or pushes through a pay freeze, or cuts hospital funding? How can that be of no importance to the left? These however are clearly issues to do with administering the state.

    And I suggest you stop using the term “politics” to mean your own politics. Most people use it to mean anything political–whether what goes on it parliament or mass movement activity or discussing how to change the world etc. Obscurantism will get us nowhere.

  10. James, twice you say that ‘the working class’ must be ‘forced’ to act. At an existential level, the experience of some lack is always the motivation to act in any way: I am hungry, I lack food, I will act to reverse this. But this isn’t the form of politics. Politics isn’t being forced to act, it is forcing the state to act.

    Making demands on the state is not the same as forcing it to act to reorganise itself. The Left is often disorganised by the state, which is why I’ve insisted that we oughtn’t encourage people to invest their desires in it: this only leads us to disorganisation. For the Left to engage in political action means that it must disorganise the state, make the state’s present organisation unsuccessful in reincorporating some social force or other. The examples I used above support this idea. ‘Making demands on the state’ is simply rhetorical action. The point is to force the world to change, materially in deeds, not demand that it does, ideally in words.

    ‘Mass struggles’ erupt after periods of ‘low struggle’, because ‘low struggle’ is illogical struggle, and becomes ‘mass struggle’ when it achieves some logical coherence, when it is able to appear at the level of society. However, the use of binary phrases like ‘low’ and ‘mass struggle’ isn’t helpful: it isn’t a useful way to think politics. Further your question is a non-sequitur. I’m not sure how these two sentences here relate:

    “Belief that parliament can change things is not simply a product of there not being an alternative approach with weight behind it. Otherwise how do mass struggles erupt after periods of low struggle, or where struggles are defeated like the early 1930s or the 1950s?”

    I haven’t ‘made a single argument to support [my] thesis that what the state does shouldn’t matter to the Left’, because that is not my thesis. I haven’t said that the state doesn’t matter to the Left. I’ve said that elections are a distraction from politics, because they are. Michael Leunig even made this point in a recent Age op-ed. If the state is using elections to distract us from politics then this matters, and everything I said has been on why this matters. I’ve said that the Left doesn’t have the power to influence the state. I’ve said that politics is always an orientation to the state, it is always an orientation against the state, a break with the state. I’ve said that the Left needs to write elections into a critique of the democratic state that has some historical validity. I’ve said we need to put the democratic state into the systemic critique of capitalism. I’ve noted Lenin’s notion of Dual Power as a good figure in political thought, in this regard, as well as the properly Leninist question: how can we have a materialist practice in our conjuncture? I’ve said that the Left must be built separately to the state, so that it has room to swing its weapons, and see the battle field clearly. All of this suggests that the state is a constant reference in my argument, and of some concern to it.

    As far as obscuantism goes, ought we disregard Marx’s theory of value and just say that commodities have marginal prices? Or why distinguish between the proletariat and the working class (of the class for itself, and the class in itself)? Or why be so obscure and talk about Marx at all? If you had read Capital, you’d note that Marx is particularly critical of the uncritical usage of everyday language, as though everyday speech had any exactness, or scientific validity. Wasn’t Marx just being ibscure when he coined the term ‘labour-power’? Why didn’t he just use the word ‘most people use’: labour? How obscure! Or rather not: Marx was trying to be exact. Oughtn’t we put equal weight on what we mean by politics, if this is the practice we claim to be engaged in? Why is that obscurantism? Isn’t that exactly what we ought be doing if, again after Lenin, we are serious about politics? In fact, to engage in a materialist practice of politics is to be obscure: that is a defining element of our conjuncture! The Left is obscure!

    As far as the Marxist tradition goes, on what basis does Solidarity claim that its practice has anything to do with Marxism? Has it ever really been challenged to justify its identification as Marxist? How would you know if your group was Marxist? Is it just about identity? What is it that makes Solidarity’s practice ‘Marxist’?

  11. Should we vote for Socialist Alliance before the Greens in seats where they have someone standing?

    Surly we should put another workers party above the Greens whuch are at best a petty bourgeois party with left of centre policies.

  12. I don’t think so. There is little point calling for a vote for a tiny left group, regardless of their purity in comparison to the rest, because they represent so little, and the vote is consistently tiny.

    Encouraging a vote for The Greens does not mean endorsing all their politics, who I think you are formally correct about, it means encouraging the left swing against Labor and relating to those who see The Greens as a serious left force.

  13. Amy, just a note, what about when there is a serious left candidate. A candidate who would have the chance of beating both the Greens and ALP. When we have a real socialist alternative would you support voting Socialist in that situation.

    In Australia we have 2 Socialist Councillors. If left and progressive people went to the default of voting Green then we would not have these 2 councillors.

    Secondly in areas such as inner melbourne, for example Yarra City Council where the Greens have been involved with power-sharing with the ALP and proved they are just as willing to support a neo-liberal agenda. How then can we encourage Socialists to vote Green over Socialist Candidates?

    This state election, Victoria 2010. Stephen Jolly a popular socialist councillor in Yarra will be standing for the Seat of Richmond. In the last council elections Stephen Jolly outpolled the Green and ALP candidates by considerable numbers recieving almost double the amount of votes as the ALP candidate.

    For the seat of Richmond in the state election surely you would support candidates voting for the local socialist councillor who will be running against the capitalist parties represented by the Greens and ALP. It is these seats where we have a chance of getting a real leftist alternative elected

  14. As for the first question, it is hard to answer a question about a hypothetical candidate in a hypothetical election. I have no overarching principle against socialist candidates in elections.
    As for the examples you used – there is no doubt that the ALP and the Greens are unreliable representatives – but that is the nature of parliamentary democracy. Anybody who expects someone in parliament not to be under pressure to run capitalism has illusions in parliament.
    The point of calling for a vote for The Greens or the ALP is about the people who vote for them – about trying to relate to them and through that, encouraging them to fight.
    I’m not from Melbourne and don’t know much about Steve Jolly, but the question should not be about getting a leftist alternative elected but building a leftist alternative on the streets.

  15. I understand what you are saying but my point was that when there is a real Left alternative we should support them.

    The same Socialists who run election campaigns and are elected are the same people at the grassroots trying to build an alternative.

    The important aspect which i am trying to show is that it is only by bringing socialist into the parliamentry system that we will be able to shine the light on and expose the Greens for what they are. It is only when we can shatter peoples illusions about what the Greens have to offer that we will really win people over to the Left.

    I think a vote for the Greens is a very poor option for socialists.

    You stated in a previous post that “There is little point calling for a vote for a tiny left group, regardless of their purity in comparison to the rest, because they represent so little, and the vote is consistently tiny.”

    I take aim at that because that is not the truth. When you have local councillors such as Stephen Jolly who can strongly outpoll Greens and ALP in local government elections and offer a real shift in the balance when they stand in state elections. This could be equally true of Fremantles Sam Wainwright. I think it is very poor form for a Socialist to call for a vote for the Greens when popular Socialists are standing in elections and Socialists who do have a chance to break the left stranglehold by the ALP & Greens. I even think it is important to get behind popular left candidates and support them over the Greens, a prime example of this would be Andrew Wilkie who was elected as the member for Denison in the 2010 federal election

    Encouraging a vote for The Greens does not mean endorsing all their politics, who I think you are formally correct about, it means encouraging the left swing against Labor and relating to those who see The Greens as a serious left force.

    I understand that the Greens are doing a very good job of this themselves at the moment through their choices to put gaining positions over power over upholding their own principles. Yarra Council, Victorian Parliament and the Tasmanian Government to name a few.

  16. Matt,

    The Greens have their shortcomings but I don’t think the aim of socialists is to work out how to expose The Greens as too right-wing. Nor is it the case that standing electoral candidates is the best way to positively demonstrate the need for socialist politics. Revolutionaries are much better able to make an impact and “punch above our weight” of numbers and influence in struggle, whether in political campaigns or at the industrial level.

    By and large it is true that the far left electoral challenges in Australia are thorougly marginal. Steve Jolly and the Socialist Party have an electoral base in one council ward in one city, Melbourne. This is the result of good, consistent electoral work over several years in the area. Nowhere else has the socialist left put in the resources necessary to mount a credible electoral challenge, which needs to be the result of roots in a local area developed through sustained local activity.

    The seriousness of the Socialist Party’s electoral work is commendable, and contrasts with the Socialist Alliance’s approach of standing paper candidates for propaganda purposes only, and rarely gaining more than 1 per cent of the vote. But the Socialist Party also has an isolationist attitude to the rest of the left, which limits the impact of these efforts.
    The one Socialist Alliance councillor in Perth strikes me as an anomaly, as his vote of 33 per cent was so far out of the league of usual Alliance votes. Such results have occurred before at a council level.

    I am for supporting socialist or independent union/labour candidates where they are making a genuine effort to build local roots and support, in a way capable of posing a serious electoral challenge–but not token paper candidates.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here