Towards a Socialist Australia
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.
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.
The reality of climate change is manifesting itself in an increasing number of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and tornados. Melting ice sheets are resulting in rising sea levels and increased flooding of low-lying areas. Some islands will soon be totally submerged, turning their inhabitants into climate refugees.
Alongside climate change is the unrelenting destruction of the environment, such as deforestation, pollution of the air, waterways and the soil and the destruction of or harm to many animal species. Both have consequences for the human environment.
These problems disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people, who contribute the least to the crisis.
The solutions to climate change are known and simple: rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels, make the switch to renewables and halt deforestation. But significant economic interests at the heart of the capitalist system have big investments in coal, oil, gas and nuclear power. Protecting these interests, governments refuse to take more than token measures to halt climate change.
The goal of the big corporations is to secure the greatest possible profits for their super-rich owners — regardless of the consequences to the planet and its people.
World capitalism has survived the past half-century largely by accessing cheap labour in poor countries. Globalisation has allowed big capital to maintain profit levels, keeping the high-profit functions of research and development, design and financing in rich countries, while outsourcing manufacturing to the Developing World.
Within wealthy countries capitalists now seek big returns through financial speculation, creating bubbles in information technology stock prices, real estate, or exotic derivatives, in preference to investing in useful production. Employment and wage structures have been hollowed out, with a layer of jobs disappearing from the economy. Manufacturing jobs have been exported and technology has enabled much routine administrative work to become computerised.
Pressure on jobs has allowed employers to reduce real wages and conditions. New jobs are largely in the low-skilled service sector, offering low pay and little job security.
Profit rates are being crushed by overproduction. Low paid workers and super-exploited workers in the developing world simply cannot afford to buy all the extra goods and services now on world markets.
In countries such as China and India, where some capital accumulation has emerged through manufacturing and debt-financing, capitalists are seeking to enter the high-profit sectors of the world market and expand their own operations elsewhere in the developing world. They now undertake their own research and development, design and financing, and now compete with traditional capitalist powers. Wealthy countries, through copyright and intellectual property laws, and military and diplomatic pressures, are attempting to counter these efforts.
But this model for capitalism’s survival has hit a brick wall. Since 2008, a boom built on financial speculation has been replaced by the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
In wealthy countries, the first task governments set themselves was to protect the bankers and speculators whose unrestrained greed has been the distinctive feature of the problem. Trillions of dollars in stimulus spending have largely finished up in bankers’ pockets.
More and more, the capitalists are trying to make working people and the poor pay for the system’s failures. Jobs, wages and democratic rights are under attack. Austerity measures and the resulting contractions in consumer spending are simply making the crisis worse.
The crisis won’t be fixed by simply disciplining a few selfish speculators, because the problem is with the system that bred them.
The United States, the mainstay of world capitalism, is gripped by seemingly intractable problems. The American elite refuse to consider serious tax increases on the rich, or to curb militarism. So the government has been cutting public spending on health, welfare and education in an attempt (so far unsuccessful) to reduce the budget deficit. Millions of people in the US have been evicted from their homes and real unemployment is around 22%.
In Europe, the response of capitalist governments to the crisis is austerity, with cuts to pensions and wages and further sell-offs of state assets.
Some commentators claim that Australia’s greenhouse emissions are insignificant in world terms. But this is a lie.
Per head of population, Australia is the worst emitter of any large developed nation. In absolute terms, we pump out almost as much carbon dioxide as Italy, with its 60 million people. Take into account coal exports, and our share of world emissions roughly doubles.
Now, Australia’s resource moguls plan to increase those exports by as much again. New coalmines are being planned and built across the country. In many instances prime farmland and water sources are being destroyed in the process.
Cheap fossil fuel lies at the base of Australian capitalism’s business model, and the big parties know it. The ALP’s market-based emissions trading scheme aims for a tiny cut of 5 per cent by 2020, and the Liberal-National Coalition’s misnamed “Direct Action Plan” proposes to reach the same target by paying emitters to cut their pollution.
Rather than a full-scale switch to renewable power sources, the federal ALP government is promoting the large-scale development of gas. The big resource investors are on board. But unconventional gas extraction techniques can do grave environmental damage. And evidence is mounting that when venting and leaks of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — are taken into account, energy from gas has a greenhouse impact as bad as or worse than that from coal.
Also taking place is a massive expansion of uranium mining to fuel the nuclear industry. Nuclear power is not the answer to humanity’s greenhouse gas dilemma. Weapons proliferation is a serious danger. Current nuclear technology has potentially catastrophic safety risks, and waste storage issues are unresolved. Even if the proven dangers of nuclear power could be overcome, the lead times for building sufficient new nuclear plants would not allow climate disaster to be avoided. In addition, cost projections for nuclear are escalating even as prices for renewable energy are falling fast.
Australia has some of the world’s best capacity for renewable energy — solar, wind, wave and geothermal. There are no technical barriers to moving to 100% renewable energy in Australia, however the switch to renewable energy is being blocked by those who profit from the polluting industries.
Successive Coalition and Labor governments have refused to invest in the new infrastructure and a just transition to jobs for a zero emission economy. Instead, they choose to subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of billions each year. Conservative governments in Victoria and NSW have now imposed crippling restrictions on the wind and solar industries.
Compared to Greece and many other countries, Australia so far has had an easy run during the global economic crisis. Decades ago, this country’s capitalists found a lucrative niche for themselves as low-cost exporters of raw commodities, especially iron ore and coal. Over the past two years, investment and prices in these sectors have largely held up. This is partly because of growing Chinese demand. In response to the global financial crisis, which caused the loss of 20 million jobs in export-oriented manufacturing, the Chinese government embarked on a massive program of public works (high speed inter-city rail, etc). Chinese demand helped Australia’s mining industry to continue growing during the global crisis.
But the impact of the mining boom on the broader Australian economy has been mixed. The rising Australian dollar has hurt manufacturing and some other industries. Mining itself is not immune from the crisis. There is no guarantee that Chinese demand will continue to increase. Chinese exports remain vulnerable to the crisis in Europe and America. Other problems, such as the rising indebtedness of Chinese local governments and the deflation of the real estate market, could also have an impact.
Many Australian and foreign-owned manufacturing companies have closed down or cut back their Australian operations. In many cases they have shifted production to overseas locations. The Australian government (unlike the Chinese government) has done nothing to create alternative jobs, despite the potential that exists in areas like renewable energy.
Already, decades of neoliberalism have made Australia a harsher, crueller, more unequal society. Privatisation, outsourcing, casualisation, restructuring, deregulation and user-pays have been the means for shifting wealth from working people to the well-off.
The richest 20% of the population now own 61% of total household wealth, while the poorest 20% own just 1%. Two million people live in poverty, and at least 100,000 are homeless on any given night. Public health care is under-funded and quality education is increasingly for children whose parents can pay. Pensions and unemployment benefits are far below poverty levels. Australians living with disability have the worst quality of life in the developed world with one in two living in poverty.
Official unemployment is a “low” 5.3%, but at least as many people again who want fulltime work can’t find it. Millions fall into the categories of “underemployed” and “working poor”.
Since white colonisation began in 1788, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has suffered the trauma of invasion, enslavement, assimilation, genocide, racist exclusion, land theft, the destruction of life, language and culture, poor health care and the denial of basic human rights.
The Rudd government’s official apology was a symbolic step forward but remains a hollow gesture. The scandal of deaths in custody continues and racism is endemic.
The 2007 Northern Territory intervention was a massive bipartisan attack on Aboriginal communities. The federal government policy, along with Territory policies banning bilingual education, withdrawing support from homelands and centralising government services in “super shires” and “hub towns” (at the expense of community councils) represents another attack on Aboriginal language and culture, self-determination and land rights.
The Labor government’s Stronger Futures legislation deepens and entrenches this neoliberal assimilationist trend for at least a decade.
Paternalistic welfare measures introduced as part of the intervention are being extended to other parts of the country, particularly areas with large migrant and Aboriginal populations.
Meanwhile, mining companies offer Aboriginal communities investment and “development” in exchange for allowing access to mine on their land.
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 11 — 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 100,000s 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 are demonised by the government and put in mandatory detention, at a cost of millions of dollars each year. Refugees face the threat of deportation and discrimination.
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. They effectively 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 publicly owned (whether federal, state or municipal). The privatisations of recent decades should be reversed and the public sector massively expanded.
With the economic levers in the peoples’ 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.
Capitalist democracy is more formal than real. 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 unable to be influenced by ordinary people.
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.
We need a system of popular democracy that empowers the majority of Australian people.
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.
Parliament requires fundamental change. MPs 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, especially in regard to health and safety. Anti-union laws should be scrapped.
The main goals and targets of economic activity should be publicly discussed and voted on.
The mass media should be radically opened up to reflect the interests and concerns of ordinary people.
How will fundamental social change come about? There is no map or blueprint, but long experience shows that we will get nothing unless we fight for it. The involvement of the majority of people will ensure that real change can be achieved and defended.
The capitalist oligarchy — “the 1%” — and its supporters will fight to the end to defend its privilege and wealth. Only the power of the organised and mobilised working-class majority can introduce the economic democracy needed to begin to resolve the problems facing the 99%.
The creation of militant, democratic campaigning organisations, determined to win, is crucial. One of the most important of these is a socialist organisation — one that seeks to unite all those who want to fight to end capitalism and that strives to win mass support through its involvement in all the day-to-day struggles of the exploited and oppressed.
Through working with social movements and unions, including establishing dialogue with all sectors of Australian society — political organisations, faith-based communities, the First Nations, local governments and community-based activist organisations — and through sharing political information and analysis, participating in elections and putting forward solutions to the problems we face, such an organisation can also help to convince the majority of Australians that humanity and the planet requires fundamental social and political change.
Even if popular forces committed to fundamental change win an electoral victory, we will have to mobilise in the streets, workplaces, schools, campuses and neighbourhoods to defend any progressive moves made against the power of the corporate rich.
Apologists for capitalism have long devoted enormous efforts to arguing against socialism. They argue that it is a completely utopian exercise that flies in the face of human nature. They say that it will never work or that it will always lead to bureaucratic dictatorship.
It is true that some revolutionary governments have degenerated into bureaucratic regimes, leading eventually to the restoration of capitalism. This highlights the importance of the struggle for democracy as a part of the struggle to build a new society.
But it is also necessary to understand the objective conditions that contributed to such degenerations. Most revolutions in the twentieth century took place in poor countries devastated by war. They faced constant attacks from the imperialist powers that used war, terrorism and economic sabotage to undermine them. This created conditions favourable to the growth of bureaucracy.
If these countries had received support and aid from richer countries, rather than hostility and aggression, things may have turned out completely differently. Thus, socialist revolutions in rich countries are important, not only for their own people but also for those of the poorer countries.
If we have overcome capitalism — if the economy is socially owned and controlled and we have a system of popular power — then we have a framework for dealing with the ecological and social problems that we face.
The most urgent order of business of a real peoples’ government would be an emergency program of action to tackle climate change, including the consequences of decades of inaction, and to build a sustainable economy.
A peoples’ government would sign a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, recognising and compensating for their original dispossession and supporting their self-determination. A peoples’ government would move rapidly to overcome disadvantage at all levels and in all sectors of society.
The guiding principle of a post-capitalist society would be the welfare of all people and a stable environment. Noone would be abandoned to their fate, as is the case under capitalism.
Gradually more and more basic goods and services could be provided without charge (such as healthcare, education, transport, welfare). These rights belong to every human.
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