Not a road to socialism

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 7 No 3, published on 19 Nov 2018.

The Victorian State election scheduled for 24 November offers workers no advance towards socialism. The incumbent Labor Government, led by Daniel Andrews, appears to have leapt straight from the pages of the latest edition of a neo-liberal textbook written in the bowels of the International Monetary Fund. A few mildly progressive initiatives and some inadequate action on climate change are firmly subordinated to capitalist market relations. Meanwhile, Labor’s pretences at being socially progressive haven’t stopped it joining in the Right wing media’s racist campaign against “African crime gangs”.

The alternative government, the Liberal Party, is an altogether less complicated beast. As the official mouthpiece of capital, its economic policies are stuck in 1990s IMF zealotry. There aren’t enough capitalists to win elections, so the Libs also need social reactionaries to vote for them. Therefore, the Libs are against taking any action on climate change and they’ve been working closely with Right wing media in fomenting a general “law and order” campaign, centred around a panic about alleged African crime gangs.

So, who else is running? Let’s pass by the assortment of Right wing nut jobs (who bicker amongst themselves just as badly as the Left does) and single issue parties, whose very existence is a statement that “Everything about this society is pretty well OK, except for this one particular issue”. The biggest challenge comes from the Greens. They are certainly committed to better environmental and social policies than either major party. They are fundamentally handicapped, though, by their delusion that a just and sustainable capitalism is possible. Grassroots activists have described them as “neo-liberals on bikes” and it’s difficult to disagree.

This time, we also have the Victorian Socialists, who are running in a number of upper and lower house seats. They are seriously trying to win an upper house seat in the Northern Metropolitan province. And because this is not just a flag-flying exercise, they have to pass a strict test. We oppose running for elections because, although it’s possible to enter a capitalist Parliament on a principled basis, we think it’s a waste of time and effort to do so. The energy required for the election campaign can be far more usefully directed towards building grassroots struggles. Nevertheless, the question arises of how to respond if a State Socialist group decides to waste its resources that way.

Firstly, the party has to be standing clearly for Socialism and against capitalism. The Vic Socialists are doing this. If the election campaign is just a flag-flying occasion, that’s basically enough, provided the party hasn’t disgraced itself in front of the whole working class like the British SWP has with its rape apologism (put “Comrade Delta” into your favourite search engine). Second, the party has to advance strong progressive positions on the issues of the day. The Vic Socialists do this, too. There’s room for argument about their adequacy in this or that area, but it’s not litmus test material for a State upper house. Third, the party has to promise to take the side of workers and oppressed groups in struggle. They tick that box, as well.

Unfortunately, the Victorian Socialists fall at the last hurdle. In the absence of argument to the contrary, the act of a Socialist running for Parliament serves to raise illusions that a parliamentary road to socialism exists. Potential voters will see their vote as the vehicle for attaining Socialism, through the election of sufficient Socialists to Parliament. It is therefore the duty of principled Socialists to explain that, while Parliament may be able to deliver some worthwhile reforms, Socialism can only be achieved by the revolutionary action of the workers themselves. The Victorian Socialists are conspicuously silent on this point.

To vote for a Socialist who has no hope of winning is simply to say “I’m against capitalism and for Socialism”. In lower house seats and in seven of the eight upper house provinces, this is the meaning of a vote for the Victorian Socialists. And there’s no harm in that. If the Socialist has a chance of being elected, though, we need to look at the situation more deeply. A Victorian Socialist in the Legislative Council of Victoria might make stirring speeches in support of grassroots struggles and might fight hard to get reforms out of this neo-liberal Labor Government, but if they don’t explain to the working class that this isn’t how we’ll win Socialism, they’ll be leading workers in the wrong direction.

On this basis, the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group says that it is not possible to lodge a principled vote in the Victorian election on 24 November in Northern Metropolitan, the one constituency where they have a slight chance of winning. None of the candidates offer a road to Socialism.