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Issue #1704      September 30, 2015

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

Abbott, Turnbull and the resurgence of social democracy

The Liberal Party, trailing Labor in no less than 30 consecutive opinion polls, has done what opportunists always do: resorted to changing their image! The arrogant religious crank Tony Abbott has been ousted from the PM’s job in a palace coup and replaced by the polished, suave Malcolm Turnbull.

Instead of Abbott’s blatantly uncaring ultra-conservatism we now have Turnbull’s deceptive “conservatism with a human face”. However, the changes are largely cosmetic: the fundamentals remain the same.

The day after the Libs’ desperate dumping of Abbott, Jon Queally wrote about it in the on-line commentary Common Dreams, under the perceptive headline: “Abbott Ousted But Australian Progressives Declare: ‘Nothing Has Changed’”. Mind you, by “progressives” he means ALP politicians, but for once what they’re saying is actually correct.

Queally noted that “Though a multi-millionaire former banker and a prominent member of Australia’s conservative establishment, Turnbull’s ascent to leadership is seen as a rejection of Abbott’s most reactionary and far-right tendencies, especially on social issues, human rights, and the need to act more boldly on the impacts of human-caused global warming.” Abbott was most certainly a notorious “climate sceptic” whom even British Tories likened to a medieval “flat earther”. in Australia reported Malcolm Turnbull’s “progressive” credentials thus: “Unlike Mr Abbott, Mr Turnbull supports gay marriage, wants Australia to replace the British monarch with an Australian president as head of state, and backs a policy of making polluters pay for their carbon gas emissions.” All jolly good.

However, with disarming honesty it went on: “However, despite some of those tendencies, Turnbull indicated in remarks delivered after his victory that he would largely maintain the party’s right-wing policy positions ahead of next year’s national elections.”

George Wright, national campaign director for the ALP was even more blunt about Turnbull’s likely policies: “He’s told the media that he’s not going to improve the abysmal climate targets, despite what he’s previously said. He’s not going to legislate marriage equality. And he’s also backed all the measures in the budget, that’s the GP tax, $100,000 degrees, cuts to pensions, and cuts to schools and hospitals.”

Turnbull himself indulged in persiflage: “Our values of free enterprise, of individual initiative, of freedom, this is what you need to be a successful, agile economy in 2015.” On the other hand, Senator Richard Di Natale of Victoria, leader of the Australian Greens, said on Twitter, “It’s not just PM Abbott that’s the problem. It’s the entire cruel, sold-out government. Bring on the next election.”

Someone with the hashtag aligatorhardt commented on social media: “Corporate sponsored leaders can be expected to cater to the billionaires, but most voters are not served by those efforts. The Greens are the best way to bring government back to the people.”

The rejection of Abbott’s ultra-conservative agenda in opinion polls is not a purely Australian phenomenon. Similar reactionary anti-worker policies are being rejected by the people in numerous capitalist countries. Evidence for this may be found in the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in Britain and the growth of support in the USA for Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party nomination for President.

Hillary Clinton, previously seen as a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, has seen her support drop dramatically as support for Sanders, previously written off as having no hope, has steadily gone up. Jeremy Corbyn was also treated as a joke by the capitalist media and the corporate establishment they support.

To their horror, he romped home in the first round with 59 percent of the vote – the biggest electoral mandate of any party leader in British political history.

The respected “liberal” British Guardian newspaper commented: “Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of that choice, the transformational nature of it is beyond question. It has revived debates about nationalisation, nuclear deterrence and wealth redistribution and returned the basis of internal Labour Party divisions to politics rather than personality. It has energised the alienated and alienated the establishment. …

“He scraped on to the ballot with seconds to spare with the help of MPs who didn’t support him but wanted to ensure the voice of the Labour left could at least be heard – a tokenistic gesture to demonstrate the party still had roots even if they weren’t showing. … His candidacy was supposed to be decorative but never viable.

“From the moment it was clear that assumption was flawed, the political and media class shifted from disbelief to derision to panic, apparently unaware that his growing support was as much a repudiation of them as an embrace of him. … For the past couple of decades the Labour leadership has looked upon the various nascent social movements that have emerged – against war, austerity, tuition fees, racism and inequality – with at best indifference and at times contempt. …

“After almost a decade and a half of war, crisis and austerity, left-wing social democrats in all their various national guises are enjoying a revival as they seek to challenge the neo-liberal consensus. In the US, the self-described “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders is outpolling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in key states. Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and Die Linke in Germany are all posing significant challenges to mainstream centre-left parties.”

And there’s the rub: the people may have rejected neo-liberalism, but so far they are pinning their hopes on social democracy. The problem is inherent in capitalism itself, and social democratic parties will never challenge capitalism. The best they ever offer is to “manage it better”. The historic role of social democratic parties like the ALP is to divert angry workers and other dissatisfied sections of the population away from the upheaval of revolutionary change towards cosmetic reforms.

The job of the revolutionary Left is to expose the inherent weakness of social democracy while attempting to win its followers over to support a revolutionary agenda instead. For only a revolutionary change to society will liberate working people from oppression and exploitation.

Next article – Protect water and farmland from Bylong Coal Project

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