Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Are the Liberals right? Is Labor socialist?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Tony Abbott says the Labor Party and Bill Shorten are retreating to “old fashioned socialism, like Jeremy Corbyn”. Unfortunately for workers with big debts and stagnant wages, Abbott’s comments aren’t true.

Scared of losing power because of dismal opinion polls, and its one seat majority, the Coalition government is desperately searching for ways to demonise Labor. Like Abbott, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann claims Shorten is a socialist. He says Shorten would make Australia “duller, poorer and less equal”, forcing so-called “successful people” to leave the country.

But the charges laid against socialism by Cormann, Abbott and other capitalist mouth pieces are false. Cormann is trying to invoke the imagery of the Stalinist USSR. But the monstrous crimes of Stalinism have nothing to do with genuine democratic socialism as advocated by the Socialist Party. Democratic socialism would cause the opposite of Cormann’s claims. It’s the capitalist system he supports that denies people the opportunity to succeed, ensuring inequality. The defenders of capitalism keep people living in dreary poverty.

Capitalism is based on a tiny minority of people owning and controlling all the wealth and infrastructure. They waste untold resources fighting each other, even militarily, to keep control and amass ever greater riches. Through their ownership of the means of production, they make all the important decisions about what gets produced, when, and how, as well as to who it’s distributed.

Democratic socialism is the alternative to capitalism and its social crimes. Democratic socialism would give people the right to secure, quality housing, affordable education and the provision of free, timely and comprehensive health care for all, just to start. Socialism means the collective public ownership of the most important companies and their profits. Through this we could end corporate greed and democratically decide on economic plans. We could channel the vast wealth in society to meet human needs.

Right wing ideologue Nick Cater correctly observed in The Australian that socialism is resurgent, pointing to the phenomena of Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

These two leaders propose socialist policies like free university education, and, in Corbyn’s case, putting the railways back in public hands. Socialists support these policies, but both Corbyn and Sanders ultimately want to remain within the limits of capitalism. Unfortunately, these and other necessary reforms can’t be secured permanently while capitalists still own the strategic sectors of the economy and hold them to ransom.

Socialism is gaining in popularity because capitalism will not, and cannot, fill people’s expectations of living dignified lives. And the situation is only worsening. The core reason is that capitalism prioritises profit above all else.

Labor and Bill Shorten, however, are not socialist. In 2014 Shorten said that the ‘socialist objective’ is “about as useful as a 100 year old street directory”. Shorten also said he doesn’t believe in public ownership.

But the ‘streets’ of capitalism have not changed in over 100 years. Bosses still make profits at the expense of workers. The majority are forced to live from selling their ability to work, with little or no security.

Other senior Labor figures have also scoffed and rejected suggestions that they are socialists, referring to it as a “scare campaign” and “conspiracy theory”. Clearly, they do not defend socialism or see themselves as socialist. Moreover, since the Hawke-Keating Labor government of the 1980s and early 90s, Labor governments have done nothing but advance the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the great majority in society.

It was Labor who introduced university fees, privatised the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas and implemented the policy of mandatory detention of refugees. More recently the Gillard government, with Shorten as a minister, slashed university funding and pushed the process of privatising disability care. Ultimately political parties must be judged on their actions rather than labels.

Shorten’s policies aren’t even similar to those of Corbyn and Sanders. He merely proposes to close a few tax loopholes used by the super-wealthy. Socialists support this but it won’t be nearly enough to reverse declining living standards and solve the problems of working people.

Shorten is cynically hoping these populist sounding measures will be just enough to get him into power, without challenging the fundamentals of capitalism. Instead of Shorten’s fake ‘Labor’ Party we need a real working class party that fights for genuine democratic socialist policies. Then we would really give the Liberals something to complain about!

By Kirk Leonard


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the problems with capitalism. The Socialist strives to explain the systemic causes of this crisis, and reports about the issues that are important to working people. We also help to organise struggles against the powers that be.

We don’t receive a cent from big business or governments. Our work is fully funded by our supporters. Even if half the people who read our website every month donated a few dollars each we would raise thousands to help our work!

We need organisations of struggle now more than ever, so if you support what we do please consider making a donation.

One-off or regular donations can be made securely HERE.