The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour Party has been a political earthquake. The hopes of millions of British people who want to see a society based on the interests of the 99% have been raised. There is without a doubt huge enthusiasm for policies that stand in contrast to profit driven agenda of the 1%.
Even in Australia people have been boosted and asked if a Corbyn type figure could emerge here. While the conditions are certainly being created for the development of a new type of politics in Australia, it is unlikely that any radical figurehead will come from within the Australian Labor Party (ALP).
Corbyn hails from the Socialist Campaign Group within British Labour. While reformist in nature, this group describes itself as ‘democratic socialist’ and many members have openly opposed the right-wing policies that Labour adopted under Tony Blair.
In contrast the “Socialist Left” faction within the ALP has no real ideological differences with the Right. For example Kim Carr, one of the leaders of the ALP Left, pushed for deep cuts to education while in office. Jenny Macklin, another leading ‘Left’, is known for slashing welfare payments to single parents.
In fact there is not a single figure within the ALP that even vaguely resembles Jeremy Corbyn. While Corbyn’s program is modest, he does stand against austerity, for the raising of the minimum wage and for bringing services like public transport back into public ownership. Sadly, Corbyn even stands far to the left of most of Australia’s trade union leaders!
While the ALP once had a thriving left-wing it has been diminished to a greater extent than in Britain because of the policies introduced by the Hawke Labor government. In global terms Hawke was a pioneer of neo-liberalism in the early 1980s. ‘The Accord’ (social contract) Hawke introduced helped the right-wing consolidate their hold on the party, well before Blair transformed Labour in Britain.
Some have suggested that given the ALP is so out of touch perhaps a new political movement could coalesce around the Greens. Unfortunately just as more people are becoming disillusioned with the political establishment the Greens are striving to become a bigger part of it. The election of the more conservative Richard Di Natale as leader is a clear shift to the right as is their recent portfolio reshuffle.
While the Greens first came to prominence on the back of social movements, today they are a party of professionals that is purely focused on elections. Like the ALP they have successfully sidelined the activist left within the party and learning from the Corbyn experience they are unlikely to implement any party reforms that could see leadership elections get out of their control.
While a movement for a new type of politics will likely bypass the ALP and Greens, it will develop in some way, shape or form. As the economic situation worsens the mainstream parties that represent the 1% will attempt to shift the burden onto ordinary people. This will provoke a reaction and inevitably people will seek express themselves politically.
If people feel that they being blocked by the mainstream parties, or even the trade unions, they will move to create their own movements. Within those movements prominent figures can develop and new parties can even be created.
This is effectively what happened in Spain with the Indignados movement that broke out in response to austerity measures there. From the Indignados arose Podemos, a new party that is now presenting a left challenge to PSOE – the Spanish equivalent of the ALP.
In essence the movement around Jeremy Corbyn was seen by millions of people in Britain as a vehicle that could be used to combat austerity and advance the interests of the majority. While it will take on different forms in different countries the next period of capitalist instability will see many more attempts to create a new type of politics and new political formations.
For our part the Socialist Party will help to foster such movements and argue for them to take on socialist policies as the best way of beating back austerity once and for all.
By Anthony Main