There’s a push within the ALP to remove the party’s long-standing socialist objective, which states
The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.
Then follows a long list of commitments, notably including
(i) the restoration and maintenance of full employment;
(j) the abolition of poverty, and the achievement of greater equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity; and
(k) social justice and equality for individuals, the family and all social units, and the elimination of exploitation in the home
I’m ambivalent about this, both as as regards substance and timing. When I started this blog, I made the decision to describe myself as a social democrat rather than a democratic socialist. In 2006, I gave the following explanation, in a comment
I prefer “social democratic” because it clearly refers to the set of policies implemented and advocated by social democrats in the second half of the 20th century, including a mixed economy, an active welfare state, government responsibility for full employment and so on.
By contrast, socialism is less well defined. It can mean comprehensive public ownership, which I don’t support, or it can be just a general statement of values and aspirations, consistent with social democracy.
So, if the change was simply to replace “democratic socialist” with “social democratic”, and to give a description of goals consistent with that, I’d have no problem. But let’s look at the text proposed by NSW Labor Leader Luke Foley
The Australian Labor Party has as its objective the achievement of a just and equitable society where every person has the opportunity to realise their potential.
“We believe in an active role for government, and the operation of competitive markets, in order to create opportunities for all Australians, so that every person will have the freedom to pursue their wellbeing, in co-operation with their fellow citizens, free from exploitation and discrimination”.
Foley’s further comments make no reference to full employment, equality, poverty or any other social democratic concerns. He goes on to say
We understand that competitive markets are best placed to deliver the economic growth that the people we represent rely on.
We also know that regulation and redistribution are necessary to correct market failures, to ensure dignity and opportunity for all Australians.
Is there anything here that Tony Abbott, or even Joe Hockey, could disagree with?
So, it’s pretty clear that removing the socialist objective is not a matter of moving away from a dogmatic commitment to public ownership. Rather, it means abandoning any notion that Labor aspires to change society for the better, or that it has any fundamental disagreement with market liberals. The implied view is that the necessary changes for the better in Australia were those delivered by the reforming Hawke, Keating and Howard governments, and that what we need in the future is more of the same.
The other striking feature of this push is the timing. In the 1990s, when Tony Blair pushed for the removal of the corresponding Clause IV in the Constitution of the British Labour Party, financial capitalism appeared to both unstoppable and beneficent, producing endless prosperity for all. In the post-GFC era, financial capitalism has so far proved unstoppable, but it has ceased to produce widespread prosperity. Australia has been an exception to the general malaise of developed-country capitalism, but this is due as much to good luck as to good management.
What this push shows is the extent to which Australia’s political class, including the Labor “Left” is saturated with the assumptions of market liberalism, to the point that even a cataclysm like the GFC and the subsequent recession/depression in most of the developed world has had no impact at all.
fn1. From the “Left” faction, I believe, though this label has little more than tribal/historical significance nowadays.