Contributed by Joe Montero
With the rise of Bernie Sanders in the United states and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom, a section of Australia is hoping that same will happen here.
Australia will not have either a Berny Sanders or a Jeremy Corbyn, because each is the product of conditions unique to their own countries. There are some similarities between them. an important one is that they appeal especially to the younger generation. There are also major differences.
Sanders and the movemetn that he heads, represents growing discontent over the worsening economic condition faced by many working people and the downward slide of the middle class, coupled with disillusionment with the Democratic leadership. To date, it remains well entrenched within the political status quo of the traditional two-party system. Bernie Sanders mirrors this.
This does not take away the importance of Sanders’ stand that wealth needs to be redistributed downwards and the very rich made to share a much greater burden. A stand is galvanising the support base into action. And it is what counts now.
It has been made possible, because American conditions have caused the stirrings of a political crisis that has opened a window of opportunity. A window that has also opened the possibility for Donald Trump to become president. Situations like this tend to have a double edged effect.
The United Kingdom faces a similar situation, but not quite the same. Politically, the movement is more centred on a concept of socialism. This is due the United Kingdom’s history that gave birth to a Labour Party that consciously pursued a “socialist objective.” It may have been more rhetoric than fact. But at least it’s part of the conscious tradition. This did not occur in the United States. Then there is the experience under Tony Blair and the conversion of the Labour Party into a parody of the Conservatives. Top this off with the experience of Liberal Democrat’s pure opportunism in joining a coalition government with the Conservatives. Then there was the Brexit fiasco and the threat of the rise of UKIP. Developments in Scotland, Ireland and to a lesser, but still significant extent, Wales are also important. These factors have had a collective impact on the overall political climate.
An outcome has been greater political instability. The traditional ruling circles are finding it more difficult to rule. Evidence is the quagmire the Conservatives have got themselves into and the unfortunate alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). The level of political instability is another factor in the rise of the new movement within the ranks of the Labour Party.
Together, these conditions have and continue to produce a rich experience and Jeremy Corbyn has proved to be the right right in the right place and time, to head a large part of this instability, in a direction that it unique to the United Kingdom.
Australia is a different place. Having said this, the situation, there is more in common with the United Kingdom a than the United States. But this should not blind us from the reality that there are also major differences.
There is the Labor Party. It has always been less tied to the socialist objective. During the Hake/Keating era it applied the Prices and Incomes Accord that brought in corporatism and neoliberal economics. In our experience, the Coalition that followed the lead set up by Labor. In the United Kingdom, Labour followed the lead set by the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher. This is a major difference, which together with time has meant that there has not been the same level of internal pressure to break from the past.
Another difference is that the economic down slide has not yet gone as far as the other two countries. Up till now, the situation has been a little less urgent.
Nevertheless, there has still been a considerable turn away from traditional politicians and the two-party system. Evidence of this has been the rise of the Greens on the one hand, and One Nation on the other. There is also greater unrest within the ranks of Labor and the Coalition parties and traditional politics has little appeal and is becoming harder to apply.
The Coalition in government is having difficulty with its economic and political agenda and the prime minister’s hold is ever more tenuous.
Labor’s response is totally reactive. While there may be vision within its ranks, it has not put out there a concept of an Australia that is totally different from that offered by the Coalition. The party strategy has focused on sniping against the most glaring outrages of the government, while the mainstay is waiting out for the Turnbull and his team to become so unpopular that Labor can just walk into office.
In other words, Labor has not broken from a style of operating that has been embedded for a long time. Labor remains totally wedded to the two-party system and does not rely on building an activist movement on the ground as they key to change. Its leadership remains much more comfortable in conducting business as usual. there is no internal movement that has the strength to challenge this. There is no Jeremy Corbyn, who along with his followers is attempting to break from the mold.
The conditions do not favour anything different. It may not always be the case. Conditions can change. But as it stands, the best bet is that the rise of a new movement will come from outside the Labor Party organisation.
In Australia, the Greens have a significantly bigger base that in the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite this, they do not have the capacity to rise a Corbyn like movement. Although having a significant activist base, it is not broadly based enough, the party lacks a sufficiently coherent vision for the future and is itself too locked into the ossified political processes.
For Australia, the answer lies in finding ways to bring various forces together on a common vision, with emphasis building at the grass roots a movement that breaks down political barriers ans asserts itself.
We are some distance from this yet. There is too much political dogmatism and the situation is not yet so dire that it compels big enough numbers, to take note and step up to bring about change. But there is some stirring. It is occurring within Labor and the Greens and outside these two parties. It is also occurring within the ranks of the Coalition and One Nation.
Most of us have much more in common than differences. What we need is to realise is a unity of purpose, based on being conscious of the need to replace political processes and ideology, which has for so long, been in the hands of an economic and political elite. We must work towards building a movement of collective grass roots political strength. It may involve itself in the electoral process, but not as a replacement activism at the base.
Australia’s answer to Jeremy Corbyn is more likely to emerge from this.