by Sam King
In Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs, the Victorian Socialists (VS) election campaign is giving socialism a high public profile in the state election. The party’s street presence defies an almost total media blackout.
According to VS material, the upper house Northern Metropolitan Region holds its best chance of gaining a seat. The lead candidate there, Jerome Small, is a widely trusted and long-term fighter of the Melbourne far left.
In the 2018 state election in the Northern Metropolitan Region, VS got four percent of the vote – a higher primary vote than Fiona Patten from the ‘Reason Party’ who was ultimately elected on preferences.
Liz Walsh is the lead VS candidate for the upper house Western Metropolitan Region – the other region identified as having a chance of electing a VS candidate. Had the party received around four percent of the vote there in 2018 – they would have been elected. Though they didn’t prioritise running in that region then.
The VS 2022 campaign comes on the back of their 2018 state election campaign and federal election campaign in the same areas earlier this year. The main group that forms the leadership and the backbone of VS – Socialist Alternative – has effectively been mobilising their membership nationally for years in a concentrated electoral campaign.
The last two times a socialist outside of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was elected to parliament were in 1944 and 1947 when Fred Patterson won the North Queensland state seat of Bowen for the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).
Before that, Percy Brookfield in the Broken Hill area was elected to the New South Wales (NSW) parliament as a member of the Industrial Socialist Labor Party in 1920. Brookfield was earlier elected as the ALP member in the same seat, but left the party during the First World War.
The VS is the first well organised, large-scale, openly socialist campaign that is attempting to win seats (as opposed to raise specific ideas or profile) for three decades at least. If VS is successful electorally, and its members of parliament are also successful in gaining a national profile – that could open electoral opportunities for socialists in other parts of the country.
For these reasons alone, any readers living in the Northern and Western Metropolitan Regions of Melbourne should vote Victorian Socialists in both houses – and encourage others to do the same. Other socialist campaigns, such as the Socialist Alliance in Geelong, should also be supported – with the Greens given second preference.
A problem that VS campaigners have identified in winning votes is a large overlap between the VS policy platform with that of the Greens. This can be summed up in the main slogans and priority issues.
The Greens campaign is centred on climate, housing and integrity in politics. The VS campaign centres on climate, housing and making the rich pay for policies that benefit working people. VS candidates also pledge to take only a worker’s wage if elected – and donate the rest.
Electorally, the Greens have failed to win votes outside of the inner-city small ‘l’ liberal heartlands. Their vote has basically stagnated over the last 10-12 years (though they are hopeful it will rise with the party’s left tack or turn under Adam Bandt).
The Victorian Socialists campaigners, with their background in socialist activism and ability to strategically concentrate resources from across the country, are in many ways far more able to take their program to the outer suburbs. This is also stated aim of the campaign.
There they face not a resurgent Greens but an ALP in long-term decline, shedding its primary vote share to the right and left. That is the main electoral space the VS campaign is making a serious effort to fill – as well as taking inner city left votes off the Greens.
If VS are successful, this may have significant electoral implications. A socialist or two in parliament would put electoral pressure on the Greens in a way they have not felt before – from the left. It would also apply left pressure directly on the ALP. If the Greens were forced to harden up or to tack further to left – that too would apply additional left pressure to the ALP governments.
Socialists in Parliament
The Victorian Socialists promise to use any positions they win to build fight-back outside of parliament as well as in it. This is critical. One or two seats in parliament, or even a few socialists in parliament across the county, will not fundamentally change the balance of class forces within Australian capitalism.
However, the massive extra-parliamentary struggles that are necessary to win urgently needed changes – especially on climate policy – need also a strategy that includes parliamentary action.
If the Victorian Socialists are elected and MPs can find ways to use their parliamentary seats to build mass based extra-parliamentary fightback on climate, that would be an extremely useful contribution to rebuilding the socialist movement and working-class power.
By temperament and inclination, VS aims at mass action. The Socialist Alternative leadership, that also leads VS, does not believe social change can be made through parliament and without the involvement of working people. Further, Jerome Small and other leaders are experienced organisers and skilled agitators. Small is perhaps the best agitational political speaker in Australia. To use the parliamentary platform effectively, VS MPs will need to agitate for people to take action around concrete issues that we can win.
At the United Climate Rally in Melbourne on July 30, it was only Adam Bandt’s speech that gave direction to what such a movement could focus on doing. Bandt repeatedly emphasised what must be the concrete and immediate focus of the climate movement to come – “no new coal and gas”.
He also focused listeners minds on the key new projects that have to be fought by the climate movement – Beetaloo Basin gas in the Northern Territory (NT), the Scarborough Gas expansion in Western Australia (WA), Narrabri coal seam gas in NSW and the Twelve Apostles gas project in Victoria.
However, Bandt’s speech also emphasised the Greens lack of any effective extra-parliamentary perspective or strategy: “We will fight as hard as we can in the Parliament.” […] “with us fighting inside and you fighting outside [the parliament]”.
At the same rally, Small raised the mass climate strikes and other public actions as examples of what we need more of. However, he gave no indication of what future actions would be fighting to win, besides an entirely new society, “talking about a vision for a society…” […] “We’re taking our world back”, etc.
But for masses of people to be involved in fighting for that, the left needs to be able to say what is the next immediate step. Working people need to be involved in winning some smaller immediate victories – like no new coal and gas. Hopefully VS will adopt that view.
Victorian Socialists winning one or two seats would be a big benefit to left. It would raise the morale and confidence of progressives and socialists. A socialist in parliament would help to put socialism “on the map” in terms of popular consciousness. It would also give a parliamentary platform to a group capable of using it to build mass struggle.
The Victorian Socialists campaign is a serious and positive initiate that all socialists should support.