A by-election in Australia has seen the Australian Labor Party government retain the seat of Dunkley in Victoria - albeit with a swing of 3.7% to the opposition, conservative Liberal Party. In Australia’s ‘two-party-preferred’ electoral system, the ALP won with 52.7% of the vote.

This is a pretty standard swing against a sitting government that will not trouble Labor. With about a year until the next federal election, the government of Anthony Albanese will find this a comfortable win, with its primary (first-preference) vote holding up (41.2%, up 0.9%). This was in the face of a Liberal attempt to whip up a racist fear campaign alongside an ongoing cost-of-living and housing crisis for most people, especially young workers and students. Labor campaigned on the basis that that it was ‘listening’ to people on the cost of living.

In the days ahead of the vote, which took place on Saturday March 2, Liberal Party deputy leader Sussan Ley sent a message on Twitter saying: “If you live in Frankston and you’ve got a problem with Victorian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labor.”

This was seemingly in reference to Victoria police charging a man on suspicion of sexual assault. Within hours of the arrest he had been released, with the police saying it was mistaken identity and not profiling. The man - a West Papuan asylum-seeker, who had been held in indefinite detention, given his previous criminal record - had been released under supervision after the high court ruled in November that his (and other asylum-seekers’) detention was illegal. The Liberal Party has been trying to whip up racist and chauvinist hate ever since, but this appears to have fallen flat.

In total, there were eight candidates, including from the Socialist Alternative-dominated Victorian Socialists (VS), the Australian Greens, Animal Justice Party and Libertarians (the by-election was caused by the death of ALP MP Peta Murphy).

The Greens saw a near 4% drop in their primary vote and the VS, standing a Palestinian candidate, received just 1.73% - meaning they were outpolled by ‘informal’ (ie, invalid) votes (4.26%). While Labor is out of step with much of its base on the question of Gaza, this did not materialise as votes for the Greens or VS. The latter’s electoral experiment - spearheaded by the Cliffite Socialist Alliance - did not fare well.

To give them credit, they highlighted the war on Gaza and Australia’s complicity with genocide by standing Reem Yunis, a woman of Palestinian origin. But their actual position on this was indistinguishable from the Australian Greens, who stood the anti-Zionist Jewish candidate, Alex Breskin and he received 5,162 votes (6.37%).

Reem Yunis’s letter to voters in Dunkley read:

“Instead of backing mass slaughter of innocent people, our government should take a stand against war and use its diplomatic power to push for justice for the Palestinians and a lasting peace.

“Let’s fund better childcare, schools and hospitals instead of wasting billions on weapons and war …

“Let’s ensure workers get a bigger share of the wealth they produce instead of helping the super-rich get richer.”

As I have said, politically, this was indistinguishable from the Australian Greens. While the VS ‘How to vote’ card was branded green, black and red - no doubt a nod to the Palestinian flag - the top was dominated by a slightly darker shade of green to that used on Green Party literature!

The first social media output after the by-election from the Victorian Socialists was a tweet highlighting its best performing booth, Carrum Downs south, where Reem Yunis received 64 first preference votes (7.0%). “Very good result for us,” it said. Really? This was a booth where Yunis came fourth - or fifth if you include the 76 informal votes (7.7%) - and where there was an 11% swing to the conservative Liberal candidate.

VS is repeating the errors of other ‘lowest common denominator’ left unity electoral projects. Rather than uniting the left around what is needed for the working class - a radical, democratic and republican programme that challenges the constitutional order and capital’s control of economic and social life - we get bottom-drawer economism.

Yet outside their ‘electoral’ clothing, the Socialist Alternative comrades exhibit the same impatient, ultra-left ‘strike, strike, strike’ mentality you expect from Cliffite and International Socialist Tendency groups the world over. This is a strange Jekyll-and-Hyde approach to politics: semi-anarchist strikism and ultra-left posturing for university recruiting; and low-level reformist gruel for elections.

The only consistency between the two is economism. Outside of its call to oppose the war in Gaza, there were literally no political demands put forward. It was all below-par reformist economism: increase wages, “bring down housing costs and supermarket prices”; more funding for local transport, schools and hospitals. How this is meant to elevate working class consciousness and struggle to contest for state power is anyone’s guess.

Leaving aside the fact that this electoral unity project is only in one state in Australia (there are no ‘Queensland Socialists’, etc), it is hard to imagine getting a lower vote on any platform. So why not stand on a political programme that actually challenges the political order and lays out the ideological weapons the working class needs to turn itself into a ruling class?

The answer, of course, is the comrades do not have the politics - or stomach - for it.

A side note on history: in its post-election thanks to supporters on social media, VS said its electoral campaign was the first run by socialists in Dunkley. While technically true - the seat was created in 1984 - the area was previously covered by the seat of Flinders, and throughout the 1930s the Communist Party stood former ALP member Ralph Gibson in the area. In his first shot, in a 1933 by-election, he won 3,124 votes (5.0%). In the 1934 federal election, comrade Gibson received 4,750 votes (7%) and, in 1937, the communists received 4,630 (9.1% of the vote). It was the last time they stood in the seat before the party was banned ahead of the 1940 elections.

The main slogan of the Communist Party in 1934 was “For soviet power”. By 1937, at the start of the popular front period, CPA slogans included: “Out with Lyons, who menaces democracy! Elect a Labor government! Preserve democracy! Bar the path to fascism!” While there is an obvious shift from ‘third period Stalinism’ to the collaborationist, anti-fascist popular front, in both cases the CPA prioritised political slogans.

A far cry from today’s economistic left.

Martin Greenfield

Democratic Stalin

As many readers will know, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died in March 1953. Just six months earlier, he gave a scripted and relatively short speech of just over 1,100 words to the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (October 14 1952).

In my opinion, one paragraph regarding the struggle for democracy and democratic rights had a most significant impact on, first, the development of a post-war western communist approach to revolution and a model of socialism very distinct from the Soviet approach and model, and, later, the development of Eurocommunism in the 1970s.

The key points in the relevant section read: “Earlier, the bourgeoisie presented themselves as liberal, they were for bourgeois democratic freedom and in that way gained popularity with the people ... The banner of bourgeois democratic freedom has been flung overboard. I think that you, the representatives of communist and democratic parties, must pick up this banner and carry it forward if you want to gain the majority of the people. There is nobody else to raise it.”

It was precisely this new relation between the struggle for democracy and for socialism which helped inform the development of specifically western communist approaches to socialist revolution and indeed to their conception of the models of socialism to be achieved. In many respects, these were foreshadowed by actual experiences of the ‘people’s democracies’ in post-war central and eastern Europe, which enabled relatively peaceful and rapid transitions to socialism - assisted considerably, it must be said, by the protective shield of the Soviet Red Army.

Western communists, despite the calumnies of the capitalist class and their media, never sought the abolition of democracy. Pre-war, for example, the programmes of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Class against class (actually the 1929 general election programme) and For soviet Britain (1935), sought to replace bourgeois democracy and all its parliamentary trappings - which was nothing more than democracy for the capitalist class - by a massively enhanced democracy based on the political and economic power of the majority working class, expressed through new organisational forms and structures created via working class struggle, the soviets. Soviet power would combine forms of both direct and indirect democracy and exercise working class power over the economy and society as a whole.

However, reflecting both the huge change in the post-war balance of world forces following the emergence of the USSR as a world socialist superpower, and the changed balance of forces within many of the advanced capitalist countries, it became possible to present this as a combination of fighting to defend and advance basic democratic rights won under capitalism through working class struggle, smashing though “bourgeois restrictions and limits”. This would, in effect, “transform” bourgeois (capitalist) democracy into working class (socialist) democracy, but now enabling the communist and worker parties to stand as the “true defenders of democracy” rather than their class opponents.

A ”transformed” socialist democracy would clearly be very different in form and content from previous capitalist (parliamentary) democracy, as the institutions, structures and mechanisms required for the majority working class to govern society for itself and in its own interests are very different from those required to run society in the interests of a small, parasitical, capitalist minority class.

Yes, we might expect to see a continued role for elected representative assemblies at various levels in society, but these would be considerably supplemented by forms of ongoing direct democracy and the active daily participation of the working people in the production of useful goods and services, the running of the whole socialist society in their own interests and the greatest development of their creative and productive initiative.

Is there any fundamental difference between seeking to “transform” bourgeois democracy into socialist democracy and “replacing” the former with the latter? I don’t think so, although the former formulation does suggest a potentially more democratic and peaceable approach.

Successive editions of the British communist party programme, The British road to socialism, equivalent programmatic statements by many (although not all) western communist parties, the emergence of genuine Eurocommunism in the 1970s (as opposed to what emerged in the old CPGB in the 1970s, which in my view was little more than classic rightwing social democracy and liberalism), can only really be understood as the strategic application of the correct relationships between the struggles for democracy, democratic rights and for socialism.

No doubt some of the more weird and wonderful Trotskyoid solo or single-figure sects will denounce all the above as “Stalinist revisionism and reformism”, so I will just quote Trotsky’s long-time political and ideological opponent, one VI Lenin, on the subject (I would strongly recommend the reading of the texts in full):

“For socialism is impossible without democracy because: (1) the proletariat cannot perform the socialist revolution unless it prepares for it by the struggle for democracy; (2) victorious socialism cannot consolidate its victory and bring humanity to the withering away of the state without implementing full democracy” (A caricature of Marxism, 1916).

“Through utilisation of bourgeois democracy to socialist and consistently democratic organisation of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie and against opportunism. There is no other path. There is no other way out” (reply to P Kievsky, 1916).

Andrew Northall

Ireland’s shame

For 800 years the Irish have fought a genocidal British occupation - eight centuries of ethnic cleansing, land clearances, massacres, starvation, colonisation and a brutal military oppression. Successive generations of Irish men and women, boys and girls have fought clandestinely and openly to liberate Ireland from foreign imperialist control.

Ireland was Britain’s first conquest. The British empire went on to occupy and at times colonise approximately three quarters of the world’s land mass and citizenry. The only difference between the British occupation of Ireland and the Zionist occupation of Palestine is one of time and scale. Ireland endured a British-imposed famine. In 1847 the ‘potato blight’ destroyed a large percentage of the harvest, leading to a shortage of a basic food and a subsequent increase in prices.

Ireland, having been invaded centuries before, was now a land of tenants ruled by absentee landlords. Sections of the British aristocracy owned large swathes of Irish land stolen through military occupation. The Irish were dispossessed of their homes and farms and forced to become almost indentured slaves, tilling the land and raising cattle, only for the profits of their labour to be extracted for the largesse of a foreign occupier who enacted laws to oppress the indigenous population, while protecting the invader.

Two million died or emigrated. This is why there are Irish communities all over the globe (54 million North Americans claim to be of Irish descent). The Irish people were deliberately starved. Hunger and famine were used as a weapon of war to end the ‘Irish question’ at the heart of British politics. Those who resisted occupation were murdered, imprisoned or deported as felons to Australia, the Americas and the Caribbean.

This is Ireland’s history - a legacy of suffering before partial liberation. This is the fate of all people who live under occupation. Today people in Ireland support the people of Palestine - that is a fact. There is a moral imperative on all people who are suffering or have suffered under foreign occupation or colonisation to support each other. Throughout all those years of armed political resistance the Irish republican movement supported their comrades in Palestine - from the Fedayeen through the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the Palestine Authority.

Now in Northern Ireland history has been made by the selection for the first time in the country’s history of an Irish republican as first minister - a party that I have supported all my life is now in government.

Irish reunification is only now a matter time. But sadly the Irish republican movement in the form of Sinn Féin is no longer a radical republican party - it is a shallow shadow of its former glory. Now a nationalist, constitutional party, it has embraced the establishment and the trappings of power and, although still endorsed by many, it has abandoned its revolutionary roots and embraced neoliberalism.

There is a growing chorus in Ireland demanding that Irish politicians do not support the traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations at the White House on March 17 2024. While ‘Shame Féin’ party members and elected representatives north and south attend and even organise some of rallies calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, they have publicly asserted their intention to go to Washington .

While SF and other corporate-endorsed Irish politicians drown their shamrock alongside genocide Joe, while posing for selfies, Palestinians will be drowning in their own blood or suffocating slowly to death under the rubble. As the death toll rises under the bombardment of American imperialist bombs, remember the treachery of Sinn Féin.

It is not the bombs of our enemies that hurt us the most, but the duplicity of our friends and the treachery of their deeds.

Fra Hughes

Good old Tommy

Tommy Robinson was mentioned in last Wednesday’s prime minister’s questions and called a “rightwing thug”.

They never define what “rightwing” means and just use it as a convenient, pejorative put-down. He certainly isn’t a thug. I recall just a week earlier how Keir Starmer had an ad hoc meeting with Lindsay Hoyle in his chambers, or ‘Reasons Room’, at a time when Labour MP Chris Bryant was filibustering and other Labour MPs were boasting that Starmer was “going to fix the speaker”.

The use of the word “thug” is ironic, when both main British political parties have been wringing their hands and pussy-footing around the issue of whether or not to call for a ceasefire in Gaza and seem abhorrent about even the mention of the term, ‘collective punishment’. The word, ‘thuggish’, does mean “characterised by violent behaviour, especially of a criminal nature”. Many people believe that just about sums up what’s going on in Gaza. The International Court of Justice verdict went as far as it could - just stopping short of accusing Israel of genocide.

It shows how morally and intellectually vacuous the whole British establishment is, when people like Tommy Robinson - who fought tirelessly to expose the crimes against hundreds of victims/survivors of rape gangs in the north of England - can be called a “thug”, at the same time that those same people accusing others of thuggishness are themselves involved in thuggery and can’t bring themselves to even debate and help to end actual state thuggery-cum-terrorism taking place right now in Gaza.

Louis Shawcross
Co Down

Trans rights

I’m an American college student so I’m obviously not your target audience, but I take exception to Ben Rust’s letter on George Galloway (February 29). To see him hand-wave away genuine concerns over Galloway’s social politics is troubling. Ben says this, as he theorises over Ian Birchall’s February 22 letter:

“Unfortunately, Birchall doesn’t elaborate on this, so we can only guess that he’s referring to his support for immigration controls, scepticism at the corporate greenwashing agenda, or lack of support for the currently fashionable notion that biological sex is a social construct, which individuals can opt in and out of as they wish.”

I am not exaggerating when I say, hatred of trans people, or anyone who dares to step out of the rigid social boundaries of gender, seems to be endemic among the British. Englishmen and Scots alike seem hellbent on making the lives of trans people worse. Over here in the States, if you have a problem with trans people, you’re probably a conservative - a Trump type - but it seems in the UK there’s a large contingent of liberals and lefties who oppose trans rights.

I remember being curious about Galloway when he announced the Workers Party few years ago. I watched a livestream of his on YouTube and he started going on about “Men identifying as women” or some such. Obviously, his positions on Gaza are good, and I’m sure Palestinians will accept all the allies they can get in western governments, but the bizarre and hurtful rhetoric in the UK about LGBT people confounds me. The entire vision of Galloway does, for that matter.

A unionist, socially conservative, socialist party? Who in the world is that for?

Andy P