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Gough Whitlam

Australia: How and why the Gough Whitlam government's far-reaching reforms were won

By Jim McIlroy

November 1, 2014 -- Green Left Weekly -- The passing of former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the age of 98 on October 21 provoked a wave of emotion from the community, both young and old. At a time when the federal government is trying to smash the remnants of the progressive reforms initiated during Whitlam's Australian Labor Party (ALP) government — in office from December 1972 to November 1975 — the Whitlam era seems like a period from another political universe.

A letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on October 23, 2014, summed up the mood: "The death of Gough Whitlam not only provided an opportunity for political midgets such as [present ALP federal leader] Bill Shorten and [Liberal Party-National Party coalition Prime Minister] Tony Abbott to become authorities on giants ... It also showed how these two agree on almost everything else. The contrast with the Whitlam era is complete.”

The record of the Australian Labor Party: high hopes and big disappointments

Gough Whitlam campaigning in 1972.

[This talk was presented at the A Century of Struggle Laborism and the radical alternative: Lessons for today conference, held in Melbourne, Australia, on May 30, 2009. It was organised by Socialist Alliance and sponsored by Green Left Weekly, Australia’s leading socialist newspaper. To read other talks presented at the conference, click HERE.]

By Jeremy Smith

Why have we scheduled this talk? First, I want to mark part of the historical memory of the working class in a modest way. Second, it helps pull apart the myths of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Laborism. Third, it addresses a century-long debate which goes back to the Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) and the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World, IWW); a debate which remains unresolved. The high hopes held for Labor when it has been elected and the bitterest of disappointments felt after its failure to deliver leave for us lessons too easily forgotten. We need to remind ourselves of those lessons.

The ALP and the fight for socialism

This resolution was adopted by the Democratic Socialist Perspective, then called the Socialist Workers' Party, at its eleventh national congress, held in Canberra in January 1986.

Resolution sections

  1. The formation of the ALP

  2. A party of the trade union bureaucracy

  3. A liberal bourgeois party

  4. Parliamentarism

  5. The ALP in office -- a capitalist government

  6. When and why capitalism favors Labor governments

  7. Why the ruling class prefers conservative party governments

  8. Reforms and reformism

  9. The further cooption of the labor movement during the postwar capitalist boom

  10. Recent changes in the ALP

  11. The Labor left

  12. The false perspective of reforming the ALP

  13. Preparing defeats

  14. An anti-capitalist political alternative

  15. The working class and progressive movements of labor's allies

  16. Support for all progressive breaks with Labor reformism

  17. The role of Marxist organisation

  18. A revolutionary transitional approach to the problem of the ALP

  19. The need for tactical flexibility

  20. Building a revolutionary current in the ALP

  21. United front campaigns

  22. Critical support

  23. Lesser evilism

  24. Our attitude to ALP governments

  25. Governmental initiative

  26. Socialist electoral campaigns

  27. United front electoral campaigns

  28. Trade unions are the decisive arena

  29. New opportunities

 


 

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