Above: ALP Socialist Left Senator Kim Carr is right to take NSW Labor leader, Luke Foley to task for rejecting the ALP's 'socialisation objective'; But he is wrong in his apparent rejection on an 'extensive' public sector.
The socialisation objective is about more than nationalisation ; but extensive and strategic social ownership needs to factor into our plans and principles.
This Objective – reformulated in 1981 to be inclusive of both the Party’s Left and Right could be interpreted after the way of Nordic social democracy, with the probable implication of supporting a comprehensive welfare state and social wage; a progressive taxation system; as well as appropriate industrial rights. But there is room for improvement. Some of these could be spelled out more clearly and overtly. And the significance of socialisation interpreted either as occurring through the public sector – or through a more diverse ‘democratic sector’ including State Aid for co-operative and mutualist enterprise – is not elaborated upon sufficiently.
Sure, the Liberals make a mockery of ‘equal opportunity’ in practice – supporting privilege in Education, and proposing deregulation where quality of education would depend upon user pays mechanisms which excluded the poor and much of the working class. Chris Bowen has also gone a bit further, arguing for equality of outcomes in Health. Bowen’s proposal of a ‘toothless’ National Conference; his apparent opposition to a robust mixed economy; his support for a simpler (ie: in reality less progressive) tax system – are all disappointing. But support for real equality of opportunity in education, and crucially equality of outcomes in health - comprise a beach-head for something more progressive – and so this common ground should be capitalised upon.
If we are truly a democratic socialist party we must not only exist for winning elections as an end in itself. We must be about contesting the very substance of ‘the mainstream’, progressively reshaping the discourse to shift the relative centre to the Left in keeping with our values. Antonio Gramsci would refer to the formation of a ‘counter-hegemonic historic bloc’ – an alliance of forces through which society’s ‘common sense’ is reconstructed as the substance of democratic socialism. Again after Gramsci this could be interpreted as a ‘war of position’ – taken in our own specific circumstances as a process of laying political siege to, and contesting the institutions of civil society and the state. Culminating in the democratisation of the State itself – so that the way is unambiguously open for ‘a democratic path’ to socialism.
Few today support a Soviet model of centralised state planning. But we should not close our eyes to the possibilities of strategically extending the public sector, and engaging in strategic instances of planning. Neo-liberal Ideology rules out public and democratic sector expansion as well as socialisation interpreted as regulation where ‘the absolutism and prerogatives of capital’ are progressively curtailed. (see the work of the Swedish social democratic thinker, Nils Karleby) But the old socialist Ideology aspired towards progressive nationalisation – potentially over decades. In the 1970s socialists like Stuart Holland hoped that the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy would ultimately revert into public hands. Today, though, we could well embrace the project of a ‘democratic mixed economy’.
But the extension of the ‘democratic sector’ - including the important ‘subset’ of the public sector -remains important despite being at odds with the prevailing Ideology. By ‘the democratic sector’ we refer not only to the traditional public sector, but also to a multiplicity of co-operative and mutualist forms, as well as democratic collective capital formation and other like-projects, as well as self-employment and co-determination. These democratic economic forms and strategies can mitigate or indeed end instances of alienation and exploitation. They can result in a more equitable distribution of wealth and the power that corresponds to this; and also give working people creative control over their labours.
An extended public sector specifically can lead to many other desirable outcomes. Socialisation of profits via public enterprises in areas like mining, general insurance, private health insurance and banking could (in the Australian context) deliver tens of billions into welfare, infrastructure and social wage programs. And a ‘not-for-profit’ footing could enable better pay and conditions for child care and other professionals who currently face extreme exploitation. Without getting into a long debate over the labour theory of value – public sector workers could be compensated fairly – but again, profits would be redistributed through the social wage, investment in infrastructure and services, and in welfare. There would be no expropriation of surplus value, here, in the traditional capitalist sense. Though the redistribution of profits could appear to some to be diluting the return to labour. (that would not be a problem for some forms of co-operative enterprise for instance) Government Business Enterprises and public infrastructure could also be administered in such a way as to cross-subsidise in favour of the disadvantaged ; but also to enhance competition where oligopolistic collusion would otherwise be a threat.