The Guardian • Issue #1955

WA election a double-edged sword for workers

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1955

Western Australians went to the polls on the 13th of March in a historic state election. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), coming from a substantial majority in the last election, obliterated the two other major parties, and Premier Mark McGowan retained his seat for another term.

There are fifty-nine seats in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly. At time of writing the counting is ongoing, but the ALP is expected to now hold fifty-three of them. The Liberals and the Nationals have six between them, with two and four seats respectively, meaning that the Liberals may not even be entitled to official Opposition status.

Western Australians on the ground say the major issue in this election was McGowan’s handling of the pandemic. Despite what might appear to us in the East to be sporadic and harsh border closures – one of which resulted in a failed High Court challenge by Clive Palmer – the people of WA are appreciative of their state’s relative lack of cases. Enough so to entrust their Premier to battle the ongoing pandemic for another term.

Right-wing media have responded to the historic margin of Labor’s win with dubious comparisons. “It’s like North Korea,” blurted Chris Kenny, a host on right-wing propaganda outlet Sky News. Perhaps Kenny actually did his research, as Labor’s expected fifty-three seats – just shy of ninety per cent of the total – are in fact a slightly greater proportion than the eighty-eight per cent held by the Worker’s Party of Korea in North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly. The relevance of this observation, however, is questionable. It reveals a fearmonger’s complete disregard for nuance and an utter failure by the right to accept the WA public’s rejection of their unappealing policy record.

As much as we ought to analyse the policies which come out of this election and their immediate effect on the working class, we ought also to be clear on one point: in the final analysis, bourgeois electoral politics cannot achieve enduring, historic change in favour of the interests of the working class. It is a tokenistic farce, “democracy for an insignificant minority,” to use Lenin’s phrase, that divides the working class by forcing them to choose which of the parties, which unanimously support preserving the capitalist system, is the lesser of two evils. And yet, in the interim, the vehicle of electoral politics can be one component of the development of class struggle, to raise organisation and consciousness among the working class.

Rosa Luxemburg argued in Reform or Revolution? (1899) that capitalist democracy has an immediate value to the working class, for:

“… if democracy has become superfluous or annoying to the bourgeoisie, it is on the contrary necessary and indispensable to the working class. It is necessary to the working class because it creates the political forms (autonomous administration, electoral rights, etc.) which will serve the proletariat as fulcrums in its task of transforming bourgeois society.”

And yet, despite the short-term value of capitalist democracy, she reminds us that, “only the hammer blow of revolution […] can break down this wall [of capitalist oppression].”

Hence, electoral politics can never be an end in itself for communists. To this end, Lenin remarks in State and Revolution (1917) that:

“from this capitalist democracy […] forward development does not proceed simply, directly and smoothly, towards ‘greater and greater democracy,’ as the liberal professors and petty-bourgeois opportunists would have us believe. No, forward development, i.e., development towards communism, proceeds through the dictatorship of the proletariat, and cannot do otherwise, for the resistance of the capitalist exploiters cannot be broken by anyone else or in any other way.”

The opportunism of the Liberal Party in the WA election shows the shortcomings of bourgeois party politics and how they do not represent the genuine interests of the working class. Nothing in the Liberal party platform represented a genuine offer to improve the lives of voters. In fact, it seemed a calculated demonstration of exactly how the party would make things worse.

Their stab at a progressive green energy policy only alienated their traditional voting base, while the progressives in the state saw right through the transparent ploy to win their trust. Voters saw right through the sham to the ugly heart of what WA liberals stand for when Scott Leary of Albany called the Christian Porter rape allegations out as a political conspiracy and Andrea Tokaji of Baldivis touted the COVID-19 5G conspiracy online. It certainly didn’t help that the state Liberal leader Zak Kirkup all but gave up on his own party sixteen days out from the election.

What happened in WA has potential knock-on effects for federal politics. This is important in the lead up to the next federal election which is due to be called at some point before May 2022. The crushing defeat in WA is likely to hamper the Liberal Party’s efforts to be re-elected as a majority in the Commonwealth parliament next year. This means we’re living in a world where Anthony Albanese has a real chance to be Australia’s next prime minister, something many hadn’t seriously entertained due to the current opposition leader’s utter lack of a coherent platform.

Yet, Labor’s massive majority has potential advantages for the people of WA. WA Labor has promised to put $361 million into a mental health package, and $355 million into a program to build and upgrade school infrastructure. They have also promised a freeze on TAFE fees until 2025, and an upgrade to transport infrastructure. These are just some of the progressive policies that the ALP has promised Western Australians.

In the wake of the pandemic with thousands playing jump rope with the poverty line and a looming mental health crisis, these are things that could really benefit WA workers. Now more than ever unimpeded by Liberal blockading, the ALP has no excuse not to implement these measures and bring real progressive change to WA. For as long as the bourgeois political system forces us to choose the lesser of two evils, we must continue to put pressure on our elected representatives to force change within a system fundamentally uninterested in our wellbeing. It is therefore imperative that the WA working class holds their new Labor government to account, to make sure they don’t squander their majority.

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