Why you should campaign with the Victorian Socialists in the election

28 March 2022
Jerome Small

“So, what sort of socialist are you?” It’s 11:30 on a Saturday morning outside a shopping centre in Broadmeadows, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Mohammad has taken a Victorian Socialists leaflet and stopped to chat.

I reply that I’m a revolutionary socialist—that we need a wholesale reorganisation of society, that Gina Rinehart and the billionaires will not just give up power, so we need a revolution. I also explain that you don’t have to be a revolutionary in order to support Victorian Socialists, or to be a member.

“Aha”, Mohammad says. “So you will agree with me that one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century is the murder of Leon Trotsky by the agents of Joseph Stalin in Mexico in 1940.”

It’s not the sort of conversation you’d expect to have at a shopping mall on a Saturday morning. But turning up in Melbourne’s northern suburbs with a packet of socialist electoral material denouncing billionaires and welcoming refugees certainly starts a few conversations.

Mohammad knows of socialist parties from growing up in Lebanon. “We will never have socialism in this world”, he says. “But I’ll vote for you, because I know you’ll fight for everyone.”

“Because socialists will fight for everyone” is one important reason that a lot of people might vote for Victorian Socialists. Socialists are often the best fighters because we don’t accept the limits imposed by capitalism, which are treated like commandments on stone tablets by other political forces. Building effective campaigns for refugees, on the cost of living, on climate change and every other issue is one reason to build the Victorian Socialists’ campaign.

Another purpose of our campaign is to use the atmosphere of an election period to argue for socialist political positions. For instance, every vote for our Senate candidate Aran Mylvaganam will be seen, correctly, as a vote for refugee rights: Aran came to Australia as a refugee, founded the Tamil Refugee Council and is one of the best-known refugee activists in the country.

But not only that. A vote for Aran and the Victorian Socialists is a vote for a political perspective that views welcoming refugees not simply as an issue of moral good, but also of class politics.

Many people appreciate and agree with the Victorian Socialists’ campaign against the billionaires and for a more equal distribution of the country’s wealth. But many of those people aren’t so sure of our position welcoming refugees. Plenty of times I’ve responded to their hesitations by pointing out that the billionaires promote racism and fear to cement their own wealth and power, by playing divide and conquer with the rest of us. And many times I’ve been told by the person I’m talking with that they appreciate this argument, and have never heard such a view before.

The socialist argument casts racism not as some moral failing to be tut-tutted about, but as a direct threat to our interests—a threat that working-class people should confront. Plain-speaking socialist politics like this can make sense to working-class people in a way that moralising doesn’t. The more people we can make this and other socialist arguments to, the better. An election campaign is one important avenue for this.

Another reason to campaign for the Victorian Socialists is because a socialist winning a seat in parliament would be a significant contribution to rebuilding socialism as a living, breathing, organising, fighting, controversialising force in this country’s political life.

The point of having a socialist in parliament is not to pull off the most spectacular parliamentary manoeuvres, or to dine at the parliamentary pig trough. It’s to use that position to build the struggles in the workplaces and on the streets where real change can be won, and to build the profile and organised forces of socialism.

This is more than a nice idea. In the history of socialist electoral efforts over the past several decades, Victorian Socialists is by far the most credible prospect to make a breakthrough by winning a seat.

Out of the eighteen parties to contest the Northern Metro upper house seat in the 2018 state election, Victorian Socialists came fourth, behind Labor, the Greens and the Liberals. We won 10-12 percent of the vote in booths in some of the most economically depressed working-class suburbs in the city—Meadow Heights, Campbellfield, Dallas, Broadmeadows and Coolaroo.

We missed out on one of the five Northern Metro upper house seats on preferences. But if we’d had that same result in Western Metro, we would have succeeded in getting a socialist elected to an Australian parliament for the first time in decades.

Results since 2018 show that this was no fluke. We got 4.5 percent in a more crowded field in Calwell in the 2019 federal election. In the 2020 local council elections, despite being unable to talk with a single voter face to face due to COVID restrictions, we got our first local councillor elected: Jorge Jorquera in the Yarraville ward of Maribyrnong Council. We got 10 percent in south Brunswick and more than 5 percent in Hume Council’s Meadow Valley ward (covering Broadmeadows, Meadow Heights and neighbouring suburbs), coming seventh in a crowd of twenty candidates.

There are no guarantees in politics. But these results show we’re a real chance to achieve a significant breakthrough for the socialist left by getting a socialist elected to Victoria’s upper house in the state election at the end of this year. The higher our vote in this federal election, the better placed we’ll be to achieve this.

In a world racked by war and preparations for war, by disease and by runaway climate change, building a socialist political force is crucial work. In Victorian Socialists we’re building a party that can make a class argument on refugees, war, climate and every other issue. That can start to distil the decent instincts and concerns of people we meet into a political movement that can contribute, politically and organisationally, to the struggles for justice to remake our world.

Jerome Small was the Victorian Socialists candidate for Calwell in Melbourne's northern suburbs in the 2019 federal election, and is running again in the upcoming election.

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