Who says the Australian Labor Party is dead: a neoliberal corpse wandering the parliamentary benches in the principleless pursuit of government, hungry for the flesh of desperate or gullible voters?
The ALP under Bill Shorten has hoped that gravity would precipitate it into office when the Coalition government suffered electoral collapse under the weight of its own incompetence and irrational obsessions. So Labor has taken its policy bearings from the government and has been unwilling to take a clear position on any controversial issue until after Abbott had spoken. Shorten's own lack of lustre expresses this approach well. Bird watchers could use him as a portable, light-absorbent means of camouflage.
But now the Coalition has switched from Abbott to the slick, neoliberal, ruling-class warrior Malcolm Turnbull.
In deference to backbench bigotry and coal interests, the new Prime Minister will continue to delay legal recognition of gay marriage, despite his personal views (much like Shorten), and is committed to Abbott's climate change policy. Turnbull defends the legislation that had bipartisan support and beat up racism by persecuting refugees and inventing Muslim 'security threats'. He has promised corporate Australia an 'economic vision' that means further attacks on unions, health, education and welfare spending, and a higher GST. But, unlike his predecessor Turnbull is no buffoon and the period of relief at Abbott's departure, during which many give him a benefit of the doubt, may see his government re-elected.
Labor is in trouble.
But perhaps there's hope that the ALP, if not its current parliamentary team, could stand for something seriously distinct from the government's policies again.
On the far side of the planet, Jeremy Corbyn's campaign for support from the roughly half million people entitled to vote for the parliamentary leader and his overwhelming victory has apparently revitalised the British Labour Party, that other social democratic zombie. Under Tony Blair, an example of the living dead still said to be wandering the Earth sniffing after dollars (or pounds or euros) and media appearances, British Labour was recast in the 1990s as a party even more committed than in its motley past to austerity and military aggression.
The hope that there is a short-cut that can avoid the long slog of organising, struggling against bosses and bureaucrats at work and on the streets, and, ultimately revolution to bring about fundamental change is a feature of mass politics in all but periods of the most intense class mobilisation. For more than 100 years, social democratic and labour parties have been vehicles of such hopes and Corbyn is their focus in Britain today.
He is a member of a tiny parliamentary Labour faction, an outspoken socialist, advocate of renationalising key industries, reinforcing workers' trade union rights, the public provision of quality healthcare, education and welfare, a republican and advocate of equal rights for gays and lesbians. He opposed the US-Anglo-Australian invasion of Iraq, is a critic of apartheid Israel and, unlike Shorten, has denounced the Abbott government's persecution of refugees.
Corbyn has won British Labour tens of thousands of new members, almost 100,000 new 'affiliated members', overwhelmingly from affiliated trade unions, and more than 50,000 new registered supporters. Enthusiastic meetings of thousands greeted him across the country.
His success demonstrated that there are huge numbers of people in Britain who want radical, left-wing policies. There could be even more, in Britain and in Australia, if concrete arguments for such policies and socialism could reach a wider audience.
From the Spectator, with a piece headed 'Pig ignorant click activists are in charge now', on the right to the Guardian on the liberal left, the British press denounced Corbyn and forecast disaster for Labour. The same was true in the Australian media.
Once it became apparent that Corbyn could win the British Labour leadership, the real attitude to democracy of people whose primary commitment is to the existing exploitative order, like Murdoch creature Greg Sheridan, became apparent. He put the prospect of a Corbyn victory down to a 'mad process'. That process of mass democracy was proposed by Baron Ray Collins of Highbury, a former right wing union official and Labour Party general secretary.
The Blairites were confident that a majority of Party members and supporters, who either paid ₤3 ($6.50) to officially register or belonged to affiliated unions, would always back reasonable, responsible upholders of conservative common sense, like themselves. It backfired.
Australian Labor's leader election and parliamentary caucus rules make the Corbyn scenario for a swerve to the left unlikely here. But the response to him is instructive.
For those with corporate, governmental or judicial power and their mouthpieces democracy is suspect; to be tolerated so long as right-thinking people are elected; to be denounced or simply dispensed with if it proves inconvenient. That's what governor-general John Kerr did, when he sacked prime minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, to the cheers of Australian conservatives. For our rulers democracy where it really counts, in the workplace, is entirely unthinkable.
Rick Kuhn is an adjunct reader in sociology at the Australian National University and the author, with Tom Bramble, of Labor's Conflict: Big Business, Workers and the Politics of Class.