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Geelong Times profiles the Socialist Alliance

Is socialism the new capitalism?

The current global recession has seen no shortage of advice on how best to tackle economic problems. Among the theories on offer is that “rampant” capitalism is to blame, and that governments need to tighten regulations covering trade and banking.

This, in turn, has led those in favour of free markets to warn of the “dangers” of adopting the almost forgotten economic policies of socialism. Even the fiscally conservative Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said it was up to social democrats to “save capitalism from itself”.

Sue Bull, the Geelong convenor of political group, Socialist Alliance, said this is to be expected. “The worse things become, the more people look for alternatives.”

The Socialist Alliance headquarters in Geelong are two rooms on the second floor of the Trades Hall building in Myers St. Staffed just two days per week by volunteers - “we run on a bit of a shoestring” - the rooms are decorated with ubiquitous posters of Che Guevara and Eureka flags, and several bookshelves with titles such as Socialism Struggles for Lesbians and Gay Men. The group’s 50 members meet twice per month - once to discuss pertinent issues and organisational matters, the other for the Red Cinema screening in a larger adjoining room furnished with old theatre seats.

Membership of the Geelong Socialist Alliance branch is growing, but the group remains somewhat starved of publicity, despite the presence of their card tables offering badges, leaflets and copies of their publication, Green Left Weekly on streets and in shopping malls throughout the region. “Socialism took a bit of a hit with people who thought our theories were on the nose during the Reagan, Thatcher, and even Hawke and Keating eras,” says the former secondary school teacher, “but we didn’t get much of a hearing then.” They got even less after that. Ms Bull says the local media paid little attention to her bid for an Upper House seat at the 2006 State election, in which she received just 0.27 percent of the vote, nor to the two Alliance candidates who polled approximately 10 per cent each in the Cowie and Brownbill wards at last November’s council election.

Members of the Geelong branch, says Sue, are an alliance of different types - trade unionists unhappy with the ALP, Turkish, Sudanese and El Salvadorean refugees, members of youth group Resistance Affiliated, and Buddhists. “Personally, I’m a Marxist,” she says, adding now is an extremely good time to push the anti-privatisation debate, with the State’s rail and electricity utilities in a “shambles”.

Ms Bull does support some of the Prime Minister’s job creation policies, but says they don’t go far enough. “If the government was prepared to take over and re-tool the Ford factory, they could create socially useful products such as public transport or wind turbines.” This, she points out, is not idealism. “During World War II it was turned into an armaments facility.”

Ms Bull says government bailouts are a dead-end that use hard-earned public money for businesses that pay little or no taxes. “We live in a time of capitalism, of workers producing wealth and being ripped off. I’m a realist and I know this is not going to happen overnight, but we need to make workers’ lives better,” she says. Where will the world markets lead us? Another famous socialist thinker predicted the meek shall inherit the earth, but 2000 years later, they’re still waiting anxiously for proposed handouts.

By Ian Kenins

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