Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Socialist Party of Australia: A Splendid Election Fight (1935)

From the April 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our companion party in Australia contested the Melbourne Ports constituency in the recent elections to the Australian Parliament (House of Representatives). The candidate was Comrade W. J. Clarke, Honorary Secretary of the Socialist Party of Australia, but of course the electors were not asked to vote for the man but for the principles of the Party. The opposing candidates were two in number, the Labour Party candidate and the candidate of the United Australia Party. Simultaneously with the holding of the elections to the House of Representatives there were in progress elections to fill half the seats in the Senate (Australia’s equivalent of the House of Lords, but elected).

In consequence of this, the Socialist candidate also came into conflict with a Communist candidate for the Senate, whose constituency included the Melbourne Ports area. The result of the election was instructive in many ways. First, it showed that while the amount of support for Socialism is small it is by no means negligible. The Labour candidate won the seat with 27,081 votes, followed by the United Australia Party candidate with 12,173 and by the Socialist with 3,872. That there are 3,872 prepared to vote for Socialism and against capitalist and reformist candidates is highly encouraging.

What is more the Socialist vote was considerably higher than the vote cast for the Communist candidate for the Senate in the same constituency. The Socialist vote, as stated, was 3,872, compared with a Communist vote of 2,359. Not only was the total Socialist vote higher than the Communist vote but it was higher in every one of the 12 sub-divisions into which the total was divided.

As for the campaign we cannot do better than quote from the report we have received from the Australian Party.
   “From the outset we were hampered by a campaign of silence, and whatever publicity we obtained in the press was grudgingly given. Like tactics were adopted by our opponents; the Labour candidate never once mentioned the name of our candidate or the Party. As he had been posing as a “Socialist” for years this attitude of his can be readily understood.
  “Another drawback was the brevity of the campaign. Starting with an open air meeting at Albert Park on August 24th, we ended with an open air meeting in the same place on September 14th, the night prior to election day. Two large indoor meetings were held in the Port Melbourne Town Hall, right in the heart of the electorate. Another not so well attended indoor meeting, was held in the Mechanics’ Hall at Williamstown, while a fine, attentive and well attended meeting was held at the Clarendon Single Unemployed Men’s Group. Open air meetings were held in all the sub-divisions of the electorate. . . .
   “With rare exceptions our meetings were surprisingly well attended and the Party’s propaganda was received with marked approval by the majority of those present. Objections were raised by supporters of the Communist Party and the Labour Party in some instances; but no member or supporter of these parties would take our platform to state their opposition to our policy when invited to do so by our speakers.
   “The best meeting of all was held in the open at Albert Park on September 14th the night before polling day. At this meeting Mr. Laurence, the United Australia Party candidate, took our stump in answer to a challenge by one of our speakers. There were nearly 700 people present. The meeting was lively but orderly, and lasted until after 11 p.m. . . .”
   “Right throughout the campaign we stressed our object and principles and the whole burden of our appeal to the electors was, ‘If you do not want Socialism, we do not want your vote,’ an attitude which met with hostility from the Communists whose candidates were running on the usual programme of immediate demands.”
Under Australian electoral law the deposit, of £25, was forfeit because the Socialist vote was less than one-fifth of the vote of the winning candidate. From a propaganda point of view the campaign was highly successful and has served to put the Socialist Party definitely on the map, while at the same time given encouragement to the members.

Further information is that the Sydney branch of the Party proposes to run a candidate in the New South Wales State elections, where no election deposit at all is required.

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