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New Left Review I/221, January-February 1997

Boris Frankel

Beyond Lobourism and Socialism: How the Australian Labor Party Developed the Model of ‘New Labour’

There is a long tradition among Western communist, Labour and social democratic parties of looking at the electoral successes and failures of sister parties in other nation states. [*] I would like to thank Julie Stephens and Peter Christoff for their valuable comments on this essay. The grass of social change always appears greener elsewhere. Since the 1980s, several countries such as France, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand have had socialist, social democratic or Labour governments for varying periods of time. Greece and Spain also had long-serving governments under González and Papandreou but these socialist parties were mainly preoccupied with the legacy of their former dictatorships and the need to ‘modernize’ and ‘adjust’ conservative and heavily agrarian societies to European Union capitalist markets. It was only in Australia—a country with an advanced capitalist socio-economic profile—that the forces of private capital, as well as the extra-parliamentary Left and social movements, confronted a labour movement government which held continuous office from 1983 until 1996. Rather than being a parochial episode in the history of the labour movement, the recent Australian experience represents not only the demise of traditional labourism, but prefigures a new political model not yet fully seen in European social democratic and labour parties. The Left have always recycled theories and models from other countries—models which have either been unexportable because they were too historically specific, or models which were failures even in their country of origin. Casting around for suitable strategies, it is now the turn of the Australian model to be imported by parties such as British Labour. It is, therefore, extremely important that the Left in other countries have no illusions about the legacy of the Hawke and Keating governments.

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Boris Frankel, ‘Beyond Labourism and Socialism: How the Australian Labor Party developed the Model of 'New Labour'’, NLR I/221: £3

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