Australia has not had a socialist parliamentarian, at the state or federal level, since the 1940s. But this may change at the November 24 Victorian state election.
Victorian Socialists was formed earlier this year as a coalition of socialist groups, including the Socialist Alliance, to bring a real left-wing voice to parliament.
Many of those involved in Victorian Socialists have commented on how historic this project is. None can remember a socialist election campaign as big in recent decades.
The party has more than 1300 members and hundreds of volunteers who have been campaigning on a weekly basis.
The campaign has created such a buzz that it has made it into the corporate media, with several articles in the Herald Sun, The Age and The Australian, and been front page news in several local newspapers.
The excitement of the campaign has led to some high profile endorsements, including from writer Helen Razor, indigenous activist Gary Foley (who is considering registering to vote for the first time to cast a ballot for the party) and comedian Tom Ballard.
The campaign has even obtained international support from figures such as US academic Noam Chomsky and British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali.
The campaign has received tens of thousands of dollars and other forms of support from trade unions such as the Electrical Trades Union, the National Union of Workers, the Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association and the Maritime Union of Australia.
These resources have allowed Victorian Socialists to produce leaflets, yard signs and two video advertisements, including a 30-second ad for the Victorian Socialists’ Western Victoria Region campaign, which will be aired on regional TV.
The reason this campaign has taken off like no other in living memory is that this election is winnable.
The party is directing its energies towards two upper house seats: the Northern Metropolitan Region, where Yarra socialist councillor Stephen Jolly has a real chance of being elected; and the Western Victoria Region, where former Geelong Trades Hall secretary and Socialist Alliance member Tim Gooden is running.
Victorian Socialists is also fielding candidates in all other Legislative Council seats, as well as in more than a dozen Legislative Assembly electorates.
Australian politics would be completely shaken up if any Victorian Socialists candidate were to be elected.
A socialist MP would be able to take our politics to a far wider audience than has so far been possible.
The platform and resources of holding office would also be a major boost to left-wing movements in Victoria.
Active local branches have been established in all eleven districts of the Northern Metropolitan electorate.
These branches have organised supporters to letterbox, doorknock, and put up posters and yard signs across the electorate.
They are also gearing up for a huge turnout on election day, when as many as 1000 volunteers will be handing out how-to-vote cards for Victorian Socialists.
I have been door knocking many times in the Brunswick part of the electorate. Each time I go out, I’m astonished at the level of support Victorian Socialists gets from residents, with a substantial minority genuinely excited by the prospect of a socialist campaign for parliament.
Many have told me they are tired of the Greens and Labor, who take them for granted, and have been looking for someone to vote for.
One resident brought out his whole family to say they’d vote for us.
Another young man was glad to vote for the party after hearing about our stance on fighting racism, having been the victim of racist scaremongering against supposed African gangs by the federal government and state opposition.
In a recent encounter, a young woman who had just moved down from northern Queensland said her dad had warned her about Melbourne being “infested” with socialists. She said she was excited to be able to vote for one at her first election.
Already the campaign is having an impact on other parties.
After a Victorian Socialists-led campaign against the state Labor government’s plans to sell-off public housing, the Greens adopted several of our policies, such as the promise to build 40,000 new public housing units (Victorian Socialists is pledging to build 50,000) and mandating inclusionary zoning for affordable housing.
Whatever the outcome, we’ll have learnt a lot about conducting a major election campaign and working with other socialist parties.
Our message for a fairer society will have reached a far greater audience than the Socialist Alliance could have managed on its own.
We face a unique opportunity to break into the mainstream and have a real impact on people’s lives.
Hundreds of campaigners are putting everything they have into this effort because they know that a chance like this doesn’t come along very often, so we have to grasp it when it does.
[Felix Dance is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Melbourne.]