Panel: Australian Libertarian Politics - “On the Workers Party”
David M. Hart
Mises Seminar, Sydney, 26 November 2011
[Created: November 15, 2011]
April 23, 2012
[Seated from left to right: Mark Tier, Neville Kennard,
David Hart, Maureen Nathan, Viv Forbes, Ron Manners]
[Neville Kennard doing the Workers Party Striptease]
Thanks and Resources on the Workers Party
Thanks to Benjamin Marks for putting online so much interesting and important
historical material about the formation of the WP at <http://economics.org.au/>.
See my online edition of the WPP in facsimile PDF
3.1 MB and
in HTML (thanks to Benjamin Marks) <http://davidmhart.com/Documents/WorkersParty.html>.
See the video of the full panel discussion with Ron Manners, Viv Forbes, David
Hart, Mark Tier, Neville Kennard, Geoff McNeil, Maureen Nathan, Andy Buttfield,
on Youtube.org <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5or5FAKgepA>.
[My comments can be found between 23 mins 35 and 32mins - also an edited
clip here at this site].
Thoughts on the Workers Party
Here are some random thoughts:
- re-reading the WP platform (WPP) I was struck by how “Randian” it now seems.
This is both good and bad. Good because it shows how they/we were struggling
to be consistent and the most consistent libertarian political theory we
knew about was that of Rand’s. This shows considerable naivete as a “party
of principle” usually has a very short life span and we knew it.
- the badge of our consistency was the motto [the “fundamental principle”]
which appeared at the bottom of each page - “No man or group of men has the
right to initiate the use of force, fraud or coercion against another man
or group of men”. As Merilyn Giesekem/Fairskye said in an issue of freeEnterprise
this was unfortunately sexist but reflected Rand’s own view of the world
and her speech patterns. This motto is straight out of Rand’s writings.
- the thorough-going radicalism of the WPP is reflected in the dependence
on the “fundamental principle” for all things; and that it applied to EVERYTHING
and EVERYBODY, especially the state, politicians, and government functionaries.
- how anti-state the WPP was. Best example was the idea of there being new
departments to be set up in a WP regime designed specifically to dismantle
the state [See Section 2.4]. This was and is truly revolutionary and no one
else has ever thought of this to my knowledge. Seek to reduce all government
depts to 5 within 12 months. Dept. of Defence would remain after job of dismantling
govt had ended. Four new depts would oversee dismantling of the Australian
- Review of Laws and the Legal System.
- Reduction of Taxation.
- Reduction of Government Control
- Rehabilitation of Tax Consumers
- the exaggerated hopes and false expectations we had in 1975 can be summed
up in the following points:
- the “if only they knew” fallacy - the idea that if only people knew
“the facts” or heard the philosophy expressed in a coherent way, the
statist scales would fall from their eyes and they would all immediately
- the “immediatist” fallacy - the idea that immediate radical change
can take place without having laid the intellectual foundations many
decades before. The world view of academics, journalists, intellectuals,
party activists had been shaped by decades of education in and propaganda
about the justice of and necessity for massive government intervention
in the economy. This mindset would not change because of the activity
of a few ideologues in one election campaign.
- the “we are different from everybody else” fallacy - the idea that
an intense burst of electoral activity would not physically and mentally
exhaust us (I think a major reason for the collapse of the WP was this
exhaustion and we hadn’t prepared for it); the idea that because of our
ideas “we” would not be tempted to play the traditional games of power
which all political activists are subject to, we would never sell out
by watering down our principles in order to have more “mass appeal”.
- 1972-1975 was a truly radicalising moment which helped foster the emergence
of the WP. The coming to power of the Labor Party in 1972 and its radical
socialist agenda galvanized anti-socialists (even within the Liberal Party)
and gave a group like us in the WP an opportunity to have our free market
and anti-socialist message heard. However, once the Labor Party experiment
collapsed in chaos, bankruptcy, and massive electoral defeat this radicalising
moment passed and so did the WP.
- compare strategy of Ron Paul within Rep. Party
One of the Key Sections in the WPPP [2.4]
2.4.– Reducing Government
On attaining office, the Party will:
Immediately abolish death duty, gift duty, capital gains tax and sales tax,
and gradually reduce to an absolute minimum all other taxes, including personal
and company taxes; and, as soon as possible thereafter, reduce all other taxes
until government activities as far as practical, can be financed through charges
for special services rendered.
At all times, the Party will ensure that the government spends no more than
Government expenditure will be continually reduced. In addition to the measures
outlines elsewhere, the Party will, within 12 months of attaining office, examine
the functions of all government departments, with a view to gradually reducing
them to five in number:
- The Department for Defence Against Internal and External Aggression.
- The Department for the Review of Laws and the Legal System.
- The Department for the Reduction of Taxation.
- The Department for the Reduction of Government Control.
- The Department for the Rehabilitation of Tax Consumers.
(The latter four departments would be phased out on completion of their roles.)
Some Personal Reflections
I came across the writings of Ayn Rand during the summer holidays between
years 10 and 11 of high school [1972-73]. Read The Fountainhead and then Atlas
Shrugged in short order.
Sometime during 1973 I found an advertisement in the SMH for a meeting of
the “Ayn Rand Discussion Group” in Sydney. My parents very reluctantly let
me go to the meeting. Met Bob Howard et al. [I was barely 16 years of age].
Bob and his friends were in the middle of a fiery debate over the proper role
of the state. Some of them had just discovered Murray Rothbard’s theory of
anarcho-capitalism and were challenging the orthodox Randians who of course
believed in “limited government”. As a freshly minted Randian I found this
a fascinating debate and I threw myself into it. I remember reading Roy Childs’
“Open Letter to Ayn Rand” (originally written 1969) which sealed the debate
for me in favour of anarcho-capitalism.
I was a by-stander while the WPP was being written. As a friend of BH I discussed
matters with him but was not directly part of the official writing committee.
I worked with BH on his election campaign in December 1975 when he stood for
the seat of Berowra in Sydney. Met my wife-to-be who was also active in BH
election campaign [campaign romance] with who I’ve been with ever since.
I watched with some sadness as the WP disintegrated shortly after 1975 election,
transformed into Progress Party, and then disappeared.
The path for radical change I have adopted since then was a version of the
Hayekian reverse “Intellectuals and Socialism” strategy, namely the very long-term
strategy Hayek developed after studying how socialists achieved change in the
early and mid-20thC. You might summarize this as attempting to influence the
people (academics) who influence the people who originate and implement government
policy (journalists, lobbyists, policy makers, politicians). The groups I have
been active with have been the Institute for Humane Studies (celebrated its
50th anniversary 2011) and the Liberty Fund (50th anniversary 2010).