Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Stop the Sell off emergency rally!

This Wednesday at 3.30pm

Outside NSW parliament on Macquarie street

Morris Iemma has recalled NSW parliament to vote on privatisation on Thursday and Friday this week, using the release of the auditor-general's report as an excuse to try to force through his sell-off plans. According to the Sydney Morning Herald 14 Labor MPs are committed to or considering crossing the floor to vote against privatisation. This, or the Liberals voting against the bills, could scuttle the sell-off. This emergency rally is being held to remind MPs of the overwhelming 80 per cent public opposition to privatisation and to call on all MPs to vote against the sale.

Invited speakers include: Cate Faehrmann (Nature Conservation Council), Catholic priest Father Peter Maher, John Kaye (Greens upper house MP), George Souris (National Party upper house MP) and Colin Drane (Power to the People).

Called by the Sydney "Power to the People" committee

Contact Trevor Davies on 0400 008 338


Last minute lobbying of MPs

Unions NSW is encouraging people to email or phone MPs who are still wavering on voting for privatisation before Thursday. In particular they want people to ring upper house Liberal MPs, where there is the most change of the privatisation bills being defeated. A list of upper house MPs and of lower house MPs who are still being targeted is attached for anyone who can do this.


Another emergency meeting of the Power to the People committee will be held Monday next week (September 1) at 6pm on 1st floor, AMWU offices on Chalmers st, Surry Hills (near Central station) to discuss what to do if parliament votes to go ahead with privatisation. All welcome.

The "Power to the People" group is a coalition of ALP members, unions, the Greens, Uniting Church groups, Socialist Alliance, Solidarity and environmental and community groups against the sell-off of the power industry in New South Wales.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Socialist Alliance National Conference, Dec 5-7

Announcing the Socialist Alliance 6th National Conference!!

Venue: Geelong Trades Hall, 127 Myers Street, Geelong
Date: December 5-7, 2008

To register and for more information, visit www.socialist-alliance.org or contact the Socialist Alliance National Office (national_office@socialist-alliance.org) or your nearest Socialist Alliance branch.

More info to follow soon!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Climate Emergency Rally in Sydney, Oct 2

Renewables Now!

* 100% electricity from renewables in ten years
* no carbon trading loop holes
* Coal, keep it in the ground
* expand public transport
* keep power in public hands

Call for urgent action
5pm, Thursday, October 2
outside offices of Xstrata Coal
1 Macquarie Place

Organised by People for a Safe Climate

Next organising meeting: 5pm Thursday August 21, Students Association back room, UTS Broadway

All welcome!

Pakistan: Musharraf has gone!

By Farooq Tariq (via LINKS)

Lahore, August 19, 2008 -- Musharraf has resigned! Congratulations to everyone on the humiliating departure of a dictator. But he must not be unaccountable. He must be arrested and tried. The top judges he removed should be restored immediately and let justice be done. The Pakistan Peoples Party-led ruling alliance must abandon the economic policies that have been promoted by Musharraf. The neoliberal agenda must not go ahead.

Musharraf survived after December 27, 2007, thanks to the leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party. After Benazir Bhutto's murder on that day, Musharraf was at his weakest. The masses had taken over Pakistan for five days. It was a mass reaction of an unprecedented level. A demand for Musharraf's resignation by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leaders would have been sufficient to force him out of power. However, the PPP went for general elections instead, giving Musharraf relief.

The Pakistan Peoples Party government took eight months before accommodating to [the] popular demand [that Musharraf resign]. What a waste of time and popularity by PPP! Asif Zardari soon became a leader losing popularity at record speed. The PPP leadership only went on to demand Musharraf's resignation when they reached their lowest level of popularity.

PPP has not restored the judges

Implementing the neoliberal agenda, the PPP have annoyed the masses as much as they could. They have not restored the judges. They have not done anything that is worth mentioning. It was all going wrong. They could not bring the Inter Services Intelligences (ISI) [political police] under civilian rule despite a public official notification.

Then, all of sudden "Musharraf will go first, then we will restore the judges" was the agreement of the ruling alliance of four political parties after countless indoor and in-the-shade meetings spread over three days. The lawyers' movement leaders rightly criticised the decision linking the judges' restoration with impeachment of the president. The restoration of judges would have given a tremendous moral boost to the ruling alliance in its struggle to overthrow Musharraf. However, Asif Zardari is still afraid of their restoration. He wants every move to remain under his control. This is real feudal-style politics on display. "If he wants, then it will be done" is Asif Zardari's philosophy.

Why the wait for eight months to come to a decision that could have been done on day one of the PPP's electoral victory? Rather than a consolidation of power by the PPP at the centre instead we saw it losing power at a fast speed.

This waiting meant more chances for a regeneration of power by Musharraf. His tone began to change. He was once again threatening to go the same way as he had gone on November 3. He was meeting opposition Pakistan Muslim League Q (PMLQ) leaders telling them to be ready within two months. A weak dictator was flexing his muscles, once again, thanks to the PPP leaders wasting time for no reason.

Dirty deal

Perhaps a dirty deal was the reason of this wait -- a deal that was agreed to by Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf before she returned to Pakistan on October 18, 2007, for a power-sharing formula. All the corruption charges against Benazir Bhutto and Zardari were withdrawn under the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance. While the PPP leadership faithfully abided with the deal, it was Musharraf who was taking the liberty to do something more than that.

But with Benazir gone, the deal was already in traumatised. It was an unnatural, unholy, unrealistic and unworkable deal. It was a deal to deceive each other. It was a deal of the ruling class, by the ruling elite and for the ruling class. It was a compromise against democracy and against the people.

With Benazir gone, Musharraf could have gone long ago. The murder of Benazir Bhutto was not an ordinary murder. However, by sticking to participating in the election under Musharraf, the PPP leaders took an ordinary decision in the political sense. "Democracy is best revenge" was the first public statement of Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, the newly elected leader of the PPP. However, it was not democracy that was taking revenge against the dictator but democracy was taken from the masses by not removing the dictator then.

Failed dictator

Musharraf had lost the power to do anything like he's done in the past. He was a dictator on his way out. He faced failure after failure. He tried to remove the chief justice. He failed. He tried to silence the lawyers' movement by dictatorial measures, but he could not do that. He tried to rig the general election of February 18, 2008, but he failed. He tried to build his political party PMLQ by pumping in massive amounts of money in the name of "development". But he failed.

Musharraf was a failed dictator. He was no longer a family friend of US President George Bush, as both claimed in the past. Continuing their tradition of using dictators like tissue paper, US imperialism declared that calls for Musharraf's impeachment was "an internal matter of Pakistan". Musharraf lost the ability to use 58/2B, the dictatorial constitutional right of the president to suspend the parliament. Who would implement the orders? A bloody military coup would be needed to implement that sort of dictatorial order in the face of rising social and political movement against the dictatorship.

With Musharraf gone, there is no way that the ruling alliance will not be able to restore the top judges. Musharraf's departure and the restoration of the judges will open a new phase of class struggle in Pakistan. The ruling alliance will be tested by the masses when it insists on continuing with its neoliberal agenda. The PPP-led ruling alliance will be naked in its exploitation of the working class. The ruling alliance will be seen rightly as the ruling elite by the masses.

A more determined fight by the working class will be seen in the future with a new leadership of those who have fought consistently against the imperialism, religious fundamentalism, militarisation, for the restoration of the judges and for the rights of the working class. The left parties can see a new possibility of increased popularity if they stand united and in a militant way.

[Farooq Tariq is spokesperson for the Labour Party Pakistan. Email labour_party@yahoo.com or visit http://www.laborpakistan.org.]

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Income, votes, parties and Election '07

This tidbit from Australian Policy Online. If you like you psephology with more mental exercise and meat on the bone, the wombats suggest you head on over to Possum Comitatus.


Income played a role in the last election - but not quite the one you'd expect, writes BRIAN COSTAR

TUCKED away on page 101 of a very informative Parliamentary Library analysis of the 2007 federal election is a table which dissects the two-party preferred vote at the 2007 federal election by four socioeconomic groups. A simplified version appears above. Remarkably, the only category in which the “Tories” bested the “socialists” was the one that includes the least well-off citizens. As an American physicist used to ask: “Why is it so?” Well, it doesn’t have much to do with a change of sentiment among the “working class.” Largely it’s because the Coalition does better in rural and regional Australia than does Labor. On the eve of the 2007 election, sixteen of the twenty electorates with the most families earning less than $650 per week were classified regional or rural. Thirteen of these were held by the Coalition, six by Labor and one by an independent. Labor emerged from the 2007 election as the party of the middle class, and now rivals the Coalition among “upper class” voters as well. What would Ben Chifley and Robert Menzies make of this?

Source of table: Scott Bennett and Stephen Barber, Commonwealth Election 2007, Parliamentary Library, 2008

Colombia Sign-on Statement & Request for Action

Request for Action

Dear Friend,

We write to you with a request for urgent action in solidarity with Ms Liliana Obando representative of the Agricultural Workers Union Federation (FENSUAGRO) who on Friday 8th August 2008 was arrested by Colombian government forces.

Ms Obando has been detained on charges of "rebellion" against the state a catch-all charge that is regularly used to imprison those who speak out against the government for long periods without trial. 'Rebellion' also allows the regime to smear those accused of it as being 'terrorists' and helps to delegitimise their work.

The attached statement provides further information on this new act of persecution and intimidation of trade union and human rights activists.

Peace and Justice for Colombia (PJFC) seeks your urgent solidarity action and asks you to write to the Colombian authorities to protest against this act of persecution; to demand her immediate release from custody, to demand the dropping of all the alleged charges against her and for the government of Colombia to guarantee her safety and well being.

We also ask you to send letters of support to the Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, (www.comitedesolidaridad.com) at: fcspp_presidente@etb.net.co and cc your messages to: pjfcolombia@gmail.com

In solidarity,


For more information visit our website: www.colombiasolidarity.net
Email: info@colombiasolidarity.net

The sign-on statement (reproduced below) can be read and filled out here:



Statement on the escalation of intimidation of campaigners for social justice in Colombia

Peace and Justice for Colombia – a network of people in Australia concerned at the human rights situation in that strife-torn Latin American country – condemns the decision announced in recent days by the government of President Alvaro Uribe to launch legal proceedings against a number of members of parliament and NGOs, journalists and academics.

Colombia’s attorney-general has announced that investigations of the named individuals’ alleged “links” to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will commence. This underscores the consistent official message that activity in support of social justice and for an end to the armed and social conflict in the country will not be tolerated.

It is motivated by a desire to distract worldwide attention away from embarrassing links between government representatives and ruthless paramilitary groups. It also singles out the personalities named for assassination attempts by the country’s notorious paramilitary groups. Their deadly record of murdered trade unionists and opposition political figures and others is well known.

It is claimed that the probe into the activities of the individuals arises out of communications contained on computers seized by Colombian troops when they entered Ecuadorean territory earlier this year and killed senior FARC leader Raul Reyes along with 25 others. The group was in Ecuador to prepare talks for the humanitarian exchange of prisoners taken on both sides of the decades-long armed conflict in Colombia.

There is much concern internationally – including on the part of Interpol – that proper procedures have not been followed in dealing with this “evidence” and that data could have been added by Colombian authorities. It is disturbing to note that most of the targeted figures have had a role in trying to secure a humanitarian exchange of prisoners and confirms suspicions held in many quarters that the Colombian government is trying to prevent such exchanges.

In Colombia human rights organizations, trade unions and other social organizations have often been labelled as guerrilla collaborators or supporters by government officials, by the security forces and paramilitaries. Such accusations have frequently been followed by threats, attacks and assassination attempts against those trade union and human rights activists.

Another deeply disturbing feature of the announcement is that several foreign nationals have been named, including members of the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan parliaments, journalists and academics.

The government of Colombia is acting to isolate the opposition in the country from the growing international movement in solidarity with the long-suffering people of Colombia. This attempt at intimidation will not succeed and only increases the indignation felt by the world community at the tragic condition of human rights in Colombia.

Peace and Justice for Colombia (PJFC) strongly condemns this latest act of political persecution against prominent political figures well known for their humanitarian work and who have simply been exercising their right to freedom of expression and freedom of association.

We call urgently on the international community, the people of Australia, in particular trade unionists and peace-loving people, to endorse this statement.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Aboriginal Rights Coalition Speak Out and Concert - Redfern August 16

Sam Watson and Pat Eatock are long-time Aboriginal activists. Rosalyn Frith brings from the NT not only her own history of resistance to the NT intervention and in other struggles, but her grandfather’s role in sparking the modern land rights movement in the 1960s. This is a chance to hear her that is not to be missed.

Aboriginal Control of Aboriginal Affairs

Aboriginal Rights Coalition presents a Speak Out and Concert

Stop the federal intervention into Aboriginal communities

End the racist land grab

No welfare quarantining – in NT or elsewhere!

Defend the Redfern Block

Restore the Racial Discrimination Act

Fund infrastructure and community-controlled services

From 1pm, Sat 16 Aug

1pm BBQ and live music, jumping castle

MC Wire, Charlie Trindall and others

2pm Speakers

Rosalyn Frith, granddaughter of Vincent Lingiari

and NT community spokesperson

Sam Watson, Queensland Aboriginal activist

Pat Eatock, original secretary of Aboriginal Tent Embassy,

Sydney Aboriginal Rights Coalition

@ Redfern Community Centre

29-53 Hugo St

For more information, ring Greg 0432 050 240, or
https://aboriginalr ightscoalition. wordpress. com

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Cuba: book launch, film, and Cuban trade unionist

Cuba Solidarity event 9 August 2pm 23 Abercrombie St Chippendale Ph 9690 1977Cuba:
book launch and film screening

Featuring presentations by:
Gilda Chacon Bravo
(Cuban Federation of Workers - CTC)
Tim Anderson
(Sydney Uni academic & Cuba solidarity activist)
Noreen Navin
(Socialist Alliance; member of NSW Teachers Fed)

And featuring:
The Doctors of Tomorrow
(Tim Anderson's new film about Cuba's role in training East Timorese doctors)

2pm Sat 9 Aug
Resistance Centre,
23 Abercrombie St, Chippendale.

While the US still attempts to demonise the gains of the Cuban revolution, the revolution remains an inspiration for millions of people around the world for its anti-imperialist struggle and social gains, both of which it has sought to extend globally.

Tim Anderson's new documentary The Doctors of Tomorrow gives light to the East Timor-Cuba health cooperation program. Since the 2003 Non-Aligned Summit, then Cuban President Fidel Castro and Timorese leader Xanana Gusmao made an agreement: Cuba would provide the newly independent nation with volunteer doctors. The aim was to not only meet the Timorese people's immediate health needs, but also create the means for East Timor to become self-sufficient in quality health care provision.

Today, Cuba has 300 volunteer doctors in East Timor and provides 1000 medical scholarships. In contrast, Australia, a much wealthier and closer neighbour, provides training for just six doctors and 15 nurses in Timor.

This forum will also launch the new booklet How The Workers and Peasants Made the Revolution by Chris Slee. It explains how the Cuban revolution was a victory for a mass people's movement led by workers and peasants and not simply the collapse of the brutal, US-backed Batista regime. This booklet answers the distortions advanced by some sections of the left who misrepresent the dynamics of the Cuban revolution.

Presented by Resistance & the Democratic Socialist Perspective.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Centre for Civil Society to be shut down?

This from CCS:

On 30 July, the staff of CCS and our host institution, the School of Development Studies (SDS), were summoned by Dean Donal McCracken, and told that as of 31 December 2008, CCS would be permanently closed, that Professor Patrick Bond (CCS director since October 2004) would resume his tenured chair within SDS, and that the other CCS staff - all on contract - would be terminated, with CCS's "good" projects moved to SDS.

CCS staff are unanimous that this decision should be reconsidered, and the following letter of appeal was sent within hours to Dean McCracken. As of 1 August, no reply was received, and with word now out about the proposed closure, we deem this necessary to publicise on the CCS website. Our objective is to retain the Centre as it now operates, and indeed to strengthen and make CCS more autonomous (as recommended in the official UKZN Review of our activities on 29 February 2008). We appreciate the solidarity of colleagues, communities, donors and supporters, and your comments - supportive and critical alike - will be published on this website.
Please send to pbond@mail.ngo.za

Centre for Civil Society report on 2007 activities
CCS UKZN Review 29 February 2008

And in The Mercury:

"UKZN may snuff out its left brain
What's next for Durban's best-known institute of social and environmental justice?"

August 06, 2008 Edition 1

By Dennis Brutus and Patrick Bond
Eye on Civil Society Column

University of KwaZulu-Natal vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba is expected to deliver an edict that the Centre for Civil Society will close on December 31.

The reason given by dean Donal McCracken to a sceptical School of Development Studies (where the centre is housed) is that staff do not have "permanent" funding.

But neither do most of the university's research units, and there is money in centre reserves for at least a couple of years, plus ongoing donor support for many of our projects.

Hence this "execution" will be doggedly resisted in the Memorial Tower Building, because UKZN still has many staff and students who remember the struggle for non-racial democracy and don't mind speaking out to challenge misguided decisions.

As the two most senior academics in the centre, holding an honorary professorship and tenured research chair, respectively, we will resist, despite what a UKZN internal report recorded - an environment of "intimidation and bullying", in which management "deploys power rather than intellect", as Rhodes professor Jimi Adesina put it.

The decision is misguided for many reasons, not least for overturning the official recommendation of a five-month University Research Review finalised in February, which advocated strengthening the centre and giving it more autonomy: "Closing down or removing the centre from UKZN does not appear to be an option as it was rejected by all interviewees and panel members. Through its international recognition and standing, the centre has put UKZN on a world map in social science, a position the university dare not risk to lose."


On the local map, the centre has offered nearly 100 free events a year, including seminars, conferences, micro film festivals, literary celebrations and the Harold Wolpe Lecture, Durban's main lecture series.

In Howard College, several hundred community residents join academics on the last Thursday of each month to debate newsmakers and intellectuals, global and local - such as, this year, commentator Xolela Mangcu, Soweto activist Trevor Ngwane, filmmaker John Pilger, Kenyan feminist Eunice Sahle and Zimbabwe democracy activists Judith Todd and Joy Mabengwe, as well as local anti-xenophobia campaigners Baruti Amisi, Pierre Matate and Orlean Naidoo.

Among our inspirations is Fatima Meer, whom we host this Sunday in Chatsworth in celebration of her 80 years of commitment and wisdom, as well as her decade of support to the "new social movements" in the original Concerned Citizens Forum which in 1998 helped renew urban justice advocacy across South Africa.

Meer's Wolpe lecture last year called for a progressive, post-nationalist liberatory politics to emerge from the grassroots, like the creative spark generated in 2001 when the World Social Forum in Brazil rose against the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

With our centre's assistance, the Social Movement Indaba network and Diakonia Council of Churches hosted a local equivalent in January, drawing 400 community and labour leaders.

Among those present were many who resisted Inanda Dam displacement, Treatment Action Campaigners and Congolese inner-city traders who hang in against all odds.

Evidence of abuse in the authorities' diktat to shut the centre ranges from a flawed process, to extreme race and gender implications, since contract termination affects a dozen black staff, most of whom are working-class. The only paid staffer who should retain his job, McCracken told us, is the sole white expatriate (a writer of this article, Bond, whose government research subsidies more than pay his salary).

In addition to UKZN's threat to this centre and a generation of new critical scholars, a great deal of concrete research activity is now at risk.

UKZN claims it has South Africa's "second best" research profile (after the University of Pretoria).

A modest contribution comes from our centre staff's peer-reviewed articles, chapters and books - 58 in 2007 with an average 50 a year since 2005 (and no, these fortnightly Mercury columns don't count) - which rank us at the top of the university, measured per academic employee.

High productivity arises from documenting and interrogating the social laboratories of Durban, South Africa, Africa and the world, where contradictions generated by globalisation and the flawed character of post-colonial politics create conflict.

We have sought sites and research areas - climate, energy, water/sanitation, global and national political economy, survival strategies and community philanthropy, the rise of social movements in Africa - where these contradictions tell us more about society, politics, economy, gender, race, environment and other social relations than we would normally get from our academic armchairs.


Beyond merely trying to understand the conflicts, serious scholars will contribute to addressing them in a non-violent manner, such as through international legal strategies that the other writer of this article, Brutus, contributes to.

He does this with the Jubilee and the Khulumani Support Group, aiming for $400 billion (R2 951billion) in reparations to be paid by apartheid-era US and EU corporations - which hopefully will frighten them enough to think twice about their next investment in the Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma and the like.

The danger of the centre's approach to knowledge production, "praxis", is that the research generated sometimes threatens the privileges of power.

Two years ago, the same authorities banned Ashwin Desai from continuing employment at the centre and at UKZN, amidst a haze of confusion and weak excuses.

We lost a major Human Sciences Research Council "Race and Redress" grant as a result of this interference.

In 2003, the US Agency for International Development retracted a multimillion- rand donation after centre founder Adam Habib spoke out against the Iraq war.

That sort of style the centre encouraged from the outset: honest and courageous, combining the left brain's love of rigorous detail, and the left side of the body's beating heart.

UKZN management has stabbed this centre, but it cannot be allowed to die.

So this is really all about politics, and whether a university can host a critical mass of professional academics and community scholars devoted to social justice.

# If you have testimonials about the wisdom of closing CCS, for or against, please let us know, at dennisbrutus2002@ yahoo.com and pbond@mail.ngo. za - or fax to 260 2052 - and these will be posted at http://www.ukzn. ac.za/cc

Monday, 4 August 2008

Call to nationwide climate action for September 21-27

We need urgent action on climate change!
A call for a national week of protest action beginning September 21

Climate change is already occurring, much faster than the world's scientists have predicted. Recent data including the very real possibility of the arctic sea-ice melting by September this year demonstrate that this is a climate emergency.

We are concerned that the Australian government's proposed Emissions Trading Scheme will be full of loopholes and by the government's own admission will allow emissions to continue rising for some years. We believe such incremental measures are unacceptable: We need greenhouse
emissions to start to fall immediately and sharply.

To begin to solve the problem we need action on many fronts including:
  • No new coal;
  • Massive public spending on renewable energy;
  • More public transport not new freeways;
  • End logging of old growth forests.
We call for a national week of protests across Australia at the Spring Equinox, in the week beginning September 21. This week of action can highlight the summer melt of the Arctic ice and other worrying signs that demand urgent measures to de-carbonise the economy from state and
Federal governments.

We ask climate change campaign groups and networks and all environmentally concerned organisations across Australia to work together for a co-ordinated and effective week of public protest around these themes.

Call issued by the organising committee for the July 5 Climate Emergency rally in Melbourne www.climaterally.blogspot.com

Endorsed unanimously by participants at the final session of the August 2 Climate Justice seminar in Melbourne

Sunday, 3 August 2008

AWU quackery on the aluminium industry and greenhouse

Dick Nichols
2 August 2008

The Australian Workers Union has many members in the aluminium refining and smelting industry, which accounted for 45.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 (7.9% of Australia’s total). Obviously, such a major greenhouse polluter — the dirtiest for every dollar of value added — has to be radically restructured if carbon emissions are to be cut to sustainable levels.

But what about the 12,000 workers in the seven alumina refineries and six aluminium smelters, mostly working in regional towns where jobs are hard to find?

If you believe Per Capita consultancy’s David Hetherington in his report for the AWU (The Full-Cost Economics of Climate Change Aluminium: A Case Study), closing down the aluminium industry could be a disaster. “In the most extreme scenario, where all aluminium plants were to close, the average unemployment rate would jump from 4.9% to 31.2% in refinery towns and 7.4% to 14.9% in smelter towns.”

However, this figure assumes that no aluminium industry worker would find a job after the industry ends — no retraining, no alternative work, nothing.

Hetherington next looks at nine more realistic scenarios of partial or complete industry closure combined with varying degrees of re-employment, with from 10-50% of displaced workers finding new full-time jobs and 10-50% new part-time jobs.

Using what he calls “full cost economics” he then calculates that the total annual value (to the worker, local community and government) of an average aluminium industry job is $89,700 a year ($1.215 billion for the entire industry). This total value breaks down into $870 million for individual workers (“private value”) and $345 million for the community (“social value”). Hetherington rightly leaves out of his calculation the “private value” that goes to the aluminium corporations and their shareholders.

Against this annual value of $1.215 billion, Hetherington next sets the annual (negative) value of the aluminium industry’s 45.3 million tonnes of carbon emissions (calculated at $19 a tonne). That’s $861 million ($264 million for refinery and $597 million for smelter emissions).

The “net value” loss or gain from part or full industry closure (measuring the gain to the environment against the loss to workers and the community) then ranges from $312 million to -$263 million according to scenario, with the positive environmental impact outweighing its negative social impact in six out of nine cases.

Dodgy assumptions

According to AWU national secretary Paul Howes, the message of this analysis is that “we know by keeping good jobs in industries like these smelters and refineries here in Australia we are actually helping in the battle against greenhouse gases”.

“The Federal Government must help these industries to clean up their act, and bring in new technologies such as carbon capture and storage”, Howes said on July 14. “If we do that then decent, well-paid, secure jobs will not be lost to Australia and taken off-shore to countries like China, India and Brazil whose pollution levels are far, far higher.”

The Per Capita report shows no such thing. Leaving aside the fact that the Australian aluminium industry had the highest carbon dioxide emissions per tonne in the world in 2002 (because it overwhelmingly uses coal-generated electricity), the Per Capita report shows most of all that you can prove anything you like with a calculator and some dodgy assumptions.

It gets its results by:

•arbitrarily valuing carbon dioxide emissions at only $19 a tonne (the price reached in the inaugural trade in “Australian Emissions Trading Units” between AGL and Westpac); and

•not accounting for the massively subsidised electricity supplied to the aluminium industry through deals with various state governments. These were estimated by Hal Turton at between $210 and $250 million a year in his 2002 Australia Institute study of the industry.

In short, Per Capita’s “full cost economics” works by not accounting for the full cost!

Per Capita’s bad arithmetic

What happens if we apply Hetherington’s method but insert a realistic price for carbon — around $40 a tonne, the present price in the European Trading System market (and still far too low to produce the falls in greenhouse gas emissions called for by climate science)?

At this level (which would value total 2006 aluminium industry carbon emissions at $1.813 billion), Per Capital’s nine “net value” results all become positive — “society” gains between $761 million and $1.052 billion from closing down the aluminium industry partially or completely.

Add in the cost of the $210 million annual electricity subsidy and this annual “net value gain” from industry closure grows to between $971 million and $1.262 billion!

But doesn’t Per Capita understate the benefits of the industry? Weren’t alumina and aluminium exports worth over $10 billion to “the Australian economy” in 2006? They were, but $4.2 billion of that (in 2005-06) was trading profit. Aluminium’s huge profit margin is due to each worker producing up to five times the value of his or her wage (the average for the manufacturing industry as a whole is around 1.75 times).

According to the Per Capita method, if the Australian aluminium industry was nationalised and its private profit (and not just company tax) went into the public purse, the “social value” would again increase, even to the point of representing a “net social gain” for a nationalised aluminium industry run exactly as it is now.

Per Capita’s bad method

But in that case the aluminium industry would still be unsustainable. That’s because the main problem with the Per Capita report isn’t so much its dodgy assumption about carbon price or its omission of electricity subsidies, but its approach to the issue of environmental damage.

Putting a price on a tonne of carbon in no way measures the real damage that this extra tonne of carbon released into the atmosphere may actually do. It is simply a way of creating (or appearing to create) a specific economic incentive to reduce carbon emissions. Yet an industry that is churning out 8% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions has already been doing enormous damage to our planet — however much we try to put a monetary value on this damage.

The vital job is not to make a case for or against the aluminium industry on the basis of artificial and falsely precise valuations like those in the Per Capita report, but to move to convert it to a zero carbon status over a definite time span (10 years at most), all the while guaranteeing the workers and their communities a future.

Of course, the owners of the industry — the big multinational aluminium corporations — aren’t interested in doing that. The only force in society that can develop a sustainable future for aluminium is its workers and their organisations — in collaboration with a climate change movement as committed to social justice for working people as it is to fighting global warming.

This will require access to the true costs of the industry, by opening its commercial accounts and by studying its real environmental and health impact over the production and distribution cycle. Instead of funding shabby efforts like the Per Capita report, aluminium industry unions should now set up their own commission to work out pathways to the industry’s sustainability as well as to a stable future for workers and communities at risk.

[Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Socialist Alliance. For references contact national_office@socialist-alliance.org.]

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #761 6 August

Beijing: The carbon-cheating Games

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin Issue 132 - July 2008

According to the Chinese Technology Minister Wan Gang, the Beijing Olympic Games will result in the release of some 1.18 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere, “in part because so many athletes and spectators were traveling long distances”. However, we need not worry about this, because the Chinese authorities assure us that the Olympics will be “basically” carbon neutral.

This is of course impossible. No-one can be “carbon neutral” once the fuel needed for “traveling long distances” (mostly by fossil fuel-powered planes, buses and cars) has been used. The carbon stored in that fuel will have been released, thus increasing the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere, by adding the carbon that had until then been stored in underground oil deposits. In the case of the Beijing Olympics, this will result in an additional 1.18 million tonnes of carbon that will contribute to increase global warming.

The problem is that many people honestly believe in the possibility of becoming “carbon neutral”, mostly because –as the saying goes- “a lie repeated often enough becomes truth”. And this particular lie is being constantly repeated by numerous “experts” with much to gain from carbon trading and even by some supposedly “green” organizations.

Such is the case of the well-known WWF (which has a panda bear as its logo), whose Chinese section has created a special web page for facilitating payments for becoming “carbon neutral”. The site explains that “Through its Go for Gold global campaign, WWF is also calling Olympic athletes to commit to a carbon neutral trip for the Beijing Games by donating the equivalent of the carbon cost of their flight to a Gold Standard climate-change offset project.” WWF-China even recommends five specific “sales points”: www.climatefriendly.com, www.myclimate.org, www.atmosfair.de, www.nativeenergy.com, www.tricoronagreen.com

The above quote lends to believe that by paying –“donating”- a certain amount of money, the carbon released by the plane, bus or car will be made to disappear somewhere by someone doing something that will “offset” those emissions. Paraphrasing a well known film, this is in fact “Emission Impossible”.

However, people are made to believe that a number of measures, that can be useful in themselves, but that bear no relationship whatsoever with “neutralizing” fossil fuel carbon emissions, can result in them achieving the “carbon neutral” status. For instance, there is no doubt that energy saving measures, energy efficiency, the use of solar, wind and geothermal power, the reduction in the use of cars, are all positive steps in the right direction. The problem arises –as in the case of the Beijing Olympics- when the organizers claim that these measures will ensure that the Games will be “basically” carbon neutral. They will not.

What is necessary for truly addressing the problem of climate change is to drastically reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels. This is not an issue of individual choice about being “carbon neutral”, but a political issue that needs to be dealt with at that level. In this case, the pressure –and guilt- must not be put on the Olympic athletes –who will have enough trouble in finding sufficient oxygen in the polluted air of Beijing- but on the governments that continue to promote a development model based on fossil fuels and environmental destruction.

The Beijing Olympics may have a successful outcome from a sporting perspective, but they will not have the “positive effect on climate change” claimed by Chinese minister Wan and will certainly not be “basically” carbon neutral. Trying to greenwash 1.18 million tonnes of carbon may prove to be a difficult endeavour.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Socialist Alternative gets the balance wrong on propaganda and action

From LINKS - International Journal of Socialist Renewal

Reviewed by Ben Courtice

From Little Things Big Things Grow: strategies for building revolutionary socialist organisations, by Mick Armstrong, Socialist Alternative, 2007.

As official politics continues to move to the right, a growing gulf is opening up between the hopes and aspirations of millions of working people and the agenda of the ruling capitalist establishment and its parties… Much of the time that disenchantment and discontent finds no outlet, but then it explodes in massive mobilisations like those against the outbreak of the Iraq war in 2003, or the repeated giant rallies against Howard’s WorkChoices.[i]

Thus Mick Armstrong of Socialist Alternative[ii] sets the scene in the introduction to his survey of strategic considerations of how a socialist group should organise. The book opens with the main essay, “The nature and tasks of a socialist propaganda group”. It then proceeds through a series of historical sketches, starting with Marx and Engels and winding its way through various 20th century socialist movements to illustrate the argument he makes in the first chapter.

The core of the argument

Armstrong is clear from the outset that socialist ideas do not have a mass following despite the simmering political discontent we operate in. Locating his group in this situation as a propaganda group (larger than a small discussion circle, smaller than a mass party), he states that “propaganda groups do not have the capacity to lead workers in major struggles and recruit on that basis ... we are primarily arguing our ideas ... not agitating for mass action”. The most he will concede outside of this is that “we can play an important role in initiating some localised struggles and provide some of the key activists in a variety of campaign groups”. Even this is qualified later.

The whole argument is dedicated to this contradiction. Flowing from the passage I quoted at the outset, Armstrong addresses the conflict between the objective needs of the struggle and the abilities he allows his group, which are severely restricted. While the ``challenge today is to rebuild the socialist movement from scratch and breathe life into the union movement and the broader left”, he has already ruled out “agitating for mass action”.

To “rebuild the socialist movement” begins with political clarification. This “vigorous ideological struggle” doesn’t just mean understanding the shortcomings of capitalism, but “a high degree of political demarcation from those on the left who don’t agree with any aspect of Marxism. There can be no compromises, no concessions …” Later in a chapter on the Vietnamese Trotskyists in the 1930s, Armstrong elaborates more on this theme, advocating “the necessity of maintaining a strict political separation between [the Marxists’ own organisation] and those of their rivals on the left” – such rivals including those who “look to the regimes in Vietnam, China, North Korea or Cuba” (never mind the stark differences in each of these countries’ revolutions and current situations!).

Having clarified political points of difference and recruited and steeled a group of cadre in this understanding, the next step in understanding strategy for Armstrong is to identify an audience to whom Marxism can be explained in concrete terms. Armstrong describes this as being able to “answer the central political question: what do we do next?”. He doesn’t say, the question is what the working class, or at least a section of it, should do next, just “we”. This may only be an accidental ambiguity, but it seems the only question to be answered, for Armstrong, is what his small group should do next.

Traditionally, Armstrong explains, the socialist movement has sought to relate to the “vanguard” of the working class, “the most politically conscious” section of it. Yet “there has been no organised political vanguard in any meaningful sense … since the 1970s… Nor are there ongoing campaigns that we can relate to that are radicalising and organising into activity significant bodies of people.” Protests like the Your Rights at Work of that last few years that helped defeat the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard, or the huge anti-war rallies of 2003 “have not led to the emergence of ongoing organised movements”.

What would constitute an “ongoing organised movement” is not spelt out clearly. The theory that we are in a downturn of political struggle is fashionable from time to time on the left, especially within Armstrong’s political tradition, the International Socialist Tendency of the British Socialist Workers’ Party, which has extensively theorised the idea of the “downturn” ever since the 1980s.

Attendees at Socialist Alternative’s educational seminars may have heard veteran SAlt member Tom O’Lincoln explaining this in terms of the decline in the number of strike days per year, which has set new lows every year for some time. Armstrong’s book is not an assessment of the current political situation, but it’s worth pointing out that the enormous and repeated street protests against Work Choices, albeit led by ALP-aligned union officials[iii], were essentially political strikes and protests on a scale not seen in Australia outside mass upsurges of class struggle. Perhaps this movement (ongoing over several years) is a bit more complicated than the spontaneous and brief outburst of anger that Armstrong sees it as.

A small minority of students

The sole strategic focus for Armstrong is on university students. Armstrong relates some of the obvious things that can be done at university that can’t be done in workplaces, like holding information stalls and club meetings. More fundamentally, he says, workers want an organisation like their unions which can “deliver action”, whereas a propaganda group can’t do that – but a “small minority among students can carry out meaningful activity – hold a lively protest or occupation or initiate a campaign … small groups of socialists can realistically play a leading role and be taken more seriously”. “Meaningful” is here reduced to the Lilliputian scale of “a small minority among students” being the only audience among which socialists, apparently, can be taken seriously. Operating among this most ``meaningful’’ small minority will “help to orient the group away from sectarian abstention”. A “small minority”, one would think, would simply constitute those with immediate prospects for recruitment, raising the question of whether “meaningful activity” is anything more than that which convinces these people to join.

This activity is to be regulated by a “propaganda routine”: regular city and university information stalls, marching en bloc with red flags flying at demonstrations and holding regular branch meetings. Armstrong claims this stops the organisation becoming inward-looking, allowing members to talk to people beyond their ranks who “only agree with some of our arguments”; and it also “keeps the group active”. It almost sounds like an activity schedule for housebound pensioners! But this is a group of overwhelmingly young, energetic students, and hope to be the future revolutionary leadership! The only group that they can work and sound out their ideas with is that “small minority” of students who are interested in working with a revolutionary socialist group. It is not at all clear to this reviewer that this is sufficient to prevent the group “becoming inward-looking”.

The tension identified at the outset of this review, between the organisation’s growth and the needs of the existing workers’ struggle (such as it is), is resolved in favour of the organisation. The role for socialists in movements is entirely subordinated to the organisation’s propaganda routine. When major struggles occur, socialists “have to be able to argue a strategy for winning the struggle, to put forward concrete proposals… They have to draw out the lessons … to point out the role of the police, the media” and so on. Armstrong continues in this very short section on activity in mass struggles: “a propaganda group must be able to link the particular issue … to broader questions such as the capitalists’ neo-liberal agenda, the nature of imperialism.” So despite hoping to offer “concrete proposals” the only real aim of socialists’ involvement is … to explain their broader ideas.

How to get from here to mass struggles?

Can a group with this narrow and exclusive propagandism, only seeking to recruit more people to it’s self-perpetuating propaganda routine, really lead future struggles? The only obstacle Armstrong identifies is that a student-based group “can develop ways of doing things which might seem strange to some blue-collar workers”. But training in arguing for ideas is not the only training you need to lead mass struggles!

It is undoubtedly true that as large a cadre group as possible is needed to effectively lead struggles. That university student politics is a valuable place to recruit activists and begin political training is also undoubtedly true. While socialists remain a small minority, even if we occasionally find ourselves at the head of a demonstration or get a good vote in a particular election, our tasks are indeed of necessity focused on propaganda – defined as explaining our ideas to win more people to them.

On all these topics, the argument put forward in Armstrong’s book is logical, concise and clear. Yet for anyone with experience in mass movements, it must be very frustrating to observe the severe restrictions Armstrong places on what is allowed within his party-building strategy.

The historical sketches that follow the initial exposition are mercenary. It’s OK to only have student members, because parties as great as that of the Polish revolutionaries at the time of the Russian Revolution were started from exclusively student circles. Marxists – Trotskyists, I think he means – must remain utterly separate and on their guard against others, particularly left groups which sympathise with revolutions like Cuba’s, because the Vietnamese Trotskyists let down their guard and were murdered by the Stalinists. One could find all sorts of points to quibble with in these sketches, but since each goes only for a few pages it would be unrealistic to expect a serious historical analysis. They serve as parables to illustrate points of Armstrong’s argument.

In counterposition to the Stalinists, Armstrong defines his political current as those “Marxists whose touchstone is the self-emancipation of the working class”. Self-emancipation of the working class is a noble concept, one that it is hard to argue against. Socialists don’t believe in saviours from on high delivering the workers by individual heroic actions or authoritarian dictates. But Armstrong’s book is not a book about noble principles. It is a book of strategy. What approach do socialists take to the struggle of the working class? The only answer he offers is: build the propaganda group. How do we decide that it’s time to do more than that? When we are a mass party, which Armstrong suggests is “tens of thousands” in the Australian context (a number briefly attained by the Communist Party of Australia at the end of the Second World War, but has never even approached, before or since, by any other socialist group). Certainly in the context of a mass upsurge, the historical sketches illustrate, a small group can grow very rapidly. But the book leaves upsurges to arise spontaneously out of the self-activity of the working class.

The myth of spontaneity

In his famous History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky described the protests of May 1 1917 thus: “Historians call this movement `spontaneous’ in the conditional sense that no party took the initiative in it.” Quoting a liberal official on the February 1917 revolution, he writes “It is customary to say that the movement began spontaneously, the soldiers themselves went into the street. I cannot at all agree with this. After all, what does the word ‘spontaneously’ mean? ... Spontaneous conception is still more out of place in sociology than in natural science. Owing to the fact that none of the revolutionary leaders with a name was able to hang his label on the movement, it becomes not impersonal but merely nameless.”

And yet Trotsky does document in as much detail as he can the people who called the mass protests of February and May and so on in the Russian Revolution. These people did exist even if their names were never known to history. Trotsky says: “To the question, Who led the February revolution? We can then answer definitely enough: Conscious and tempered workers educated for the most part by the party of Lenin.”

It has been characteristic of sectarian groups to sit on the sidelines and offer advice but never lead, yet declaim “our day will come”. Armstrong provides one of the most clearly explained rationales for this kind of behaviour. In this schema, the masses and the party simply need to wait for the right time. The upsurge will occur some day, and if sufficiently ready, the party will rise to the occasion and provide the revolutionary leadership. A naïve belief in the purely spontaneous uprising of the working class holds this view together.

In Australian left history, there was a saying: if you scratch a strike, you’ll find a red. And that’s not speaking of revolutionary upsurge, merely the elementary organisation of the economic class struggle. Nor is it necessarily speaking of a party that is versed in Trotsky’s writings and organised in a strict, Bolshevist, centralised cadre party: for most of the 20th century, the majority of “reds” were in organisations with great deficiencies – the Industrial Workers of the World with its own worship of spontaneity, the Communist Party of Australia, which unquestioningly took orders from Moscow for most of its existence, and sections of the left-wing of the Australian Labor Party.

If a socialist organisation trains its members well, they will be able to lead from the front when mass discontent turns into mass action. Members must not only be trained only in history and political theory, and in the theory of how and why to build an organisation. To carry through with a revolution, to avoid diversions into reformism that have held back much of the Western left over the last century, does require also a socialist organisation schooled in theory, but if that is all that the socialists build, they will exist in loquacious impotence. You can’t train a pianist by showing them how to build a piano. You can’t train a revolutionary by showing them only how to build a party.

Propaganda and sectarianism

Of course, a pianist without a piano is about as useful as a revolutionary without a party. If the group is very small, it makes perfect sense to determine priorities based on what the group can realistically achieve, and what is needed to grow into a larger group. But growth should not be at any cost and not for its own sake.

The classic definition of sectarianism is pursuing the narrow interests of one’s own party or group ahead of the interests of the class it seeks to represent. It may seem that a party which restricts itself to propaganda for socialism, recruiting but not seriously intervening in struggles, is unlikely to fall into this error. It may be guilty of abstention, but how could it be damaging to the struggle of the working class when it is not really active in it?

An abstentionist regime of propaganda can in fact have a real sectarian impact upon the class struggle. The classic rationale for abstention is that the struggle is at an insufficient stage to intervene in. Yet as we have observed in Trotsky’s classic study of “spontaneous” uprisings and movements, these movements are not “spontaneous” but arise from the initiative of revolutionary-educated, politicised workers at the grassroots. A propaganda group aims to both recruit and train these most politically minded members of the class. If the activity of that propaganda group consists only of building itself, then those activists who are recruited are effectively prevented from playing their natural role, of bringing into being struggles of the working class and its allies.

Let us examine this in a contemporary and practical context. Take the example of the campaign against the Wonthaggi desalination plant in Victoria[iv]. It is an important campaign for the working class to beat back the neoliberal forces privatising basic amenities (water), and to stop the ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases that are rapidly bringing the planet’s ecosystems to the point of collapse. To win, this campaign must spread beyond rural Wonthaggi and build support among the working class of Melbourne. One important transmission belt for campaigns and ideas is through students. So in the normal course of events, some more politically aware students become interested in environmental campaigns, and when one such campaign opportunity presents itself, they will take it onto their campus and seek to build the campaign there.

But what would happen if an abstentionist, propagandist socialist group has already joined up most of those politically minded students, and told them not to work on the campaign? The “anti-substitutionism” argument for abstention goes like this: “It isn’t worthwhile because there’s no one else moving on this issue that we can work with to build a broader campaign. It would just be us substituting for such a genuine campaign.” A more blunt assessment -- (to paraphrase) “we don’t think we will recruit anyone by getting involved in that campaign” -- has been reported from Socialist Alternative members in relation to some campus and movement campaign committees in recent years.

If the campaign turned out to have no popular resonance among the student population then a decision to abstain may ultimately be correct, at least in the sense of preserving the group’s energy for some more fruitful activity. However, the criteria commonly used to make such an assessment are too narrow: is there anyone else moving on this campaign we can work with, “partners” or potential recruits? A one-dimensional focus on recruitment, if successful, can strangle such campaigns before they even start. Telling people not to follow their instincts and anger to initiate such a campaign is a dangerous business that can weaken movements from the outset, foster cynicism and lead to a pessimistic “our-time-will-come” passivity in relation to the ongoing crimes of capitalism.

The danger here is not “substitutionism” – if a campaign gathers no support, it doesn’t hurt to drop it as long as the group is clear as to why. In waiting forever for someone else to start moving, the propagandist group acts as a sectarian block to really getting any movement happening, even when the broader population may be desperately needing such a movement.

Socialists who adopt this attitude are always left behind when such movements actually do take off. Waiting for a movement to prove itself big enough and worthy of the socialists’ attention is arrogant. It means that often when the socialist group does realise it ought to be involved, its members are likely to look parasitical and opportunist for jumping on board at such a late stage.

The way out of this dilemma is not to retreat into an abstract routine of propaganda, but to consistently push the boundaries of that routine, to engage wherever possible with forces that are trying to move into action, to develop the movement in whatever small way is possible.

The politics of alliances

Quoting Cuban Communists probably won’t convince Socialist Alternative’s leaders, who think Cuba is a Stalinist, even capitalist, dictatorship. But despite who may have said it, this quote is relevant to the discussion:

The formula the Communist Party of Cuba proposes for the success of the politics of alliances of the Marxist left is the conception of the alliances as a first step toward convergence, unity, fusion and synthesis of the demands, needs, aspirations and interests of all the oppressed and exploited social class sectors; that is, not as a mere and circumstantial electoral coalition in which the different factions `negotiate’ the exchange of reciprocal support for realising their respective particular interests – something that leads to contradictions over the path to follow, eventually causing the rupture of the alliance – but as the beginning of a strategic process conceived for the long term, of building consensus and elaborating a common program of government that not only confronts but also reverses the consequences of neo-liberalism. The continuation and results of this program would be guaranteed by the broadest and most democratic participation and representation of all those sectors. The organisational forms this process takes would be determined by the conditions in which the struggles of each people unfold, be that of one or various parties, a movement, a front, a coalition or an alliance with which the social revolutionary subject provides itself to undertake this difficult but unavoidable road toward unity. (Jose Ramon Balaguer Cabrera, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, #25, January 2004.)

The quote from Armstrong that opened this review provides some of the strategic considerations that ought to back a politics which is not only interventionist, in the sense that it seeks to push forward and strengthen the collective struggles of the working class, but that seeks alliances between different groups, different sectors of society, not just narrowly the organised working class (let alone just the next prospective recruits). The advances of neoliberalism have had a big impact on the class struggle since the 1960s, the last era considered in Armstrong’s series of historical lessons.

The 1960s

In the 1960s, the revolutionary left groups were not only small but were isolated by the strength of the reformist left in the official communist and social-democratic parties, they were shut out from organised working-class politics at every opportunity. Further, the “long boom” following the Second World War created a period of stability which gave rise to conservatism in the working class, a second barrier to radicals finding a foothold. This meant that although many revolutionary groups were able to grow quickly during the tumultuous events of 1968 and subsequent years, they maintained a highly propagandistic and factionalised outlook in opposition to the reformists who were blocking them (and unfortunately toward other revolutionary left currents as well). In the case of the Trotskyist left, this attitude has persisted (somewhat understandably) since the current foundation as a small minority in opposition to Stalinism within the communist movement.

Armstrong notes the absence today of large reformist organisations for the revolutionary left to look to for recruits and debate, but does not recognise the other conclusions that follow from this. He also notes the gulf “between the hopes and aspirations of millions of working people and the agenda of the ruling capitalist establishment and its parties”, but fails to see the potential for initiating struggles against the establishment (as we have discussed above).

The absence of large reformist organisations is not simply coincidence. The neoliberal ideology of modern capitalism does not want to allow space for liberal reforms, and the pro-capitalist reformist parties have been squeezed out (like most of the Eurocommunist current of communist parties) or transformed into explicitly neoliberal parties (such as the social-democratic and labour parties).

`Broad left’ parties rejected

Armstrong’s last chapter, “Is there an easier road?”, addresses the possibility of “broad left” parties and alliances and rejects them. Arguing against Scottish socialist Murray Smith, an advocate of broad left parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party, Armstrong says Smith ``fudges the whole question of reform versus revolutionary politics, arguing that in current political circumstances it is not necessary to build clear-cut revolutionary parties because `the social democratic parties and to a very large extent the Communist parties are finished as vehicles for working class aspirations’’’. Armstrong argues that “organised reformism is not simply based on parties like the ALP, but even more importantly on the trade union bureaucracy.”

Yet this leaves out the possibility of alliances with others who are not reformists, and those who are new to politics and are fighting for reform. Who is a reformist today, anyway? Hugo Chavez, who is fighting for his rather revolutionary agenda through official bodies and elections? Unionists and community activists who fight for reforms? The fact that reforms now have to be fought for at the grassroots (and are rarely won) even in the imperialist heartlands, and are no longer delivered as a pacifier by social-democratic governments, changes the emphasis on reform for the revolutionary movement.

Reforms and revolution

Rosa Luxemburg in the introduction to her famous article Reform or Revolution opens with the question: “Can the social democracy [Communists] be against reforms? Can we counterpose the social revolution, the transformation of the existing order, our final goal, to social reforms? Certainly not. The daily struggle for reforms, for the amelioration of the condition of the workers within the framework of the existing social order, and for democratic institutions, offers to the social democracy the only means of engaging in the proletarian class war and working in the direction of the final goal – the conquest of political power…”

Luxemburg’s polemical opponent, German reformist Eduard Bernstein, summed up his argument for disconnecting reform and revolution with the slogan: “The final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything.” This is about as “profound” as saying that the means justifies the end! It’s only sensible meaning is that the movement, unconsciously, maybe even accidentally, will itself lead to socialism. This is a version of the socialism-is-inevitable school of thought, which sadly does not seem to be correct. Movements for reform are easily subject to cooption, narrow sectoralism and are compatible with capitalism. Just having a movement in itself guarantees nothing.

If we are to be practical about things, however, we do need a movement. To disagree with Bernstein’s slogan does not mean to agree with it’s inverse, “The movement, no matter what it is about, is nothing; the final goal is everything”. As Luxemburg puts it, “Between social reforms and revolution there exists for the social democracy an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means; the social revolution, its aim.”

The process of building the Socialist Alliance in Australia and in England has been a central debate over alliance strategy in the English-speaking left. It has provoked serious divides in left organisations that have tried these forms of alliance. Ironically, the cause of unity can cause division! But some disagreement is inevitable when new ideas are tried out.

Most of the left went into the Socialist Alliance process in Australia with a genuine openness to see how it would work, but with little idea of how or why it should work (although Socialist Alternative left after only a few months, having barely participated at all). The International Socialist Tendency (in Australia, the International Socialist Organisation) formulated the idea that the Socialist Alliance was a “united front of a special type” to work with those breaking to the left of social-democratic parties like the ALP. Yet many in the Socialist Alliance were people of the left who had abandoned the ALP long before. The tactical alliance suggested by the “united front of a special type” tactic was misplaced. Strategic and longer term unity is what the process should have aimed for: to unite those socialists who find themselves fighting the same struggle, now, against neoliberalism. People who had no confidence in this unity, or in the possibility of struggle against neoliberalism, were inevitably confused, demoralised and disappointed. Hence the period of confusion following the initial foray into alliance politics.

Alliances of the Marxist left organiations (to start with) can take many forms, and progress through many stages. Some (like Socialist Alternative) sadly are unlikely to travel along this road anytime soon. Yet to make the necessary alliances with new protest movements that appear, being able to unite the activist, interventionist Marxist left is likely to be a prerequisite. Serious movements will demand it of us. Indeed, serious movement activism requires all manner of tactical and strategic alliance building.

Who’s afraid of Socialist Alternative?

A leading member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective in the Socialist Alliance once wrote a private discussion paper entitled “Who’s afraid of Socialist Alternative” that was subsequently leaked and made public. Both it and these writings of Mick Armstrong may well end up a footnote in the history of the Australian left if Socialist Alternative’s politics are ultimately as frustratingly impotent as this review would suggest. But in fact, there are those who worry are afraid.

Socialist Alternative have experienced growth among university students and become the second-largest socialist organisation in Australia today. Its size on some campuses is sufficient to effectively monopolise the space with its brand of socialist politics. This certainly causes some on the left great frustration. Should Socialist Alternative’s methods be copied? Perhaps we, too, ought to revert to a more simple propaganda routine? These nagging doubts need to be answered, and it is hoped that this review will achieve this in part.

Most movement work that Socialist Alternative engages in currently is sporadically building protest rallies initiated by others, quite genuinely, but whether this is out of a real expectation that it can make a difference is uncertain: it seems more it is angling for recruits. Certainly, Socialist Alternative is effective in recruiting. Their members work hard at it, unlike many of its detractors, which along with its single-mindedness is probably the real reason for Socialist Alternative’s modest growth, not any magic property of its propaganda routine. If its propaganda routine were more successful, it would have more impact on other left groups, but typically its membership remains quite separate and barely engages in conversation with the rest of the left.

All this shows that Socialist Alternative’s superficially magic bullet of a narrow propaganda routine is in fact very shaky. It would be good if Socialist Alternative could regain some confidence in the class struggle and direct its members to do serious work building and initiating campaigns. Issues arise regularly in Australian politics, which shake the working class’ confidence in the system. Organised initiatives to try out protest action and movement campaign building on these issues can move the struggle forward with enough pushing. We don’t need to wait for tens of thousands of members: the left can have a serious impact now if it is organised to do so, and it is sad that Socialist Alternative keep their youthful, energetic membership isolated from almost all such activity.

{Ben Courtice is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency within the Socialist Alliance of Australia. ]


[i] Australia’s previous Prime Minister John Howard introduced a series of laws (``WorkChoices’’) to restrict workers’ rights to organise and give employers more power. Hundreds of thousands of workers protested in the streets around Australia throughout 2006-7, organised by the trade union movement under the banner of “Your Rights at Work”.

[ii] Socialist Alternative (http://sa.org.au/) were founded by activists expelled from the International Socialist Organisation (now known as Solidarity) in 1995. Both groups are from the International Socialist Tendency (IST) tradition founded by British Marxist Tony Cliff.

[iii] The Australian Labor Party (ALP), Australia’s current governing party, is a social-democratic party with institutional links to the unions, like the British Labour Party. In the 1980s, an ALP government pursued a social contract with the unions which demobilised rank and file union organisation and saw a decline in living standards. Since then the ALP has increasingly followed an openly neoliberal agenda.

[iv] The ALP government of the south-eastern Australian state of Victoria plans to augment the water supply by constructing a massive desalination plant near the coastal town of Wonthaggi. This is controversial because domestic water bills are likely to increase up to five times over to pay for the construction, and the plant will cause a great amount of pollution both locally and from the large amount of power generation necessary to operate it.