Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Alliance Voices, Revolution and Transition

In light of recent developments (I'd argue both the the continuing crisis in Europe, the advancing revolutionary situation in the Middle East / North Africa (MENA) region, and the continued development on the Latin American alternative, which are all showing in practice the strengths and limitations of different approaches to the question of revolutionary leadership and unity, as well as the subjective ones of the Socialist Alternative's "turn to unity"), there has been some interesting discussion in the lead-up to the next national conference of the Socialist Alliance. I'm going to look at some particular contributions from Alliance Voices, and some related posts, as part of the process of working on some PCD of my own. There have been other good contributions so far - including this piece from three leaders of Resistance which is well worth reading - that I won't comment on just yet.

Nick Fredman, a member of the Alliance from Melbourne branch, has put forward an amendment to the Towards a Socialist Australia (TASA) document to tighten up some sections - particularly, incorporating an explicit call for "Revolution" in 'How will we get there?'. This is, in part, driven by the call put out by Socialist Alternative for unity amongst "Revolutionaries", counterposing it against unity with the "Reformists", whoever that might mean (during discussion at a recent event in Sydney Josh Lee from Socialist Alternative did say that this didn't mean the Alliance...) - which has triggered seemingly endless back and forth on social media.

Graham Matthews, from Sydney West branch, has responded with an argument that the use of the R word is implicit in the TASA document and our perspectives, isn't necessary, and puts up barriers in actually regrouping working class leadership:
"there is certainly no evidence that an important task facing the (revolutionary) socialist movement in Australia today, is convincing large numbers (or even relatively small numbers) of reformist socialists that socialism can only be won through extra parliamentary struggle and, ultimately, social revolution...
In this context in Australia then, where the level of the crisis is so acute, yet where the forces of working class resistance are so defuse and ideologically confused - why would the (relatively) few organised socialists, want to place an ideological and organisational barrier between themselves and those who are coming into political motion?
Peter Boyle, from Sydney central branch (and national co-convener of the Alliance), has weighed in on this debate and other proposals arguing that making our revolutionary politics explicit in material like TASA isn't a barrier, but it shouldn't be done just to defend the Alliance from accusations of "Reformism". He argues that we should explain revolution in a way which draws on Australia's history and the real context of today:
our guide is not just what we (or others in the left) understand, or want, but also where the consciousness of broader layers moving into struggle against the capitalist system is at... most people come to a stronger realisation of [the] need to organise systematic resistance to the violence of the minority only in the process of struggle.
Peter's piece references and draws on Peter Camejo, whose work I think needs to be included in this discussion, particularly Liberalism, Ultraleftism, Mass Action.

There's another that's come up in discussion - Trotsky's Transitional Program, and whether or not it should have any bearing on this discussion, which I wanted to weigh in on a little bit. Before that, I think it's initially worth noting the following quote from Doug Lorimer in the introduction to the Transitional Program published by Resistance Books:
Under certain circumstances, agitation around any of these different types of demands can serve to mobilise working people in mass anti-capitalist struggles. It is the mobilising potential of any of these types of demands at any particular conjuncture in the class struggle that is of primary interest to revolutionists. It is a basic fact of political life that people who are united with others in struggle are more open to radical ideas and new forms of action than those who are atomised and quiescent.
Omar Hassan from Socialist Alternative, who took up this point of transitional demands in a note on Facebook (apparently in reference to a comment made by an Alliance comrade at a recent event in Melbourne) argued that the Transitional Program is hugely problematic and the divide between our ultimate goal and the struggles of today "cannot be synthesised on paper, they must be embodied in the traditions of a revolutionary party." I find this rather problematic. He is certainly right to say "demands don’t create revolutionary crises, objective circumstances do" - but there is a whole world of advances the working class in Australia could be making short of capitalising on a revolutionary crisis to overthrow capitalist property relations. In the words of Trotsky, "transitional" demands lead to "one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat" - but there is a whole lot of struggles to be had between now and that final point which can also be considered "transitional", and it's crucial that we make some advances on that front now. Just because Trotsky misread the revolutionary potential of the impending crisis in 1930 doesn't invalidate the concept as a whole.

Many of the examples of transitional demands Trotsky counterpoises to the "minimum" demands of the Stalinists - indexation of wages to inflation, open the corporate books, no secret diplomacy - are struggles that have at specific times or in limited ways, since been won (or forced upon our rulers, in the case of WikiLeaks) - and although this hasn't been a "bridge" to worldwide socialism yet, at times times they have helped to galvanise various other struggles - WikiLeaks played key roles in the change in government in Kenya or the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, for example.

"We cannot do away with the schism between minimum and maximum program," states Omar - yet the value of the concept of transitional demands is in approaching the fight for minimum demands - ie reforms - in a strategic way which helps to develop the power of the working class and does actually connect our struggles for "minimum" demands today to our broader strategic vision. To strike at the "weakest point of capitalist hegemony" is a good aim, but to me it only seems of use if we're actually using that strike to develop momentum, win recognition, and actually begin to solve the question of leadership by drawing the broadest possible forces into radical struggle in order to further radicalise them.

This is to me an example of a transitional demand - one which may or may not be able to granted under capitalism, but which brings socialist revolution closer. That is our goal as revolutionaries, after all - for our struggles today to be hastening revolutionary overthrow of class society. And history has shown us that victories in certain key social movements has led to a wave of increased class struggle on a whole variety of fronts - from the success of civil rights & indigenous rights movements in the US and Australia helping to catalyse the upsurge of the 60s and 70s, to the overthrow of Ben Ali & Mubarak empowering already rampant trade union struggle, civil rights struggles by minorities, the women's movement or those of the shanty towns.

This isn't a shortcut to revolution; it's a perspective that putting our shoulder to the wheel in struggles today and making them as successful as possible, not only propagandising about the dictatorship of the proletariat from the sidelines, is the best method of convincing people of the need for a revolution and winning them to a revolutionary party.

Omar and I are both active campaigners for Palestine solidarity here in Australia; I think the demands of the BDS movement are a perfect example of transitional demands. The three pillars of the movement - an end to the apartheid wall, the right of return for refugees, and full civil rights for Palestinians inside Israel - are difficult to imagine ever being granted by the present existence of Israel in its current form as an apartheid state and imperialist attack dog for the region, as their implementation would critically undermine the possibility of maintaining that project with a facade of democracy. But this doesn't mean the struggle for those demands is a dead end reform we should stop fighting for - the inability of Israel to grant those reform helps to develop and broaden awareness of the nature of Zionism as a racist ideology underpinning imperialist dominance in the MENA region. And any cave-ins from the Israeli state on these points will curb the power of imperialism in the region, even if only fractionally.

The rallying cries of the Russian revolution - peace, land, bread - were certainly key transitional demands (nobody's maximum program), and those for real democracy, redistribution of wealth and dignity being raised in the MENA region today likewise fit the bill. Tad Tietze, in the discussion following Omar's post, argued that a demand like climate justice is a similar example of such a transitional demand to struggle for today; at one point this was the rallying cry for a movement of thousands, and although the last two years have seen a decline in such activism, I think every new climate disaster reflects the burning vitality of that demand.

How does this all relate to the above discussion about the goals and politics of the Alliance? Omar gives a throwaway comment that "it is also relevant because those seeking to justify the Alliance program seek to hide behind references to their alleged transitionality." This comment (seeming at odds with the above comments that the Alliance isn't reformist) does reflect a certain truth, but I feel it's being expressed as a pre-emptive hostility over a different tactical perspective for Australia today; a different approach to the question that's been raised - what role should the party play in making the revolution? And what does this mean for our activism today? I think this question is shaping the above Alliance Voices debates, as much as Alternative's call for unity.

The certain truth: I do agree with Peter and Nick that we should be including explicit statements that our ultimate goal is working class revolution in the Alliance constitution or our chief propaganda tool, the TASA document - but Graham is right that the key thing to be done today is win more to socialism, not convince other socialists of the correct path, and that requires we throw our energy into the struggles at the grassroots today, particularly aiming for the most transitional demands to strip the emperor's clothes from Rinehart, Palmer and the whole capitalist system and neoliberal offensive, if we want to educate and unite the class-conscious workers into a force which can take advantage of real revolutionaries opportunities.

But the important thing isn't uniting on our "maximum" program - for now, it should be left at the revolutionary overthrow of class society by the masses. In this low ebb of class struggle, it's far more important that we focus our attention on the immediate "minimum" & "transitional" kinds of tasks to regrow a pole of class struggle today. It's heartening to see the Socialist Alternative turn to unity and agree that we should unite on "a socialist program for Australia today"; but is that program to win more ones and twos to Marxism, or is it to build class struggle as a whole and win a whole generation of activists? As a Marxist in the Alliance, my perspective is certainly for the latter.

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