There are many factors which determine whether a revolutionary organisation will grow and build cadre. In my mind, the biggest one is whether the party's ideas and theories about how the working class should go about exercising our collective power to challenge and ultimately overthrow the domination of capital have been concretely tested in practice.
As such, I find it perplexing that Adam Baker has written a contribution to Alliance Voices questioning the growing role Socialist Alliance activists are playing in social movements at a time when those movements have begun to, or are on the verge of, winning major victories through mass action.
Adam wrote: “Anyone can participate in building campaigns, and anyone can lead campaigns, irrespective of what politics you have. A socialist building a campaign, however, also seeks to link the campaign to other aspects of capitalist injustice, seeks to join others in that campaign to a socialist party, seeks to win people to socialist (and therefore Marxist) ideology. Socialist Alliance campaign builders, on the other hand, are not permitted to do this, because to do so would undermine the broad party project.”
The point that Adam misses here is that not anyone can lead campaigns to victory.
Activists with a parliamentary-organisational method, such as those affiliated to the Greens or ALP, identified by Adam, will struggle to win any real victories for social movements, as they either don't identify or deliberately wish to obscure the hollow nature of “democracy” under capitalism.
This has been demonstrably true in the case of the climate movement, for example, in which radical voices arguing for real solutions including ourselves, and others, have been sidelined by such elements, the result being the ALP-Greens carbon trading scheme which doesn't even satisfy the basic demand of climate activists to reduce real emissions.
Why is it important for social movements to win? It's not just about these campaigns winning for their own sake, because we believe in the morality of the cause. It's actually about breaking the decades-old lethargy of the working classes in Australia, where mass movements have occasionally sprung to the surface, but none have delivered real lasting victories.
As was the case in the 1960s when victories for the civil rights movement in the US and the Indigenous rights movement in Australia inspired millions of workers and students to mobilise, a strong victory for a social movement on the basis of a mass action-oriented campaign would be of benefit to the class struggle in Australia as a whole, regardless of the fact that future capitalist parliaments and corporations would inevitably attempt to undermine or repeal such victories.
It is hardly arguable that “if equal marriage rights were attained, the movement would wind up and activists could go home”. This is blindly ignoring the real history of working class struggle in Australia and similar Western imperialist nations of the last 100 years, against the spirit of Marxist thought which is always open-minded and grounded in real observations.
Despite Adam's assertions, the fact that several of our leading comrades have been throwing themselves into the struggle and playing leading roles in the social movements of today is an affirmation of our revolutionary politics.
I will admit that party-building activities do come under pressure in branches where many activists are playing leading roles in such campaigns. But in my experience as a Socialist Alliance activist none of the comrades named by Adam have lost their commitment to party-building, or their willingness to engage in such tasks.
In no way does the organisational method or tactics used by Socialist Alliance activists in our involvement in movements “not permit” us to win people to Marxist ideology or seek to join them to our party. I can think of no evidence which possibly substantiates Adam's argument that Socialist Alliance's practices are not informed by Marxism, and I myself have never experienced any patronising comments or hostility when in meetings or on email lists for identifying as a Marxist. However, I have when expressing an opinion on political disagreements within the party, namely about the Libyan uprising.
Adam wrote: “Here we have one of the most senior members within the leadership of SA, openly describing an ultra-violent coup, composed of the most right wing forces within Libya, including pro-Western monarchists, the most reactionary of Islamic fundamentalists, US flag waving pro-imperialists and more, as a 'democracy movement' !! It beggars belief.”
Adam's assertion that because Chris Williams identified the movement for democracy in Libya as what it is, he no longer has Marxist credentials is seriously lacking in veracity.
A spanner is thrown into the works of Adam's argument that the movement against Colonel Gadaffi is not worth defending due to the fact that it has delivered to power a coalition of conservative pro-capitalist forces. When one looks to what is actually happening in Libya post-Gadaffi, and one can see that, despite the inevitable opening up of the oil market to the same partners Gadaffi was trading with, the democracy movement has continued, with ongoing protests in Benghazi demanding transparency and reforms to address inequality from the Transitional National Council (TNC).
Indeed, the “left-wing” movements in Tunisia and Egypt that Adam identified in his contribution to Alliance Voices as being ones that we should support have brought to power, through capitalist elections, some of the most socially conservative forces in Tunisia and Egypt's histories - Islamist governments in both countries.
Does this mean we should show no solidarity to the revolutionaries of those countries, who are now struggling to convince the massive layers of society which supported them in the struggles against Ben Ali and Mubarak that the Islamists represent the same injustice and indignity? Of course not. Yet the principle of showing solidarity to social movements struggling against imperialism doesn't seem to apply in Libya.
The thing that determines whether a party can build up a cadre of professional revolutionaries, or the measure of those cadre's revolutionary credentials, is not the amount that they can quote Lenin or James Cannon or other revolutionary Marxist thinkers. It's how well they've understood the lessons learned by those who have come before us, and can apply them to the struggle ahead of us.
With the watershed year of global revolt that we have just gone through, it's time for the working class in Australia to start putting some real runs on the board, and Socialist Alliance activists and the party as a whole should be doing everything we can to ensure the success of these struggles.