Proposed amendments to Towards a socialist Australia

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I'm putting forward the amendments below to the draft Towards a Socialist Australia document because I think the time is ripe for Socialist Alliance to have a sharper framework document, and one that is more explicitly revolutionary, while still being quite broad and popularly expressed.

I think this for two main reasons. The first is a more general reason, based on where Socialist Alliance is at today. As I discussed in a contribution late last year, motivating an annual socialist educational conference, I think we need to strike a balance between broadly uniting the left, and having a clear, class struggle perspective.

Socialists should be flexible about the organisational forms that will best advance the socialist cause. There may be possibilities in the future of a much broader radical party — a 'Green Left Party', or a 'New Labor Party' say — but at this point Socialist Alliance unites those either from a revolutionary background or those who as far as I can see do not disagree with a revolutionary socialist perspective. We don't at the moment have any foreseeable options of uniting with large groups of union militants or dissident Labor or Greens members, but there is considerable scope for recruiting individuals interested in socialist ideas and for uniting with some of the existing socialist groups.

The second and related reason is the concrete prospect of unity with Socialist Alternative. While we certainly have had our differences with this group, it has put forward a unity perspective that chimes with much of what we have been saying for years: that socialists should not organise on the basis of theoretical and historical differences, but should unite around a program for Australia today.

I could point out problems with this statement, such as a simplistic view of the range of broad left projects around the world, a simplistic dichotomy between a revolutionary group and a mass workers party, and an unnecessarily restrictive conception of a what a socialist publication should be today (i.e., not recognising that a print and web publication with an explicitly revolutionary editorial stance can house contributions from and discussions with a broader section of the left). But this is a vibrant group, central to a number of campaigns in the major cities and on the many campuses, which appears to have growing experience of union work, which has recently organised the biggest socialist conferences in a couple of decades, has broadened the latter out, and which is clearly thinking seriously about unity.

The Socialist Alternative proposal for unity is quite adamant that this be on a revolutionary basis. Rather than dismiss this as semantics or content ourselves with pointing to how the consistent class struggle approach of Socialist Alliance is at the very least implicitly revolutionary (which it is), we need to take this proposal very seriously, if carefully, and see it as a very good reason to examine our own positions and practice.

For these two reasons I propose that our framework document should be sharper and more explicitly revolutionary. It does, actually, explicitly if rather coyly, state the need for a revolution, in the “dangers of bureaucracy” section, and I think this needs to be made clearer in the document as a whole, in a popular and non-simplistic way.

Crucially “revolution” means little left as a slogan on a T-shirt. We need to recognise that revolution today will not be a replica of the Russian revolution, but we do need to study the positive and negative experiences of this revolution alongside many other struggles including anti-capitalist revolutions in China, Cuba and Vietnam, massive near-revolutionary struggles in France in 1968 and Portugal in 1974, the experiences of socialist governments within capitalist states in Chile in 1970-73 and Nicaragua in 1979-90 and the ongoing revolutionary movements connected to socialist governments in Venezuela and Bolivia. Key lessons are the centrality of democracy to a revolution and socialist transition, and the need for a new form of participatory government/state to defeat the old order and make lasting steps towards a new society.

In terms of the latter point, while the document strongly implies that mass struggles will pose the need for and create organs of a new state, the “for real democracy, for people's power'' section could be clearer on this and shouldn't imply as I think it does that this will result from reform to the current parliament (maybe it would, but I think that unlikely).

The two amendments I propose are:

Replace the text of the 'For real democracy, for people's power!' section with:

We need a radically different political system, a system of participatory democracy that empowers the big majority of people who are currently excluded.

A first step is social ownership of the economy on which we all depend. Real democracy is impossible if one part of society owns the economy and the other part is compelled to work for them.

The political system requires fundamental change. Representatives should receive a worker's average wage. They should be subject to recall through a simple process if their electors are dissatisfied. The voting age should be lowered to 16 years.

All public officials in leading positions should be subject to election and recall.

Workers should be able to elect their managers and collectively direct their workplaces. Anti-union laws should be scrapped.

The main goals and targets of economic activity should be publicly discussed and voted on.

The mass media should be radically opened up to reflect the interests and concerns of ordinary people.

Replace the text of the 'How will we get there?' section with:

How will lasting social change in the interests of the majority come about? There is no precise map or blueprint, but long experience gives us some guides and shows that we will get nothing unless we fight for it.

The capitalist oligarchy — “the 1%” — and its supporters will fight to the end to defend elite privilege and wealth. The most effective way to gain even limited reforms within the system is by organization and mass action: strikes, marches and rallies that can make the economic and political costs too high for the rulers not to concede a reform.

Such struggles point to the way fundamental change can come about. Such change requires a socialist revolution, a conscious change from one social and political system to another. Revolution doesn't mean a violent coup by a minority: a revolution can come about when a political crisis is deep enough, and when the majority of people are actively involved in mass mobilsations big and sustained enough to bring about a radically more democratic government, state and social system.

An important point in the struggle for such change might be the winning of an electoral victory within the current system by popular forces. In this case, history has shown, we will have to mobilise in the streets, workplaces, schools, campuses and neighbourhoods to defend any progressive moves made against the power of the corporate rich.

The creation of militant, democratic campaigning organisations, determined to win, is crucial. One of the most important of these is a socialist organisation -- one that seeks to unite all those who want to fight to end capitalism and that strives to win mass support through its involvement in all the day-to-day struggles of the exploited and oppressed.

Through working with unions and all progressive social movements and organisations, helping to fight for and defend immediate gains, participating in elections and discussing and putting forward solutions to the problems we face, such an organisation can help to build the consciousness and forms of participatory democracy needed to take political and social power away from the 1%, and start to create a system that serves humanity and the planet.