Is there room for me in the party?

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I'm a Christian pastor, and a socialist. When I was in high school, I joined Resistance, but didn't get too involved because I was focusing on some personal difficulties relating to the spiritual side of my life. I also had some doubts which I never articulated about whether I could really fit in to a socialist group, since I was a Christian.

After high school, I became involved in queer activism and also sought ordination as a pastor. My denomination, Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) is a “human rights church” and, as an MCC pastor, I was involved in the local LGBTI community, in Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), in public speak-outs and snap actions against homophobic literature in libraries and queer rights in Nigeria (where the Anglican church was supporting the death penalty for gays). I maintained a nominal membership in the Democratic Socialist Party via Resistance, but I still didn't get involved.

Around 2007, I moved to Sydney. Rachel Evans called me up pretty soon after and got me involved in the NoToPope Coalition, in the Sydney branch of CAAH, in the queer refugees' campaign and other issues. It was at this point that I looked into Socialist Alliance. It was the idea of left unity that made me want to become an active member. There was definitely room for me in a broad socialist organisation like this!

You have to understand that my Marxist Orthodoxy is not pristine. As a Christian, influenced by Marxism, I am a Liberation Theologist. Liberation Theology is a school of Christian Marxism founded in the 1960s by Peruvian Catholic priest Gustavo Gutiérrez. This radical kind of Christian theology draws heavily on the critique of hegemony by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, but more so on the radical teaching of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets, as well as the traditions of Christian Theology, and the experiences of Gutiérrez as an indigenous American in the poor neo-colony of Peru.

Liberation Theology had been an extremely powerful school of thought as it has radicalised Christian bishops throughout Latin America. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez was able to start a socialist revolution in Venezuela because of the popularity of Marxist ideas within a Latin American context, and that was only possible because of Liberation Theology.

To be fair, Liberation Theology fits into the world of Marxism awkwardly at best. As a Liberation theologist, for instance, my “materialism” is extremely questionable because I believe in God and the human soul. My “revolutionary” credentials could also be questioned because I am a Christian pacifist. I could happily explain to you how I personally negotiate these seeming contradictions, but that's not the point I want to make.

Socialist Alliance was a party that had room for a person like me and, since joining, my passion for activism has increased about four hundred percent. I work closely with the Sydney branch in LGBTI activism. You can read about our exploits in the Alliance Voices article Marriage rights campaign needs final push for victory by Rachel Evans, Farida Iqbal and I. I also write regularly for Green Left Weekly, and have worked on the Resistance Books pamphlet The Road to Rainbow Liberation. I don't push my agenda, and nobody else has ever questioned my Marxism. I have no fear of being “purged”, and you don't have to fear being proselytised. After all, we're here to achieve things in the world, not score points in debates.

There are many people like me in the Socialist Alliance. There are people with anarchist leanings, postmodern ideas, and utopian ideas of socialism. There are Buddhists and Christians and Muslims. Socialist Alliance draws together all these people, and over time, with good mentors, it's the struggle not the program that teaches us all which ideas work, and which are a dead end.

I think sometimes we forget how embarrassing it is for us that socialists are so dogmatic, inflexible and segregated. At Occupy Sydney, you could usually find three or four different socialist parties competing with each other. They each had a different paper/magazine/leaflet, a different organisational structure, and spent a lot of time scowling at each other. Many of them wouldn't speak to me once they found out I was a part of the “enemy”.

This situation wastes massive amounts of resources. Broader and more effective planning is impossible when we don't speak to each other. So we all organise over the top of everyone else's plans, and everything gets duplicated. We publish separate newspapers/magazines, which means every article gets written multiple times by multiple authors and the editing and type-setting all has to happen several times, and the printing be paid for several times.

Every activist meeting in Sydney has different socialist groups caucusing separately, and then bashing heads in the meeting, and scaring off some independent activists, damaging the unity of the working class! If we had broad unity among the socialist groups we could accomplish so much more, so much more easily and effectively than what we are doing now.

But the worst part is the amount of time that we spend attacking each other. I've had socialists scream “Stalinist!” at me when they saw I was selling Green Left! That energy and passion should be going into fighting capitalism, not other socialists! And how embarrassing — I can't imagine anyone who happened to oversee that encounter then say to themselves, “I really want socialists to lead our country one day!”

If we lock into a dogmatic Marxism and a detailed program of how the future will unfold, we become sectarians too. We waste resources and scare people away. And we also exclude people who, like me, haven't quite caught up to everyone else on perfect Marxist theory yet.