Socialist Alliance has been campaigning for socialist revolution ever since it was formed in 2001. It adopted the labels “socialist” and “anti-capitalist” from the start and began articulating and developing a practical program to replace the capitalist system with socialism through the mobilisation of the power of the working class in alliance with other oppressed groups.
There has never been an issue with this basic program, certainly not from our members who have come over from the ALP, the Greens or other political backgrounds.
Indeed, I would argue that the main reason that Socialist Alliance began with a limited explicit platform of class struggle against capitalist neo-liberalism was to make easier for the various small explicitly revolutionary socialist groups to agree with each other!
We were trying to overcome a chronic problem in the long isolated left of fetishising detailed programmatic agreement abstracted from real practice of parties, which led to endless and fractious arguments with each other more over words than deeds.
In this context, the first step towards any serious left regroupment has to be, as Nick Fredman spelled it out in this contribution to Alliance Voices: agreement “that socialists should not organise on the basis of theoretical and historical differences, but should unite around a program for Australia today.”
So that was the approach we adopted in 2001 and it remains the approach we should have as we explore the prospects for further left regroupment.
However, the practical program of the Socialist Alliance has developed organically since 2001. It was agreed from the beginning (after some debate with comrades from the International Socialist Organisation who wanted Socialist Alliance to be a “broad party” or “united front of a special kind” like Respect in Britain, with a more moderate politics that could include people with a social democratic or reformist politics) that we were not going to lock down the basis of agreement in some timeless “broad” framework for ever.
We should reject as slander any accusation that Socialist Alliance is “reformist” or a “halfway house for reformists”. It never was, and isn't now.
Our political program was to be developed in the course of our collective experience in struggle, as it has, and one of the reasons why we initiated the draft Towards A Socialist Australia document was to summarise some of these programmatic developments.
First, I support Pip Hinman's proposals to amend the aims and objectives in our constitution to:
3.1 The aim of the Socialist Alliance is to replace the capitalist system with one in which the fundamental elements of the economy are socially owned and controlled and democratic systems of popular power established. Only these radical measures will enable us to deal with the economic, ecological and social crises of the 21st Century.
This formally commit the Socialist Alliance to a revolutionary socialist set of aims and objectives and I think this is what we need.
I also support the constitutional amendments proposed by Liam Flennady, Emma Bacon and Ben Peterson as well as those by Pip Hinman that seek to define the Socialist Alliance as an activist party that primarily campaigns though promoting independent mass mobilisations of the working class and other oppressed groups.
I further agree with the various posts that say that say we should include in Towards A Socialist Australia an explicit statement that we are for socialist revolution, but would I would argue that we have a way to go in explaining, in popular and accessible language, what we mean by this.
Here 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.
A paradox of the time we live in is that while the working class is weak and weighed down by pro-capitalist and often corrupt leaderships of the trade unions (and other institutions) many people are coming to see that the continuing rule of all aspects of our lives by the billionaires and their agents is totally unsustainable on social justice and ecological grounds. Indeed, our very survival is being risked just so that the super rich can keep making their obscene profits.
The response we are getting to our calls to nationalise the mines and banks and put them into community ownership and control and the tax the rich is more proof of this.
This of course prompts a popular discussion (which we are seeking to provoke with these calls) about how the billionaires are using their power to stop even attempts to make them pay a little more tax or to respect Aboriginal and broader community opposition to certain dangerous projects of theirs. The mining companies' campaign against the resource super profit tax was like a big public education in this and the lesson was driven home to millions. The rants of Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer et al all added immensely to the lesson on class power.
And before that, the global financial crisis and the response of capitalist governments all around the world to it also was another mass political education in the necessity to face up to the power of this tiny but rapacious and narrowly self-interested minority. Large numbers of people now agree, or are very open to the idea, that what has happened is an outrageous and unconscionable privatisation of gains and socialisation of the resulting losses. People are angry and they feel the massive insecurity which has come out of this corporate thievery.
This is a tremendous opening for socialists to explain and win people to our political ideas.
So we need to say in all our publications, and we do, that we are for the breaking of the power of the billionaires. Of course when people start thinking about the question of power the next question comes to their mind: What is the source of the ruling classes' power and how do we break it?
And here is where we encounter the challenge of explaining that the working class and other oppressed groups will need to assemble a power that is up to countering that of the ruling minority, which has shown itself historically to be prepared to use violent means to defend its privileges and has the state apparatus, including the army and police force, essentially at its disposal.
We should use a defensive argument (like that adopted by the US Socialist Workers Party members when they were put on trial — see Socialism On Trial, available from Resistance Books) and stress the power of mass action against minority action. Further, all history of revolution also shows that most people come to a stronger realisation of this need to organise systematic resistance to the violence of the minority only in the process of struggle.
The question is whether we should say more on this point than what Nick Fredman and Chris Slee's amendments to Towards A Socialist Australia have proposed so far to explain this question of the struggle for power. In particular, I suggest two changes (below in bold, inserted in Chris Slee's redraft of Nick Fredman's draft text for the section “How we will get there”:
The capitalist oligarchy — “the 1%” — and its supporters will fight to the end to defend elite privilege and wealth. Our collective experience is that the most effective way to win even limited reforms within the system is by organisation 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. Real change requires a revolution, a real victory by the majority in the battle for democracy to open up the replacement of the capitalist system with a democratic socialist system. This can only be won by breaking the power of the billionaires. Revolution doesn't mean a violent coup by a minority: a revolution can only come about when the majority of people see the need for radical change and are actively involved in bringing it about, thereby creating a radically more democratic government, state and social system.
I also agree with Pip Hinman's suggestion that while we adopt amendments to Towards A Socialist Australia at the 9th national conference, we should retain the word “draft” in its title.
There are many other changes that should be worked on in the year ahead. We are now having a bigger public discussion about Towards A Socialist Australia than we did for most of 2012, though some branches organised some excellent public discussions on this document.
The good, early, response to our nationalisation of mines and banks federal election campaign pitch would suggest that we should start examining the various questions and solutions people we talk to bring up about the power of the mining companies and banks. Many people situate the power of the ruling class mainly in their control of the media, for instance. The key point I am making here is we need to be guided by our actual experiences of arguing the case for breaking the power of the billionaires and not primarily by the debates within the left.
I also think we need to think about making our overall argument more fundamentally rooted in Australian history and the struggle of labour movement and oppressed groups. I haven't had time to write an amendment but this is what I am thinking of:
Rewrite and use the current section “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oppression remains” as the introduction to the two Australian situation sections that precede it as a sort of story of the introduction of class rule in the form of European colonialisation and its subsequent dispossession and continued oppression. This could then be followed by a short section that summarises the promises and failure of the once much stronger Australian labour movement, which in turns leads to the sections on the ecological and social crises in Australia today.
Later we can introduce the section on “Our economy must be owned by society” with a call to return to a society based on the (Aboriginal) values of cooperation and respect for nature, and on a new level of complexity and technology.
The reason for these suggestions is along the lines of the late Peter Camejo's observation in his memoir North Star when he visited Nicaragua in the midst of its revolution about how the revolutionaries spoke to the people:
“As he spoke it dawned on me. The way he communicated, the message he gave, was what I had always tried to say; but he used only clear but understandable words and built his message on the living history of Nicaragua and the consciousness of the workers and the families who were listening.
“He explained how Nicaragua belongs to the people. How rich foreigners had come and taken their country from them but they were the people who worked and created the wealth of the nation. They had the right to run it and decide what should be done ...”
Towards A Socialist Australia can do this too, and we can all learn a lot from the very process of further developing this draft document.