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John Passant

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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
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The new year: have your say in Saturday’s Socialist speak out

A new year brings thoughts of a better world and renewed optimism to the fore among many many people. In the developed West this hope is most often individualised – I will lose weight, spend more time with the kids, give up smoking, change career, get a (better paid) job…

All of these are explicable in materialist terms – the profound alienation that is capitalist society, the dominance of the neoliberal agenda from the 80s, the lengthening of the working day, the other attacks on wages and conditions and the social wage of public health, education and transport, the precariousness of work exposed by the GFC , the ease and profitability of fast food etc etc.

While revolutionary socialists work at understanding why things are as they are, they also want to change the world for the better. As Marx put it: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.’

We revolutionary socialists are optimists. We believe that the working class can and will change the world. As Engels, in a foreword to the Communist Manifesto said: The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself…’ 

Working class consciousness influences whether workers will change the world through revolution, through the transfer of power from the tiny minority of the bourgeoisie to the vast majority, the working class.  The task is immense both because ‘the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class’ and because the sale of labour power creates and reinforces the aspirations for reform within capitalist parameters.

The question – of movement from a class in itself to a class for itself – occupies the minds of revolutionary socialists. It was one of Lenin’s great contributions to socialist thought and its organisation that he bridged the gap between thought and action with a revolutionary party. Not a party separate from the working class but the working class organised.

Now, apart from the thousand or so revolutionary socialists in Australia and the slightly (in comparative terms) larger number around the world, this discussion might seem like madness. The best description of the working class in the developed countries could be inactivity, or defensiveness, or perhaps confusion. Nowhere in the advanced capitalist countries can it be said the class is in the process of becoming a class for itself, entering or about to enter the stage of history.

Certainly the idea of a vanguard of radical workers cohered around the emancipatory ideas of revolutionary socialism, of democracy and production for need,  seems for most workers and others completely divorced from reality. This is true even in countries like France, the UK, Ireland, Portugal and Spain where workers and students have been fighting back against the attacks of capital.

In Australia, the ongoing boom has shielded the bourgeoisie and their two parties from the need to go totally on the offensive against the working class. Couple this with 30 years of class collaboration that have produced low levels of unemployment and real wage increases, and the ideas of revolutionary socialism and organisation building seem to most even more bizarre.

It makes for a seemingly bleak environment for revolutionary socialists. Yet we remain optimistic.

First, crisis is endemic to capitalism.

That doesn’t mean resistance automatically follows from the bourgeoisie’s attacks on the working class. The situation is more complex and depends on range of factors. But it does mean as the lies and inadequacies of the ideology and practice of capitalism are exposed there may be openings for socialists in the short to long term. The Stalinised Communist Party for example grew rapidly in Australia during the Depression.

Second, the history of capitalism is the history of resistance. Workers have time and again, in country after country, risen up against the exploiting class. They will do so again.

Third, we revolutionary socialists are sustained by our hope for the future. Let me reproduce a few quotes from one of the great revolutionaries of the last century, Leon Trotsky, to make the point.

Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.

Or this:

As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!

As the new year begins, let us join together, united by our hope for a new world, one free of war, poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. Let us continue our daily, systematic, unglamourous work towards, as Trotsky wrote, a society cleansed of all evil, oppression and violence.

In Australia, Socialist Alternative has branches and regular meetings in cities across Australia. If you want to change the world why not come along?

To have your say on this or anything else, hit the comments button.



Comment from juanR
Time December 31, 2010 at 9:07 pm

And, yes John, happy new year to you and all your readers. Let there be peace, fraternity and equality in the world for a little while. And, yes… let Oz win the fifth test…for Ponti’s sake.

Comment from John
Time January 1, 2011 at 5:25 am

Thanks Juan. All the best for 2011 to you and your family.

Comment from Walter
Time January 1, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Juna – you can’t be so nationalistic and jingoistic as to supporting Ponting! He promotes multinational companies, earns millions and is a hopeless captain too.

For the first time, England have a likeable team and they deserve to win the series. I hate Nationalism and unlike the Barmy Army, Australian supports cannot sing!

Comment from Magpie
Time January 1, 2011 at 6:50 pm

John and all,

An interesting conversation (and a very appropriate for these days) on why Scrooge wasn’t such a despicable character:

Bah humbug – Why Ebenezer Scrooge is actually a man of principle

Note that Scrooge’s actions are judged on the basis of three philosophical traditions (utilitarianism, Kant and “virtue ethics”), of which only the third one (“virtue ethics”) seems to imply some mild degree of reproach.

The learned professor Lowe (a philosophy professor, at that) even makes a passing reference to Marx, but apparently does not find him relevant to the discussion, because other than mentioning his name, the notion of surplus value goes entirely AWOL.

Comment from John
Time January 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for the post magpie. I have great difficulty overcoming my stereotypes on Scrooge.

On the economic rent issue you mentioned last week, i have been getting myself in nots about that. Until a comrade pointed out the obvious – economic rent arising eg through monopoly doesn’t create value, it redistributes it from other sectors of the capitalists class to the monopolists.

Comment from Magpie
Time January 1, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I also consider the Scrooge character a bastard.

What I found interesting is the attempt to rehabilitate him, and the fact that Prof. Lowe did mention Marx, but decided to leave the notion of surplus value out of the discussion, without even an explanation.

Regarding the rent post: the idea was to show that even Ricardo (who although was a brilliant man, was neither a socialist, nor a workers’ friend, just the opposite) found that wealth could be unearned.

Additionally, I wanted to introduce the similarity between the notions of land rent and surplus value, about which I am finishing two posts (hopefully more clearly written).

Hopefully, I will be putting them on my blog soon.

Comment from John
Time January 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Yes, there’s some good quotes from Ricardo about unearned income and land rent. He had a visceral hatred of landlords for that very reason – part of their rent was unearned. He saw them as feudal parasites. He and Adam Smith also pointed out the unearned component of land rent arose from the monopoly that is private property. In my view these ideas (taken and expanded by some neoclassical economists to all situations, not just land and resources, and given the name economic rent) underpin the Henry tax review.

Yes, I am more comfortable with Scrooge as exploiter, an idea Ian Lowe doesn’t not explore. Utilitarianism is of course a reactionary doctrine.

Comment from juanR
Time January 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Hi Walter, what are you talking about “nationalistic and jingoistic” I don’t need to be that to support Ponting. As a sportsman I think he is great and will miss him in the Sydney test. I agree England deserves to win, but I also think that it would be nice for oz to win this test, whether we can sing or not.
I am sorry to hear you “hate Nationalism” it must be painful and worrisome for you to carry that burden around. You certainly cannot accuse me of “nationalism” on the feeble evidence that I would like Australia to win the fifth Test of the Ashes or that I enjoyed enormously seen Spain winning the World Cup or seen Weber and Alonso fighting it out in Dubai for the F1 trophy. Sport transcends politics.