Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and sectarianism
Recently, Louise O’Shea wrote an article called Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and the political right in Socialist Alternative attacking the Jill Meagher demonstration for its supposed reactionary, racist, middle class liberal approach.
I wrote a response as a member for the comments section of the article and submitted it twice but it has not yet, as far as I can tell, been published. So I have published it here. My response should be read after reading the article, if you can.
Louise writes: ‘Socialist Alternative’s central criticism of the Jill Meagher phenomenon and mobilisations around it was that they were a vehicle through which the rich and powerful could push an agenda, and which it was impossible given the level of class struggle and class consciousness in Australia today for the tiny forces of the left to intervene to change, so inherent is the right wing logic of the issue.’
The same is true of some other campaigns we have been involved in. Indeed one could make the argument that the first stage of revolution in places like Egypt involved the very same characteristics of sections of the ruling class coming on board to push their agenda. Should the Revolutionary Socialists of Egypt have abstained from the struggle against Mubarak for the same reason Louise offers in this article?
And just because the rich and powerful will try to use an issue for their own ends doesn’t justify sectarian abstention from a movement that attracted 30000 people and which did not call for more CCTV cameras, or police or whatever.
The point should have been to find if there is an audience for left wing ideas in a subtle and sensible way, not present a schema of working class revolution as the only way and if you are against that you are racist, sexist or whatever other glib insults roll off our tongues.
This is the classic example of how not to relate to people who have identified a social problem under capitalism and are demonstrating against it. Some of them may have been receptive to the ideas Louise presents about violence in the home, cop murders of indigenous people and the like.
The usual glib labels get trotted out. I especially love the middle class accusation. So what is middle class, and if we are going to be serious, isn’t our organisation middle class? But 30,000 middle class liberals? Gee, that’s a studied and erudite analysis from afar.
To counterpose the Jill Meagher demo to the murder of indigenous people in custody and draw the conclusion that the support for the Jill Meagher demo was racist is unsustainable.
The march presented the opportunity for us to be involved and to make the argument, in a way that doesn’t alienate people, that the situation of Aboriginal men in police custody also needs our support and action. I doubt we have the cadre capable of doing that.
Let me quote Lenin on Ireland in 1916.
To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc – to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution. So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.
Whoever expects a pure social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.
The Russian Revolution of 1905 was a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It consisted of a series of battles in which all the discontented classes, groups and elements of the population participated. Among these there were masses imbued with the crudest prejudices, with the vaguest and most fantastic aims of struggle; there were small groups which accepted Japanese money, there were speculators and adventurers, etc. But objectively, the mass movement was breaking the hack of tsarism and paving the way for democracy; for this reason the class-conscious workers led it.
The socialist revolution in Europe cannot be anything other than an outburst of mass struggle on the part of all and sundry oppressed and discontented elements. Inevitably, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and of the backward workers will participate in it—without such participation, mass struggle is impossible, without it no revolution is possible—and just as inevitably will they bring into the movement their prejudices, their reactionary fantasies, their weaknesses and errors. But objectively they will attack capital, and the class-conscious vanguard of the revolution, the advanced proletariat, expressing this objective truth of a variegated and discordant, motley and outwardly fragmented, mass struggle, will be able to unite and direct it, capture power, seize the banks, expropriate the trusts which they all hate (though for different reasons!), and introduce other dictatorial measures which in their totality will amount to the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the victory of socialism, which, however, will by no means immediately “purge” itself of petty-bourgeois slag.
It seems to me we Socialist Alternative members might like to think about that for a while instead of standing on the sidelines only shouting ‘We are for revolution’.
It seems to me this ill-thought out article may have more to do with a National Executive keen to show its differences with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) in the forthcoming merger and/or to provoke ‘debate’ to show what an open organisation we are.
Instead of picking state capitalism or socialism from below as the battle ground, because the NE has capitulated on these issues to the RSP, it has chosen ‘feminism’.
I do wonder what our RSP colleagues make of this badly argued blunderbuss of sectarianism. I can only hope they challenge this ludicrous, self-satisfied, smug, anti-working class, infantile nonsense for what it is.
I have made it clear in internal bulletins I have my doubts about the merger with the RSP. But one thing that might come of the fait accompli of merger is a real challenge to the gross inadequacies of our analysis of the women’s movement and our relationship to it, gross inadequacies exemplified so clearly by this article.