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John Passant

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August 2014



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Student politics and socialists

When I resigned last December from Socialist Alternative I wrote, among other things:

[At the National Conference] I also asked why, if as some leading members had said, we didn’t represent mass forces on the ground on campus and that students didn’t vote for us as Socialist Alternative, that we then stood in elections for NUS? I got no substantial answer other than it was good training. Well, but so is organising on the ground on campus, having stalls and making concrete arguments about defending higher education and more general ones …

One of my concerns was the top down nature of this approach, a sort of socialism from above where winning positions became the guiding ‘principle’ rather than building the fightback from the ground up among grassroots students.  I also commented that if we made the same arguments for winning union positions without a mass upsurge in working class struggle and active support from unionists anyone in the organisation suggesting such a tactic would be howled down by the members.

It now appears that Socialist Alternative have done deals with the professional student politicians, the wannabe Labor Party parliamentary hacks, to win some positions on the Student Representative Council at Sydney Uni. In doing this they have shut out the activist people they have been working with, Grassroots.

[As an aside many Socialist Alternative members call these activists ‘the swamp’, a derogatory term designed to indicate that these political unsophisticates are stuck in a morass of confused, vague leftism, unlike the all-knowing Socialist Alternative members. The ‘swamp’ are unworthy of more than pretend interest and cooperation.]

On the surface this deal with various Labor factions appears unprincipled and further confirmation that for Socialist Alternative top down politics has overtaken bottom up approaches to building struggles.  Maybe the organisation’s thinking is that having positions of power like Education Officers at Sydney University attracts a few more people to join. So that makes what appear to be unprincipled deals with student Labor politicians all OK, does it?

Or maybe Socialist Alternative does think it now has mass (although minority) support on campuses. That is delusional, but unlikely to be the case. If it were true that the organisation believed this, why do a deal with the hacks? Unless the thinking is that the organisation can win greater influence and more members with power, no matter how it comes about.

I think a number of tributaries have created this river of top-downism.

The incorporation of the Revolutionary Socialist Party into the organisation has added a current whose historical and philosophical roots is socialism from above.

There is no mention let alone criticism for example in Red Flag of either the theory or practice of state capitalism, a classic example of revolution from above.

Sections of the current leadership have for decades had a top-down leadership approach. Much of the membership accepts their every word.

The organisation’s roots and focus remain, to a significant extent, students.  The class position of students is one that is at best workers in training. Although many many students now work as well to survive, they do so often in precarious and unorganised sectors of the workforce.  The discipline and logic of the workplace and union activity is alien to them.

In addition some are prone to intellectualise justifications for unjustifiable actions. Words and phrases like the dialectic and names like Lukacs will, no doubt, get thrown around to justify unprincipled actions.

The phrase petit bourgeois comes to mind as a response, but I am loath to use that since blaming your opponents for petit bourgeois thinking is classic Canonism, something that elements of the leadership still adhere to in explaining dissent within the organisation.

What we can be certain of is that there is no working class current imposing its will on the organisation and reining in the declassed elements.

This graphic from Honi Soit, the University of Sydney student newspaper, seems to capture the feelings of a number of activists about the deal.

Salt Unity grassroots

For more information about the apparently unprincipled machinations, read the link here from Honi Soit.

I wrote this in part because I hope there are members of this once proudly revolutionary organisation who share my concerns. I suspect however that the response will be unthinking defence of the actions, and in a week or so some statement from the leadership justifying the action. The membership will then repeat the formula. 

Criticism both from within and outside, should be an important part of building an organisation.  Indeed, for a healthy organisation non-permanent factions should form on many of the major issues, including those about the way forward for the group.

Like all posts on this blog, comments close after 7 days. To comment or see what others have said hit the comments link under the heading. 



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