John Passant

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Me quoted in Fairfax papers on tax haven use
Me quoted by Georgia Wilkins in The Age (and other Fairfax publications) today. John Passant, from the school of political science and international relations, at the Australian National University, said the trend noted by Computershare was further evidence multinationals did not take global regulators seriously. ”US companies are doing this on the hard-nosed basis that any [regulatory] changes that will be made won’t have an impact on their ability to avoid tax,” he said. ”They think it is going to take a long time for the G20 to take action, or that they are just all talk.” (1)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

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

Real debate?

System change, not climate change



My Razor Sharp interview 12 August: Reboot or boot out this Abbott government?

My 30 minute interview on 12 August with Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp asking whether we should be rebooting or booting out the Abbott government.


A great front page from a newspaper that is all class

Red Flag issue #30 is out on Wednesday! Get your copy of Australia’s best left wing newspaper from Red Flag

Get a subscription – they’ll be delivered right to your door so you’ll never miss an edition.

Proposed anti-terror laws attack basic freedoms

Tony Abbott announces proposed new laws with foreign minister Julie Bishop and attorney general George Brandis in Canberra

Planned changes to anti-terror laws outlined by Tony Abbott and George Brandis on 5 August amount to a staggering new attack on basic civil rights writes Corey Oakley in Red Flag.

Most prominent among the raft of proposals is “making it an offence to travel to a designated area where terrorist organisations are conducting hostile activities unless there is a legitimate purpose”.

The only countries named by Abbott as places where “Australians are fighting overseas” were Iraq and Syria. But given both the government’s almost exclusive focus on Muslims as the source of terrorism, and the extremely broad definition of what it considers to be a “terrorist organisation”, almost any country in the Middle East could be considered an area where “terrorist organisations are conducting hostile activities” (except Israel, whose hundreds of foreign fighters, including many Australians, spread only love).

What we are talking about is a potential situation where Australians who travel to Cairo, Tripoli or Mecca, let along to Baghdad or Damascus, would be forced to prove to ASIO or to a court that they were not there to participate in terrorist activities.

This is a complete reversal of the burden of proof and a scandal of the highest order.

As Greg Barns, barrister and spokesperson for Australian Lawyers Alliance, told the ABC’s World Today program: “What you’re going to find here, if you lower the standard of proof, you will get innocent people who will go to jail.” This is particularly outrageous, Barns pointed out, when “one considers that the penalties, when found guilty of terrorism offences, effectively are from five years up to life”.

The government also plans to broaden the listing criteria for terrorist organisations to “ensure advocacy of terrorist acts is not limited to specific acts and that advocacy captures promotion and encouragement of terrorism”.

Even in the best of circumstances, such a change would be draconian and make a mockery of attorney general George Brandis’s claim to support freedom of speech. It is made many times worse by a context in which the definition of terrorism is highly ideologically charged to suit the pro-Israeli, anti-Muslim prejudices of the Australian government.

When Julie Bishop announced on 17 July that the Australian government “has listed Hamas as a terrorist organisation pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1373”, she essentially declared anyone who supports the right of Palestinians to resist the invasion of Gaza to be a supporter of terrorism. This is in spite of the fact that the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are illegal under international law.

It is also in spite of the fact that the right to resist occupation is similarly enshrined in repeated UN declarations that affirm “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, particularly armed struggle”.

Declaring national resistance movements to be terrorist and changing the law to make “promotion and encouragement” of such movements a basis for an organisation or individual to be considered terrorist – by this logic the United Nations should be a banned terrorist organisation and its representatives jailed.

In all probability the idea of jailing UN officials as terrorist sympathisers would be greeted with much enthusiasm at private Liberal Party gatherings, whatever they say in public. These proposed new laws – in concert with the government’s relentlessly pro-Israel line as the children of Gaza had their limbs ripped apart and their parents blown to bits – are a chilling indicator of the real mentality of the people who run this country.

But it is not just the Liberal Party. When buzz words like “terrorism” and “Muslim extremism” appear in the papers, the ALP can be relied upon to have sold off its backbone five times over before you’ve gotten out of bed.

The Guardian reports that Labor has said it “would like to offer bipartisan support but wanted to ensure the need for security was balanced with the right to privacy”.

But if Labor has been predictably pathetic, the government may have gotten a surprise from the various Islamic community organisations that have come out much more strongly than at any time in the last 15 years.

Islamic Council of Queensland president Mohammed Yusuf said, “Why are Muslim leaders being called upon to condemn what is happening in Iraq and Syria when the government has not come out to condemn what is going on in Gaza – 1,800 lives lost and government has not said a word about it.

The people are of the view that why should we cooperate with the government on this, when our own people are being killed and it doesn’t matter. This is why we are all having second thoughts on to what extent we are going to cooperate with the government when it comes to anti-terrorism.”

Ghaith Krayem, secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said in a statement, “The Islamic community is not what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. We will no longer stand by and be treated as the demon used by political parties for their own gains.”

Such defiance is welcome, brave and necessary. It is now the responsibility of the whole left to stand with the Muslim community and oppose these laws.

Full statement issued on 7 August by the Islamic Council of Victoria:

On Tuesday 5 August the prime minister and the attorney general announced firstly that the proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act would not go ahead and secondly that there will be an expansion of the anti-terror legislation to give security organisations more powers – particularly in regards to individuals travelling overseas to locations that the government has or will identify as regions of concern.

It goes without saying that the ICV is pleased at the first announcement and fundamentally opposed to the second. This however is not the most significant issue with the prime minister’s staged press conference. The issue of greatest concern is that the prime minister clearly linked the two issues, with the Muslim community as the focus of the two.

Essentially the prime minister said that the reason for not proceeding with the anti-discrimination changes was that it had become a threat to community “unity”, particularly with support the government needed from the Muslim community [for] the anti-terror regime. He then went on to say that we should all be part of “team Australia”, effectively labelling anyone un-Australian who didn’t support the changes. Given his specific mention of our community this was clearly aimed at ourselves.

The ICV is appalled at such behaviour by the prime minister for the following reasons:

• There is no connection whatsoever between the two issues and by linking them through the Islamic community has clearly used our community for his political schemes.

• The announcement gave the impression that the Islamic community had in fact been “bought” through the abandoning of the anti-discrimination changes.

• This will fuel the Islamophobic sentiment in the community.

• Once again we are being asked to prove our “Australianness”.

We categorically object to this and in no way support the expansion of the anti-terror legislation.

We will no longer allow such insults and cheap rhetoric to go unanswered.

Our community has been repeatedly targeted in this regard for over two decades now and we will not tolerate it any longer.

Muslims have been a part of the Australian landscape since before the arrival of Europeans to this land. We have and will continue to make significant contributions to this society and we find it insulting and offensive that we are repeatedly asked to reassert our connection with this country.

Finally we would give the prime minister and his government some free advice. Criminalising the support of rebellions overseas will in no way stop young Australians from doing this. The government needs to stop focusing on these sensationalist symptoms that accrue them political mileage and genuinely look at the root causes.

The question of why young Australians would willingly put themselves in harm’s way is much more complex than some spurious notion of religious extremism. We would point the government to its own foreign policies as a starting point. The government stance on the issue of Israel and the massacres in Gaza over the last 4 weeks has done more to “radicalise” people than this boogie monster of radicalisation that it uses to periodically scare the community and divert attention away from the reality.

The Islamic community is not what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. We will no longer stand by and be treated as the demon used by political parties for their own gains. The sooner all politicians come to terms with this the sooner we can have genuine engagement.

Ghaith Krayem
Secretary, Islamic Council of Victoria

Is it Lenin: Yes! Leninism: No?

This is a discussion article by Ian Birchall, historian and author of Tony Cliff: a Marxist for his time from the magazine revolutionary socialism in the 21st Century


It is currently a commonplace on the left and not-so-left to announce that Leninism is dead. Indeed, one might wonder why it is necessary to keep repeating the point. Nobody is writing articles to explain that alchemy or social credit are dead. The enthusiasm to bury Leninism tells us that this is something that people want to be dead.

In most cases what they really want to commit to the grave is the experience of 1917 and its aftermath. In the years following 1917 a revolutionary wave swept across Europe. The Russian Revolution, whatever its limitations, offered tremendous hope to working people that the system that had produced the slaughter of 1914-1918 could be replaced by a world based on cooperation and planning in the common interest.

Those of us who, today, want to replace the market economy with a society where working people run the world for themselves, will echo Lenin’s words from 1917:

At all costs, we must break the old, absurd, savage, despicable and disgusting prejudice that only the so-called “upper classes”, only the rich, and those who have gone through the school of the rich, are capable of administering the state and directing the organisational development of socialist society.

If we get into an argument about whether workers can run the world, we may cite the Paris Commune, Spain 1936-37, Hungary 1956 or Portugal 1974-75. But pretty soon we shall come back to October 1917.

And for the Revolution’s friends and enemies alike, the name Lenin serves as a symbol of the achievements of the Russian Revolution. Without the Revolution Lenin would have been a nobody, perhaps the subject of an obscure PhD on organisational debates in Russian Marxism, but certainly not a guide, authority and “great teacher”.

It is fascinating, if ultimately futile, to ask what would have happened in Russia in 1917 if Lenin had not been there. Three points in particular can be emphasised:

  1. Lenin’s ability to grasp the new conjuncture created by the February Revolution and the fact that, as he argued in the April Theses, it was possible to move directly to working-class power.
  2. The fact that, because of consistent activity over the previous twenty years, there was a party, in which he could argue for the new perspective. Without a party, Lenin’s words would have been wasted.
  3. And finally, Lenin’s political self-confidence was such that he welcomed into the party leadership people who were prepared to stand up to him, notably his old adversary Trotsky. Lenin thought that the party itself should call the insurrection. Trotsky, who had greater experience than Lenin of the soviets, had to persuade him that the party’s support alone was not broad enough, and that the call should come from the soviets.

But for Lenin the Revolution was made by the working class; he vigorously rejected any suggestion that any political force could replace it:

To be successful, revolutionary insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy, and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.

The phrase “and not upon a party” may be a bit perplexing to those who have been brought up to think of “Leninism” and “party-building” as synonymous.

Freedom versus the state

What distinguished Lenin as a revolutionary above all was his theory of the state. His State and Revolution, written when insurrection was just weeks away, is his most important work. Not only did it make clear than the transfer of power could not be contained within the existing institutions of the society, it also made clear that socialism cannot be equated with state control of the economy. Lenin summed up his position with the words: “So long as the state exists there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there will be no state.”

To understand the originality and significance of Lenin’s view of the state, it is useful to see how he was perceived by his contemporaries, some of whom had come to support the Russian Revolution from very different political traditions.

Victor Serge had been a hardline anarchist before 1914, taking positions that were elitist and even anti-working class; then he had been active with Spanish syndicalists at the time of the Barcelona insurrection. On arriving in Russia he rallied to the Bolsheviks, who, though they represented an alien political current, were at the very heart of the action. In 1924, just after Lenin’s death, he wrote a pamphlet Lenin In 1917 in which the former anarchist summarised Lenin’s view of the state as follows:

… there is only a difference between the Bolsheviks and the Anarchists over the means, and not over the end; … it is necessary to smash the bourgeois state; … it is necessary to create a profoundly new revolutionary state, the first glimpse of which was given to us by the Paris Commune.

Alfred Rosmer was a syndicalist journalist; he met Trotsky in Paris during the First World War, but had no contact with the Bolsheviks until he arrived in Russia in 1920. He described the impact of the newly published State and Revolution on the European socialist movement:

Some copies of a book by Lenin called State and Revolution had arrived in France early in 1919. It was an extraordinary book and it had a strange destiny. Lenin, a Marxist and a Social Democrat, was treated as an outcast by the theoreticians of the socialist parties which claimed to be Marxist. “It isn’t Marxism,” they shrieked, “it’s a mixture of anarchism and Blanquism”. One of them even found a witty turn of phrase and called it “Blanquism with sauce tartare”. On the other hand, for revolutionaries situated outside the mainstream of orthodox Marxism, for the syndicalists and anarchists, this Blanquism, sauce and all, was a pleasant revelation. They had never heard such language from the Marxists they knew.


Leadership, mistakes, splits

Rosmer and Serge also give us a fascinating picture of Lenin’s leadership style. Rosmer recounts his first meeting with Lenin:

One remark he made suddenly revealed to me the secret of the exceptional position he held in his party, and of the predominant influence he had got there. As we were talking about the Zimmerwaldian minority in the French Socialist Party, he said to me, “It’s time for them to leave the Party now to form the French Communist Party; they’ve waited too long already.” I replied that this was not the view of the leaders of the minority. Previously they had sometimes been impatient to leave the Party en bloc, but the recent Strasbourg conference had been so favourable that they were now opposed to the idea of leaving. They had hopes of becoming the majority quite soon. “If that’s the case,” he said, “I must have written something stupid in my theses. Ask for a copy of them at the secretariat of the Communist International and send me the corrections you are proposing.”

This willingness to learn, the readiness to accept that he had been mistaken and to change his mind, were an essential part of what made Lenin such an exceptional leader. Serge testifies to Lenin’s ability to work collectively, to learn from his comrades:

Lenin, Trotsky, Karl Radek, and Bukharin had, beyond any doubt, become the brains of the Revolution. They spoke the same Marxist language, and had the same background of experience with the socialism of Europe and America. Consequently they understood one another so well, by the merest hints, that they seemed to think collectively. (And it is a fact that the party drew its strength from collective thinking.)

Another witness to Lenin’s leadership skills was Clara Zetkin, the veteran German socialist. In 1921 the German Communist Party launched an adventurist insurrectionary strike which led to disaster and massive loss of membership. One of the Party’s leaders, Paul Levi, publicly attacked his own party and was disciplined. The question, naturally, was central to the Third Congress of the Communist International three months later.

Zetkin, who agreed with Levi’s analysis, but had stayed with the party framework, recorded her discussions with Lenin, and his insistence on the need for compromise; he told her:

As far as the probable attitude of the Congress to the “March action” is concerned, you must realize that it is essential to have a basis for compromise. You will have to be content with the lion’s share of the Congress spoils. The principles of your policy will triumph, triumph brilliantly. And that will prevent a repetition of the “March action.” …

The Congress will utterly destroy the famous “theory of the offensive”, will adopt the tactics which correspond to your ideas. But for that very reason it must also distribute some crumbs of consolation to the adherents of that theory. If in criticising the “March action” we emphasise the fact that the workers fought under provocation from the lackeys of the bourgeoisie, and if, in general, we show a somewhat fatherly “historical” leniency, that will be possible. You, Clara, will condemn that as hushing it up and so on. But that won’t help you. If the tactics to be decided upon by the Congress are agreed upon as quickly as possible, and with no great friction, becoming the guiding principle for the activity of the Communist Parties, our dear leftists will go back not too mortified and not too embittered. We must also – and indeed first and before all – consider the feelings of the real revolutionary workers both within and outside the Party …

“Well, we shan’t deal roughly with the leftists, we shall put some balm on their wounds instead. Then they will soon be working happily and energetically with you in carrying out the policy of the Third Congress of our International.

Lenin had organised a number of splits in his time, but here he realised that the important thing was to hold the German Communist Party and the Comintern together. Splitting is a lot easier than pulling together, which is why his self-styled followers have usually found it easier to imitate him by splitting.

Was Lenin a Leninist?

Like the rest of us, Lenin was a complex human being with weaknesses and limitations. He had an underdeveloped aesthetic sense and was given to telling mother-in-law jokes that were in bad taste if not sexist. As CLR James put it, Lenin was “neither God nor Stalin”.

That Lenin was an important revolutionary leader, and that his life and work repay study, are scarcely in doubt. But what of “Leninism”? Marx famously protested that he was not a Marxist; would Lenin have proclaimed himself a Leninist? There is good reason to think he would not.

Serge quotes Kamenev, who edited the first edition of Lenin’s Collected Works, as saying that Lenin was opposed to the project, believing there was no point collecting obscure writings from many years earlier. And in 1922, the last time he spoke to the Communist International, Lenin told delegates that the resolution on organisation “is too Russian, it reflects the Russian experience. That is why it is quite unintelligible to foreigners, and they cannot be content with hanging it in a corner like an icon and praying to it.” He was applauded with great affection; whether anyone was listening is a different matter.

After Lenin’s death the term “Leninism” was rapidly promoted by both Zinoviev, at a speech at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, and by Stalin, in a series of lectures called Foundations of Leninism (1924). In the plodding banal style which makes his work virtually unreadable, Stalin informed the world:

And so, what is Leninism? Some say that Leninism is the application of Marxism to the conditions that are peculiar to the situation in Russia. This definition contains a particle of truth, but not the whole truth by any means. Lenin, indeed, applied Marxism to Russian conditions, and applied it in a masterly way. But if Leninism were only the application of Marxism to the conditions that are peculiar to Russia it would be a purely national and only a national, a purely Russian and only a Russian, phenomenon. We know, however, that Leninism is not merely a Russian, but an international phenomenon rooted in the whole of international development.


It was indeed central to Stalinism to claim the legacy of Lenin, in order to legitimise the new ruling class that emerged by 1928 as the sole true heir of October 1917. But for Stalin’s opponents the claim to be the heirs of Lenin was equally pressing, and far more legitimate.

When a supporter said to Trotsky “If only Lenin had lived! You would be with him to this day in Moscow!” Trotsky reputedly replied: “Not at all, he would be with me in Mexico.” In the mid-1930s the early British Trotskyists called themselves “the British Bolshevik-Leninists” – a bit like calling oneself an “agricultural farmer”. The Trotskyists were on the defensive, faced with a massive wave of Stalinist lies and slanders. Their insistence that they represented the true continuity with the politics of Lenin was a necessary and legitimate response.

At the time of the split between Russia and China in the early 1960s something similar happened. The Maoists again claimed legitimacy by calling themselves “Marxist-Leninists”. Maoism proved itself to be just as prone to splintering as Trotskyism, but usually the Communist Party of Ruritania Marxist-Leninist would be the group in Ruritania that was most Stalinist and most loyal to Beijing. As recently as the 1980s an oppositional group in the British Communist Party, forerunner of today’s Weekly Worker, published a paper called The Leninist.

It is commonly said that in 1968 the International Socialists, forerunners of the SWP, turned from Luxemburgism to Leninism. This is an oversimplification – “Luxemburgism” is an even more slippery concept that Leninism. What did happen is that IS made efforts to turn itself into an interventionist organisation – a decision amply justified by the events of the following few years (Saltley pickets, Pentonville Five, miners’ strike bringing down the Heath government, Chilean coup, Portuguese revolution). If Cliff and the rest of us were inspired and guided by Lenin, so much the better – though as I recall in those days we talked a lot about Lenin and not much about “Leninism”. (However, to claim that an organisational form chosen in 1968 remains appropriate for 2014 strikes me as distinctly “unLeninist”. But that is another story.)

Organisational truisms; tasks ahead

So there are many claimants to the label “Leninism”, and many arguments about who can claim it most legitimately. But is there a coherent body of thought that can be defined as “Leninism”? As Tony Cliff pointed out, “Authority by quotation is nowhere less justified than in the case of Lenin. If he is cited on any tactical or organizational question, the concrete issues that the movement was facing at the time must be made absolutely clear.” (Whether Cliff always heeded his own warning is not so certain.)

That Lenin made the question of organisation central is undeniable. But to reduce “Leninism” to the truism “we’ve got to get organised” is a bit thin. And on the question of how we should be organised he was extremely flexible. The whole of Cliff’s study of Lenin is a sustained polemic against the myth of “the Leninist party”. There is no such thing; Lenin’s party varied enormously in form according to circumstances.

Since the end of the Cold War a great deal of historical work has enabled us to refresh our understanding of Lenin, and get away from traditional stereotypes. Whatever reservations one may have about the work of Lars T Lih (in my view Lih overstates the continuities in Lenin, and does not bring out sufficiently his ability to learn from the class), he has undoubtedly enriched our understanding of Lenin. Pierre Broué’s history of the Comintern and John Riddell’s carefully edited recordings of the proceedings of its first four congresses mean that many of the old clichés must be abandoned or rethought. A recent study by Eric Blanc challenges the view of Lenin as the source of all wisdom on support for national liberation.

I would argue therefore that the term “Leninism” may be a positive obstacle to developing the kind of political strategy and organisation we need for the coming decades.

Being a revolutionary socialist in the 21st century rests on some essential propositions: (a) if the structures of society are not radically transformed in the direction of cooperation and equality we face barbarism; (b) any such change requires the active participation of a substantial proportion of the exploited and oppressed; (c) the process of change will overspill andeventually destroy the existing political structures of society.

Nothing there that Lenin would disagree with (though he died too soon to see the full potential for barbarism). But it leaves a great many questions unanswered. History does not repeat itself and all revolutions are surprises. The future is not scripted in advance so that all the revolutionary party needs to do is learn its lines and make sure it turns up on stage at the right moment.

Among the many open questions facing those trying to develop a revolutionary organisation in the present period, I would mention three:

  1. How do we combine the maximum democracy (so that the organisation can draw on its members’ experience) with the structures that permit a rapid and coordinated response to events?
  2. How do we liberate the initiative and imagination of new comrades while enabling the organisation to educate them by drawing on the knowledge and experience of long-standing members?
  3. How do we build united fronts that combine the broadest possible unity with the maximum political clarity about the objectives of the campaign?

There are many more. They are questions of balance, of art not science, which cannot be resolved by a neat formulation or a quote from the classic texts. A study of Lenin – as part of a much broader historical study – will undoubtedly be of value, but will provide no readymade solutions.

At some point in the future we shall undoubtedly need centralised political organisation to focus all the different forms of struggle against the most concentrated form of capitalist power, the state. But it is hardly the problem at present. Our first task is much more basic, to rebuild the revolutionary left in a difficult period. So I shall end with a quote, not from Lenin, but from William Morris (who had a lot more in common with Lenin than admirers of his wallpaper might imagine): “We believe then, that it should be our special aim to make Socialists.”

Why is Obama bombing Iraq?

A snippet from Juan Cole in Znet on why Obama is really bombing Iraq.

The US is intervening for political as well as military reasons. Washington says that more such military aid may be forthcoming if Iraq will form a government of national unity. So basically, Obama is putting pressure on President Fuad Massoum to pick a prime minister other than Nouri al-Maliki and form a government asap. Likewise, Washington wants the Kurds to remain within a Federal Iraqi framework rather than declaring independence, and seems to be bombing IS positions for the Kurds in order to extract a promise from Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani that he will stay in Iraq.

Saturday’s socialist speak out

So why doesn’t Obama order air strikes on Tel Aviv to stop the Israeli genocide in Gaza?

Dear Benjamin, Stop bombing Gaza, Love Obama

An answer of sorts: It was not in the interests of the US to attack an ally who performs a valuable destabilising function in the Middle East and occasionally acts as its attack dog. It is, so the realists in Washington think, in US interests to attack ISIS under cover of humanitarian aid.


I am opposed to humanitarian aid as cover for imperialism. The fact Obama has done nothing to stop the genocide in Gaza while pretending to do something about Syria shows that US imperialism acts in its own interests.

What can we do to stop the genocide against Christians in Iraq and elsewhere?

Build an effective anti-war movement at home that stops our ‘leaders’ joining the invasion of [fill in country here] Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam …

Understand that the rise of ISIL has its roots in the decision of US imperialism to invade Iraq and its impetus in the defeat of the Arab revolutions and the rise of reaction. The problem is imperialism.

Build Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in Australia against Israel. Israel is the armed wing of US imperialism in the region and a defeat for it is a defeat for the United States and its stranglehold on the Middle East.

Support the Arab revolutions against, in the main, US backed dictators. The triumph of reaction in Egypt, supported by the Americans, has made possible the genocide going on right now in Gaza.

Welcome those to our shores fleeing genocide.

Ultimately this all means building a working class movement to overthrow capitalism.

The EU, until yesterday, sold $15 bn worth of dairy products to Russia annually. Now that Russian imperialism has retaliated to Western imperialism with its own sanctions, guess where the EU will look for markets? Yep,  Asia. At best their turn to Asia will drive down already falling prices for Australian and other dairy products. At worst it will close markets for Australian dairy products. Another win for the geniuses at ‘Team Australia’.

Speaking of ‘Team Australia’ (surely the movie can’t be too far away?) what government needs a Science Minister when you’ve got Eric ‘breast cancer’ Abetz, George ‘metadata’ Brandis and Tony ‘climate change is crap” Abbott?

Meanwhile back in genocide central this image of the Israeli buffer zone shows the further dispossession of the Palestinian people, ie genocide.

According to the report with this image:

44 % of Gaza has been taken by the Israelis; they call it a ‘buffer zone’, and they have expelled the people from that region into the remainder of Gaza. The population of [one of] the most densely populated place on earth has been crammed into an even smaller space.

Here is a link to a report by Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard on the destruction Israel has unleashed.

And here is #gazaunderattack with a video of the destruction. As they write:

Day one of ceasefire:

I woke up extremely exhausted, I had nothing in my mind but one idea, to go out, see what’s left of Gaza. I called a friend of mine, we met, started to check on some of the neighborhood where massacres took place, It was catastrophic,disastrous, I was shocked, mesmerized, traumatized.

Demolished houses, complete neighborhoods.

I am just speechless, I shall let you watch what I had recorded, this place is as far as i can get, I would be risking my life if i went any further ..


Opinion writer Mike Carlton resigned from was effectively sacked by the Sydney Morning Herald for writing an article pointing out the creeping fascism (Israeli writers’ words, not his) of Zionism and its state and majority population. His case wasn’t helped by a drawn image of an old Israeli man cheering the bombing of Gaza, an image which stereotyped the old man with a big hook nose and clearly invited accusations of anti-Semitism.

He snapped after 2 weeks of Zionist trolls and told them to fuck off, among other things. This provided a convenient excuse for Fairfax management to manoeuvre to get rid of him. The lesson? Don’t criticise Israel. It was a victory for the Zionists and their many ruling class supporters.

Perhaps a better image might have been an actual photograph of Israeli citizens cheering the destruction of Gaza, one like this one for example:

Back in Australia unemployment jumped from 6% to 6.4% as more people looked for work. Team Abbott had no solutions except to blame Labor.

And have senior minister Eric Abetz go on prime-time TV and claim studies from as far back as the 1950s showed a link between bartion and breast cancer. There is no evidence for this but the festival of hate Abetz is going to attend later this month, and for which another senior Minister Kevin Andrews is the global ambassador, is promoting this, as well as bashing gays and women.

The trouble Abetz got into shows that the 1950s social agenda of the white picket fence, family of happily married couple and kids, no gays or abortions, rampant racism and open discrimination is not cutting much ice with voters.

Either were proposals to amend the racial discrimination Act to allow bigots their right to be bigoted, according to Attorney General George Brandis. Abbott made the captain’s call to dump the proposed amendments to get everyone onside with Team Australia and imprisoning people for visiting Iraq or Syria (but not, of course, Israel).

George Brandis, is introducing even more draconian data laws to spy on citizens. He made a complete fool of himself on national TV trying to explain metadata.

The situation was so desperate that Abbott had to send out the one adult in his Cabinet, leadership rival Malcolm Turnbull, to calm the horses and explain what metadata was and what Brandis’s new security laws were actually about.

I thought Sir Humphrey Appleby did a pretty good job explaining meta to the world, at least compared to Brandis.

‘That’s not true,’ I replied, before Humphrey could screw things up further. I explained that the chemical in Seveso was dioxin, whereas this is metadioxin.

‘But,’ she asserted, ‘that must be virtually the same thing.’

I assured her that it was merely a similar name.

‘But,’ she insisted, ‘it’s the same name, with “meta” stuck on the front.’

‘Ah yes,’ I agreed, ‘but that makes all the difference.’

‘Why?’ she asked. ‘What does meta mean?’

Of course, I hadn’t the slightest idea. So I was forced to ask Humphrey.

‘Simple, Minister,’ he explained. ‘It means “with” or “after”, or sometimes “beyond” – it’s from the Greek, you know.’

Then he went on to explain that metadioxin means ‘with’ or ‘after’ dioxin, depending on whether it’s with the accusative or the genitive: with the accusative it’s ‘beyond’ or ‘after’, with the genitive it’s ‘with’ – as in Latin, where the ablative is used for words needing a sense of with to precede them.

Bernard added – speaking for the first time in the whole meeting – that of course there is no ablative in Greek, as I would doubtless recall.

I told him I recalled no such thing, and later today he wrote me a little memo, explaining all the above Greek and Latin grammar.

However, I hoped these explanations would satisfy Joan Littler. And that, like me, she would be unwilling to reveal the limits of her education. No such luck.

‘I still don’t understand,’ she said disarmingly.

Humphrey tried snobbery. ‘Oh dear,’ he sighed, ‘I should have thought that was perfectly clear.’ It never works.

Her eyes flashed. ‘What I insist on knowing,’ she stated, ‘is what is the actual difference between dioxin and metadioxin.’

I didn’t know, of course. Humphrey sailed into the rescue. ‘It’s very simple,’ he replied grandly. ‘Metadioxin is an inert compound of dioxin.’

I hoped that that would be that. But no.

She looked at me for help. I, of course, was unable to give her any. So I looked at Humphrey.

Um, Humphrey,’ I said, bluffing madly, ‘I think I follow that but, er, could you, er, just explain that a little more clearly?’

He stared at me, coldly. ‘In what sense, Minister?’

I didn’t know where to start. I was going to have to think of the right question again. But Joan said: ‘What does inert mean?’

Sir Humphrey stared at her, silently. And in that glorious moment I suddenly realised that he had no idea what he was talking about either.

‘Well,’ he said eventually, ‘inert means that . . . it’s not . . . ert.’

We all stared at each other in silence.

‘Ah,’ said Joan Littler.

‘Ah,’ I said.

‘Wouldn’t ‘ert a fly,’ muttered Bernard. At least, I think that’s what he said, but when I asked him to repeat it he refused and fell silent.

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Towards a revolutionary perspective on Hamas

Mostafa Omar, a member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists, considers how the left should analyze Islamist groups like Hamas, in an article published at the RS website

Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square carry Palestinian flags in a show of solidarity (Hossam el-Hamalawy)

This article is not a response to the “Egyptian Zionists”, whether they are right-wing racists like Lamis Gaber, who is demanding that Egypt supports Israel in its barbaric war against the Palestinian people and seizes the funds of Palestinians resident in Egypt before deporting them – for her racism is so blatant that it deserves nothing more than condemnation – or whether they are like Mohamed Zaki al-Shimi, a member of the right-wing Free Egyptians who writes that Israel is not Egypt’s enemy. He is right about that in the sense that the ruling capitalist class in Egypt, as it depends on the interests of American imperialism which controls the Middle East, does not consider Israel – the greatest watchdog for American interests in the region – to be its enemy.

Likewise, this article is not just an attempt to engage in debate with sections of the left which backs the Egyptian state. They continue to plumb new depths in an attempt to defend the illusion that “secular” military rule is better for Egypt than the rule of the Islamists. They claim that Hamas, which is the principal movement in the Palestinian resistance, is a “religious fascist” movement, like other reactionary religious movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or extreme reactionary groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.

This article seeks to clarify how we as revolutionaries who believe in building a democratic society through the struggle and organization of the exploited and oppressed masses, should analyse and deal with Islamist movements (and likewise with “secular” movements) which are struggling, or claim to be struggling, against reactionary or imperialist regimes.

Here we will focus specifically on Hamas, which has led the resistance in Palestine since the 1990s, because the position of genuine revolutionary forces in Egypt and internationally towards them is ambiguous, and this weakens our struggle against the reactionary regimes and imperialism.

First of all, we must clarify that we are completely convinced that the movement of revolutionary change against the global capitalist system is not only an international class struggle against the exploiting classes, but also struggles and uprisings of the oppressed can destabilize and weaken the capitalist system, whether these are the struggles of oppressed minorities within states, such as the Christians in Egypt or Iraq, or Black people in the USA, or of peoples colonized by the imperialist powers, such as Palestine in the case of the Arab world.
From this perspective, we can see that the Palestinian struggle (with all its factions, and despite all the reservations that any revolutionary will have about the politics of those factions), against Zionism and Imperialism, which has sponsored Zionism since the beginning (and continues to do so today), plays a pivotal role in destabilizing the global imperialist system. Time and again, it opens up prospects for the rise of class struggle in the Arab world, as the Palestinian Intifada of 2000 opened a new era of struggle in Egypt which culminated in the eruption of the 25 January revolution.

A revolutionary perspective on Hamas

Our perspective does not ever claim that varied “Islamist” movements in different countries at different time periods are all alike. Rather we always attempt to understand Islamist movements in the historical context where they arose, and in terms of their social and class content, and their political goals. We always attempt to analyze whether these movements are resisting reactionary and imperialist regimes, even if in a vacillating or distorted fashion, and even if reactionary movements are hostile to the struggle and unity of the exploited and oppressed masses, and thus serve the interests of imperialism and the reactionary regimes.

Our materialist understanding of these Islamist movements, their relationship with the masses on the one hand, and with the reactionary regimes and imperialism on the other, bases our analysis on their diversity. We also adjust our strategic and tactical positions towards them, following their development through all their twists and turns, from resistance to imperialism at one moment, to betrayal of the masses at another.

For example, we consider Islamist movements such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq as reactionary to the core, whose racism and crimes against Shia Muslims and Christians wipe out the idea that the unity of the oppressed is fundamental to resisting dictatorship and colonialism. We consider that such movements necessarily serve the interests of the dictatorial regimes and imperialism and we oppose them on principle.

We differentiate between utterly reactionary Islamist movements such as ISIS, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism in defence of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people.

We consider Hamas, which originated in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s, and won wide popularity among Palestinians because of its rejection of the concessions and surrender which Fatah offered to the Zionist enemy and the United States, and through its military resistance to the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.

From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel, because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the United States, and therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.

Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical, however, because we believe that the movement’s strategies in the struggle to liberate Palestine – like the strategies adopted by Fatah and the Palestinian left before it – have failed and will fail in the future.

Hamas’ strategy is to associate itself with some of the Arab regimes (even including Egypt until recently), as well as non-Arab regimes, which are reactionary and repress their people and conspire constantly to suppress the Palestinian struggle. These regimes realise that Palestinian heroism and steadfastness is and always will be a catalyst for their peoples, who are natural supporters for the Palestinian cause and revolution against them. Hamas’ strategy, which reproduces the strategy of Fatah and the Palestinian left since the 1960s, will not liberate Palestine. Instead of standing in solidarity with the struggles of the Arab masses who have an interest in getting rid of imperialism and Zionism, Hamas is pushing a strategy of alliance with regimes which cooperate willingly with imperialism and Zionism.

Secondly, despite the extraordinary heroism of Hamas’ fighters, who stand courageously against every Israeli assault in impossible circumstances, igniting hope in the hearts of millions around the world at the very moment of the Arab Spring’s defeat, Hamas’ adopts an elitist approach to dealing with the Palestinian masses. This is the method which Fatah and the Palestinian left relied on previously in dealing with the Palestinian people, using them as tools whose role is limited to supporting the armed struggle and obedience to the revolutionary leadership rather than popular participation in the development of a strategy of resistance and participation in decision-making. This approach weakens the capacities of mass resistance in the long term in the face of an enemy whose weapons are becoming more lethal day by day.

For this reason, support of the revolutionary forces for Hamas and the Palestinian Resistance is critical as well as unconditional.

By the same logic, despite our support for Hezbollah in any confrontation with Israel, we condemn its hostile position towards the Arab Revolutions by standing with the butcher Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Our support for the resistance in Palestine is unconditional because the Palestinian struggle against Zionism is a thorn in the side of imperialism, and because, like all colonised peoples, the Palestinians alone have the right to decide their destiny. That includes the right to choose their own leadership and adopt means of resistance which they sees as appropriate to their circumstances. But our support is critical because the fate of revolutionary change in the Arab world and the fate of the Palestinian Resistance are organically connected to each other.

Long live the struggle of the Palestinian people – the light of the Arab Revolutions!

Israel’s new onslaught on Gaza: an urgent challenge to build the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

Sherry Wolf, a longtime activist for Palestinian freedom and former press officer for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in 2012, in Socialist Worker US looks at the rise of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid–and the next steps for the struggle in the face of Israel’s new onslaught on Gaza. Although written for a US audience Sherry’s arguments apply in Australia and elsewhere. Let’s build BDS across the globe to isolate the brutal apartheid state of Israel.

Solidarity activists hold a sit-in for justice for Palestine

FOR DECADES, supporters of Palestine around the globe were isolated from the mainstream and largely powerless, watching from the margins as Israel meted out its horrors against Palestinians. Activists organized small protests and educational and fundraising events to build solidarity, but Israel remained unscathed, swatting back criticisms with ease and smug contempt.

Those days are gone.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has put an end to the feelings of impotence among Palestine solidarity activists–and emerged as a strategic threat to Israel’s once venerated standing in the world.

Since the start of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge onslaught, Twitter and Facebook have provided Gazans with a more immediate and direct outlet to the world than in previous assaults.

But the tweets and posts wouldn’t be amplified to the degree they have been without the efforts of a broad base of activists who cut their political teeth in the BDS movement. For the first time, tens of thousands of Palestine solidarity activists across the globe are exchanging on-the-ground reports and anecdotes via social media and collaborating on calls for international days of action and civil disobedience.

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IN ITS nine years of existence, the BDS movement has boldly redefined the battle for Palestine in the simple, straightforward terms of human rights. More than any other tactic of the Palestinian liberation movement, the BDS campaign has created a global outpouring of support for Palestinian rights–and put Israel’s violations of those rights under international scrutiny like never before.

In the U.S., the issue of Palestinian rights has gone from a concern of the left and of isolated Arab and Muslim communities to a subject of mainstream discourse and debate. Even in the corporate media and academic institutions, the discussion of Israel-Palestine now references the three simple demands raised by the BDS movement–that Israel must:

– End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantle the apartheid wall;

– Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

– Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties, as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.

Initiated in 2005 by 170 civil society groups across the Palestinian spectrum, the BDS campaign is also raising hopes among Palestinians themselves–their social media feeds and international phone calls are now filled with signs that they are no longer isolated, disdained and dismissed.

One U.S. caller to family in Gaza, Shehnaz Sheik Abdeljaber, recounted on her Facebook wall a typical sentiment circulating on social media, “We have HOPE, we KNOW that the world is standing with US. Your PHONE CALL means the WORLD to US. It reassures US that someone OUTSIDE of GAZA cares.”

The solidarity with Palestinians is global: 3,000 people participated in Reykjavík’s die-in, addressed by the city’s mayor; the Palestinian flag is flying above the Preston Town Hall in Britain after 100,000 marched in London; huge protests are taking place from Senegal to Iran; mammoth pro-Gaza demonstrations throughout France flaunt their defiance of a ban on protests against Israel’s war on Gaza.

In the U.S., many thousands have taken to the streets in large cities, as well as hundreds in smaller towns and locales–like Fort Worth, Texas, or Indianapolis–that previously never had much Palestine solidarity presence, if any.

The wave of sympathy for Gaza is surely driven by the horrifying images of children blown to bits–and the widely circulating photos of gleeful Israelis celebrating the slaughter over snacks and drinks on hilltops above Gaza.

But the protests have been initiated and organized largely by activists involved in BDS organizing for years: the U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation, Adalah-NY, Al-Awda, American Muslims for Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and too many more to list here.

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THE URGENCY of today’s protests–felt by veteran activists as well as many thousands of people who are just now waking up to the violence and racism of Israel’s occupation–must be harnessed over the coming months to deepen the roots of the BDS campaign and expand the movement’s reach.

On July 10, the Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a call to intensify BDS efforts: “In particular, we urge people of conscience to intensify their pressure on governments to impose a military embargo on Israel and to suspend free trade and bilateral agreements with it until it fulfills its obligations under international law. Governments across the world must be held to account for their complicity with Israeli crimes.”

Backing these demands with collective organized action will threaten Israel’s ability to continue the bombardment and the siege of Gaza, a blockade of goods and people in and out of the Strip, now in its seventh year.

To have a lasting impact beyond this wave of slaughter, actions today must link the outrage to the demands of the BDS movement and call meetings to initiate new BDS chapters where there are none yet. The U.S. Campaign to End Israeli Occupation is a key resource for activists seeking local groups to join off-campus; Students for Justice in Palestine is the ideal place to start for those on campuses.

Now is the time to join a BDS group and for existing organizations to escalate their activities and welcome new people into their ranks.

Some of the statements and petitions emerging in July show this development already in process.

For example, a petition launched by Jews for the Palestinians Right of Return demands an end to war on Gaza and asserts the basic BDS demands–it drew 2,000 signatories within two days. A Labor for Palestine statement calls on unions to divest from Israeli bonds–and emulate the actions of dockworkers in South Africa, India, Sweden, Norway, Turkey and the U.S. West Coast by refusing to handle military cargo headed to Israel.

As the invasion of Gaza reached its two-week mark, it became common for U.S. protests to include grim readings of the names of the dead, an assertion of Palestinian humanity in a nation that has historically denied it. Civil disobedience actions, such as the Jewish sit-in at the offices of Friends of the IDF in New York City, are on the rise.

These are important initiatives that must involve future organizing plans to make real gains beyond the moment when the severity of the massacre drives the urgency to protest.

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REPORTS OF the situation on the ground in Gaza are grim. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides crucial services in Gaza, from food and health care to education, questioned two years ago whether Gaza would be a “livable place” by 2020. That was before the current destruction–which by the end of July had demolished Gaza’s only power plant, half of its 13 hospitals, several of schools, and its drinking water and sewage infrastructure.

After the first 17 days of bombing and invasion, the UNRWA reported nearly 163,000 internally displaced people and another 20,000 sheltering with relatives due to the destruction of homes. The agency estimates that among the 45,000 Gaza women who are pregnant, many are giving birth without proper maternity care. Lack of access to potable water is one of the most serious concerns, raising fears of epidemics of water-borne illnesses.

But Israel is feeling the brunt of an international backlash against its brutality like never before.

U.S. and European officials banned flights for a couple of days to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, causing Israeli officials to panic in the midst of Israel’s most important tourist season. Brazil has recalled its ambassador to Israel and Chile has suspended trade talks with Israel. Six Nobel Peace laureates and dozens of celebrated women and men of arts and letters signed onto a call for a military embargo of Israel published in the Guardian.

Crucially, cracks in the U.S. media are apparent, as a result of protests that have forced newspapers and television news to show images and carry reports from journalists inside Gaza, including the views of the intrepid chronicler of Israel’s crimes, Palestinian Mohammed Omer.

In response to public outrage when ABC’s Diane Sawyer misidentified a photo from inside Gaza as taken in Israel, Sawyer was forced to publicly apologize. A week later, viewers rebelled and triumphed against NBC when journalist Ayman Moyheldin, who has provided graphic and informed reporting from occupied Palestine, was reassigned from Gaza–and then reinstated a few days later.

Ebony magazine, an influential African American publication read by many professional Blacks, ran an opinion piece in late May 2014 titled “Why Black people must stand with Palestine,” and followed up in July with an article headlined “‘This is indeed a massacre,’ Palestinians in Gaza respond to siege.” It’s an obvious blow to the years-long efforts by U.S. Zionists to court Black Americans.

Though U.S. editorial boards incessantly repeat Israel’s timeworn talking points blaming Hamas and even the dead for their own slaughter, the visible carnage and news from within Gaza is simply too compelling to stifle the truth. Israel is more politically isolated than ever.

Reflecting the rise of BDS globally, a year before the current onslaught, Israel’s dailyHa’aretz reported that of the more than 26,000 people surveyed by the BBC in 25 countries around the world, just 21 percent of participants had a positive view of Israel, while 52 percent viewed the country unfavorably.

A U.S. Gallup poll taken in mid July shows Israel’s growing pariah status among those under 30 and people of color, in particular. Just over half of Americans under 30 believe Israel’s actions in Gaza are unjustifiable, along with 49 percent of people of color–an increase from the generally pro-Israel public opinion during past atrocities.

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AT SOME point, Israel will cease its daily bombardment of Gaza–though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to vow that the slaughter will go on indefinitely. But even if and when the bombing stops, the devastation of the siege of Gaza will continue.

Israel’s blockade–imposed with U.S. support to punish the population of Gaza after Hamas won elections to lead the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006–allows in only a bare subsistence level of food and other necessities. Visitors to Gaza’s hospitals–which, of course, are now overflowing with the casualties of Israel’s onslaught–report shortages of everything from medicine and basic medical supplies to the construction materials necessary for maintenance of the buildings.

In short, even when it isn’t enduring Israeli military strikes, Gaza suffers a slow-motion strangulation–which is why residents reject any ceasefire proposals that don’t end the siege. For example, academics and public figures in Gaza issued a statement on July 22titled “No ceasefire without justice for Gaza”:

We share the broadly held public sentiment that it is unacceptable to merely return to the status quo–in which Israel strictly limits travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, controls the supplies that come in (including a ban on most construction materials), and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world. To do so would mean a return to a living death.

Gazans are making an appeal to us. They would rather die fighting back than continue the “living death” of the siege.

Among the many opportunities for BDS activists to amplify our demands among a wider layer of U.S. progressives will come in New York City, on September 19-23, when an unprecedented mobilization of environmental activists is expected to protest outside the UN’s Climate Summit.

The Climate March and Climate Convergence, where educational sessions as well as actions are planned in late September, present ideal openings for a growing movement to insert itself into the global fight against climate change and win new adherents. After all, the latest pounding of Gaza has only exacerbated dire ecological conditions that threaten 1.8 million Palestinians’ health and ability to survive under inhumane conditions.

The global BDS movement has created a new front in the struggle for Palestine. Activists have a responsibility to meet the challenge of Palestinian resistance and broaden our own front in the battle to end Israel’s occupation once and for all.

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

The Liberal and Labor Parties – where the real criminals are?

Maybe it is the Liberal Party and the Labor Party which in light of the revelations of the  Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales over the last few years should be declared criminal organisations rather than bikie clubs.

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.

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