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John Passant

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A new audience for socialist ideas?

The mood on campus is different this year – more questioning. On Wednesday I was manning the Socialist Alternative stall at the Australian National University with a few other comrades for the beginning of the academic year.

Of course there are still the usual party, party, party people. (By that I mean those interested in having a good time, not the dour apparatchiks of Stalinism. And I have a confession to make. Before I entered into extended middle age I liked to party too.  Maybe I still do.)

There were more people interested in our stall and magazine than I remember from previous years. One incident captures this changed mood.

We were closing up when a young man from another stall – a sports club –  rushed over. I thought he wanted the table we were vacating. But he wanted to join our socialist club on campus before we left for the day.

Why?  He said it was his fourth year at the ANU and he had always dismissed us in the past as crazy. How could we argue that things under capitalism weren’t as great as they seemed? After all 17 years of a then booming economy in Australia proved us wrong.

But now, with the global economy tanking and the Australian economy following it, he wanted to explore alternative explanations. That didn’t mean he’d become an overnight convert to socialism.

But it did mean he wanted to understand our ideas to see if they made sense. He was especially interested in our views about Marxism generally and specifically why the economy was in crisis. He wasn’t alone.

Of course, many still cling to the old certitudes – neoliberalism or its twin, Keynesianism. But even Keynesianism, or what passes for it in political discourse, is being questioned, much more than I had anticipated.

None of this means revolution is around the corner or there will be mass strikes and occupations next month. Who knows what will happen? But there is an underlying anger among some workers that they are paying for the bosses’ crisis. When unemployment hits double figures, the questioning and perhaps action will be more intense.

We shouldn’t be too prescriptive. I remember André Gorz, a left wing intellectual in France, writing in January 1968 that there would never be a revolution in his lifetime in the country.

Many of you have no doubt heard, or made, the same sorts of arguments in Australia. Workers are too apolitical, apathetic, bought off, stupid, lazy, greedy – put in a pejorative adjective here.

4 months later 10 million French workers went on strike and occupied their factories, bringing the possibility of revolution very close in France. The thoroughly Stalinist French Communist Party saved French capitalism.

So things can change very quickly if the anger below the surface finds an outlet.

The importance for small groups like Socialist Alternative is to find the ones and twos (or tens and twenties in the bigger cities) who agree with our ideas about workers democratically running society and organising production to satisfy human need.

At the heart of this is the idea that it is workers who liberate themselves from the shackles of capitalism through mass action leading to revolution.  As Marx said: ‘The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.’

With more members, we can spread our emancipatory ideas and with our very very small influence help to translate those ideas into the class, if the circumstances permit.  Often this will just be basic arguments like the need to strike or occupy to defend wages and jobs.

That’s why every new member is important. They carry within them the arguments for advancing the class struggle – they carry the torch of human liberation.

This year our ideas are getting a wider audience.   Amid the gloom there is hope.



Comment from Arjay
Time February 20, 2009 at 6:12 pm

John,socialism is not the answer.We have just decended from the trees and for us to maintain any semblence of a decent living standard we need the edge of private enterprise of the individual to make the difference.We have socialism now.800,000 on the DSP 400,000 single parents,200,000,000 pensioners.We have 10 million in the workforce and only six million of these actually pay any tax.

If you want even more socialism we will have an even more dysfunctional society.

At the other end of the spectrum we have the Global corporates and they are just as evil.Let the freedom of the individual prevail,lower taxes and get Govt out of our lives!

Comment from Arjay
Time February 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Sorry that should read 2 million 2,000,000

Comment from John Passant
Time February 20, 2009 at 8:50 pm


Paying pensioners a pittance isn’t socialism. Socialism is the working class democratically running society and organising production to satisfy human need.

By the way, Marx thought that the state (Government in your words) was an instrument of class rule and with the move to a classless society the state would wither away.

Comment from John
Time February 20, 2009 at 8:59 pm


You say: ‘At the other end of the spectrum we have the Global corporates and they are just as evil.Let the freedom of the individual prevail,lower taxes and get Govt out of our lives!’

Surely this extreme free market you advocate is exactly what the evil global corporates prefer?