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John Passant

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August 2011



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From the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival to revolution

I have been at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. The keynote speaker on Saturday was one of the great investigative journalists and writers, John Pilger. He was interviewed by left wing broadcaster Philip Adams.

John was his usual brilliant self. He argued for example that Obama was a continuation of Bush, that Americans were way to the left of their politicians, that the American empire was going to use Australia as a major base for its military encirclement of China, that we had to reach a settlement with aborigines, that our treatment of refugees was criminal, that ‘respectable’ right and left wing parties had mainstreamed Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia and so given credence to the extreme right and helped its electoral growth (23 percent for example for the Progress Party in Norway) and so on.

The audience loved him. He received a standing ovation at the end.

 That got me thinking about the political deficit – the support among ordinary Australians for basic left wing positions and yet the lack of support for revolutionary organisations.

I could have spoken on the same topics and said much the same things.  It is likely I would have been met with silence and a bit of a mutter about the nutter on stage.

Certainly the day before I made the point in the fake ‘left/right’ discussion with Robert Manne, Nikki Savva and Bob Carr about the facile nature of the debate between the two wings of neoliberalism that did not elicit much support. Perhaps that was because I bagged the carbon tax as a neoliberal response to the crisis of capitalism and wondered how the market could solve the problems of the market.

It gave the opportunity for Bob Carr to red bait me and at one stage rave on about support for Cuba. Bob’s stereotyping ignores the fact we in Socialist Alternative think Cuba is a state capitalist Stalinist regime.  Perhaps he missed my article Cuba: stalinism isn’t socialism.

In the session on ‘Should journalists be impartial?’ with Jane Hutcheon from the ABC, Nikki Savva from The Australian and Michele Nayman, my comment that the mainstream media were apologists for capitalism and didn’t question the basic exploitative relationship of capital over labour received support.

I pointed out that the analysis of the GFC mark II would bring out the the usual superficial analysis – wages are too high, productivity too low and government spending out of control – but no-one would question whether the system itself was the problem.

Perhaps, I suggested, economic crisis was endemic to capitalism because of the way production is organised? It was  a question that none of the panel addressed or indeed none of the mainstream media will address and at best we can expect piss and wind debates between neoliberals and neoliberal Keynesians.

The panel had made much of the sanctity of facts. I argued that Wikileaks showed that Governments were about hiding facts and the mainstream media were their accomplices.  I received a fair amount of support for these arguments, including a comment that I should have been on the panel.

The difference with John Pilger if I had been a keynote speaker – no doubt my invitation for next year is in the mail – is that I would have made the same points Pilger did in the context of class. Obama is the representative of the US ruling class. The ALP is a neoliberal organisation attempting to hide its neoliberalism through racism and xenophobia – hence its continuation and deepening of the Northern Territory land grab invasion and its attacks on refugees and the vile Malaysian solution

I might have ended with a call to arms that if you wanted to fight for a better world in which people come before profit then you should join Socialist Alternative.

Nothing John said necessarily differentiated him from a left wing Green, other than the fact perhaps that he is prepared to say the things he does. And that I think hints at the answer. John’s left-wing sentiments were popular precisely because they didn’t contain a class analysis, precisely because they didn’t call for the overthrow of capitalism.

The audience want a better, more decent world, but they want it in the context of the present societal structures and relationships. They want to reform the world, not re-make it.

There’s the rub. The link between the exploitative system and Obama’s wars, refugee bashing, Islamophobia, Australia as a beefed up US base against China isn’t made by John, and even if it was wouldn’t yet resonate with most people.

The second round of the Global Financial Crisis may change that. Certainly it is likely to once again waken interest in left wing ideas among a wider audience. It is also likely to strengthen the reactionary and fascist right, especially since the revolutionary left across the globe is so weak.

But there will be some who begin to think about the economic crisis and the attacks on government services and their living standards, wages, conditions and jobs and generalise the experience. They may even be convinced by the arguments that they should join revolutionary organisations like Socialist Alternative to challenge the rule of capital, although I should caution that that wasn’t the case during the GFC part I. People were curious about the ideas, but not prepared to make any sort of leap into the unknown with a small revolutionary organisation.

Our task is to make the ideas of socialism more widely known, through our propaganda and most importantly though our actions in the campaigns and struggles of the day. This way we  can show that the best and most consistent reformers are we revolutionaries.

This gives us the opportunity to put forward to those who are interested in fighting back the reasons why all the different struggles are linked and can only ultimately be won in any real and lasting sense through the overthrow of capitalism.



Comment from Megan
Time August 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Great piece John,

I missed the Pilger address because I wasn’t going to pay $100 just to attend one event.

Do you know anywhere I can find a transcript or recording of the speech? I note that ABC North Coast is a ‘media partner’ but can’t find it anywhere on their site and my ‘tweet’ request went unanswered.


Comment from John
Time August 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Megan, here is a link to the Festival’s blog and their comments on the session.

Comment from Comrade Vissarionovich
Time August 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

One would have to be a fool to think that the attendees of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival are any sort of representation of mainstream australian opinion on pretty much any Social position you care to give.

And look, the crux of the rise of “Extreme” (ie. Centre of right) Right Wing political parties in Europe can in part be attributed to the fact that many European parties have ran extremely munificent (for foreigners, at leats) immigration policies Post World War 2 and this has been largely tolerated by European voters while European Economies were growing healthily and creating Jobs. This backlash should be viewed as a just reaction to the insanity of importing millions of unassimilable, crime prone peasants from the third world .

Comment from Gramsci
Time August 8, 2011 at 7:15 am

I see nothing in this pamphlet to disagree with, though right-wingers need only quote it verbatim, since they would see it as extremism in its own right. The fact is that the limp-wristed left has been on a reform agenda for decades, and what we’ve achieved is the creeping onset of neoliberalism. The Labor Party is indeed an imposter, with nothing but a rightwing neoliberal agenda. Mind you most of the “radicals” in Australia are themselves proto-fascists. As the author says, they all clap at writers festivals, but sit on the hands when it comes to action. The only hope is revolution but sadly that won’t happen until Keynesianism is a distant memory and people are again being demeaned en masse.

Comment from Hasbeen
Time August 8, 2011 at 9:15 am

Comrade, I would not have gone quite that far when describing Pilger, but I can see your point. I would probably left out the “third world” bit.

I do think your description is closer to the truth than the one John started the piece with. He some how got “great investigative & journalist” in there.

Comment from Graham Dooley
Time August 8, 2011 at 10:37 am

Good to see you’re still bashing away at those barricades JP. Your steadfast insistence not to participate in the messy business of matters electoral does however expose a core weakness, perhaps a weakness sensed by the people at the Festival who didn’t spontaneously revolt at your command. You want it all but you don’t want to compromise, therefore you afford yourself the luxury of external critic but also expose yourself to ridicule from those who can be bothered participating and getting their hands dirty. Labels like “neoliberal” are easily thrown about but in the end, people who participate in the electoral process get much greater say in what happens – and I for one think that is great regardless of their political hue. But feel free to remain a side show, it’s obviously less taxing and does give participants a break from the monotony of actually doing things.

Comment from jack
Time August 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm

what a heap of loony-left shite!!!

Comment from Gypsy
Time August 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm

For far to long we have been asleep to the cunning and criminal actions of or State and Federal Governments. At long last the people are waking up.

In a little over a week convoys from all the mainland States and Territory will be departing to converge on Canberra in a lawful rebellion.

It is called the Convoys of No Confidence and everyone is invited to participate.

Its objective is to return Australia back to a Democracy.

Everyone is urged to support the lawful rebellion by either participating and joining one of the many convoys or at the least show your support as they pass by you.

If we do not stop the oppressive tyranical slavery enforced upon us by the criminal actions of our politicians and governments we can only have ourselves to blame.

As Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote, “Rise like Lions after slumber in unvanquishable number. Shake your chains to earth like dew which in sleep had fallen on you. Ye are many – They are few”.

For evil to prosper, it takes only that good men and women do nothing.


Comment from Tony
Time August 8, 2011 at 6:45 pm

It’s notable that a crisis of capitalism gets the paid sophists back on your blog, John.

You must be causing some anxiety for them to waste their precious moments on a “side show”.

Comment from Hasbeen
Time August 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Hay Tony, can you get paid for this c##p. Does that mean that fool Adams get paid to be such a prat? How dreadful.

Still, I’m sure Pilger would have to pay to get published. Surely.

Comment from Graham Dooley
Time August 12, 2011 at 8:55 am

Touche Tony, I read OLO so every time JP gets headline exposure (Gord knows how, he must have some compromising photos of Graham Young) I find it hard to resist the urge to put in my 2 cents worth. Though most of the time I just laugh and get back to my empty capitalist existence where I can make a living without having to talk complete tosh. Cheers

Comment from John
Time August 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Funny, Graham hardly ever puts my article as the must read in the Domain. I wish I did have something over him. And how is that empty capitalist existence going? Superannuation and stock market trading holding up well GD? Keep posting please. I need the occasional laugh.

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