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Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

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. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/18-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-g20-meeting-age-of-enttilement-engineers-attack-of-austerity-hardship-on-civilians.mp3 (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. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2014/02/11/john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-2/ (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. http://sharonfirebrace.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/4-2-14-john-passant-aust-national-university-canberra-end-of-the-age-of-entitlement-for-the-needy-but-pandering-to-the-lusts-of-the-greedy.mp3 (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
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Sick kids and paying upfront

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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. http://sharonfirebrace.com/2013/12/03/john-passant-australian-national-university-8/ (0)

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Looking back on a year of rebellion

Some years stand out because they change the course of history, and they change us. They change the way we think about our society, about politics, about the possibilities for social change. 2011 has been one such year writes Rebecca Barrigos in Socialist Alternative.

Beginning with the revolution in Tunisia in December and January, struggle and resistance has swept through the world like wildfire. It sparked the Arab Spring, in which millions of Egyptians, Syrians, Bahrainis and others continue to rise up against vile Western-backed dictators and agendas that have condemned people to poverty and repression for decades.

Defiance in Cairo.

These revolutions in turn have inspired workers the world over, spreading to the occupations of hundreds of public squares in Spain, and fanning the winds of workers’ struggle in Greece. Here there have been umpteen general strikes and workers have amassed in their tens of thousands in Syntagma Square in the shadow of the Parliament, their voices filling the space with the anti-government chant, “Thieves, thieves!”

This global wave of resistance has also threaded its way to the US in the form of the Occupy movement, which began in Wall Street, the heart of world capitalism.

The common concerns linking workers from the streets of Tunis and Cairo’s Tahrir Square through to Europe and America are concerns raised by a rapacious world capitalist system in deep economic crisis. This system is inflicting misery the world over as our ruling classes have scrambled to force workers to pay – with our jobs, health care, public services and our wages and conditions – for their crisis.

The struggles reveal a lesson of universal significance that has emerged from years of attacks from governments following the global financial crisis: that we can and should fight back. In the resistance we have seen this year lies the alternative to a world dominated by the greed and tyranny of the capitalist class, of the 1 percent.

These struggles have put the idea of revolution and mass struggle back on the agenda. For decades socialists, like us in Socialist Alternative, who have argued for a revolution to overthrow capitalism and establish a society of genuine human freedom, were dismissed as utopian dreamers. In the West, we were told, the mass of people are too apathetic or too well-off to revolt; they will never rise up against their oppressors. In the Arab world they were too cowed by brutal police states to be able to mount effective resistance. The events of the past year refute the sceptics and pessimists.

In the case of the Arab world, workers and the oppressed have proven that revolution is the surest and swiftest way to win social change. In Egypt and Tunisia, the masses achieved in a matter of weeks in January and February what decades of roundtables, talks and writing letters could never have achieved – they toppled hated dictators Ben Ali and Mubarak and put world imperialist powers on the back foot.

The scenes of the Arab revolution that we have watched on YouTube or on our TVs have given us a sense of the real alternative to a society based on the greed and profits of the 1 percent.

In ordinary times under capitalism, workers can feel powerless to effect change; we are stuck under the bosses’ thumbs and compelled to accept the status quo. But revolutions turn this whole state of affairs on its head as workers realise that their own actions can shape the tide of history, that we are masters of our own fates.

From the words of countless protesters standing defiant in Egypt’s streets after decades of submission, you get a feel of the awesome transformative power of revolution. In February in Alexandria, 40-year-old electrician Abdel Reheem described his experience of the revolution. He had already been protesting and camping downtown for weeks, giving up his meagre $200 a month income:

I learned to say “No, I am not a coward anymore.” All I cared about before was making a living, but now people have started to care about each other. I feel like I have been born again.

Egypt

The Egyptian revolution shows us how it is possible for people to overcome the backward ideas and divisions constructed by capitalism; how to fight collectively for a better society. This has been the experience of protesters who have seen firsthand that to maintain the revolution, unity is required. Divisions across racial, ethnic, religious and gender lines, as well as those between people of different sexuality, have to be overcome.

Women, the elderly and children – often assumed to be the most passive – have come to the fore in all the Arab revolutions, leading chants and marches, bravely defying the security forces and riot police.

Some of the most inspiring images from this year have been those that defy all the Western stereotypes of Muslim women. Women on the front lines of confrontation with the police; giving impassioned media interviews; a teenage woman leading a crowd of men in a face off against the brutal riot police, parading before them defiantly and encouraging the crowd – “Security forces are the lowest scum!” Today it is this young woman in a pink veil who is the bravest revolutionary and the inspiration to the crowd.

Despite a history of tensions between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt, which the interim military government (SCAF) had consciously fostered since Mubarak’s fall, the unity chant of “The Muslims and Christians are one hand” has dominated the current wave of revolutionary struggle as it did in Tahrir in February. The unity across sectarian lines is testament to the solidarity that the process of revolution promotes and requires.

In January and February institutions of popular democracy and self-organisation flourished in Egypt as neighbourhood committees were formed to defend working class suburbs from repression, to organise sanitation and street-cleaning and ensure the supply of gas, water and electricity to workers at the height of the protests, and even to undertake traffic control.

And Tahrir Square, the centre of the protests in Cairo, was converted into a real microcosm of a collectively run society – with free clinics staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses to treat the wounded, childcare centres, media centres, platforms for political discussion and debate and so on.

This alternative society, one based on dignity, equality and camaraderie, is so much more rational and inspiring than anything we have seen under so-called capitalist “democracy.”

The Arab revolutions of 2011 have also revealed the centrality of workers’ struggle in bringing about social change. In Egypt, defiant mass street protests certainly tested Mubarak, but it was when Egyptian workers escalated their strike wave that his fate was sealed. With the workers of the Suez Canal, so integral to trade, as well as transport workers, steel and petroleum workers and textile workers on strike, the whole country began to shut down and the military knew they would have to step in and dispose of Mubarak if “business as usual” was to be resumed.

Yet while their heroic movement may have toppled the figurehead of a rotten regime, the reign of Egyptian capitalism has continued. The economic crisis has intensified and unemployment has increased this year. Consequently, nine months later, a core demand of the revolution – the raising of the minimum wage – has not been achieved. State repression remains a permanent feature of daily life, with arbitrary arrests and torture of activists, breaking of strikes and military trials of civilians the norm.

The military government, comprised of the generals of the Mubarak regime, has proven itself just as committed to ensuring the interests of the rich of Egypt as Mubarak – in fact restoring “business as usual” has been the slogan for the SCAF since it took power. It forms part of the class at the top of Egyptian society which benefits from holding down wages and suppressing strikes. The military itself owns and controls factories and agricultural holdings.

So the leadership of working class is the key to the ultimate success of the revolutions – it’s no coincidence that Tunisia and Egypt – where there is the most established role of workers in struggle, and where there are larger and more experienced working classes – are the places where the revolutionary process has gone furthest.

Europe

Workers in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Britain have met the brutal austerity measures of governments with resistance and strike action on a scale unseen for decades. This stands as proof that the rebellion of 2011 is not just about standing up to dictatorships, but is a response to the depravities of capitalism.

The economic crisis has created a whole lost generation of young people with no jobs and few prospects. In Spain the youth unemployment rate stands at nearly 50 percent. The miserable reality of joblessness and desperation sparked the occupation of public squares from May. But it is a reality that resonates throughout the Eurozone.

In Greece a reporter asked protester Nikkos Kokkalis, “Are you an indignado?” (i.e. an angry person, an indignant – the term was coined by the Spanish protesters). His response: “I’m a super-Indignado! There are 300 people over there,” he waves at the MPs’ offices. “Most of them make decisions without asking the people.” He is a 29-year-old graduate who lives with his parents and has never had a stable job. His story is common.

The Greek bankers have secured three massive bailouts, but only on the condition of implementing savage austerity that has slashed public sector wages, seen the proposed selling of every public asset in the country, and stripped workers of their pensions and access to public services.

Cabinet ministers have been hounded wherever they go; government buildings have been occupied and when a new tax on utilities was announced, workers took over the offices where electricity bills are printed. Workers and youth have fought what seem like weekly battles with the riot police. As the political elites scramble around for some “solution” to the debt crisis, we have seen the replacement of the elected government with one run by an ex-central banker charged with overseeing the austerity.

In Britain there has been a massive attack on public education that will put university firmly out of the reach of working class students. The experience of worsening living conditions, years of government cutbacks to social spending and constant police harassment fuelled the London riots. And the 30 November public sector strike saw the biggest stopwork since 1926.

As of yet this inspiring resistance in Europe has not stopped the attacks, but we’ve seen a monumental refusal to just accept the austerity.

The United States

The Arab revolutions and the European revolt have helped to inspire resistance in the largest capitalist country in the world, the US, where tens of thousands of people have participated in Occupy protests.

The Occupy movement has shaken up US politics and transformed the whole terrain of political debate. Occupy has shone a spotlight on the concerns of millions of working class Americans and acted as a lightning rod for the discontent with unemployment, home evictions and the growing gap between rich and poor which is every bit as much the experience in the wealthiest country in the world as it is in the poorer nations.

The message of Occupy, which has resonated with so many people around the world in 2011 and provoked solidarity protests even here in Australia, is that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society based on the corporate greed of the 1 percent; that society should be run in the interests of the majority – the 99 percent.

Occupy has also shown how quickly things can change in the volatile political times we are living through. Before this year there had been no seriously organised response to the crisis in the US, even as people had their homes foreclosed and already meagre public budgets were slashed. Then in Wisconsin, workers occupied the Capitol building to protest the budget slashing and union busting of Governor Walker. Now the year is closing with Occupy protests having spread to hundreds of US cities and university campuses.

The Occupy Wall Street movement began in September, with 500 people making a stand in Zuccotti Park. They reached out to New York’s unions and got solidarity in the form of a march involving tens of thousands of workers. Initial police repression of OWS, far from smashing the movement, provoked tens of solidarity marches and occupations throughout America and across the world. And it exposed the gross hypocrisy of a US establishment that condemned the violence and repression of the Arab regimes, while raining tear gas and rubber bullets on Occupy protesters.

The response of the police to Occupy has been a reminder that, even in the West, the ruling class will not hesitate to fall back on violence to back up their heinous system.

A year of rebellion and revolution

The lessons from the past year of struggle are invaluable: If we struggle, maybe we can win; revolution and resistance is the way to win social reform; change is not a question of finding “better” leaders to represent us; we need fundamental social change everywhere, because everywhere we face a system ruled by the 1 percent who benefit from war and oppression, who make workers pay for the crisis of their system, subjecting us to unemployment, and allowing us no say over our world; only those who would benefit from a better society have an interest in fighting for it; and winning that better world is up to us, the working class!

There is no question that the resistance and revolutions of the past 12 months have shaken the world’s rulers, changed the world political situation and enlivened masses of people to the possibility of change. But workers, even in Egypt, are only just beginning the kind of struggle that will be necessary to get rid of capitalism once and for all. If we are to have a world free of crisis and poverty, we must smash capitalism – the system which breeds and thrives on misery – and replace it with a society run by workers. We need a society in which decisions are made by the democratic will of the majority, and where human need – not profits or the market – determines what we produce.

Whether or not the resistance that has exploded in 2011 can ultimately triumph is a question of what politics will lead the workers’ struggles. Every struggle, big or small, brings competing ideas into play. The participants are confronted by political questions, questions of strategy – not only about how to beat the state repression that is the inevitable response of the ruling class to any movement that threatens their power, but of how and to what end can we change the world. How do we win? Should we fight for a fundamentally different system, or can the system just be reformed by electing less corrupt leaders, voting for a different party?

This year has highlighted the need for revolutionary organisations, large enough and with sufficient experience, to lead the struggles and convince workers that no amount of tinkering with the system will be enough.

The question of building such organisation is key in the Arab revolutions, but no less a question for those of us in the rest of the world who have been inspired by the past year of revolt, and whose hearts have been in Egypt and Syria and Greece, Spain and Wall Street because we share the hope that these struggles can win a better world.

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Comments

Comment from Ross
Time December 22, 2011 at 5:55 am

Looking forward to 2012.Unemplyment here is expected to increase by 100,000 and the lunatic neo-cons in Israel and USA want to start a war with Iran and even attack Russia/China.

We all seem too unaware and powerless to confront the really important issues.

Pingback from Looking back on a year of rebellion | via En Passant » #Occupy « The Left Hack
Time December 22, 2011 at 10:10 am

[…] Posted by Darin Sullivan on December 22, 2011 · Leave a Comment  via enpassant.com.au […]