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John Passant

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December 2011



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

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

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

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

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

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

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

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

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



What do we mean by socialism?

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels showed that socialism, a society of human liberation, would only be possible if workers took over all the means of making wealth – the factories, offices, hospitals, mines, schools, and banks, writes Sandra Bloodworth in Socialist Alternative. The power to allocate resources, to decide how to produce the things we need, has to be taken out of the hands of the tiny capitalist class and put under the control of the vast majority.

Imagine what we could do with the accumulated trillions of dollars in the hands of a tiny minority of capitalist parasites. We could feed, clothe and shelter the millions who live on less than $2 a day, just as a start. The state, with its armed might that is used to repress dissent and defend the interests of the tiny minority would no longer be necessary. There could be genuine democracy. With the end of capitalist competition for profits there would be no war, so the massive resources that go into killing machines could be put to use restoring the environment, for education, health, community care of the sick, the young and the elderly. And much more.

As Marx famously said, the rule would be “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability.”

But how would this society be organised, what would it look like? Marx and Engels never tried to draw up a blueprint of how people should live, or even the political and social structures they should develop. Socialism cannot be dreamt up by well-meaning activists and then imposed on society – that would hardly constitute freedom.

Marx and Engels insisted socialism could only come about by revolution – not just because it is the only way to overthrow the existing ruling class, but also it is the only way the mass of workers, the poor and oppressed can “become fit to rule”. In the struggle they “educate” themselves, challenging the ideas of this society, working out new ways to organise. In other words socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class.

It was the experience of the first workers’ revolution in Paris in 1871 that showed Marx and Engels what the new democracy would look like. And every time workers’ revolutionary movements have challenged the rule of the capitalist class, workers have set up the same structures, which are the most democratic ever seen. These structures lay the basis for a new, democratic and collectively organised society after a successful revolution.

Representatives are elected, usually in the workplaces, but they can include schools, universities, and some workers’ communities, to central workers’ councils. Delegates do not become politicians living a life of privilege. They have to answer to those they work and live beside for their decisions, and can be recalled and replaced at any time. So for instance in Russia in 1917, the most successful revolution so far, the composition of the soviets, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils, changed as opinion changed. The Bolsheviks (a revolutionary political party) began the year as a tiny minority in the soviets. They won a majority and the authority to lead and organise the final insurrection in October only after masses of workers and soldiers understood that they were the only party which supported the soviets taking power.

The self-activity of urban workers began to transform people’s relationships with each other. During 1917 women in particular played a prominent role in ensuring workers didn’t work excessive hours, insisting that other workers should have the right to jobs and everyone should have time to participate in the revolutionary activities. When they couldn’t force employers to pay equal wages, some committees collected a levy from the best paid which was then redistributed to the lowest paid, often women. This was their way of demonstrating that they were intent on building a new society in which human dignity was paramount.

As well as democratic, collective decision-making structures, another recurring feature of revolutions is what the Polish revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg called the “spiritual growth” of the masses. John Reed, who immortalised the 1917 Russian revolution in his book Ten Days that Shook the World, described the thirst for reading, for knowledge. Lectures, meetings, debates, in the factories, the soldiers’ barracks, in theatres or any other venue available: “what a marvellous sight to see the Putilov Factory pour out its forty thousand to listen to…anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk!” Every street corner was a tribune, tram carriages, railway stations, wherever people gathered, could become the scene of impromptu debates.

This was the beginning of a new world. Even the most backward corners of the Tsarist empire were brought to their feet, thrilled by the promise of a new society in which the oppressed would now determine their own future.

The first decrees of the workers’ government after October show the kind of society revolutionary workers aspire to once they have control over the workplaces. They declared an end to the slaughter in the trenches of World War I; they abolished laws which oppressed women and removed laws which outlawed same-sex love, even legalising same-sex marriage; they declared the peasants could take the land and divide it among themselves; and they granted the right to secede to the oppressed nationalities of the Russian empire.

The same kinds of developments have been the hallmark of all workers’ revolutions before they were tragically crushed. In Spain in 1936 workers rose up to fight against a fascist coup. Under the influence of anarchists they did not establish the democratic councils, which weakened the struggle. Nevertheless, women reported their freedom from sexual harassment as they fought and slept among male militia members. In the cities workers set up communal kitchens and humiliating forms of address were abolished.

In Hungary in 1956, in the workers’ uprising against a repressive Stalinist state that called itself communist, democratic workers’ councils sprang into life. Workers used them to coordinate the struggle and to organise continued essential services as well as the distribution of food they acquired by cooperation with peasants in the countryside. A box of money sat overflowing in the central square of Budapest. No one thought of stealing it because it was for the collective needs of the revolution.

In Poland from 1980 to 1981, again workers created the same councils as they tried to overthrow the brutal Stalinist regime. They set up a system in workplaces using the telephones so that when delegates negotiated with the bosses, all workers could listen in to ensure they agreed with what their delegates did. Unfortunately intellectuals convinced them they should have a “self-limiting” revolution. The state used the resulting confusion to crush the movement with a military dictatorship.

This vision of socialism makes a mockery of the idea that Stalin’s Russia, Eastern Europe, China and today North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, have anything to do with Marxism and genuine socialism.

So what happened to the Russian revolution?

The Bolsheviks always knew that the workers’ revolution in Russia would only succeed in building socialism if they got help from workers’ revolutions in Western Europe. Socialism is not just a dream or a utopia that can be wished into existence. It depends on workers taking over the massive wealth of capitalism and using it for human need. But Russia was very poor, and its economy had been devastated by the world war and then three years of civil war against the white counter-revolution backed up by the invasion of all the imperialist powers.

Workers who had made the revolution were killed in their hundreds of thousands by the counter-revolution and the soviets could hardly function as those remaining in the cities scavenged for food in the country. The capitalists deliberately sabotaged industry, making things worse.

Out of this chaos a new bureaucracy developed. By 1929 it was dominated by people who had not fought for workers’ power. Stalin and his henchmen had come to see themselves as new rulers in the name of “socialism in one country”, a complete denial of everything Marxism stood for.

This was not inevitable, as our capitalist rulers and right wingers want us to believe. It was the result of the failure of revolutionaries in the West to lead to victory the workers’ revolutions which swept across Europe. None of them had built organisations like the Bolsheviks, determined to lead workers to power. And so the revolutions were defeated, leaving the Russian workers isolated and defeated. The lack of revolutionary parties committed to working class self-emancipation has contributed to the defeat of all the other workers’ revolutions.

Since 1917, the states which call themselves communist have not been brought about by workers’ revolutions, so they could never promise socialism. They have been the result of either Russian tanks invading Eastern Europe after World War II or elite, minority guerrilla forces driving out governments. Many of them were well-meaning, but without workers’ councils and the self activity of the masses they simply became new rulers. In effect these states prove Marx and Engels’ arguments in the negative. Without a workers’ revolution there will be no human liberation.


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