ga('send', 'pageview');
John Passant

Site menu:

June 2014
« May   Jul »



RSS Oz House



Subscribe to us

Get new blog posts delivered to your inbox.


Site search


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. (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)



Articulating a case for Socialist Alternative


I have been praised in The Australian today by Nick Cater, as part of the right’s agenda to demonise Socialist Alternative, one of the main left-wing groups leading the fightback against the Budget, especially on campus.  (Nick Cater, ‘Abbott haters put rage before reason’ The Australian 3 June 2014 page 12).

Cater says right at the end:

In today’s world of eff-you politics, John Passant is an anachronism, and not because he wants to see the overthrow of capitalism. He is an oddity because he insists on articulating his case.

That articulation of my case must explain why none of my perhaps thirty letters to The Australian in the last year or so have been published. It might explain why I got this response from one editor at The Australian to an article I submitted for consideration:

Thanks for your contribution, which I enjoyed. Your call for an overthrow of capitalism, however, runs counter to the ethos of the paper. It would be odd to publish it.

Well it might be odd to publish it if you brooked no difference, no questioning and no dissent. That is what the praise for me from Cater is about.  See, there are sensible socialists who can argue for the overthrow of capitalism (but of course whom we don’t print at all) but those inarticulate socialist yahoos in Socialist Alternative actually exercising free speech and practising real democracy, and putting pressure on the government, are beyond the pale. Well, actually, they aren’t beyond the pale. They are one of the few groups building any sort of real resistance to Abbott’s Budget attacks. It is a lesson unions should learn.

If this Cater article in The Australian was something more than an attempt at a hatchet job on Socialist Alternative I am sure The Australian would welcome the articulate and case articulating John Passant into their ranks with a weekly column. Ha!

I was asked recently by a contributor to Honi Soit to answer some questions about Socialist Alternative. The article was published on Tuesday and the link is here.

I get quoted once. So here are the questions and my much fuller response to them, putting the case as to why Socialist Alternative is a real presence in the protests, especially on campus, and the potential that contains for revolutionary socialists into the future, with some provisos about small size etc.



The questions

1. What do you think of the direction Socialist Alternative have taken in the past year? What about their protests in the past couple of weeks?

2. What do you think is good or bad about the way SAlt operate as an organisation and as a movement?

3. Why does SAlt seem so effective? Why do they seem to be so much more successful than other student activists/factions recently?

My response

I think there are lots of positives in the current circumstances and the direction of Socialist Alternative set against what may be longer term problems to do with the culture of almost unquestioning acceptance of leadership directives and a tendency among some members to think mindless militancy is radical. I also think their position on women’s oppression as based in class society is basically correct but that their practice in many women’s struggles is abstentionist.

Having said that, the situation today on campus and in society is very different to a year or even 3 months ago. Almost every section of society (apart from the 1%) is angry with the Budget of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

The Budget has I think changed the political dynamics in Australia and opened up a space for the radical and revolutionary left to get a wider hearing, not only in relation to the particular attacks, but also the systemic drivers for this winding back of the welfare state and ‘half-free’ education and health care among other aspects of the social wage.

A bit like the gap in the wall of time, this space for the revolutionary left has been waiting to develop for some time. With the election in 1983 of the Hawke Labor government, the first neoliberal Government in Australia, and the ongoing degeneration of Labor from a capitalist workers’ party to a CAPITALIST workers’ party or even just a capitalist party in being, popular support for both major parties has declined.

All sorts of populist groupings like One Nation, the Katter Australia Party and the Palmer United Party on the right have benefited, at least for a while, along with the Greens on the centre-Left.

However the barbarity of neoliberal capitalism has become clearer to more people in Australia after the Budget, and none of the parties of neoliberalism and the capitalist status quo, including the Labor Party and the Greens, have been able or willing to fight back or to organise the fightback to bust the Budget.

Telling people to wait over two years to vote Labor just doesn’t cut it. Many want to resist the Budget cuts now and remember Labor in power as just another party of neoliberal attacks.

Neither in any real sense over the last 30 years have our unions been willing to fight back. The class collaboration of the trade union leadership has been the finest achievement of neoliberalism and its best weapon. However the pressure on the union leadership from rank and file members to actually strike against this Budget is intense. If that were to happen in any serious way it would be a game changer.

Of all the organisations on the left, Socialist Alternative appears to be the best placed to organise and in some cases lead sections of society to fightback. This is especially true on campus.

Partly this is because of the consistent propaganda and organising work they have done on campuses over the last couple of years and the fact they are consistent fighters against the polices of the 2 major parties attacking higher education.

Partly it is because students are in transition into the working class but they have more time to develop their critical thinking and more freedom than workers to protest. They are not chained to the workplace like workers are.

As to your question about ‘their’ protests, it isn’t correct to call them ‘their’ protests since those organising the magnificent intervention on Q&A for example included a range of other students in the Education Action Network, not just Socialist Alternative.

Of course Socialist Alternative has been at the forefront of the recent student protests because it is an activist organisation which argues that only through our own mass struggles do we have a chance of winning our goals, in this case busting the Budget. It is getting a hearing on campus because many students in their hearts now know or realise that too.

The thousands of students who turned out on 23 May to protest against Pyne’s cutbacks weren’t just Socialist Alternative; they were thousands of angry students. What Socialist Alternative was able to do, with many others, was mobilise students against the Budget attacks in their thousands and show to many students they represented their interests and could get people on to the streets.

As to other demonstrations, like the one against Julie Bishop at Sydney University, again this wasn’t just Socialist Alternative. Just as importantly, despite the bleatings of the conservatives and the ALP head honchos, these weren’t violent protests. For the 1% any challenge to their rule and their actions is per se violence. Any upsetting of the status quo is violence. Any interruption to the elite’s talking head shows is violence.

The accusations of violence are lies designed to stop dissent.

The protests weren’t, as Education Minister Christopher Pyne claimed, before going on to praise private schools and float the idea of recovering student debt from beyond the grave, assault. As Ridah Hassan, the Education Officer at the University of Sydney and a member of Socialist Alternative said in a wonderful put down of The Grub:

Of course we didn’t assault Julie Bishop.

I think it shows how out of touch the politicians are – both Labor and Liberal – the fact that they’re calling that assault. I think what happened at Sydney University yesterday had [no] more jostling than the average bus.

Maybe Christopher Pyne has never been on a bus. Maybe he’s seen one through his limousine window, but it definitely was not assault or violence that occurred yesterday.

There is an angry mood among much of the population. They want action to bust the budget. Some want to know why these attacks are occurring and may be open to ideas outside the neoliberalism we are force-fed by the major parties and mainstream media. This is especially true of students, that in between group on the way to becoming full time workers

Other groups who in the past might have been expected to organise and lead the protests, such as the ALP, are now so thoroughly inbred into the system of the 1%, that even if they wanted to (which they don’t) they couldn’t lead struggles in the streets and workplaces to bust the Budget. We don’t trust them just as we don’t trust the Liberals.

The Greens have been involved in the big student struggles, at least as participants and speakers, but their focus on Parliament rather than the streets will deny them the opportunity to relate to many of the activists and those being radicalised by the Budget attacks and protests against the attacks.

Other organisations on the left appear to have dropped the ball on young people and students and are just beginning now, perhaps too late, to re-focus on them.

To me the mixture of militant practice and the ability to explain why capitalism demands, among other things, attacks on University students, helps explain why Socialist Alternative is effective on campuses across Australia and winning an audience for its ideas.

Having said that, we need to keep this in perspective. Socialist Alternative has a bit over 300 members. If it were ten times the size, with thousands of workers and students as members, it could make a real difference across Australia It could for example then credibly argue for workers and students to close down the Universities until the Government backs down on its threats and properly funds higher education. That would be the best way to fight the higher education attacks.

At the moment because of its small size it can’t do that. It can’t relate in any meaningful class way to the one group that has the capacity to bust the Budget, Australian workers. It is perhaps the embryo of that organisation, an organisation if it were to grow to being ten times as big could then put the argument for strikes and massive demonstrations to beat the Budget. Stop work to stop the budget could then become a reality.

Given its commitment to practice and theory, and the energy of its members, the role today of Socialist Alternative is to make the arguments for action against neoliberal attacks and to mobilise others where possible, at the same time as explaining why capitalism and its political parties attacks us.

No other organisation on campus is doing this and being proved correct by events as they unfold. That is why some students and others are looking to Socialist Alternative.

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



Comment from Benjamin Rosenzweig
Time June 3, 2014 at 2:54 pm

“To comment, or see what others are saying, hit the comments link under the heading.” What comments link?

Comment from John
Time June 3, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Obviously you found it Benjamin.

Comment from Kay
Time June 4, 2014 at 8:05 am

Actually, the Nick Cater article was correct in the way it highlighted the recent juvenile behaviour of SA, and other socialists. No sign of any intelligent discussion about the policies and practices they disagree with – just name-calling and obscene words. Very intelligent! But then again, they really are only children, so not unexpected, I guess.

In contrast with the mindless screeching of SA followers (the Julie Bishop uni visit springs to mind), John’s articles are indeed articulate. But some of John’s comments to those who dare to disagree with him are sadly, on occasion, less so.