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John Passant

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July 2014



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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)



Cutting their own throats

We live in a violent and upside down world, one where war criminals like Barack Obama and George W Bush, and their mini-me Australian versions John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, roam free but children seeking safety and refuge are locked up in concentration camps offshore.

The million or more innocent Iraqis who died as result of the Western invasion in 2003 evidently died for the freedom of the Western Press to report on the thousands the reactionaries in ISIS have murdered. Meanwhile the children of Palestine cry and die to the tune of Western bombs from the ‘one true democracy in the Middle East’. Children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other places never hear the US drones, until they tear them apart. The silence of their graves echoes down the complicit corridors of our media.

It is not just open war that shows the violence of the system. Every day, capitalism kills, whether it be its workforce in ‘accidents’ or overwork or through the pressures it places on the poor and poorly paid, the disabled, pensioners, students, the dispossessed, all those who do not have not enough to live adequately on.

The Abbott/Hockey Budget will make life even more unbearable for millions of working class and poor Australians. Some will suicide, others will self-harm or indulge in drugs and alcohol to escape. Others again will take short cuts because they cannot afford food, or shelter, or prescriptions. These shortcuts include petty theft, armed robbery, prostitution or drug dealing. Some will starve so their kids can eat, or maybe substitute cordial and water for baby formula as a cheap substitute and watch as their young loved one writhes in agony in hospital.

Millions hate this government and the economic violence it is unleashing against the poor, the low paid, indigenous Australians, the disabled, the sick, students, to name just a few.

Labor and the Greens will not lead any real fight against these class warriors. They will pontificate in Parliament but will not block the budget. They won’t even mobilise their own forces in any meaningful way on the ground to defend the poor, the marginalised, the weak, from the attacks of the ruling class. They are part of the state structure of the ruling class.

Labor when next in Government won’t reverse many of the Abbott/Hockey cuts. So they will pass the Budget, along with the Greens. The Greens’ excuse is that they don’t want to bring on a constitutional crisis by blocking the Budget. This is parliamentary cretinism of the highest order. We, especially the poor and the weak, the marginalised and the low paid, cannot wait another 2 years.

Labor and/or the Greens could have been building a mass movement on the streets and in the workplaces to bust the budget and support them as the political expression of that movement if they did reject supply. They didn’t, and won’t. They think power flows from bums in parliamentary seats rather than numbers in the streets and on strike.

Unions, under pressure from their rank and file, have called demonstrations against the Budget in Melbourne, and delegates’ meetings in a few other cities.

They have also called Bust the Budget rallies for 6 July. This is a good first step on the long road to Busting the Budget. Of itself it will not be enough to stop the war against workers and the poor, and the union leaders know this. In fact they don’t want to go beyond meek and mild demonstrations on to strikes and pickets because their strategy is to get neoliberal Labor elected in late 2016. They fear their membership more than they fear Abbott and the bosses.

With the collapse of social democracy and the economic base out of which to pay for progressive reforms, there is a gap on the left for a serious revolutionary group to make its voice and arguments heard, and win some sort of audience, even if only among a small minority of workers and others.

Socialist Alternative, with its up to 350 members, has that opportunity. It may have blown it, at least in the short term, with a front page of their newspaper, Red Flag. Not unnaturally it invited a full frontal attack from the reactionaries at News Corpse,(to be expected,) but also a lot of dismay, even disgust, among many supporters. Here is the front page.



According to a statement from the editors, the scalpel page has been removed because of legal concerns. I’d like to think they might also have had a rebellion of a sizeable number of members against the front page.

The editors claim, not unreasonably, that the picture is allegorical, and in fact draws its inspiration from this 1977 graphic by Michael Callaghan now in the National Gallery of Australia.



There is a certain irony in an organisation in danger of becoming ossified relying on a ‘museum’ piece to justify its actions.

The problem is that Socialist Alternative already has form. Its Brisbane Equal Love banner, with an image of Tony Abbott hanging from a tree or similar, alienated many would be allies in the struggle. Was that allegorical? The lies of its newspaper about not throwing shoes at cops covered up what I called in my resignation letter last year, along with other examples, a practice of mindless militancy. Was that allegorical? Was chanting and drowning out an ALP speaker at a big Equal Love demonstration in Sydney allegorical? Was the ruckus at NUS allegorical? Are the F**k Tony Abbott T-shirts allegorical?

More recently there have been incidents involving Socialist Alternative members substituting themselves for other demonstrators (normally only small groups anyway, certainly not the masses). For example one ‘comrade’ from the Stalinist stream in the organisation threw himself at the car of the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. I understand there may have been 20 demonstrators there but no-one else followed our brave substitutionist.

Another member has been arrested for breaking a window at ANU while demonstrating with 15 others (a very small crowd of itself) against the presence of Julie Bishop on campus. Let’s not pre-judge that. The demonstrators claim it was accidental.

One would have thought that maybe, just maybe, this history of radical pretensionism might have caused the editors and the rest of the leadership to reflect on the value of such a front page. But no, because the organisation, its leadership and membership, is cocooned by and large from the outside world and is not open and democratic. It doesn’t debate these issues; it dismisses critics as’enemies’.

But the long line of ‘incidents’, (including others like the placement of Fuck Tony Abbott on Equal Love posters in Sydney and the yelling, pushing and shoving members did at an SOS conference in Brisbane}, and the failure of the organisation to reflect on why these incidents happened, indicates an organisation not given to self-reflection and learning from events. Rather it relies on the ‘wisdom’ of its leaders, a top down approach and a by and large cheer squad membership who do not understand that debate and discussion are at the heart of socialist parties and politics.

Socialist Alternative has been at the forefront of the fight back against the Labor and Liberal government attacks on higher education. For that and other reasons it has been successful in recruiting a number of young people on campuses across Australia. This is both its strength and part of where its weaknesses lie. As I wrote when I resigned:

Its priorities are askew partly because of a failure of leadership, partly because of a failure to educate young members in basic Marxist ideas and partly because there is no strong working class element within the organisation able to impose discipline and priorities.

As one current and leading member so eloquently put it to me, why does Socialist Alternative attract so many stupid people? It seems that might well be its strategy – of attracting people whose idea of radicalism is adventurist and susbtitutionist, or teaching them that, and thus proving through absurd actions and imagery that they are the most radical of all.

The reasons for adventurism and substitutionism might be complex, but they include the fact that the organisation, even in campaigns it is heavily involved in, cannot win the total trust of other activists let alone respected leadership of those movements. It might be worth the organisation asking why, but that won’t happen, just as examining the reasons for the big mistakes of the last few years won’t happen either.

It is all onwards and upwards without asking if the house is being built on sand.

Another reason for this disconnect from reality is the quiescence of the working class, including in the main the more class conscious workers. There is no class struggle to right the ship of revolutionary fervour. There is no working class current in the organisation that can control the hotheads.

Oh I know the majority of the group are workers, but most joined as students, not as workers. Few have spent that many years selling their labour power to survive and thus gained the discipline that imposes on workers. Couple that with a lack of adequate education (both theoretical and practical) in the real radicalism that is class struggle and the result is a view among significant sections of the membership that adolescent angst and mindless militancy are radical and revolutionary.

Rather than building links with workers, those members proclaim their radicalism by throwing shoes at cops, or themselves at cars or wearing F**k Tony Abbott T-shirts. Adventurism and substitutionism have fertile ground in which to work.

The upshot of all this is that people who support the organisation, who could join or might be attracted to it as serious revolutionaries, are repulsed. No doubt this will be met with denunciations of middle class moralism or James P Cannon like ‘analysis’ of petit bourgeois elements, but again this just shows the closed nature of the organisation.

Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours and its arguments about speaking the truth to the class and the ends of revolution being intertwined dialectically with the means should be required reading. Certainly the adventurism and substitionism, the mindless, basically individual, militancy are not in my view building the way for a future revolutionary socialist party.

Rather than seriously thinking about and if necessary addressing the problems or concerns, most of the comrades corral the wagons against ‘the enemy’, an ‘enemy’ which includes supporters, well-wishers and potential members who are turned away.

My hope is that there are sections within Socialist Alternative who understand there are real and serious problems and are trying to push against the tide of revolutionary conformism to make their voices heard and influence the debate, if not win it and the battle against mindless militancy, adventurism and substitutionism.

As I wrote when I resigned:

I hope one day to see an organisation where different views are debated openly and without rancour and without sending to Siberia those who disagree and where a strong working class element can keep the hotheads under control, the students grounded on the realities of life under capitalism and the leadership accountable.

That strong working class element doesn’t exist or if it does has been so changed by its experience as socialist students as to not be able to impose its views of working class democracy and discipline on the group.

An organisation that wants to eventually become or be part of the party of the vanguard of the working class must first learn to speak to the working class. F**k Tony Abbott T-shirts, images of scalpels to Abbott’s throat, images of Tony Abbott being hanged, and hurling yourself, alone, at cops or cars isn’t part of that language. It is the language of repelling workers and those sympathetic to the organisation. It is the language of ultimate defeat, a surrender to the de-politicisation going on in much of the rest of society.



Pingback from Cutting their own throats | OzHouse
Time July 2, 2014 at 5:12 pm

[…] Jul 02 2014 by admin […]

Comment from Kay
Time July 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm

An excellent article about the activities of Socialist Alternative.

I particularly like your comment that “debate and discussion are at the heart of socialist parties and politics.” Debate and discussion should be at the heart of all politics, both left and right wing. Shutting down open discussion leads to inferior outcomes.

Comment from Ross
Time July 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Have you considered John that the Socialist Alternative may have been infiltrated by our intelligence organisations and are thus white anting it from within.

Comment from Fred
Time July 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Reactionaries? Really?

How would you describe the Nazis? Scallywags?

Comment from John
Time July 2, 2014 at 7:10 pm

No Fred, I’d call the Nazis fascists. But I am impressed by your concern for Iraqis, which I hope includes the million Iraqis George Bush and other war criminals murdered.

Comment from John Mullen
Time July 3, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Well John I have a lot of respect for you and a lot of what you write on other subjects. It’s only fair then to say that i find this article staggeringly unconvincing. If SA were saying “leave the unions and join a special SA led trade union” that would be substitutionism. Occasional members getting carried away on small demos isn’t.

Comment from John
Time July 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

Thanks John. As Jeff Sparrow put it he is unconvinced by the scratch to gangrene argument. My response is there seem to be an awful lot of scratches of late. Substitutionism can be on a grand scale, or given the small size of Socialist Alternative, of necessity small. They sometimes substitute themselves for the movement by throwing thewmselves at cars, or their shoes at cops, or physically attacking other student delegates or even standing in student electiosn without a ground swell of active support on campus. My audience for the piece was those within the organisation who already have major concerns, and that sensible group outside who would think about joining except for the apolitical stunts and the cheer squad mentality among large sections of the organisation. I even thought recently of trying to set up a Wollongong branch, working with people there I know and trust, far away from the Melbourne group and (less far away) from Sydney. But hurling yourself at cars and the scalpel image just show again that the organisation has difficulty sometimes relating to working class people. That is not to say it doesn’t do some great work. It does. It just then fucks it up with expressions of adolescent angst which have little to do with politics, let alone socialist politics. (And they wouldn’t have let me back in by the way, knowing I would be trying to build a sebnsible branch.)

Comment from Lorikeet
Time July 4, 2014 at 11:10 am

I think graphic pictures of prime ministers having their throats cut will simply cause people to label the newspaper concerned as the product of an extremist group. Similarly, crude slogans and bully boy behaviour will attract attention, but primarily of the negative kind.

A better way might be to make placards bearing words such as: “Australia says no to ….( insert whatever policy).”

This gives the impression there is widespread support for the message.

If it is any consolation, last night I was asked to do a telephone poll in which the primary agendas appeared to be assessing how much support there is for Clive Palmer, finding out how many people support Campbell Newman’s bikie laws, and whether or not the ALP needs to change its Queensland leader.

Comment from paul walter
Time July 5, 2014 at 9:59 am

Just having a read of your last few thread starters and must agree, very little to smile about.

The attack on public broadcasting and further antics involving the curious and suspicious Joint Strike Lemon add to the chaos.. the Murdoch Tea-Partyists have been crafty to machine gun the community with a whole raft of provocative issues to diivide opposition.

Comment from Lorikeet
Time July 6, 2014 at 7:59 am

I don’t normally like to use bad language, but I thought the tee shirt which said: “F**k Tony Abbott” had merit, as I think it is a widely held opinion and the message is crystal clear. I think it would have wide appeal to the working class.

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