ANU – a new audience for socialist ideas?

Passy 21 February 2009 119

On Wednesday I was manning the Socialist Alternative Club stall at the Australian National University with a few other comrades for the beginning of the academic year.  The mood on campus is changing – more questioning.

Of course there are still the usual party, party, party people. (By that I mean those interested in having a good time, not the dour apparatchiks of Stalinism). And I have a confession to make. Before I entered into extended middle age I liked to party too. Maybe I still do.

There were more people interested in our stall and magazine than I remember from previous years. One incident captures this changed mood.

We were closing up when a young man from another stall rushed over. I thought he wanted the table we were vacating. But he wanted to join our Socialist Alternative club on campus before we left for the day.

Why? He said it was his fourth year at the ANU and he had always dismissed us in the past as crazy. How could we argue that things under capitalism weren’t as great as they seemed? After all 17 years of a then booming economy in Australia proved us wrong.

But now, with the global economy tanking and the Australian economy following it, he wanted to explore alternative explanations. That didn’t mean he’d become an overnight convert to socialism.

But it did mean he wanted to understand our ideas to see if they made sense. He was especially interested in our views about Marxism generally and specifically why the economy was in crisis. He wasn’t alone.

Of course, many still cling to the old certitudes – neoliberalism or its twin, Keynesianism. But even Keynesianism, or what passes for it in political discourse, is being questioned, much more than I had anticipated.

None of this means revolution is around the corner or there will be mass strikes and occupations next month. Who knows what will happen? But there is an underlying anger among some workers that they are paying for the bosses’ crisis. When unemployment hits double figures, the questioning and perhaps action will be more intense.

We shouldn’t be too prescriptive. I remember André Gorz, a left wing intellectual in France, writing in January 1968 that there would never be a revolution in his lifetime in the country.

Many of you have no doubt heard, or made, the same sorts of arguments in Australia. Workers are too apolitical, apathetic, bought off, stupid, lazy, greedy – put in a pejorative adjective here.

4 months later 10 million French workers went on strike and occupied their factories, bringing the possibility of revolution very close in France. The thoroughly Stalinist French Communist Party saved French capitalism.

So things can change very quickly if the anger below the surface finds an outlet.

The importance for small groups like Socialist Alternative is to find the ones and twos in Canberra (or tens and twenties in the bigger cities) who agree with our ideas about workers democratically running society and organising production to satisfy human need.

At the heart of this is the idea that it is workers who liberate themselves from the shackles of capitalism through mass action leading to revolution. As Marx said: ‘The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.’

With more members in Canberra, we can spread our emancipatory ideas and with our very very small influence help to translate those ideas into the class, if the circumstances permit. Often this will just be basic arguments like the need to strike or occupy to defend wages and jobs.

For students at the ANU and University of Canberra it will be arguments for a living wage, for better pay for teachers, better funding for universities and their facilities, and opposition to job losses like outsourcing to India.  (We are interested in setting up a Socialist Alternative club at UC if anyone wants to help us.)

Every new member is important. They carry within them the arguments for advancing the class struggle; they carry the torch of human liberation.

This year our ideas are getting a wider audience. Amid the gloom there is hope.

Socialist Alternative in Canberra meets every Thursday night at 6 pm in G 039 of the Copland Building ANU.  email: canberra@sa.org.au

This Thursday (26 February) I am talking about Recession and Rebellion in 2009.

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119 Responses to ANU – a new audience for socialist ideas?
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creative_canberran creative_canberran 2:11 pm 02 Oct 11

TruthTeller99 said :

How is that membership going 2 years on? Up to 10 yet, or were you mistaken about the changing tide (as usual)?

They (one a gentleman in drab clothes with Trotskyesque moustache) were putting up posters last month all over Civic stating that we are on the edge of the revolution given the financial troubles in Europe. Apparently the solutions were to be found at one of the ANU lecture theatres one evening.

On a side note, the OP is against sending jobs to India. I was under the impression that outsourcing under neoliberalism was the reason India and China have a rising middle class (and therefore lifting them out of poverty). So does that mean Socialist Alliance is for equality, each according to their own and so on as long as they don’t have slinty eyes?

TruthTeller99 TruthTeller99 10:21 am 02 Oct 11

How is that membership going 2 years on? Up to 10 yet, or were you mistaken about the changing tide (as usual)?

jakez jakez 2:07 pm 23 Feb 09

Loose Brown said :

I agree – Passy is entitled to his view. Why is it provoking such a response?

Passy – I have always supected that renumeration for work is geared to provide the worker with just enough reward to keep them working for life. Otherwise what has happened to all the efficiencies created by technological progres? However I believe this is the result of the profit focus of corporations rather than some kind of conspiracy.

When I build a time machine I’ll happily let you be the first to use it. You can go back to 1852 and find out what has happened to all those efficiencies.

Passy Passy 1:33 pm 23 Feb 09

Thanks Loose Brown. I appreciate the support.

I agree with you – I don’t think it is a conspiracy. It is just the way the profit system works.

The efficiencies – good point. They have gone to shareholders and back into profits. In fact despite 17 years of economic good times (and real wage increases) the labour share of gross national product is at its lowest in 40 years while the profit share is at its highest ever.

That’s one of the reasons the ACTU has had as it policy since 1957 to have a 35 hour week – to let workers benefit from increased productivity. 1957 was only 52 years ago, and how far are we from that goal? We have a 38 hour week, notionally. But we work on average more than that.

During the Depression the ACTU came out for a 30 hour week to address the crisis. I suggest we should be thinking about and agitating for the same thing now.

Loose Brown Loose Brown 1:13 pm 23 Feb 09

I agree – Passy is entitled to his view. Why is it provoking such a response?

Passy – I have always supected that renumeration for work is geared to provide the worker with just enough reward to keep them working for life. Otherwise what has happened to all the efficiencies created by technological progres? However I believe this is the result of the profit focus of corporations rather than some kind of conspiracy.

johnboy johnboy 12:19 pm 23 Feb 09

Let’s all calm down with the abuse shall we?

Granny Granny 12:16 pm 23 Feb 09

Likewise, jakez, and me too.

Jim Jones Jim Jones 11:56 am 23 Feb 09

proofpositive said :

Passy said :

A one way ticket to North Korea. Oh dear. Such a stupid stupid comment. I’ll visit when North Korean workers overthrow the corrupt, moribund repressive murderous regime.

Once again softcock option… you are prepared to whinge and whine, not prepared to get your hands dirty. Sort of like the political equivalent of a NIMBY.

The adults are trying to have a conversation. Please be quiet.

jakez jakez 11:52 am 23 Feb 09

Granny said :

jakez said :

Actually now that I think about it, this sounds a lot like my experience in High School.

: )

You do make me smile, jakez, but I feel that you’re hearing me. Thanks!

You are one of my favourite people on here Granny. I could probably explain myself better in person re all that stuff above.

neanderthalsis neanderthalsis 11:51 am 23 Feb 09

jakez said :

Passy said :

Under feudalism the exploitation was obvious – you worked for 3 days for the lord and for 3 days for yourself. Under capitalism the exploitation is hidden.

The exploitation seems pretty obvious to me. You work 3 days for yourself and 3 days for the Government.

Whereas in a Socialist state, the exploitation is explicitly obvious. You work all 6 days for the benefit of the national controllers.

jakez jakez 11:48 am 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

Under feudalism the exploitation was obvious – you worked for 3 days for the lord and for 3 days for yourself. Under capitalism the exploitation is hidden.

The exploitation seems pretty obvious to me. You work 3 days for yourself and 3 days for the Government.

proofpositive proofpositive 11:45 am 23 Feb 09

Passy said :

A one way ticket to North Korea. Oh dear. Such a stupid stupid comment. I’ll visit when North Korean workers overthrow the corrupt, moribund repressive murderous regime.

Once again softcock option… you are prepared to whinge and whine, not prepared to get your hands dirty. Sort of like the political equivalent of a NIMBY.

proofpositive proofpositive 11:43 am 23 Feb 09

jakez said :

proofpositive said :

Passy, if you pine so much for a communist regime then why not get a one way ticket to North Korea.

That’s like telling me to move to the USA if I pine for a libertarian paradise.

At least you don’t carry on like a pork chop.

dexi dexi 11:42 am 23 Feb 09

“The Australian Crime Commission still scares me though Thumper”

The Government has always collecting information on NGOs and dissidents. In the 90s the Victorian Police infiltrated and kept files on 300 organisations and people. The information was shared with “Military intelligence”. My file said that I had contact with a suspected terrorist. I often wondered if it was the contact I had with SA activists that got me that entry.

I think it was apt that one of the first people arrested under the new anti terror laws was an American WTO activist.

Granny Granny 11:41 am 23 Feb 09

jakez said :

Actually now that I think about it, this sounds a lot like my experience in High School.

: )

You do make me smile, jakez, but I feel that you’re hearing me. Thanks!

Passy Passy 11:38 am 23 Feb 09

jakez

you say:

‘Indeed we do sell our labour, and at a profit.’

That is at the very heart of the disagreement between socialists and oths. The Labor Theory of value argues that it is only labour that creates value. Workers are paid not for the time they spend in creating value but for the time necessary for them to survive. Say that takes four hours of labor. the other four hours is then expropriated by the boss and becomes profit, dividends, rent etc.

Under feudalism the exploitation was obvious – you worked for 3 days for the lord and for 3 days for yourself. Under capitalism the exploitation is hidden.

Passy Passy 11:33 am 23 Feb 09

neanderthalis, you say:

“Well Dexi, maybe you could organise the unemployed and have them revolt against the working class. They could go on strike. Oh wait…”

Actually, during the depression the Unemployed Workers Union organised among those on the suss – this was work for the dole type arrangements. They struck to get better suss, and won on occasions.

I think, alhtough I’m not sure – the memory si going as I age – that the Communist Party had a major role in the UWU through the Militant Minority.

A one way ticket to North Korea. Oh dear. Such a stupid stupid comment. I’ll visit when North Korean workers overthrow the corrupt, moribund repressive murderous regime.

neanderthalsis neanderthalsis 11:26 am 23 Feb 09

“Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty, socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.”
Alexis de Tocqueville , 1848.

jakez jakez 11:23 am 23 Feb 09

proofpositive said :

Passy, if you pine so much for a communist regime then why not get a one way ticket to North Korea.

That’s like telling me to move to the USA if I pine for a libertarian paradise.

proofpositive proofpositive 11:20 am 23 Feb 09

Passy, if you pine so much for a communist regime then why not get a one way ticket to North Korea.

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