A Short history of ‘Direct Action’
The latest Left paper, Direct Action, claims that it is ‘for socialism in the 21st century’, I am not sure what that is supposed to mean but I doubt that it is true.
As each new crisis in capitalism arrives, we witness the Left running in the opposite direction, more fractured, distant and irrelevant, with each new grouplet wasting scare resources on new publications, new websites, and new centres, each with miniscule differences in ideology, sometimes visible only to the warring factions.
One of each [one newspaper, one website, even one room] would suffice with our dwindling numbers and energy.Now, out of failure has emerged, like a phoenix from the ashes, a new ‘Direct Action’ taking a template from past praxis!
Direct Action is not alone. Direct Action follows on the heels of The Battler, Guardian, Tribune, Socialist Worker, Solidarity, the Green left Weekly, Socialist Alternative and many more who have either left the alliance or never joined. Those that left failed to realise from the outset the folly of organising under the banner of a ‘broad left party’ and the ‘electoralist’ experiments that go with it. Those organisations that never joined wanted their own version of the same thing.
Workers BushTelegraph [WBT] is included in this critique, it too is at fault if only because it is a reflection of the current disarray of the Left. WBT obtains its articles from individuals and groups that are caught up in this lack of worker organisation – no a reluctance to set up worker political organisations in a proper way.
The Socialist Alliance – being the latest incarnation of such a strategy, like the New Left Party of the late 1980s – both parties so broad that they lacked focus and organisation. Thus, predictably, the Socialist Alliance could manage no more than 1% of the vote in the various federal elections that it fought from 2001 – 2007 with a platform Direct Action – 4 Aug 1982 barely distinguishable from that of the Greens. And this at a time when the government-in-power had run an electoral campaign based on class [WorkChoices].
In the 1970s, Direct Action, known locally by street marchers in Brisbane as ‘Indirect Action’, because it advocated against defying the street march laws of the Bjelke-Petersen Government, and this at a time of the longest popular uprising [1977-1979] against a government since federation.
I remember cadre of the Socialist Workers Party (the predecessor of the Democratic Socialist party) being expelled from the party for street marching. These included teachers, Meegan Martin and Gary McLennan. Gary, with Carole Ferrier (a university lecturer), Graham Grassie and a number of others later helped start the International Socialists[The Battler] in Brisbane, based on their desire (like thousands of others) to defy the street march ban and bring down the government. As a result the IS was built nationally on the basis of this defiance and by 1978 had about 50 supporters here in Qld.
As for Direct Action, or more correctly the Socialist Workers Party, they were led by Peter Annear in Brisbane during the 1977 street marches.
Ironically, as the defiance of the ban set it, Peter was dragged by the cops onto the street from the steps of King George Square and arrested for Broad Left Party – New Left Party set up in 1986marching. Poor Peter, complete with the Trotsky gotee, was ashen-faced as he was dragged to the awaiting paddy wagon like a stunned mullet. He was one of the first of more than 2,000 street marchers arrested in Brisbane (his arrest was on 22 September 1977 with, I think, 12 others).
Though I suppose this did not count in the eyes of the party as marching, for Peter was not expelled like Gary, Meegan and the others.
I do not know what happened to Peter after that, because, as so often happened with the SWP and DSP, the party transferred him away from Brisbane after his brief stint here during the street marches. Although years later I did see that Peter wrote an article for the GLW from Budapest. A far cry from the University of Qld Student Union where along with Greg Adamson they produced copy for Direct Action. Greg was a typesetter enscounced on the top floor of the union building behind a large compositing machine typical of the era.
Our current period is no better than the disgrace of the leadership of the CPA liquidating the party built up over 70 years of struggle by workers and turning its assets over to one family to spend on personal projects and schemes.
The Left in the West has flirted with issues of globalisation, climate change, race, and gender. The front page of the recent edition of the Green Left Weekly titled ‘Is the US Shifting Left – Behind the Rise of Obama’ is evidence of this focus, not just here in Australia but also in the USA and Europe.
For example, what is the point of saving the planet, if class exploitation and capitalism ensures the starvation, hunger, illiteracy and misery for the people of the world?
Such a focus has led in part for the working class in Australia, like that of America, to turn right over the past 30 years. The left has neglected class and engaged in the opportunism that engagement with such issues involves.
At the inaugural meeting of the Socialist Alliance at the TLC building in Brisbane its platform in the 2001 federal election were compared with that of the Green’s. If you took out the word ‘socialism’ they were the same.
Such was the similarity, my sister, Pam Curr, contesting an inner Melbourne seat won the largest vote (then) in the history of the Greens in the a federal election [15% in the 2001 federal election, up from 6% in 1996, and then 23% in the 2002 State election] on those very issues. The Socialist Alliance, unable to distinguish itself from the Greens, got less than 1% of the vote. How Pam Curr was courted by the Green Left Weekly after the 2001 election! I wish I had the write up the GLW gave her, she could do no wrong!
In reality, what Pam Curr had done was to run an independent – with minimal help from the Greens’ organisation. The Greens gave her virtually no money — but she mobilised a lot of people to help her — a grassroots campaign on issues of war, refugee rights, gender equality, union rights [for her description of the MUA campaign read The Long Night], and environment protection.
These were the same issues that Judy McVey ran on for the Socialist Alliance, correct me if I am wrong.
It was a shame that the Socialist Alliance did not take the advice offered by independents at its inaugural meeting in the TLC in South Brisbane where about 170 people turned up. Independents attended all the Brisbane meetings including some branch meetings.
Their advice? To forget about parliament and focus on the workplace.
And if the SA felt obliged to run in elections, to run in elections in working class organisations (unions) , where else? It was here that socialist candidates had a chance as demonstrated by the 30% or so percent many such candidates get in union elections. Do this instead of wasting resources on middle class democracy in the parliament where workers have no say.
This is what is wrong with the Left, like Barak Obama in the US presidential elections, they have made little connection with the working class, and as a result the workers remain both politically conservative and quiet.
It is not easy for people to accept the fact that they are defeating their own purpose. We all know that social and economic change will not come without political change.
The ideology of capitalism that prevails in the working class in Australia must be turned around.
However socialists can’t do this without a more meaningful program – a program that is in the interests of and comes out of the working class itself.
This program must be built on Workers Control, Organisation and Unity not on a broad left party of anything to please. Workers desperately need the right to strike, a democratic right taken from them by parliaments and bosses.
It is time the socialist organisation addresses its political opportunism and waste of resources.
PS. My sister, Pam Curr, never won an election and eventually gave up and continued to fight for refugees through ‘the longest decade’, the Howard years.
See below for the blurb put out by Direct Action
Welcome to Direct Action
The first issue of the third incarnation of “Direct Action”, a socialist newspaper published from Sydney, Australia, is hot off the presses. Like its predecessors during World War I and in the 1970s and ’80s, the new Direct Action aims to inform about the campaigns and struggles of the working class and its allies in Australia and internationally, provide a Marxist analysis, and help build the movement for socialism.
The new DA has been initiated by the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a fusion between the Leninist Party Faction, recently expelled en bloc from the Democratic Socialist Perspective (publisher of Green Left Weekly), and the group Direct Action that left the DSP two years ago. See <www.rsp.org.au>
While the new DA will seek to explain and popularise the RSP’s views, the paper will seek to encourage and promote constructive debate on the left and will seek contributions from a broad range of radical commentators, activists and organisations.
Direct Action is a 28 page tabloid newspaper, initially published monthly. The cover price is $2, with $5 as a suggested solidarity price.
Australian subscriptions to Direct Action are $10 for six months (six issues) or $20 for one year (12 issues), so make sure you don’t miss out on an issue. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Printing the paper and maintaining our staff and office costs money, so we are appealing to our readers and supporters to help finance this new socialist publication. Send your donation to email@example.com
We also welcome messages of support and greetings from our friends and collaborators in Australia and internationally.
Direct Action is now also available at our website: http://www.directaction.org.au. Each issue will be posted on the website shortly after publication, and we’ll be updating the site with important news articles and analysis in between issues.
We invite comment and contributions from all our readers. To contact us, please write to Direct Action, Suite 72, 65 Myrtle Street, Chippendale, NSW 2008, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone us at (02) 9310 5688.