by Humphrey McQueen
The Socialist Alternative is committed to the self-emancipation of the working class. Its 2012 Marxism conference shows why that will be necessary. On the basis of the topics to be discussed our class cannot expect much help from the Socialist Alternative hierarchs.
Out of more than seventy sessions, eighteen connect with Australia. Of those, twelve are historical. One is a Radical History tour – not of worksites or communities – but of Melbourne University, aptly to be conducted in the dark. The study of our past is devalued if not integrated with on-going resistance.
The six sessions on contemporary Australia are tangential to proletarian politics. They include refugees, gay narriage, Mundouh Habib and Gary Foley. A session on China and Australian Imperialism does not know that, for Lenin, Imperialism is monopolising capitals, not a latter-day colonialism. The sixth is on rebuilding grass-roots unionism. Rebuilding requires more than turning up at picket lines to flog your publications. Its inclusion is an improvement on the SA’s Marxism Conference in the year of peak struggle against Work Choices which had nothing on trade unions, not even in the USSR during the 1920s.
The lack of interest in working people is eloquent from the matters on which the talkfest is silent. There is nothing on education, employment, health, housing or transport; nothing on OHS despite the latest Killard attack laws; nothing on the right to strike; nothing on farmers or supermarkets; nothing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership that threatens subsidised prescription drugs. Nor is there a session devoted to the nurses dispute.
The environment is relegated to a reflection on whether green can be red. There are no sessions on fracking, the carbon tax or threats to the Reef. Similarly, there is nothing on the US Marine base in Darwin, and nothing on the intervention.
The class nature of the conference is given away in its subtitle: ‘Revolution in the Air’ instead of on the ground. John Pilger salutes the organisers for staging ‘Australia’s premier festival of debate and free speech on issues that are either excluded from or suppressed by the mass media’. By excluding class struggles from his list, Pilger underlines that Marxism 2012 is a radical version of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.
The topics that are on the schedule indicate the social composition of SA recruits. The programme is a pot-pourri of undergraduate assignments and post-graduate theses. Far from being a school for the working class, the conference looks like career placement for would-be academics. In spite of this, the Socialist Alternative’s inability to engage with the lived experience of capitalist exploitation here and now is underscored by there being nothing on the precarious employment confronting graduates.
The politics informing the event are spotlighted by its marginalisation of the crisis in the accumulation of capital. Instead of making the catastrophe the spine of the conference, the programme offers three papers: Is there a way out? is money the root of all evil? and an ABC of Marxist economics.
A cluster of sessions on issues that fascinate Left grouplets include could there be a revolution in Australia?; might it be tweeted; are police part of the 99 percent? A further pair against autonomism and ‘Consensus decision making’ will be lamentations on how the Socialist Alternative has not been able to commandeer the Occupy upsurge.
Compare the mentality on display at Marxism 2012 with that of Marx and Engels in 1847 as they drafted the Manifesto. At the time, they had had next-to-no contact with the working class but knew that they needed a catalogue of demands and so came up with ten pretty general points. In 1875 for the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx used his by then unparalleled appreciation of the international movement to insist on precise policies in place of the six pieces of waffle in the Draft Programme of the German Workers’ Party. Lenin did the same in 1917 by calling for Land, Peace and Bread. SA rank-and-filers need to summon up the courage to ask why their cult leaders are not following these examples.
Most outsiders will find Marxism 2012 no worse than the latest bourgeois academic alternative to socialism. Others will record it as desertion in the face of the class enemy. At the very least, its organisers have gone AWOL again.