Is Socialist Alternative a political cult?

A critic sent me the above image to accompany the launch of a new fortnightly newspaper, Red Flag. Produced by Socialist Alternative, “a revolutionary Marxist organisation” (with many hundreds of members it is, perhaps, apart from Socialist Alliance, the largest such organisation in Australia), the new project represents a major new investment for the party. (For a recent overview of Australian organisations on the revolutionary left, see Trot Guide 2012.) While obviously intended to be a humourous rather than a serious critique of the organisation, the claim that SAlt is in some way equivalent to a cult seems to have some traction on the internets, so I thought I’d see if there’s any substance to it.

To the best of my knowledge, the most relevant analysis of political-organisation-as-cult is that made by academic Dennis Tourish in his article ‘Ideological intransigence, democratic centralism and cultism: a case study from the political left’ (Cultic Studies Journal, 1998):

There is a dearth of literature documenting the existence of cults in the political sphere. This paper suggests that some left wing organizations share a number of ideological underpinnings and organizational practices which inherently inclines them to the adoption of cultic practices. In particular, it is argued that doctrines of ‘catastrophism’ and democratic centralist modes of organization normally found among Trotskyist groupings are implicated in such phenomenon. A case history is offered of a comparatively influential Trotskyist grouping in Britain, which split in 1992, where it is suggested that an analysis of the organization in terms of cultic norms is particularly fruitful. This is not intended to imply that a radical critique of society is necessarily inappropriate. Rather, it is to argue that political movements frequently adopt organizational forms, coupled with ‘black and white’ political programmes, which facilitate the exercise of undue social influence. This stifles genuinely creative political thought. Issues which this analysis suggests are particularly pertinent for those involved in radical politics are considered.

He writes:

…political cults tend to be characterised by the presence of the following traits.

1. A rigid belief system. In the case of left wing political cults this suggests that all social, natural, scientific, political, economic, historical and philosophical issues can only be analysed correctly from within the group’s theoretical paradigm – one which therefore claims a privileged and all-embracing insight. The view that the group’s belief system explains everything eliminates the need for fresh or independent thought, precludes the possibility of critically appraising past practice or acknowledging mistakes, and removes the need to seek intellectual sustenance outside the group’s own ideological fortress. All such thinking is dismissed as contaminated by the impure ideology of bourgeois society.

2. The group’s beliefs are immune to falsification. No test can be devised or suggested which might have the effect of inducing a reappraisal. The all-embracing quality of the dominant ideology precludes re-evaluation, since it implies both omniscience and infallibility. Methods of analysis which set themselves more modest explanatory goals are viewed as intrinsically inferior. Those who question any aspect of the group’s analysis are branded as deviationists bending to the ‘pressures of capitalism’, and are driven from the ranks as heretics.

3. An authoritarian inner party regime is maintained. Decision making is concentrated in elite hands, which gradually dismantles or ignores all formal controls on its activities. Members are excluded from participation in determining policy, calling leaders to account, or expressing dissent. This is combined with persistent assurances about the essentially democratic nature of the organization, and the existence of exemplary democratic controls – on paper.

4. There is a growing tendency for the leaders to act in an arbitrary way, accrue personal power, perhaps engage in wealth accumulation from group members or in the procuring of sexual favours. Activities which would provoke censure if engaged in by rank and file members (e.g. having a reasonable standard of living, enjoying time off, using the organization’s funds for personal purposes) are tolerated when they apply to leaders.

5. Leader figures, alive or dead, are deified. In the first place, this tends to centre on Marx, Trotsky or other significant historical figures. It also increasingly transfers to existing leaders, who represent themselves as defending the historical continuity of the ‘great’ ideas of Marxist leaders. In effect, the new leaders are depicted, in their unbending devotion to the founders’ ideals, as the reincarnation of Marx, Trotsky or whoever. There is a tendency to settle arguments by referring constantly to the sayings of the wise leaders (past or present), rather than by developing an independent analysis. Even banal observations are usually buttressed by the use of supporting quotations from sanctified sources.

6. There is an intense level of activism, precluding outside interests. Social life and personal ‘friendships’ revolve exclusively around the group, although such friendships are conditional on the maintenance of uncritical enthusiasm for the party line. Members acquire a specialised vocabulary (e.g. they call each other ‘comrade’), which reinforces a sense of distance and difference from those outside their ranks. The group becomes central to the personal identity of members, who find it more and more difficult if not impossible to imagine a life outside their organization.

While some find the presence of SAlt members at public rallies very annoying, and others claim the organisation is unduly hostile to former members or members of rival organisations who operate on the same territory, I don’t see how much of the above can fairly be applied to it. Of course, this may simply be a matter of size — SAlt is considerably smaller than Militant was at the time Tourish examined it — or a sign of the times. In any event:

1. There is a certain degree of ideological rigidity in SAlt – its theoretical productions are rather dull, in my opinion, and hardly represent the best of Marxist-influenced theory — and it subscribes to some variant of ‘revolutionary Marxism’, but I’m not sure it’s so crass as to proclaim its total understanding of Australian or global society. In any case, its most sophisticated ideological output may be found in its journal, Marxist Left Review.

2. This second point — immunity to falsification — is closely related to the first. Certainly, any claims to being avant-garde can be fairly easily refuted by reference to some of SAlt’s less-successful ventures into political activism.

3. I’ve never been a member of SAlt and know few who have been, so I’m not especially familiar with its internal regime. Certainly, the organisation’s Constitution is a public document and seems to embody a reasonable degree of formal democracy.

4. I’m not aware of any evidence to suggest any such corruption — “a growing tendency for the leaders to act in an arbitrary way, accrue personal power, perhaps engage in wealth accumulation from group members or in the procuring of sexual favours” — on the part of SAlt’s leadership.

5. In terms of ideological debate, while Marx and Lenin remain crucially important figures, I’m not aware of any SAlt leaders claiming any such authority or, moreover, who could avoid being widely laughed at if they did.

6. There does seem to be an intense level of activism on the part of SAlt members, though the extent to which its organisational culture as a whole promotes this kind of social and political alienation is an open question (for which anecdotal evidence is insufficient to rely upon for any kind of authoritative answer).

In summary, while their analysis may be fundamentally flawed, their program unattractive, and their politicking sectarian, it doesn’t seem to be either especially accurate or terribly useful to simply dismiss SAlt as a ‘cult’. A useful critique of their underlying political philosophy — since slightly altered by the decision by the Revolutionary Socialist Party to join them — is Marxism, Anarchism, & the Genealogy of “Socialism From Below” by Tom Keefer (Upping the Anti, No.2, 2005). (“At its final congress on 28 March 2013, the RSP voted unanimously to merge with Socialist Alternative.”)

See also : China Mieville: On cult-like thinking, April 12, 2013 | In defence of Socialist Alternative, En Passant, December 3, 2012 | Cultism and the Left (June 7, 2008) | Marc Newman, Cadre, Growth and Political Practice in Socialist Alternative (2004).

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2014 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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50 Responses to Is Socialist Alternative a political cult?

  1. Behead Those Who Insult Gerry Healy! says:

    There were some interesting debates about whether the British SWP can accurately be described as a cult on the Socialist Unity blog and elsewhere, in the context of their rape scandal. http://socialistunity.com/swp-explaining-the-paradox/

    There is obviously a more compelling argument to be made against the SWP on the grounds of the pseudo judicial role the Disciplinary Committee had assumed. There is also the matter of the exalted position of party-founder Tony Cliff; look at their leaked internal bulletins and pre-conference bulletins and you see dozens of anecdotes about what Cliff did or said that must serve to guide the party today.

    Even if SAlt aspires to be a cult, as things stand they simply don’t have the size, the bureaucracy, or the history to become one. I can’t really imagine them being anything other than what they are now, a comparatively well organized group consisting primarily of undergraduates with a high turn-over rate.

    Incidentally, knowing the high turn-over rate of student revolutionaries, elements in the British SWP suggested one way of dealing with the rape crisis would be to purge all existing student groups and start all over again in the next academic year, recruiting from the new influx of students!

  2. Dave says:

    Agreed…not a cult. Saying so is a way of apolitically making a critique…

  3. @ndy says:

    @Behead Those Who Insult Gerry Healy!: The SWP’s franchise in Australia is Solidarity. It has given its complete support to the SWP. A statement regarding Solidarity and the upcoming Historical Materialism conference was issued in April by some locals keen to draw attention to the matter.

    @Dave: Kinda. The post was actually prompted by the fact somebody sent me the img, it contained a ref to SAlt as kvlt and, knowing that the accusation is sometimes made – sometimes seriously, sometimes flippantly – I thought I may as well apply Tourish’s definition to it in an attempt to test the idea. Otherwise, in terms of criticising SAlt’s ideology or practice in particular (especially insofar as it derives from the IST), my critique proceeds along fairly familiar anarchist lines, and is I think probably best summarised in Keefer’s article, to which I’ve referred a number of times now. With regards SAlt’s understanding of anarchism, I wrote a too-lengthy reply six years ago. If I had to do it again, I’d probably play a much straighter bat, but I don’t think the substance of what I wrote has changed much.

  4. Monty Miller says:

    A generous and graceful pondering of the question. Certainly SAlt are not a cult like the Raelians but as a small and highly sectarian revolutionary Marxist group they – in my opinion, from personal integration with SAlties – have cultist tendencies. Perhaps a more illustrative comparison would be to compare them with Mormons vs secular society, and not just because they both annoyingly hustle their magazines.

  5. LeftInternationalist says:

    A good balanced analysis. When I saw that image, frankly, it looked to me more like something a snotty Young Liberal would produce, or put up on his wall. And while SAlt hasn’t really put out any feelers towards ‘left unity’ with anarchists or anarchist groups, a denouncing them and all their works approach, or calling them a ‘cult’ will alienate those members who are more open to a socialist/anarchist dialogue and co-operation, or who have no issue agreeing with much of anarchist analysis. Bob Gould, I think correctly, showed that having an obsessive focus on a ‘denouncing them and all their works’ approach to particular groups leads to ingrained sectarian (and even authoritarian) attitudes, when he felt the then DSP was obsessed with attacking the ALP and all its members as nothing but EVIL EVIL EVIL, even going so far as to basically say there are no left wing ALP members, or that they are entirely useless. One can disagree with Gould’s ALP orientation, but I think he’s right here, and I think the development of groups like Labor for Refugees, for example, was a very healthy development to have, and it did help to fight against anti-refugee policies and attitudes, and continues to do so, even as the ALP becomes more and more craven and authoritarian in its policies towards refugees in government. While I disagree quite a bit with a number of views the former RSP had (mainly being far too soft on the regimes in Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela- though the latter is less egregious than the other two which are one-party states) it may be the case that the RSP merging into SAlt will lead to a greater toleration of different views, therefore a greater prospect for left unity and debate beyond just screaming ‘Stalinist! Sectarian! Opportunist! Reformist! Kronstadt! Petty-bourgeois!’ et al at each other. For SAlt’s stated views on internal democracy, Corey Oakley described it this way in Marxist Left Review:

    “We do not hold – as some on the left do – that “democratic centralism” dictates that after a decision has been taken minorities have no right to express their view. The right of minorities to dissent, publicly if they feel it necessary, has been made explicit in our new Constitution, which says that “members have the right to publicly express disagreement with decisions and policies of the organisation”. We are conscious that there is more to minority rights than constitutional guarantees. For democratic debate to be real in a socialist organisation there needs to be an atmosphere of honest and open discussion, in which members feel free to air differences and thrash out political debate without fear of reprisals or stigma.”
    http://marxistleftreview.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=84:what-kind-of-organisation-do-socialists-need&catid=42:number-5-summer-2013&Itemid=81

    Also, given that SAlt has now got permanent observer status in the (Mandelista) Fourth International, presumably they agree with a number of their perspectives, including on socialist democracy. Their record on internal democracy in their organisations has been pretty good, although the US SWP did become a cult, left the International, and remains a cult today (read volume 2 of Barry Sheppard’s political memoir on the US SWP, a group he was in the central leadership of for a long time, for a glimpse of the horror). In fact, they’ve been criticised on the grounds that they are too democratic by Peter Taaffe, Commandante of the CWI, whose local franchise is the Socialist Party. For example, he says: “…the existence of ‘permanent factions’ is not a reflection of a ‘healthy regime’… as some in the Mandelite USFI believe… Of course, permanent ‘factions’ – on the pattern of the LCR [dissolved into NPA ed: LI] in France – are not a ‘good thing’ in a revolutionary organisation.”
    http://www.socialistpartyaustralia.org/archives/5019

  6. Ablokeimet says:

    Yes, I agree with Andy. SAlt are not a cult. They have reacted appropriately, given their politics, to the SWP rape scandal in Britain. If they were a cult, they would never have been able to pull off the fusion with the RSP.

    More interesting than the cult question, however, is the future direction of SAlt. They can agree to relegate questions like the class nature of the USSR to the realm of history, and the differences on Venezuela are more of emphasis than principle, but there are substantive differences between their position and that of the former RSP on both Cuba and feminism. How these questions are going to be handled is going to be very interesting indeed.

    Finally, I have spoken to a comrade who is wondering whether this is a version of “merge and purge” with which he is familiar (being on the receiving end of it at least once in his Trotskyist life). I don’t think so. This is not because I am attributing any sort of sainthood to Mick Armstrong and the rest of the SAlt leadership. Even if SAlt was as Machiavellian as Anarchists often suspect Leninists of being, it wouldn’t be in SAlt’s interest to purge any of the RSP cadre they have acquired. This is because they have bigger fish to fry.

    The bigger fish is the Socialist Alliance. The RSP split from SA because of a disagreement over whether to liquidate a (subjectively) revolutionary organisation into a “broad party”. There was no issue of principle involved, because the debate revolved around whether the exercise was worth it. The RSP would, I believe, have been willing to go along with it if the Socialist Alliance had developed any real momentum, while the Democratic Socialist Perspective, from which they split and which dissolved into the Socialist Alliance, still believed in “the revolutionary party”, which would be re-founded at some later date once the “broad party” had done the preparation.

    The Socialist Alliance is, however, in crisis. Its justification for pursuing the “broad party” approach is that this means you can be bigger and have more influence in society. SAlt, however, have now eclipsed SA in numbers, while sticking to the “revolutionary party” approach. This puts SA under massive pressure, especially since SAlt is recruiting much more strongly on campus than SA.

    My guess (and I must admit it is only speculation, so I would be glad to hear from anyone with firmer information) is that SAlt is intending to fuse with SA. This cannot be done if the RSP is subjected to the “merge & purge” process – SA would balk at the gate if that happened. I think the “merge & purge” will occur after they fuse with SA. This is because there will be a rump within SA which has become committed to the “broad party” approach and will not be happy to be back within “the revolutionary party”.

    If SAlt pull this off, they will become by far the largest group on the Left in Australia. Everybody else will have to orient themselves, willingly or not, with knowledge of what SAlt’s position is going to be. With hegemony on the Left like it would have, SAlt could make or break many campaigns by virtue of its decision to participate or boycott. How long it would be able to maintain that position, however, is a different matter, and one which I cannot yet forecast with any precision.

  7. Calamity says:

    Saying something is a cult … is a way of making an apolitical critique? As an anthropologist I find this suggestion absurd. In what way is *any* critical assessment/discussion of the structure and dynamics of a political organisation *not* political (or “apolitical”)?

  8. @ndy says:

    Chomsky failing to pay due deference:

  9. Bruce Campbell says:

    It is just a stupid stupid notion that 600 authoritarian socialists united will be any more successful than two groups of 300 authoritarian socialists. SAll poll at 0.08%, SAlt don’t participate in elections at all, so even being generous and saying that the merged authoritarian grouping will magically achieve five times the electoral success of SAll this would only equate to 0.4% of the vote. Which would be pathetic. But of course, elections are not the objective, that is to have a vanguardist Marxist Leninist revolution and undemocratically and violently overthrow the (albeit a flawed democratic process) the elected government. This concept is hideously unpalatable, not only to Libertarian Socialists but to the general Aussie population. This is why SAlt are irrelevant, and will always remain so. 300 (or 600 when merged) mostly uni students Vs the 23 million population of Australia is the issue, not who interprets Trotsky the most correctly. Given this, SAlt / SAll even joined will just remain a powerless power base for the orthodox hierarchy of the group / s and a social scene for the groups underlings. SAlt itself has achieved nothing at all politically (non party political) since 1995. It may have well not existed for the impact it has had. Perhaps one good thing to come from these talks of ‘unity’ will be that non authoritarian socialists will gel and reclaim ‘socialism’ from sectarian minded dolittle authoritarian socialists.

  10. Behead Those Who Insult Gerry Healy! says:

    SAlt are irrelevant, and will always remain so. 300 (or 600 when merged) mostly uni students Vs the 23 million population of Australia is the issue, not who interprets Trotsky the most correctly

    No one is questioning the fact that Leninism is irrelevant in 21st century Australia. @ndy is correct that the real concern is that an enlarged and expansionist SAlt might be in a position to dominate local protest movements.

  11. Bruce Campbell says:

    ‘The real concern is that an enlarged and expansionist SAlt might be in a position to dominate local protest movements.’

    As I said, perhaps one good thing to come from these talks of ‘unity’ will be that non authoritarian socialists will gel and reclaim ‘socialism’ from sectarian minded dolittle authoritarian socialists.

  12. Wombo says:

    “The Socialist Alliance is, however, in crisis. Its justification for pursuing the “broad party” approach is that this means you can be bigger and have more influence in society. SAlt, however, have now eclipsed SA in numbers”

    Nope. Maybe it looks that way in sunny Brunswick, but back in the real world, the Alliance is more than twice the size of Alternative (even including the RSP).

    “a rump within SA which has become committed to the “broad party” approach and will not be happy to be back within “the revolutionary party””

    And yet the Alliance is a “rump” of around 700 members, which recently clarified that it is a “revolutionary party” (whatever that means). Also, you clearly have little experience of the Alliance if you believe your own fairy stories.

    “It is just a stupid stupid notion that 600 authoritarian socialists united will be any more successful than two groups of 300 authoritarian socialists.”

    See above for numbers.

    “SAll poll at 0.08%”

    And yet have two local councillors (Fremantle and Moreland), got over 10,000 votes for mayor in Geelong, etc. Biscuit crumbs, yes, but still a fair reach beyond the rest of the socialist left.

    It’s rather difficult to have a decent conversation when everyone’s speaking about what flavour cheese the moon is made from.

  13. Bruce Campbell says:

    I’m ok with SAll claiming 700 party members. I’ll even say SAlt has 700 members. Combined, that’s still 1400 out of a population of 23 million. Applying the lens of reality, I’ll wager a generous 50% of these number are ‘active’. So that’s back to 700. Yes SAll have two councilors out of all of Australia. Of course, better than nothing, but again, the party has been around since 2001 – 12 years. Can you spot the issue? Authoritarian socialism is just not popular with the population of Oz. That’s the elephant in the room.

  14. Wombo says:

    The elephant in the room is more your limited and obfuscatory vocabulary than your political “analysis”, methinks.

    I wouldn’t describe the Alliance as “authoritarian” socialist, by the way, but they’re certainly doing better with “the population of Oz” than whatever it is that you’re selling.

    Care to elaborate?

  15. Bruce Campbell says:

    Yes I can elaborate to you obfuscatory olfactorous oration. SAll are a Trotskyist socialist party, Trotskyist socialism is in the authoritarian side of the spectrum of socialism, but I do find them (plus their Constitution is) less authoritarian than Ye SAltie Sea-Dogges.

    Yes, SAll in polling 0.08% of the 2012 election ARE doing better in Parliamentary elections than the non party political Libertarian Socialists who do not participate in elections!

    The elephant remains in the room and it is trumpeting loudly from both ends that ‘Authoritarian / Trotskyist Socialism is hugely unpalatable to the general Oz public. The elephant also wet-farted that a vanguardist Leninist Marxist violent revolutionary installation of a (SAlt) dictatorship of the proletariat led by SAlt is even less palatable.

  16. Banner carrier says:

    @LeftInternationalist SAlt doesnt identify with the fourth international. I assume it joined on the basis that its being more outward looking and looking to grow in influence. Joining the IST wouldn’t be an acceptable option.

    Regarding the issue of the labor party being evil and criticisms of other trot groups as stalinist and blah blah blah. I think its necessary to call the labor party on their shit. Is there left wing people in the labor party? Yes. Should socialists be? No.

    Regarding other trots. I think unity discussions show that we can raise arguments without reverting to the ol’ stalinist comments. Its been useful in breaking down bs caricatures. A great leap forward i say.

    @Ablokeimet. I think it would be highly problematic if anyone went into a merger with another org with the outlook to merge and purge. RSP has decades of useful experience in unions and activism and have a lot to contribute especially when SAlt it trying to be outward. It would be a huge setback for SAlt if RSP people left or were forced out. I find it highly unlikely to happen. Regarding SA I feel like you assume SAlt would be head of the merger. I disagree. SA may have a smaller active membership but have a large organisation that has a lot to contribute. Any merger would be done on an even basis. If a merger occurred and it failed it would be a step back for SAlt not just another way to get rid of the competition.

    @Bruce Campbell are you the one righteous and genuine carrier of the socialist banner? What do you consider to be authoritarian and non authoritarian? Or is the question not really who’s authoritarian but reform or revolution? Im for fighting for reforms and smashing capitalism. What about you?

  17. Bruce Campbell says:

    Hi Bainer Career, So we are going to smash capitalism by being totally irrelevant to the vast majority of the populous? My point is that Leninist Marxist authoritarian vanguardist revolutionary ‘socialism’ is totally irrelevant to Oz today, unless you are part of the hierarchy of SAlt, or the revolutionary stripe of SAll. I’d actually like to see a non-Trotskyist non-authoritarian socialist group actually have some say in the community / poll over 4%, not Trotskys carry on being largely irrelevant / polling 0.08%. BUT you guys can indeed choose to remain a power base for the groups hierarchy / a social scene for the underlings for another 12 or 15 years if yas want…

  18. anonymous says:

    I don’t know how any IWW member, such as Bruce Campbell, can criticise either SAlt or SAll when they had nothing to say about a rape victim being bullied out of their own organisation.

  19. anonymous says:

    So far not even the fucking secretary seems to be able to say if the rapist is still a member or not. Maybe Bruce can tell me?

  20. Bruce Campbell says:

    Hi Anon, I’m IWW because I believe all violence is terrible. A Trotskyist revolution to install a dictatorship of the authoritarian socialism requires a lot of violence. That is why I am not a SAlt. I object to all forms of violence. I’m happy to put a motion for non IWW to have a complaints process against members of the IWW, and I will do such. It would be good if the Trots could put up a matching motion.

  21. LeftInternationalist says:

    Bruce, not every Trot crosses themselves Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky before going to bed, crossing the road, etc, let alone thinking that every particular political economic or social problem can be explained (leave alone fixed!) by a quote from Trotsky. Probably the Sparts do, but they are clearly demented. They are perfectly capable of making strong criticisms of the figures they identify with, and their limitations. Of learning from past experiences. Admitting their failures. For example, Trotsky barely talked at all about ecology. But today the Fourth International considers itself an ecosocialist organisation, and has orientated itself towards that. Also calls itself feminist as well, and has written lots of good stuff about the exploitation of women and how it could potentially be overcome. They have thrown themselves into left regroupment initiatives, in a positive and democratic way- currently, with the Left Unity project in Britain, with the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France (in fact, they liquidated their own organisation – which had existed for decades and was one of the strongest sections of the Fourth International – so a broad anti-capitalist left organisation with a variety of views could come into being), the Left Bloc in Portugal, and so on. Has this all been bad and authoritarian? I don’t think so.

    I’m not a Trot myself, more some kind of libertarian-democratic socialist, but I can accept that people who I may not agree with in all respects can make a positive contribution towards changing this world for the better. We need to learn from everyone who has something valuable to say- whether they’re anarchists, Trotskyists, left social democrats, the IWW, anarcho-syndicalists (I recommend checking out the Solidarity Federation’s book, Fighting for Ourselves, for a good brief history and explanation of the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism as a good introduction to the topic), feminists, ecologists, and so on. No one group has a monopoly on truth or freedom or justice. Just as they could learn from what you have to say, perhaps you could learn something from what they have to say on some issues?

    Banner carrier, I understand that SAlt doesn’t identify with the Fourth International, its politics come out of the International Socialist tradition – I agree that it’s a good thing they’ve got permanent observer status, seem to be moving in a more outward looking direction, and can co-operate with other tendencies that they have disagreements with. Of course it’s necessary to call the Labor party on their shit. The question is, however, is it possible to call the Labor party on their shit and be a member of the Labor party and a socialist? I think it’s difficult, but possible, and we should not adopt a high and mighty, we know the path to liberation approach to socialists who choose to work in the labor party, even if we may disagree with them. No socialist is against being in a trade union, even though many unions are appallingly bureaucratic and run in a very top down fashion. Should our slogan then be ‘Abandon the unions!’ Of course not. We fight to change them and make them more democratic. Organise the unorganised, and so on. And whether we like it or not, most of the trade unions are linked to the Labor party (a very bureaucratic and top down organisation), and most workers, and large segments of the population still look to the ALP, even if they are constantly disappointed time and time again. And just shouting at them how bad the ALP is will not convince them of your argument. The decline of social democracy, its collapse in membership, and so on, has not led to a massive growth of organisations to the left of social democracy- far from it. The Greens are to the right, in many ways, to what the ALP was in the sixties and seventies.

    On unity, I’m all for unity, more debates and discussions across the entire left, open debates, working together in a co-operative and democratic way, and so on. Bob Gould (I’m quoting him a lot these days it seems) put it this way in 2003:

    “There are more than 7500 leftists who hold ALP tickets. There are more than 7500 members of the Greens nationally. There are about 1000 far-leftists organised meaningfully in the far-left groups, and about another 1000 in the orbit of the far-left groups (like the people who have signed pieces of paper to get the Socialist Alliance on the ballot).

    It would be far more realistic of the people in and around the far-left groups and the Socialist Alliance, the 1000 or so active ones of them, to adopt a united-front approach with the 14,000 or so leftists around Labor and the Greens. This is just at the micro level of the membership of organisations…A united front approach is the only rational way for socialists to proceed in current political conditions.”
    http://www.marxists.org/archive/gould/2003/20031116.htm

    This idea might be unacceptable to purists, but I think it has some merit. By the way Banner carrier, do you happen to be a member of any particular organisation? Just wondering.

  22. Bruce Campbell says:

    Aha! LeftistInternational, you raise some key points. Just for clarification, Chomsky also defines Trots as being authoritarian socialist, and above I have recognized that there is indeed a spectrum of orthodoxy within SAlt, with the highly orthodox SAlties apparatchiks, the less orthodox chaps who are still learning the diatribe, and the newbies who think that SAlt is simply an ‘anti-capitalist’ party. (Note: All still must agree with Papa Mick though). To be clearer, I am therefore acknowledging (as I have done elsewhere previously) that not all individual SAlts are ‘authoritarian’, but the party and its constitution undoubtedly are. Additionally, yes, do agree that we all can learn from each other and that the outright rejection of a person or an idea just because they are from faction ‘x’ is quite ridiculous – that’s another reason why I joined the IWW rather than the SAlt or SAll. You are preaching to the converted.

    Now, on your second point, made to Brainer Career, in pursuing this discussion of left unity, I have been told by a SAll that I know nothing about socialism and should keep my mouth shut and not interfere with the good efforts of SAll to unify the left, that there is no left (non authoritarian) of socialism, and SAlt have also recently [said] that the IWW does not exist and that the SAlt is in fact the rightful inheritor of the IWW’s legacy. So, a range of non unifying comments there.

    The issue indeed IS that the left is not just the SAlt and SAll. As per your quote – “There are more than 7500 leftists who hold ALP tickets. There are more than 7500 members of the Greens nationally. There are about 1000 far-leftists organised meaningfully in the far-left groups, and about another 1000 in the orbit of the far-left groups (like the people who have signed pieces of paper to get the Socialist Alliance on the ballot). It would be far more realistic of the people in and around the far-left groups and the Socialist Alliance, the 1000 or so active ones of them, to adopt a united-front approach with the 14,000 or so leftists around Labor and the Greens. This is just at the micro level of the membership of organisations…A united front approach is the only rational way for socialists to proceed in current political conditions.” – I totally agree.

    The issue we all have is that the authoritarian factions of SAll and SAlt don’t agree. They are fixated on the rest of the left joining their views (SAlt – a Leninist Marxist violent revolution install a dictatorship of the SALt proletariat, SAll – to gain strength via participating in the parliamentary system to then stage a Leninist Marxist hopefully peaceful but violent if necessary revolution install a dictatorship of the SAll proletariat). The 13,000 plus strong rest of the left just think these ideas are plain fucking ridiculous.

    In fact, in holding these views, the authoritarian factions of SAll and SAlt are themselves dividing the left. Where they remain rusted on to these totalitarian concepts they will continue to divide the left. Compare this to the example of the French authoritarian socialists, who as you say in order to assist with the formation of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France they actually liquidated their own organisation.

    Hence, all this talk of left unity is a load of shit unless the authoritarian socialists wake up to the fact that the staging of an undemocratic Leninist Marxist violent revolution to install a dictatorship of the proletariat is seen as a totally fucking absurd concept to the other 23 million people in Oz. In fact, in pursuing these concepts, the authoritarian socialists are giving socialism a bad name, and hence making it harder for the rest of us to promote (Libertarian) socialism as we need to do.

    In Perth, SALt and the SAll held a joint public meeting to present their group’s decisions on what left unity will be like for everyone else- being a public meeting, I guess the expectation was that other socialists should attend and agree with the SAlt and SAll views or they are enemies of left unity. This type of shit is the problem. They did not put a call out for all lefties (individuals and groups) to attend a joint meeting and have an open discussion on left unity. There’s the trouble.

  23. LeftInternationalist says:

    You make some valid points Bruce, but again, I think you throw around the word ‘authoritarian’ and ‘totalitarian’ much too loosely. The French LCR, which was the section of the Fourth International in France, was not some madly authoritarian organisation. Rights of tendencies, factions, and minorities within the organisation were not just explicitly recognised, but practiced. In fact, the militants of its forerunner organisation, the JCR, played an important role, along with figures like Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in May 68- an ultrademocratic and libertarian revolt. For example, a statement of the JCR (entitled ‘Workers, Students’) during May 68 reads: “The power we want must establish the direct democracy of socialism, founded on the authority of the base committees in the companies and the neighbourhoods.” That is clearly a libertarian and democratic conception of socialism. With all my respect for Chomsky, I disagree with him when he conflates Stalinists and Maoists- who are responsible for the deaths of tens of millions and have run totalitarian states- with Trotskyists, who, for all their problems and limitations, are not responsible for this. In fact, they opposed this, which is why they were jailed and shot in both Russia and China.

    Has any Trotskyist group set up or run a totalitarian state, or even tried to? The place where they had the most influence was Sri Lanka, where they were the mainstream of the labour movement there. They did not do that- in fact, they basically built the labour movement there. They fought for democratic rights and positive social reforms. In some ways they failed. That is to be expected of any radical organisation. In Bolivia, Trotskyists and anarcho-syndicalists were the radical section of the labour and socialist movement, and they co-operated a number of times to advance common goals, from what I understand. A very good thing in my view, and it prevented the Stalinists from gaining much influence there.

    Also, how do you explain how so many people from some kind of Trotskyist background, or in and around the movement became such unorthodox, libertarian, and democratic figures? – people of such caliber as Castoriadis, Daniel Guerin, Victor Serge, Murray Bookchin, CLR James, etc.

    The IWW is small in Australia – it’s unfortunate, but it’s true. I’d very much like to see a larger and stronger IWW. The IWW’s legacy is diverse, and thus its history is claimed by different organisations – any organisation that attempts to claim the entire legacy of the IWW for themselves is having themselves on. SAlt have some claim, as do syndicalists, various advocates of ‘One Big Union’ and so on. The 13,000 plus strong rest of the left also considers the ideas of the IWW ‘plain fucking ridiculous’ or at the very least, utopian and unrealisable. Or outdated. If they did not, the IWW would be a hell of a lot larger and more influential. If SAlt people and Socialist Alliance people have acted in a sectarian fashion towards you, then obviously, I condemn that. They should not conflate ‘The Left’ just with themselves. But they are the largest left organisations to the left of the Greens.

  24. @ndy says:

    A few things.

    Briefly:

    Much of the above discussion has revolved around the fortunes of the left in Australia, principally its extra-parliamentary or revolutionary Marxist components. Obviously, the numbers of people who consciously describe themselves as such – numbering, perhaps, in the thousands or tens of thousands – is tiny relative to the population. But the relationship between ideology, organisation, movement and consciousness is not straightforward, a fact which is evident both in the relations between Marxist groupuscules and in terms of public life and political opinions, and can only be properly understood by situating these historically and socially. Certainly, the range of concerns addressed by these groups are shared by a very broad range of people, politically-aligned or otherwise.

    With regards SA, SAlt and so on: I’mma trainspotter, and I take a hobbyist’s interest, as well as have more serious, political concerns of my own. Suffice it to say that, whatever these organisation’s failings or however sizeable the flaws in their underlying philosophies, it remains for others to do better. Also, Tim Anderson had some thoughts on SA, SAlt, left unity and so on which I think are interesting.

    @LeftInternationalist:

    • on May ’68: http://libcom.org/library/enrag%C3%A9s-situationists-occupations-movement;
    • ‘clearly libertarian and democratic conceptions of socialism’ may be found in numerous Marxist and Leninist proclamations – most notoriously State & Revolution (a fact Uncle Noam also references). Point being, Bolshevism in practice was highly antagonistic to the expression of such conceptions by workers, subverting and destroying them in the name of the state and revolution;
    • in terms of executing his political strategy, Trotsky was no exception to other Bolshevik leaders; Trotskyism emerged only after and as a consequence of his exile and attempt to build a rival organisation and movement; he remained a loyal supporter of the ‘Soviet’ state and the Bolshevik project;
    • leaving aside a detailed examination of the biographies of those listed, the reasons a number of well-known socialists abandoned a previous commitment to some form of more-or-less orthodox Trotskyism is neither terribly difficult to explain nor an endorsement of Trotskyism.

    PS. USE PARAGRAPHS.

  25. LeftInternationalist says:

    Though this isn’t really related to the discussion here, I thought I would share this May ’68 story I just found which is quite amusing: “The Belgian Trotskyist Ernest Mandel is said to have climbed on to a barricade and declared ‘How beautiful! It’s the Revolution!’ He was watching his own car burn.” (Revolutionary Rehearsals, pg 11).

  26. Bruce Campbell says:

    Yes, the IWW is quite small indeed, I would say this is a legacy of both the Government making it an illegal organisation from 1917 to 1937 PLUS that the IWW is a broad church PLUS it did indeed flounder for quite a few years, but actually I don’t think the general public are at odds with not having their kids sent to fight the bosses’ (or apparatchiks’) wars, lower hours, higher pay, not buying the business media’s lies, etc.

    Compare this with the notion of a violent and undemocratic vanguard-led revolution to install a eg SAlt dictatorship of the proletariat, so to establish a regime of authoritarian state socialist control over Oz. Pretty clear choice to me.

    Certainly historically some individual Trots may have been ‘Libertarian’, but this of course does not equate to our present day Oz trots the SAlt and SAll being Libertarian does it. No way. It’s a pretty shabby argument that. But as requested, my explanation, would be that these individuals chose to apply their Trotskyist beliefs in a pragmatic and Libertarian manner.

    Also, on Chomsky conflating Señor Trot with Stalin, sure Trot ran in fear for his life from Stalinism, but plenty of folks ran from Trotsky, and Trotsky did have the Bolsheviks kill a lot of people. But that is a derailing / sidetracking point you make. Same with the comment ‘but have the Trots actually been in power of a despotic regime?’ The answer is not, but this is due to the unpopularity of their ideas, not a lack of belief that they should be in power.

    I actually believe that many members of SAlt and SAll are of a Libertarian Socialist mindset and are just tricked / bullied / coerced into accepting the SAlt / SAll arguments against Libertarian Socialism. Again, another reason for the lack of a Libertarian Socialist movement – SAlt and SAll both claim to be ‘THE socialism’, and the non SAlt / SAll socialists lack a rallying point.

    On the SAlt being the second biggest left group in Oz second to the Greens, the numbers go like this Grns: 7,500, SAlt 300. So that is a one twentieth sep down there. United, let’s say SAlt / SAll have 700 members and double this: that’s only 1400 out of a pop of 23 mil. SAlt / SAll need to consider the other 13000 socialists in Oz if they wish to be genuine about left unity. I’d probably add WikiLeaks Party, Pirate Party and the Animal Welfare Party in the mix too for talks on co-operation.

  27. Banner carrier says:

    @LeftInternationalist I’m not opposed to Entryism on principle. I think its a useful tool that trots and commies have used. I agree with the strategy which was used in the 60s and 70s when there was a time of radicalisation and the labor party and unions tacked to the left. Nothings really going on now though. After years of bs policies people are rightfully so disillusioned with labor. If socialist orgs desolved themselves or joined as individuals i don’t particularly see them being able to get much influence in an org that is counterposed to a lot of things socialists fight for today like refugees, environment, marriage equality blah blah blah. Im not particularly sure how we could influence it in any meaningful way. So to kind of clarify I’m for entryism in periods of radicalisation not when labor is hacking away at our rights and when there is no audience for our politics.

    Trade unions are a bit different but i understand your point. In regards to your point about all socialists supporting unions. Id say its true but some only support red unions. I think thats a bit problematic especially when you get the SEP standing up at mass meeting and telling teachers to leave the union and join theres which has a socialist program.

    I have a similar position to a united front. Im not opposed to them on principle but i don’t think there the right thing to do now. Theres been no radical upsurges that would make the far left even remotely relevant and theres not enough cracks in the greens and the labor party to make it possible. I think it would be like respect in the UK just lamer. Its not because I’m a purist or to narrow minded to consider it. As Bruce has noted a few times the revolutionary left is irrelevant.

    I don’t particularly think the numbers of people in those groups are that relevant. SA and SAlt don’t just come out at elections. Ministers have a lot of influence over the party line. Despite what Bruce may think trots do debate out which direction to take.

    Rev rehearsals is an awesome read. I love that quote. And i am a card carrying trot. How about you?

    @Bruce I’m sorry if authoritarian socialists are mean to you. Im sure your really smart and know all about socialism. You are the banner carrier for the IWW. If there was a battle between authoritarian socialists and the IWW you would be carrying the IWW flag.

  28. LeftInternationalist says:

    Hey banner carrier. I’m not a card carrying member of anything! I’ll probably join some group or another eventually, when I’m in a position to get involved, have fully assessed their history, arguments, positions, approach, etc. There are no groups around where I’m at, so there’s not much point joining any group.

    I did run into some Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative people when I was passing through Melbourne a while ago, and they were friendly and open towards me, even when I made some critical comments about some of the views of both organisations. I’ve yet to meet any anarchists or Wobblies, except online.

    Here are some links people may be interested in, being related to topics we have discussed –

    One on Bolshevism and revolutionary organisation http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4233

    Another on the problem of ‘monopoly in the sphere of politics’ http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4330

    A review of a new book on the future of radical politics http://socialistresistance.org/5019/future-left

    And a long and excellent article on the views of Castoriadis and Pannekoek, and the content of an exchange they had, covering a wide variety of topics http://viewpointmag.com/deviations-part-1-the-castoriadis-pannekoek-exchange/

  29. Ablokeimet says:

    It must be said that Bruce Campbell’s contributions here are a perfect example of the sectarianism, hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty which have relegated the Anarchist & Syndicalist movements to irrelevance for many decades. We won’t get out of this irrelevance if we don’t grow up and stop acting like Bruce Campbell.

    1. Bruce puts the small size of Leninist groups in Australia down to their own intrinsic inadequacies. He puts the small size of his own organisation, however, down to external circumstances (including State repression) and incidental inadequacies. In the process, he makes some errors, which I will charitably call careless.

    2. Bruce consistently denounces Trotskyists as totalitarian. Trotsky was never a totalitarian, even when he was in power with Lenin. Russia only became totalitarian from 1928, when Stalin seized personal control of the so-called “Communist” Party. There is a major difference between authoritarianism & totalitarianism and to blur over it is to minimise the evils of totalitarianism.

    3. Bruce consistently defames Trotskyists as wanting to “have a vanguardist Marxist Leninist revolution and undemocratically and violently overthrow the (albeit a flawed democratic process) the elected government”. This outrageous slur could have been written by B.A. Santamaria and it does Bruce no credit to be writing like that deceased reactionary. All Trotskyist parties want a workers’ revolution, one made by the overwhelming majority of the population. Anarchists have a major critique of all Leninists, which centres around:

    (a) The undemocratic methods by which Leninist parties organise (even the most democratic “democratic centralism” is inferior to consistent federalism);

    (b) The undemocratic relationship between the working class and the “vanguard party” (Anarchists hold that the working class as a whole must judge the worth of different revolutionary tendencies, rather than having the vanguard sorting out its differences behind closed doors and presenting the working class with a practical ultimatum); and

    (c) The way that Leninists, once in power, become intolerant of all opposition and act to eliminate it.

    4. Bruce’s denunciation of Leninists as wanting a “violent” revolution begs a major question. How does Bruce envisage society changing? Lucy Parsons once famously (and accurately) said “Never be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth”. In fact, on the question of the use of force, the position of the Anarchist movement as a whole has not been all that different from that of the Leninists. Now, I disagree with that position, since it amounts to saying “Our violence is good, but their violence is bad”. That is a perfectly intelligent thing for Leninists to be saying, since it allows them to pursue their plans after the Revolution for the centralisation of power in their hands in the name of suppressing counter-revolutionary forces. For Anarchists, however, this position is unprincipled and incoherent. I argue for the movement to adopt the rule that we uphold the right to use reasonable force in self defence and that, given the vast superiority of the working class to the capitalists in terms of numbers, reasonable force in self defence is all that will be needed in order for the Revolution to be victorious. Bruce’s position, however, strikes me as one that implies that Parliament is a democratic institution and that Parliamentary change is peaceful. He ignores the fact that the authority of Parliament is enforced by heavily armed police and, behind them, an even more heavily armed military. There is nothing “peaceful” about the capitalist State, Parliamentary or otherwise, claiming a monopoly on the use of force.

    If Bruce wants to criticise Leninist groups, he should first ensure that his criticisms are accurate. And secondly, he should ensure that he uses consistent principles when evaluating the actions of political tendencies he supports and those he opposes.

  30. Bruce Campbell says:

    A big Lolz to Ablokiemet! Leninists do call for a revolution, and from all historical precedents it would be violent and people: Capitalists, Cops, Leninists, Workers and children will die. The argument that we need to forcefully install a dictatorship of the proletariat through an undemocratic and violent means because we are subject to the violence of capitalism is still a pro violence / pro war stance.

    Me personally, I can only reconcile a revolution along non violent lines. But of course this could never happen. Oh wait there was that guy in India called Ghandi, but we must forget about that case because he is not a Leninist / Marxist / Trotskyist, and if you are not one of these the left must never discuss you.

  31. Bruce Campbell says:

    To draw the conversations back to a positive point: Left Unity – what options do ‘we’, to use a grouping term for us from ‘the far left’, have to first engage with the broader left of ‘the 14,000′ and then to engage with the general community. Please feel free to outline any stance, no matter how orthodox or not. Let rip with your or your Party’s outline of an end to the present situation:

  32. @ndy says:

    ^ Among other things, I publish a blog.

  33. anonymous says:

    A complaints process? How about another 5 months of bullying victim blaming and abuse? OR you could just DO something about D [redacted] who is a rapist.

  34. anonymous says:

    And maybe while we’re at it about L [redacted] who went out of her way to support both the rapist and the serial harasser while pretending to be such a great anarcha feminist? Or all the other fucking cunts who made complaints on the behalf of abusers and then never bothered to even submit any evidence? WHERE ARE ALL THESE ANARCHISTS NOW? I WANT TO FUCKING KNOW.

  35. anonymous says:

    And while I’m at it M and P [redacted] who KNOW that he is a rapist and STILL remain friends with him. These people are *feminists*.

  36. Bruce Campbell says:

    Anonymous yes a complaints process for externals to make compliant about members. That’s about all I can do from my location 3500 km away. Of course I also have no facts to work with. I’d like to be able to help more.

  37. Ablokeimet says:

    Anonymous isn’t doing him/herself any good by making libellous allegations re Melbourne IWW members, with no supporting evidence. Any Rightist or embittered ex-member can make these allegations, with the protection of anonymity. If an identifiable person comes forward to make these allegations and back them up with evidence, I will treat them seriously. In the absence of that, I will have to regard them as untruths being peddled for mischievous purposes.

    And, before our anonymous slanderer accuses me of hypocrisy for not using my own name on these posts, I can cite two differences:

    (a) I am making arguments, not allegations. Therefore the credibility of my statement stands or falls on its own merits.

    (b) My pen name is widely known in the Anarchist movement and I can, if necessary, be held responsible for anything I say.

  38. Anonymous 2 says:

    “If an identifiable person comes forward to make these allegations and back them up with evidence, I will treat them seriously. In the absence of that, I will have to regard them as untruths being peddled for mischievous purposes.”

    How do you provide evidence of something where the crime was in the lack of consent and not the act itself and that is if you can even prove that penetration took place? One reason why so few rape cases even make it as far as charges being laid is that providing evidence is near impossible in many cases.

    There are also very good reasons for someone to not want to come out and identify themselves as having been raped by a “comrade”. One being the amount of victim blaming that often takes place and the other is that legal proceedings have been known to be taken up against people who have publicly named their rapist. It is not fair to ask someone to put themselves out there publicly in a culture where victims are so often the ones who are punished.

  39. Bruce Campbell says:

    Could this be an example of a person who even when in the IWW had a grudge against the IWW is seeking to derail a point where the IWW is showing up the ridiculous concepts / modes of operation of other groups? The case is that the person criticising the IWW here was, before the 2011 issue, was attacking (without even knowing the people / even any contact at all) a range of people as being racist sexist and homophobic – because this the attacker had decided such was the case. The person discrediting the IWW here has a long history of attacking and aggression towards others, plus is using a terrible incident that happened to someone else as a weapon, not against just the IWW but the whole discussion. I don’t know if the attacker has the woman’s permission to continually re mention the assault? Certainly it is cruel and heartless to use another person’s horrible misfortune to sledge a group you don’t like for pre existing reasons. Isn’t this a form of abuse in itself?

  40. @ndy says:

    [Re allegations re the IWW: a) the post actually concerns SAlt; b) given their nature, please tread carefully.]

  41. anonymous says:

    Bruce, if you are so concerned about what the victim wants, then why haven’t you asked them? Your insistence that I stay silent is purely for the benefit of the IWW. Don’t try to dress it up as anything else.

  42. Bruce Campbell says:

    Hello! Firstly no insistence of anything was made. You read that in. Secondly I don’t know the person really at all and I’m 3500km away, so both these make it difficult to assist, but I am going to draft up that ‘from external’ complaints procedure, hopefully with the help of a few others. It’s up to you whether you continue your years long attack on ‘the IWW’. But I would appreciate if you could refrain from attacking the IWW as a group over things that not all IWW have done. Is this fair enough? Where you attack ‘the IWW’ you are attacking a whole range of people who actually agree with you or are new or who are even suffering from abuse themselves. That is not right. Please could you consider whether it is right and just to attack these people.

  43. anonymous says:

    There are IWW members who have backed up my story. If you want to help do the right thing then talk to them about what needs to be done. However a complaints process will never be able to deal with rape, for the pretty obvious reasons raised by Anonymous 2. It would only re-victimise the survivor. The rights of the survivor need to be put first, that’s the only way. If you don’t understand what I’m saying then have a look at some of the discussions around safer spaces policies.

    Anyway, I’m not going to continue disturbing this thread. I only posted here and other places because I was angry and frustrated and couldn’t think of anything else to do. But there are some individuals in IWW who are making a big effort to do the right thing and I’m going to let them get on with it.

    Also, re your other claims about me, I’m not answering to them. This isn’t some kind of admission that they are true. It’s just that they are really beside the point.

  44. anonymous says:

    I do want to make one thing clear though. If an organisation allows a member to be victimised to the point where they are forced to leave, then the whole organisation is responsible. It can’t just wash its hands of it because every single member didn’t participate in the abuse. This is especially the case where people in positions of responsibility knew what was going on but did nothing to stop it.

  45. Bruce Campbell says:

    My reply in (brackets).

    1st Post -

    There are IWW members who have backed up my story. (No doubt, never contested this.) If you want to help do the right thing then talk to them about what needs to be done. (I don’t know who these people are, but have emailed T recently, happy for further comms.) However a complaints process will never be able to deal with rape, for the pretty obvious reasons raised by Anonymous 2. It would only re-victimise the survivor. (I have only proposed a general outside of group complaints procedure.) The rights of the survivor need to be put first, that’s the only way. (I agree.) If you don’t understand what I’m saying then have a look at some of the discussions around safer spaces policies. (Have looked at T’s IWW list post, among others.)

    Anyway, I’m not going to continue disturbing this thread. (Ok.) I only posted here and other places because I was angry and frustrated and couldn’t think of anything else to do. (No worries.) But there are some individuals in IWW who are making a big effort to do the right thing and I’m going to let them get on with it. (Yes there are and we will.)

    Also, re your other claims about me, I’m not answering to them. (No worries – no apology asked for.) This isn’t some kind of admission that they are true. (Sure – no admission asked for.) It’s just that they are really beside the point. (Sure but again it was not nice to be on the receiving end of all that.)

    2nd Post -

    I do want to make one thing clear though. If an organisation allows a member to be victimised to the point where they are forced to leave, then the whole organisation is responsible. (No – it is the responsibility of the whole organisation to solve the issue.) It can’t just wash its hands of it because every single member didn’t participate in the abuse. (It sure has not ‘washed its hands’ – here I am working on it, along with others – T.) This is especially the case where people in positions of responsibility knew what was going on but did nothing to stop it. (I just do not know enough to comment here, but yes where people in positions of responsibility knew what was going on yes they should stop any bad behaviour.)

    My comments: feel free to get my email off T and email me re any other points. I’ll always listen. :)

  46. Ablokeimet says:

    “A big Lolz to Ablokiemet! Leninists do call for a revolution, and from all historical precedents it would be violent and people: Capitalists, Cops, Leninists, Workers and children will die. The argument that we need to forcefully install a dictatorship of the proletariat through an undemocratic and violent means because we are subject to the violence of capitalism is still a pro violence / pro war stance.”

    And a big lolz to Bruce, as well. Now that we have got our Anonymous interruptor out of the way, we can return to the subject at hand. This is the nature of the errors of Leninism. Bruce and I are in agreement that Leninism generally and Trotskyism in particular are very bad news, but we have conflicting arguments.

    1. Bruce conflates revolution and violence, with a side remark about Ghandi [Gandhi]. First of all, though Ghandi was definitely an opponent of the use of violence by the Indian independence movement, he was by no means a consistent opponent of violence. In fact, he actually staged a recruiting campaign for the British Army during World War I, in the hope of getting some political leverage out of it after the war. Further, he was a strong supporter of the obligation of the police to obey orders to be brutal to demonstrators during the Indian independence struggle. His “non-violence” applied only to his own side and was designed precisely to ensure that the movement never took on revolutionary dimensions. I think it’s about time that Anarchists and Syndicalists stopped idealising Ghandi and recognised that he was a deeply contradictory figure who has left a questionable legacy.

    2. A revolution is essentially a non-violent act. As Gustav Landauer said:

    “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another.”

    The workers’ revolution will occur when the working class, in its immense majority, withdraws co-operation with capital and its State. Workers will take control of their workplaces and operate them democratically, ignoring instructions from the bosses. They will also create mass organs of workers’ democracy (e.g. soviets) which will co-ordinate relations between workplaces. This is not a violent act, but an act of peaceful construction.

    The problem is, of course, that the capitalists cannot be expected to take this lying down. They will not stand back, say “Fair cop, guv”, and turn to become useful members of society. No, indeed. Rather, they will use the police, the army and whatever Right wing gangs they can muster in an attempt to smash us with extreme violence. When this occurs, we are under no obligation to surrender, nor to engage in merely unarmed resistance. We have the right to use reasonable force in self defence and it is the knowledge that we are prepared to do so that will do the most to discourage the capitalists from the use of counter-revolutionary violence.

    3. The October Revolution in Russia was, contrary to Bruce’s imagination, bloodless. Not a shot was fired during the take-over of the many government office buildings that night and the only shot fired during the taking of the Winter Palace (the headquarters of the Provisional Government) went into the ceiling, damaging some plaster. The next morning, the Second All Russian Congress of Soviets declared itself the sole power in the land. This was an accomplished fact, because the workers of Petrograd, Moscow and most other cities had, using Landauer’s terms, decided to contract other relationships and behave differently towards each other. It was only after the October Revolution that the violence started, when reactionaries of all stripes tried to restore a capitalist government.

    4. The problem with the Bolsheviks was not that they were the major political force behind the October Revolution (Anarchists also participated in it, including in the taking of the Winter Palace). It was that, immediately after the Revolution, they began siphoning power out of the Soviets and into the hands of the Council of People’s Commissars. The Congress of Soviets had, you see, made a mistake on the very first day by electing a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet. This was the embryo of a new State and was the base from which the Soviets were gradually deprived of autonomy and power. The Bolsheviks had pulled a swifty on the workers at the outset and it was only later that the ramifications became clear.

    5. As the State apparatus under the command of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars grew, the Bolsheviks began acting in a more authoritarian manner, beginning to suppress the Anarchists as soon as April 1918. Their authoritarianism gave ammunition to the counter-revolutionary forces of the Right. At first, the forces of the counter-revolution were composed exclusively of Czarist army officers and landlords, but as the Bolsheviks moved to suppress their opponents within the Soviets, the White armies started being able to recruit sections of the peasantry.

    6. Anarchists and Syndicalists sided fully with the Soviets against the forces of White reaction and fought the Bolsheviks from within the Revolution. The Makhnovista were vital to the defeat of both Deniken and Wrangel, but were double-crossed by the Bolsheviks. The Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 was a non-violent affair, taking the form of a refusal of the Kronstadt garrison and Soviet to take orders from the Bolsheviks, until Trotsky led the Red Army across the ice to crush it. It should be noted that this uprising occurred after the defeat of the last of the White Armies earlier that year.

    7. The demands of the Kronstadt rebels were telling, as was the response of the Bolshevik Government. They can be found here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kronstadt_rebellion

    The Kronstadt rebels’ demands can be summed up in two principles:

    (a) A restoration of Soviet democracy; and
    (b) An economic compromise with the peasants.

    Much is made by Leninists of the demand for an economic compromise with the peasants. It can be seen from the link, however, that the compromise was very limited. It amounted to the abolition of State requisitions and the restoration of freedom of trade and enterprise to peasant families which did not employ hired labour. Leninists never discuss the fact that the Bolshevik Party congress, which occurred in Petrograd while the Kronstadt Uprising was being suppressed went on to institute the New Economic Policy, which was a much bigger economic compromise with the peasants than the Kronstadt rebels even contemplated. This, of course, demonstrates that what the Bolsheviks really opposed was the other part of the Kronstadt program – the restoration of Soviet democracy.

    The purpose of this little potted history of the Russian Revolution is to demonstrate that it is not revolutions which are violent, but attempts to crush them from the outside by counter-revolutionary forces of the Right or usurp them from the inside by groups like the Bolsheviks. We can’t vote our way to a free society and we will have to face the violence of our enemies when we establish it. The solution is to be consistent in our libertarian organisation and in upholding the right to use reasonable force in self defence.

  47. Bruce Campbell says:

    Reply to Ablokimet – (Wet fart sound).

  48. Bruce Campbell says:

    Lols! Jokes: Killing people is bad. A revolution could be achieved without violence. That is my kind of revolution. General Strike. What can ‘revolutionaries’ like SAlt learn from folks like Ghandi and Martin Luther King? Anything?

  49. LeftInternationalist says:

    Ablokeimet- what’s your view/s on broad radical left organisations? i.e. organisations which can include everyone from anarchists to left-wing socialists of various types. Would you be in favour of joining or working with such an organisation? Or do you feel radical left organisations should be organised around a specific platform on a somewhat narrow basis which limits membership to people who sign up to one specific variant of the full anarchist or Trotskyist or whatever platform? Also, I understand that the Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland, an anarchist group, has debated and works co-operatively with the Socialist Party, a Trotskyist group. And that the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front in South Africa is part of the Democratic Left Front, which is a broad left formation with a wide variety of views- clearly they tolerate a wide variety of views if an organisation that has the word ‘anarchist’ and ‘communist’ in the name of their organisation, and which has also been highly critical of certain aspects of the DLF, has not been condemned or singled out or prevented from being part of the DLF. I think this is a very positive thing the ZACF has decided to do by being part of the DLF, gaining a larger audience for their ideas and advancing the cause of freedom and social emancipation with others beyond their own circles, etc, instead of just criticising on the sidelines about the limitations of the DLF in a sectarian fashion. What do you think? I’d like to hear your views on these kind of questions.

  50. Ablokeimet says:

    Left Internationalist:

    “what’s your view/s on broad radical left organisations? i.e. organisations which can include everyone from anarchists to left-wing socialists of various types. Would you be in favour of joining or working with such an organisation? Or do you feel radical left organisations should be organised around a specific platform on a somewhat narrow basis which limits membership to people who sign up to one specific variant of the full anarchist or Trotskyist or whatever platform?”

    The two things are not counter-posed. As it happens, I am an Anarchist Communist, and therefore support specific Anarchist political organisation. These organisations should develop, over time, a full platform of political positions for which they advocate in the labour movement. I am also a believer in the united front and support (in principle) Anarchist political organisations working with other, non-Anarchist, organisations in the labour movement, provided that the form of co-operation is consistent with Anarchist principles.

    On the question of the Democratic Left Front in South Africa, I have to admit to being fairly uninformed. The ZACF has a critique from 2011 of the undemocratic structure and leadership of the DLF on its web site – one that is couched in surprisingly restrained terms, once one reads the substance of the criticisms. The DLF, for its part, has a web site that doesn’t even hint at its structure if one is a non-member. There is not even an “About” page.

    The DLF looks, from the outside, to be an organisation where the form of co-operation with non-Anarchist groups is insufficiently congruent with Anarchist principles for me to be happy about participation. I must admit, however, that this is a tentative judgement and one which I could quite easily change upon the receipt of more information.

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