Prepared: April 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Patrick Muldowney, Anita Hood and Paul Saba
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Here we are at Mayday 1981. Soon it will be Mayday 1982 with the same dreary leaflets and the same dreary slogans from, the same dreary groups, and grouplets (except us of course!...). Not even, a Maypole to dance around singing!
The International Distress Signal “Mayday” is a cry for help (from the French “maider” – help me). Isn’t it time the left in Australia frankly admitted we are in trouble?
Today is some unimaginably depressing anniversary of achieving the 8 hour day. Not only are we still celebrating having won that, God knows how many decades later, but we aren’t even demanding a six hour day or a four hour day, or any other major progressive reform within capitalism. We might as well be congratulating ourselves on the abolition of chattel slavery, or having come down from the trees!
In the late 1960s capitalism was still in a boom period and going strong. The left grew strong too, demanding the reforms that capitalism was able to grant. There was a fresh, positive spirit on the left as old and boring reformist ideas were challenged by people determined to rebel. The whole society was moving forward from the Menzies era, and people’s ideas on the left were moving forward too, even faster.
Today capitalism is in a mess, stagnant and declining. We are heading, straight towards a Depression worse than the 1930s, and a world war worse than the second world war. So the left is stagnant and declining too.
Interesting, isn’t it? If the left was a fundamentally anti-capitalist movement, you’d expect that we’d, be weaker when capitalism was doing alright, and stronger when capitalism was doing badly and when an alternative, was clearly necessary. But, it’s the other way round. That suggests the left is not a fundamentally anti-capitalist movement, but a progressive movement within capitalism, able to grow when capitalism is able to accommodate social progress, but with no alternative to offer when capitalism forces a retreat.
In this period of retreat, the left comes over as a pack of whingers. We are always moaning about the Government doing this or that, but we don’t have much to offer as an alternative. Sometimes we get really angry and militant with our “protests” but it’s still always a matter of protests accepting that, they run the country and we’re just trying, to make sure they don’t get away with too much.
Most people can’t get very turned on by just “knocking”, so they don’t become politically active. Sure life’s getting more difficult, but you can do more to improve your own lot by looking out for yourself than by agitating against the authorities. If you’re unemployed for example, you’ll do better looking for a job, than taking part in protests about it.
Often people on the left are even reduced to defending capitalism when trying to persuade others to become active. For example, we want people to take to the streets against the Fraser Government’s policies. So we say those policies are the cause of all our troubles.
Malcolm Fraser gets up on television explaining basic principles of Marxist political economy. He says (not in so many words) that there’s a world wide capitalist economic crisis developing and there is nothing his or any other Government can do about it. In that situation he says people have no choice but to put up with lower real wages, welfare cutbacks and reaction generally. After all, it’s happening everywhere, not just in Australia, so it can’t be the fault of the Australian Government.
We ought to enthusiastically agree that capitalism doesn’t work very well and suggest that therefore we ought to get rid of it. But instead we insist that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism and its all Malcolm Fraser’s fault. We pretend that if only the Government followed different policies, it would be possible to have rising real living standards, improving health, education and welfare, and what have you. We’re lying. We know we’re lying, our opponents know we’re lying and most important, the people we’re asking to take to the streets know we’re lying, so naturally they don’t come.
If slaves go on demanding that their masters improve their rations, they deserve to remain slaves, because they accept having masters and they therefore accept slavery. We have to build a movement to overthrow our masters, and run the world ourselves, and solve its problems ourselves, instead of demanding that our masters find some solution for us.
We need to present a clear alternative to capitalism, an inspiring alternative that people really want to work for, a practical alternative that can really work. The alternative, “as everybody already knows” is Socialism, or better still Communism. But if that’s what we’re fighting for, why can’t we spell out (at least in broad outline), just what it means, and how we propose getting there? Why do we always avoid the issue and just talk about how bad things are now? Are we afraid that Socialism and Communism aren’t very attractive and we need to paint a pretty grim picture of the way things are now, so as to persuade people to put up with the alternative?
When you look closely at the sort of “alternative” most people on the left really want, it’s not surprising they don’t want to talk about it much and prefer just denouncing capitalism.
Some people on the left actually want to go backwards to a life of low technology “rustic simplicity”. Not a great turn on for the millions of Australians who have escaped from the countryside, or migrated here from more backward peasant societies.
Others look favourably towards the societies of Eastern Europe or China, which is now firmly on the same road. They want to impose a regime here which actually has less freedom and less social progress than the present one. Even some who don’t particularly admire any of the “socialist countries” seem to envisage some kind of restrictive regime with them as the new bosses – a prospect that would put most of us into the underground opposition. How could we put up with having them in power – they’d be much worse than Fraser, because they are already more narrow minded and dogmatic and less democratic.
Many just want some of the most glaring injustices of capitalist society to be resolved. They want better jobs, housing, education and so forth, and they don’t believe they can get it without some major upheaval. But “Why don’t they go and live in Sweden?”
Some actually have a vision of a better world, with fundamentally different social relations. But often it sounds suspiciously like a Christian heaven full of peace and harmony, sitting on clouds all day playing a harp. Very boring no wonder Lucifer rebelled!
It’s time to admit that the left in Australia (and throughout the advanced capitalist world for that matter), is ideologically bankrupt. We need to rethink the whole approach and really come to grips with the world we’re in and how to chance it. As a first step, we need to talk seriously to each other and examine and criticize each other’s ideas in a comradely way. Being united; against Fraser isn’t a great point of unity, and being divided over the obviously inane aspects of each other’s ideas isn’t a great line of demarcation either. We need something deeper.
As a small Maoist discussion group, we in the Red Eureka Movement have had to admit that Maoism has been in a big mess since the defeat in China and most of the people who claim to be (or are described as): “Maoists” are pretty far off the planet. Naturally we have less hesitation admitting that about the various shades of Trotskyist, anarchist etc – after all we thought so all along!
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