Monday, 27 April 2009

For international co-operation based on refounding Marxism for the 21st century

Below is the speech delivered by Daphne Lawless, leading member of SW-NZ, to the World at a Crossroads conference in Sydney, Australia, 12 April, 2009. The conference was a gathering of socialists from all over the world. See Comrades and friends, thank you for a wonderful time. Thank you in particular to our hosts from DSP and Resistance who've made this huge thing happen. Y saludos revolucionarios a nuestro/as compañero/as latinamericano/as. I've had a wonderful time. Not used to so many people who agree with me! Not on everything - but on essentials. In 21st century socialism, no more space for socialist identity politics - "I'm a trot/maoist/state cap/I love Cuba". The only question is: are we building organisations which can help lead the struggle for a new world beyond the corporate market? I think we should bring back idea of "scientific Marxism". Not Stalinist-style mechanical materialism but the scientific method. Essence of that? Experiment. Try things. If it fails, no problem, try something else. Lenin said "the mark of a revolutionary is not never making mistakes, but learning from them." What we don't have any space for any more is the opposite of scientific Marxism: sectarianism or "religious marxism". Sectarianism doesn't mean being rude to other leftists. It's a wrong idea about the class struggle. It means treating Marxism as a religion. A religion, as Marx puts it, is something that helps you deal with the world as is, rather than change it. Sectarian Marxism treats socialism as a "revealed truth" which can't be tampered with. It bases itself on a set of idea, or a revered prophet, which can't be challenged. So it's elitist as well – we the enlightened will teach the masses and become their leaders. You can't experiment in a religion. That's called heresy and blasphemy. People like that are CAST OUT and not invited to parties. The survival of the group – with the "right flavour of ideas" – is the most important thing. And political activity is ritualised – instead of going to Church on Sunday, or mosque on Friday, the sectarians sell their papers on Saturday, or wherever. Most importantly, their world shrinks. The world that Marx saw was a huge world full of the teeming millions of the oppressed and exploited under capitalism. For the sectarians, the world revolves around perhaps a few hundred "professional activists" and union officials. If your world is shrinking, as the great American writer Robert Anton Wilson said, it means your intelligence is decreasing. Sectarianism is not politics. It's a lifestyle choice. It's Easter, so religious quote – the programme was made for the struggle, not the struggle for the programme. If the struggle's not working, change the programme – change the organisation if you have to. Don't be afraid. For example, back home sects yell at RAM [Residents Action Movement] because we don't use the word "socialism". IT'S ONLY A WORD. It's not magic. I defy anyone to read RAM's programme and tell me that it's not pointing the way to a post-market economy. We don't use word socialism because workers don't know what it means any more. Different strokes. Socialist Alliance here uses the word. In France, they've decided they've got space for an anti-capitalist broad party, not just anti-neoliberal. Good on them. Hope it works. But we make our own calls. SW believes that broad parties will wither and fail if they don't have a committed source of revolutionary ideas, strategy and practice. But – and this is really important – Marxist groups are doomed to wither, fail, turn in on themselves, become useless sects with no hope of relevance, if they're not right at the centre of broad popular movements reaching out to workers and all the oppressed and making practical action right here and right now. And if those movements don't exist, we have to help make them happen. We were bashed for initiating RAM rather than being parasites on a union or a broad-left formation started by someone else. Apparently it's "not what socialists do" to actually organise the class, but to wait for someone else to do the hard yards and then fight for leadership of it. Newsflash comrades – if your sect has 400 or 4000 members but still acts like a religious community rather than a political party, then it's still a sect. Irrelevant to actual workers, you know, the people who make history? But scientific Marxists need to continually experiment to see if it works. And you can only do that by talking to the working class, by reaching out into their communities, by joining them in their struggles, by offering ideas and programmes which make sense in the here and now but point somewhere better. Marx said: "Communists do not form a party opposed to other proletarian parties". Marxists are supposed to merge with the class vanguard, to test and therefore improve Marxist theory. We are NOT the class vanguard ourselves unless we prove to be so in practice! Sectarianism says that the theory as it stands is absolutely perfect, and therefore Marxists have the right to be leaders of the struggle – we ARE the vanguard, in other words, even if we're totally isolated from the actually existing struggle. Therefore, anyone who argues with Marxism or opposes the Marxist group – so say the sectarians, are enemies that need to be defeated. This is the attitude that has led Marxist groups to destroy broad left formations rather than lose control of them. That's not science. That's holy war. Sometimes our theory will be wrong and we will have to amend it. We should learn from our allies, our opponents, even from our enemies. In Venezuela – great example. Hugo Chavez is leading a revolution which is pretty much being made up as it goes along. That's not a criticism – it's how it has to be. Where we're going, there are no road maps. Chávez and his comrades learn from the example of Cuba, from Marxist theory, from the new generation of radical thinkers coming out of the States and Europe, but he experiments and sees what happens. Big secret of psychology – you are what you do. If you persuade yourself that "objective conditions do not permit anything real to happen, so best to build our tiny group in an activist ghetto", then quite certainly they won't. If you believe that they might work... well, they might not. But what are you concerned with – truth, or protecting your reputation and self image? Truth ONLY comes through contact with the real world of horrible jobs. Success ONLY comes through experiment. Materialism teaches that words and ideas are only real things when backed up with action and concrete things in the real world. "Socialism and revolution" are just words. The movements represented here are putting content to the word "socialism" again – and it's a different content than that of the Berlin Wall, the gulags, and of authoritarian capitalism like we have in China. That's the real meaning of "struggling for a programme", as Trotsky said. You can't give leadership by lecturing. Only by giving ideas which have practical action and are "real" to the majority of workers. You have to earn leadership, every day, in practice – you don't deserve it because you're the chosen ones with the right ideology. Science and the class struggle don't observe national boundaries. So we need some kind of growing international co-operation. Not like sectarian "internationals" united by a profession of faith. We must have international co-operation based on common practice – on common practice of Marxists and revolutionaries determined to build broad mass forces opposed to neo-liberal capitalism. But also based on refounding Marxism for the 21st century, from top to bottom. Conferences like this are a start; so are things like the new Ecosocialist International Network. Let's keep experimenting; let's keep swapping notes on our successes and failures; and let's keep growing together in practice, and thus in theory that actually is worthy of the name "Marxism for the 21st century". ¡Venceremos!

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