'Be a rebel youth for life!'

Issue 

Below are excerpts from the Democratic Socialist Party's greetings to the 29th national Resistance conference, in Melbourne in July. They were presented by JOHN PERCY, DSP national secretary.
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We're all here because we're fed up with the rottenness of this capitalist society, fed up with the exploitation and inequality, the discrimination, the lies, the hypocrisy and the crassness.

Young people here and around the world are the ones most likely to rebel: against the racism rampant in Australia under the Coalition's Hansonite regime, against sexism, especially the aggressive push to get women back into the home as mothers and housewives; against war and militarism (John Howard wants to throw away $110 billion more in military spending), and against capitalism's corporate tyranny.

It's been young people who have been the backbone of rebellions and the makers of revolutions: Karl Marx radicalised at university and elaborated an epoch-making theory of scientific socialism over the next few years; Frederick Engels wrote his famous The Condition of the Working Class in England when he was 24; Marx and Engels, still in their 20s, together wrote the Communist Manifesto.
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Vladimir Lenin, at 26, founded the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. By the time he was 27, he had been deported to Siberia. At 33, he was the acknowledged leader of a new party dedicated to making a revolution, the Bolsheviks.

Leon Trotsky became a Marxist revolutionary as a high school student and was president of the 1905 Petrograd Soviet when he was 25. Che Guevara, after graduating as a medical doctor in Argentina and travelling around Latin America, became a revolutionary. He joined with Fidel Castro in 1955 at the age of 27 and helped make the Cuban Revolution four years later.

At the time, all these young rebels were the veterans of the revolutionary movements; the mass of revolutionaries were young people.

Just a phase?

Will you be a rebel just when you are young? Will you become inactive, or indifferent, as you grow older? Will you become a conservative, a pillar of the status quo in your middle age? Unfortunately, many young rebels have gone down that track.

Mick Costa, secretary of the NSW Labor Council and now angling for a safe seat in state parliament, is an example. He was once a member of Resistance and the DSP. He was very rebellious, sporting long hair and radical principles.

Paddy McGuinness, the rabid columnist for the Fairfax press, was a radical anarchist in his youth. The notorious governor-general Sir John Kerr, sacker of the Gough Whitlam Labor government in 1975, was around the small Trotskyist group in Sydney in his youth in the 1940s.

So is the hoary old adage that it's normal to be radical in your youth and a conservative as you get older true? Of course not. That idea — spread around at school, in university and in the press — is designed to both justify such an evolution after the fact and encourage the trend.

There are real, material reasons for this in imperialist countries like Australia, and there are measures we can take to help prevent it.

Lucky country

The world has never been so divided as it is today. There are two camps: the camp of the rich and the camp of the poor; the camp of the exploiting, imperialist countries and the camp of the majority, the exploited Third World. As the wealth, resources and knowledge of the world are getting larger, the gap between the imperialist countries and the rest is getting wider.

The recently released United Nations Human Development Report states that during the 20th century global inequality increased "by orders of magnitude out of proportion to anything experienced before". The gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest countries was about 3:1 in 1820, 35:1 in 1950, 44:1 in 1973 and 72:1 in 1992. The report estimates that today there would be an even wider discrepancy.

The report states that between 1990 and 1998, per capita income fell in absolute terms in 50 countries. It also states that the disparity between rich and poor within many countries is widening.

The capitalist classes of the imperialist countries are fabulously wealthy and have resources at their disposal far beyond anything ever dreamed of by the monarchs and emperors of previous epochs. That wealth has its origins in the exploitation of the labour of the working class. The imperialist ruling classes did not get stinking rich by skill or greater wisdom, but by robbery, exploitation, piracy and conquest.

With its ill-gained super-profits, the imperialist bourgeoisie can afford to buy off sections of the workers in their own countries when necessary. They can throw a few sops to workers when rebellion threatens.

That has given rise to what Marxists call the labour aristocracy in the imperialist countries. The imperialist rulers used their wealth to undermine the social democratic parties that formed at the end of the 19th century and turned them into slavish defenders of the capitalist system. That process has not ended.

Control

The capitalist class controls working people not simply by repression, although they use that as a last resort, or by propaganda, which is churned out by the media monopolies, but also by buying us off. With just a fraction of its wealth, the bourgeoisie in the West cons the working class to be content with its lot, to forego real opportunities for a better world for all.

The bourgeoisie needs lieutenants to help it manage its wealth, to run its institutions of control, its universities and its cultural institutions.

Because young rebels are usually the most intelligent of their generation, and the political training and experience they gain in the struggle against capitalism's rottenness equips them further, they can be a very valuable asset for the bourgeoisie if they can be convinced to change sides. In Australia, the inducements can be quite large, the sops quite enticing. It's not for nothing that Australia has been labelled the "lucky country".

Resist

So do we take the money and run? Do we say, "To hell with the rest of the Australian people and their problems. To hell with the rest of the world as it spirals into despair and degradation"? Certainly not!

The first step in resisting capitalism's bribery is to understand it. Once your eyes have been opened to the problems and contradictions of capitalism, trying to enjoy an honest, meaningful life without struggling against the system is utopian.

The main way that young rebels can counter the capitalist assault on their ideals is to remain politically active, not be passive, to deepen their political understanding and education, and to organise collectively, not just as individual activists.

It's not enough to agitate around local issues or on particular questions, though the crimes of capitalism are many and grievous and must be fought. Restricting the fight to just "the issues" already concedes victory to the bourgeoisie. The big picture may seem hard to tackle, the overall problem of capitalism may seem too difficult to overcome, but just by saying that you've made a partial peace with capitalism.

It's not enough to agitate on the widening gap between rich and poor. Or to understand the class analysis of society and throw in your lot with the struggles of workers and their trade unions. Understanding Marx's analysis of society is important, and countering the continuing efforts of the ruling class and it agents is vital, but by themselves they won't guarantee that we won't succumb to the capitalists' inducements for behaving "properly".

More important than any of them is having an internationalist outlook. That's a fundamental principle for a revolutionary Marxist. It's even more important for a revolutionary Marxist in an imperialist country like Australia.

Without an internationalist outlook you are more likely to fall back into the apathy and relative comfort of the imperialist lucky country and live off the crumbs of the bourgeoisie. As Malcolm X was fond of pointing out, you become part of the problem if you're not part of the solution.

As Che said, every young communist "must develop their sensibility to the maximum, to the point that they feel anguish when someone is assassinated in any corner of the world, and they feel elation when in some corner of the world a new banner of liberty is raised".

That will help us stay the distance as revolutionaries, to be rebels all our lives.

The revolutionary party

But having a internationalist perspective, a class analysis and fighting on issues are still not enough. You have to unite in action with others; you have build a revolutionary party.

None of us can get the whole picture on our own, let alone change it. So we need the collective effort of a party to have a better chance.

The party is also the way we can effectively express our internationalism, through collaboration, solidarity and discussion with other revolutionary Marxist parties engaged in the same struggle in other countries. The party provides continuity with all the struggles and lessons of the past.

Overthrow capitalism, yes; shut it down, yes. But we also need a vision and understanding of what it should be replaced with: a democratic socialist society in which working people have real power to make the decisions, a society that values and defends the gains of collective human effort and a society that develops towards the Marx's famous goal of "From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs".

I urge all of you to join the DSP, if you're not already a member. Make your life one of struggle for the future of humanity. There's nothing more satisfying, nothing more useful you can do with your life.