BY RAUL BASSI
I am thrilled about the level of discussion on left unity. I have never before seen such a large number of contributions to such a discussion. I come from an old tradition of activism, politics and trade unionism. The best I can do is try to pass on some experiences learned in those years.
For some of those years I lived in Argentina where the political conditions and history are very different from here. But looking at the situation in Argentina now, it seems that Argentinian militants didn't learn from their past experiences, when there was a high level of mass mobilisation.
The organisations of the revolutionary left in Argentina were always trying to differentiate themselves from each other, sometimes nitpicking over small differences. This was even true of the organisation that I belonged to and defended. This nitpicking over differences didn't help the mass struggles.
Now in Argentina, more or less the same organisations are repeating the same mistakes of the past. With the capitalist system and the political institutions in absolute crisis, the left groups have focused on their differences rather than seeking to unite the left groups and put forward a socialist solution to the crisis. This has allowed the capitalist parties to continue to rule, and the capitalist system to limp along in Argentina.
This is why I am so thrilled about the discussion on left unity in the Socialist Alliance.
Although election campaigns are useful to build the left alternative against the system, the struggle against the system does not start or finish with elections. Our role as the Socialist Alliance, regardless of how big or small our organisation, is to talk to as many people as possible during the election campaign because that is when most people are open to new political ideas. We try to find who among them are the most political people and who are the social, political or union leaders.
We have to use the elections for propaganda purposes, agitating about the main issues against the system in each situation (for example: refugees, war, industrial relations, health, jobs, education etc). We are not there just to collect votes, although we welcome any votes we get because we know that they are votes for socialism.
We also know that it is only in a real crisis that we can talk about socialists getting large numbers of votes. In the elections in Argentina, the left got more than 15% of the vote. Before that, the vote for the left was small.
This, together with explaining why the capitalist parties and the middle-class parties have no solutions, is what I understand to be the purpose of the revolutionary left's participation in elections.
The other role of the Socialist Alliance — the most important — is the participation of the organisation in each and every action that questions the system: in the human rights field (opposing racism, supporting refugees, defending women's rights, campaigning against anti-terror laws, championing Aboriginal rights etc); on the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist front (building the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements, defending the democratic rights of underdeveloped countries); in working-class struggles (defending union rights, supporting militant unionists, building struggles for wages and condition and against super-exploitation, etc) and; protecting the environment.
The most important role of our participation in elections is to give more people an understanding that any struggle cannot finish in a clear victory for the working class unless it has a conscious socialist leadership.
This is important because the deep crisis of capitalism makes the most "reformist" objective a concession that the system cannot afford to grant without bringing the whole system into question.
We should not forget that the biggest victories of humanity (the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions) started with a fight for goals like peace, democracy and land reform, which were not considered by revolutionaries of the time to be the final socialist objective. What happened was that the actions of the masses made these goals possible only with the destruction of the capitalist system.
It is the Socialist Alliance's role to participate in all the actions, knowing that for some of the time we may be a minority working with the leadership of campaigns. We may win the leadership of campaigns by showing which are the best policies.
None of this can be achieved without a strong Socialist Alliance which is very well organised and ready to act. We cannot predict where and when the struggles will start, but we have to use each action to organise ourselves, gain experience, extend our influence and prove to everyone why the ultimate solution for all social problems is the construction of a socialist Australia.
Back in Argentina, my experience was that every time we were dodging the army's bullets, escaping persecution or fighting in the streets, neither the bullets nor the army ever asked me, or those next to me, what differences we had about how to build socialism. They were trying to stop us from fighting together against the system.
I think the best way forward for socialism is to provide the Socialist Alliance with a strong and democratic organisation that is based on a program that starts from socialist objectives and gives a socialist answer to the most important problems that the working class and the exploited face, and which allows Socialist Alliance members to respond immediately to any political situation.
This is not a call for unity without principles. Far from that, unity has to be based on the principles of internationalism, unconditional defence of the working class and its organisations and struggles, support for human and democratic rights and a strong commitment to be part of all struggles, campaigns and actions in defence of these principles.
I am not naive. I know there are important differences in theory and practice. These differences will limit the Socialist Alliance program in some way, but I am confident that there are many important points of agreement to build on. I understand the differences in many cases, some others I do not. We can discuss differences along the road of building a united organisation, first trying to separate principles from semantics. Any point which is then clarified and which we reach agreement on can then be incorporated into the program, making it richer.
If everyone put all their efforts into developing the Socialist Alliance in this way, I cannot see how any of the organisations or independents could be forced to drop any of their convictions in the fight for socialism.
We do not know when the world situation, or the Australian situation, will require our answers and our actions, but remember, we have to work very hard not to repeat the same mistakes which have been made in Argentina. History does not forgive such mistakes.
[Raul Bassi is a member of the Canterbury-Bankstown branch of Socialist Alliance.]
From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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