Tumultuous times, it’s the people’s time

GLW Dinner – November 18, 2000
By John Percy

[The following talk was given at a Melbourne Green Left Weekly dinner on November 18, 2000.]

Nearly two weeks later we’re still in the middle of the United States election farce! Who’s won?

Bush? The illiterate idiot?

Or Gore? The wooden idiot?

And what does it say about democracy in the US?

Offers of election monitors have been flooding in. From Mexico, from Africa. Cuba has offered to send a contingent of their young pioneers (8 years old) who monitor the Cuban elections.

The US ruling class might spend billions of dollars on their presidential election, but we know it’s basically irrelevant. Whoever wins, it’s the ruling class still in power, it’s a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Whether it’s Gore or Bush, a bunch of trusty representatives of the big corporations will surround them, and write their speeches.

This one is an embarrassing farce. But previous US elections were farces also – money rules.

What was interesting this time was the venom of the liberals directed against Ralph Nader. His candidacy started to expose the farce, and provide an alternative. He won 3% of the vote, predominantly youth, and his campaign meetings drew 10-20,000 people.

This was the new layer of radicals, the new movement, seen at Seattle, and demonstrations in Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and thousands of smaller actions.

They’re opposed to the corporations, opposed to the sweatshops, opposed to the system. They’re opposed to the World Bank, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation, and deeply disillusioned with capitalism. They’re not sure what to replace it with, and not sure where next.

Throughout the Third World for decades the workers, peasants, urban poor have been rebelling, protesting on a daily basis. They’re directly driven by their poverty and repression, the plunder of the multinational corporations, the piracy of imperialism.

In Latin America in Colombia, in Bolivia, in Mexico, in Ecuador, in Argentina, in Brazil and elsewhere there’ve been massive rebellions.

In Africa there are protests and demonstrations, even though in many places the degradation and demoralisation and prospect of death make it hard to raise their heads. (Even in South Africa, the wealthiest country in Africa, more than 25% of the black population is said to be infected with HIV.)

In Indonesia, there are protest actions throughout the archipelago every day. In India, a small part of a typical week or two is covered in the latest issue of Green Left.

But with this new movement, the First World is now catching up.

Seattle was the most dramatic, but it was building up before that. Since then we’ve had actions that made world news in Washington, Melbourne, Prague.

The wonderful experience with S11 [September 11-13, 2000, protests] here in Melbourne really brought it home.

More and more people, especially young people, are waking up to capitalism’s neoliberal offensive, against the workers and poor at home, and to their brutal exploitation of the rest of the world.

With the end of the long postwar boom, there are not as many crumbs for workers in the imperialist countries. The median real wage in the United States has been stagnant over the past 26 years. In the previous 26 years (1946-1973) the typical wage increased by about 80%.

The wealth gap is widening between rich and poor in the imperialist countries. The gap is widening even further between the exploited countries and the imperialist countries.

During this past tumultuous 20th Century we’ve had some tremendous victories, such as the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution that is still going strong. But the working class has also suffered many defeats, often suffering from the misleadership of struggles dominated by Stalinist or social democrats.

In recent decades social democracy has abandoned any charade that it had fundamentally different goals and allegiances from capitalism and its parties. In Australia 13 years of Hawke-Keating government and the disastrous Accord put paid to that. If anyone had any lingering doubts, the despicable role of [Victoria premier Steve] Bracks praising cop violence at S11 should dispel them.

Also, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the final fruits of Stalinism, the second 20th Century betrayer of the workers’ movement announced its departure from the scene. Certainly, the Soviet collapse had terrible consequences for workers there, experiencing drastic falls in their standards of living and life expectancy under mafia capitalism.

But the capitalist ideologues gloating about “The End of History” has been shown to be premature and arrogantly short-sighted. The exposure and discrediting of Stalinism and social democracy is opening the way for a new movement. And it is emerging, North and South.

We need actions, protests, demonstrations, blockades, movements, yes. But gains won’t be guaranteed, and we won’t be able to win, until we take that next step, build parties, that build on the lessons of the 20th Century, learn from the mistakes of social democracy and Stalinism.

The capitalists are quite comfortable with non-party, or anti-party proposals.

  • It leaves them unchallenged, their parties dominant.
  • It allows them to easily divide, disperse, undermine isolated protests and movements.
  • It forces us to have to repeat errors, forgetting lessons gained from past struggles.
  • It prevents movements going from a perspective of reforms, to one of fundamental social change, the revolution to change the system that’s needed.

New parties, new leaderships, are arising from the political and social struggles in the Third World.

In our region, in Indonesia, the PRD, in East Timor, the PST, in the Philippines there’s a renewal and recomposition, in Pakistan, the LPP, in India the CPI-ML [Liberation] is growing stronger, and in South Korea a new Marxist force is getting established, the Power of the Working Class.

In Latin America the Cuban Communist Party plays a special role, standing out against the US attacks and blockade, and giving political inspiration to struggles and parties there and throughout the world.

The tremendous International Solidarity Conference in Havana just concluded would have given a boost to the solidarity campaign with Cuba, but also boosted the struggles against imperialism throughout the world. 4347 delegates from 118 countries gathered to express their condemnation of the US blockade.

Our delegation of five comrades was given a tremendous honour. At the concluding demonstration of 12,000 people outside the US Special Interests section, two conference delegates from each of the five regions of the world were invited by the organisers to address the crowd, and Pat Brewer from the DSP was one of them!

Pat writes that “the 3-hour rally was televised fully that night throughout Cuba and broadcast internationally. Fidel was there. I gave greetings in the name of the DSP, Resistance and the Australian solidarity movement. I met Fidel afterwards and he said he liked the speech and certainly he applauded at times during it. I received the presidential hug and kiss. It was a very moving experience.”

We know that our solidarity with the people struggling around the world – from Vietnam, to South Africa, to Timor, To Indonesia, to Cuba – is important in itself, but it also builds us. It ensures we are internationalists, and not narrow chauvinists in an imperialist country like Australia, it helps us build the revolutionary party that is needed here as well.

The DSP in recent years has emerged as the largest, most effective left party in Australia, since the dissolution of the CPA in 1991 certainly. We tried to convince them of a merger, they preferred dissolution.

Green Let Weekly has emerged as far and away the best, largest, most widely read left paper in Australia (and so many readers around the world assure us it’s the best. We haven’t seen a better English language one anyway.)

And although throughout our history we’ve always been involved in all the important political struggles and campaigns, on local and international issues, in recent years we’re noticing that what we do matters. Our political intervention can make an impact:

  • The high-school campaigns against racism and Pauline Hanson in 1997-98. Tens of thousands of high-school students were mobilised in walkouts by our comrades in Resistance. We had an impact.
  • When the people of East Timor last year needed our solidarity against the murderous Indonesian backed militias, the September [massive] demonstrations that our comrades in ASIET organised and led made a difference.
  • And at S11 here in Melbourne this year, the effective, coordinated intervention of our comrades had a huge impact in ensuring its tremendous success – a disciplined blockade of the WEF, that sealed up Crown Casino for a lot of the time; putting the onus for violence on the police, and on Bracks; preventing the ALP and THC undercutting the S11 action.

So we can see we can have an impact, are going in the right direction, but we’re still far too small!

We have many supporters, many admirers who read Green Left and think we’re doing a good job. And it’s great to see so many supporters here tonight.

But we need more readers of Green Left, more admirers and supporters.

And our admirers need to become active supporters. And our supporters need to become active DSP members.

So I’d urge all you supporters here tonight, to become members. Join the DSP!

It’s satisfying, I assure you. But more importantly, society, and ultimately humanity, needs it!