RET - possible misconceptions

By Adam Baker, Brisbane

While not ascribing any views to anyone in particular, there may be some Socialist Alliance (SA) members who hold misconceptions about what the professed views, aims and strategies of the Red Eureka Tendency (RET) actually are. We understand why this might be the case, and take on board the fact that perhaps a comprehensive explanation of our positions has yet to be put forward. I will try to clarify some of these, but if further clarification is needed, Socialist Alliance (SA) members are urged to contact us. Please find below some explanations which may answer some questions.

Myth: The RET is a faction within SA.

Fact: The RET is a tendency, not a faction, within SA. Mindful of the observation, “a faction is a declaration of war on the party”, the RET consciously chose to take the direction of constructing a tendency, or current, within SA. The RET does not seek to dismantle SA as it now exists. The RET only seeks to influence the positions and policies SA adopts, as well as the theoretical and ideological underpinnings of SA.

A faction, according to a political dictionary, is one which seeks to have the whole party adopt its entire outlook. It also seeks to replace the leadership of the party with its own members, and thus the politics of the faction then becomes the politics of the party as a whole. The RET, on the other hand, only seeks to counteract liberal tendencies within SA, by seeking to increase the influence of Marxism within SA. The RET does not claim to have the one true interpretation of Marxism, and thus would be happy to co-exist with several or more other Marxist currents within SA. We think that in such a situation, the influence of liberalism would be much less than it is at the present time.

Myth: The RET advocates disengagement from social movements.

Fact: The RET has never called for SA to withdraw its members from movement building. The RET holds that movement building is an important part of both helping the working class to win important single issue struggles, as well as playing a part in the practical and theoretical development of SA members.  Involvement in movement building also helps build SA.

What the RET is concerned with is a trend towards overvaluing movement building into something which in itself is seen as Marxist activity. There is a trend within SA to see practice alone, such as movement building, as evidence of the Marxist credentials of SA.  If movement building itself is seen as Marxist practice, then it follows that other tasks which Marxists must complete tend to fall off the agenda. Such tasks are largely party building, and ideological and theoretical development.

The idea that practice itself is evidence of Marxism leads to a tendency within SA which overestimates the politics of social movements. The politics of social movements as a whole must remain on the level of liberalism, as they are only seeking to remedy one aspect of capitalist degradation. Even the environmental movement, which hints at the restructuring of society in a non-capitalist direction, cannot reach the level of posing socialism as a solution. Unfortunately, SA seems to believe that environmental activists are conducting Marxist activity even if they themselves are in no way convinced of the basic tenets of Marxism.

Myth: The RET is opposed to the “reach out” work of SA.

Fact: The RET supports all aspects of trying to reach out to those strands of the working class which may have had no previous contact with socialist parties. The RET supports offering SA membership to those members of the working class and its allies who have a base level of agreement with socialism.

What the RET does have a concern with, is SA adapting to the somewhat unformed politics of those we reach out to. The RET agrees with building SA as an umbrella group, a baseline organisation which can serve both as a basis for further left unity, as well as a broad coalition which people can join regardless of what their conception of socialism may be. But this broad coalition in itself is not a sufficient vehicle for developing the politics of SA members in the direction of Marxism. The broad coalition can only afford to attach fleeting importance to Marxism, as it needs to maintain the coalition itself. Dedicated Marxist currents are needed within SA to carry out this and other fundamental tasks of revolutionary socialists.

There is always a pressure on socialist parties, especially in First World countries, to be larger, to draw in more people, to increase its influence. It is incumbent on socialist parties to search out ways in which to reach wider layers of the working class and their potential allies. At the same time, a socialist party should not completely sacrifice its political, ideological and theoretical principals in order to interact with these wider layers.  The RET believes the main way of avoiding these errors is to have either one or a number of Marxist currents operating within the larger formation. The Marxist current/s would be the major drivers behind the larger body, enabling reach out work while simultaneously maintaining the creation and development of Marxism, as well as ensuring the transmission of Marxism to the next generation.

Myth: The RET is opposed to learning from non-Marxists.

Fact: The RET does not oppose learning some things from non-Marxists. Yet this is a loaded accusation. Marxists have to “learn” from non-Marxists every single day, as 99.9% of the population are not Marxists. The working class in general, and broader layers including petty bourgeois, middle class and intellectual types must be studied by Marxists in order for the Marxists to make an assessment of reality, and then to go on to apply Marxism correctly in the current context.  This includes reading and studying the work of non-Marxist activists, workers, intellectuals and so on. But these layers cannot teach Marxists about Marxism or about how to construct a vanguard party or how to prepare the masses for revolution, for example, for the simple reason that they do not carry out this practice, and in most cases disagree with Marxists on these crucial aspects of Marxism.

The RET does not oppose, for example, an article written by a non-Marxist appearing in Green Left Weekly. The RET does have concerns in cases where an article which contains specifically non-Marxist and anti-Marxist ideas is reproduced uncritically, with no response. Non-Marxist ideas should not be put forward as good coin, followed by specious claims that what they are actually saying is Marxist. SA should not be redefining Marxism into something which suits its current all in coalition party building model.

Myth: The RET is opposed to working alongside the Australian Greens in social movements.

Fact: The RET is happy to work alongside any political organisation, including the Greens, while participating in social movements. The RET is concerned, however, with the current approach of SA which seeks to “integrate as much political work as possible with the Greens”. This is, in our view, a mistaken and dangerous approach. The Greens, for one thing, are about to implement the carbon tax alongside the ALP. The carbon tax is arguably the most pro-business and anti-environment measure ever enacted. The Greens as a whole have demonstrated that they stand with corporate Australia when push comes to shove. SA's current approach does not allow a thorough critique of this, seeking as it does to work as closely as possible with the Greens.

The Greens as a whole are consciously anti-socialist, pro-parliament and therefore pro-capitalist. This cannot be wished away, no matter how much progressive policies are on the books of the Greens, and no matter how many fine sounding pieces of legislation are put before parliament. SA should instead be seeking to work with other socialist parties, which indeed it remains open to in the form of SA as a coalition.

Myth: The RET seeks to re-establish a party along the lines of the former DSP.

Fact: The RET does not call for a return to the days of building a stand-alone party, with politics similar to the former DSP. The RET recognises that we cannot turn back time. The RET calls for building SA as an alliance of parties and groups and individuals, but with several or more Marxist currents organising within.  This way, we can do the reaching out to broader forces, as well as retaining Marxism as a guide to action for socialists.

Myth: The RET prefers smaller parties, and prefers working with smaller numbers of people.

Fact: The RET supports the drawing in of larger numbers to SA, even if these layers have yet to develop their socialist politics to the point of being convinced by Marxism and Leninism. It is always better to work with larger numbers, than it is to work with smaller numbers.  However, it should not be a matter of seeking to work with larger numbers at any cost, and certainly not at the cost of political principles. While some concessions may have to be made in order to become a larger organisation, these concessions should be temporary, and attempts should be made to claw back these concessions at the earliest possible opportunity.

The RET does not think this is currently occurring within SA. We have built SA to the point of 750 odd members, but at the cost of a near total abandonment of Marxism. We all want the socialist left in this country to be larger and more influential, there is no argument on this point. But the question is, on the basis of which politics do we build a larger organisation? If we want pure numbers at the expense of politics, then we should join the Greens. It is socialist politics we wish to push forward, and socialism is worth very little if it is not connected to the scientific theory behind it, which is Marxism. Hence, the RET proposes that we continue building SA as a broad reach out coalition, while simultaneously building and maintaining Marxist currents within the broader formation.

Myth: The RET is not loyal to SA.

Fact: The RET is a tendency which has been formed under section 5.9 of the Socialist Alliance Constitution. It has been formed with the intention of “influencing Alliance policy and activity” as is stated in the constitution.  Furthermore, the RET supports the building of SA as a vehicle to unite the left and as a broad left coalition. The only proviso we propose, is that for the broad coalition to continue to be influenced by Marxism, rather than other non-socialist political theories, Marxist currents need to be formed, organised and developed within the boundaries of the alliance.

If the RET criticises the work of SA, it is certainly not because we are interested in condemning SA. It is because we are extremely concerned that the practice of SA could be indicating that the party is heading in a direction which does not advance, and perhaps even hinders, the struggle for socialism. The RET is also conscious that we should not just put forward a criticism without a suggestion for an alternative course of action, and we strive to avoid this.

Myth: The RET believes that written or verbal rhetoric is more important than action.

Fact: The RET does not take the approach which dramatically overemphasises the written word or verbal rhetoric as the main form of socialist political activity. While we think what SA writes and what SA says is very important, what SA writes and says would have little meaning if it was not backed up by action. The RET does have concerns though, that what SA is writing and saying is being influenced by liberal political positions as an unintended by-product of a misapplication of the broad party tactic.

Myth: The RET is working on behalf of the RSP (Revolutionary Socialist Party).

Fact: The RET is entirely independent of the RSP. While one member of the RET did have some discussions with RSP members, these discussions did not advance, and there currently is no contact between the RET and the RSP.  While there may be some similarity on some political issues raised by the RET and the RSP, the RET and the RSP are completely different political projects.

Myth: The RET is out to “cause trouble” within SA.

Fact: The RET's concerns are wholly political, and the RET has proposed a political solution. The RET does not wish to disrupt the activity of SA, it merely wishes to alter the political course of SA. The RET does recognise that our ideas may cause offence to some SA members, but this is not at all our intention. We only seek to debate political ideas, not personalities. We do seek to challenge each and every SA members' understanding of fundamental concepts such as socialism, Marxism and revolution and how that does or does not relate to the current political project which is SA.

Myth: The RET is an ultraleft and sectarian political tendency.

Fact: The RET is fully aware of the dangers of ultraleftism and sectarianism, and we reject both trends. We recognise that in the abstract, all socialist parties reject ultraleftism and sectarianism; the trick is to avoid them in practice. We allow everyone to make up their own mind as to whether the RET's practice falls into such errors, while we ourselves will do our utmost to avoid them. The RET does make the point that there is a strong likelihood that any criticism of the party along the lines that the RET bases itself on will initially be seen as demonstrating ultraleft and sectarian tendencies. In fact, any political group which advocates revolution during a period which is not openly revolutionary could be described as ultraleft. In addition, any group which does not appear to be in favour of unity could be described as “sectarian”. We would ask SA members to look at the deeper political issues being raised, rather than only observing superficial trends. If someone is concerned that SA is on the wrong political course, there must be deep political reasons behind this concern. We would ask SA members to seek out these reasons, rather than dismiss the concerns out of hand.

Myth: The RET takes a soft line on Stalinism.

Fact: The RET is 100% anti-Stalinist. The RET's political defence of the former Soviet bloc and the DPRK in no way indicates that the RET defends Stalinism on any level.  The RET is concerned, however, that SA's rejection of Stalinism is on the basis of irrational expectations of revolutions and the revolutionary or post-capitalist state which results. An irrational fear of Stalinism can lead to a distortion of political positions in a number of other political spheres.

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