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Notes on Militant Action (1970)

  1. Increasingly the distinction between industrial and white collar workers is becoming unimportant in the consideration of potential militancy; more relevant variables would appear to be the size of the enterprise and the rates of pay.

  2. Militant action is compatible with the maintenance of the status quo. Politically motivated militancy is hard to maintain as money runs out and often depends on a certain cultural occupational basis e.g. seamen, wharfies, miners. it is hard to escalate ordinary strikes into a full confrontation with state power. Australian unionists, including revolutionaries, will rarely attack property directly by sit-ins (real ones not student ones), "seizure" of factories (production during a sit-in) or running services, e.g. busses, free.

  3. It must be remembered the general strike over Clarrie O'Shea was a reaction to an invasion of union rights in a campaign to extend them and so was strictly analogous to the support a Monash maoist receives when he is about to be expelled. It did not imply that O'Shea had any control over the movement. Politicised workers know this; students find it hard to learn.

  4. The 'narodnik' strategy of taking issues to the people, i.e. of doing propaganda on a geographic-residential basis, has the intention of helping local residents feel that they are somehow taking part in a struggle. However, it does not seem to be particularly fruitful since: 'the people' are separated from the shop floor where most struggles take place; workers in a given area are not necessarily resident in that area and there do not seem to be many directly local issues. If the target area was geographically, isolated, it may be possible to develop integrated struggles and the emergence of a left 'leadership but not if it is only part of suburbia.

  5. On suburbia. It is very hard to approach suburbanites; the chief function of suburbia seems to be to instil petty bourgeous ideology. Most workers live in suburbia.

  6. The maoists are reformists of the worst type; populists. They will talk about the high price of land, wages and (perhaps) union rights - e.g. their support for the teachers - but this is just a petty-bourgeois anti-capitalism. This sort of thing has been tried in the U.S. and failed. The maoists will fail because they have no analytical powers, only invective.

  7. Where the maoists fail is that they don't suggest strategies that bring people into direct conflict with the forces affecting their lives. Because of their simplified and un-marxist model of class rule, the maoist believe that everyone should be in the streets fighting police and voicing vague and abstract demands i.e.. chanting slogans - such as "Dawn with capitalism" or more strictly "Down with U.S. Imperialism" - sometimes one fears that they wish an alliance with our 'national bourgeoisie' (sic). Thus those tactics which would bring conscious conflict into everyday life and so advance revolutionary education are neglected in favour of pseudomilitancy.

  8. Related to this is their idea that transitional programmes are counter-revolutionary. The idea is that bigger and better fights with police, a bigger and better strikes in which union leaders are jailed, will automatically lead to a revolution. The maoists forget that the government and capitalists are capable of many responses to a situation; to take an obvious example, De Gaulle's offer a general election completely defused a pre-revolutionary situation. The maoists are incapable of seeing the complex ways in which capitalist or neocapitalist regimes hold power since they would prefer to hold naked power themselves. In reality only Stalin's Russia and more recently the East European states were or are ruled purely by the barrels of guns. Nothing else could save these from politicised but un-integrated working class. The idea of developing programmes to exploit particular aspects of the manner in which we are ruled is foreign to them. If in fact we were ruled by men with machine guns standing on every corner, there would be a point in a military approach. Since we are not ruled in this manner, there is the real question of how the ruling class ensures its dominance.

  9. The popular answer at present is 'bourgeous hegemony', i.e. that the ruling class has its ideas accepted by the working class. Obviously this is partially true but it does not add much to our understanding, especially since the ideas of many left groups, e.g. the maoists, are not greatly different from bourgeois ideas or are closely related, e.g. the anti-sex bias, the belief in the incapacity of workers without outside leadership, the work ethic, the belief that one should 'Serve the people' (i.e. do a good deed each day for the ex-public school maoist boyscouts), the insistence on hierarchy and discipline and the opposition to self-determination and self-liberation. Since the ideas are so similar one would expect progress in maoising those most imbued with bourgeois ideology. This is in fact the case; proportionately students must provide more maoists than any other social group. However, the success cannot be repeated with other bourgeois groups, e.g. the farmers, since they have interests in the status quo.

  10. This brings us to the crunch. Despite predictions of the immiseration of the proletariat both the wage and satisfaction levels have been steadily rising, nor does it matter that profits are also rising (except insofar as this contradicts a marxist law). Like everyone else, the workers have some stake in existing society. Thus the maoist idea of some sort of civil war has no attraction and neither does socialism as an abstract alternative to present society. No one is happy with the government but it is generally believed that changes can be made. "Political" socialism , of either the revolutionary or reformist varieties cannot get around this because it still postulates workers and work; it can hardly offer tremendous improvements in the workers' material conditions and it still postulates external management, albeit by a governmental rather a capitalist bureaucracy. Adding to this the general expectation that revolution involves generalised destruction, one can see why the workers are not keen to start the revolution. More importantly perhaps, the proletariat has an organisational stake in the status quo; its parties and unions have official recognition, they get some things done and they strain off political and administrative talent that may have otherwise served revolutionary purposes. In this situation the greatest ally of purely political revolutionary groups is the dissatisfaction which arises from contradictions between the value systems produced by bourgeois society and the daily practice of capitalism.

    Thus the greatest boon to the political left is the Vietnam War which is an accidental aspect of our society and not by any means a necessary one. (Despite the Cant about imperialism it is not primarily an economic war; its cost outweights any possible benefit.)

  11. The limitations of purely political groups suggest that a new approach is needed. My previous remarks foreshadow the idea that the strategy should be that of aggressive confrontation in everyday life.

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