‘Organising in Australia’, Sedition #1

Originally posted at Anarchist Perspective.

Sedition, a new journal of Australian anarchism, was launched 10 March 2012, I’ve taken my sweet time in getting around to read it.

A few points of response to Jeremy’s[1] ‘Organising in Australia’, Sedition #1, pp 2-4.

The Situation in Australia

Jeremy offers a brief description of the present situation facing anarchists seeking to organise in Australia. In his opening remarks he states:

The Australian system of capitalism and government offers a range of comforts and opportunities to the exploited in order to keep us docile.

Australia does have a comparatively advanced system of social supports available to the working class; public education, healthcare and social security. But to describe these as ‘offered’ is inaccurate.

Healthcare, education and social security are concessions wrought from capitalism by the working class as a result of struggle. These concessions are under constant attack, by a capitalist state that would happily place the burden of paying for these things directly upon the working class if it could.

There is a delicate balance of attack and pacification, mediated by a variety of institutions, the union movement and the labour party in particular.

Later in the article Jeremy states:

There is widespread discontent and resistance among millions of people in Australia. They talk to each other and build networks and take a variety of political action.

This is mistaken.

At present, there is no widespread discontent in Australia. There is a high level of dissatisfaction with the current political leader, but it is expressed only in terms of an intent to vote for someone else. There is no widespread discontent with the system, and there is no widespread resistance to it.

As Jeremy mentions earlier in the article, there is a pervasive system of propaganda by which the dominant ideology is maintained in Australian society. At the present time, this system is working, and the vast majority of Australians accept the dominant assumptions, Australians still accept the idea that “this is as good as it gets”.

Discontent and resistance are presently marginal in Australian society.

There are however small opportunities.

The Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement of 2011 have resonated with a small subsection of Australian society.

Indigenous Australian discontent with the Northern Territory intervention continues, and the spread of welfare quarantining to the rest of Australia will affect Australians in major population centres for the first time.

A minority of Australians continue to be disgusted with the treatment of refugees, and resistance inside the system of immigration detention centres continues.

The decline of the manufacturing sector is accelerating and the mediocre response of mainstream unions, the Labor party and the government could cause discontent amongst some workers in that sector.

The election of conservative governments at the state level has seen a new round of attacks on public services, which the union movement has been more assertive in responding too.

The storm clouds of global financial crisis continue to grow on the horizon, whilst Australia has thus far been isolated, the situation continues to cause a sense of unease. Were a deepening of the global crisis to significantly affect Australia, the situation for Australian workers could change rapidly, and resistance could develop or falter in any number of ways.

In summary, the scope for anarchist organising is presently limited, discontent and resistance are low, but the scope for the advancement of anarchist ideas in our society does exist.

Realism is far more important than optimism .

The Union Movement

The organising model is a step forward, but ultimately unions continue to operate as if they were a sort of specialist business within capitalism. It is up to activists and agitators to join our unions, work to democratise them and bring anti-capitalist politics into the organising model.

I am not presently in a position to assess Jeremy’s remarks about the union movement.

I do agree, on the basis of Jeremy’s description, that the organising model that Australian unions now increasingly adopt is an improvement on the service model, and offers a growing chance for anarchists to make tentative links to the union movement.

Every anarchist should be a union activist in their workplace. This seems a far more realistic strategy for building links to the industrial struggle than any attempt to build a new syndicalist union.

Anarchist Organising in Australia

I am in wholehearted agreement with Jeremy’s argument that Anarchists in Australia must organise.

Anarchists who oppose political organising in effect support the continuing status quo. The ongoing attacks of capitalism may, from time to time, provoke seemingly spontaneous displays of resistance, even political crises. But unless anarchists organise and work to build a mass, conscious, culture of resistance, capitalism will survive every crisis and defeat every example of ‘spontaneous’[2] resistance.

Jeremy is right to note the difference between the political routine that the Leninist groups engage in and the problems with their “authoritarian, opportunistic and dishonest” approach to organising.

The political routine of selling papers, conducting stalls, holding public meetings and so on can be undertaken by anarchists without “treating people as numbers or sheep, to be recruited and then managed and used”. In fact, it is essential we do this if we are to build something resembling a real anarchist movement in Australia.

Jeremy relates what the Jura collective have undertaken in the past year. Every anarchist in Australia who is serious about throwing off the shackles of hierarchy and exploitation needs to look at what a small group like Jura has been able to do.

We can and must organise as anarchists.

There is no waiting for the revolution, get organised now.

1. Disappointingly, each article in issue 1 of Sedition is attributed to a pseudonym or to a first name only. A rather unnecessary step for a movement that is not underground.[Back]

2. There is no such thing as mass spontaneous resistance. What appears spontaneous is the product of organising we haven’t accounted for.[Back]

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