Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 9. 9 May 1972
Salient 7 Featured an Article "is the Dream Over ?" which Questioned the Value of the Usual Political Demonstrations. The Article put up some Tentative Alternatives to the Dilemma and the Dream of Student Radicalism.
Here we Print a Selection of Critiques of "is the Dream Over". This Symposium Aims Higher than Criticism. What we have here are Suggestions Towards.....
working the system
To "work within and on the fringes of the current political system" is the idea behind the article "Is The Dream Over"
This idea is a good one, for basically the political system consists of its members, and if sufficient of its members feel the same way about a new idea, they'll change it. Unfortunately this change may take some time. I've no doubt that it is far easier to gather a group of individuals at the University and get them to agree, than it is to get the whole of a political party to agree. Take the idea of abolition of capital punishment for example. It is easier to get a group of students to agree with the abolition of capital punishment than it is to get the National Party to agree. Although the latter takes far more effort, it is likely to have far greater effect. Of course party conference remits are only recommendations, and therefore it could be argued that the effort is frequently wasted. True. Vet at the same time, by sticking with the system, the individual within the system is likely to gain more influence. By introducing like minded friends, this influence is likely to grow. The like minded friends are likely to create an image within the party which will attract other likeminded friends. Eventually the party will grow towards the individuals frame of mind. Of course this is a difficult path to follow — there will be many issues the party may adopt that you personally disagree with. But politics is the art of compromise, and I might add, to gain your own ends.
The political pressure groups should not be dismissed as useless. These groups serve as a filter for ideas for the party and help create the climate of opinion for change. They may provide expert opinion on such issues. Nor are marches a waste of time, although too many marches tend to spoil their effect, as they become a cliche. One well supported march in one year is better than 20 mediocre and ill attended ones.
I question the values of letter writing to an M.P. as a means of producing results. This tends to work better for personal problems (eg. getting supplementary allowances) than on national issues. If you were an M.P. who was strongly against the Springbok tour, would 5 letters in favour of the tour change your mind? I doubt it. But if you follow the system through, and achieve a position of influence - by becoming an MP or having office in a political party, then that pressure is likely to have far more strength. Don't be content to be a spectator at the political games, become a participant in the games yourself!
Rosemary YoungV.U.W. National Club
political power docs not come out of the ballot box
The article "Is the Dream Over?" is another example of the sell-out political views which Salient has been publishing from anonymous sources. Who is providing this rubbish — Brigadier Gilbert, the University Administration, student reactionaries, the CIA, or the Labour Party? The article shows its sell-out politics in its complete aversion to force as a political consideration. But Mao says, "political power comes out of the barrel of a gun", a truth which applies universally for political action.
It is true that mass marches have little effect on the fundamental policies of the capitalist ruling class. All mass marches can show is that there is numerical support for the viewpoint at issue. The ruling class may be influenced by a show of numbers, if it is otherwise motivated to do so. But numbers alone are no challenge to the ruling class, which after all is a 10% minority getting smaller all the time, and long skilled in dominating over the other 90% of the people, whom it divides, setting the different sectors against each other.
It takes force to affect the ruling class. Force applied by large numbers of people united as a class can overthrow the ruling class, as has been seen in Russia 1917 and China 1949. Numbers alone cannot compel the ruling class. The ruling class has its troops standing by out of sight at all mass demonstrations, ready to shoot down unarmed people. This applies in NZ. "Bloody Sundays" are events of this nature. The political leaders who lead the unarmed masses to Bloody Sundays, such as Father Gapon in 1905 have been revealed as agents provocateurs. The organisers of mass demonstrations here may be the same sort of people. Force without numbers cannot overthrow the ruling class, but it can affect the ruling class. Small groups of demonstrators, ready to use appropriate force, can win their point. This is shown as recently as April 16, when a group of about 80 demonstrators marched on to the Auckland wharves in protest against an Australian warship just returned from helping U.S. aggression against Vietnam. Although the warship was open to the public, it was quickly closed when the demonstrators, organised by the Progressive Youth Movement and the Vietnam Committee, appeared. In Wellington we need demonstrations of this sort. It is demonstrations of this sort, not the occasional mass marches, that force the ruling class to keep warships out in the roads, a clear sign of their weakness and fear.
The article "Is The Dream Over?" is wrong when it says that the government is content to administer the country "usually to the benefit of the capitalists — sometimes at their behest ". On the contrary, the government does so always to the benefit of the dominant sector of capitalists and always at their behest. Likewise, the article is wrong when it says that the government has the potential to control the country, but does not choose to exercise it. On the contrary, it is the capitalist class, as the ruling class who control the country, and the government is completely incapable of acting otherwise than as an administrative committee of the ruling class. This being so, it is nonsense to suggest that any public campaign can get the Government to take control and act against the interests of the capitalist ruling class; and consequently sheer nonsense to suggest that a Labour government could be got to act so.
The article is wrong in ruling out the possibility of revolution. Small but effective actions, such as the April 16 demonstration mentioned before, can be taken, and the objective conditions are developing which will make effective mass revolutionary action a real possibility well within the foreseeable future.
Neil WrightCommunist Party of New Zealand. Wellington Branch
The time should be past when crapped out liberals like the editor of Salient should imagine students can be persuaded to support a politician without being told a single word about his policy, his views, his past record or that of his party. The paid Labour Party advertisement on page 14 of the same Salient at any rate provides more (though hardly indispensable) information about Dave Shand by printing his photo and describing him as a senior lecturer. The article Is The Dream Over? is simply third-rate party propaganda. (Why is it that both the article and the Party advertisement, if the two really are separate, don't tell you Shand lectures in that progressive subject, accountancy?) But then the electioneering part of the article was written at a time when Pat Dobbie was around the Salient office. The rest of the article does raise some interesting questions.
The history of the modern student-based radical left is a record of unconscious borrowing from older radical traditions not student-based at all. The origins of most existing forms of radical protest are to be found in the past of the New Zealand labour and communist movements. Proclamations of a 'New Left' simply prove that student radicalism is based on the illusions of youth that history is irrelevant. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And the repetition of history is the past and future of the 'New Left'. The nineteen-thirties Auckland unemployed confrontations with the police remain unrivalled by recent PYM confrontations. New Zealand's most radical sit-in happened at Parihaka in the nineteenth century, not in the American consulate at Auckland in 1969. More people were arrested in the 1914-18 anti-war movement than in the last four years' anti-war activity. At the same time those who graduate from the New Left to public service positions, profitable radical publishing or accountancy lectureships move to the right even faster than the Labour leader jailed for opposing conscription in 1917. The Labour Party proved in the nineteen-tens that getting arrested doesn't automatically turn you on as a revolutionary. The 'New Left' has still to learn the lesson.
Students who use means of political action devised to express the political and industrial militancy of people very different from students must find their actions abortive, especially when the people who originated the now standard forms of protest are not now radical and have to be persuaded to turn radical again. But if protest is to be revitalised these people must participate. The alternative is to move toward yippie-type demonstrations, the only form of protest originated spontaneously and entirely by students.
It is possible for students to revive the other social groups lost militancy and draw them into revolutionary action. The classic example is the students' sparking off of the May 1968 French revolution. However this was only possible in a country with a working-class revolutionary tradition, congealed in a conservative Communist Party, but unfreezable when political heat is applied. Similar New Zealand traditions are far less strong. Here actions which the student left can take to re-establish contact with labour radicalism are much more directly political. If the Anti-War Movement were to support Vietnamese workers' control of their own factories when the NLF forces hit Saigon, No matter what the official line is from Hanoi, it will win New Zealand workers. If ecology action, instead of campaigning for property owners frightened of property values falling, worried about the environments in which factory workers earn their living, it would be talking about some of the worst environments in New Zealand. If the Polynesian movements ceased to represent almost exclusively the tiny section of Maori people who get to university and organised, instead, the majority who dig ditches or work on assembly lines it would grow fast. For a new beginning to be made a political movement must be built which amalgamates all the existing single issue radical movements programmes into what they really mean a revolutionary programme for the overthrow of New Zealand capitalism, which embodies, though without being imprisoned or restricted by, the entire history of the New Zealand left.
Keep On Marching
"Is the Dream Over" is a typical article by a demoralised radical whose peripheral involvement in the movement has given him little understanding of what it is all about. Anyone who had been deeply involved in the antiwar movement would not say that "The anti-war coalitions, instead of exerting day to day pressure on the administration, seem content to gather large masses of people once or twice a year in Washington then go home and plan for the next march." An antiwar mobilisation is a whole educating and activating process. It is the high school student justifying his antiwar button to his or her schoolmates, literature tables, picket lines, films, university teach-ins, speakers in schools, and discussion at union stop works. The mass march is but the culminating focus where the whole movement (reflecting widespread antiwar sentiment in the total population) comes together to exercise its collective strength against the government.
"In six years of (antiwar) marches not one fucking thing has been acomplished." Why then did Nixon, Holyoake and McMahon withdraw the bulk of the troops from Vietnam? Not out of good-will, but because of the growing antiwar sentiment which was expressing itself through mass protests. The Pentagon Papers, various newspapers, and occassionally even government officials, admit to this. And why are all kinds of bishops, All Blacks and city councillors coming out against the Springbok tour? Not through some spontaneous leap in race consciousness, but because the 1970 tour demos and the ones now developing (combined with the actions of black people in the US and around the world) have forced them to think about the issue and take a stand.
Those who lose the perspective of going out to the people and getting them involved in mass actions tend to drift off in one of two directions (and sometimes combinations of both).
One, which can be labelled 'ultraleft", is to escalate the rhetoric. It makes you feel good and pure, even if you don't have much of an audience. You also have a lot of fun trying to put down other radicals who, because they are relating to the consciousness of the people involved in various mass campaigns, do not sound as 'left' as you do.
On the other hand, you can do what the author of the Salient article suggests, and work through 'accepted' channels - writing to your M.P., electing 'better' M.P.s, etc.
However, if we are to get rid of this capitalist system and all its derivative social evils, we cannot rely either on our own 'radical' declarations or putting 'good' politicians into office. Building the forces to make a revolution is a long process requiring patient work; it means building independent mass movements (e.g. antiwar, anti-tour, women's liberation), involvement in the trade union and student movements, and socialist educational work.
Socialist theory is put to use to understand the dynamics of the unfolding struggle against capitalism. It enables us to see that the struggle of the Indochinese people is the focal point of the conflict between capitalism and socialism on a world scale, and the necessity to build a mass anti-war movement to get all the US troops and aircraft out so that the Indochinese revolution can be victorious.
We can also see the importance of the anti-apartheid movement, the revolutionary dynamic of women's liberation, why students are radicalising ahead of workers at the present time and the importance of the fight against wage restraints.
Understanding that the workers must be the central component of any revolution in New Zealand, it is necessary to relate to and support their present organisations, the unions and the Labour Party, and carry the political campaigns into these areas, but without having the slightest illusions about the FOL leaders or any Labour M.P.s - including people like David Shand.
Read the other contributions in this issue and think to yourself - what are they asking me to do? For us this is an easy question to answer. March for the repeal of all anti-abortion laws on May 6; help build the July 14 nationaly antiwar mobilisation; help build mass protests against the Springbok tour; join the forthcoming Socialists for Labour election campaign; read Socialist Action and other socialist publications available on the campus literature tables; and come to the Young Socialist meetings and the Militant Forum.
Keith LockeSocialist Action League
It's Not A Dream
Salient's anonymous, ex-armchair revolutionary makes a number of worthwhile points in his article "Is the Dream Over?" But his basic premise, that all we can do is reform the present bourgeois system, is completely rejected by the Spartacist League.
We live in an era of war, class exploitation, colonial oppression, pollution and racial and sexual persecution. These are a direct outcome of the Irrationality of capitalism in its era of decay. The laws of capitalism force the imperialists into a militant protection of the markets they control, and into all kinds of barbarity.
The only way to bring an end to these atrocities is to bring an end to capitalism internationally and the only force capable of doing this is the international working class.
In his criticisms of past and present "radical" political groups, Salient's correspondent is dead right - but he doesn't go far enough. Instead of just criticising the automatic impulse to get out and march, he should look at the social composition of the marches, and the ideas of the "radical" groups' leaderships.
What he fails to see is that the vast majority of antitour, anti-war marches etc are reformist in their demands and leadership, and petty-bourgeios-student in composition. Hardly a revolutionary force.
But although he unconsciously criticises the demonstrations for this ("....the war continues the capitalist corporations are still getting rich from selling the means of death...."), he then goes on to develop this same reformism to its logical conclusion - work within the system. He dismisses in passing, the possibility of revolution, and his reasons for doing this are perhaps, from a "right-now" viewpoint, valid.
But the built-in irrationality of capitalism and the basic conflict of interest in it between the bosses and the workers makes crises in the future inevitable. Revolutionaries must struggle to come to an understanding of this society and of the revolutionary means of smashing it. And recognising the working class as the only potential revolutionary force, they must strive to build a party of the working class, guided by revolutionary politics.
It's because of the efforts of those reformists who've been leading the protest movement that we do not have such a party. They've made every effort to discourage truly revolutionary action or truly revolutionary thinking in anyone (the radicalisation that has occurred has been largely a reflex reaction to the inadequacies and incompetence of the existing powers). Certainly they've made no attempt to build the political consciousness of the working class, which, when united and aware of its interests and what it can do, is the decisive revolutionary force in society.
The Spartacist League stands for working class revolution, but realises this is not going to be an overnight thing. The immediate aim must be to build a vanguard party which will intervene in the day-to-day struggles of the working class to lead them nearer and nearer to the revolution.
This must be the task that takes up all our energy at present - trying to make this sick bourgeois society a slightly better place in which to live. Fighting to put the National Party out isn't going to raise anyone's political consciousness, and by siphoning off energy from the struggle to build a vanguard party, slows down development of such a party, thus re-inforcing the assertion that the number of true revolutionaries is growing too slowly for revolution to be seriously considered.