Socialist Alternative’s Socialism 2020 conference in Perth over the weekend of 26-27 September, attracted more than 160 participants. The conference grappled with the overlapping political, social, economic and climate crises.
Capitalist classes around the world are willing to sacrifice workers and the oppressed to COVID-19 to keep profits flowing. The climate crisis is wreaking havoc, as historic wildfires, orange skies and smoke become a part of the new normal. While healthcare workers fight the pandemic in underfunded hospitals, militarised police brutalise protesters, murder people of colour and defend the far right. These issues were introduced in our opening panel—featuring Perth-based socialists Lian Jenvey, Nick Brown and Erin Russell—and continued across sessions on the rise of authoritarianism, police abolition, and pandemics and capitalism.
These conditions are producing death and destruction. But they’re also creating mass resistance, from Lebanon and Belarus to the centre of global capitalism, the United States.
We heard from radicals on the frontlines of this resistance. At the closing panel on Sunday, Khury Petersen-Smith, a Boston-based socialist, discussed heroic resistance across the US to racist police violence. Petersen-Smith celebrated the mass defiance, and highlighted the transformative process happening in every neighbourhood in which people are organising resistance and discussing the police, racism and capitalism.
Activists from the last major upsurge in global struggle, the 1960s and 1970s, addressed the conference. Gumbainggir radical Gary Foley spoke about the electrifying Black Power movement in Australia, which he was central to. US socialist Joel Geier—who was part of the Freedom rides and Berkeley Free Speech movement—spoke about the wave of struggled during the “long sixties” (1960-75). He gave an insider’s account of how the process of mass struggle radicalised a generation and far-left organisations mushroomed in size.
The discussions about resistance around the world today and throughout history aimed to guide our approach to organising in Australia today. Police racism, state repression, inequality and exploitation are central to Australian capitalism. These injustices need to be opposed here, and radicals need to be organised. As Geier concluded: “Our job is to build something now to prepare for the ongoing radicalisations. You've got to decide for your whole life, what side are you on?”
Revolutions happen only in places with repressive regimes and extreme poverty. They don’t happen in economically advanced, democratic countries like Australia. Most people think this. But is it right? Recent history might seem to suggest so—social revolutions are practically unheard of in the West. There are, however, a number of reasons why revolution in Australia is possible.
The billionaires have had it too good for too long. CEO salaries are up more than 40 percent in a year, while living standards for everyone else are getting smashed. Decade after decade, under both major parties, the rich have gotten richer while everyone else struggles. And the politicians run Victoria like it’s their own private cash machine.
Women’s oppression looks quite different today than 60 years ago. Women’s rights are more accepted now, women are a bigger part of the workforce, contraception and abortion are legal in much of the world. There are more women world leaders and CEOs than ever before. At the same time, the vast majority of women, even in a wealthy country like Australia, are still paid less on average than men, still do most of the unpaid child care and other domestic labour in the home and still have to contend with demeaning sexist stereotypes.
Imperialist occupation has always generated resistance. Time and again, oppressed people have risen up heroically to drive out occupying armies. But heroism isn’t always enough: the politics of the resistance frequently make the difference between victory and defeat.
Western Australian public sector workers will rally at the state parliament on 17 August to demand that wages keep up with the cost of living. The rally, organised by the Public Sector Alliance of nine trade unions, follows several stop-work rallies held at WA hospitals over the last month, involving thousands of health workers.
The whole country is talking about Labor’s Climate Change Bill. But there’s nothing there.