FOR PEACE AND LIBERATION: A SOCIALIST EDUCATION CONFERENCE

Agenda at-a-glance:

Saturday August 27th
2:00pmA Marxist Feminist Perspective for Today
4:00pmThe Need for Anti-Imperialism in Australia
Sunday August 28th
9:30amLabour aristocracy, opportunism and national chauvinism – the historical split in socialism from 1914 to today
11:00amChanges in the composition, sociology and outlook of the Australian working class in the neoliberal period
12:30pmLunch break
1:15pmHistorical origin and current politics of the International Socialist Tendency
3:00pmInternational political situation since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine
4:45pmAustralian political situation and what an anti-imperialist left should be doing

Conference Location:

Newtown Community Centre, 1 Bedford St, Newtown NSW 2042

Please pre-register:

Register for the conference here: https://forms.gle/TP3E6nkPJwMtV89s7 or for more information email: redant.communcation@gmail.com

Full Schedule and Agenda

Day One, Saturday 27 August

Session One: A Marxist Feminist Perspective for Today, 2:00pm- 3:40pm

Speakers: Madeline F. and Ana Borges (MC: Pipin Jamson)

There have been historical debates globally regarding the place in feminist organising for a Marxist understanding of women’s oppression. Simultaneously, there were always questions around the place of feminist debates in Marxist organisations. This question is particularly relevant because in a Marxist tradition the oppression of women has always been seen as foundational to the development of capitalism, consequently being one of the structural oppressions to be challenged in any socialist program. The questions posed in this panel are: How can we understand the historical connection between women’s oppression and the emergence of a class system? How can we understand the importance of class struggle and feminism for the liberation of women today? And finally, the panel will bring examples of how Marxist feminist contributions advance women’s liberation in ways that liberal programs cannot.

1. Origins of dispossession and its importance (Madeline F.): 

The resurgence of feminist movements, particularly movements in the neoliberal period have created a misconception amongst some women that true emancipation under capitalism is possible. The development of capitalism has created the economic basis for the subordination of women and ultimately for class division. We must think about how these structures have been created and apply a historical materialist analysis when we ask ourselves, how will we overcome them and achieve liberation for all women?

2. Marxism, socialist feminism and the place of class struggle for women’s liberation today (Ana Borges): 

Women’s movements around the world have revealed the dangerous limitations of policies addressing women’s oppression in capitalist societies. Discussing policies on violence against women (coercive control and AVO laws in Australia), and recent popular movements – #elenao (#nothim) and Marcha das Margaridas (Daisies’ March) in Brazil, it is demonstrated here how Marxism advances women’s liberation in ways it cannot be achieved from a liberal perspective. It also demonstrates the impossibility of thinking about a socialist future without having women’s liberation as one of its pillars.

Madeline F. is a NSW union organiser for workers in the community sector and has previously represented health sector workers in Sydney and Newcastle. She has been involved in the climate movement, including the fight against the Santos gas project in Narrabri, and has actively campaigned for the rights of women workers in the community sector. Madeline studied at Parahyangan University (UNPAR) in Bandung where she became interested in building solidarity between activists in Australia and Indonesia.

Ana Borges is a Brazilian-Australian activist working mainly in the area of Violence Against Women. She was a member of the Socialist Democracy (DS) group in the Brazilian Worker’s party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) and an organiser in its youth group (Kizomba) in projects such as the World Social Forum. In Australia, Ana has been involved in Pro-abortion and Anti-violence Against Women campaigns and work, particularly in the struggle for the rights of survivors of violence on uncertain visa status.

Break, 3:40pm – 4:00pm

Session Two: The Need for Anti-Imperialism in Australia, 4:00pm – 5:40pm

Speakers: Max Lane, Sam King, TBA (third speaker to be announced)

Central to understanding the world today is recognising that the world is divided into rich, exploiting and poor, exploited nations – with the small group of rich, exploiting nations dominating the last 120 years. The exploiter nations are – at the same time – oppressors to the poor countries: their states, armies and capitalist classes will do anything and everything necessary to keep the global economy the way it is.  War, invasion, coups, IMF debt traps, trade wars, embargoes, and sanctions: nothing is beyond them. 

Australia is a member, albeit a junior one, in this exploiter club. Its foreign policies are all formulated within this framework: to keep the world divided between rich and poor nations. To make sure all this goes smoothly, Australian workers must remain convinced of a nationalist, even racist and chauvinist, perspective – otherwise there is the danger of ordinary people here realising their comradeship with exploited workers everywhere.

Fighting imperialism is not only a matter of supporting struggle overseas for its own sake. It means struggling to end the ideological domination over the working class in Australia of the racist, nationalist and imperialist ideas championed by our own capitalist rulers. This is an indispensable part of the struggle to defeat capitalist power in our own country.

This panel  discusses these three aspects: the long-term polarisation of the world into rich and poor, the Australian foreign policy that flows from defending this situation and the need for anti-imperialist struggle as an integral part of changing Australia itself. 

1: The polarisation of the world into rich and poor societies.

Speaker: Sam King

It is popular today to view China and some other countries in the Global South as catching up to the wealth and power of the rich, imperialist countries like the United States and Australia. However, analysis of the real nature of economic growth in China over the last 40 years, and of the relationship of China to the rich countries, shows this is not the case. China remains poor and continues to be denied access to the critical advanced productive technologies that are developed and monopolised by the rich countries and their large corporations. This is the case even as Chinese workers now carry on their backs a great part of the whole world’s work.

China is not close to catching up with the imperialist countries and it will be impossible to do so in the future – as long as it remains within the confines of the world capitalist system. Anti-China hysteria now being dialled up in Australia and elsewhere serves to distract attention from the glaring facts of ongoing rich-poor country exploitation and oppression. Yet recognising the real character of the exploitative relationship between the rich and poor countries is a necessary first step to convincing working people in this country of the importance of international solidarity and rejecting national chauvinism and class collaboration.

Sam King is the author of Imperialism and the Development Myth: How Rich Countries Dominate in the Twenty-First Century (Manchester University Press 2020). He was the Green Left Weekly correspondent for Indonesia and East Timor in 1999, reporting from Dili throughout the UN sponsored referendum and was among the final group of journalists evacuated to Darwin by the Australian army when the UN mission collapsed. He also corresponded from Caracas, Venezuela in 2007. Sam has been active in the socialist movement for over 25 years including campaigning against racism, uranium mining, Australia’s wars and in solidarity with struggles in Indonesia and East Timor. He is a founding editor of red-ant.org where he has written about China, the economics of imperialism, Cuba and Venezuela. Sam is currently active in the campaign against AUKUS.

2. Australia’s Imperialist Foreign Policy

Australian foreign policy has always been determined by its membership within a small club of imperialist powers that dominate the world economy, as well as by its ‘junior’ status within this club. While putting the interests of Australian capital at the forefront, it has had to do so from a position of relative weakness vis-a-vis the largest powers, especially the United States. Located in Asia, it has sometimes pressured the United States to act, as was the case with the Vietnam War. Other times, it has followed the United States, such as in recent interventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan – both of which were also aimed at securing the stability of the imperialist system. Most recently, the Morrison Government – supported by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) – joined AUKUS, a military alliance with the US and the UK in a blatantly aggressive move aimed at the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

A complicated world situation has now developed where both socialist and left-wing governments – mostly in Latin America – as well as capitalist governments outside the imperialist core – such as China and Russia – are facing increased hostility from the rich countries. It is within this framework that we must analyse Australia’s most recent foreign policies, such as its panicked diplomatic and ‘aid’ manoeuvres in the Pacific to counter China and the shipment of military aid to the Ukraine. This talk will discuss these examples as well as Australia’s membership in the QUAD – an alliance aimed at maintaining maximum interoperability with the US military – and the anti-AUKUS campaign in Australia.

3. The need for anti-imperialist struggle to change Australia itself.

Speaker: Max Lane

Being a socialist internationalist in an imperialist country has deep implications. These go beyond the absolute necessity of support for revolutions and national liberation struggles in other countries, especially in the Third World. It also means understanding fully how Australia is integrated into the small number of countries that make up the imperialist club: the group of oppressor nations who exploit the rest of the world. 

Much of Australian domestic politics is formed around the capitalist class’s need to justify among the working class here the sustaining of this situation, including by war as well as economic means. To this end, nationalism and chauvinism, fear of the other, and racism – not just against First Nations peoples but all the coloured peoples of the world – must be instilled in the working class. In response, internationalist solidarity is not just a sacred duty of socialists towards our comrades overseas, but also a central part of the fight against the ruling class’s domination here in Australia. This talk examines what is demanded of us now, here, today, in Australia.

Max Lane is the author of several books on Indonesia and the Philippines. During the 1990s he was National Coordinator of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET). He was Executive Convenor of the 1996 East Timor: Its Future in the Asia Pacific Conference in Sydney and Convenor of the 1998 and 2005 Asia Pacific Solidarity Conferences.  He is one of the founding editors of the RED ANT website and has been a socialist activist since 1981.

Day Two, Sunday 28 August

Session One: Labour aristocracy, opportunism and national chauvinism – the historical split in socialism from 1914 to today, 9:30am – 10:45am

Speaker: Nick D.

Under imperialism, massive amounts of surplus value are systematically wrenched from workers in the Global South and realised as ‘super-profits’ in the imperialist countries. This profit is captured by capitalists in the imperialist countries who can then afford to throw crumbs to the working class of ‘their country.’

This is evident in the stark difference in wages, conditions and levels of consumption in imperialist countries compared with the Global South. These material conditions, in turn, impact upon the political consciousness of workers inside the rich countries and are a basis for opportunism and national chauvinism within the proletarian movement.

Both Engels and Lenin, writing in their respective periods, analysed the impact of colonial plunder and imperialism on the political and social consciousness of workers inside the industrialised countries. This was particularly important for Lenin during the 1910s as large parts of the workers movement in Europe abandoned their commitments made at the 1912 Basel Congress and instead threw their support behind the ruling class of ‘their own’ country.

It remains the case today that since 1917, the only successful socialist revolutions have taken place outside the imperialist core. While the capitalist system has been pushed to the edge, such as in Paris during 1968, capitalist social relations have only been defeated in countries where the working class does not share in the crumbs of imperialist super-profits.

Why is this the case? Does imperialism make socialist revolution impossible in rich countries? Is there still a labour aristocracy? What form does it take in contemporary Australia compared to the periods when Engels and Lenin were writing?

Nick D is a graduate of Political Economy and Indonesian Studies who currently works in the NGO sector as a writer and translator. As well as working to link social movements and progressive groups in the region, he has been involved in the refugee rights and climate justice movements in Sydney. In 2019, Nick was involved in building the climate strike campaign at Sydney University – an action which saw thousands of students and university workers walk off campus in support of the environment. He has written on land-grabbing in West Papua and public housing in Jakarta.

Break, 10:45am – 11:00am

Session Two: Changes in the composition, sociology and outlook of the Australian working class in the neoliberal period, 11:00am – 12:30pm

Speaker: Andrew Martin

Working Class Consciousness in Advanced Capitalist Countries.

Today capitalism has created a global division of labour. The most advanced capitalist countries are industrialised in ways Karl Marx could not have foreseen with major advances in science and medicine and rises in living standards. Yet a form of subsistence-struggle-for-survival remains for much of the Global South where most people suffer under much worse social conditions. The common struggles of all workers often appear severed by this structural inequality.
What forms the consciousness of workers in the advanced capitalist countries? Are workers just cogs in a vast economic machine? Are they held captive by patterns of consumption? Do workers still form a social class in the way Marx described? How has the increasing diversity of the Australian population affected the working class?
This session will seek to explore these questions and how changes in the labour process have altered the composition of the working class, influencing its consciousness and industrial power. In particular, the session will examine the structural changes that have occurred in the neoliberal period in Australia. Where lies the social base of the working-class struggle in this shifting world?

Andrew Martin is a rank-and-file union militant with two decades of industrial experience in four Australian states. He has held delegate positions in the AMWU and MUA and fought to initiate the industrial action which took place against the sell-off of Queensland Rail in 2009. Andrew was the key leader of strike actions against 12-hour night shifts at the Port of Melbourne in 2018. He joined the socialist movement before the Iraq war in 2003 and has also been active in the refugee rights campaign in Western Australia.

Lunch Break, 12:30am – 1:15pm

Session Three: Historical origin and current politics of the International Socialist Tendency, 1:15pm – 2:40pm

Speaker: Sam King

The International Socialist Tendency (IST) in Australia consists of two competing groups – Socialist Alternative and Solidarity. It is the largest tendency on the far left in this country, the United Kingdom and – until it collapsed there in 2019 – was also dominant in the United States.

The IST arose historically from a split within the Trotskyist movement that took place under the intense social and political pressures leading up to the Second World War. Against Trotskyism’s historical defence of Soviet Russia against capitalist imperialism, the new IST groupings declared that Russia had ceased to be a workers’ state, had itself become imperialist and should not be defended by the workers’ movement internationally.

In recent years, IST groupings internationally and in Australia have again taken a series of positions on international events that align with the objectives of NATO and US imperialist wars and political campaigns. These include support for opposition movements in Libya, Syria and Hong Kong – and even Cuba; unwillingness to oppose increasing NATO belligerence towards Russia and; refusal to clearly oppose imperialist aggression against China. IST groups view China itself as “imperialist”, despite being a poor and economically exploited nation within the global economic system.

What is the underlying reason IST groups take these positions on international issues? How – in class terms – should Marxists characterise the IST as it exists today?

Break, 2:40am – 3:00pm

Session Four: International political situation Since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, 3:00pm – 4:30pm

Speaker: Sam King

The international situation is marked by a whole series of rapid and important changes, contradictions and conflicts.

U.S. defeat in Syria, which was brought about by Russia’s military intervention in that country perhaps marked the end of unchallenged U.S. unipolar dominance prevailing since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The change is caused also by China’s increased economic and military weight and the refusal of both Russia and China to simply kow-tow – on the UN security council and elsewhere – to any and all forms of US-led imperial aggression.

Increased defensive assertiveness against imperialist aggression by Russia and China – the most powerful Global South countries – is being answered by massively increased US belligerence. We can also see a higher degree of imperialist unity with all the rich countries lining up to support US-led aggression.

Inside the United States today, there is bipartisan support for the war drive and for a rapidly expanding pentagon budget. The capitalist mass media and Big Tech has rolled out a McCarthy style campaign of attacking free speech, de-platforming opponents – especially on the left – and demonising even mild establishment critics of US foreign policy. Yet the ability of the capitalist establishment to convince large parts of the working class to support their domestic and foreign policies appears increasingly fractured.

Trump’s presidency, from 2016-2020 – as well as his supporter’s attempted seizure of the Capitol Building on January 4, 2021 – with at least tacit support from sections of the police and armed forces – represented a decisive break from mass acquiescence to the major capitalist parties and from the relative domestic social peace that support entailed.

Since assuming office Biden has failed to mount any effective resistance to ongoing far-right Republican campaigns aimed at winding back the right to vote and abortion access. He has also failed to address dire social problems such as in health, housing and climate – paving the way for a return of a Trump-Republican control of Congress.

At the same time, across much of the Global South mass protests and political crises are widespread as the capitalist economy is hit hard by the fall-out from the global pandemic, war and US imposed sanctions against Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and elsewhere. These factors are causing a growing food crisis in the poorest countries.

While all of the rich, imperialist governments have fallen in behind NATO’s campaign against Russia, in the global South even professed U.S. allies like India refuse to follow all US orders. Latin America has been the scene of a series of centre-left electoral victories that both weaken U.S. power in the region and open the possibilities of new class struggles. This also gives a degree of relief and breathing space to the socialist countries of Cuba and Venezuela.

While China and Russia pose no direct threat to imperialist domination, the degree of imperialist control over those countries and over the Global South as a whole is clearly facing serious challenges. In such a complex and turbulent global environment, how can anti-imperialist socialists based in an imperialist country like Australia begin to understand the key drivers of the global situation? And how can we best orient ourselves to raise consciousness and strengthen our own organisation?

Break, 4:30pm – 4:45pm

Session Five: Australian political situation and what an anti-imperialist left should be doing, 4:45pm – 6:00pm

Speaker: Nick D

Despite significant mobilisations during the 2019 climate strike and 2020 Black Lives Matter actions, there has been an overall downturn in political activity across Australia since the onset of the global pandemic. This has been coupled with the declining strength of left-wing organisations, particularly those with a genuine program of internationalism and anti-imperialism.

In this context, the Australian ruling class have massively escalated their war-mongering and aggression against China. This is manifested clearly in the AUKUS submarine deal and general level of anti-Chinese, pro-war hysteria.

Australia’s position as an imperialist country also provides fertile ground for racism, xenophobia and national chauvinism to cover over the realities of capitalist class rule and win workers over to support for “our” government’s agenda.

The question of what the anti-imperialist left should be doing is crucial and a program of greater internationalist revolutionary consciousness among the Australian working class is desperately needed.