Socialist Aotearoa: A libertarian future?

Socialist Aotearoa: A libertarian future?

Pre Conference Discussion Document no2.

By Derwin Smith


Since me and a few others come from a different revolutionary socialist tradition (libertarian socialism) from many of the members of socialist Aotearoa I thought I’d write up a discussion document for our upcoming conference to lay out what I’d like to see in terms of building a revolutionary socialist movement.


Socialist Aotearoa:

– What should our role be in building a revolutionary socialist movement.

Group organisation and structure:

– How should we organise Socialist Aotearoa.

Building a mass based movement:

  • How we can build a revolutionary trade union movement here in Aotearoa.

  • Participation in community struggle.

  • Participation in student struggle.

  • Building a revolutionary counter culture.

My Politics

This discussion document is going to start out by outlining the where I’m coming from in terms of political analysis. While classical Marxists view the ‘ruling class’ in terms of their relationship with the means of production i.e. employers and workers etc. my view is the ruling class is that it is the social entity that has monopolised control over the means of production (like classical Marxism) but also it has monopolised control over the ‘means of administration’ and ‘means of coercion’. So in this context my view is that our goal is not only economic equity and democracy but also spreading out the control over administration and coercion (i.e. not building a ‘revolutionary’ state that still monopolising control over coercion and administration). My view is that we will create this economic, administrative, and coercive democracy through the use of a revolutionary general strike were the international working class takes over our economic, social, and cultural institutions and starts running them through a directly democratic process (and the possible use of a democratic popular militia that is accountable to the worker and community councils to protect this new social order from counter revolution). This is the political context of this discussion document.

What should our role be in building a revolutionary socialist movement.

In my view the role of socialist Aotearoa in building a revolutionary movement should be as follows:

Socialist Aotearoa should be an organisation based around revolutionary politics that’s main goals is to educated people about radical politics, promote class consciousness, and influence working class and community organisations to take on revolutionary aims. We should be encouraging these organisations to be completely politically independent (including from us) to encourage self activity and initiative and to make sure these don’t get highjacked by people with agendas that aren’t in those organisations direct interest.

Another major role Socialist Aotearoa can take on is getting involved in struggles and building solidarity between different struggles – i.e. linking struggles between community action and union or internationalist campaigns as well as exposing people to all the different types of non parliamentary political participation available to us.

I believe as an organisation we should remain extra parliamentary and never in the future engage in being part of any state apparatus. This is for three main reasons, firstly if we do manage to have a revolution our participation in any government organisations will be redundant because our society will be run through a bottom up direct democratic process where people are controlling the decisions that effect their own lives. And secondly - if we do get involved in the government in revolutionary times we will be hindering the self activity of our communities and the working class in general by monopolising the means of administration, coercion, and production that any state apparatus systematically does. Thirdly if we get involved in electoral politics it is my opinion that we will just go down the lines of all other left electoral parties and become social democratic instead of a revolutionary force.

Group structure and organisation:

I think we need to escape the ‘tyranny of structurelessness’ that in the future could plague our organisation. This means that we should have some clear positions in our organisation that are highly accessible and accountable to our membership. I propose the most urgent of these positions is 1) Treasurer and 2) media spokesperson.

  1. The treasurers role would be to be in charge of collecting and distributing funds. I believe that as we grow as an organisation each branch should have their own treasurer to maintain local initiative and political self activity. This is not to say that we would not all get together to fund organisation wide campaigns, but the use of funds should be bottom up and highly democratic.

  2. I think we should have a accessible and accountable media spokesperson that has the role of collective building and maintaining sympathetic media contacts and can share these with the organisation.

These positions could be rotational – and any more we come up with - (like every 6 months or every year or whatever we decide) – to try and spread around the responsibility to as many willing members as possible.

I believe we should have regular meetings (maybe every 2 or 3 weeks) to discuss present, past, and future political activity and make decisions about our actions. When we do make decisions collectively on policy or strategy these decisions should not be binding for people within the organisation that disagree (to avoid tyranny of the majority).

We need to be aware of the underrepresentation of women and racial minorities in the extra parliamentary left and come up with strategies to combat this within our organising efforts. I believe this should be evident in any future organisational structure that our group takes on and as part of programs we argue for other organisations to take on. It is important that our organisation is infused with the life experience of women and racial minorities for two reasons: one so we are not reproducing types of oppression that we theoretically oppose; and secondly this will strengthen our organisation because it will be more opening and welcoming to different peoples experience and outlook. This is my opinion should not be done in the way that some organisations do – for instance the AUSA(Auckland student union) has positions like women’s affairs and Maori affairs – in my view this is just ghettoizing and separating these types of oppression instead of having anti sexist or anti racist politics infused within all of the organisation . We also need an interrogation of white male privilege and what the implications are for our organising efforts. This all needs to be done within the context of building class unity.

Above all I believe the basic principal of our organising should be that we should be as bottom up as possible allowing people to take the most initiative and encouraging self activity. However this needs to be balanced with effectiveness – we do not want to cripple ourselves with dogmatic organisational structures that mean we can’t get anything done!

Building a Mass Movement

Building a revolutionary trade union movement in Aotearoa

I believe one of the main parts of a movement that will bring around a just society is a revolutionary trade union movement. It is our job to organise one.

What is a revolutionary trade union?

I believe a revolutionary trade union has six elements:

  1. It is explicitly anti-capitalist and in favour of a directly democratic society.

  2. It is committed to becoming as democratic as possible with a bottom up structure and minimal union bureaucracy.

  3. It engages in revolutionary socialist education and is committed to raising radical anti-capitalist class consciousness.

  4. Committed to engaging directly with employers because historically government mediation has produced pro employer outcomes and has sapped worker self-activity and strength.

  5. Politically independent.

  6. Most importantly they would have an engaged and active membership.

From what I can understand there are three main strategies for building a revolutionary trade union movement. They are as follows:

One: Rank and File unionism – this concept is already part of our ‘five fingers for a fist’ so I will not go over it here.

Two: Making new unions that are revolutionary from the beginning. This has some advantages but also huge disadvantages. New Unions take and incredibly large amount of time and experience, and are usually organising people that are not already organised – this means that it can easily fail and suck up a lot of time and effort. There are also probably less likely to be radical engaged members which can lead to a top down approach. This also can have the effect of taking the militants our of the existing trade union and leaving them to the will of the bureaucrats.

Three: “Boring from within” – this approach involves taking old social democratic unions and turning them into revolutionary unions from the inside. This can be down with a combination of education and radicalisation of members and conversion of some of the bureaucrats as well as getting revolutionaries elected to positions. This has been historically successful in some cases but is very hard to do with unions controlled by either social democratic forces or communist forces as socialist militants will be expelled.

I believe that in the future we will be doing to be doing a combination of all three strategies where appropriate.

Participation in Community struggle

I believe we need to be involved in community struggle as members of the community – not as members of Socialist Aotearoa. We need to be raising radical ideas and influencing the organisations to take on more effective politics but most importantly we need to stress the idea of political independence. We must not try and take over these organisations and bring them in as part of Socialist Aotearoa or use them to our political advantage as many left wing groups have done in the past. However this does not mean that we will not start or be part community initiatives as Socialist Aotearoa but we need to be transparent in our actions.

Participation in Student struggle

I think Socialist Aotearoa should be engaged in creating branches on campuses that are autonomous to some extent that aim ad building class and student consciousness and expose students to extra parliamentary politics. I believe that and end goal is to build revolutionary student unions, campus workers unions, and lecturers unions (as described above) with the aim of putting the universities can be put under direct democratic control.

Building a revolutionary counter culture

I believe building a revolutionary counter culture is an important part of what we have to do as revolutionaries. There has been talk of doing more music events and stuff like that, as we grow we can do art and all that cool stuff. However this counter culture needs to be based in two things – firstly in has to be based in class struggle and secondly revolutionary class consciousness. I also believe that as a class based revolutionary movement grows we will see the development of a revolutionary counter culture emerging in many different and organic ways, I believe that our actions should be like this also in as much that it is not controlled to a very high extent or whatever.

However we do need to be careful that we do not let this take away from genuine political action or degenerate into identity politics. Our main goals are to be organising around and across class – not ideas. Class is a legal and economic reality in our society. Radical ideas are not.

In Conclusion

I hope this paper will promote a lot of discussion and I am totally welcome to critique and questions. I acknowledge that I have not dealt with issues like ‘workerism’ or the environment. I on these we will have to talk later but briefly we should try and remain anti-consumerist and protectors of the environment while also arguing that capitalism and the state are the cause of these problems.

In solidarity

Derwin Smith


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