What should a revolutionary do?
“Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”
When we look at the world it can seem that the problems of the world are too huge to do anything about. Often you’ll hear people say, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ It’s true that the amount of change one person can make is small. There are some things that every individual can do to make the world a better place but they are small compared to the problems the world faces. The most important things that revolutionaries can do is to work together with others to transform the world.
Every revolutionary should be involved in their union at work, fighting for better pay and conditions for all workers, showing support for other workers in their industry or city who might be on strike or protesting for better pay and conditions or improving their workplace to make it more environmentally sustainable, connected to the community and with more workers’ control of decision making.
Socialist Aotearoa also believes that revolutionaries should be involved in their local branch of the Mana Party. Mana is a Maori-led, working-class, pro-socialist organisation that links together radical trade unionists, tino rangatiratanga activists, artists and musicians and the revolutionary left. The leaders of Mana; Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes, Matt McCarten, John Minto and Sue Bradford have all spent decades fighting for the rights and freedom of working class people, living wages for workers, return of stolen Maori land, liveable benefits and against war and racism. Mana represents a direct challenge to the poverty and injustice at the heart of John Key’s New Zealand. Mana has the potential to link together a lot of different movements together from the campaign against deep sea oil drilling to the fight for a higher minimum wage and to give socialist ideas a national stage.
In the struggles of the day, socialists aim to be the most active and inventive fighters.
Another important thing is that revolutionaries must be involved in the struggles of the day, be they strikes, Palestine solidarity, student occupations, anti-war marches, environmental campaigns or whatever. It is here, where people are fighting already, that there is the best chance of people developing socialist ideas. In such struggles socialists must aim to be the most active and inventive fighters. People will take revolutionary politics seriously if they see it is of practical help in explaining and aiding their own struggles.
When people take action themselves in defiance of their boss or against a government or corporation they get a taste of their own ability, their own intelligence and power. People who have been told they are worthless by the media or their boss feel for the first time their importance to making the world a better place. People who feel alone or depressed at the state of the planet feel uplifted and intimately connected to those who they struggle alongside. These feelings are contagious and can spread quickly around a city, country or even the world. One strike can ignite other strikes, one revolution can inspire a dozen others, a few people fighting back can catalyze the resistance of many, many more.
This feeling of confidence and empowerment brings with it the realisation that ordinary people can not only transform the world but also control the world. All those old beliefs in the primacy of greed, laziness and selfishness in human nature fall away when people find themselves making great sacrifices and working hard to stop their country going to war or to get a corporation to pay its workers a living wage.
Always there are people determined to resist. Always their resistance brings them into confrontation with the rich and, in the process, makes them into socialists of one kind or another. Their resistance, moreover, relates to something which is happening, the solution to which demands some kind of action now. It cannot wait until the next election. All these people who fight back feel the need for solidarity. In any struggle whether it is against benefit cuts or against climate change will have a lot of different people involved. Some people might be members of a militant union like Unite. Others will be students new to the struggle. Others will be Maori activists with a tradition of resistance rooted in the experience of their iwi since colonisation. Some might be people who have been politically active before but are getting back involved again because one particular issue has reengaged them in the struggle.
Everyone involved in a struggle will have a different talent or ability. Some will be builders who can make props and signs, others will be artists who can create banners, some people will have spare money to contribute, others will have more hours to put into doing the hard work. Musicians and writers can inspire, teachers can educate, good cooks can warm bellies, home brewers can provide ale. Some will be good at talking to people, others will be good at designing websites. A revolutionary organisation unites all of these socialists together so we can pool our talents and skills and fight together. Revolutionary organisation creates the synergy of the people. It allows skills and information to be shared between those fighting back and provides a base from which to plan activism and organising.
Discipline allows revolutionaries to out smart and out fight the capitalists and the police.
There are also some things that revolutionaries and activists have to do to ensure we succeed. Some things we have to do are harder than others, some things are less pleasant but no less necessary. However many hands make light work, and the more people who work together to get things done the better. A revolutionary organisation co-ordinates and shares out these tasks according to people’s abilities and commitments. Making banners and placards, writing articles, leaflets and press releases, talking to the media or at meetings, selling pamphlets or collecting signatures for a petition are the nuts and bolts of activism that all socialists should know how to do and new socialists should be trained in. The more that people contribute to these activities the greater the combined reach of revolutionaries.
Even though Socialist Aotearoa is only a few years old, we have already proved our ability to lead and win struggles. We called the demonstration to sack Paul Henry after his racist outbursts and got him rolled, the weekend before Alasdair Thompson was dismissed for his sexist comments about women’s pay we were outside the offices of the EMA calling for his resignation. When Auckland’s bus drivers were locked out we joined them on the picket lines with a banner ‘Buses not Bosses’. When Telecom’s 800 lines engineers walked out on strike against an attack on their work rights, we organised a fundraising party to help the strikers feed their families. When John Key announced attacks on workers’ rights in 2010, we led hundreds of union activists into direct confrontation to disrupt the National Party conference. When Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to put down their democracy uprising, we called a demonstration outside the Saudi consulate in Epsom and brought the paint bombs. When the hikoi against the Marine and Coastal Area Bill marched through Auckland we showed our solidarity and linked the fight for tino rangatiratanga with the struggle of workers in the city, ‘They steal your land in the countryside, our sweat in the workplace’. Many of our members and activists are Palestinian and have over the years campaigned strongly against Israeli apartheid. When Israeli tennis players or turn up at the Auckland tennis tournament or Israeli politicians tour the country Socialist Aotearoa activists are always prepared to demonstrate calling for ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ and if necessary be arrested. Our activists lead Rainforest Action, which working together with other environmental and human rights campaigners has stopped many companies selling rainforest timber. These are just a few of the successes of Socialist Aotearoa.
Yet all of these campaigns and activities has required socialists to plan, organise and work together with others. They require our members to know how to agitate, organise and mobilise people into the struggle.
Learning how to convince people of the necessity of socialist revolution, combat racism or sexism dividing a workplace, lead a strike, organise a picket of a company selling rainforest timber or co-ordinate a united front action in support of asylum-seekers cannot happen in a vacuum. These skills are not learnt at school, at work or even in mainstream political parties like Labour or the Greens. Revolutionary organisations are the only place that ordinary people will learn the skills and be given the encouragement to transform the world.
Some of us contribute a lot to the organisation, some of us a little. All of us have friends and comrades outside the organisation and we wouldn’t be any good as socialists if we didn’t. If we seem confident, it is not because of single-mindedness or fanaticism. It is because many of us have experience in dozens of different struggles including ones that were spectacular successes. Over the years we have learnt what works and what does not, although as times change we change with it. We know that with hard work and dedication, small groups of socialists can detonate larger struggles, political campaigns can yield important victories and we can change many people’s ideas through discussion and argument.
We know that revolution is possible but that it will require revolutionary organisation. If the conservative dream were suddenly to come true and every worker went along with pro-capitalist ideas, if there were never any strikes or protests, if no-one ever answered back to the boss, then there would be no point organising a socialist organisation.
We would be living in the kind of world George Orwell described in his book, 1984: a cowed and submissive working class afraid to even think a subversive thought and constantly monitored by Big Brother. In such a world the possibility of resistance, let alone revolution, would be reduced to nothing.
Similarly there would be no need for a revolutionary organisation if the anarchist dream of spontaneous immediate class struggle came true. If, without organisation, planning, strategy or leadership, workers across the country were suddenly to take action and defeat the bosses, there would be no need for revolutionaries to be organised together.
But real life is never as bad as the conservative dream and never as good as the anarchist dream. In reality, working class struggle is always uneven, never uniformly bad or uniformly good. Some workplaces will vote for strikes, others will not. Some students will attend demonstrations, others will go home to study. Some people will vote for the National Party and others ignore ‘politics’ altogether.
Organisations like Socialist Aotearoa co-ordinate the activism of the most revolutionary and committed activists, advancing social justice struggles for a better world.
Most of the time revolutionaries will be a minority and will have to work hard to get their ideas across. After a lifetime of pro-capitalist propaganda from newspapers, television, lecturers and family members revolutionaries face an uphill task convincing people of the need for socialism, and the possibility of revolution. Organisations like Socialist Aotearoa exist around the world and carry out similar functions, providing an anti-dote to right-wing, authoritarian and conservative ideas, co-ordinating the activism of the most revolutionary and committed activists, and advancing social justice struggles for a better world.
The more people that join and dedicate themselves to Socialist Aotearoa the stronger the revolutionary left will be. If hundreds of people joined Socialist Aotearoa tomorrow committed to revolutionary, anti-capitalism, we could pass on the historical and practical experience of revolutionaries around the world and build out dozens of struggles to isolate and defeat the capitalist class. We could organise gigs and meetings around the country to rock against oil drilling. We could use non-violent direct action to shut down the Huntly coal fired power station and demand the Government commit to reducing New Zealand’s greenhouse gas levels. We could blockade the country's army and air force bases until our soldiers were brought home from Afghanistan. We could organise boycotts of clothing labels like Nike who refuse to allow their workers to form unions in countries like China. We could occupy every university and polytechnic until the Government abolished fees and dropped student debt. We could win over hundreds of thousands of workers to the idea of a classless society where everyone was equal and the means of producing wealth in society were owned by everyone and the management of the economy democratically controlled by all.
With revolutionary organisation comes the ability to intervene and lead in struggles.
In fact the possibilities of social, political and economic transformation are endless. We can save the planet from the ravages of war and ecological destruction and rescue billions from starvation and poverty if we work together and commit ourselves to revolution. But we need organisation. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Socialist revolution seems so far away, so impossible, so difficult that it can be an overwhelming idea. Yet we can bring change when we fight and organise together. Revolutionary organisation is a necessary step towards creating revolution here in Aotearoa and around the world.