How can the Australian Right beat the Left?
There is always debate on the Australian right about the proper way forward. After so many decades of oft-times pathetic failure the perpetual question remains what is the correct strategy to stem, and reverse, the tide of national decay?
In one sense the American phenomenon of “Q” gives a guide to the faults in thinking prevalent on the right across the English speaking world. Otherwise sensible, right thinking people seem so intent on waiting for a presumed saviour to emerge from inside the establishment that they are embracing absurdities. Repeatedly the assumption of good-hearted ordinary patriots has been that all that is required is to elect the right person, or to “trust the plan”. That somehow hopelessly compromised state institutions are still somehow “on our side”.
It’s easy to sneer at such hopeless naiveté, but the truth is ordinary sane people have been left with little else but such forlorn hopes. The activist right, the groups and people who should have been building and infiltrating the institutions to combat the left’s dominance of the cultural direction of the nation have been busy doing anything but. The field of actual activism on the right has been left to cranks and deranged historical reenactors. Serious people have not organised and so serious organisations have not emerged.
The situation as it stands is that the Australian far left, broadly encompassing everyone with political views ranging from the Greens to the Anarchists, probably outnumbers the patriotic right in terms of activists a hundred times over. With these activists they dominate the institutions of our culture and society and use them to create yet more activists like themselves.
How did they get like this? Well they organised.
Over the last 100 years the amount of trial and error in strategies for organising that have been attempted by the far left and the amount of ink spilled over their various successes and failures is staggering. The Trotskyists in particular due to their many feverishly competing rival sects seem to have tried every organising trick in the book and have written entire volumes about why this or that particular strategy didn’t work for this or that group at this or that time.
Perhaps ironically this furious marketplace competition has led to evolutionary pressures that mean that those Trotskyist groups still in existence in the English-speaking world are probably the most efficient guides to how to build a movement of activists from a small base in the world today.
And when studying these groups from the end of the second world war up until today one observes that the organisations which survived and thrived were the ones that put emphasis on recruitment and education of activists, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.
The false paths they followed along the way are many and fascinating.
In Australia and especially in the seventies the dictates of their political faith called for many Trotskyist groups to try and “industrialise” their activists by getting their mainly middle class uni student members to go and work in factories and the like. The groups that didn’t withdraw from this disastrous strategy in time almost collapsed. The factory workers and the students both hated it and it was overall a total failure.
In 2001 the biggest Trotskyist groups in Australia the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) decided that what the Australian public really wanted to do was to vote for communism, and so founded the Socialist Alliance. This was again a disaster. Focusing on trying to win elections when your political ideology isn’t actually even vaguely popular with voters wore out their activists and gobbled up their resources. People started leaving and as very few new people were being recruited, the simple mathematics led to the point where in 2008 the ISO had to fold itself into a group that had split from them in 2003 just to survive and the DSP/Socialist Alliance now seems to consist of two women, three men and a dog.
The most successful Trotskyist group in 21st century Australia is Socialist Alternative, so successful in fact that one of their activists Roz Ward actually managed to design the “safe schools” program to teach impressionable kids their particular worldview around issues of sexuality and gender. Socialist Alternative was created when they split from the ISO in 1995 specifically over organisational issues.
Mick Armstrong of SAlt argued that for a relatively small group recruiting already left leaning people in “ones or twos” and making sure those people were as ideologically indoctrinated as possible was more important than trying to take over the unions or start a political party. He also argued that instead of trying to recruit from the “working class” that their ideology told them was the engine of the revolution they should instead be recruiting from those places where they could get the most recruits (universities).
For these heresies Armstrong was thrown out of the ISO. Socialist Alternative back in 1995 started with only about 30 people and grew very slowly. The emphasis on extremely high levels of political education for recruits and the high level of involvement required from new people meant that for many years Socialist Alternative had an almost absurdly high membership turnover.
By the year 2000 the group had grown to barely 50 members, nearly all concentrated in Melbourne, but the individual level of dedication of these members was relatively speaking extremely high. While the ISO boasted of recruiting hundreds of new members at the S11 riots most of those people were never to be seen again. Socialist Alternative made no such grandiose claims, and just continued their gradual growth.
As the Socialist Alliance project began to cripple their rivals over the succeeding decade the slow but steady approach of Socialist Alternative began to pay off. By 2012 rivals estimated that Socialist Alternative had 350 members. By 2020 they were approaching 500. Considering the collapse in all of the other revolutionary Marxist groups and the general downward trend in membership for most political and non-political community based organisations in Australia during the same period this growth is nothing short of astonishing. Eventually they grew to dominate the far left both on and off campus.
What was even more astonishing was that the turnover issue had significantly decreased. As Socialist Alternative reached a certain size they still bled off staggering amounts of members (usually about the time they finished their uni degrees) but the core activists were more and more likely to stay involved, swelling the overall numbers.
An important contrast is to examine the Australian anarchist scene over the same period. During their heyday of the anti-globalisation movement Anarchism/Autonomism in Australia was a significant political tendency on the left with many hundreds of followers. It certainly attracted more people than the dour Trotskyists. After all what would you rather be doing? Organising a riot at an underground punk gig or trying to sell boring newspapers to disinterested passers-by? Plus the black masks were as cool then as they are today. What kid doesn’t want to look good while self-righteously breaking other people’s things?
The Anarchists had dozens of significant affinity groups, organisations and projects. They had a coherent ideology and dozens of dedicated activists. Yet 20 years on they barely exist while Socialist Alternative has thrived. The Reasons for this are many and some of them no doubt have to do with the inherent nature of the ideologies of Anarchism and Trotskyism themselves but also undoubtedly has to do with the strategies undertaken. SAlt concentrated on recruiting and educating. The Anarchists certainly concentrated on educating, but not so much on recruiting.
The results speak for themselves. SAlt grew to the point where for the first time an openly revolutionary Marxist group is competitive inside the National Union of Students. The Anarchists recently had to shut down their long running clubhouse in Melbourne and only gained an activist space in Brisbane by infiltrating the Socialist Alliance and then changing the locks on their HQ.
The lessons learned from these the furthest reaches of the extreme left are stark. Groups and ideologies unable to reproduce themselves through gaining and educating new activists inevitably fade into irrelevance. There is no magical “marketplace of ideas” where different ideologies are rationally weighed one against one another until only the best remain. That is a fantasy. Sitting back and waiting for the LNP to disappoint you again or for a knight on a white horse to appear or for the entire system to collapse under the weight of its own absurdities is not a strategy, it’s a drawn out recipe for chronic depression.
The only way to make sure good ideas win is to look at how the people with very bad ideas have managed to keep them alive despite the absurdity of their prescriptions. Recruiting activists in ones and twos, educating them to a high level of political awareness and then retaining them over the long term through activism and positive projects is the only way to begin taking back a toehold of what the left has spent a century taking from us.
And since the left did take a century to get to where they are we shouldn’t expect to get back to sanity in anything less than that. The advantage the right has over the left is that we think of ourselves as a part of a chain beginning with our ancestors and continuing with our descendants. Nation, family and culture are not for us something to be “deconstructed” but rather something to be celebrated and preserved. As such there is no reason why we cannot think and plan for the long term in a fashion far superior to our anti-civilizational opponents.
The world is there to be won and our country is there to be reborn. Through peaceful work, persuasion and community we can prevail. Our side just needs to start looking at what has made the other side so successful and copy the living hell out of it.
After all there’s nothing wrong with a bit of plagiarism when the stakes are so high.