- The Guardian
- Issue #2081
Lenin said of the Paris Commune that to Marx it was “more important than hundreds of programs and arguments,” because the Commune was real action, unsuccessful, but inspiring and instructive. There has been a lot of action in Australia recently. The rallies for a free Palestine are in their eighth week, and have expanded to school strikes and actions against ships bringing material to the Israeli apartheid regime. Is action always good? Does it work? What does it mean for action to work?
Obviously mass protest action can be effective. We only have to look at the Albanese Labor government’s recent timid moves towards urging a pause and oh-so-carefully criticising the Israeli Defence Force’s genocidal assault on Palestinians. Inadequate, but arguably steps in the right direction, and things a government this cautious would not have done without a lot of pressure. Stepping back in time, there was the mass campaign against John Howard’s WorkChoices policy, and the mass demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, which probably got Australia out of that war earlier.
Actions can also fizzle out and go nowhere. The Vietnam war demonstrations were dwarfed by massive protests against the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and made no difference to the war or the lying leaders who promoted it; Howard had some four more years in power, and George Bush and Tony Blair likewise. Action that fails can have the negative effect that the media and leaders start to discount mass action, so the price of change gets higher.
So what’s the magic ingredient that makes action effective? It’s not simply large numbers – although it’s good to have more people at a rally or demonstration, and everyone reading this should turn out for the next pro-Palestine event. The Iraq war demonstrations showed that large numbers aren’t enough.
Is drastic interesting action what’s needed? It’s good to get an issue in the news, but stunts can also make the news all about the thing you’ve done, rather than about the issue.
We are NOT saying ‘stay home,’ and we are NOT saying don’t do stunts. The Guardian supports protests in the interests of the environment.
Really effective action is both short-term and long term, and it involves other people. Short term: got off your couch and hit the streets the next time there’s a protest about Palestine or AUKUS. Long term: join a group that will lead to sustained action. The Guardian strongly supports Unionists for Palestine, a group of grass-roots union members striving to organise inside their own unions to take their comrades, the people they work with, into the protest against Israel’s occupation and war crimes.
It’s not easy working in unions. You have to talk with people. They don’t automatically agree. You have setbacks, progress, and more setbacks. It’s much easier to just go to a demonstration and write off your union as too conservative or wrong.
The Communist Party of Australia has just recently celebrated the October Revolution, when the whole world knew how powerful the working class can be when it’s organised.
So take action! Take the short-term action and show up to the next demonstration. Take the long-term action, join your union, and work to bring your fellow-workers with you.
As a great man once said, we have a world to win.