'Respect' Activist Dave Hill, turns out to be more conservative than he probably thinks - a speech at Burleigh Heads on Australia's Gold Coast
Yesterday at Fradgley Hall at Burleigh Heads, on Australia's Gold Coast, David Hill, a
visiting Respect activist from the UK, spoke about his vision of resistance to the
Hill mentioned his background, where people often became policemen or soldiers, and
crime could be common, and also talked about his luck in winning entry to a privileged
During an academic career, he also became leader of the Labour group on the East Sussex
County Council. This gave him the chance to be wooed by champagne-wielding,
Paris-jaunt-dispensing representatives of the rulers, but when he returned to childhood
communities, he was brought back to earth. He got rid of both his suits.
He said he was in some ways glad of Thatcher, because she made it very clear what the
ruling class were all about. She pushed him from being a social democrat to being a
Marxist. Since, he said, entryism was the dominant idea at the time, he remained in the
Labour Party until 2005, not aligned in the battles of the early 80s to Militant Tendency, but as a non-aligned Marxist hostile to the leadership of the time.
Why would he stay inside New Labour for so long, he asked? He wanted a disciplined exit from the Labour Party. He did not want to spend his career isolated from a party that had a fighting chance at winning some power - he wanted at least a largish group of people to break away at the same time and work together.
Hill described labour movement politics in the UK - in the last twelve months, There
has been a big battle for control of trade unions and two big unions have been expelled
from the Labour party.
He explained that the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the largest conservative-left
group in the UK. ['conservative-left' is my term, expanded below, not his, and he
would disagree, 100%, with my analysis]
Hill is not a member of the SWP, but of Respect, an umbrella group which contains the
SWP and other groups. Respect's best-known figure is George Galloway, MP.
He said his biggest influence was a paper formerly called Militant,
(now The Socialist), although he briefly touched on the exclusivity and over-physicality of the people invlved there. I think this meant they could be violent.
He said he was impressed with Green Left Weekly - he did not understand the extent of
the Work Choices proposals in Australia until he read it.
Hill changed gear, and described neo-liberal capitalism as the most naked form of class
war outside of fascism. The ruling class, he said, is neo-conservative as well as
neo-liberal - he described the use of police, the army and so on as the
But once you know that, what do you do from there, he asked?
He said his task at the moment was to spread class consciousness. It's common for
capitalist media to say that 'class is dead', that class war is 'outdated', and so on.
But the capitalists know they are a class. They know it for sure. They defend their
interests. But the working class has been demobilised, because its members are not even
sure the class exists.
Workers don't have leadership now who can look at the ruling class system and work out what to do about getting rid of it. Changing that, said Hill, is one of everyone's jobs.
He also clearly stated that class is the main issue in the world today. He spoke and he
witnessed to the vicious and brutal nature of racism, sexism and sexual violence, but
pointed out that the capitalists could change their sexist racist ways if they wanted
to [especially if they thought profit was involved - Author] - but they would still be the
bosses, we would still have to work for them.
He said he was critical of people who said that patriarchy, or imperialism as such, is
the problem, even though "I come from a colonial nation". He described a talk with a
Kenyan student of his. First of all this student discussed British crimes against the
Kikuyu people. But then the student pointed out that a white capitalist class had been
removed, only to be replaced by a black capitalist class.
Hurricane Katrina was another telling example. Hill spoke of talking to his stepson who
was watching the TV news reports of the [wildly exaggerated] aftermath of the hurricane
in New Orleans.
His stepson, not an activist at all, said of the TV images "Is this America? I never
Hill replied that not all the people in the Superdome were black. His stepson's loosely
formed opinion had been that race was the main problem in the USA. But the ruling class
is now recruiting talented blacks like Secretaries Rice and Powell.
Despite the no-doubt vicious and persistent racism each must have faced, they are both
rulers now, and they run the system we work for.
Hill touched on Althusser's description of what the ruling class does to keep itself in power - ideological means like controlling the media are used when possible, in order to avoid outright force.
He also reminded people of how Sir Oswald Moseley tried to march Blackshirts through the streets of the East End in the 1930s, and was forced out by the people of the area.
Hill wanted it very clear that this resistance was organised, it did not just happen.
There were some important things Hill said that I disagreed with.
The first was his misuse of the phrase 'working class', to mean 'blue collar worker'.
I would not be this pedantic if I were talking politics to the average worker. But when we are discussing serious theory, we need to be ultra-clear that the working class is comprised of anyone who has to work for a living, or they will have no money and no way to survive.
You can be a well-paid, well-treated, office worker with convenient hours, who went to a good school and lives in a nice suburb - but you are still working class if you can't leave your job for fear of poverty.
Hill also discussed the issue of 'bosses wages'. I think this is a point that the Left should drop.
Even if the bosses were not greedy, never stole a cent from anyone, and voluntarily limited their personal incomes in the name of fairness - even if we had bosses like that, they would still be bosses, and we would still have to work for them, or be homeless.
But there is a broader strategic issue where I disagree with what Hill said yesterday. Hill gave examples of the Congress (I) Party in India, that 'regulated' capitalism, and the recent street protests in France, that forced the Government there to drop a plan to give employers more control over their employees.
My argument is that yes, it is a class issue. So why are we discussing 'regulating' capitalism? It is good for the French that they can stall government action by protest, but that is not revolution. Capitalism still rules in France, it just has to be a little more careful about how it extracts profit.
I don't want to write off the need to fight short-term battles. We need to win people over, and that means helping to solve their everyday problems, not trying to convert them to revolution - at least not at first.
But, long-term, if that is our only vision, then we are on the strategic defensive. Indeed, when people complain here in Australia about the Government's Work Choices plans (making it easier to sack people and cut wages), they talk about 'defending' worker's rights.
That is conservative. That is why I used the phrase 'conservative-left' above. It is conservative to be in the habit of assuming that you will always be on the strategic defensive.
This does not mean we should just try and lead an armed attack on the state power anytime soon. It would be a foolish, romantic gesture.
But we must start spreading the idea that workers can and should kick the bosses out and take over. I don't want to be a better-treated slave, I want to be free.
Keep your feeds open.