The Marxism 2009 conference held at Melbourne University over the Easter weekend was attended by 764 people according to its organisers, Socialist Alternative (SAlt). Around half of those attending came for the session with left-wing journalist John Pilger, which was sold out. Other conference sessions where attended by hundreds of overwhelmingly young people — especially university students.
The stated aim of the conference was to present the socialist alternative to capitalism. However, there was not a single session devoted to the living examples of this, i.e., the Cuban and Venezuelan socialist revolutions. Why? Because SAlt doesn’t think there are socialist revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela. They think Cuba is still a capitalist country, not fundamentally different from Australia (see “Behind Cuba’s Crackdown”, in the July 2003 Socialist Alternative magazine). That article ends with the claim that “For ordinary Cubans, the fight for real liberation from US economic and military power is therefore inseparable from the struggle against the corrupt and dictatorial Cuban ruling class whose interests, like those of its Australian counterpart, are starkly opposed to the interests of workers everywhere.”
The SAlt leadership also thinks the Chavez government in Venezuela is seeking to reconcile the interests of working people with those of the capitalists (see “Revolution and reaction in Venezuela”, in their December 2008 magazine). That article, by Colleen Bolger, claimed that Chavez’s “stated aim of building socialism alongside capitalism leaves intact the power of the capitalists”. Since early 2005 however Chavez’s publicly stated aim has been to replace capitalism with socialism. And if the political “power of the capitalists” over Venezuelan society is intact, why haven’t they (despite repeated attempts to do so) been able to remove the Chavistas from power?
Bolger acknowledged that “Venezuela’s capitalists have been pushed back three times before — in the [defeat of the] coup attempt of 2002, the [defeat of the] oil [bosses’] lockout later that year and the recall referendum in 2004 — by the mobilisation of workers and the poor”. However none of these successful mass anti-capitalist struggles by Venezuela’s working people was discussed at Marxism 2009 which instead looked to the non-revolutionary defensive struggles of French, British and other First World workers for inspiration. Rather than trying to defend their hostility to the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutionary leaderships at Marxism 2009 (where others on the left might challenge them), the SAlt leadership instead scheduled a SAlt branch meeting discussion on the Venezuelan revolution the following week in Melbourne