Cars and individualism

Marcus Strom MSTROM at nswtf.org.au
Wed Nov 1 10:36:04 MST 1995


Just glanced over Tom Condit's post on cars and individualism and it
got me thinking. I'm all for public transport, I oppose the idiotic
roads, roads and more roads as a 'solution' to transport problems. I
think that it is important to demostrate and organise campaigns
around these issues.

What bothers me is identifying the car per se as individualist. I
drove to work today - I don't own a car, I'm looking after it for a
couple of weeks - and I actually enjoy the flexibility it gives me -
is this individualist? If I could afford it, I would certainly buy a
car.

How do we campaign on these issues? By saying that cars are
individualist, we may have a problem of blaming the victim. Do we
campaign against video recorders because they are individualistic and
organise cinema pushes? Are bikes a *real* solution for people to get
around the urban sprawls that have developed in the long boom in
developed capitalist countries? How do we campaign for better public
transport?

Cars do give flexibility. I haven't done a lot of work on this issue
since I was at university (i once studied urban economic geography).

Tailing spontaneous mass movements is not the way communists act.
Just because a group of people organise to have bike-ins fairly
spontaneously (not in a perjorative sense), does not mean it is
necessarily good. But if we are so tailist of these movements (as I believe the
IS-tendency is) or if we reify these movements and dissolve ourselves
in them (as I believe the 'new
left', 'eurocommunist', liquidationist sections of the 'official
communist' movement does - the Committee's of Correspondence (US),
Democratic Left (UK), New Left Party (Australia)), then we are making
grave errors. Likewise, if we take a substitutionist, trotskyoid
position and say that these movements can *never* achieve anything
without our intervention, then we are also making grave errors.

I just put this in without really thinking it through, but I am a bit
sick of the so-called revolutionary movement tailing anything that
comes along. Bike-ins. I don't know much about them. My initial
*subjective* reaction is that they would be full of a lot of
self-satisfied middle-class people who have really *nice* bikes with a
few hippies who *really* don't think cars are very nice (some of them
having left the BMW around the corner that they drove the bikes to
the demo in).

Yes, I know this is unfair. But if you adopt a 'blame the poor' or
blame the victims approach, you have adopted a middle class position.
Sections of the green movement blame the workers in the logging
industry. They are wrong.

I know that large sections of the anti-roads people have a reasonably
good understanding of the role of roads, privatisation of transport
(Mark Goudkamp pointed this out in his post) et cetera. In Australia,
some of these movements have involved people in political action for
the first time. This is OK, but don't exaggerate this, don't worship
spontaneity! Encourage it, be involved, give leadership so that
people can begin to generalise from this.

What shouldn't be done, which is done, is that little left groups go
from one social movement to another recruiting. They sit in their
national committee room and see where *something*, *anything* is
happening,  send in a few people with a few posters, a few leaflets,
a few papers ... as soon as the issue dies down, they disappear and
move to the next one.

Something Scott Marshall would know, but not agree with: despite the
flips and tailing of the Soviet bureaucracy, its centrist politics,
etc, etc... the official communist parties knew how to work in mass movements,
and build them and stick with people even when the movement died
down. The trotskyists *tend* to jump from movement to movement. This
is seen most clearly in the ISO/SWP(UK) tendency. For those of you in
Australia, we see it to a more clever extent in the Democratic
Socialist 'Party'. They take a more long term opportunist position -
witness their 'interventions' in the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the
early 1980s, its jumping on the then CPA launched 'Broad Left'
movement, then its attempt to take the money from the pro-soviet SPA,
now its "green left" populist turn - all in a space of just ten
years. (The DSP used to be the SWP - the Australian detachment of the
US SWP. They changed their name from SWP to DSP and changed the name
of their paper from Direct Action to the Green Left Weekly - or the
Weak Green Lefty. The lie of this turn is that they say that this
paper is not theirs! It is meant to be run by all the 'green left'!).

Communists need to take their 'interventions' (I don't like the word
either Louis) in mass movements *very* seriously. There are many an
activist who gets turned off partyism and marxism because they have
witnessed parodies of it in both trotskyoid and 'official' communist
guise.

No great pearls here, but I would appreciate what others have to say
on working in the mass movements.

Cheers.
Marcus


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