It is no exaggeration to say that The University of Melbourne is one of the largest breeding grounds for leftist thought in the country. For those of us who have been on campus–walked past the columns plastered with protest posters, been a part of tutorial discussions (particularly within the Arts faculty), socialised with fellow students–this statement needs even less justification. Yet, UniMelb’s most far-left political group, Socialist Alternative (SocAlt), seems to be its most hated.
It is no exaggeration to say that The University of Melbourne is one of the country's largest breeding grounds for leftist thought.
Victoria is routinely regarded as "the progressive state", with Melbourne as its epicentre–the first electorate ever won by the Greens in the House of Representatives in 2010, which has been held ever since. It is also a generally accepted fact, on both ends of the political spectrum, that universities are "hot-beds of left-wing bias". Therefore, it's natural to conclude that the top university in the most left-leaning city in Australia would house a significant number of left-leaning students. For those of us who have been on campus–walked past the columns plastered with protest posters, been a part of tutorial discussions (particularly within the Arts faculty), and socialised with fellow students–this statement needs even less justification. Yet, UniMelb's most far-left political group, Socialist Alternative (SocAlt), seems to be its most hated. Why is this so?
Based on my own experience, and many conversations with friends and peers, I have developed a hypothesis that a large portion of the UniMelb student body ideologically aligns with SocAlt. However, they ignore, avoid, and don't get involved with them because of the way that they interact with the world around them.
To test my theory, I decided to conduct an online survey, and it turns out I was right.
Before progressing further, I feel it is necessary to air my own political position. I am not ideologically against SocAlt, nor do I wish to recruit for them (despite the passionate theorising from _Raskolnikov_1881 when I shared the survey on r/unimelb):
I don't have any specific political label I identify with, but I think Marx had the right idea; class is our biggest roadblock to equality. I'm a big fan of social democracy, and I think the Nordic Model is pretty ideal (though not without its flaws). I like pretty things, but I don't hate the idea of having to work for them. I acknowledge the importance of all jobs in our society, but I don't think every job warrants the same income. With this said, I find the income and wealth inequality present in our current global economy disgusting. I think there are various things, such as housing and access to food and education, that are basic human rights. To quote Dasha Nekrasova (and out myself as a Red Scare listener), "I just want people to have healthcare, honey." Like many lefties, I love the idea of socialism but understand the obstacles to its implementation and upkeep.
Given my political beliefs, I feel compelled to comment when I see others doing my ideals a disservice, damaging my own image as a leftist and holding themselves in a way that is counter-intuitive and damaging to our shared hopes for the future. In dumping all of this on you, I also hope to showcase the fact that while I might seem to be the perfect recruitment candidate for SocAlt as they exist currently, I cannot stand them and have no intention of joining them.
And I'm not the only one.
When asked to list their three main political worries, 96% of students listed at least two that aligned with SocAlt's key concerns stated on their website, with the top concerns being: climate change, inequality and the treatment and rights of vulnerable people, and security and quality of life. Over 80% of students had three for three.
Following on from this, 92% of students surveyed do not believe capitalism–as it exists in today's liberal democracies–is an adequate social and economic system. I'm not trying to imply that this means that 92% of students are, therefore, socialists. However, 85% of these students maintain the same issues with capitalism that SocAlt do and either stated or implied that societal improvement would best be made through reform of a 'socialist' nature. For example, taxing the rich, increasing the socialisation of government services, and preventing exploitation.
Yet, when I then asked the same sample of students if they would ever consider being involved with SocAlt, the answer was a resounding 'no'.
94% of students who knew enough about SocAlt to answer this question said they would never consider being involved with the group. So, why? Why do so many students that ideologically align with SocAlt know for a fact that they will never join them?
I will bring you the answer in three parts.
Part 1: It's all in the optics, darling
"Once my toenail came off and I was on my way to uni health services, they still tried to stop me going … Not a club I want any interaction with."
The majority of people who ideologically align with SocAlt stated at least part of their reason for not wanting to be involved with the group was because of their promotion and recruitment tactics, and the subsequent impact these methods have on the group's image. 71% of people who have interacted with SocAlt made direct reference to disliking their promotion and recruitment tactics. Of this same group, only 14% referred to a dislike for SocAlt's ideology. People don't even inherently dislike them because of their politics! To quote one student, "Whilst I agree with [their] ideas, I personally do not feel like accosting people outside the Baillieu Library."
A bot analysis of the survey data even found that the top three sentiments felt about SocAlt were trust, anger, and fear. I find this is 1. hilarious and 2. extremely telling of SocAlt's inefficacy of spreading their message: they scare people away before they even get the chance to tell them their ideas. Even better yet, they manage to scare off people who do agree with their ideas.
To clearly demonstrate this, I present to you a word cloud composed of responses used to describe people's experiences with SocAlt:
I ask you, SocAlt, how many people have you genuinely recruited by cornering them on campus? And no, you're not allowed to count the ones you guilted into attending a single protest and then never heard from again. Customer retention over customer acquisition it's Marketing 101! (Though I guess that's not exactly your area of expertise).
I'll admit that I admire your passion and political drive. Your willingness to devote yourselves to your cause is commendable and something which I fear a lot of our generation lack. But you can be doing more. By all means, be a revolutionary, and manifest the end goal of capitalism going up in flames. But, have you ever heard the saying "success is a journey, not a destination"? Can you honestly tell me you think you're currently doing the absolute most you can to help your community? To quote a survey taker:
"It's all virtue signalling. Wanting to be a part of a leftist organisation for me would be one that actually provides mutual aid and does something for other people instead of getting angry at people who don't want to fork out $65 to go to a 'Marxism' conference… they just seem to go against everything leftists actually want by prioritising this intellectual, academic promotion of ideology and theory instead of going out and helping people."
I truly believe that all you succeed at doing is pushing people away from leftist ideology; you are the definition of counterproductive. To get things moving, we need bodies, we need real tangible support, and so I beg you, from the bottom of my heart, for the sake of preventing the impending apocalypse, please, stop being so annoying.
Part 2: Better off
dead with healthcare than red
Now, I can pre-empt your response thus far, "we're allowed to be angry! You can't reform a system that's inherently broken! If you don't like us, don't join us!"
I can appreciate the dedication to the cause in its purest form, to be unbending in your beliefs. However, if I know one thing for certain, it's that you want to recruit people. Why else would you stand outside the Baillieu for hours on end? But as we both know, this isn't working, and I am more than happy to give you an (albeit unsolicited) alternative, far more effective solution: you need to work smarter, not harder.
As we're all cripplingly aware, we're working on a very strict time frame with the impending climate crisis. The time for moral purity is long gone. We need to fight dirty. The enemy has an armoury of 4chan, the alt-Right YouTube pipeline and Murdoch media, all primed and ready for continued brainwashing en masse. They've used 'fake news' to create a world in which they can decide what is true and what is not. The recent rise in Right-wing populism denotes the success of this manipulation (the alienation of the working class by people like yourself hasn't helped the problem either). Outsource their jobs and then tell them that immigration is why they're struggling to keep afloat, not a lack of welfare and government-funded services! Brilliant!
It's all tactics, and it's working.
It's time to forget this "when they go low, we go high" bullshit (I'm sorry, Michelle, I did really love your book). Be manipulative. We need to stop being so rigidly moralistic and get strategic. I'm not asking you to change your views, SocAlt; I'm asking you to play nicely with the others. You don't even have to promise not to talk about them behind their backs (please, just don't mention communism at the climate strike again). In times of crisis, triage is necessary, and when all is said and done, I'm sure you would agree that the mobilisation of people away from the Right takes priority over your right to free speech and purist political expression.
Part 3: The revolution will not be televised (because it's not happening)
A couple of months ago, I was having coffee with a friend involved with left-wing StuPol, and they told me that some of their other StuPol friends were discussing organising a group outing to a shooting range to prepare for the revolution.
I really am sentimental to the cause, particularly in a country founded on genocide. But, if we can't even mobilise people enough to change the date, do you really think a proletariat revolution is on the cards? The working class are not about to take their ploughshares and turn them into swords once more! A 2016 study found that in recent years, the trend in Right-wing populism has actualised into working class people increasingly voting for Right-wing candidates. These are the people you need, the people you're trying to help, and they're not even on your side. It's time to reassess.
Whilst the synonymity of reform and revolution's meanings can be debated, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive. You can be a revolutionary and support reform. We can debate until the cows come home whether reform will ever be as good as starting from scratch, but you can't possibly disagree that a social democracy in which everybody has equal and free access to high-quality healthcare and education isn't undoubtedly better than our current flavour of neoliberal capitalism. Additionally, to argue that reform prevents revolution is illogical and dangerous. It cannot possibly be justified that improving the system that we're currently in would be a bad thing. To attempt to do so would be unethical and, quite frankly, make you an accelerationist, which I sincerely hope I don't need to argue the problems with being.
Reform can be revolutionary, and it is also far more palatable to the masses, which makes it more likely to happen. 21% of UniMelb students who agree with your ideas–but don't want anything to do with you–chalk it up to your inability to consider an alternate solution to revolution. By turning them away, you're closing yourself off to a lot of future comrades, comrades. This might be news to you, but a person can still be a Good Socialist without loudly advocating for revolution all the time. I just don't think a person's take on the reform vs revolution debate should really be the point at which we turn them away from the shining ruby gates.
I'm all for dreaming big, but there's a big difference between ambitious goals and irresponsible fantasising. I encourage you to take a step back and actually think about if what you're aiming for is worth all the time and energy you're putting into it or if it's a sinkhole stealing resources from something actually worthwhile. I think we all know the answer.
To conclude, my dearest SocAlt, you are well within your right to tell me to "fuck off", but I hope you don't. I hope you listen because we're on the same side, saying the same things in different ways, but if we're going to enact meaningful change against the structural injustice within this world of ours, we have to work together. After all, as a great man once said, "history calls those men the greatest who have ennobled themselves by working for the common good", but for that to happen, you've got to give us something to work with.
 Socialist Alternative. (2022). Statement of Principles. Retrieved from Socialist Alternative: https://www.sa.org.au/node/3924
 The word most used to describe SocAlt in the survey responses!
 Burns, S. (2017). In Defence of the Bad, White Working Class. Retrieved from Meanjin Quarterly: https://meanjin.com.au/essays/in-defence-of-the-bad-white-working-class
 Gingrinch, J., Häusermann, S. (2015). The decline of the working-class vote, the reconfiguration of the welfare support coalition and consequences for the welfare state. Journal of European Social Policy, Vol. 25(1), 50-75.
 For those die-hard revolutionaries, if you actually want to foster a revolution happening, I’m sure you realise you need more people on your side. Mobilise and then radicalise, it’s a proven effective tactic.