Getting a backlinks or getting your keyword on the first page of the Google SE?
What do you think?
If you're dieting, is it better to eat lots of salad, or to actually lose weight?
The goal of SEO is to increase the number of relevant referrals to your site from search engines. To do that, you need your site to be as near to the top of the first page of the SERPs as you can. That's your aim. There are lots of ways you can go about it, such as getting backlinks and worrying about your PR, but the ultimate measure is where you appear on the SERPs for relevant searches and how many people click on those links. The process you use to get there is important, sure, but nowhere near as important as the end result.