Report on DSP liquidation 2009

October 3-4, 2009
By Doug Lorimer

[The general line of this report was adopted by the October 3-4, 2009 RSP National Committee plenum.]

Comrades, on June 7 this year the DSP National Committee unanimously adopted a report given by Peter Boyle which proposed that it was “time for the DSP to make a decisive turn towards building the Socialist Alliance as our new party”. Right from this first sentence of his report, Boyle began his usual obfuscation. The DSP made the decision to build the SA as its “new party” in December 2003, ceasing to function as a public party and becoming the Democratic Socialist Perspective, defined as a “Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance”. What Boyle’s report really proposed is that the DSP dissolve into the SA., or as he preferred to describe it, “merge” with or “integrate” into the SA.

Boyle went on to stated that “We know already from our experience that we do not have the resources to simultaneously organise the DSP, Resistance and the Socialist Alliance to their full potentials. Our current setting is unsustainable and is forcing us to pull our punches because: a) it involves considerable duplication and is an unnecessary drain on comrades’ time and energy; and b) it is confusing to our own members as well as to people coming around the Socialist Alliance, the DSP and Resistance.”

Overturn of May 2005 decision

Boyle’s report proposed overturning of the decision made by the DSP NC in May 2005 to put on hold the process begun at the end of 2003 of the DSP transferring its “political and organisational assets” to the SA. According to Boyle’s June NC report, the May 2005 decision was taken for five reasons:

1. “The small affiliates remained opposed to and obstruct, abstain from or sabotage most collective political activity in Socialist Alliance.

2. “Too few leaders were emerging from the majority of SA members who were not in any affiliate group.

3. “The non-affiliate majority was not a confident, united or very active force in SA and was becoming demoralised by the internal situation in SA and by the broader political retreat.

4. “Socialist Alliance was heavily dependent on the DSP apparatus and fundraising.

5. “And meanwhile Green Left Weekly funding and distribution had to be carried fully by the DSP.”

These five problems, however, were a product of the fact, as recognised in the unanimously adopted resolution of the January 2006 DSP congress resolution, that “Our December 2003 resolution to integrate as much of the resources of the Democratic Socialist Party into the Socialist Alliance as possible was based on an over-estimation of the political conditions. This attempt at integration failed because the conditions to build the Socialist Alliance into a new party did not exist… The Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal “reforms” before it can harness the leadership resources and political confidence to take a significant step to creating a new socialist party.”

As we are aware, from the mid-2005 to 2007 a majority of the DSP national leadership headed by Boyle held out the hope that such a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal ‘reforms’ was going to be unleashed by the union bureaucracy’s Your Rights at Work (YR@W) campaign against the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation. In its platform for the 2008 DSP Congress, the DSP NE majority however did not present the YR@W campaign as such a “new upturn of resistance”, declaring that “If there is a new rise in the class struggle, new partners will be drawn into the project for a new party and the Socialist Alliance may have to become part of or be transformed into or be supplanted by new structures for organising the strongest and most effective political voice for anti-neo-liberal struggle.”

The statistics on strikes confirm that there was no new rise of the class struggle in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 1981 there were 4.2 million work days lost through strike action in Australia. From the introduction of the ALP-ACTU accord in 1983 the number of work days lost through strike action through the rest of 1980s averaged about 1.3 million a year. In 1990s it averaged about 500,000 a year. In 2005, at the beginning of the YR@W campaign, it was 228,000 days. In 2006, at the height of the YR@W campaign, it was 132,600 days, and in 2007 only 49,700 work days were lost through strike action – the lowest number since 1913, when federal statistics on strike action began being recorded. Last year, the number of work days lost through strike action was 196,500 – one-seventh of what it was under the Hawke Labor government.

In the Australian politics and campaigns reported adopted unanimously by the DSP NC in January this year, NE member Margie Windisch noted that “At the 23rd DSP congress in 2008, we cautioned that with a federal ALP government there may well be a year without significant resistance and mobilisation to the ruling-class agenda, especially from the trade union movement, which would have implications for other social movements.” She added: “As it happened there were significantly fewer union protests even though the same IR laws were in place … With the majority of the trade union bureaucracy tied to the ALP and a class collaborationist outlook, the opportunity to knock over Work Choices by harnessing public sentiment and readiness to mobilize against the laws was missed. And had CFMEU leader Noel Washington not made a personal decision to defy the ABCC we would not have had any campaign at all!” And at its June 2009 meeting the DSP NC unanimously adopted a report in which NE member Emma Murphy observed that there “is no national struggle around the Fair Work Act… There have been fightbacks in response to factory closures and lay-offs such as PacBrands, but these have been largely weak and tokenistic.. Any fight against wage freezes, job losses etc will necessarily be limited if there is no fight against the laws in the Fair Work Act.”

Yet, according to Boyle’s unanimously adopted report to the same DSP NC meeting, “Rudd Labor faces more opposition from militant trade unions than the Hawke government faced even years after it came in because of the Accord.” What’s the evidence for this claim? In his report, Boyle stated: “I want to quote from Comrade Paul Benedek’s report from the ACTU Congress in Brisbane last week: ‘…the whole congress was decked out in yellow shirts inscribed with ‘one law for all’ on the front and “abolish the ABCC” on the back. It was worth reflecting on all the struggle that Socialist Alliance and our militant allies went through, remembering how hard it was at first to get any action going around the ABCC, and now here was everyone from ourselves to Sharan Burrow decked out in an unambiguous message in front of Deputy PM Gillard’.”

Yes, comrades, Shaza wore an “Abolish the ABCC” T-shirt in front of Deputy PM Gillard. Who can possibly doubt that this means a new rise in the Australian class struggle has begun? But Boyle’s fantasy goes even further. The SA has apparently already gone through an “extended period of united campaigning and regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal ‘reforms’“ because it now has “the leadership resources and political confidence to take a significant step to creating a new socialist party”. According to Boyle, of the five conditions that made it impossible to do so in May 2005, “Two of them (1 and 3) no longer apply.”

Changes in the Socialist Alliance

Well, obviously the first limitation – the opposition of the other affiliate groups to the DSP plans – no longer exists since all the other affiliates have left the Socialist Alliance. But what about the second limitation? Where’s the evidence that the “non-affiliate majority” has become “a confident, united or very active force in SA”? Boyle presents none. Instead, he argues that “there is a much more united and constructive consensus about building the Socialist Alliance among its members today”. This really means that with the other affiliates gone, the DSP’s 100 or so active members make up the overwhelming majority of the SA’s active members, and with no dissent within the DSP, “there is a much more united and constructive consensus about building the Socialist Alliance among its members today”.

However, Boyle presents no evidence in his report that anything’s basically changed in the SA since the January DSP NC meeting, at which SA national co-convener Dick Nichols acknowledged that over the previous year “the Socialist Alliance as an organisation has shrunk, and shrunk quite seriously”. Indeed, according to Nichols’ description of the December 2008 SA conference, the “more united and constructive consensus about building the Socialist Alliance among its members today” really amounts to the “consensus” one finds in a graveyard. To quote him: “It was a well made and successful conference but it was, to a degree, a ‘Potemkin conference’. Resolutions? Not one branch put forward a resolution. Pre-conference discussion? There was no pre-conference discussion, that I know, that actually happened (correct me if I am wrong).” A footnote was added to Nichols’ report when it printed in The Activist “correcting” his statement. It read: “Sydney West branch of the Socialist Alliance held a pre-conference discussion meeting.”

Nichols reported that SA’s nominal membership had dropped by 282 in 2008. The January DSP NC meeting unanimously voted for a resolution committing the DSP to “support the proposal that the Socialist Alliance conduct a membership campaign early in 2009”. Boyle’s June 2009 report said nothing about the results of this membership campaign. All he said about the size of the SA is that “Non-DSP members remain a majority of the paid up membership of the Socialist Alliance”, which was also the case last year. We should also note that Boyle says nothing about the numbers of non-DSP SA members who are politically active as SA members relative to the number of active DSP members – a telling omission.

What about the other three problems referred to in Boyle’s May 2005 NC report, i.e., that “Too few leaders were emerging from the majority of SA members who were not in any affiliate group”; that the “Socialist Alliance was heavily dependent on the DSP apparatus and fundraising”, and that “Green Left Weekly funding and distribution had to be carried fully by the DSP”. In his June NC report, Boyle says that these “still apply, by and large, but our calculation is that on each of these fronts (broader involvement in Socialist Alliance leadership, greater involvement in funding Green Left Weekly and the apparatus) we can best advance by organising our work through the Socialist Alliance”.

What is this “calculation” based on? According to Boyle, its based on the four claims: One, that the “affiliate groups that did not want to build the Alliance have left”. Two, that the DSP has “won acceptance of Green Left Weekly as an independent broad left and green publication project that strongly supports the Socialist Alliance”. He adds the comment, “Our ability to promote Green Left Weekly and activism around it is welcomed in the Socialist Alliance”, but provides no evidence that this has translated into an actual increase in SA non-affiliates’ involvement in GLW distribution and funding. Three, that the DSP has “won more political authority in the Socialist Alliance” (which in reality is just another way of saying that the overwhelming majority of active SA members are DSP members). And, four, that the DSP has “acquired valuable experience from past struggles, including from the factional struggles forced on us”. But he gives no explanation as to how any of these alleged “gains” since May 2005 will overcome the problems in the SA that existed at that time.

In the end, what Boyle projects is simply the hope that dissolution of the DSP’s organisational structures into those of the SA will enable the SA to become the framework to sustain the funding of GLW and the Boyleite apparatus – a course of action that completely failed when we all applied it at the branch level in 2004.

Comparison with LCR-NPA

To justify the complete liquidation of the DSP as an organised grouping within the SA, Boyle cites quotations from a reply by French LCR leader Francois Sabado in November last year to UK SWP leader Alex Callinicos, ignoring the fact that the New Anti-Capitalist Party that the LCR helped initiate this February (a) is a party explicitly committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state as the road to socialism, not a formation like the SA which says absolutely nothing about the crucial issue of state power, and (b) has been made possible by the emerge of a large pool of non-affiliated socialist activists generated by a sustained upsurge of mass resistance to the capitalist neoliberal “reforms”.

The party-building perspective that Boyle proposes for the DSP is very different from that implemented by the LCR. In fact, it is closer to what the LCR minority argued for. In its platform for the February LCR congress, the main minority, led by Christian Picquet, argued for the NPA to be built as a left-reformist party. In an interview ith Libération, Picquet caricaturing the LCR majority’s perspectives, declared: “Even with 10,000 members, wanting to revolutionize society is megalomania.” In his minority counter-report to the LCR congress, Piquet argued for the NPA to be “opposed to any conception of a political vanguard; […] a conception of socialism as arising from the extension of conquests realized under the capitalist regime”.

Boyle of course knows that the political situation facing the LCR is quite different to that facing the DSP. Alluding to this fact, he stated in his report: “Some might counter any reference to the French example with the cry: ‘But Australia is not France! The class struggle is more advanced in France than in Australia.’ And, of course, that is true.” How then does Boyle answer this fundamental objection to dissolving the DSP into the SA? After admitting that the class struggle is more advanced in France than in Australia, he immediately adds: “We have come up against the relatively slower pace of struggle this earlier in the Socialist Alliance experience.” Then follows his comments about the May 2005 NC decision, which is followed by his claims that since then there has been a big mobilisation of the working class and that “Rudd Labor faces more opposition from militant trade unions than the Hawke government faced even years after it came in because of the Accord.”

In his report, Boyle claimed that “the arguments that Comrade Sabado makes about the LCR and the NPA apply to the DSP and the Socialist Alliance”. However it is the arguments Comrade Sabado made in December 2004 in reply to Callinicos and Murray Smith (a supporter of the LCR minority at the February LCR congress) that actually apply to the DSP and the SA. Comrade Sabado wrote: “If the conditions of a real transcendence of the revolutionary organization do not exist, if the forms of a new force are less significant than those of the revolutionary organization, and we hurry the rhythms and modalities of construction of such a party, we lose in substance – program, history, and revolutionary experience – without gaining in political and organizational breadth. Thus, inasmuch as the conditions for a broad party do not exist, the accumulation of forces for a revolutionary leadership in the broad sense is done essentially through the construction of the revolutionary organization and by initiatives favouring the conditions for this new party, rather than by the proclamation of a new force on the cheap.”

This is the situation that actually exists in Australia today. The conditions do not exist for a “transcendence of the revolutionary organisation”; the non-affiliate forces assembled in the SA are “less significant” in activity than those existing in the ostensibly revolutionary DSP. What the DSP leadership is proposing to do is to proclaim the SA a “broad” party “on the cheap”, losing “in substance’ the revolutionary program, history and experience of the DSP “without gaining in political and organizational breath”.

Boyle’s ‘Leninist’ rationalisation for liquidation

In his June NC report, Boyle tries to give a “Leninist” rationalize this final liquidation of the nominally revolutionary organisation. He argues that “real Leninist party building includes a permanent search for ways to unite with real emerging political vanguards in the working class, including (but more than) the regroupment with left groups and individuals”. This of course is true, but it is a permanent search based upon winning them to support the politics of revolutionary socialism based on Marxist theory. In his 1920 booklet “Left-Wing” Communism, in which he sought to provide foreign revolutionaries with a summary of the Bolsheviks’ Marxist strategy and tactics, Lenin pointed out that “Bolshevism arose in 1903 on a very firm foundation of Marxist theory” as a small revolutionary propaganda party and that in the period prior to the revolutionary storm of 1905, “Representatives of the three main classes, of the three principal political trends – the liberal-bourgeois, the petty-bourgeois-democratic (concealed behind ‘social-democratic’ and ‘social-revolutionary’ labels, and the proletarian-revolutionary – anticipated and prepared the impending open class struggle by waging a most bitter struggle on issues of program and tactics”. It was through this “bitter struggle on issues of program and tactics” that Bolshevism sought to organise the political vanguard of the working class, its class-conscious elements, into a revolutionary vanguard party. As Lenin explained toward the end of “Left-Wing” Communism, “As long as it was (and inasmuch as it still is) a question of winning the proletariat’s vanguard over to the side of communism, priority went and still goes to propaganda work”.

But Boyle proposes to a strategy of seeking to “unite” with the tiny unorganized section of the Australian working class political vanguard, its socialist-minded section, in an organisation that is not founded on Marxist theory and does not defend a revolutionary program. Later in his report, Boyle argues: “Small socialist organisations operating in relative isolation in the working-class movements, or sometimes substantially outside these movements because they are composed almost totally of small groups of ‘socialist intellectuals’ are chronically plagued with what might be called ‘Marxist’ identity politics. That is they are more concerned about “proving” to themselves that they are ‘real Marxists’ than actually applying what Marx, Engels and Lenin taught which is to build real socialist leadership in the working class. In fact, the further away such groups are from that objective, the more loudly they assert their ‘Marxist’ identity. What passes as politics in ‘the left’ as we have it in this country can degenerate to little more than a ridiculous I’m-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition. We’ve all seen this time and again with various little sects. And we’ve also seen this tendency in our own organisation.”

In Left-Wing Communism, Lenin explains that in the period when Bolshevism was a “small socialist organisation” it sought to win “real socialist leadership in the working class” through a “bitter struggle” with other ostensibly Marxist groups in Russia through a “bitter struggle on issues of program and tactics”, in which the Bolsheviks presented their “program and tactics” as the expression of genuine Marxism. Boyle, however, regards such a struggle as “a ridiculous I’m-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition”!

The SA’s ‘class-struggle program’

Immediately prior to the paragraph in which Boyle makes this statement, he argues that it is not necessary to have an organisation founded on Marxist theory, on an explicitly revolutionary working-class program. He posed the questions: “Is it a problem that the party we build does not describe itself as a ‘Marxist’ party, albeit one which openly respects and values the central role of avowed revolutionary socialists and ‘Marxists’ in it? Is it a problem if these ‘Marxists’ are not organised as a distinct disciplined tendency within the Socialist Alliance?” In the published version of his report, the reference to “Marxists” within the SA is in quotation marks, i.e., that they aren’t really Marxists. This is a rare, if undoubtedly unintended, bit of honesty in Boyle’s report.

Having posed these questions, Boyle went on to ignore them, addressing a different question: What is the SA’s politics? He argued, “While the Socialist Alliance remains an attempt to regroup the left around a class-struggle program – as does the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France – in the case of the Socialist Alliance, this class-struggle program has developed considerably since 2001. We won the fight against those who wanted the Socialist Alliance to restrict itself to a social democratic platform. Instead, we were in favour of a transitional platform that developed along with the actual collective experience of the Socialist Alliance in accordance with the needs of political struggle. As a result, the Socialist Alliance now has a more developed class-struggle program. This developing program is totally consistent with the revolutionary perspective of the DSP and is closer to the DSP’s program than it was in 2001. It is not an explicitly revolutionary program but is implicitly revolutionary.”

The NPA in France is based on a class-struggle program – a program that explicitly states that the road to socialism is through the organisation of the workers’ class-struggle against the capitalists, including replacing their state power with a working-class state power. But the SA has no such “class-struggle program” – a document setting out a class-struggle line of march to achieving socialism. Rather, it has a platform of specific reforms to the existing Australian capitalist political and economic system, which is preceded by a short statement setting out the SA’s “strategy” for achieving these reforms. This platform was first adopted by the SA’s first national conference in 2001, and has not be altered since then. What has been “developed” since 2001 is a more elaborate series SA policy charters, with greater elaboration of the reforms the SA advocates on issues such “health and education”, “workers’ rights”, “Indigenous rights”, climate change, energy production and water conservation.

So what is the SA’s stated “strategy” for achieving these? According to the SA platform, “The Socialist Alliance will stand candidates in the next federal election to give a voice to working-class struggle and highlight the need for working-class political representation”. And “If elected … Socialist Alliance candidates would use their position to give a voice to workers’ struggles and social movements, fight reactionary policies and promote the mass campaigns that can defeat the attacks on jobs and living standards.” It goes on to state: “A movement for change must be built by developing policies, campaigns, industrial struggles and co-operation with all workers, environmental, anti-racist, and other social movements and to put forward an alternative to corporate control of society. A sustained mass campaign of total opposition to the ruling class offensive can bring together the forces to replace capitalism with a socialist society, based on co-operation, democracy and ecological sustainability.”

So the stated SA “strategy” for its stated platform of reforms is to “give a voice to working-class struggle” in bourgeois elections and parliament, and to build a “sustained mass campaign” against the “ruling class offensive” which will “bring together the forces to replace capitalism with a socialist society”. But what political measures, if any, does the SA advocate these “forces” fight for to “replace capitalism with a socialist society”. In its platform there are only two. The first is “a democratic republic with representatives receiving no more than a skilled worker’s wage” and the second is “Disarm the police to stop police killings”. A parliamentary republic with MPs on a skilled workers’ wage and London-style “Bobbies” – that’s the SA’s “implicitly revolutionary” program for achieving the transition from capitalist rule to socialism!

Now, you won’t find this platform on the SA’s website. Instead, all you’ll find is the set of policy charters with their lists of reforms, plus a statement explaining that the SA is “for socialism – a democratic society run by and for working people, not the greedy, destructive elite that now rules” and that it believes “that this society will be achieved by people taking action and working together in their workplaces and communities”. What’s supposed to be an expression of the SA’s “class-struggle program” is actually implicitly class-collaborationist, calling on “people”, irrespective of what class they are members of, to take action and work “together in their workplaces and communities”. There are, apparently, no capitalists in Australian “workplaces and communities”! The implicitly class-collaborationist politics that flows from this view has already been applied in practice by Tim Gooden, SA’s and the DSP’s leading trade unionist, with his call last year in the Geelong Times for “all manufacturing employers” to attend the Geelong Manufacturing Council to collaborate with the Geelong TLC in implementing the “good programs and funding to support business transition to more efficient operations and moves to develop sustainable production and the creation of ‘green jobs’.”

We criticised this in DA#13. What’s been the response from the DSP leadership? A statement by Gooden from the platform of the DSP-organised World at a Crossroads conference at Easter that he was sick of “ideological hair-splitting” in the labour movement. He needn’t worry that the SA is going to engage in “ideological hair-splitting” between consistent class-struggle politics and fake-left class-collaborationism. At an SA-organised conference on A Century of Struggle – Laborism and the radical alternative: Lessons for today, held in Melbourne in May, DSP NE member Dave Holmes declared in his talk on “Communism in Australia” that, “At this point we do not need an ideological party – in today’s conditions that approach will get nowhere – but rather a party that can unite the maximum forces in struggle.”

Last month, GLW ran an SA column by DSP trade unionist and environment campaigner Ben Courtice advocating government financial assistance to “green” capitalists. This is not yet official SA policy, but it’s the logical extension of the SA national co-conveners’ public call issued on February 7 this year to “Expand Rudd’s stimulus package into a green New Deal” and the view expressed in the SA’s Climate Charter that capitalist businesses can solve the climate crisis if they are placed under stronger government regulation. According to this SA policy charter, “Businesses that operate in a market-based capitalist economy concentrate on selling products, and are unlikely to implement climate-friendly techniques unless strong regulations are introduced” (emphasis added).

Clearly, the policies publicly advocated by DSPers are well on the way to “merging” with the left-reformist politics of the SA. The left-reformist mask is well on the way to becoming the face, and the body and soul, of the DSP. Maintaining the DSP as a separate political organisation from the left-reformist SA, as Boyle notes in his June NC report, “is an unnecessary drain on [DSPers’] time and energy”, and “is confusing to our own members as well as to people coming around the Socialist Alliance, the DSP and Resistance”.

Causes of DSP degeneration

In our pamphlet Origins of the Revolutionary Socialist Party: The fight against the political and organizational degeneration of the DSP, Comrade Allen Myers observes that, “Marxist name for the process the DSP has been going through is ‘liquidation’. It refers to abandoning the struggle to construct a revolutionary socialist party. While the first ‘liquidationists’ – in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party of the early 20th century – consciously decided that a revolutionary party was no longer needed, liquidation doesn’t have to be intentional. For most of the DSP majority, the process has not been a conscious one, but rather the unforeseen outcome of attempting to maintain the SA fiction. It has come about through the interaction of mistaken organisational and political decisions: the hiding of the DSP behind the SA mask leading to a drift away from DSP politics, political misjudgments leading to a further burying of the DSP within SA.”

Boyle’s June NC report, however, represents a turn toward the conscious liquidation of a revolutionary organisation, the affirmation by the DSP leadership that a revolutionary party is not needed to educate and train socialist activists today. The political roots of this drift away from Leninism have certainly come about, as Allen noted, “through the interaction of mistaken organisational and political decisions”, but the acceptance and support given by the majority of the DSP’s membership for these mistaken decisions need to be studied and understood.

One factor was their clinging onto the hope that the SA tactic would provide an easier road to a larger and more political influential revolutionary organisation, but which has become translated into the fear that abandoning the SA mask will make DSP members politically isolated within the reformist-dominated milieus that revolutionaries have to conduct their political work in. Hence the repeated accusation “Spartacism” against anyone who advocates the public presentation of revolutionary socialist politics, and the claim that the SA mask has, as Nichols’ phrased it in his January NC report, put DSP members “in touch with broader milieux – old CPers, dissident left ALP people, independent leftists, dissident and disillusioned Greens, left Greens and now, increasingly, workers and activists from migrant communities”. DSP members, however, were “in touch with” these same milieux for decades before the SA existed through our common united-front campaign activity. What Nichols’ really means is that now the consciously reformist leaders of these milieux, particularly fake-left union bureaucrats like Dave Oliver, now find DSP members acceptable as their “lieutenants”.

Another factor that has perhaps conditioned the majority of DSP members to easily accept publicly operating as left-reformists was having a public press that did not present itself as explicitly revolutionary or even as socialist, but which DSP members promoted simply as non-corporate “alternative” press, particularly once this was combined with the reformist SA “party” mask.

Another factor was probably the abandonment of the historical priority given by the DSP to orienting toward radical youth and the building of Resistance following the launch of the SA in 2001. From then on the priority orientation of the national and local leaderships of the DSP increasingly became the non-affiliate membership of the SA and milieux they have been drawn from – the older, left-reformist milieux cited by Nichols in his January NC report – old CPers, dissident left ALPers, dissident and dissolusioned Greens and “independent leftists” (usually ex-CPers or former members of the revolutionary left organisations, including the DSP itself).

The political degeneration of the DSP of course cannot be separated from the external environment in which it has occurred. In James P. Cannon’s analysis of the transformation in the mid to late 1920s of the US Communist Party from a revolutionary organisation into its opposite, he made the point that, “Like many before them and after them, they who had set out to change the world were imperceptibly changed by it. They meant well – with possible exceptions. Their fault, which was their undoing, was that they did not fully recognize the forces operating upon them.” He went on to point out that the strongest of these forces was the ebbing away of the immediate post-war wave of labour radicalism and “the deadening conservatism of American life, induced by the unprecedented boom of post-war American capitalism” in second half of the 1920s.

In his 1954 article on the “Degeneration of the Communist Party and the New Beginning”, Cannon wrote: “Objective circumstances are powerful, but not all-powerful. The status quo in normal times works to compel conformity, but this law is not automatic and does not work universally. Otherwise, there would never be any rebels and dissenters, no human agencies preparing social changes, and the world would never move forward.

“There are exceptions, and the exceptions become revolutionists long before the great majority recognize the necessity and the certainty of social change. These exceptions are the historically conscious elements, the vanguard of the class who make up the vanguard party. The act of becoming a revolutionist and joining the revolutionary party is a conscious act of revolt against objective circumstances of the moment and the expression of a will to change them.

“But in revolting against their social environment and striving to change it, revolutionists nevertheless still remain a part of the environment and subject to its influences and pressures. It has happened more than once in history that unfavorable turns of the conjuncture and postponement of the expected revolution, combined with tiredness and loss of vision in the dull routine of living from day to day, have tended to make conservative even the cadres of the revolutionary party and prepare their degeneration.

“On the basis of a long historical experience, it can be written down as a law that revolutionary cadres, who revolt against their social environment and organize parties to lead a revolution, can – if the revolution is too long delayed – themselves degenerate under the continuing influences and pressures of this same environment.” The DSP, then called the Socialist Workers League, came into being at the end of a mass youth radicalization, but for the last 26 years has been subject to political environment marked by a relentless retreat of the organised working class and of radical political activism. In this context, it is hardly surprising that among those who joined who joined the DSP and have remained in its ranks, those who have remained committed to revolutionary socialist politics have proved to be the exception. This is not say that the current leadership and membership of the DSP have ceased to regard themselves as revolutionary socialists, but as far as their day-to-day and week-to-week political activity is concerned they have abandoned the struggle to build a revolutionary socialist party in favour of building small left-reformist party. It is this that accounts for the lack of any evident opposition within the DSP to the proposal to liquidate the organisation into the SA.

DSP ‘ghosts’

Anticipating that there might still be some nervousness among some DSP members about completely dissolving their organisation, Boyle proposed to defer to the next DSP NC meeting, being held this weekend, whether or not the NC would recommend “to what extent, and in what form, the DSP should continue as after the January 2010 DSP Congress”. We can speculate as to what such a form would take. However, given the arguments made in Boyle’s June NC report, this is very unlikely to be a form that politically organises the existing DSP membership. In his article reporting and critically commenting on Boyle’s June NC report in Direct Action No. 15, Comrade John Percy speculated that the DSP might be transformed into some sort of “educational association”, using the DSP money, and the DSP stock of published Marxist books, to do classes. However, in his report, Boyle argued that such educational work could be organised through the SA’s structures, claiming that “education can take place in Socialist Alliance without the requirement that all members have to agree with everything we say. Our experience is that the socialist education we carry out is already welcomed by the broader Socialist Alliance membership”, by which he means the small number of non-DSP SA members who turn up to SA meetings. But the political value of education in Marxist theory is very limited when it is not applied in practice through the defence and promotion of Marxist politics.

Boyle did propose that Resistance remain an “independent affiliate” of the SA, effectively becoming the SA’s youth organisation. Resistance today is a much weaker youth organisation than at any time since its formal founding in 1970. In the “DSP youth work and building Resistance” report presented by Mel Barnes to the January DSP NC meeting, it was claimed that Resistance had a paid-up membership of 90, but that “but only 35 of these sell GLW on a weekly basis”. The Brisbane and Wollongong Resistance branches were described as being “very healthy with a large number of active members” and “a strong leadership team”, while the Resistance branches in Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart were described as “still rebuilding” from their low points of 2005, while the branches in Adelaide, Canberra and Perth were described as being “weak”. According to the report, “Our campus work is in a weak state at the moment, but it is important that we continue our presence on campus because it is still the best place to meet and recruit young people interested in politics.” Barnes reported that “We don’t have any Resistance clubs that meet on campus”. She projected a recruitment drive from January until the one-day Resistance national conference at the end of the DSP-organised Easter World at a Crossroads conference, with a target of 550 new joiners.

The GLW article reporting on the 2009 Resistance conference provided no figures on the numbers who attended it, nor on how this recruitment drive had gone. The article reported that “Resistance voted to run a campaign demanding a freeze on rent rises and for a rise in Newstart and Youth Allowance payments above the poverty line”, but since January there has not been a single article in GLW on this “campaign”, nor is there anything about it on the front page of the Resistance website. The “campaigns” section on the Resistance website has a link to a webpage on “Australian politics”, which if readers click on gives the following message: “Page not found/Submitted by Webteam on Mon, 01/01/2007 – 12:00am/The webpage you tried to view could not be found. You may have followed a link that was out of date, or tried to access a web address that was not typed correctly.” The other “campaign” webpages either have no posts on them or have not been updated since April 2008.

Resistance has not presented itself publicly for some years now as a revolutionary socialist youth organisation. On its website, Resistance describes itself as an “Australia-wide organisation of young people” that aims “to build a mass radical youth organisation”, that can “help build a mass socialist party”. Readers wanting to know more about what Resistance stands for are referred to the web version of the 2006 pamphlet of that name. While this pamphlet says that, “Socialists fight for reforms in order to make a revolution”, it defines a revolution as simply a national-wide discussion organised by a nationally elected strike council. “Elections for this council”, it says, “could be held in factories, offices, campuses, schools, the ranks of the army and local suburbs. Delegates representing working people and the community could all come together. Then it could be proposed to this council that all key industries and services be handed over to workers’ and community control. A discussion would then begin about what priorities were necessary in production, education, health, recreation facilities, environmental repair, affirmative action programs for women and so on. That is democracy. That is a revolution.” At best, this is actually a description of a dual-power situation, not the revolutionary transfer of state power to a working people’s government.

Boyle also proposed that Green Left Weekly remain a nominally “independent” publication, but be “strongly supportive of Socialist Alliance and Resistance” while retaining the political character of “a broad paper of the green lefts and the left greens”. He added that a “similar approach could be applied to Resistance Books”. But of course we know that GLW was only nominally independent of the DSP – the DSP national executive decided who its editors and writing/production staff were; the DSP finance office administered the funding of GLW. With the DSP’s dissolution, presumably these decisions be transferred to the SA’s new national executive and national finance office.

In his June NC report, Boyle proposed that the DSP’s international relations be brought “into the Socialist Alliance”. Discussing the next World-at-a-Crossroads type conference he proposed that it be hosted by the SA, adding that “to pull off such a conference, the international work and socialist education work that the DSP has done separately to the Socialist Alliance needs to be brought into the Socialist Alliance”. No reference was made to the Links website, presumably because its only public connection to the DSP is its email address:

Whether or not some of the national administrative structures of the DSP are continued in some form after the January 2010 DSP Congress, the intent in Boyle’s June NC report is that the DSP will cease to exist as a political organisation separate from the SA. What will exist after this is a small left-reformist party that claims to be for socialism. We will be faced with competing for recruits with a sort of revival of the old Eurocommunist CPA, but this left-reformist organisation will have far less active and paper members, far less political influence, and it will not even make a pretence to be a Marxist party. The main line of combating it will be consistently exposing and explaining to radicalising workers and students the bankruptcy of its left-reformist politics as a means to solving the big problems confronting working people – as for example we have done in this and previous editions of DA on the issue of climate change – and carry through all the party-building tasks and political work to recruit to and strengthen the Revolutionary Socialist Party.