[The general line of this report was adopted by the DSP National Committee on June 9, 1996.]
We are now in a new period, blessed with a conservative government, led by Neanderthals like Howard, Costello, Vanstone, Reith and their gang. After 13 years of ALP government and Accord politics, this is certainly a new period. It’s the type of period, the type of government, that the majority of our membership, even the majority of our leadership here, would not have experienced.
We’re entering a period of increased intensified class conflict. The stepped up attacks on workers’ rights and conditions and social services and jobs by the Coalition are guaranteeing that. The large rallies and demonstrations by students and staff defending education were very encouraging. We have already seen some union actions, some more fightbacks are being organised.
But the current bureaucratic leaderships in the trade unions will not be able to, they have neither the will nor ability to stop Howard. There will be sell-outs – it’s happened already in the CPSU – and we can expect defeats. It’s likely we’ll have post-budget defeats, leading to demoralisation and an initial downturn in the level of struggle.
Nevertheless, there are still more opportunities for action, for struggle, for radicalisation. And any fight is better than defeats without a fight at all, which is what we got with the attrition, the retreats, the weakening of our unions through the Accord years.
The capitalist class’s neoliberal offensive will be implemented by whichever government is in office in Canberra, whether ALP or Coalition. The ongoing discontents on economic and social issues will be a permanent and deepening feature of Australian social and political life. But the anger will not automatically be channelled through the ALP as it would have been prior to 1983. The Labor politicians have been slow and clumsy in getting back into opposition mode, have not been able to put on much of a left face and absorb or side-track the anger and opposition.
So even though this will be a hard period – workers and students and the poor in general are going to suffer, the capitalist class will create even better conditions for enriching itself – we can also make gains. This period will radicalise workers and others; it will make it easier for us to recruit, to build the party and other organisations of resistance. We can and must extract the maximum payment politically for the Howard offensive.
But it might only be a brief period of relative upsurge before the demoralisation of defeats sets in, as workers and other victims of the ruling-class offensive revert to apathy confronted with the pathetic leadership of the trade unions and other organisations.
Of course, we hope it’s a more extended period of struggle, we hope that significant setbacks can be dealt to the Howard offensive. The period of heightened struggle where we can organise and build might last longer, some organisational gains might be achieved. But we’re very painfully aware of the extent of the destruction of working class organisation – trade unions – and working class consciousness. There’s a lot of ground to be made up.
We have come through a hard period:
- Nationally, with the Accord, 13 years of hard Labor; the betrayals of the CPA, and its final dissolution; the rusting and decay of the trade unions; the defeats of campaigns.
- Internationally, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist states; defeats in Grenada and Nicaragua; the neoliberal offensive on all continents; the weakening of working class organisations – unions and parties.
Our assets and gains
What’s balance sheet of our party-building efforts during the 13 years of ALP government? What are our gains?
Firstly, we’re still here, which mightn’t sound much, but compared to the decline or disappearance of other left parties here and around the world, it’s an achievement. We’ve had relative growth compared to what the left was 13 years ago. And with a potential new flow in the class struggle, we’re in a much better position than we ever were before.
We’ve recruited, kept, and trained a valuable cadre force. The party is educated, and experienced, with an invaluable acquisition of our party program and other political documents that express that experience. Again, compare our situation with the rest of the left, then and now.
Look at the political tools we’ve developed – Green Left Weekly; Links and The Activist, books and pamphlets and other publications; our geographical spread; our assets and resources which can make our political activities possible (since 1983, we’ve acquired the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane buildings). And I’d remind comrades of the political importance of the special fund for stopping our national headquarters – our central revolutionary base – from running down any further.
And most importantly, we’ve continued to be able to recruit and train young people. Resistance has been a yearly source of strength and renewal for the party. The average age of our tendency is still in the mid-20s.
It would have been an interesting project, to chart over 5-10 years, our membership, and factor in the finances, sales, resources – factor in the Resistance, DSEL, Green Left subscribers, contacts, and then compare it relative to the rest of the left.
We’ve not only survived through this difficult period, but made we are now undoubtedly the strongest organised tendency on the Australian radical left.
What are the negatives from those 13 years? We’ve suffered like the rest of the left, from attrition, dropouts, even experienced comrades from our leadership who have fallen by the wayside. We have a very limited base in the trade unions. We have a large potential periphery out there, but it’s only partially organised through Green Left Weekly, DSEL etc. We didn’t succeed in an electoral project that would elevate us, make a breakthrough.
We can see an increasingly favourable scenario for international socialist renewal and regroupment: there’s greater clarity about Stalinism, the horror is behind us; broader links are developing between healthy socialist parties; factionalism is lessening, genuine dialogue is occurring. In a lot of this we have played a not unimportant role.
As for Australia, we can see the potential, but sometimes feel that our role internationally, for our size, is greater than our role here.
It has been a continuing uphill battle to expand our forces here: * The working-class movement is weak, after 13 years of ALP government and Accord.
- The upsurges of struggle that develop are all too transient, falling away quickly with few apparent lasting gains.
- The class-collaborationist Laborist bureaucrats still dominate, and we’re even still battling the dead hand of the CPA.
But nevertheless there’s been a modest but real increase in our own weight, and the responsibility we take for campaigns and struggles:
- In 1995, the DSP and Resistance played leading roles in building the large mobilisations against woodchipping and the French nuclear tests. Without our leadership the anti-tests mobilisations would not have continued after Hiroshima Day.
- Our comrades led and organised the IWD [International Women’s Day] marches in most cities in 1996; they often wouldn’t have even occurred without us.
- We were instrumental in getting the anti-uranium mining protests going this year.
- We’ve been the major current in the East Timor solidarity campaign, both through Resistance, ASIET [Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor], and broader initiatives.
- We’ve maintained an ongoing Latin American solidarity campaign, through CISLAC [Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Carribbean].
- We’ve been able to have an increasing leadership role on campus, in campaigns to defend education.
- And we’ve played a crucial leadership role in the fight to force the CPSU national leadership to initiate a bans campaign against public sector job cuts.
Our increased leadership position is not just our own estimate, but that of others too. There’s the negative endorsement of the paranoia, the fear, of the tired liberal left, who don’t want new active forces encroaching on their turf, even if they themselves are not doing much – the old East Timor solidarity network, for example. We encountered it around the anti-uranium mining protests also. We’ve seen it most recently from the Garvan-Taylor leadership in the ACT branch of the CPSU.
It’s partly a genuine fear. We are winning leadership authority in some areas.
But there’s also respect for us, for our new profile:
- Witness the attendance at the [John] Pilger meetings we’ve put on in Sydney and Melbourne.
- The leadership of the NSW branch of NUS [National Union of Students] approaching Resistance for a joint tour of Indonesian comrade Nico Wahid around NSW campuses.
- The use different bodies make of Green Left for inserts, for advertising their events, for example, the continuing independent contributions, the continuing accolades.
What’s extra now, what changes with a Coalition government? It is different with the Liberals in. The change-over will have consequences for our functioning, and requires a change of attitude on our part, and a change in our tactical orientation.
But the mobilisations are still likely to be short-lived and the radicalisation shallow. Radicalising workers and students will still seek the line of least resistance to the Coalition’s attacks. They’ll still look for electoral salvation rather than more radical solutions. How do we counter this, how do we make the best of it, how do we take the party to the next stage of growth and influence?
How to break through?
In particular, how can we significantly break through what seems like the barrier that’s roughly been our size for about the last 13 years. We’ve had modest growth in the last six months. There was a slight drop in the full members, but a good increase in the number of provisional members. There’s still a process of attrition, some of the longer term comrades letting their membership lapse.
During those hard years we grabbed even the smallest opportunity for regroupment, for unity, for breaking out. We can’t say we missed any possibility. We threw ourselves into building the Nuclear Disarmament Party, the Fightback and Social Rights campaigns; attempted unity with the CPA and New Left Party; attempted unity with the SPA; sought to build Green Alliances. That’s all to our credit, and invaluable experiences. It’s no fault of ours that they failed (contrary to the myths persistently spread by our political opponents.)
We need to have a political plan for growth. Of course, we have to avoid the obvious political errors and traps. For example, if we tried the tactic of throwing open the doors today it would only have the effect of diluting our political homogeneity and organisational norms, as occurred in Perth branch two years ago. In a period of retreat, quiescence, we would end up with a membership that wants to retreat more, we’d pick up the defeated, the tired, and would end up worse off, with more problems than gains.
Such a tactic could be contemplated in a period of significant upsurge of mass struggles. Today we’ll certainly make it easy to join for those in struggle, those radicalising, but we’re still suffering too much from the defeats, the retreats of the past to be able to open up like that.
In recent years, as well as throughout our history, we have run hard. Our comrades have been active, self-sacrificing. But our growth has never matched our ambition.
In response, often we’ve tried to campaign for growth, to will it. In difficult periods we’ve sometimes set recruitment targets, set targets for size, for the number of recruits. But of course it’s better to have the political perspectives and the targets of political projects that will lead to growth.
We have to firstly recognise that we’re still a propaganda group, not a mass party, and our fundamental task is to recruit radicalising workers and students and educate and train them as Marxist cadres. But we must also always put forward proposals for the workers’ movement that are in the best immediate interests of the working class and the longer-term socialist struggle. And we must act as though we are leaders of our class, although we know we can’t call the masses into action in our own name as yet.
But there’s also a third component of our strategy that straddles, connects these two components: we have to organise to get intermediate bases, partial gains, organisational targets to aim for, so we can both build the party, and recruit, and better aid the defensive struggles of the working class and its allies, putting forward the correct line of march for the future. We need other goals, other targets, to focus comrades, to organise their political work, to inspire them.
We can’t fundamentally leap over the objective conditions, there’s no magic formula that will assure us rapid growth. But let’s make sure we use the conditions that do exist, and our resources, to the maximum, and not miss out on anything, not be complacent.
How will we grow now?
How can we grow now? You could schematically divide methods of recruitment and growth into three categories:
- Winning recruits through participation in and leading campaigns.
- United front work, alliances, where recruitment results from the respect and credibility for the united effort.
(There’s also a fourth “category,” of course – regroupments or fusions with other organised left tendencies that actually work, that immediately increase the size of our party.)
Most of our political activity involves more than one of these aspects. All of it should really include the propaganda aspect, that’s vital. For example, in our campaigns and interventions, we raise the party profile, put forward socialist ideas, do the propaganda work, whether one-to-one, or broad scale, or linked to the specifically socialist propaganda projects we have.
Remembering all the time of course that it’s not just recruiting, but educating and training our members, keeping them, convincing, steeling them for the long haul. That’s an overlay on it all.
Now that there’s a new period (all proportions guarded), we need an advance in party building, in recruiting, to break through the ceiling we seem to have become stuck at throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s. There’s not going to be a new “category” of recruiting, but we do need to do better in all aspects of recruiting – propaganda, leading campaigns, and united front work.
But how do we improve the process of, and consciousness about, the level of recruiting in the party? And also, how do we concretise, register and secure the gains?
How can we better stabilise, and confirm, the positions we gain in relation to others on the left, in the movements? And develop permanent bases of influence and leadership? This is going beyond publicising ourselves better, raising our profile, having better propaganda.
We have registered our progress somewhat at the international level. The steps are quite visible:
- Our contacts and relations with different parties are varied and useful, from the SACP, the New Zealand Alliance, the PRD in Indonesia, the MR comrades in the Philippines, the PDS in Germany, etc.
- Our Green Left international coverage.
- The broad left conferences we’ve organised here – the two Socialist Scholars conferences, the IGL conference – and tours of international speakers.
- Links magazine.
This progress is not expressed in the form of an international organisation, because of the stage socialist renewal is at, still having to break down barriers, still needing political clarification, still needing to break out of the framework of tiny “internationals” like the Fourth International and Militant Labour’s Committee for a Workers’ International.
But how to register it more here? In the period now, in the context of a Coalition government, with the ALP-ACTU Accord at an end, the possibility of some in the ALP putting on a bit of a left mask, with old ghosts rising, and simplistic ultra-left sects able to pick up members by raising their flag?
Let’s look at it specifically in our main areas of work, in the three areas covered by reports at this NC – trade unions, students, and international solidarity.
Trade union work
Firstly, in the trade unions and our industrial work, which is the most important area, and where we’re weakest, relatively, especially compared to the ALP, but also compared with the ex-CPA, even the SPA and ex-ACU in terms of official positions anyway. Dick [Nichols] will be giving a thorough report tomorrow, but here I’ll just outline some of our tasks and targets.
Our first and most important task is to get more comrades into the right jobs, where they’re able to do political work in the trade unions, and recruit more workers to the party where possible. And in this framework they’ll be doing the basics, getting delegate positions, talking socialism on the job.
Secondly, winning positions from which we can aid the struggle, broaden the consciousness of wider layers of militants, radicalise workers, lead the struggle, raise our profile, and keep the gains and results of our work. In particular, there’s:
- The public sector fight, our CPSU work. We need to set targets for increasing our implantation and building a stronger base here.
- The Telstra defence. This is another important campaign which won’t just be trade union work, but can involve other sectors of the community.
Also, we want to develop better union implantation in other sectors.
We also want to give support for militant, class-struggle unionism, for example, full backing to the Shearers and Rural Workers Union, and any other class-struggle breaks – through Green Left Weekly, picket lines, liaison.
And there’s all the basics, recruiting fellow workers, talking socialism on the job, distributing Dare to Struggle – for all this, fraction organisation is essential.
Is there a project we need to advance? A fightback conference? We should be able to react quickly, to the need, or to any initiative.
We need to set targets to focus comrades’ work, to aim at some goals that are achievable that will take both trade union work one step further.
If we were larger and had a better implantation in the unions, leading more struggles, there’d be very clear goals. Or imagine if we were involved in entry in the Labor Party (don’t howl me down, it’s not even being considered, just using it as an illustration, from past situations, or other countries.) we’d have actual castles to storm, we’d train comrades through tangible battles with the right. (You can see the advantage with the experience of British Militant, for example, preselection battles, getting on committees, winning control of the Labour Party Young Socialists.)
Having milestones to pass, hurdles to overcome, positions to win to register progress, helps focus and organise and motivate the work.
Building campus bases
Our second main area of work, among students and youth, has been covered by Tash [S] already in the youth and campus work report. This has been, and still is, the main arena for recruitment and growth, and competition on the left, and it’s very promising and exciting.
So it’s still vital that we do all the basics right on campus to build Resistance clubs – sell Green Left Weekly, have stalls, forums, leaflets, do all the propaganda work, raise our profile, and link up with the Resistance and DSP branches and our other political activities.
But it’s also vital in this period that we engage and confront our political opponents on all fronts – in the SRCs, in NUS, in the various committees defending education, that we become an integral part of political life on campus.
The timely change in our tactics on NUS enables our student comrades to better relate to openings, run for positions, raise our profile as student leaders, and gain confidence and learn in struggle.
We’ll be setting targets in hegemonising certain campuses. We’ll be looking at where we can establish some more lasting “bases” – SRC positions, NUS footholds, campaign committees.
International solidarity work
The East Timor and Indonesia Solidarity report by Max [Lane] outlined how we have already established some bases in this area, and how we want to consolidate and extend them:
- Consolidating ASIET as the main solidarity organisation in this area.
- Building the August 25 actions, the East Timor conference, other East Timor events.
- Strengthening the Indonesian solidarity side of things.
We should also note the continuing importance of our Latin American solidarity work, the wonderful effort comrades assigned to this work have put in over the years, and how that’s still registered in the continuing existence of CISLAC. Gains that we make get registered in organisations like this that we keep going.
Compare the fight of ASIET versus the remnants in the East Timor campaign today, and the CISLAC-RACLA fights in previous years. RACLA is no more; but even with the relatively low priority we’ve given to CISLAC in recent years, we’re still able to preserve the gains, the benefits of the work in previous years.
The factional hostility of the lobbyist cliques in the East Timor solidarity movement is a symptom of that organisational struggle and transition, the struggle for recognition of the work. In effect they’re trying to prevent registration of our gains, recognition of our bases.
International solidarity work remains essential for recruiting and training new young comrades in a revolutionary internationalist outlook, in a period when the class struggle will still be at a modest level in countries like Australia. International solidarity work through ASIET, CISLAC, and our previous experience with CARPA [Campaign Against Repression in the Pacific and Asia] allows the intersection of our revolutionary perspectives and liberal concerns.
It’s important for youth and students, and important also for raising and broadening the consciousness of workers we come in contact with. But it’s also an important arena for organising and fighting for the allegiance of the petty bourgeois liberal milieu. We should be on the lookout for other campaigns to mobilise them, and orient them towards us, for example the World Bank appeal.
Green Left has been excellent for reaching out to this milieu. Our large conferences, and speaking tours like Pilger’s, have also been invaluable for this. We can also make better use of Cultural Dissent activities to reach academics, artists, musicians etc. We can build a financial base here, and it gives points of support for other campaigns, through petitions, appeals, dinners, public meetings.
Other areas of work
Some of our other areas of work, such as the women’s liberation movement and the environment movement, won’t have quite the same priority for us in this period, partly because we can’t see the organisational structures through which we could do work and have gains registered. Of course we’ll continue to propagandise on the issues, especially in Green Left.
In the women’s liberation movement, we played the leading role in the IWD marches this year. Without us they wouldn’t have taken place in many cities, and bigger mobilisations were built in many places. A whole new layer of young women comrades were assigned to the IWD committees, and learned heaps, it was great training. But mostly it seems we weren’t able to consolidate the many contacts we made. Probably this would have changed in some branches if we were better known as socialists, if we had a higher DSP profile, although we can still recruit one or two activists as the best builders of IWD.
Branches can try to revive the contacts, catch the threads again, through running women’s liberation and socialism conferences in the second half of the year. But IWD itself is not enough of a structure for us, and in the future hopefully there’ll develop a fighting women’s organisation that we can build and keep going.
In the environment movement we had to let EYA slip, we weren’t able to maintain it, which was a pity. There’s no other healthy ongoing campaigning structure at the moment that activists can join. The peak bodies are still lobby-oriented, even with a Coalition government.
The anti-uranium campaign is not galvanising huge numbers. And given the narrow base of the committees, we can’t continue to take major responsibility for it. It’s better to have a focus on issues that mobilise more people, or have a sharper political focus, for example, East Timor, which exposes the contradictions of Australian imperialism. But this varies from city to city. It’s an issue where branches can best decide.
Targets and bases
So to recapitulate some general observations of our approach in all areas of work, in all campaigns:
- We need targets for comrades to organise for, intermediate goals as well as the long term ones.
- It helps if there are bases that we defend, so we don’t drift back and lose the benefits of work done, of gains made. We can make permanent gains even if campaigns rise and fall. Each base builds the other areas, and the party project as a whole. e.g., endorsers for events, a basic gain.
- The more responsibility taken, the more training of comrades takes place.
Fundamental, of course, is building the party, both the politics, the program, and the organisation itself. But there are also other ways to register gains, to concretise the past work, that assist the building of the party itself.
On the other hand, there are dangers of campaigns without gains. There’s the problem of sect parasites, like the ISO et. al., parachuting in. We do the work, and they smother it with placards on the day. We can counter this with our own high profile, and our own propaganda in quantity. Or we can organise actions in our own name, if there’s no real possibility of genuine joint work, a real united front. Let’s be careful about providing a framework from which others can build, and neglect it for building ourselves, for example with the calendar in Green Left.
There’s also the danger of burnout of comrades from covering everything, and not doing the recruiting well in any of them. We can economise through doubling up: do Green Left sales in interventions; recruiting, talking to contacts, at demonstrations. We can revive old comrades and thrust responsibility on new ones. But if comrades can see the permanent gains, they’re less likely to feel tired.
Green Left Weekly in this period
One of the problems posed for us in this period of heightened class confrontation is that Green Left Weekly is not a party paper. Of course it’s only a partial problem, the gains we get still far outweigh any negative aspects.
One comrade apparently was quizzed by an ISO member: “We heard the DSP was dropping Green Left Weekly and producing a party paper instead?” No such luck fella!
But nevertheless, how do we adjust, compensate for the drawbacks? We don’t go back to a party paper, but raise the socialist content. We make the paper more directed, controlled, with a conscious reflection of party’s activities and views. Perhaps we give more weight to the first half of the paper. We should be covering the DSP, DSP members, Resistance more openly in the paper. Let nobody who buys a copy be mistaken about the main tendency behind the paper. Let’s keep the virtues, but improve it for the period.
Green Left needs to have comprehensive coverage of all the actions, all the fightbacks. At the same time it should give direction to the campaigns, and draw out the political lessons. There’s no problem in carrying all the type of articles Direct Action might have carried in the past. We need this anyway to give political guidance to our members, and our wide periphery.
But also in this period the concept of Green Left Weekly can really come into its own as the paper that unites all the campaigns, is the resource, the arena for discussion, for all those fighting back. Use the paper to build and reach out into the movements. It can regroup the activists.
We want Green Left to house the debates. Branch leaderships have to go after the left liberal milieu for Green Left copy. Target the Frontline writers, for example. Get the more interesting names from the former CPA milieu to comment or write in Green Left – Mundey, Stilwell.
We should put more effort into involving others in writing, for example on the campaigns, on women’s, environmental, and gay and lesbian issues. This would have the advantage of allowing our comrades, on Green Left staff or not, to concentrate on the harder articles, the socialist perspective articles.
And we need a full range of other propaganda, socialist literature, pamphlets, leaflets, books. A propaganda group without propaganda is pretty pointless. We want to project a DSP pamphlet series, that’s frequent, and topical. They can be sold regularly with Green Left – “Have you got the DSP pamphlet for this month?” Some of the pamphlets might be reprints, or collections of articles, or a transcription of a talk.
We need a high profile as socialists, a higher profile for the party and for socialist ideas, as we’ve emphasised at recent national gatherings. Let’s not be conned by the capitalists or our political opponents, even our ex-members, who say socialism’s dead, out of date, that it’s uncool to talk about changing the system.
Wins to break the electoralist consensus
But how can we challenge the predominant parliamentary/electoralist consensus? How do we go beyond propagandism? The radicalisation and the mobilisations in this period will still be weak. People could still fall back into electoralism, drift back into the framework of Laborism, or else we could see the Greens or the Democrats with their own slightly more left version of parliamentarism, of liberalism reap the gains.
The socialists, the class-struggle current, needs to have a win, or to show that you might have a win, that it’s possible.
We need a sustained platform for projecting our politics. Winning bases or leadership within institutions is an extra goal of our work, but a goal that extends the resources and tools we have to build the party, extend its influence, and recruit. It also provides a series of projects which can focus energies and provide a medium-term goal which the party (and its members) can strive for that is within its capability to reach even in current objective conditions.
It would be a major advance for the party to win permanent dominance of student politics in a number of campuses over the next few years, or emerge as the permanent left opposition inside the CPSU, or emerge as the recognised militant section of the East Timor solidarity movement.
But it would not be a substitute for intervention in any big break that develops in the electoral arena. Rather, the development of bases increases our capacity to reach people, to recruit and build the party, and position ourselves better to orient to any such break.
Indeed, without these additional resources, we’ll be substantially hindered in successfully responding. Developments in Europe and New Zealand have shown, for example, that it is highly advantageous to be able to respond to upsurges in mass anger from platforms which already have some authority and visibility in “mainstream politics.”
We have to both counter parliamentarism, and compete with it. Our vehicle for the moment will remain DSEL [Democratic Socialist Electoral League], so we have to succeed with it, get the registration so we’re ready for a July 1997 election if there’s a double dissolution. We can also use it for increasing the identification of our periphery, bringing them closer to the party. We should note here the good performance by our 12 candidates in the March federal election, and our two candidates in the Victorian state election.
Is there potential for something more innovative on the electoral front? Even within the DSEL framework? Will we run in the Senate? Is the best tactic a specific socialist pole? Or should it be broader, should we try to regroup with others in a general anti-capitalist framework? We should have a more thorough discussion on election tactics at the next NC meeting.
The ALP and types of united fronts
Right now the key political question we need to be clear on is the united front tactic. After 13 years of ALP government, we’re not used to having to work with ALP members in joint actions against government cuts and attacks on rights and conditions.
For 13 years, the ALP has been the target of our protests. And ALP members kept their heads low. We have to make them pay, still, for the sell-outs, the betrayals. They’re still our main opponent in the workers’ movement. But now we have to make better use of the united-front tactic. Let’s be careful we don’t just have a knee-jerk reaction to the ALP, we need more subtlety now.
What is the united front tactic? It’s used in a situation where we don’t command the overwhelming support of the mass of workers and oppressed – the case now and for some time to come. It’s for circumstances where they still have illusions in other parties (which is still the case with the ALP, there’s still illusions and support, even though workers are a lot more cynical, and that support is weakened after 13 years.) The dual purpose of this tactic is:
- Firstly, to provide unity in action, on principled issues, for reforms, or to oppose particular attacks of the ruling class.
- Secondly, to get a hearing among the masses, to win over the ranks, to expose the reformist misleaders through struggle.
As always, our party program provides a clear and succinct guide:
Within the complex system of actions, methods, and interconnected demands required to forge working-class unity in action, the united-front tactic has particular importance. The united front provides a vehicle for mobilisation of the broadest masses in defence of their immediate interests even though broader agreement might not be possible.
While the party constantly seeks to publicise its general perspectives and policies, counterposing them to those of the supporters of capitalism, this alone is not enough to convince broad layers of working people that the party’s policies are correct. Only experience in action can advance the consciousness of masses of working people. Action provides a practical test of policies and tactics. Therefore, the party does not make its proposals for establishing a united front conditional upon mass acceptance of its overall policies and general perspectives.
The party bases its united-front initiatives on the immediate needs of the masses in the objective situation. For that purpose the party advances specific demands that develop mass unity in action. The party stands for broad, militant, democratically organised, mass mobilisations in support of these demands.
To be effective, united fronts should be formed around clearly defined issues, should be founded on a democratic attitude towards discussion of the best means of pursuing the joint objective, and should involve respect for the right of all participants to continue expressing their views and to act on other questions.
Inherently, the united-front tactic involves seeking agreements with non-revolutionary political forces. Concessions in the interests of establishing and maintaining the united front should not undercut its central purpose – the mobilisation of the broadest possible forces against the policies of the capitalist class.
The united front is not an end in itself, but a means to unify and mobilise the masses, to draw them away from the influence of pro-capitalist leaders and to win them to the party’s policies and revolutionary perspectives.
Well, the ALP leaders are fairly wily, they’ll try their best to smash, to marginalise their left opponents. Some even read their history, they know about the united-front tactic from the other side. They’ll do all they can to hang on to their posts and perks, and look forward to a return to office to get the crumbs from the capitalists’ table. They want to bury the lessons of the Accord’s 13 years.
So how to guarantee they pay? How to make sure we can raise our program, and our profile, most effectively in contexts of united-front actions against the Coalition? So that we expose the Labor traitors’ past errors, as well as their inaction today and in the future?
We certainly won’t make our critiques preconditions for united-front actions. But we certainly will raise our critiques in Green Left Weekly, in other pamphlets, forums etc. And at the same time as not imposing unacceptable conditions to the ALP for their participation in actions, neither will we go quietly when they try to impose unacceptable conditions on us, as in the Melbourne student movement example quoted this morning, “they’ve waited 13 years to do this”
We’ll also look to other political and organisational forms to register the real lessons of these 13 years. In the trade unions, perhaps a militant minority, a broad left type formation.
The Comintern’s Fourth Congress theses on the united front stressed:
It is particularly important when using the united front tactic to achieve not just agitational but also organisational results. Every opportunity must be used to establish organisational footholds among the working masses themselves (factory committees, supervisory commissions made up of workers from all the different parties and unaligned workers, action committees, etc.).
So we want both the basic organisations of the united front – trade unions, shop committees, campaigns against the Coalition’s attacks. And also united-front organisations that are based on recognition of the ALP’s betrayals, anti-Accord, for class struggle not class collaboration.
United fronts, alliances, and regroupments
What about alliances on a more general level, on the electoral level? Unfortunately the word “alliance” has become a coverall, embracing very different political projects, and we need to differentiate:
- Joint actions, a united front that engages in action;
- Alliances that help promote and organise a break from class-collaborationist politics;
- Alliances and projects that tie the struggle in behind the ALP, keep it within the framework of the capitalist system, keep it within the electoralist consensus.
Our program is again an invaluable guide:
Because the underlying assumption of all ALP politics is the preservation of capitalism, there can be no permanent and generalised alliance between socialists and the ALP.
Socialists enter into alliances with the ALP, or with sections of it, to defend the interests of working people, to improve the strategic position of the progressive and socialist forces, and to foster motion towards deeper mass political consciousness, particularly among those sections of the masses that look to the ALP for political leadership.
So it’s OK to go for an “alliance” with the ALP if it’s joint action, the first category, but not the third, and it has no place in the second.
The experience of past such generalised alliances, overseas and in Australia – popular fronts – has been disastrous, saving the skin of the bourgeoisie, and demobilising workers. (Recently we’ve noticed the misuse of the term by the ISO, wanting to exclude some people from united-front actions, yet themselves often tailing the ALP.)
The CPA in its last decades was involved in a whole series of efforts aimed at tailing the ALP – the People’s Economic Program, alternative budgets, culminating in the Accord. As we wrote in a 1977 document, “the united-front tactic addresses the immediate needs of the whole working class, engages the masses in action, and exposes before their eyes the reformist leadership the exact opposite of the Stalinist backed People’s Economic Program.”
With the end of the ALP government, is the former CPA, the Search Foundation, going to get up to its old tricks as the promoter of another disaster, tailing the ALP? Can the corpse rise?
Search Foundation meetings
Last month the Search Foundation organised a series of meetings and seminars in the main cities, on “Which Way Forward?” with Beatrix Campbell!
The ALP for decades was the stumbling block for the CPA, and now that they’ve finally capitulated to it, can they rebuild something outside? Certainly they can use their union positions, their welfare positions, their ALP positions, to get a propaganda campaign “alliance” going, aimed at the Libs, not challenging the ALP or 13 years of the Accord.
But could they provide enough backing to make a Bob Leach-type alliance effort more realistic? Could they get in the game with the Greens and Democrats? It would be more troublesome if they reconstituted another “party” type effort, we would have to go through a lot of the old shit again. I can’t see an electoral effort being supported, but they’ll certainly try to block us (one of their remaining reasons for hanging on I think!).
The Greens, at least Drew Hutton writing in the latest Arena, want a (tame, genuinely reformist) social-democratic partner for the Greens and Democrats (though the Democrats with their recent electoral success might be more interested in their own game for a while, he admits.)
Can the Search Foundation ghost provide such a social-democratic partner, cobble something together at least? We should note:
- Firstly, the difference between an alliance that’s trying to put together a political alternative to the Labor Party, as in the last 13 years, which whatever its weaknesses and inadequate program, would have a dynamic against the Labor government, i.e., it would be a left alternative; and on the other hand, anything now, which would not be a break from an ALP framework. The Search Foundation is too connected, beholden to the ALP, so they aren’t likely to provide much in the way of a partner, an alternative. It would only be a secondary strategy if they indulged in it at all, a ginger group approach still, complementing their main ALP orientation.
- Secondly, it would be a fake if they did, it wouldn’t be an alliance that could be compared with the New Zealand Alliance, because there’s not a break with the Labor perspective of implementing austerity, their slightly slower and milder, yet still market-driven agenda.
- They might do something following the New Zealand elections in October, perhaps purely as a spoiling move. We’ve noticed the Search Foundation/ex-CPA/Leach forces’ increased focus on the New Zealand Alliance. (Campbell shared the billing with New Zealand speaker Trish Mullins, who made much of her minor connection with the NLP and Alliance.) They might try to get some impetus from newly elected Alliance MPs after October. There are enough rightwingers and careerists to cause problems here, but it’s more likely to come from the Green Party side. The NewLabour Party ones on the top of the list – Matt Robson, Leila Harre, Jim Anderton, are likely to be OK.
The possibility of something falling short of a genuine political alternative was canvassed by Peter Murphy at the Sydney seminar, attended by less than 100. He sketched a possible political program for an organisation, which sounded more like a political think-tank, and that concept was bandied around:
- Solidarity with different struggles;
- Shorter working hours (from a propagandistic perspective);
- Defence of the public sector, the role of government, for progressive taxation.
It all seemed oriented to education and propaganda, rather than a program for fighting, for action.
Also bandied around was the possibility of a journal from the left unions. “Some work has already been done on this,” said Murphy. (Perhaps they’ll revamp Options? It might be a Frontline type thing, which already provides some competition for us in Victoria.)
Linda Carruthers also pushed “a conference for young people about organising in the workplace” but in 12-18 months’ time.
“The Search Foundation was ready to take any proposals up further, discuss ideas, even organisationally, with others,” said Murphy.
But Adam Farrar, chairing the final session, warned: “No grand alliance for alliance’s sake,” i.e., they’re not going to get caught in building a real political alternative process again.
Their agenda is limited, perhaps one of helping to revive the Labor left. They’d invited Anthony Albanese, sent invites around ALP branches etc. There was a little response, but Murphy played it down, he seemed a bit disappointed. Their political line on the ALP still defines them. It allows them to canvas a limited “alliance” against Howard, but prevents them rebuilding a real alternative to the ALP, or a new party.
It’s a timing question too, there’s no time at the moment for an immediate regroupment-type conference. But later in the year the Search Foundation could make a call, get their old periphery, and people who want to do something against the Howard assault.
So what are our tactics? On one level, we know they’re not for real, therefore let’s not waste time and energy on them. But we know they still have (a) money, and (b) connections and positions in unions and other bodies. Therefore we have to continue to keep an eye on them.
So we counterpose unity in action on specific campaigns, an action program, against their likely revival of “unity behind the ALP” manoeuvre. We can use unity rhetoric as well as them, but combine it with political clarity and sharpness at the same time.
Direct Action in March 1988 carried an article reporting the founding of the Rainbow Alliance, by myself and Steve Painter, analysing “The left and the search for new politics.” We wrote:
Until the new politics in this country comes to terms with the fact that capitalism cannot be humanised, and that socialism is the only realistic alternative, it will remain condemned to repeat all the old errors of pro-capitalist liberalism.
Well, Joe Camilleri’s Rainbow Alliance certainly repeated all the old errors, and has now dissolved. That’s good, it clears the decks further. But then it might also leave a little more space for yet another false start, another fake, liberal alliance.
We also need to look for opportunities to make approaches to the Greens and Democrats, even though they’re moving to the right, putting up proposals to them for united action on such things as defending Telstra, approach Woodley for example to support the East Timor campaign, to sponsor the August 25 action. There’ll be competition among them for the space to the left of Labor. We can propose joint work, have a united front approach, but fight against their politics. They’re vulnerable, since they’ve got so few activists on the ground.
There’s a danger of the more astute and active ALP lefts, such as Albanese, now trying to muscle in to regain some credibility, offer themselves as patrons of organisations, trying to absorb the anger, channel it back through the ALP and parliament. We counterpose action, put their troops – money – where their mouth is. Get them in organisations supporting action, but not hide away or lessen our criticism of their past crimes, and their future inevitable sellouts.
As Trotsky wrote in 1922 for his theses on the united front, “any sort of organisational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us”.
The SPA is on a big “unity” tack. Their call for a united front of action sounds partly OK, a common front between all left and progressive organisations – unions, parties, and community groups – for actions, and a common front in parliament to reject the Coalition attacks. But their orientation to the Greens in the elections was tailist, and they refused to support our socialist campaign, attacking it in their paper’s letters column.
What’s the meaning of Sharkey’s repudiation of the Accord? Union election manoeuvring, as Peter Murphy claims, or to allow the SPA to go over closer to the ALP left, and do something with the former ACU? The ACU (dissolved in 1993) still functions as the Sydney Marxism Group, MUSAA, etc., it still has a flicker of life, and a trade union base as we know.
Could it be that all the fragments of the former CPA might try some get-together, falling in behind the ALP now that the embarrassment of the Accord and a Labor government is out of the way? Perhaps I’m overly suspicious, and have immersed myself too much in CPA history. But the fragments are still there, though a lot older and weaker.
How important is the question of Stalinism now? How to handle it, internationally, and here? Remember it’s not just a historical question “over there,” not just a question of workers’ democracy in a socialist state. Stalinism was above all a class-collaborationist political current within the international workers’ movement that peddled its political poison under the banner of “Marxism-Leninism.” It’s not totally superseded, but now there’s a changed balance of forces. We can be firmer, even aggressive on the politics, and while they shout “unity” (for them it often means “shut up”) we can throw the call for unity back at them, on a principled basis. There is a real yearning for unity in action.
And we shouldn’t ignore the ultra-lefts. Comrades should be warned not to act too superior to them. If we ignore them they could steal a march in some areas, win people that we should win (they already have some of those). In this period the united-front tactic can be usefully pushed up to them as well.
The ISO has been weakened by their split, but we know they can rapidly recover, recruit a new batch. They have the merits of energy, and speed of involvement in new campaigns. But their split gives us a little relative boost. There’s also talk of further divisions in their ranks, and it’s inevitable they’ll have further international problems.
As for Socialist Alternative, their recent expulsion of Natalie Gould, making the same mistakes as the ISO did in expelling them, shows they’ve got much of the same political and organisational baggage. Furthermore, on some issues they’ve rejected the ISO for the wrong reasons. There’s a strong anti-Leninist trend in the splits here, in South Africa, and in Canada, and probably in other countries too. It’s not new; similar conclusions have been reached by others before. But I haven’t seen anyone beat this admission by Socialist Alternative in their recent recruiting leaflet: “The socialist movement in Australia isn’t exactly on the verge of an enormous breakthrough so really frenetic activity isn’t worth it. You can be involved as much or as little as you like.” They’re proud that they’re Clayton’s socialists!
But this also has a lot in common with the ISO position – “we’re too small to make an impact, therefore just recruit, don’t stand for union elections, don’t stand for parliament” The proposals for inaction don’t quite jell with their apocalyptic rhetoric, the “revolution’s around the corner, big new upsurge ahead” line they spout. But I suppose it fits with their recruiting method, which is to denounce everyone else as sell-outs, and pose as the most leftist, macho militants.
But a key point we have to reaffirm is that comrades have to relate to, argue and debate with, all the left groups – Militant is a special case of course, the report on Saturday outlined our perspectives for closer work with them; Left Focus, Non-Aligned Left, whom we’re also working with; Left Alliance, dissolved in some states, and much demobilised; Communist Party Advocates; Solidarity, Communist Intervention; even hardened sects like Workers Power, the Communist League, the SLL, even the Sparts; even the Anarchists. (In Sydney they’re engulfed in a bitter split and property dispute over Jura Books.)
It’s essential to engage all individuals in left groups, even the most sectarian, in debate, both for training, getting confidence, swatting them down, and even trying to win some of their members. They do have some that we should have recruited.
Comrades should be encouraged to have a go, even if they’re not totally confident, this is the way to learn, to get confidence, to test the arguments. We have to squash the idea that the other left groups, the ISO especially, are so far out that we can avoid arguing with them. It would be a fatal error.
“No saviours from on high deliver” – we don’t want to construct a cloistered, pristine pure ghetto. We have to encourage comrades to get in there and fight.
A final note on left sects and sectarians. You have to have more respect for them than for those giving up the struggle, rejecting Marxism on the grounds of rejecting sectarianism.
Priorities and campaigns
How do we keep well ahead of the left sects, and remove their chances for growth in a period like this? We know that anyone running up the socialist flag in an energetic way can recruit today. There’s a Chinese saying, I’m told: “In times like these even the salted fish come alive and start swimming!” (This phenomenon does exist in nature, some fish can lie dormant in the mud of dried up riverbeds – with the rains come, they come alive again!)
There will be some salted fish reviving, both from the right, and from the left. So don’t relax now, now’s the period for activity, seizing the initiative, running hard, leading, taking responsibility, building the party. Yet at the same time we have to provide the responsible alternative where we can, in the unions, for youth, in solidarity work, in the different campaigns.
So setting priorities can be a constant worry for branches, for branch executives. We’re still very small, there’s not enough cadres, too many openings. The ‘90s exacerbated this problem, with the abdication of many of those won to radical politics in the 1960s and ‘70s. We’re filling the gap, without having caught up in terms of actual strength.
Thus we have to set all our political interventions in the right framework – a party-building framework.
Compare our party-building, Leninist approach, with the reproaches of all those retreating to the right, to movementism, to narrow concerns, to community organising as a way out, a retreat. These are not new; over the last three decades, such false solutions have cropped up repeatedly. They’ve been a constant reproach, an attack on us: from the Pablo current in the Trotskyist movement; from the CPA in its decay; from individuals, who are threatened by a party approach; from liberals, who are threatened by a socialist approach. (We don’t seem to get it quite so much from the Laborites. Why? Because they’re more pragmatic, and more conscious of the organisational bases they’re hanging on to.)
We intervene to build the party, through (1) recruiting, (2) expanding our influence and credibility, and (3) training Marxist cadres through theoretical education and action, intervention, even confrontation.
This National Committee meeting will set our national priorities in the trade union area, the campus area, and East Timor solidarity work. But there’ll be a range of other activities and campaigns where we must intervene.
We need the speed, the flexibility to jump into important new campaigns. We should be able to react quickly. It will be a period of intensified class conflict, and intensified competition on the left. In an upturn, ultraleft sects can react quickly; in a slow period our stability helps us keep going, but we must adapt to the new tempo.
The exact priorities will also have to be determined to some extent branch to branch in this period, taking into account our own resources nationally and in the branch, and also taking into account who else is involved, healthy new activists, or just a few tired former lefts.
In this period, we can expect many more activities. We’ll try to cover them, to hit all actions, demos, pickets, rallies meetings – with Green Left sales, that’s the absolute minimum of course; sell subscriptions, try to recruit, get contacts, get names on petitions, set up stalls, have our placards, our banners, our contingents, write articles for Green Left, take photographs, involve the activists in Green Left.
And as we’ve stressed so much at recent NC meetings, we have to raise the party profile, raise the specifically socialist banner. Comrades need to reread the past NC reports. Let’s reaffirm that necessity here, especially for the new period that’s opened up.
We have to be conscious too of how we project ourselves, what image we project for the party and Resistance. It’s important we’re seen both as socialists, and as genuine builders of campaigns, of the fightback activities, and that we’re not seen as “parachutists” by the independent activists.
Often it will be our role to provide leadership not just to our comrades, and independent activists in campaigns, but also to the members of other, opponent, tendencies in these areas – LA, NAL, even ISO members (such as occurred in the Perth CPSU meeting).
There’s also the importance of having targets and building bases outlined earlier, to consolidate our activity, to reap the gains.
This also helps refute any charge of parachuting against us, we build permanent bases, make organisational gains. Then the other charge gets tossed up, of takeover, or competing with the existing ossified committee. CISLAC/RACLA, ASIET/FOET etc. But that’s inevitable if we’re to take the movement forward, revive it. There’ll be much louder squeals as we get in a position to assault the more important reformist bases, the trade unions. But a political fight for influence helps train, helps steel our comrades, makes polemics and debates, well worthwhile.
Need for Marxist clarity
A central point we emphasised at the December NC plenum was the need for Marxist political clarity, for sharpness, rather than tolerating “broader” wishy-washy politics, obscuring the fundamental class questions and playing down differences. We said this would be “a guide to the debates we need in Links, and with the broader left milieu internationally, now and in the future.” We should reaffirm that.
The December NC party-building report continued: “We’re not proposing that we relinquish our open flexible approach, able to take up any opening, any possibility of regroupment, but that we should emphasise the fundamental political questions more, drawing the lessons from the past, educating in those lessons” But,
- “We need to talk and write about our socialist ideas and politics more.
- We need to raise the DSP profile higher.
- And we need to step up the education and theoretical development of our comrades.”
Secondly, the report stressed the importance of increasing the level of participation of comrades, giving comrades more responsibility, through devolving responsibility onto smaller teams for the elections, encouraging more active involvement in the areas of recruitment, in Resistance, in education work. In essence, training and encouraging all comrades to be leaders.
Of course, there’s their leadership and ours. “Leadership” was the ALP’s March election slogan, highlighting Keating’s arrogance in implementing capitalism’s dictates as though it was a guaranteed vote winner.
Charisma and confidence are helpful, yes, but most important is political leadership in action. Leadership is taking responsibility. We don’t equate leadership with formal authority. Authority has to be constantly earned, rewon. You earn respect by taking responsibility. But leadership’s not an obsession, a separate subject divorced from action and politics.
The socialist struggle constantly requires new leaders. We’ve suffered from the demoralisation of some of the old gang, comrades who were recruited and put in good service in the ‘70s and ‘80s, even some of the more recent recruits, some of the middle layer of leaders who’ve stepped back.
We’ve also suffered from what is in effect a bleeding split of the last 7-8 years. You can see the trends among some of our ex-members – Steve P’s letter to Green Left, Peter A’s resignation letter where “changing the system” is now characterised as something to be sneered at.
It’s an unfortunate product of the move to the right of a section of the left following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and demoralisation over the prospects for socialism. Why does the collapse of the Soviet Union have the wide effect it does, for example, even on the Greens? It’s not so much the collapse, but the triumphalism of the ruling class. But that can be more easily undermined than creating a new Soviet Union. A few victories for the working class, or a few disasters for capitalism, can turn things around.
But how to counter this attrition? How to replace those who’ve stepped aside? An upturn in mass struggles will be an opportunity to revive some of the older comrades, and some of the tired youth with less excuse to be tired.
We can also network with our supporters better, contacting them more regularly, and organising them through DSEL and Green Left Weekly. We need to provide a social link – dinners, Cultural Dissent, forums, informal contact – to prevent too solid a coming together of our ex-members as a hostile bloc.
But most importantly, this new period must provide the opportunity for us to recruit new forces and grow significantly.
Where will inspiration come for the long haul? Most importantly, from having a firm grasp of Marxist theory, understanding history, the big picture, the long march of humanity away from barbarism towards the socialist future.
It will also come from an internationalist perspective, and activity in international solidarity, as with Vietnam, Central America, Asia-Pacific.
It can also come from looking at the history and experiences from our movement, here and internationally, the problems and principles in party building and developing a leadership. Jim Percy’s book with the party-building reports from the ‘90s, for example, the 1982 Socialist Worker with three of his reports in it, the booklet, Organisational Principles and Methods of the Democratic Socialist Party. All of us could benefit from rereading them. They stand us in good stead.
A leadership transition in the party is happening at branch level, comrades in their 20s are stepping in. We have to prepare a more active leadership transition at other levels. The opportunities are there for all comrades to be leaders. There are plenty of openings for leading in new, small branches; for leading in trade union work, campus work, organising our East Timor solidarity work.
How do we ensure that comrades grab these opportunities? Are there structural obstacles we can remove? Are there pushes we need to give, or incentives we need to offer? Are there mental attitudes that we need to change?
I had initially planned a larger component of the party-building report to be on the question of leadership, problems of individualism that had cropped up in the party, and the stepping back from taking leadership and responsibility by a number of relatively young comrades who had previously been moving forward. However, Tash’s report to the Resistance National Council meeting has already addressed some of these questions, and it seems it already has had some impact.
Secondly, the internal problems seem to be getting overtaken by events. With an upturn in the class struggle, the leadership problems, the demoralisation and drifting, will hopefully recede into the past, and be seen as a relic of the Accord years. But hangovers from this period will still persist. There’ll be a slowness to adjust on the part of some comrades.
And sometimes we might even find that such problems get accentuated precisely because of the changed situation, the turn in the period, with extra stresses imposed on branches as a result of the “upsurge” and the increased load on comrades.
So these issues are still worth taking up briefly.
Part of the problem arises from not putting politics first, allowing egos and ambition to get tangled up with our political activity. Comrades can lose sight of the big picture. The goal is the emancipation of humanity, not our own development, or our political recognition through titles, or how high we can rise in the organisation. It’s what we can contribute to the movement, not what it gives to us.
The alternative is a corrosive, selfish, self-centred view, alien to our movement. Once on that track, you start worrying about your personal “development” outside the struggle, your career, and you’re back on the course that you consciously rejected when you took the decision to be a revolutionary socialist activist. And if you leave the movement you get bitter at the party for your “wasted” years. (Former CPAer Bernie Taft’s quite blatant about it in his memoirs – he could have been a millionaire, he says.)
Comrades also have to get out of psychological mode, and into political mode. Don’t think that talking (gossiping) about comrades and their development is politics. It’s not. There are too many aspiring personnel experts. Discussing “personnel” and psychologising about others has become a bit too widespread. Younger comrades think psychologising and monitoring personnel is the way to train other comrades, rather than focusing on the politics and political opportunities.
Do the tasks, the work, the interventions. Become a working-class leader. Build a team of cadres through practical political activity rather than focussing on the shortcomings of other comrades. It’s impermissible to look for scapegoats, to blame other comrades for either the political slowness of the period and our failure to make big breakthroughs, or one’s own tiredness and failings. Otherwise it smacks of petty bourgeois gossiping, infighting and self-aggrandisement. Perhaps it’s inevitable in a small group. In any case, it’s always a worse problem. In this past, slow period, it’s been exacerbated.
Another problem for us all to be aware of, is that rudeness, arrogance seems to be creeping back in. It’s a question of efficiency first. It’s just not effective. It’s counter-productive. You’ll get less results from ordering comrades around. Politically convince comrades of a course of action (or even ask them nicely!). It’s also a question of the rights of comrades, the right not to be treated rudely. OK, we’re a cadre force, an “army” but we don’t need bourgeois commandism. We’re a voluntary party, and let’s do our part to develop and maintain comradely relations between comrades. Trotsky, as usual, had some good advice:
The maturity of each member of the party expresses itself particularly in the fact that he does not demand from the party regime more than it can give. The person who defines his attitude to the party by the individual fillips that he gets on the nose is a poor revolutionist. It is necessary, of course, to fight against every individual mistake of the leadership, every injustice, and the like. But it is necessary to assess these “injustices” and “mistakes” not by themselves but in connection with the general development of the party both on a national and international scale. A correct judgment and feeling for proportion in politics is an extremely important thing. The person who has propensities for making a mountain out of a molehill can do harm to himself and the party.
The organisation’s not perfect, sure, and neither are we, the very imperfect individuals who make it up. Workers are more tolerant, intellectuals can magnify criticisms of deficiencies in the party, and let it affect their orientation to the party.
So let’s conspicuously oppose any griping and individualism, individually, and collectively. Let’s put it behind us. Don’t dwell on this part of the report, for example, spending the rest of the day thinking, “Does it apply to me? Is he talking about me? “ Just get on with the work. It’s a secondary aspect of the report.
The Koran has one good bit of advice, “No wrangling on the hadj,” no quarrels during the pilgrimage to Mecca.
Our public DSEL slogan is People Before Profit. Perhaps we should have a private one in this area: Politics before the Personal, and before Pettiness, Psychology, Psychiatry. Or, the Personal is not Political.
We need a political atmosphere in the party, and have to find political solutions to problems. Leaders have to motivate others to lead, to excite and enthuse others.
So it’s all the more vital that all comrades take responsibility. At the December NC plenum, the party-building report covered four areas where responsibility could be broadened: through election teams, in recruiting, in Resistance, and in education.
What’s been the balance sheet of the teams experience during the March elections? The feedback from branches, and comrades should contribute further here, indicated there was good potential for this approach, we did get newer comrades taking responsibility, there was wider participation.
A by-product of this focus has also been to remind us of the basic institutions of the branches where responsibility has to be taken, through our committees and fractions.
We have to allow, encourage, comrades to take more initiative. We need to convey a sense of ownership of the party to the newer, younger comrades who are faced with a choice about what to do with their lives. Sometimes they can tend to phrase their hesitations as “Why didn’t you do better,” rather than “Why didn’t we do better.”
In Resistance the role of responsibility, involvement, engagement, is vital. We constantly have to assess the balance between training, guiding, on the one hand, and independence, standing on one’s own feet, on the other. The need in this period, with this composition of comrades, is to lean towards independence.
What will help the separation, the independence, of Resistance and the DSP?
Firstly, we should let Resistance take more initiatives, more responsibility, think things out for themselves. They should be encouraged to take up and lead the fight in various arenas, especially the student arena. Where possible the campus fractions should be Resistance fractions, with DSP-only comrades invited along.
This proposal doesn’t mean we shouldn’t convene a DSP-only fraction when necessary. And it shouldn’t stop us taking the discussions of Resistance and campus work into the party branch – it’s going to be needed for the integration and education of youth recruits, and also important for the inspiration and mobilisation of party comrades.
We’ll encourage Resistance to shoulder more of their own financial responsibilities, and tend toward Resistance taking responsibility for their own Green Left Weekly bundles.
The key point is for Resistance comrades, for all comrades, to dive in, to learn, to gain confidence, in action, in polemic and debate, and through taking responsibility.
Last week Perth comrades took a bold step forward for the party – on Perth branch’s recommendation the NE chartered a new DSP branch in Fremantle and established the Fremantle-Perth district.
Perth comrades can elaborate on the details, but there were good reasons for the step, reasons specific to Fremantle, and to Perth branch, and those that are general in this period:
- We can see a general political opening to increase the scope of our propaganda today.
- We’ve noted the current weakness and inactivity of the WA Greens.
- There’s been real membership growth of Perth branch – from 18 to 24 since the Easter conference, with at least three other potential members in the short term. These are activists wanting to do things, not former activists in retreat.
- There’s the local factors of Fremantle, a real second centre. The left has a long history there. We had harboured the thought for quite a few years that it would be easier to divide Perth branch than the larger branches of Sydney and Melbourne. It’s a genuine second political centre in the city.
- We wanted to give a chance for more of the Perth comrades to take real responsibility for leading a branch.
The immediate tasks for Fremantle branch are to sell their initial Green Left bundle of 100; to help take responsibility for Murdoch University Resistance work (initially there won’t be a separate Resistance branch at Fremantle); to concentrate on East Timor solidarity work in the community there. There’s also CISLAC work in the Latin American community, and we should be looking at running a DSEL candidate in Fremantle in the state election.
There’s an initial branch of six comrades, and they’ll set up an office/house in Fremantle. They’ll have fortnightly branch meetings, and educationals in the alternate weeks, and the NE has appointed an interim district committee for the Fremantle-Perth district.
Naturally enough this exciting step makes us think about future projections, both dividing branches within cities, and looking at branches in smaller cities and towns. Lismore, for example, could possibly be our next target. There are some very interesting developments there, with a radicalisation on Southern Cross campus, and significant Green Left sales and subs there over the years. But there are other small centres where we know we could grow – Townsville, Toowoomba, Launceston, Geelong, Armidale, Cairns, Bathurst Frankston’s been added. Party growth and setting up new smaller branches could provide the springboard for qualitative advances in the organisation and structure of the party in the larger cities.
It illustrates the point about taking responsibility. Darwin branch has recruited and grown, and has 100% sales participation, 100% of comrades pledging.
Our perspectives are clearer and our prospects are more optimistic than they’ve been for a long time. More of our specific projections will be presented in the party tasks and organisation report by Peter [Boyle], especially Green Left Weekly, sales and subs, education, propaganda, and raising our profile, our schedule for the year ahead.
We need both a sober assessment, an estimate of our possibilities, what’s objectively possible in this period, but we also need to be able to inspire and motivate our membership. It’s time for a little bit of “voluntarism,” an extra push, even get hyped up, as I think we all started to feel during the discussion on student work. Be confident and aggressive.
We know the dangers of mad over-estimations, that have plagued the Trotskyist movement over the years. But we also have to look for the openings, make use of the possibilities to the maximum.
In this period, we have to be able to act quickly, so our national priorities for campaigns certainly won’t be set in stone for a year, for six months even. The party, the branches, have to be able to respond immediately to any new issues. But the main areas of our work, the trade unions, the campuses, and our international solidarity work, especially on East Timor and Indonesia, are clear. This is where we want to build bases, or strengthen our existing ones. We’ll set targets to aim for, intermediate goals that are necessary for building the party, and for the political education and inspiration of our comrades.
Jim Percy outlined what we saw as four special features of our party, at our September 1980 NC meeting. We were inclusive, independent, Leninist. We are all those, we reaffirm it now, and have reaffirmed it over the years. We also need to constantly reaffirm that fourth feature, we’re an ambitious party.
Today’s the time for energy and activity, not complacency. It’s a time for vision, not routinism; a time for boldness and daring in expanding our base and building the party.
It’s a time for leadership, and even though we’re still small, and still have far too few forces and resources, we have to provide it.
– The Activist was as the internal discussion bulletin of the Democratic Socialist Party