Building the Party in the New Period

The Activist – Volume 8, Number 5, 1998
By John Percy

[The general line of this report was adopted by the October 17-18, 1998 DSP National Committee plenum.]

The title of this report refers to the party having entered a “new period”. But what are its new features?

Global capitalist crisis

Firstly, we all have to understand – even here in firewalled, comfortable, Lucky Country Australia – that we are now in the middle of a global economic crisis for capitalism.

It began with the dramatic Asian economic collapse last year. Now the Russian financial system faces total collapse. Latin American markets are falling. New Zealand is officially in recession. Japan’s economy has been in crisis throughout the ‘90s and now faces enormous problems. Finally it has now spread to the United States with a vengeance, with some very worried people in Wall Street and Washington.

It’s a classic capitalist crisis of overproduction, but the unprecedented quantities of unproductive speculative capital adds extra risks and instabilities to the system.

Last month’s US hedge fund collapse prompted a panicky bail-out. They admitted they were hours away from meltdown. According to US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, there was a 50% chance that “the whole [US financial] system would unravel”. More is to come. There are more than 3000 hedge funds alone, but they’re only a fraction of the dodgy financial institutions. Enormous profits are possible for these billionaire high rollers. But absolutely enormous losses also. Hedge funds and other financial speculators are highly leveraged. Banks confront huge dangers.

International capitalism has entered a period of incredible instability and uncertainty, a roller coaster ride that’s speeded up.

There were audible sighs of relief, as the Nikkei rises 800 points, 6%, on Wednesday October 7, after the Japanese parliament passes legislation allowing public funds to be used to bail out the banks. The next day, it falls the same amount, following a “gloomy message” from Greenspan, where he warns against “blind panic”.

Last Monday, October 12, the Nikkei surged 5% again on Sunday’s announcement of the government’s pledge of 67 trillion yen ($940 billion) of public funds for the bailout. By Thursday it was back down to its starting point, below 13,000. Washington’s second 0.25% interest rate cut within three weeks had the markets up again by the end of the week, but even as it was announced analysts had it pegged as a sign of worse dangers to come.

The Dow has had 13 days since July with rises or falls of more than 2% – the average since 1945 has been six such days a year.

The yen soared against the dollar by 26% in three days, following the hedge fund revelations. Japanese investors are now starting to flee US Treasury bonds, for years a scenario described as the US bond market’s “worst nightmare”.

There’s a developing loss of confidence in capitalism’s stability, but also in its permanence. It’s the end of the period of smug bourgeois triumphalism following the collapse of the Soviet Union. They can’t stop the string of articles from Russia along the lines of: “Capitalism has failed us”.

It also exposes their myths of the “free market”, as they bail out their bad debts and bad bets with public money. They’re socialising their losses, transferring even more wealth from us to them. This latest Japanese bailout promises $10,000 from every Japanese to the banks, failing financial institutions, and big investors.

The Fed plays the stock market to manipulate the Dow. They did it in 1987, something only revealed years later, and there are rumours they’re doing it today.

Washington hosts emergency meetings of the G7, G10, G22 groups of rich nations, and the annual meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and none of them come up with a solution to the spreading economic crisis.

The irresolvable contradictions of capitalism are the cause of their crises. They can patch each one over – until the next one, which can be bigger, more damaging. This one could be deep, given the level of fear and panic, the amount of speculative capital sloshing around, and the enormous size of the accumulated debts.

Recession doesn’t automatically equal radicalisation, but each time the ruling class will be weakened. Their brainwashing becomes less effective. The consciousness of the working class can take bigger leaps. The recession will have an ideological impact on young people especially, convincing them further that the world is irrational, the system is fucked, and getting more so.

The Asian economic crisis has spurred on the political crises in the region, in Indonesia, South Korea, now Malaysia. It’s raised the political importance of our Asia-Pacific solidarity work to a new level.

And in all countries, the subjective factor is key, and can gain more, become stronger, as a result of a new period of class struggle opportunities in the face of the capitalist austerity drive and stepped up attacks.

Australia will not escape the global recession. The political framework is still the ‘90s post-collapse of the Soviet Union. Those dramatic events are still part of the framework. But it won’t continue to be accompanied by the ‘90s economic boom! That’s now ended dramatically.

Resistance high school actions

The second big change in this period is a change in the subjective factor here in Australia.

Now, the DSP and Resistance are in a significantly new situation politically and organisationally as a result of the high school mobilisations against racism, and Resistance’s resulting incredible profile.

In recent years, and particularly over the last 12 months, we’ve made steady progress in building our bases, on campus, with our trade union work, and in Indonesia solidarity. Over the last decade the left overall was weakened, although we’d grown steadily. We’ve improved our positions relative to our left opponents.

If at this NC plenum we were just assessing our work in these areas, the normal gains we’ve made, we’d enthusiastically say that we’ve had a great year. But that’s without counting the biggest single success this year, or this decade – the fantastic Resistance national high school walkouts against racism.

The walkouts were the largest high school actions in Australia that I can remember. These actions would in themselves be fantastic. They radicalised a big new layer of young people. They mobilised 14,000 secondary students around the country against racism on July 24-28, and 8000 on August 28. Smaller numbers participated in the September 30 actions, but some branches report we made even better gains in consolidation on that day.

Resistance joined 600 new high school members. We got 1000 plus other names on contact lists. Many of these are being consolidated into cadres. The party has had a huge increase in requests for information and inquiries about membership. We’ve got contacts in a dozen new towns.

But the ramifications are even bigger than this, because of the incredibly high profile of Resistance now. The media coverage – print, radio, TV – was unprecedented in our history. The clippings file in the NO [National Office] is enormous, although we know it’s not complete – news articles, features, letters to the editor, columns, cartoons. There’s no way we’ll be able to bring together all the TV coverage, although the coverage of the actions, the focus on Resistance, the interviews and features, some almost like 5-minute ads for Resistance, was more than the total coverage in our history. And we’ll never be able to collect all the radio coverage, talk-back debates, and all the coverage that appeared in the overseas media, especially in Asia. Even September 30, though it received little coverage here, was a front-page story in the main Pakistani Urdu and English language papers, and was also in the Hong Kong and Indonesian papers at least.

We received some good media breaks in the ‘60s, and some for selected campaigns like the sex diary, but this is so much more extensive and continuing. It was overwhelming. It gave a new standing and recognition to Resistance. Resistance now represents protest, youth activism, socialism, to reporters and editors, to the ruling class, to the rabid right, but also to millions of young people around Australia.

It was a qualitative step forward in our high school work, and it flowed on to Resistance as a whole, and the party as well. Branches like Sydney have sometimes had almost daily ITS [Introduction to Socialism] classes. It’s been a steep learning curve for many high school comrades, from fresh activists to reasonably confident political cadre in a few months. They’ve had to directly confront hostile political opponents, and defend our politics, on numerous occasions. All layers of Resistance have been brought forward by the high school gains.

High schools are an area now where we’re dominant. No organised left current can match us, even the ALP. Compare this with other areas, where entrenched bureaucracies are so much stronger than us, and can so often stifle us. This is an area where we can organise large numbers in our own name. We’ve grabbed the leadership of high school students, but have also become by far the best known socialist organisation in Australia.

Anything affecting high school students we can and must respond to – any issue. And whether left groups, the Labor party, Democrats or Greens or whoever initiates or attempts to initiate, we can intervene politically, make our weight felt, and benefit from any activity.

How can we generalise and extend the benefits from these gains? OK, some elements of this development were unique:

  • The anti-Hanson, anti-racism issue itself, which was both a moral and political question that especially related to high school students.
  • Others on the left had bequeathed us the space, between the ISO’s ultra-leftism trying to shut down Hanson’s meetings, and the liberals and ALPers fear of mass action.
  • The specifics of July 2, the cop attacks, and subsequent explosion of publicity, and even the red-baiting helped.

But the success was also prepared and made possible because of our correct political perspective and our previous steady work. Was it Cannon who was fond of saying, “Live right, and you get the breaks”?

  • We’d built a serious, national, Marxist organisation.
  • We had a democratic centralist cadre force able to act quickly to take advantage of new openings.
  • We had Green Left Weekly, a powerful tool able to intervene, and also build cadre.
  • We had a base among young people, recognising the radical role of youth.
  • We’d had a record of previous successful work among high school students, going way back, but to 1995 with the woodchipping issue and around the French nuclear tests.

On the high school front we stand out most impressively, most starkly, but on all key counts we’re stronger by a big margin. In a sense it was a modest breakthrough, but it has meant we’ve moved further ahead of the rest of the left.

Changed balance of forces on left

Our Resistance high school success, and our new expanded profile, has significantly shifted the balance of forces further in our favour. We’d been making steady gains in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and this registers it definitively.

Others are forced to recognise this, either openly, or implicitly through their sour grapes reactions that reflect their desperation.

There’s certainly an effect on the bourgeoisie. They and their media and right-wing ideologues will be paying us far more attention. Sometimes we’ll be able to take advantage of this through getting our views, our profile, into the mass media; sometimes they’ll be more conscious about it, continue to try to exclude us.

The ruling class’s state agencies are also likely to be paying us more attention. We’ll come under closer scrutiny, so we have to be more conscious and careful ourselves, more professional. The far right is certainly more aware, both One Nation, and National Action, with scurrilous posters in Sydney, violent attacks in Adelaide, and a suspicious arson attack on our headquarters in Brisbane.

We’ll see more of the reaction from the ALP, the liberal left, the bureaucracies. The Jabiluka experience was shocking, but won’t surprise us in the future. We could see further desperate responses from the far left, like Militant’s Melbourne hijack action on August 28. It’s possible from the ISO also, they’ve done mad things in the past, although so far their reaction seems to be just a further rush to the right, as a tail to the ALP. We’ll probably see attempts to gang up on us from the left, marriages of convenience just designed to counter us.

And we should be realistic about some downside effects even among our own members. There’s a let-down effect among the newer comrades once the big actions and major publicity is over. Some longer-term comrades relax, start dropping their responsibilities, thinking that others are there now to take over. And some comrades might even step back because they now realise we’re serious. This revolution business could have an effect on their individual lives and careers.

But overwhemingly, the impacts have been incredibly positive.

Among the left milieu and independents we know we’ve had a big impact. We’ve received tremendous encouragement, congratulations, and indications of respect from a wide range of activists and ordinary people.

It has already had a good impact on Green Left Weekly readers and supporters. The potential effects are even greater, with the possibility for significantly increasing our subscriptions, and encouraging more donations for Resistance activity, for Green Left Weekly, and for Democratic Socialist election campaigns.

It’s had a deep impact on high school students which we have to consolidate, and will have a continuing flow on effect to campus that we need to foster and harvest most consciously over the next few years.

The effect on the broader milieu, the working class, will be up to us. We have to work out how to widen the breach, make it permanent, how to build on it and translate it into wider gains, and how to connect it with the DSP, Green Left Weekly, and our other institutions.

And it’s likely to have a positive impact on our international work. Our propaganda achievements – Green Left Weekly, Links, our books and pamphlets – compare very favourably with anything produced by left parties around the world. But there’s an imbalance in our work, we can only boast of modest achievements in organising the masses, in building a base, in elections. The high school actions, and Resistance’s profile, give us the opportunity to bring these areas of work more into line.

1998 – A year to remember

1998 will probably go down in our own party history as a year to remember. Just as 1968 was a momentous year for the left internationally. Many of the projections we made for 1998 have been fulfilled. Just contemplate the listing of the main events and achievements of the year so far.

The year began with our 150 Years of the Communist Manifesto educational conference. Many comrades think it was the best educational conference we’ve ever had. Morale and spirit were high. We made real gains in the education level of the party. Eighty comrades prepared and delivered talks. We had an excellent fund drive rally, with comrades pledging the largest sum ever.

Then we had the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference. It would have been the best broad conference we’ve yet organised, and we’ve organised some very good ones. It had an excellent international impact. Pierre Rousset’s report for Inprecor and International Viewpoint that we’ve reprinted in The Activist gives a feel for this. It was excellent for our comrades, for our solidarity work, and for the effect on the rest of the left. We assessed it at our last NC, but we still haven’t been able to follow up all the gains and openings from it.

There’s been the MUA struggle, the most important industrial action for more than a decade. It reinforced a very basic but dimming lesson, the importance of struggle, even though it was eventually settled for less than what had already been won on the picket line. The recent squirming on the hook of the deal by the CPA (SPA) reaffirms the assessments we made. There’ve been other important struggles this year, and some victories, not least that by Workers First in the Victorian AMWU.

Our trade union work this year has been varied and our experience is growing – our CPSU comrades have been in some good fights. Our NTEU work has been stronger. We’ve got a good start in the Workers First group, and we did excellent solidarity work with the MUA struggle.

Then there’s been the tremendous Indonesian struggle. This inspiring mass upsurge forced the ouster of Suharto, and re-emphasised the importance of our solidarity work. We need to redouble our support for the Indonesian revolution and to our PRD comrades. Max’s report yesterday showed the breadth and importance of our international work in the region.

Our campus work has moved forward. We’ve got a stronger base, with more comrades, more club members, and more Green Left Weekly sales. And although we made no big breakthroughs in winning positions on SRCs and NUS, Resistance won every preselection battle against the rest of the left that it contested. We’ll assess this tomorrow.

And of course, there’s been the range of anti-racist campaigns, but in particular the magnificent Resistance high school walkouts. Our key task is recruiting, consolidating, and educating the resulting high school members and other members and contacts.

It’s been a momentous year, and an extremely successful year for us. It’s also been a year when we’ve made progress on our party-building tasks, some excellent election campaigns, good progress on our financial campaigns. We’re qualitatively better positioned to respond to new developments.

Do our new gains lead us to any fundamental change in our political perspective, as a propaganda group with our main task of recruiting, building the party? No, but in this report we want to present some proposals allowing us to respond to the new period, build on a great year, and answer the new challenges that are being tossed up to us.

Resistance section in Green Left

Firstly, we want to propose that Resistance builds on its already strong profile, and takes it further by having a very visible Resistance section in Green Left Weekly. The back page and four other pages at the back would be assigned to Resistance. They’d be Resistance’s responsibility. There’d be a Resistance masthead on the back, so holding it up that way it would appear as a Resistance newspaper.

An alternative way to go, which is not organisationally or financially feasible, would have been to publish a separate Resistance magazine. But this proposal is so much better, it serves so many other purposes also.

We’ll have two papers in one. The Resistance magazine will be both a special section in Green Left Weekly, and a new publication. It will have Green Left Weekly page numbers, but Resistance running heads. The Resistance magazine will be a “party” paper for Resistance, but Green Left Weekly will still be seen and promoted as the paper of the left, the unifying, regroupment project.

We should portray it as an expansion, a step forward for Green Left Weekly, even though it will still be 32 pages. It’s certainly an expansion, an advance for Resistance as well.

It will be posted on the web as part of Green Left Weekly, but also posted on the Resistance web page as Resistance’s publication.

Green Left Weekly will announce that the decision to allocate Resistance five pages of the paper is because of the inspiring Resistance high school actions. It’s a contribution by Green Left Weekly to the excellent work of Resistance and the struggle against racism. We’ll have a large article announcing it on page 2 or 3 when it first appears, and a continuing explanatory box for the immediate future.

This step will address many of our needs:

  • It should increase the sales participation of the new Resistance comrades. It should increase their identification with the paper. It’s designed to give a qualitative boost to the confidence of high school comrades in selling the paper. Hopefully it will also help arrest the fall in the sales rate, which unfortunately has been sliding ever since we made that dramatic leap in 1991 when we switched from Direct Action to Green Left Weekly.
  • It will help make the public connection between Resistance, Green Left Weekly and the DSP.
  • It will force the more intensive political development of Resistance comrades. Hopefully they’ll read the paper more. And more comrades will have to write for the Resistance section. It will be the responsibility of Resistance branches, the organisers and executives. Every Resistance branch will need a copy director, and they’ll have to work closely with the party copy directors.

It has to be oriented to the high school layer, a way to reach out to the tens of thousands whom we mobilised, the even wider layers who would be receptive. At the same time, it must be a combination paper in itself, catering to the layer of high school activists that’s becoming cadres, writing for the paper, leading Resistance activities, leading the campaigns.

We should be especially flexible for sales to high school students, willing to accept $1 for the paper if they can’t afford the full price.

The Resistance section will look different, with a distinctive masthead and layout. Conrad has been working on a mock-up.

We can experiment with a more agitational flavour, be more irreverent than Green Left Weekly has been. It can contain short reports of campaigns Resistance is involved in. We can include some of the Party Campaigner type reports (so possibly we’d get by with a smaller Party Campaigner) and interesting anecdotes, material that’s sometimes only in the Reslist discussion.

But it should also include educational material, basic articles on socialism. We could serialise What Socialists Stand For. We could include articles on the history of Resistance, reports and history of youth struggles internationally, certainly it would cover the current wave of French high school strikes.

We could make space for the Resistance section by reducing the calendar to two pages always, keeping all our own events of course, but cycling through some of the regular listings for other campaigns and committees, and being a bit selective. We could have a page less in the international, cultural dissent, issues, and news sections.

There’s potentially a lot of overlap with copy in the rest of the paper of course. So it will be the ultimate responsibility of the Green Left Weekly editor, to ensure there’s no duplication, or glaring gaps, and a uniformly professional publication.

We know that the paper – Green Left Weekly, and now the Resistance section as part of it – is essential for building the party, and integrating all our party-building and political tasks.

The role of Green Left Weekly sales in building and retaining cadres is especially essential in a political situation like we face in Australia today.

Compare with the CPA in its early decades, its periods of formation and growth. Back then, the close memory of the Russian Revolution, and the model of the Soviet Union, helped win and retain cadres, however false and fake the picture might have been.

And compare with parties in Third World countries, or more repressive, difficult situations. The harsh realities themselves radicalise and keep comrades fighting. Cadres are steeled by the situation of life itself and the commitments, sacrifices that have to be made for the struggle.

Australia is still the “Lucky Country”, compared to others. And we’re in the privileged position of an imperialist power, living off the exploitation of the region, and there are still some large crumbs for the working class.

The very act of selling is a commitment of time and effort that helps steel our comrades. And the fact that it’s a public act, a statement of opposition to the status quo, sets us apart from the capitalist consensus, helps us resist cooption.

There are many misconceptions about selling. One is that it’s somehow a “chore”, an impediment to “real” political work, even that it’s a hindrance to long-term keeping active. The reality is exactly the opposite. It is possible to remain in the party, even be fairly active, without selling, but it’s harder.

So the recent Adelaide sales victory is especially significant. We shouldn’t underestimate it. We have to play up every victory, even little ones, and this is an important one. It sets an important precedent, similar to the right won to leaflet on Melbourne’s streets during the campaign against the Vietnam War. Adelaide branch waged a magnificent campaign, winning wide support and many friends.

It’s even more significant when we take into account that Adelaide increased its sales and bundle during the time they were battling the council, and were forced from their best spots.

Leadership – party and Resistance

A second proposal, resulting from Resistance’s successes and higher profile, is to both shift the weight of leadership for our tendency more towards Resistance, and at the same time increase our overall investment in our full-time apparatus.

There’s a thinning older layer of comrades. We’re thin already, and each casualty makes it stand out more. We will recruit from all ages, and more in the future as workers radicalise. But right now there’s a very real need for the youth to take over the reins of leadership of the party even more.

However, with the heightened importance and profile and size of Resistance, we can’t just graduate the Resistance leaders to lead the party. They need to make way to an extent for the even younger leaders coming on, but they’re also needed to train and organise a larger Resistance than before.

So perhaps we have to make more tasks the responsibility of Resistance. Resistance comrades could become a larger proportion of the National Office and Green Left Weekly and the full timers in the branches. The Resistance section in Green Left Weekly fits in with this.

We’ll need a larger Resistance NO, expanding it to three comrades, and also plan to have Resistance leadership comrades in other NO departments. In some branches, the Resistance organiser will be the full timer.

Resistance comrades will have to lead in campus and high school work, in our major political campaigns, in organising sales and finances, in representing the tendency, in writing, and educating. So our task is to build well-rounded Resistance leaders, who can lead the party, and stick it out to do so.

More Resistance comrades, all Resistance comrades, have to be ready to go on full-time. We have to draw more younger comrades into challenging full-time assignments, assignments that are difficult, where you have to think things out politically, make hard political decisions, learn to lead.

We all should consider ourselves as professional revolutionaries, to have this perspective as our life’s work, as our career, ready to sacrifice (but for revolutionaries it’s not a sacrifice), ready to transfer. What can be more satisfying? It’s a privilege to go on full-time of course. Perhaps there’s been a bit too much complaining from the existing full-timers, us old hands, grumbling about all the work to do, sometimes looking grumpy, but the fact is, what better life? And in the period opening before us, what a chance.

The second aspect is the proposal to increase our full-timers overall in this period. We need the staff in the NO to be able to take advantage of the new openings, to cope with the increasing workload.

We need enough full timers in Sydney to take full advantage of all the opportunities, all the contacts, new and old. We want to push to have full timers in Adelaide and Hobart again.

We’ll budget the money. It will be a worthwhile investment, otherwise we risk losing the gains of 1998. It’s time, with the deepening global capitalist crisis and impending recession, and with our greater profile and weight on the left, to invest further in our full-time apparatus. In a way it’s a gamble, but what better time to take such a gamble?

Sometimes it will be a gamble on individual comrades. The new Resistance leaders are new. But don’t be conservative – “This comrade can’t organise.” They can learn. “That comrade doesn’t know our politics well enough;” they have to learn.

So this is an appeal, to more experienced comrades, help the new comrades to lead, to learn, encourage them to take on more responsibility.

And it’s also an appeal to younger comrades, to step forward. Volunteer to go on full time, or transfer. Be determined to take the reins of Resistance, and the party. We have an increasing number of comrades who have to become leaders, or else the process blocks up, and more drop out.

Consolidation through responsibility

Thirdly, we want to encourage a range of new party units, so that everyone has the chance to lead and learn through leading. We need to expand the positions of responsibility, and train a whole new generation of leaders. There are many ways we want to do this:

  • Campus Resistance branches.
  • High school Resistance branches.
  • Dividing branches.
  • Locality party propaganda teams, election committees, on-the-way-to branches.
  • Functioning, intervention-oriented fractions.
  • Geographical expansion.

Any of the developments proposed here have to be seen as flexible, not schematic proposals. We have to understand the fundamental purposes of such new structures or units: to allow new comrades to grow and learn and take responsibility, and to allow the party to grow. We have to resist the temptation to generalise any of these in a wrong way, otherwise we can make the mistake of retreating, abstaining, from the real political struggles in each city.

With the expansion of Resistance this year and the potentially even larger growth, we need more Resistance structures, units, and branches, to provide a framework in which the new comrades can take responsibility, and learn.

The specifics of Resistance campus branches and high school branches will be discussed in the Resistance NC reports tomorrow.

We’ve seen a big jump in the size of the weekly Resistance meetings, certainly in Sydney Central branch, and in most branches. We can’t just keep increasing the size of executives, though that is happening. But to even have a chance of relating to the huge number of new Resistance members and contacts, we have to quickly have the structures where every current activist takes on responsibilities for organising, recruiting, and leading others.

This problem – a good problem to have – has to be addressed in the party as well. Recent Resistance recruits have started to join the party; it’s likely to be a much bigger flow in the coming year.

Sydney Central and Melbourne branches already face problems of size, comrades get lost, it’s very hard to organise units that large. It’s been a problem we haven’t really successfully resolved over decades, and it’s going to get more acute. And medium sized branches are also starting to experience those problems of size.

The experience of Western Sydney branch has been good, the branch has settled down with a real political life and style of its own. It survived well the shift of headquarters from Penrith to Parramatta, has recruited, and has contacts around it. A Resistance branch is now established, and it will be stronger next year, with its own campus base.

Our style of organising has been based on a very active use of a HQ. Could we build more units/branches in a city without multiple offices?

The very successful community actions against racism that we organised in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide this year help point us in the direction of how to expand the larger branches. The marches were easy to build. Branches will want to continue with them, in new suburbs, and try them on other issues too.

Such actions allow us to connect with the local communities, the migrant groups, more directly. In Footscray, we even got fed. And they make the local media, where much larger actions in the city get boycotted by the major dailies. It’s always been easier to break into the local media, but the coverage this year were often pure gold front-page advertisements for us.

An important role for such actions could be in helping us spread responsibility in large branches, and eventually dividing branches. These local actions help us develop new party units, and give those new party units a political focus in their area. That’s something that’s hampered the development of new suburban branches up to now, with so much of the political life in the big cities being focussed on the centre of the city.

A key focus of such locality units will be our election work. The suburban teams proposal for elections was raised at the December 1995 NC plenum, and we tested it partially in the 1996 election campaign. It needs further testing.

In Sydney, such teams can be established to organise our work for the NSW state elections on March 23.

But most importantly, such teams should be seen as propaganda teams: For organising Green Left Weekly distribution, stalls at the key shopping centres in the area, for contacting, chasing up sub renewals, and organising our periphery for fundraising in the area. Now we see clearer possibilities for actions also, community rallies and marches that we initiate.

Locality/suburban teams or branches can be important for presenting comrades with sufficient challenges and excitement and responsibilities when they leave Resistance. We’re clogged up in the party, unless a lot more comrades drop out – which is not a good solution – or we create more challenging responsibilities.

Intervention oriented fractions can also be important for the training and retention of comrades, for taking on leadership. Sydney Central seems to have had some useful experiences recently.

However, at this time it’s not a blanket solution to direct comrades into union work, where retreat still dominates, and the possibilities for extensive, rounded, exciting political work won’t always be available.

Branches, especially the larger ones, will need good discussions after the plenum and this exchange of experiences, so they don’t get tied down to any particular formula, lapse into a schema. But more units, spreading responsibility, is the direction in which we need to go.

Geographical expansion is another way comrades can take on responsibility. As Comrade Nick F commented at last October’s NC meeting, “New branches are a good career move for jaded revolutionaries”.

Lismore comrades still haven’t recruited the party members to make a branch yet, but the Resistance branch is lively, they have a sizeable periphery, and have been doing a lot of good work. In Rockhampton we have a small nucleus that has done good work too.

Geelong is the largest city where we don’t have a branch, and some comrades are interested in going there next year. It’s possible they could achieve more for the party overall by such a move. The PLP milieu is not unfriendly, our comrades had good experiences on polling day there. Workers First has strength there, and a comrade could get work. So this is a possible expansion, a new branch or party nucleus, without an office, but making use of Trades Hall for our meetings and public forums, setting up stalls, sales, posters to raise our profile.

Regional trips should not be restricted to the perspective of building a branch in the near future, but we get gains, widen our impact, and consolidate supporters and subscribers from such trips, so let’s see what branches can organise over Summer.

It’s important for new comrades to quickly get a sense of ownership of the party, through discussions and participation in decision-making in branches, at conferences, and through their own hands-on experience.

The prime consideration is the development and retention of comrades through taking responsibility, enabling the party to grow. A second consideration is getting the tasks done, and spreading our reach. We can’t let our structures be a blockage to growth!

Marxist education

Fourthly, we want to make Marxist education a central priority for comrades and branches. We all have to look for ways to strengthen our education work, collectively, and individually.

Often we find that the comrades who stick it out, who are able to withstand the pressures, are those who’ve done reading by themselves, who’ve independently worked to improve their understanding. We provide the collective framework of classes, discussions, educational materials, but it’s still something you do as an individual. And fighting against the stream, and with so many tasks to carry out, party education can end up being the most expendable part of our work.

Party education, and comrades having a clear understanding of Marxist theory, will take on added importance as the international economic crisis deepens, and recession bites in Australia. How will this affect our work?

1. There’ll be greater opportunities for and receptivity to socialist propaganda, the chance for the education of a whole new layer of workers and youth.

There’s less certainty about the stability of capitalism. The working class is still not convinced of the feasibility, or necessity, of socialism. That’s still seen as dubious, especially with memories still there of Stalinism, identifying that undemocratic monstrous distortion as socialism.

But the door is open half way. There will be more openings for explaining, defending socialism. There’ll be benefits from a more specifically socialist image. We should continue to write more articles for Green Left Weekly with a socialist message.

2. Struggles and possibilities for agitation will rise. We’ll have to make the most of the economic crisis, the opportunities for actions and mobilisation as the crisis bites and the capitalist class tries to take it out on us. There will be more possibilities for leading struggles.

There are many differences between 1998 and the Great Depression 60-70 years ago, but it will be worth our while to be familiar with the historical experiences here and overseas, both the responses of the capitalist class, and the lessons from working class history.

The Communist Manifesto conference was an excellent educational experience, but there are a lot of resources and educational materials that we still haven’t made available from the conference. We should follow that up.

With all the new Resistance members, there’s a great demand for our class series, ITSs, ITMs [Introduction to Marxism] etc. And it’s great to see comrades who were themselves in a class just a short while ago, now giving classes to new comrades. Seminars and camps during the Summer break will be important consolidation activities for Resistance branches.

We’ll be holding a 3-week full-time school on Marxist political theory immediately after the conference, so branch secretaries should start suggesting comrades who might be candidates for that school. We’ll have others during the year as well.

For Easter 1999 we’re proposing that branches organise city-wide or state-wide educational seminars.

We also have to plan well ahead for our educational conference in January 2000. Perhaps it could be our next opportunity for a large, broad conference.

The regular weekly educational activity for all comrades should be reading Green Left Weekly. We’re in a battle of ideas with the ruling class and those peddling ruling class ideas: for socialism, against liberalism and the most backward ideas surfacing today. So we need constant historical features, educational features, and articles that put socialism up front, steering clear of jargon, but reasserting our socialist language and concepts.

Comrades mostly don’t focus enough on honing their Marxist theory to understand the capitalist economy, concentrating instead on compartmentalised issues. We need to redress it through education on Marxist economics, which can come from actual debates, but even more importantly, from applying Marxism to try to understand the actual, developing, capitalist economic crisis.

Continuing education and propaganda on women’s liberation issues is also important, both in winning the new generation of activists, on high schools and campuses, and in consolidating and taking them further.

By also focussing on issues fresh in comrades’ minds, we can consolidate recent lessons and the already entrenched lessons – on united front work, and raising the socialist profile, on the key role of youth in the revolutionary process, the importance of a democratically centralised cadre party, etc.

We can use the web more for our education, as increasing numbers of comrades have access. Our sites now contain quite a considerable archive of our material, documents, pamphlets and talks. It’s a valuable resource for others around the world who might have not had as much experience as us in organising Marxist educational courses. There are also extensive resources elsewhere, which we should map and link to our sites.

In giving priority to Marxist education, we have to make it possible through running efficient, well-stocked bookshops, and a comprehensive program of publications.

Propaganda offensive

Fifthly, we need our own stepped up propaganda offensive – a publications program and publicity offensive – that can build a counter to capitalist brainwashing, both the open, neoliberal offensive, and the more subtle undermining. We need the educational resources for our expanded periphery, for our new recruits, and for our cadres.

We need to expand and make better use of our already extensive multi-purpose arsenal – Green Left Weekly, Links, books and pamphlets, web pages.

We need a Resistance pamphlet on the whole high school experience this year, so that knowledge about it is spread wider, the memories retained, the lessons consolidated. It should include a section on the history of Resistance’s high school work, the early years, the recent years, the stages and lessons of the different actions, the media coverage, the Militant hijack, and future perspectives. We need this now, not a decade after the event. It has to become the easily available history, the public record.

It could be prepared initially as a talk for the conference. Then it could appear as a series of articles in Green Left Weekly/Resistance magazine. Then we could produce it as a booklet by Orientation Week, so we extend the recognition of our achievements, and make it very clear to first year students who led the actions that would have impacted on them during Year 12, and who they should join on campus.

We’ve continued to publish a good range of books and pamphlets this year: including our hot seller, Bludgers in Grass Castles by Martin Taylor, now into a 3rd edition; a new edition of What Socialists Stand For; our Organisational Principles booklet; a new edition of our abortion pamphlet; MUA Here to Stay! and our handbook on Marxist economics.

We want to propose an even more extensive publications program for 1999.

While we still have adequate stocks of the 3-volume sets of Marx/Engels Selected Works and Lenin Selected Works, they don’t meet all our needs. We need to gradually build up our own editions of key Marxist classics with our own introductions. Many of these could be grouped under a series title such as “Library of the Marxist Classics.” Getting this off to a solid start would be the major focus of our 1999 publishing program.

We will shortly have our own 80-page edition of the Communist Manifesto. Other possibilities would be Lenin’s State and Revolution, Imperialism, and “Left-Wing” Communism and Engels’ Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. These would all be books in the 80-120 page range with prices from $6.95 to $8.95.

We could also plan a number of Marxist readers – comprising selections from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – designed primarily for our educational needs but also packaged to appeal to a broader audience.

Other possibilities for 1999 are:

  • Socialism and Human Survival. Dick Nichols has almost finished updating it, and it should be printed by the January party conference.
  • A booklet on the Indonesian revolution by Max Lane.
  • A book on historical materialism, packaging the pamphlet series we have in a single book, once they’re reworked by Doug Lorimer.
  • A book on the history of the DSP and Resistance. This would include my current two talks, plus episodes from the history of Resistance, plus a chapter on the 1980s and early 1990s by Jim McIlroy, and a chronology and introduction.
  • The History and Lessons of Australian Communism, based on my six Green Left Weekly articles on CPA history that have been printed, plus six or seven more that are only in outline form so far.
  • Maoism and Stalinism in China by Doug Lorimer, which is about two thirds done.
  • A book by Renfrey Clarke on Russia.
  • Capitalism and the Countryside, based on Chris Sp’s talk.
  • The Origins of Women’s Oppression, a booklet Pat Brewer is planning to do.

We would also need to schedule more quickly produced topical pamphlets, often based on a feature or series that would first appear in Green Left Weekly, or as an extensive party statement. This year we’ve produced the DSP statement on Imperialism and the Asian Crisis; and Green Left Weekly compilations on The Asian Economic Crisis, and Maritime workers: fighting for all of us.

We should also be more conscious of producing pamphlets that register our successes, our victories, or mark an important historical struggle. I’ve mentioned already the need for a booklet quickly on the high school walkouts.

We should also do a small pamphlet on the Adelaide Free Speech Victory. This was a very significant victory, so needs a big feature in Green Left Weekly documenting the whole struggle, each step, with pictures, which could then be produced as a pamphlet.

We should also have pamphlets on our other victories, such as the Jobs for Women campaign. And because it continues to come up, we need a pamphlet on the NDP in the ‘80s, the true story.

All this would be a very ambitious publishing effort. It would be fantastic if we produced half the titles next year. We’d be forced to further step up our effort to improve and streamline our distribution system or it will be too great a financial burden. We need to get the branch bookshops functioning more effectively. We also need to put serious effort into attracting orders from libraries, campus courses and bookshops.

As a result of the successful Resistance high school actions and the extensive media profile we gained, it’s much more realistic for us to think of ambitious ways to launch a publicity offensive.

We know it’s possible to make greater use of the capitalist media than we ever have in the past. We already have a profile, that we can force them to recognise again. And we’ve got more experience with media work, and more individual contacts as well. We have to follow up on this excellent base. We can be the people they turn to for comment on issues of racism, and youth. We also have to prepare well thought out regular press releases on other issues and campaigns.

We also have to persist in trying to get our own articles published in the bourgeois media. Certainly we should be much more persistent and professional in writing articles for campus papers. We can rewrite and cut down articles we’d be writing anyway, and keep submitting them to the media under the name of our activists who have a profile.

Any guerilla protest actions or stunts we organise are now more likely to be picked up by the bourgeois media. We should be more creative in thinking about quick, easy, daring actions. Respond quickly to a politician coming to town. Get a small picket out to protest every particularly heinous statement or action by a big corporation or prominent millionaire. If the media turn up, great. If they don’t, it’s a sales opportunity anyway, and an educational and exciting event for the new comrades.

The web pages are becoming an increasingly important part of our propaganda arsenal. The high school actions and resultant publicity brought thousands of new visitors to our sites. It’s settled down now at approximately 200 visitors a week to the DSP site, 200 to Resistance, 260 to ASIET, 60 to Links, 500 to Green Left Weekly, 50 to CISLAC. (The total hits per week on all pages of all our sites is probably in the tens of thousands.)

We’ve made many improvements this year, but have to make more. Each site has to be fresh, and updated regularly. More branches have to get their own basic site up, and update it regularly with local events. We’ve got some of the media coverage posted on the Resistance site, but we need to get it all – the print media, then all the TV and radio coverage we can. It tells such a fantastic story, and continues to recruit for us.

We have plans to get our own domain names, and shift our sites to a more efficient and economical server. We’ll be making some big design improvements.

We’re now getting a large number of electronic “clip-offs” from our sites, as well as book orders. We can publicise the sites more, in all our print publicity, and over the web, and make even greater gains from them. The party email list serve run by Dave Riley, DS_NET, is growing continuously. We need to have a similar list for Resistance. The Resistance web discussion list has a number of limitations, including exclusivity, and security problems.

Our publications, propaganda, and publicity can’t be separated from our financial campaigns, though as we get better at it, and as we grow, our publications can make us money. Our publicity successes can also make us money, as long as we consistently target our widening milieu for donations.

Jon L’s report this afternoon will set out the significance of our financial successes in historical terms. We’ve had a seriousness and dedication from the beginning, but we’ve made important gains in recent years.

We’ve faced a financial challenge over the last 20 years. We pushed ourselves, gambled on growth, bought buildings. But it’s been a continuing struggle, with deficit budgets, and survival only made possible by rising property values. We now have a more positive outlook, with balanced budgets, and are winding back the accumulated deficits.

It’s just in time too. If we’re heading into a global recession, we’ll face increased financial pressures, and increased opportunities to build the party that will need money.

Socialist leadership

Our strategic task is to build the party, a party that can unite and mobilise the working class and its potential allies in a struggle for power. We have to win socialist leadership of the masses in struggle.

Actions in our own name, once we do them, and especially once we succeed so well, seem so natural. The gains for both the anti-racist movement and ourselves from the Resistance national high school walkouts are so overwhelming.

Local community marches also helped break through the roadblocks of fake “united front” committees, and the roadblocks in our own heads. Again, they were a confirmation of our clearer thinking on the united front question.

The Resistance high school anti-racism actions had unique features that led to their success. We should not relinquish these campaigns in any branch. Resistance has to continue as the leader of the fight against racism, and as the leader of high school students.

A goal ahead of us is to win leadership on campus, to establish our hegemony there. It will be harder because it’s more bureaucratised. So we’ll use united front tactics, and anything else, including anything that will raise Resistance’s profile, and keeping an eye out for actions that we can call to expose the inaction, the misleadership, of LA, NOLS etc. We haven’t found the ways yet to extend our high school gains to campus. It didn’t flow through on August 28, but we have to keep trying.

But another area where we should not rule out the tactic of modest actions in our own name, is among young workers and unemployed. They’re not organised, but thus not under the sway of the Labor bureaucracy as much as older workers. The impending recession could make this layer more open to suggestions for action. We could initiate them, especially through our suburban branches, or branches in smaller cities.

Further attacks on the rights of young people to the dole or social services are likely.

Unless we lead, other tendencies could jump in. In the past the SEP would have, today they’re a lot weaker. The ISO or Socialist Alternative might try something in this area. In Melbourne Militant could try. We have to make sure we’re there first.

We’ve already had many positive experiences of actions initiated by us, on East Timor, various environmental issues, the sex diary, French [nuclear] tests, native title and many solidarity campaigns. And we should be ready to call guerilla actions on all sorts of issues.

We can campaign on issues such as opposing the GST, with petitions, and stalls, and motions in our trade unions, and so on. But we shouldn’t have any illusions that we’re going to be able to substitute for the lack of any mass action on the issue called by the trade unions or the ALP.

A major gain of our Resistance high school actions is that they legitimised socialist political activity. It helped that we were standing up to [Pauline] Hanson, and debating Oldfield. No doubt some people thought that if Hanson denounces the socialists, perhaps there’s something good about them. But these gains we made can be extended.

High school students at the rallies were extremely receptive to socialist ideas. They haven’t yet been properly brainwashed by capitalist society. It’s harder with other layers, just as they’re also subject to more bureaucratic control.

United front lessons

Grasping the value and reclaiming the need and possibility of initiating and organising actions in our own name does not negate our support for the united front tactic as an essential party-building tactic. Comrades should refer to Doug Lorimer’s article in The Activist, Vol. 5, No. 6, May 1995 on “Mass Action, Alliances and the United Front Tactic”.

What we’re doing is rescuing the united front tactic from misuse and misunderstandings that had been endemic in sections of the Trotskyist movement over the years. It’s a clarification on the united front, not rejecting the real use. We had been saddled with habits and traditions that reduced our vision of the tactical options available to the revolutionary party.

Our thinking on the united front benefited from our broader international contacts, e.g., the Dutch Socialist party. It wasn’t so much a superior theoretical understanding, but just breaking the habits that had narrowed our political options.

Our more recent thinking, for example as we registered it in the October 1997 NC party-building report, among other places, helped us prepare politically for the correct steps this year. Our perspectives resolution adopted at our last conference mentioned the possibility of us initiating actions, but the reports and discussion in October last year spelt it out more clearly and explicitly, that we shouldn’t rule out leading and initiating actions in our own name.

An incidental positive outcome of Militant’s hijack attempt and their written justification is that it allowed us to clarify even further the political issues involved in the aftermath of actual experience. Having to reply to Militant’s attack allowed us to put it in writing too, comrades should read our reply in The Activist.

Militant’s reply frequently refers to their Students Against Racism committee as a “united front”, demonstrating they share the misconceptions on the question all too common among small left groups in recent decades.

The original use of this term by Lenin and Trotsky in the Communist International is a far cry from the way it’s splashed around today. The united front tactic was a proposal for joint action by the Marxist parties to the mass reformist parties, for joint action in the interests of the masses, and as a way to expose the misleadership of the reformists in the eyes of the masses, and to enable the Marxist parties to demonstrate in action the superiority of their political line and tactics.

To designate every action committee as a united front is to debase the term and obscure the political purposes of the tactic. United front approaches to the ALP, the reformist party in Australia with mass support, are difficult today. Mostly they can afford to ignore us. So other tactics are required to show as many people as possible that the reformists are sell-outs, don’t lead struggles, and that the Marxists are the best organisers, the best activists and leaders.

Obviously a key way to do this is to call actions in our own name. Sometimes this is the most appropriate organisational form; sometimes, however, it’s appropriate to set up a campaign committee open to all left groups and independent activists. What is appropriate will be judged by what will enable the largest mobilisation and political advancement of the masses, and also what will best build the Marxist forces.

In the case of the Resistance national high school mobilisations, the form they took was clearly correct on both counts. Their size and political impact was clearly outstanding, and would have been less if they’d been dependent on campaign committees consisting of some of the other left groups. Organising them through Resistance meetings of high school activists was clearly successful, enabling both effective organisation and the political development and empowerment of new high school activists. And they certainly helped build Resistance, the DSP, and our profile.

Moreover, the real political breadth of the actions was extremely impressive, broader in fact than many rallies that have nominally been called by a broad campaign committee.

Actually, if we mean by “united front work” the effort to draw in the broadest range of support and allies into joint political activity or protest around specific issues, there can be no doubt that the Resistance high school walkouts were very successful. Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney Henry Tsang, the South Australian Trades and Labour Council, people from the Aboriginal community, Jabiluka Action Groups, trade unionists, student union representatives, members of the ALP, Greens, Democrats, the NDP, and most left groups spoke at the rallies around the country.

Thus, the fact that Resistance called the walkouts in no way restricted their political impact. The real problem for Militant was not that the fact of socialists organising the actions limited the participation of large numbers and broad forces, but the glaring fact that the actions were too successful!

Militant’s talk about united fronts is not just a misuse of the term, but often their claimed “united fronts” are not even democratically functioning united action committees. They’re fake, or toy “united fronts”, tightly controlled behind the scenes by one or another left group.

The dynamic of setting up such fake “united fronts” is that other left groups will then set up their own “united front.” In England, for example, where many of the left groups operating here have their parent party, during the height of the struggle against racism there, all the anti-racist, anti-Nazi groups claimed to be united fronts. But everyone on the left knew they were just fronts for one or another of the left groups. The Socialist Workers Party had theirs; Militant had theirs.

And they’ve been all too common here. Set them up by all means. But don’t call them united fronts. And just because you label them a “united front”, don’t think that your own exclusive little fake “united front” gives you exclusive rights to political activity on that political issue, which was the scam Militant was trying to pull in relation to high school students on August 28 in Melbourne.

Behind the ‘Backlash’

Hostile responses to us such as the Militant attack in Melbourne are so clearly a reaction to our growth and profile.

The outrageous attack on us by the Gundjehmi Corporation over Jabiluka has a similar source. It’s a result of our success in building the JAG actions and groups, but more importantly, the Resistance-led high school walkouts.

Any gain by us is a threat to the bureaucrats, and makes it that much more expensive for them to pull off the inevitable deals and sell-outs. We’re used to fighting with the bureaucrats in these types of campaigns, to democratise the committees. But the nature and ferocity of the attack on Resistance is worse than usual.

Events like this are useful in highlighting who our friends and enemies are. We have tactical differences with the blockaders and Ploughshares activists (Non-Violent Direct Actioners), but recognise their sincerity, commitment, lack of self-interest, compared with the careerists and job-seekers in the peak bodies, the ALP and liberal currents.

Recent attacks on us in NUS by Left Alliance, NOLS, and NAL spring from the same motivations.

They’re totally to be expected. There will be pressure, and more as we succeed more. That’s the experience this century with social democracy, Laborites, liberalism, anti-Communist currents of all sorts, let alone the bourgeoisie acting directly. And other groups on the left feel left behind. Even the CPA, or its ghost, the Search Foundation, will find a way to spend their $7 million against us one day.

We need to steel and educate members, old and new, to understand and resist such pressure.

But we should also be conscious of not making enemies unnecessarily, enough are going to get thrown up by the struggle anyway. So we should reassert the principled, non-sectarian, political way of operating that we’ve fought for over the years.

Party-building tasks of last three years

It’s worth assessing the party-building tasks, achievements and lessons of the last three years or so, the period spanning Howard’s first term, since the end of the 13 years of Labor government.

The party-building report at our December 1995 National Committee meeting had two main themes, identifying our two main tasks:

1. It’s time for a bolder policy in all our work, confidently intervening, putting forward a more explicitly socialist perspective. This responds to the objective need, internationally and in Australia – to promote Marxist, “red” politics.

2. We need to encourage full participation for all members of the party, but especially new comrades, to have them take greater responsibility for our work. This is needed to meet all the challenges, in order for us to carry out all our tasks in the coming year.

Both these projections are aimed to address what we see as the biggest failure of our party-building work in this past year, our failure to consolidate into Marxist cadres enough of the thousands of contacts and Resistance recruits that have come around us.

Well, we made some progress on those tasks in 1996, and in the last two years as well, but the events this year have moved the goalposts. We need to achieve these two tasks even more, with the greater opportunities opening up for socialists, and the huge number of new Resistance members and contacts around us.

At the October 1997 NC I posed five specific questions for comrades to chew on, “homework” so to speak. We’ve made progress.

  1. Were there any answers, solutions to the attrition problem with younger but experienced comrades that we were neglecting? There’s been no magic solution yet, but it’s a question looming larger as Resistance grows.
  2. What could be our next major project, target, focus? The international economic crisis, and Resistance’s success and higher profile, have helped provide direction here.
  3. “Do we sometimes misunderstand or misapply the united front tactic? Do we sometimes tend to make it a universal tactical approach, a style, even a principle? Do we sometimes fail to raise our own profile, and do things in the name of a committee, when we could still make it broad, with more direct gains, in our own name?” Well, we’ve certainly tested that one out and got quite definitive answers this year!
  4. How do we divide the larger branches, how do we find meaningful, satisfying, stretching assignments for all comrades? We’ve made some progress in thinking this through, and testing it a bit, and have some idea of where to head.
  5. What are our next moves, steps in our international work? After the success of the APSC, and further developments in the Asian region as we saw in Comrade Max Lane’s report, that’s becoming a lot clearer too.

Tiredness? Period and perspectives

This has been an exciting, excellent year, but there have been some casualties too. We’re all feeling tiredness.

After the Communist Manifesto conference, the APSC, Indonesia, MUA, high school anti-racism actions, plus all the usual campaigns and party-building tasks, it’s not surprising that comrades are tired. It’s partly a tiredness from jobs well done. We can easily recover from that, with a bit of a break, or a change of pace with a pre-conference discussion period and a decision-making conference.

But there are longer-term effects of the period too. While not downgrading the two key elements of the period we’re entering that I outlined at the beginning – the deepening international capitalist crisis; and the successful Resistance high school actions and larger profile we have – there are some longer term trends and factors that we know we’re fighting against.

Many comrades have put in long stints of struggle, in fairly difficult conditions. The last 15 years have been hard – 13 years of the Accord, defeats in Nicaragua and Grenada, defeats in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, capitalist restoration in China, often hollow victories have happened, as in South Africa.

So even though we’re wiser, better organised, have more resources, and weaker competitors as a result of the struggle, it takes its toll on comrades.

Stresses, attrition

And although capitalism is facing a deep economic and ideological crisis, this hasn’t yet translated into a radicalisation sweeping masses in our direction. We’ve been recruiting, but attrition is still a problem of the period.

We know that the main cause of the attrition of younger comrades is a lack of political perspective. Comrades reach a point, at the end of university, or when they graduate from Resistance, or go off full time after a stint, where they are faced with other life choices. These are very capable comrades, with potentially interesting careers – as far as it can be under capitalism – if they reject a revolutionary career.

We can minimise this through better Marxist education, through improving all areas of the party’s work, through creating more possibilities for participation and responsibility, through consolidating worker activists with meaningful areas of trade union work.

This has become even more important with the widened Resistance periphery and potential for recruitment. It’s the main arena where we’ll build the party. We have to provide enough hands-on experience and activity and responsibility for all the new contacts coming round Resistance to feel at home, to learn, to be integrated.

Sometimes the attrition rate rises just at the very time we’re succeeding, recruiting, growing! Possibly it’s a hanging on syndrome, “now I can let go, someone else can take over”.

There’s also the “all or nothing” syndrome, which the period contributes to. We need to find a place in the party for leaders who step back, or who want to take a breather for a while. Comrades can also step forward again, and no grudges are held. But don’t think you need to give it up completely. The activism and commitment are still crucial to building the party, but we also need to find a place for the experienced older comrades who take a step back. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t be a 100 percenter at the moment.

We need all those experienced comrades. We also need to regather some who’ve dropped away, and also develop a framework for recruiting as members or supporters the healthy survivors from the CPA and other parties. The role of Green Left Weekly is crucial here.

We shouldn’t really need to repeat this, but again I find us having to dispel the weird notions that comrades with political differences with the positions adopted at our conferences can’t join or remain in the party. We’re not monolithic. We have the structures for discussion, PCDs, the conferences, many times in Green Left Weekly and normal party life. But if your view is not adopted, so what? As long as you agree with our main perspectives, and are loyal to the party, there’s a valued place for you. Don’t entertain the thought of dropping out.

Providing a thoroughgoing Marxist education, and a satisfying political activity, are the most important things for keeping comrades. But we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a healthy, comradely atmosphere in the party also. We strive to build a team leadership, try to dispel competitive attitudes and individualistic hangovers. Comradely relations between comrades make for more effective political activity. We can’t provide a complete haven from all the rottenness in bourgeois society, but we can do our best within the party to counteract it as much as we can. We put politics first, but we need to build a party that works together, in a comradely fashion.

International network

Our party-building perspectives here are increasingly interconnected with our developing international network. There are enormous possibilities and responsibilities with our international work, as Max Lane’s report on the expanded potential in the Asian region explained. There’s more for us to do, more groups to relate to, more ways in which we can be helpful.

The APSC was a great success, from many points of view. It won space for us in the region, it consolidated our network, and laid the basis for closer and more frequent discussions and collaboration between Marxist-Leninist parties in the region.

We’re already doing so much even with our small size, our limited resources. Just look at what we actually achieve compared with other networks.

On the whole the increasing collaboration between left parties that we’ve been in contact with has proceeded well this year. The significant exception is the sectarian turn by the CWI/Socialist Party of England and Wales/Militant.

Recall our assessment of the CWI at our October ‘97 NC plenum:

The CWI still sticks strongly to its narrow and inflated view of itself. We had some modest hopes [with them]. We have political differences, but hope that they prosper and develop, even though their “international” is an obstacle to laying the basis for real international collaboration and renewal.

Since then our fears have been realised. They do seem to have dropped their opening out approach of a few years ago. Comrade Phil Hearse’s assessment that they have made a sectarian turn back seems to have been correct.

Their politics, and the dynamic of their conception of an international, has led them to very sectarian interventions, in Pakistan and in Indonesia, here in Melbourne, and it looks like in Scotland too.

We’ve already printed one document from the comrades in Pakistan in The Activist, and the next issue will carry others. These document the absolutely outrageous level of interference and factionalising by London [CWI] in the affairs of the LPP.

In Indonesia the CWI visitors brazenly went about attempting to split the PRD, trying to entice members with promises of trips to Europe, exhorting them not to report back to PRD leaders about discussions they might have, trying to force adoption of schemas for action bearing no relation to Indonesian realities.

Scottish Militant Labour has taken a decision to unite with other forces into a Scottish Socialist Party, against the will of London. They were already more open than the leadership in London, and had a real base of support in Glasgow. Although they say they’ll remain as a caucus inside the new formation, and thus will be a separate section of the CWI, the experience of other CWI groups who’ve defied the wishes of London might indicate that soon they’ll be forced to pursue an even more independent course. Their newspaper will now appear as the paper of the new formation, expanding from 8 to 12 pages. We should be able to continue having comradely relations with them.

Lynn Walsh wrote recently asking to be taken off the Links editorial board (on grounds of insufficient collaboration!) saving us the trouble of doing it formally at a Links meeting in January.

Developments this year allow us to draw a clear balance sheet on our relations with the CWI. They’ve clearly reverted to a sectarian factional course in their international work, which looks as though it’s been spurred on by their decline in England and Wales, and reinforced by the major setbacks they’ve had in Pakistan and Scotland.

As a result of the events in Melbourne we’ve also been able to draw a clear balance sheet on our relations with Militant here. They’d ground to a halt before this, but the August 28 events made the political issues absolutely clear.

We’ve been completely open to our members and to Militant about where we stand politically in relation to the requirements of unity. The Militant leadership has been dishonest with us, and probably dishonest with its membership.

Recent events have demonstrated again that different methods are involved, theirs is sectarian in building the movements and relating to others.

Contrast the relations with the CWI and the Fourth International today. We seem to be settling into a comradely relationship with the FI. We’re able to use useful articles and analysis from FI groups and International Viewpoint; they’re able to use our material too. We’re able to have useful comradely discussions when they visit, without any hint of factionalising, and we’re able to attend their conferences in a fraternal way also.

These developments with the CWI reaffirm our understanding of what principles for relations between parties are necessary, and what sort of international collaboration is needed.

While processes of regroupment, alliance, and recomposition still occurring at national levels of course require flexibility and special agreements, firm organisation and democratic centralist organisation is needed for parties themselves.

For relations between parties at an international level what’s needed today is a network rather than an exclusive, rigid structure. And we need to reaffirm the principles of mutual respect and solidarity, and non-interference, non-factionalising in the affairs of other parties. The experiences of parties coming from a CP milieu that had to make the break with Cominternist practices of either the Moscow or Beijing variety reaffirms this perspective.

Such a network of parties from different backgrounds is developing in the Asia Pacific region.

Links magazine will continue to provide a forum for discussion and exchange of information and views for parties all around the world. But it will be increasingly important in furthering the collaboration and common political thinking of this developing network in our region.

Party conference

Our 18th National Conference will be held January 5-10 at UWS Richmond. It’s possible there will be a sizeable attendance at the conference by representatives from fraternal parties – three central leaders of the Indonesian PRD, Pakistan, the Philippines, comrades from the USA, Dale McKinley from the SACP, and hopefully a comrade from the CPI(ML). We’ll invite others also.

This will make the conference even more interesting – we’ll try to get many of them to present feature talks. And after the conference we should be able to hold representative meetings for the Asia Pacific Institute and Links editorial board.

We’ll have six days, so a thorough agenda. We had been thinking we’d want to prepare and present both a perspectives document and an international politics document for our conference. The pace of events and all the extra developments have meant we haven’t been able to prepare such documents for this plenum. To try to rush them out before the conference would mean they’re unlikely to be well prepared, and there’d be very little time for discussion and improvement of them before the conference.

But we don’t see this as being a major problem. There’s no change in our fundamental programmatic perspectives. All our programmatic documents are still fully relevant – re-readings bring out their continuing relevance and correctness.

Our perspectives resolution from our last conference still stands us in good stead. It would have been different if Labor had got back in, but the framework and the perspectives presented there are still relevant. The report yesterday brings it up to date.

We will need a new document analysing the changed international world economic situation, and drawing together the analysis of different political questions we’ve had in some recent international politics reports to NC plenums. We’ll certainly need an international report to the conference clearly focussed on the global capitalist economic crisis, and this report could contribute to the core of an international document we could present for ratification at the June NC plenum next year.

We’ll submit some of the reports to this plenum as the basis for a majority platform for election of conference delegates.

This coming conference might be an appropriate time for a further transition in leadership, to younger leaders, Resistance leaders, who are actually leading our main campaigns.

What should be our criteria for leadership selection? There are the main qualities we always stress – political understanding and judgement, demonstrating leadership in action, and commitment and loyalty to the party. We also stress strongly the level of consistency and commitment on the main party-building tasks, including on finances and on Green Left Weekly sales.

We should reaffirm these criteria for this coming conference, and have the full facts on the sales and finance performances of potential nominations for the NC made available to the nominations commission. It’s all there on computers anyway. Who should have access if not the NomCom?

At the conference we’ll schedule a good range of educational classes and feature talks. There’ll be an important class series on Indonesia, as well as Jill H’s new Indonesian video. We’ll have all the usual feature events – fund drive rally, cabaret, political song night.

Resistance’s high school actions will be a focus for the conference, with feature talks and classes as well as detailed assessment in the conference reports and discussion. Branches should pull out all stops to get as many high school comrades there as possible, assisting with finance and transport where necessary. We’ll organise a comprehensive display of high school Resistance media coverage, all the clippings, and all the TV coverage. (If you’re withholding a clipping from the NO, or have taped some of the TV footage, get them in to us quickly.)

After such a year, it should be a great conference.

Conclusions and priorities

For the coming year, we have tremendous opportunities, and some clear perspectives to take advantage of them.

To recap the main proposals:

  • The Resistance section in Green Left Weekly.
  • Shift the weight of leadership for our tendency more towards Resistance, and at the same time increase investment in our full-time apparatus.
  • Encourage a flexible, not schematic, range of new party units, so that everyone has the chance to lead and learn through taking responsibility.
  • Make Marxist education a central priority for comrades and branches.
  • Organise a stepped up publications program that can provide the educational resources for our expanded periphery, for our new recruits, and for our cadres.
  • And a bold publicity and propaganda offensive that builds on our new profile.

For the next few months we have clear priorities of continuing to consolidate our high school contacts and organising, educating, and consolidating our new members in Resistance, and the party, and having a thorough, educational discussion in the pre-conference period, in the branches, and in The Activist, that clarifies our perspectives for 1999.

There’s a bit of a debate now on the left, certainly after the Resistance high school actions, are we the left? The question is, what do we make of it, how do we build on this? At the conference we have to dramatically equip ourselves for the year ahead.

Let’s rise to the challenges before us, and build on the wonderful achievements of the year.

The Activist was as the internal discussion bulletin of the Democratic Socialist Party