The Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference and our international work

The Activist – Volume 11, Number 5, May 2001
By John Percy

[The general line of this report was adopted by the DSP NC, April 14-15, 2001.]

Our party congress was held not much more than three months ago, and discussed thorough reports on perspectives for our work in Australia and for our international work. But some matters were left unresolved, with question marks over them. For example, we didn’t make firm projections for our election work. And we raised the question, “Let’s wait and see if the ISO here follows the line of the SWP in Britain.” We didn’t have long to wait. Certainly there’s been a rapid resolution on that front, with big developments in Australia.

And much that has happened internationally in the first part of the year has given us a much larger amount of information and experience, as we heard from Dick’s report, so now we can be in a much more confident position with our projections for the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference.

Scottish Socialist Party

Since our congress there have been some important developments for the Scottish Socialist Party and its leadership current, the International Socialist Movement, and steps forward in our relationship with these comrades.

The SSP began as the Scottish Socialist Alliance, an alliance of many left groups in Scotland, and since moving to become a party has sparked the imagination of working people across Scotland, and grown to a membership of 2500. In 1999 Tommy Sheridan was elected as an SSP member of the Scottish Parliament.

Most of the central leaders of the Scottish Socialist Party, including Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes, Frances Curran and Murray Smith, are members of the ISM. This current initiated the Scottish Socialist Alliance, and then led it to consolidating into the SSP. The ISM had been part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) the international Trotskyist organisation based in London, led by Peter Taaffe’s Socialist Party, but for the past few years the ISM had been in political disagreement with London, who opposed the formation of the SSP.

Break with CWI

Just four weeks before the SSP conference the ISM finally broke their relations with the CWI, at a meeting on January 14. This parting of the ways was a year or two overdue. For the past few years Taaffe had tried to build his own small faction inside the ISM and the SSP, even though the ISM was formally the Scottish section of the CWI. In addition to disagreements over the very formation of the SSP and its current perspectives, differences emerged over questions such as Cuba, the application of democratic centralism, Ireland, and Scottish independence.

The statement by the ISM announcing their break with the CWI is available on their website, together with other statements and a major document relating to their differences with the CWI. Comrades should familiarise themselves with these documents.

The SSP Conference February 10-11 adopted an ambitious program of activities for the coming year. Key among these were a decision to contest all of Scotland’s 72 Westminster seats in the forthcoming British elections, and plans to greatly raise the profile of the party’s paper, Scottish Socialist Voice, which will be going weekly and could be distributed commercially throughout Scotland. The conference also voted to make future conferences delegated. Three DSP comrades attended, and we gave greetings. One of the key questions discussed at the conference was the issue of Socialist Workers Party members in Scotland joining the SSP. The conference resolved to agree in principle, but have further discussions with the SWP.

Links board

The Scottish Socialist Party has also now agreed to participate in the Links project, and has nominated four comrades to the Links Editorial Board – Alan McCombes, Frances Curran, Murray Smith, Allan Green. These are the ones we suggested. Frances and Murray had already indicated their decision to us. Issue 18 of Links, about to go to the printer, has Murray Smith’s article (reprinted in The Activist last year) outlining their views on the need for an international alliance of socialist parties, updated to reflect the SSP Conference decisions and the break with the CWI.

Conference and tour

Thus getting a leader of the SSP to attend our APIS Conference will be very important. They’ve been sent the formal invitation. I’ve also sounded out Murray, and Frances, in individual emails. They’d like to come, but time, and finances, are their worries. So next we’ll formally propose a double deal: Firstly, that Tommy Sheridan tour here for the Socialist Alliance, plus have a much needed holiday, for himself and his partner Gail, who works for British Airways, so they can get very cheap flights. This would be after the British elections (likely on June 7) and a few months before the likely Federal elections here (December 1 is the Financial Review’s guess).

This tour could raise money for the Socialist Alliance election campaign, and some could go towards a second tour. Secondly, a leader of the SSP/ISM such as Alan McCombes, Frances Curran or Murray Smith would come to be a keynote speaker for the APISC at Easter 2002.

Socialist Workers Party

A most significant change impacting on both our political work internationally and in Australia is the change in line of the British SWP, and its extension here, the adoption of the new line by the ISO conference on January 27-28.

We’ve certainly welcomed the general direction that this new line is taking them – away from tailing the Labour parties, putting an alternative in elections, orienting strongly to the new anti-corporate globalisation movement, and most importantly, engaging in united action with other socialist organisations, both in electoral alliances and other areas. Here it’s led directly to the successful setting up of the Socialist Alliance.

In Britain, this change can be traced as far back as two years ago, before Tony Cliff’s death, when the SWP joined the Socialist Alliances. They seem serious and committed to the change. Dick reported back from discussions with British FI leader Alan Thornett at the [FI] IEC [International Executive Committee] that the SWP is putting “heart and soul” into the Socialist Alliances, and gave some of the indications of their commitment. For example, they wrote off £36,000 owed their print shop by the London Socialist Alliance (that’s putting money where your mouth is).

The project is popular with the SWP ranks, such that it would be difficult for the leadership to pull out without causing themselves great damage. And it’s not just for elections, but leading to united action in other areas of work (contrast this with past SWP/ISO practice).

(The SWP’s new line has highlighted further the sectarian turn of the Socialist Party/Militant leadership. They’ve adopted a very sectarian line in the Socialist Alliances, demanding endorsement of 12 of their own candidates for the elections, using the Socialist Alliance name, and also standing a few others in their Socialist Alternative exclusive name. This came unstuck in Newcastle, where they nominated one of their own people to be the candidate, and the local SP branch resigned en masse in anger at Taaffe’s strong-arming, including their nominee for candidate.)

However, there are some indications that the older SWP leadership – Chris Harman (editor Socialist Worker), Alex Callinicos (academic, and in charge of their international work) – are not quite as enthusiastic about the new line and the new unity approaches as the younger layer of leadership (in their 30-40s) – John Rees (editor of International Socialism), Lindsey German (editor of their monthly, Socialist Review), Chris Bambery (their national secretary) and Rob Hoverman.

One political expression of this difference might be the Chris Harman article in the January Socialist Review, (which we reprinted in The Activist, Vol. 11, No. 4). This article takes a tailing approach to the trade union leaderships, and makes an open and very uninformed attack on the French LCR, accusing them of being absent from the real action at Nice. But that’s definitely not the view of the Rees people, according to Phil Hearse, who’s following this development closely. (He’s had at least one meeting with Rees on behalf of his group Socialist Solidarity Network.) Phil heard they were impressed with the LCR’s role, especially their street-fighting skills.

Apparently in mid-1999, there was a fight between Rees and Harman, which Rees won. Phil further speculated that “The divide appears to be about the ‘united front’, but the real issue is whether the party has to be built on the basis of 100 per cent agreement with state capitalism, deflected permanent revolution and all that. The John Rees leadership group is tactically cautious because they want to take their base with them.”

He also notes a major problem for the Rees people, what to do after the elections? Scotland is different, into the SSP, but in England and Wales, forming a joint party with the 101 sectarian groups would be useless, and premature. He speculates that people like Harman are waiting in the wings for the Alliances to run out of steam. So the leadership at the top might be a bit divided, but the ranks seem thoroughly sold on the new line.

Splits in IST

But at the same time as they were making important steps forward on elections and united work in Britain, and now in Australia, a major rift was opening up in the “International Socialism Tendency,” their international structure. They label it a “tendency” but it functions just like the other fake “Internationals”, with bureaucratic diktats and meddling from the centre. The final break with the ISO group in the United States, probably the next largest group in the IST, came a month ago.

We first got word of this factional fight early last year. (An email list of former IST members and interested observers was set up to monitor the developing split.) On March 7 this year, a lengthy article by Alex Callinicos – The Anti-capitalist Movement and the Revolutionary Left – posted on the SWP website confirmed their definitive split. Callinicos doesn’t mince his words, talking of “the ISO’s degeneration, of its ossification into a sect”.

On March 12 the SWP’s Central Committee issued a statement on the break in relations between themselves and the ISO in the US, also posted on their website. The ISO (US) leadership has issued a statement replying to their expulsion from the IS tendency. The group based around the six members of the US ISO who were expelled and who supported the British SWP have adopted a name for their group, “Left Turn”, and set up a website.

The Greek organisation, the SEK, the largest IST group in Europe after the SWP, has split right down the middle. Statements from each side are available.

The New Zealand IST group, the Socialist Workers Organisation, that was mainly based on the former Communist Party (Maoist), promptly followed London. The Canadian and Irish IST groups have also publicly come out in favour of the British SWP line and actions.

Last week we received a document from the International Socialist Organisation in New Zealand protesting the British SWP’s actions in excommunicating the US ISO. The NZ ISO is a group mainly based in Dunedin that “unfused” in 1997 from the dominant Socialist Workers Organisation which had the backing of London. They have maintained contact with Socialist Alternative here.

The document declares their support for the US ISO, and lists a number of past interventions by the British SWP in the internal affairs of IST groups. They also dispute some of the analysis in Callinicos’s article and the John Rees article in ISJ 90. The Australian ISO leadership is clearly fully behind the SWP line, and their website has been adjusted. Socialist Alternative here has indicated their support for the ISO (US).

Direction OK, pity about arguments and methods

DSP and Resistance comrades working together with ISO and SA members in various campaigns won’t be able to avoid discussions about these developments. We don’t want to be seen as meddling in their internal affairs, although we do have views and positions on the political issues involved as well as the methods of organisation revealed in these splits, and comrades will of course express their opinions in a comradely, non-sectarian way.

While the general direction the SWP leadership is heading in seems correct to us, Callinicos draws on some very faulty history to try to back up his arguments against his former US collaborators. For example, he’s way out on the US anti-Vietnam War movement and SDS, he obviously hasn’t read Fred Halstead’s Out Now. He misses the main class and political divide in that movement. His article is actually internally contradictory – he castigates the 1970s IS, (now the leadership of Solidarity), for their workerist turn, exactly the problem of the late-1960s SDS under its Maoist leadership(s), and its left-liberal leadership turn in 1965 to community organising and abandoning the antiwar movement.

The local ISO are copying the same mistakes, dredging up false analogies and distorted history in a recent statement calling for the setting up of a national Global Action student organisation, where they try to draw on the “lessons” of the Maoist-led Monash Labor Club in the 1960s. But Callinicos also continues the Chris Harman attack on the LCR: “But the LCR failed to mobilize seriously for Prague or even – much more disgracefully – for Nice.”

Certainly the LCR had too low a profile in Prague, but all other reports indicate they were there in force at Nice and playing a leading role. In a situation where the SWP is making some steps forward it would be a pity for them to get stuck using totally wrong assessments of important historical periods, and tied down by their own shibboleths.

But Callinicos does conclude his article on an interesting note: “It is becoming clear that an international recomposition of the left is under way. As we have seen, reaction on the far left to the emergence of the anti-capitalist movement has cut across existing theoretical and organizational allegiances. The way in which the Socialist Alliances in Britain have brought together revolutionaries from hitherto bitterly opposed Trotskyist tendencies alongside left reformists from a traditional Labourist background in very effective common activity is an indication of the kind of realignments under way.”

“This is part of the larger flux characteristic of the anti-capitalist movement itself. For those with the capacity to abandon old preconceptions, to change, and to learn there is the opportunity of winning a new generation to revolutionary Marxism.”

This new line by the SWP/ISO is a significant and welcome break, and has opened up the possibility of the Socialist Alliance project here. But these unfolding splits reflect the confusion and contradictions within the IS current, and possibly even within the ISO here, where some of the members may not be too keen on the new line.

Certainly Socialist Alternative have hopes of picking up some dissidents. Possibly we’ll see further organisational scandals, reflecting the bad organisational practices of all groups sticking to that Trotskyist tradition, though hopefully some will wake up after the chaos that’s unfolding for the IST now. But certainly it’s an inconsistent and contradictory new line, and there are obviously many areas where we still have major differences with the SWP/ISO.

So we’re welcoming the political change of line and moves to united action by the British SWP and Australian ISO, but they still retain many bad habits of work, both nationally and on an international level. The fact that it was probably intervention by the British SWP that pushed the ISO here in a healthier direction doesn’t mean that we’ve changed our views about the mistaken international organisational methods of groups like the IST.

We certainly don’t endorse any of their internal or international organisational practices. Obviously we’re opposed to the way all those fake “internationals” operate, whether they stick to their own constitution or violate it. Also, we’ll keep contact with Socialist Alternative, and the other side/sides in their international disputes. And while collaborating fully, working in united action with the ISO, and even looking ahead to future possibilities for greater unity, we mustn’t forget we’re still in political competition with this current. We should arm ourselves politically.

We’re in a battle to win the new activists, and all those attracted to the Socialist Alliance, and their members too. We’ll succeed by being the most honest, and best builders of the SA, and the clearest politically. We plan to reprint all the relevant information on the SWP-ISO split in a future issue of The Activist so that all DSP comrades will have access to it. Since the Scottish Socialist Party conference in mid-January, it’s been unclear what would be the outcome of the proposal from SWP members in Scotland that they join the SSP.

The conference supported the proposal, and adopted some guidelines about how platforms, including the SWP, would function inside the SSP. But negotiations over implementation have dragged on. At times it looked as though it would go ahead, at others it looked less likely. Recent positive statements issued by the SWP and by the SSP executive indicate that negotiations are making progress and that prospects for the SWP in Scotland joining the SSP are improving. When we get confirmation of the SWP joining the SSP in a principled and non-factional way it will indicate the cementing of this major turn by the SWP. [During the discussion on the report we received notification of the extensive agreement reached between the SSP executive and the SWP, and this was conveyed to the NC.]

Invite to APISC

So these new developments in Britain and Australia have important consequences for our Easter Conference: It would be bizarre NOT to have a central leader of the SWP here as a keynote speaker. They’re involved with key parties we’re collaborating with and want to have further close collaboration with in Europe – in France, Scotland, Portugal, Denmark. We’re collaborating with their affiliate here, and in 12 months’ time, assuming and hoping that the working relationship we’re developing continues to go well, we would definitely want to get their membership attending the conference, and many of them giving talks.

So to help build the conference, and to take the relationship one step further, we should formally invite the SWP to send one of their leading comrades as a keynote speaker. We already tried a tiny test of the water, emailed them proposing a regular exchange of Links with their International Socialism journal, and they quickly agreed. I spoke to Ian Rintoul on Tuesday after the Socialist Alliance launch, letting him know what we intended doing.

We propose sending a formal invitation straight after the NC. We should also propose to them, that since Max Lane will be in London during July, they take up the opportunity and invite him to be a speaker at their Marxism conference in London July 6-13, where they get about 5000 people attending.

A further step would be to invite them to submit an article to Links, perhaps suggest they focus it on Socialist Alliance perspectives. If these developments continue, it’s logical also that next time leading comrades are in Europe, we arrange for a discussion with the SWP directly. A recent comradely letter from Francois Vercammen, the FI’s European organiser, says they’ll soon be having a bilateral meeting with the SWP. He says he “wouldn’t be surprised if the SWP made the FI a kind of collaboration or ‘regroupment’ proposal on an international level.”

Keynote speakers

Where do we stand with the keynote speakers for the conference so far, that we can list on the initial publicity, and use to build the conference with an extensive email? We sent an initial invitation to 13 key parties and collaborators.

We’ve agreed to provide tickets to five of our key collaborators in the region: The LPP in Pakistan (Farooq Tariq has agreed to attend), the SPP in the Philippines (and Sonny Melencio has indicated we should list him as the speaker), the PRD in Indonesia, the PST in East Timor, and the CPI ML in India. We can assume the PWC from South Korea will attend, probably again with a significant delegation. Their attendance will be important.

Immediately after the Congress we had discussions with the international guests who had attended. Especially useful were the discussions with Cuban Communist Party comrade Abelardo Cueto. We discussed possibilities for further collaboration and Cuban solidarity work, and we’ve still got to give this area of our work the importance it deserves. But he indicated there would be a good chance of getting a delegation from the CCP to our conference next year. And we have recently received firm confirmation of attendance from organisations that have not attended our conferences in the past. From Mauritius, the leadership of Lalit has written following a meeting of their Central Committee and informed us that their representative at the conference will be Ram Seegobin. From Portugal, during a meeting with Luis Fazenda, one of the two Left Bloc members of parliament, in Sydney as part of a Portuguese parliamentary delegation to Indonesia and East Timor, he confirmed that the Left Bloc will definitely be sending a speaker. He also promised an article for Links. From South Africa, Dale McKinley, a regular contributor to Green Left Weekly and Links, and an activist in the South African Communist Party until he was expelled last year, has written that he is definitely coming, and accepted our invitation to be a keynote speaker. And from France, Iggy K met with Alain Krivine who “in principle” agreed to attend and speak. He sounded very positive and keen about the conference. Krivine’s attendance would be important anyway, but the recent LCR shift giving more attention to the international situation and international work makes it more significant. It’s also important after the recent municipal elections, where the vote of the far left in the cities was around 10-15%, and the LCR’s vote rose dramatically in comparison with Lutte Ouvrière’s.

From Nepal, the CPN (UML) have indicated that they would like to send a delegation, but are not sure they can manage it without financial assistance. We hope that with 70 MPs they will be able to raise the money to attend. While Dick was stranded in Copenhagen two weeks ago, he had some good discussions with Soren Sondergard, an FI MP for the Red Green Alliance of Denmark, and he was keen that they receive an invitation. We’ve also recently had contact with Turkish ODP supporters in Melbourne, who asked to be given plenty of notice so they could raise the money so one of their leaders could attend.

So with the attendance of a leading comrade from the Scottish Socialist Party, and a leader of the British SWP, and France, Portugal, Denmark, and Turkey, we’d already have many of the most interesting developments in Europe attending. I’m sure there’d be many other European parties wanting to attend also. So already the attendance looks like being able to fulfil one of the aims of the conference, “linking up the regions in struggle”, linking the regional networks that are emerging, with the Asian region of course being well represented, and an exciting attendance developing from Europe.

We’ve got the possibility of significant attendance from Latin America and the African region also. In addition to a Cuban delegation, we’d hope to get representatives from important parties and struggles in Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, and elsewhere, linking us into the significant networks developed through the Sao Paulo Foro, and more importantly now, from the World Social Forum (WSF) at Porto Alegre.

From the African region, having Lalit and Dale McKinley confirmed, we’d hope to encourage broader participation. For example, other activists involved with Debate magazine, such as Patrick Bond, perhaps someone from SAMWU, a militant union that frequently responds to our solidarity calls, and perhaps the ISO comrade in Zimbabwe who was elected to parliament.

We’d also expect speakers from the USA and Canada, and perhaps even from the countries of the former Soviet Union, although financial obstacles will make that more difficult. And of course New Zealand, we should be organising in advance to get a wider range of participants from there. As the momentum builds up, we hope that many other left groups, especially in the Asian region, will be motivated to attend – Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Japan, Malaysia. And we’ll be giving a platform to the many left groups and exile movements based in Australia – first of all the Worker Communist Party of Iraq and Iran. There are also representatives of struggles in Burma, Bougainville, Aceh, West Papua and Western Sahara here.

The political focus

The theme and political focus for the conference is outlined in that initial leaflet circulated. The main slogan of the conference can be “Building Links for Global Resistance”, which unites the two main political concerns of the conference. Firstly, the developing movement against neoliberal globalisation, bringing together all the different experiences, analysing the movement, discussing future perspectives, giving further education on all the issues.

Secondly, the party question, building Marxist parties in each country, developing a collaborative network of revolutionary socialist parties, discussion and education on Marxism. But also, having panels and workshops discussing how to link the two themes. The problems of movementism, NGOism. The failings of the WSF in this regard. And weaving a lot of the conference together will be the discussions around alliances and united fronts, on a national and international level. This is a very pertinent topic today. In 12 months’ time, with further experience of the Socialist Alliance here, and international regroupments and discussions continuing on many fronts, it should be even more exciting and relevant.

Who we’re aiming the conference at in Australia

The large conferences that we’ve been holding, and this coming conference, serve both our international needs – helping build the international movements for solidarity and against neoliberal globalisation, and developing left collaboration and socialist renewal – and our party-building needs here. So what do we hope to achieve, and who will we be aiming at here.

We have to be clear about this as we work out the agenda and publicity, and we also have to be clear about the different roles for this conference, and for the regular DSP and Resistance Educational Conference that we’ll be holding at Hawkesbury, January 3-7, 2002.

We want the maximum attendance of DSP members at both conferences. We know our January conferences are essential for the education, organisation and consolidation of our membership, whether they are a decision-making congress or an educational conference. And next January will be especially important in pooling our experiences of the year’s work and new developments, and setting our course for 2002.

It will assess the Socialist Alliance project, it will assess the election campaign that is likely to have just concluded, and it will assess our perspectives under, most likely, a new Labor government. The January conference will also be an opportunity for some intensive educational classes for our comrades, and a place to bring and consolidate potential recruits.

The APISC will also be an educational and consolidating experience for DSP and Resistance members, but our main goal should be to attract a big and broad attendance. It should be an event for expanding our milieu, and recruiting from it. It can bring together the campaigns and activists from S11, M1. And it should be an event that will draw all the activists from the Socialist Alliance, especially if we have as keynote speakers comrades from the SSP, the LCR, Portuguese Left Bloc, SWP, Danish Red Green Alliance etc.


We’ve had to change the venue from 1998, Glebe High School was not available. But we’ve booked Sydney Boys High School, which should be just as good. So far the only publicity has been those initial leaflets distributed at Porto Alegre and at the Conference Against Globalisation in New Delhi last month. Samples of those leaflets are available.

But soon after the NC we’ll get the proper leaflets and poster printed, and try to have them available for M1, certainly for the Jakarta conference.

We’ll advertise it in the next Links, and in Green Left from now on. Our party has organised many excellent conferences over the years. The 2nd Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference in Sydney could be our biggest and best yet.

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