[The following report was unanimously adopted by the DSP National Committee on June 9.]
This is a report that tries to take a long-term look at building the party, as well as addressing our current party-building tasks and perspectives.
It’s in the context of a significant change in the world situation, where although imperialism’s offensive against the people of the world is just as fierce, just as irrational, there have been many examples of significant peoples’ fightbacks in recent years – the anti-neoliberal globalisation mobilisations, from Seattle to Genoa, and Barcelona; the general strike in Italy; the defeat of the Venezuelan coup; the huge gatherings at Porto Alegre; even the huge outpouring in the streets in France against Le Pen. Something does seem to be turning in our direction.
It’s also in the context of the party having had significant growth in the last year and a half. The total numbers of full members is 12% higher than it was through 2001, and 30% higher than it was through the 1990s. Our cadre base is stronger than ever before.
And it’s also in this context that I’m currently working on that long-delayed project on our party history, aiming to get a first book out covering 1965-1972 soon. This history is needed for the party as a whole, now and in the future. And the points relating our party-building tasks today to our own historical experiences are also useful for our NC, as many members weren’t around for those lessons; and that’s certainly the case for Resistance NC comrades.
So the framework for this report is, why we got this far, and how we can go further.
We have to be very clear on issues relating to the party question, because an international debate is looming in the movement in which we will be intervening. We have a record, and some respect, from what we’ve built here, and the network in Asia. (But we also have to be clear why we haven’t had more growth, why not quicker growth)
Our party-building perspective
We’re the strongest party on the Australian left, still tiny, but with a solid group of cadres, varied political interventions, with the most respected and widely circulated newspaper, a strong youth organisation, a solid national spread, and extensive and varied resources, from the buildings we operate out of, to an impressive publications program.
This position in relation to others on the left is partly by default, but also by our own efforts, and the political perspectives we had and stuck to: our understanding of the class nature of society, the need for a revolutionary overthrow of capitalist state power by the working class, and at the centre of it, our understanding of the need for a party, a Leninist party, to make that revolution, and the traditions and skills in building that party, our party-building perspective.
This perspective is always under challenge.
It’s always under challenge from the ruling class of course. There’s a constant barrage of propaganda and ideological influences to keep us passive, meek and unquestioning, and confined to the “proper” channels of protest if we do find conditions unbearable.
And the revolutionary perspective is always under challenge by opponents of Marxism and Leninism in the workers’ movement. Even currents that recognise that capitalist class rule has to be overthrown baulk at the lessons of history, which point to how it can be done. They refuse to acknowledge that a revolutionary party built along the lines of Lenin’s Bolsheviks is needed for the task.
Under challenge internationally
As the new movement challenging capitalist globalisation and war develops internationally, and young people are radicalising and looking for socialist solutions, this issue is increasingly coming to the fore.
In the demonstrations and the debates over tactics and structures in the anti-neoliberal globalisation movement around the world we see a resurfacing of the struggle between anarchism and Marxism, as anarchists try to impose their tactical and organisational recipes on the whole of the movement. This is probably less of an aberration than a few years ago, as more of the new generation of radicals get a deeper political and historical understanding.
But there is still an endemic anti-party, or non-party mood that gets promoted and encouraged.
And even among parties and international currents that have an understanding of Leninism, the experience of the Bolshevik revolution and other successful revolutions, there’s a lot of confusion and pressure to adapt to the anti-partyism, which ultimately comes from the ruling class.
In parties associated with the Fourth International, for example, there’s a lot of unevenness, even backsliding on this issue. The strongest party in the FI, the LCR in France, has been doing excellent and creative party-building work – their election campaigns, combined with leadership of young radicals on the streets, resulting in 4000 membership applications to their national office in the weeks following the presidential elections and anti-Le Pen demonstrations. But other FI groups have gone quite a way down the path of liquidationism, giving up on the struggle to build a party – in Holland, moving more to the role of a think-tank; in Solidarity in the US, many FI members are quite hostile to the idea of a Leninist party. In the debates in the FI leading up to their World Congress next year, there seems too much of a concession to prejudices against left parties intervening in movements.
Of course, the enemies of Leninist parties have been given many easy targets in past decades by the caricatures of parties passed off by both the Stalinists, and also unfortunately by so many of the varieties of Trotskyism. But we’re now in a period when we should be able to shake off the horrors of Stalinism, and enter a period when genuine renewal of the socialist movement is possible. Part of that renewal will be re-establishing the strategy of building genuine Leninist parties.
We can see the impact of this anti-party sentiment at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, where an exclusion policy against parties openly participating was written into the founding platform. We’ve noted the farcical nature of this policy, which serves the right-wing NGO forces, and the right-wing parties, who participate anyway. An interesting coalition challenging this exclusion policy is developing, and we’re of course going to do what we can to render it inapplicable in any Asian region social forum events, and eventually have it formally removed.
There’s a constant repackaging of the anti-Leninist perspective. Negri and Hardt’s Empire book is one of the latest, and of course it gets featured constantly in the bourgeois media. This gets echoed among the less sophisticated activists in the new movements. It’s the non-party individuals who get promoted, the Naomi Kleins. And the Zapatistas – non-party – were the new heroes of the opponents of the “centralised” Leninist party, although there isn’t much more centralised and elitist than an army structure, which is what the Zapatistas have.
One form this assault on Leninism takes is an Anti-”Zinovievist” push, claiming that those defending Leninism today are actually following in the footsteps of Zinoviev and the party tradition implemented after Lenin’s death.
There are a variety of hostile anti-party, anti-Leninist, anti-Marxist trends. But there are also parties creatively working in broad alliances, in new situations, for example, the new experiences with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). Their discussions on how they handle relations between the International Socialist Movement platform and the SSP will be useful. They’re going through the experiences we would have had to cope with if, for example, in 1987 the CPA hadn’t pulled out of the New Left Party process we were going through with them.
Under challenge in new movements here
The party idea, and our party as often the most effective and forceful proponent of that idea, has always had its opponents in the movements here in Australia. Under the impact of the worldwide movement against neoliberal globalisation, the attacks on partyism have gotten more aggressive at times.
The various anarchist currents were in the vanguard of this of course. They had an inflated view of themselves; often they just looked pathetic as balaclava-clad loonies. But they do pander to a sentiment.
Our own ghost from our distant past, Bob Gould, has been more prolific with his regular shit sheets against the DSP, handed out at our major events (and even at other tendencies’ events). His main attack is that we aren’t with him in the ALP, and that we’re trying to build a party outside it. There’s a rumour of a book, that he’s writing our history for us. Comrades could suggest he write his own history and compare it – his three decades or ours. There’s even a story that Steve Painter and a few of our other “exes” are organising a seminar; to discuss…the DSP!
And the ISO has been re-raising distorted history regarding Students for a Democratic Society in Australia and the US, and “participatory democracy”. Why a “revival” of discredited, disproved experiences? What happened to SDS in the US and Australia? They collapsed! They built nothing.
Sniping from sectarians and small opponents and individuals on the left will grow as we grow. The Pilger meeting brought a lot of fear and snide remarks to the surface. There’ll be many more such excuses for others to complain that we’re getting too big, wanting to have a say beyond what they think our true place should be. And the target will frequently be our party-building methods, our Leninism.
How we developed our tradition
Our party-building perspective, our tradition, has two sources.
Firstly, we learned and borrowed from the tradition of other parties around the world, at one stage copying rather blindly. Initially, we copied from the FI, especially from the US SWP. Then we began to study other experiences more closely, for example the Cubans. And we then looked beyond, to where our sources took their traditions from, and seriously studied the Russian Revolution, went on a “Back to Lenin” kick. In those early years the examples of other parties from different traditions, in different situations and circumstances certainly, were invaluable. They were passed on by certain books, by reports of other experiences, often set down in records of factional struggles.
Secondly, as we went on we were able to add to our party-building tradition more lessons of our own that were won in practice and struggle, in real hands-on party-building experiences in our own situation. In some ways these lessons were the most important – lessons learned in struggle are lessons well remembered.
So a brief reminder of some of the main lessons, and when we learned them or defended them.
Marxism vs anarchism and liberalism
We learned some of the most basic lessons, the superiority of Marxism over anarchism and liberalism, in the late 1960s, when our current began.
In 1967, with the formation of Resistance, we had a struggle against anarchist tendencies who preferred to retain the original name of SCREW [Students Cultivating Revolution Everywhere]. And over the next few years in the 1960s Resistance was in contention with SDS with their liberal politics and anarchist tactics. At some stages they’d be favoured by the media, but as we entered the 1970s, they disappeared without a trace.
In 1969-70 we fought for and won on the very fundamental principle of building a party, and split with Gould, who’d originally recruited us to Trotskyism. The struggle was fought out in Resistance over basic questions of having a democratic, structured organisation that could rise above the anarchic star leader system. We’d really been fighting on this issue from 1967. A major step was the final break with Gould in 1970, the Resistance national conference and setting up Direct Action.
The first Direct Action editorial registered that gain: “To publish a paper without an organisation to build and be built by it is political irresponsibility. It is to play with politics. Only when a paper has an organisation to build, and that organisation has a program to guide it, does a little left-wing venture such as ours take on any meaning.”
A further milestone came in January 1972 with the founding conference of the Socialist Workers League. The right to have a party was something we had to fight hard for, but a hard fight built a strong base.
Shortly after the founding conference of the SWL, we registered a further consolidation of that party principle, and broke with the group around Roger Barnes and Sylvia Hale, who’d been in the old FI group. We insisted we were building a serious, committed party, and made a further stand against the inherited line on entryism and illusions in the ALP.
A party built on youth
From the beginning we recognised the importance of a revolutionary party being based on the rebelliousness of youth. Young people radicalise quickly in response to capitalism’s multitude of injustices. They question the established order, think about alternatives, different worlds. And they provide the energy and activism needed for change – at the front of demonstrations, putting up the posters, handing out the leaflets, selling the press.
For our current, this has always been clear. In fact, Resistance led the way; formed and led the party in the early years: from the start of Resistance in 1967, to our founding conference in 1970, to publishing Direct Action in Resistance’s name in the first years, and actually leading the tendency in many ways even after the party was formed.
And we’ve been at the head of continuing youth campaigns and mobilisations in the decades since. In 1968 the high school politicisation and struggle against the Vietnam War mushroomed when we launched Student Underground. We had a major high school walkout in 1972; the sex diary campaign in the early 1990s; the anti-Hanson walkouts in 1998 – all reinforcing our current’s leadership role among young people.
A democratic centralist party
The party we fought for and built over the years was a party organised on the principles of democratic centralism. This was a key issue in the original fight with Gould; it resurfaced in the tussle with Barnes; it’s been injected into many of the other debates and disputes in the party.
An internationalist party
From the beginning also we knew we had to be an internationalist party. We were born in the struggle against the war in Vietnam in the 1960s. We were in solidarity with those in struggle around the world, in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and also in Europe (France May-June ‘68), and with the US antiwar movement.
An internationalist outlook is absolutely essential for revolutionaries, especially in an imperialist country like Australia. We’ve backed this up with all our solidarity work since, on all important struggles – our solidarity with Latin America, through CISLAC, and especially important, the solidarity with struggles in our region, through CARPA [Campaign Against Repression in the Pacific and Asia], AKSI, ASIET, ASAP.
A serious party
We also established that we’re a serious party, serious about resources, finances, serious about commitment. You’d think this is also basic for anyone claiming to be a revolutionary, but so often you see outfits made up of dilettantes, dabblers.
It was 30 years in March since we bought our first building, in St John’s Road in Glebe. It’s been almost 20 years since we moved into this building. These have been wise choices, pushing ourselves financially and investing in buildings for our revolutionary centres.
Investing in our own buildings was a better financial choice than the other option that was on offer – investing in our own printing presses, a web press to print our paper, for example. That investment would have depreciated, our buildings have appreciated.
But these assets were acquired by the dedication, the pledges, and fund drive commitments of our members over the years.
An inclusive party
We also demonstrated time and again that we were building an inclusive party. We’re always on the lookout to expand not only our ranks, but our leadership team. We’re not building an exclusive club.
In 1970, we linked up with the former FIers in building the Socialist Review group and founding the party, even though we had to part company two years later.
In 1972, we fused with the comrades from Brisbane Labor Action. These comrades split away later that year and formed the Communist League, partly under the pressure of the factional divisions in the Fourth International, but in 1976-78 we were able to force through fusions with the Communist League comrades, in advance of the divisions in the FI being resolved.
And in the 1980s, we made many other attempts to unite with others, to build broader formations, and expand our party – the Nuclear Disarmament Party, the New Left Party with the CPA, socialist unity with the SPA, efforts with the Greens, and fusions with Socialist Fight, the Rosebery miners, and Turkish comrades from Revolutionary Path.
An independent party
And we established decisively that we’re an independent party, with its own leadership team, that thinks for itself, we’re not just a branch office of an overseas parent. In 1983 we broke definitively with the US SWP, as they went off the rails, and reduced their supporters around the world to obedient caricatures of Marxist groups. And in 1985 we left the Fourth International, recognising that such internationals were in the end fetters on the development of the independent revolutionary Marxist parties that were needed in each country.
In 1980 Jim Percy presented an NC report on “Four Features of Our Revolutionary Party,” reviewing the lessons of our first 10 years. He pointed to those central features – an inclusive party, an independent party, a party based on Leninist organisational principles, and an ambitious party. Jim made a number of important reports to NCs and conferences around this time, which could usefully be reprinted for comrades today in the form of another book. Perhaps this could be a project, since we’re coming up to the 10th anniversary of Jim’s death in four months’ time.
We did get out a book of Jim’s talks from the early ‘90s, reports that often summarised our understanding and party-building perspectives from the first 20 years. The four reports in that book are extremely rich, and relevant for us even today, and worthwhile for all comrades to re-read.
Again, a Leninist party
In the early ‘90s, after the failures of all our best efforts of the ‘90s to unite with others, to broaden out the party, we felt the need to re-emphasise our party-building norms, to “re-cadreise” the party – the word we invented for it. We’d abolished provisional membership, and thrown the doors open to people wanting to join directly, and you can see that reflected in the membership graph. But we had to adjust back, as the political situation wasn’t developing in a healthy direction, and our opening out was actually resulting in less effectiveness for the party. We had to reassert the need for a Leninist-type party.
In 1994-95 a current in Perth, represented by party leader Steve R, wanted us to go down a different road, a looser, all-inclusive party. We had a thorough discussion leading up to and at our January 1995 Congress, and the party overwhelmingly reaffirmed our perspectives.
So it’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the milestones in our history. We can be proud of our very rich party-building tradition. We benefit from the experiences of other parties in other countries, but our own history is also an invaluable asset. It’s worth remembering, and worth having it recorded, otherwise we repeat mistakes, and don’t build on the foundations we’ve already laid.
How we can go further
What’s changed since 1991-92, when Jim gave those last party-building reports?
Certainly there’ve been many changes in the objective political situation. The Soviet Union was in the process of collapsing, but we hadn’t seen the full ramifications of that final defeat, e.g., imperialism’s stepped-up offensive as sole superpower, and the drive to war. But we’re now also witnessing the mass fightbacks around the world, the international movement against neoliberal globalisation, some victories for our side.
There’ve been big changes in the subjective situation we face, a very different balance of forces on the left. There’s the collapse of the CPA, formerly our largest left opponent, now dead for more than 10 years. We’re clearly the largest and strongest Marxist current [in Australia].
Our largest opponent, the ISO, seems to have continuing and severe internal problems, and their decline is visible, on campus, on the streets, at their events. Ten years ago they were in much more of a position to challenge us. Even compared with the balance around S11 2000, their student base is much diminished.
Partly occupying some of the space getting vacated by the ISO, Socialist Alternative has a strong base on Melbourne University, and strong starts in a few other places, but they’re still very weak.
The CPA/SPA is aging and inactive, not very visible. Other left groups are tiny, mostly confined to one city, mostly Melbourne.
In addition to our actual size, our resources, and the activity and visibility of our cadres, another indicator of how we’re faring in building our party has been some of the struggles we’ve led in the last five years, where we were able to have a significant impact. For example:
- 1998 Anti-Hanson high school walkouts;
- 1999 East Timor solidarity demonstrations;
- 2000 S11 blockade of the WEF in Melbourne;
- 2001 M1 stock exchange blockades.
Another measure of our steady progress has been the successful public conferences we’ve held. We’ve held big conference before, in the 1980s, the Socialist Scholars conference in 1990, 1991, and the International Green Left Conference in 1994.
But we seem to have made a qualitative advance with the Asia Pacific solidarity conferences in 1998 and this year, and also the Marxism 2000 conference, if not in total attendances, then in the extensive international attendance and impact, and the value for our party and contacts.
We also seem to be able to get increasing media coverage. Resistance especially is well known, the place to go to interview/feature radicalising young people. And GLW is increasingly well known and respected in wide circles.
And our geographical spread is a further indicator of our growth, establishing branches in cities and towns in recent years where we’d never been before.
All these advances, especially our DSP membership growth which is set out in the graph that’s been circulated in Party Campaigner and at this NC, are a real vindication of our party-building methods.
So how to go farther? How do we make further progress, both continue the steady gains, and make major leaps?
First, not jettison the lessons and gains
Firstly, we must not jettison all the lessons about party building and the gains that have gotten us this far.
We defend the whole party-building perspective. We know a Leninist party is necessary to make a revolution, and if we don’t have a perspective for building one beforehand, it’s not going to miraculously appear when a revolutionary situation arises.
We’ve developed an understanding of this perspective, this necessity, through debates and struggles going back to the early days of our tendency. We’ve won this perspective as our own.
At other times, when it’s not under challenge in the party or the left milieu, we still have to educate new comrades on the issues, and remind the party about it as a whole. Perhaps we need further talks and pamphlets on this.
A more sophisticated perspective
OK, we refine the lessons and build on the gains, and today we have a more sophisticated understanding of the party question than in our early days.
For example, early on we had trusting faith in the lessons from abroad, and in particular, the article of faith that you had to be part of an international organisation, the Fourth International. We’ve moved on from that stage, learning of the need to develop an independent party that thinks for itself.
But we certainly don’t jettison the party perspective, the need for a Leninist party.
We also defend the specifics of that perspective, for example, that the organising principle for the party is democratic centralism.
Reaffirming the centralism doesn’t mean tightening up. We reaffirm both aspects – we do want more discussion – but we do reassert that the party directs the work. For example, we recently lost a few comrades in Darwin who didn’t understand and didn’t agree with this.
Secondly, the basics
But secondly, in addition to reaffirming our fundamental party-building principles and perspective, we have to resolve to continue to push on all the components of that perspective – recruiting, finances, education, sales and all the organisational tasks associated with building the party.
The most important gauge of how we’ve been going, the most direct measure of our success, is the simplest one – recruitment and growth. Assuming we’re maintaining our standards of commitment and activity, the size of our membership indicates how our party-building project is going.
And in the last year or two, we can see clearly what we haven’t seen for quite a while, actual growth, a very real upward turn in our membership graph.
The graph in everyone’s kits showing the membership rise is extremely heart-warming for us all, young and old. We can take this line, which does look like it’s taking an exponential shape, and add it to our red flag as our battle flag (our own logo, our whoosh). Comrades can take it into our struggles, all our political work, to remind us that we’re growing!
Comrades can see that we’ve definitely risen from the plateau of the 1990s. Certainly that flat period is a reflection of the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Any gains we made were negated by losses. (Of course, our problems were not as dramatic as for others; take the case of the CPA – their graph ends at 1991.) And our solid recruitment and real growth does reflect the changes in the political situation in the last few years – not just the big impetus from the S11 mobilisation of 2000, but the range of campaigns since 1998 where we’ve been able to have an impact.
But how to continue to recruit, and continue to grow?
Comrades can note that the number of provisional members has dropped considerably, only 60% of what it was last year. This reflects the high rate of integration of provisional members we recruited after S11 in 2000, but also a slowing down in new recruitment. But this should only be temporary. We know we can recruit rapidly. There are many potential members out there, in all types of situations. The figures just in from the last month show that we recruited 11, with four dropping out, so a net gain of seven.
We know there are more provisional members that can be joined from Resistance, and Resistance itself should be able to grow considerably. The issues and campaigns we’re involved in are continually bringing new contacts around us.
We’ve noted in this period that we’re getting an increasing number of party recruits who aren’t coming through Resistance. This is an older layer with a wide range of issues and interests that inspired them to join. We’re confident this will continue. But we have to be conscious about their special needs, their integration. It’s not the same “semi-automatic” process we provide through Resistance.
And although some former members of the party can become cynical after they leave, new periods can revive others, or they can contribute in different ways. We’re even joining sons and daughters – the son of Michael Percy, a former member, no relation, is apparently on the Melbourne Resistance exec. And we recently got an email clipoff from Kerrie K, whose mother Wendy was very active in the 1970s, saying she’d put it off for too long, that she had to join (I hope Sydney East is following that up). And I was especially gladdened to hear that Garry Walters was in town two weeks ago, helped out with the jumble sale, attended the Resistance meeting, and bought a year’s sub from Sue Bolton.
Our milieu, our periphery, is expanding – loyal GLW subscribers; the huge numbers at the Pilger meetings; even the Tariq Ali meeting. Most will remain periphery, just supporters, but we can see ahead of us possibilities for major growth, continuing to drive that curve up. The key will be youth.
But a bigger party requires a bigger leadership. More comrades will have to take on greater responsibility. And we know that we can’t grow simply by adding new recruits to the existing party units, we have to create new units, with new leadership bodies.
Small and regional branches
So we’d like to reaffirm the positive experiences of the new, small and regional branches. It’s been correct to push on this; they’re flourishing and can grow further and integrate new members.
Comrades in such small branches have to take on big loads, but they surprise themselves continuously. They have to do all the tasks, assume a range of organisational and political responsibilities. In a larger branch, new comrades can get lost, get ignored.
The next possibility for a new branch might be Launceston. Certainly this is the hope of Hobart comrades, building it through the Socialist Alliance election campaign coming up, and other work we’ve done there. (They’re advertising…)
A future possibility might be Townsville, where we have one comrade and contacts. It’s the next major town with a uni. Alice Springs is regularly throwing up contacts, a member there now. We know about the political ferment on refugees for example in many country towns, and the good sales rate in many of them. Comrades saw in Party Campaigner that there are six other country towns where GLW is now getting distributed. We need to have a regular box ad in GLW – Are you interested in taking a bundle to sell in your area? We should also put this on the home page of our website, and perhaps also send a personal letter to all country subscribers with a proposal. All these regional towns are future branches.
But given the high concentration of Australia’s population in a few major cities, the big hurdle for future qualitative party growth is building new suburban branches in the bigger cities.
We’ve attempted to establish suburban branches and district structures several times in our history, and the Sydney and Melbourne districts seem to be well established now, although they still have many things to resolve. Sydney Inner West has relocated to Bankstown.
We also have to realise that we won’t be able to have a HQ for every branch. We will have to make more direct use of campus facilities in some cases, e.g., Macquarie Uni, UNSW. And try to get the use of halls free, and make full use of our central district offices. Well-functioning offices have been essential for our party-building activities, but as we grow, and get many branches in a city, we can’t let the old style cramp our possibilities for further growth. And even worse, we can’t make a fetish of having an office and fork out hefty rents for one that’s hardly used. Or put all the effort into housekeeping and duplicating all the functions of the central office, to the detriment of time put into political activity and developing a vibrant political life for the branch.
A further lesson is that we need the politics for our branches, and sometimes, as in the case of Sydney West, we have to actively create the possibilities for our own political activities, organise our own actions, not expect others to be there for us to intervene in, and not sink to the local level, not get bogged in idiotic local campaigns.
An area that we’re still working through is how to do Resistance in a district setup? There’ll be more DSP branches where we don’t have a Resistance branch. While the branch will work hard to remedy that, there’s no reason why in those situations we can’t recruit youth directly to the DSP, and the DSP branch will have to do things normally carried out by Resistance branches.
Other units to train and integrate
In addition to more small regional branches, and more suburban branches in district structures, we realise that we might be able to make use of other types of units to help train and integrate a larger membership.
We need other institutions for their own political value – for example, a labour solidarity centre that we’ve talked about, or the better-resourced CISLAC, or ASIET institutions or centres that we’ve had in the past. Such centres would help the party’s outreach and political impact, but they can also help the party grow, providing more of the skeleton we need.
Having more units requires more leadership teams, and that pressure for more leaders helps train more leaders. Some of this can be provided by better-functioning fractions and organising units.
The essential unit will still be our branch meetings, and here it’s important we continue to push to make them interesting, political and inspiring. Have well-prepared educationals; have relevant reports where real decisions have to be made; encourage discussion that involves everyone; and cut down purely organisational reports.
We should put regular forums back on the agenda. This will vary from branch to branch, but the ideal would be to make them regular in as many branches as possible. Let’s make full use of the great party offices we’re accumulating.
We surpassed ourselves with the Pilger Town Hall meeting – 2100 people and hundreds turned away. But it shows what can be done. The Tariq Ali visit here also showed the possibilities – we packed out Newtown Neighbourhood Centre with 250 people, with rather modest publicity. That’s prompted us to make an offer to Tariq – come back and we’ll put on a packed Sydney Town Hall meeting for you. We’ll see if he agrees.
But we can see the potential for this type of left meeting, if we can get well-known international guest speakers. We can do it with others, such as Howard Zinn, Edward Said or Robert Fisk. The lesson is to aim big, charge a decent ticket price, publicise it well. There is a milieu out there, that we partly tap into with Green Left Weekly. They’ll go to movies, concerts, and big-name speakers. If we can provide big-name left speakers, we can expand our profile, expand GLWcirculation, build Socialist Alliance out of them. We can use the big ones to publicise well in advance a program of regular forums; local, but interesting.
So let’s make our forums a serious educational event that comrades look forward to, eagerly participate in, not see as a duty. Build them properly, have an entry fee, not just a donation (cf. Pilger). Dick’s tour can help restart good forum series. And let’s try for regularity. We can’t let the ISO steal a march on any aspect of political work.
We have a broader milieu and bigger periphery, the impact we make is bigger, and the relative weight of our tendency on the left is greater than ever before. But we still need to look at how we can raise the actual profile of the party. More DSP banners and placards at demos; more specific DSP statements; more mentions in GLW. This question is even more important now with Socialist Alliance the vehicle for our election campaigns. People know us indirectly, for GLW, for Resistance, for Socialist Alliance, for Links, for APISC. Let’s look for an opportunity to raise the specific DSP profile in a big way.
To dramatise it we’ve sometimes stated that finances are the key to our party-building tasks. And over the years you’d have to say that we’ve done well – prompting some on the left, including Alex Callinicos, to actually describe us as a “rich” party. We certainly have faced much more encouraging budget reports, and felt less panic about our finances, in recent years. That reflects progress, our solidity, and also the dire situation we’ve dragged ourselves out of – we paid off our big mortgages, eliminated the enormous deficits. But it mainly reflects the tremendous consciousness and commitment of our comrades in the past.
This year again there’s no huge crisis, although we’re $16,000 behind where we should be at this time, and I’d refer comrades to the written finances report with the charts and tables, and I’m sure Jon and Trish will want to elaborate in the discussion.
But that balance is partly due to some fortunate breaks – a very successful Pilger public meeting, for example – and ongoing political developments giving a higher sales rate, leading to branches being “awash with money”, as the report notes. (Also noting that a big enough proportion hasn’t washed through to the NO [National Office].)
There are specific problem areas. There is too much unevenness between branches in their financial performance. Resistance finances need a lot of improvement. Cultural D income is also considerably down – we are getting less than a third of what should be feasible.
But the relative success of recent years has bred a bigger problem – a consciousness problem.
Our younger generation of comrades takes many things for granted. They assume our resources are a given, they just fall from the sky, are inherited. But it took commitment to get where we are, and that’s only a very small step along the way. (We’re a very ambitious party). Just as it takes commitment in all our political endeavours, most certainly for the actual task of making a revolution, we’re not going to succeed without continuing financial commitment.
But we seem to be developing such wasteful habits:
- We don’t scrounge much, for example paper, or photocopying, or larger items;
- Unused stamps thrown away, for which Sue Bolton and I got satirised at last year’s fund drive rally! (Don’t worry Chris, the comrade who fed you that story has confessed…)
- Manila folders, used for placards, then discarded.
Are these just petty matters, the eccentric concern of a party veteran, harking back to the good old days when we had no resources, buildings or money, and produced the paper with handset type in a derelict garage? Or are we getting lazy, mistraining comrades? And does this attitude flow on to a lower level of consciousness and commitment across the board?
The most significant area where this problem impacts is on pledges, the bedrock of our party finances. Our overall total of comrades’ pledges, and the average level of pledges from comrades, has been declining, not merely not keeping up with inflation, but going down absolutely! At our conference we set a goal of getting the national pledge total up from $6300 to $7000 per week by the end of the year. It’s actually slipped back to $6100. And this at a time when the full membership of the party has risen significantly!
The percentage of comrades not pledging has improved from 23% to 15% but that’s still far too high. And a lot of these are very token pledges.
We think this should be our most important financial campaign – to reach that target for total pledges, reduce the number of comrades not pledging, and increase the average pledge level for working comrades. We also want to increase the number of comrades on direct payment schemes.
Another consequence of our relative financial stability is complacency about fund drive events. We don’t get the maximum from these events, after having put effort into building them. We don’t always organise a raffle, or a fund appeal; we don’t pick people’s pockets so thoroughly once they’re in the door – we don’t even charge everyone who’s going through the door.
And we’ve become more lackadaisical in the lead-up to the launch of our fund drives at the conference rallies. Many branches don’t start talking to comrades and politically motivating them about their pledges until they get to the conference. Some branches just do a last-minute round up a few hours before the rally. (And very few branches follow up after the conference to speak to comrades who weren’t at the conference to get a pledge from them.)
Branches should politically motivate, and organise comrades for, the rally well before the conference. We’re growing, and we’ve got more comrades working, and in well-paying jobs; inflation continues to rise; our political needs continue to grow. Let’s plan it properly again.
We need some thorough articles in The Activist, even repeating things we said 20, 25 years ago, explaining our finances, the importance of pledges.
Our members provide the overwhelming bulk of our finances, even though we should be organising to get more from our supporters, by putting in more directed GLW ads, and reminders regarding bequests, for example.
Thirty years ago, we decided to take a leap, to strain ourselves, invest in a building. We’ve been fortunate, and have been able to buy other offices, and pay off the mortgages. We have solid assets, a strong, solid base of resources – buildings, equipment, computers… stationery even, which I still marvel at…
The strain’s not there now. But we still need to grow, to build a better infrastructure, acquire other HQs of our own, in all the major cities. It’s economical to pay less rent, and put the money towards paying off our own buildings. The fact that we’re not paying off mortgages at the moment shouldn’t allow us to get soft.
If we call a halt to the push we’ve made throughout our history to finance ourselves, get assets, apart from not going forward, it could lead to softness, a tendency to slip back in the financial consciousness and seriousness of our cadres. Comrades perhaps will take for granted, yes, we’ve got these buildings, we don’t have to pay rent, and thus not develop and continue that high level of consciousness and commitment that got us where we are today.
We should have those goals ahead of us to force us on, even to develop cadre, so we get more resources, more offices, some proper bookshops, and build a stronger frame on which we can grow.
We know that money makes money – that’s capitalism – and that process has been increasingly helping us in recent years. We’ve increasingly relied on the gains from past real estate purchases, the profit from a blockbuster Pilger meeting, rather than the hard grind of comrades’ commitment through pledges and fund drives – capitalist rather than proletarian sources. We want to turn that around, to have a more proletarian balance in our finances, which will result in a much stronger financial base, and allow us to move forward faster.
But to do this, we need to politically inspire comrades, and give them real political and tangible goals to aim for. So we want to foreshadow some specific projects, political projects, which have financial implications.
1. Purchase another building, probably in Adelaide or Darwin, where there are still possibilities for real estate bargains – or at least fairly reasonable prices.
We should also stretch ourselves to buy some items of capital equipment that in the end will save us money: for example, a PA system that can be used for our conferences and other events. (We’ll recoup the cost in just a few years).
2. We need more party full-timers, both branch organisers and in the national office. We can’t take up all the opportunities currently in front of us. We need more organisers to do it; not substituting for the branch members, but helping organise them. The political situation warrants it. Our party-building indicators warrant it – the sales, finances, membership figures. The lack of enough full-time branch organisers can be a brake on our further growth and expansion, and limit our ability to train, retain, and develop new recruits into cadres. Let’s stretch our resources to allow us to build and grow as we know is possible.
We also need to have our next expansion goals in mind: a workers’ solidarity centre; real bookshops; our own party school again; and the resources to organise the next major political campaigns we have to mobilise on.
So we should use the new goals for things that are needed, to re-win a higher consciousness on pledges especially, and in other financial areas.
But while putting this consciousness-raising campaign – our proletarian financial underpinning – up front, we can’t slacken, and indeed must further improve, our existing money-making departments.
For example, our bookshops as they are must become more like Melbourne’s situation of providing $300 income per week to the branch. In the future we need to consider, what are the chances of getting a decent bookshop or two going again? It will take serious resources, but we need it. For our own comrades to have a wide range of left literature available to them (so they buy from us, rather than any other source); and for the left to have its own left bookshop, as an important focal point for serious radicals.
Sales and subscriptions
Green Left Weekly is now approaching its 500th issue, a significant milestone. (It’s 32 years since the launch of Direct Action, perhaps the really significant event to commemorate. It’s also 10 years since Tribune and its 9-month successor Broadside folded!)
By now branches should have organised ambitious events to celebrate, to raise funds, to raise our profile, and to increase GLW‘s subscription base. We’re soliciting short greetings, international and local, to put in the paper and use at events. We should be making full use of Pilger’s glowing endorsement.
Green Left Weekly is such an achievement. It’s the backbone of the party and Resistance, our interventions, reachout, recruits, education, and organisation. It’s become the paper of left record, especially now it’s on CD-ROM and on the web. It’s an invaluable resource recognised and valued around the world.
We’ve set a subscription campaign around the 500th issue. We’ll start the two weeks before, starting July 8, so branches can combine it with contacting people for 500th issue special events. Our subscription base did get up to 941, but has fallen back, so ongoing follow-up of renewals has to be emphasised in each branch. We’re also proposing a second subscription campaign later in the year.
We reached 4094 with our January sales blitz. We’re proposing two more sales blitzes for the year: one for the beginning of campus second semester at the beginning of August, and one for the last issue for the year.
Comrades can see from the charts that we’ve made some progress this year compared to 2001. There’s been a small jump in sellers (not quite yet reflecting fully the jump in membership), and a small jump in hours sold. But the rate improvement has meant a considerable jump in average sales: from 1916 to 2441, and when you add in subs, from 2711 to 3353 (that doesn’t include membership subs, country bundles, and overseas subs and bundles, which are about another 550).
Political events have aided sales this year, especially the Palestine issue. Perhaps there’s some complacency from comrades because of the political situation, which has led to higher sales rates, and partly resolved some of our financial problems. So the $2 price has not been a problem, it has probably helped, but we still need to campaign to get a higher percentage of $3 sales.
Having fewer pages has obviously created some difficulties; there are some areas that we can’t cover as well as previously. But it hasn’t been a major problem (some comrades still don’t read the whole paper!).
We have to keep campaigning to raise the sales effort of comrades, increase the level of participation, and the number of hours comrades sell for. There’s excellent potential for getting a big rise in total sales, especially once we get the full impact of our rising membership and continue to keep the membership rising.
In this area, if in no other, we need leadership and example from comrades on the National Committee. NC comrades leading the way on GLW sales sends a message to the whole membership, sets the example and inspires. Unfortunately we seem to have fallen back in the last period, judging from the chart of NC comrades’ sales and hours. Let’s stop this drift, turn it around.
Also, another worrying development is that some comrades seem to think it’s not cool selling our paper at movement events. Why the reluctance? Think about it. We mock the ISO student non-sellers, but some of our comrades seem to have been infected by the same anti-party, anti-paper pressure.
We know we can do more promotion through the web and email, developing our own email lists, professionalising their use, and make better use of the Art Resistance TV show in Sydney.
Are there any improvements or changes in content that would be useful?
Perhaps we could do with a more systematic coverage of Asia and the Pacific to reflect the importance of our role in the network we’re developing in the region, even if it’s shorter articles. It keeps our comrades and our readers up to date, and it helps organise, inform and coordinate our collaborators in the region.
GLW is a combination paper. And perhaps there could be a bit more educational, analytical, even polemical material, for the education of our new members and recruitment of our periphery.
Education and integration
Our party-building tasks are not just directly related to recruiting, and are not just measured by our sales results figures or financial performance. There’s always a danger that younger comrades can fall into a far too narrow a definition of what party building consists of and not give sufficient emphasis to Marxist education, to having the party and our cadres develop integral connections with the campaigns and movements, to developing a rounded political culture and long-term perspective.
We’re conscious of the low level of general political knowledge amongst so many new comrades. That’s a function of both the insularity and conscious mis-education of capitalist society today (in spite of the hype about globalisation) and also a function of the smaller left, the smaller left milieu. And we’re also aware that often the low level of training makes many comrades unconfident or unable to intervene in campaigns and committees.
This just accentuates the absolute importance of our continuing Marxist education process for the party, at all levels.
An important part of our education experience for comrades today is our national conferences at January and Easter. We cram a lot in – this year, nine full days. Comrades can’t get to all the classes of course.
We have a good range of branch education classes and useful study guides, but unfortunately classes too often get squeezed by other priorities.
Regular Marxist forums can add another element.
The recent schools for branch organisers seem to have been successful. A return to a permanent school is something to stretch us in the future. The problem is not getting the physical building – that could be organised. It’s not even the finances – we could probably overcome the obstacles there. The real obstacle is the shortage of cadres, the short-term sacrifice we’d have to make.
Education shouldn’t just be seen as the formal process. Informal political discussions where we pass on our traditions, history and politics are vital too. Perhaps at the moment it’s work that’s “not recognised,” but the time spent talking to, helping educate and integrate new comrades, new contacts is 100% useful time.
OK, we’re all busy, stressed – that’s inevitable. But we can at least turn around and recognise, revalue this important work. We probably also need to put more effort into dinners for contacts and new recruits. Pubs are OK in certain situations, but not if they’re a boozy escape from politics.
We also need to reaffirm the importance of active versus passive education. Debates and political fights are often where the biggest advances in understanding are made. I’m not advocating we bring on a faction fight so comrades can get a better grounding in Marxism, but the principle’s there.
Thus, our comrades should be throwing themselves into battle, figuratively speaking. Going to other forums and speaking out, using even the smallest events for practising and gaining confidence. You don’t necessarily have to be belligerent – put on a friendly face and they won’t realise you’re using their forum for a testing ground, as punching bags. Don’t be worried that you mightn’t put our views as well as another comrade – have a go. The key: a role for all.
Thus, the importance of learning by teaching others. In almost all cases, the person who gets most out of giving a class or talk is the reporter, not the listeners.
Thus, the importance of our comrades having projects, areas of investigation – small or large – in politics, theory or history that they pursue, becoming experts for the party, developing their skills. Your project can lead to useful articles for Green Left Weekly or Links, or as a pamphlet. We need to be developing ourselves as Marxist thinkers, researchers, both for its own sake, the political gains, but also for educating ourselves..
Books and pamphlets
We’re proposing to continue the very ambitious schedule of publishing books and pamphlets. This year we’re likely to have the biggest output yet, measured in numbers of pages.
We’ve now got 58 titles on our list, with a few more still in stock but not actually listed. Plus our A5 pamphlet reprints, and the recently initiated A4 photocopied book reprints. And comrades can see from the table the list of work in progress for 2002. Thirty-five books and pamphlets on the drawing board, seven back from the printers so far. Plus reprints of titles we’ve sold out of.
We’re developing a very significant list. There aren’t a lot of English language socialist publishers, and no easy supply of Marx-Engels-Lenin since the collapse of the Soviet Union. We’ll soon have effectively our own mini collected works of Lenin. There’s an important role for us here, and with the bigger selection we’ll be able to promote and distribute them more effectively, here and around the world.
Branches should make sure all our own titles are promoted effectively. All comrades should be encouraged to buy a full set of everything we produce. Our own books and pamphlets can be the centre of our branch bookshop and bookstall displays. Try to get orders from progressive bookshops. Each new publication should be loudly promoted in the branch, both to encourage sales and to make comrades – old and new – really proud of our ongoing publishing program.
Links magazine has established itself with an important role and is gathering respect, but we urgently need to increase its circulation here and overseas. More money has come in for it from branches this year, but our Australian circulation is still very modest, with only 88 comrades having subscriptions, other subs at 43, and branch bundles of 207.
Our international circulation is 322 by bundles and 130 subscriptions. Although many of our potential readers are in Third World countries in the Asian region, we want to go on a campaign for more subs and bundles, in Asia and Africa as well as Europe and North America.
We don’t really have a problem getting enough articles, but we should be able to make its main thrust more dominant – articles and documents from parties engaged in a process of renewal and international collaboration, the new international movement against imperialism and war, and the question of parties themselves. And we definitely need more articles by women comrades.
I think we should reaffirm that it’s the right formula. Our competitors are magazines of the same format – ISJ, NLR, etc. For ease of layout and economy we should stick to this format. It’s a permanent theoretical magazine for your shelves, a record of developments and debate around the world.
Links is a long term project, not just another magazine, but a magazine for the pro-party left internationally, assisting us in gathering our Asia Pacific network.
Our websites will be increasingly important, but we have a tremendous asset already, and they are attracting an increasing number of visitors. As comrades can see from the charts, the GLW site has had a huge jump last month, now up to an average of 1600 visits a day, up from 1100 in April. But the DSP site also gets dragged up, 330 visits a day now.
The hits have been steadily rising, and at times we get big leaps. After S11, M1, we hit the news here and around the world, and many on the left know where to go for more detail.
Steps are being taken to improve our sites and bring them up to date more regularly. We also have to put up front appeals for financial support on our main sites, especially with so many visitors.
With the recognition of the need to build an independent party, and our break with the US SWP in 1983 and leaving the FI in 1985, that didn’t mean for us just a retreat into Australian politics, as some predicted. It actually led to an expansion of our international work. We do more international work than those “internationals”, more work than any other party our size.
More comrades have been assigned, and more financial resources allocated. Our school project in the 1980s was partly connected with understanding the need to be independent, and also involved assigning places for comrades from Asia. We’ve sent comrades as journalists to Europe, South Africa, increasingly covered other conferences and international actions, organised exemplary solidarity campaigns in Australia, and built relations with many parties around the world.
This international work will continue, it’s essential. As Che wrote: “Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary need. This is how we educate our people.”
But there are some drawbacks. Are we suffering from comrades taking too many trips? Comrades are all keen to see the world, and we can provide political connections at so many ports of call, so comrades save up, or run up huge credit card bills. But our finances suffer, the money doesn’t go to pledges or the fund drive. Our party building suffers. We’re short of cadres, short of organisers.
We can even lose a few comrades – wandering Aussies. It can be a more exciting political clime. Comrades can develop a personal attachment over there. (In the best cases, we gain a comrade rather than lose a comrade…) There’s also the “grass is greener” syndrome, where we don’t get creative or ambitious about big breakthroughs here.
We certainly want to continue our international work, as was outlined in the report yesterday. But let’s make sure it doesn’t run ahead of our party-building tasks here.
Our party congress is now set for December 28-January 1 at Hawkesbury. Pre-congress discussion will be opened from this NC, but in the last three months of the year it will be addressed more intensively in the branches.
There are many important campaigns and events between now and the congress – the June 23 refugee NDA [national day of action]; GLW‘s 500th issue functions in July; the Resistance Conference on September 28-30 in Melbourne; Jim Percy’s 10th anniversary events around October 12; the Socialist Alliance national conference in November in Melbourne; and all our party-building campaigns.
But this congress and the discussion leading up to it is especially important, because of our significant growth, and the need for all of us to creatively think about how we can build on it, and grow even faster. The growth in our full members motivates us to raise the delegate ratio from 3:1 to 4:1, which would give us the same number of delegates as at recent congresses – 80, plus about 50 consultative delegates. We’ll finalise the agenda and reports at our October 5-7 National Committee meeting.
Thirdly, improvements we can make
OK, the first section of this report reaffirmed our history and the necessity of our Leninist party-building perspective; the second looked at our specific party-building tasks; this third section asks the question, what improvements can we make to be more effective, and grow even more quickly?
On top of all the above party-building measures – recruitment, finances, sales, the key tasks of Marxist education, building a working-class base, and developing a thorough working-class perspective among comrades – are there other areas we can improve, other areas we can look at and understand why we haven’t moved faster?
Getting bigger in itself, and having broader layers of educated cadres, and more of a working-class base, will of course reduce some of the problems. But are there some subjective reasons why we haven’t gone further, why we had that membership plateau, had that too high a turnover, that we can address now?
We’ve no strong trend within our party that questions or rejects our Leninist party-building perspective. Compare the situation with the ISO: they still aren’t clear on this, there’s a large chunk in their organisation who aren’t convinced, who aren’t Leninists, who refuse to sell their paper, who have been conned by all the false ideas flapping around in the movement.
But over the years we’ve lost many valuable comrades from the revolutionary movement, both newer comrades, who decided after a time that the revolutionary life was not for them, and some more experienced comrades, who’d put in years of struggle, comrades who were leaders of our party.
And often the underlying factors, the political issues in dispute, were related to the party question. People on the way out found our discipline a fetter, and the commitment expected an interference in what they really wanted to do with their lives, becoming the focus of their opposition. And even if it didn’t culminate in an open political dispute, it would often contribute to the process of drift.
At each important struggle we were right to stand up and defend our party and our organisational principles. But we can still regret the departures of comrades who had put in hard years of service to the movement. They had experience, which is now lost to us. So we can regret, but often couldn’t prevent, some former party leaders seizing an opportunity to get off the train.
But on top of that political dynamic, and overlapping of course, is a dynamic that perhaps we can address, and things that we can do to improve our functioning so that we slow down the process of drift. Certainly we don’t want to burden the party with people who have been too burnt out and cynical about our project. But we continually have to find a way to make full use of all comrades, and make them feel comfortable about staying in and helping out in whatever way they can.
We do have to worry about all the people who joined our ranks and whom we didn’t take further, whom we didn’t integrate and encourage to play a role in the party. OK, we know there’s always some sorting out process, but we can’t rely on that reassurance to make us feel completely happy.
We have to ask ourselves honestly, have we slipped up, consciously or unconsciously, and made it easier for some comrades to fall away, when they should have been integrated? Have we, by our rudeness, selfishness, competitiveness, cliquishness, individualism, self-aggrandisement even, alienated comrades who otherwise would still be with us, making a valuable contribution?
Remnants of a circle spirit
We recognise we’re still basically a propaganda organisation, we’ve still so far to go before we can say we’re a revolutionary party with a real base in the working class. But we know where we have to go, and have to be extra conscious about combating the negative influences and side-effects of the actual situation we’re in.
Can we say that in some respects we haven’t fully broken away from all the failings of a circle spirit, the circle spirit that Lenin condemned so vehemently as he fought to build the early Bolshevik Party? We criticise the “circle spirit” in our educationals, but in many respects some of the vices of that type of existence are still with us, not just the lack of seriousness about building a democratically centralised workers’ party, but all the individualistic and elitist attitudes that ultimately are relics and pressures of the society we’re fighting against.
We’re individuals, but individuals in a party, with ambitious, heroic goals; so the type of individuals we are matters. In his letter on Man and Socialism in Cuba, Che Guevara wrote that “revolutionary leaders must have a large dose of humanity, a large dose of a sense of justice and truth, to avoid falling into dogmatic extremes, into cold scholasticism, into isolation from the masses. They must struggle every day so that their love of living humanity is transformed into concrete deeds, into acts that will serve as an example, as a mobilising factor.”
The socialist example we have to set is not for religious or moral reasons, and it’s not for any utopian goal of building within the party “a better life here on Earth”. But it’s for reasons of efficiency, to build a stronger, bigger party; a more inclusive party.
And in a situation where a small party such as ours is taking on so much responsibility, filling the gaps left by the decline of other tendencies, and faces so many opportunities for political activity and growth, it’s natural that the pace of work can lead to tensions. There can be an erosion of tolerance for one another.
So it’s vital we do all we can to curb individualism and hierarchical thinking, gossip and back-biting.
We know we have to put politics first, but the other side of that is not to use our political power and knowledge and experience to put down other comrades. We have to be especially conscious of public-or semi-public-denigration of other comrades’ abilities, their writing ability, their theoretical ability, other skills.
Firstly, don’t think it won’t get back – you’re wrong. It gets back in direct or indirect ways and severely damages those comrades’ confidence.
But even worse, think about what it does to yourself, you’re degrading your own integrity by trying to raise your own reputation over others – if you’re saying loudly that a comrade doesn’t know something or can’t do something, you’re actually bragging publicly that you can, that you do.
I’ve heard comrades actually laugh at other people’s work. I’ve done it myself – editing the paper 30 years ago, I said such and such a comrade “couldn’t write”. The comrade became a central leader of the party, and wrote a lot of excellent material. I regretted that for years afterwards. No one should make such a statement. We shouldn’t put people down. Rather, let’s encourage, support, teach, and train, consciously not depriving comrades of the political space to make a satisfying contribution to the project.
Warding off bullets of bourgeoisie
In the intensity of the revolutionary struggle, in different times and different places where the class struggle is a lot sharper than here, where political decisions and performances by comrades can be a matter of life and death, these questions probably don’t have as much impact.
Here, as we’ve noted in the past, the less visible “bullets of the bourgeoisie” can hit home. In capitalist countries like Australia in this period, where we’re rebuilding the left, renewing the left, the labour movement, where the bourgeois inducements and pressures are strong, they can have a greater impact on us. (In that same letter Che has an aside about “how the workers of the imperialist countries gradually lose their international class spirit under the influence of a certain complicity in the exploitation of the dependent countries and how this fact at the same time wears away the militant spirit of the masses within their own national context…”)
The first step in warding off such bullets is to be conscious of them, and then work out ways to prevent them doing damage in the party.
We have a right to select our members, but after that we have to build an inclusive party, a party where everybody feels at home, feels that they have a contribution to make, where all contributions are valued, where comrades aren’t put down.
Also, it helps if we can develop a left culture, a milieu, which as well as being a source of recruits and support for the party, can help the retention of comrades. (We need the right balance here of course, so this milieu pushes in our direction, not pulls away.)
Closing the back door
There will be a turnover in a revolutionary party. Revolutions are great devourers of cadre, but we try to minimise this.
Part of the process of recruiting is a selection process. Some test the party out, we test them out. Some conclude that they’re not going to make life as a revolutionary their perspective. Certainly that’s the case with many of the young people – the 1000 to 2000 who join Resistance each year. But the worry, the problem, is that too many of our experienced comrades, including a big layer of comrades who have played leading roles in Resistance, don’t stay around, even after getting the big picture and developing a rounded Marxist outlook.
So how do we close that back door?
Drop outs are often the result of the defeats, the downturns, the grind of the struggle against capitalism. But those objective factors are always with us – we could face further setbacks – and are not the only cause. They can be too easy an excuse. There are also our own failings, things we could have done better.
It’s partly our fault that some leave who shouldn’t have. We need to inspire and educate the new, younger comrades. We also need to politically inspire the older layer of comrades with our long-term vision. Exhorting with organisational reports is not going to work with these comrades, and by themselves it won’t work with any comrades. We need to overcome in the party any apolitical attitudes and apolitical approaches to leadership questions, or rather, alien class approaches-petty-bourgeois methods, rather than working-class, collectivist methods.
A party for workers
At the moment, we’re overwhelmingly still recruiting students or comrades who’ve had some tertiary education. Our leadership is mostly made up of comrades from that background, even if today they’re working in industry.
We’ll change, as we grow and the working-class struggle heats up, but in the meantime we have to be careful to make the party a place where workers don’t feel put down, or looked down upon.
For example, we need to encourage worker comrades in all aspects of party work – speaking, leading fractions, campaigns, writing for GLW. (How will workers react if comrades with a private school education and one or two university degrees act in a superior, supercilious way to articles they write or contributions they make?)
Given that an increasing percentage of the working class, and probably a majority of the industrial working class, are migrant workers, workers from a non-English speaking background, or from Asia or the Middle East, we have to be especially conscious of this if we’re going to be able to recruit, and integrate, such workers.
Women as leaders
Similarly, we have to be especially conscious about encouraging the full political participation of women in the party. Recently we’ve taken some steps back in this regard. Only six of the 16 Resistance organisers are currently women, compared to nine just a little while ago and, earlier, nearly all.
How to remedy this? We know at least that the quota system doesn’t work, that it is in fact counterproductive. And women who make use of their gender to promote personal aims and prestige, that’s not what we have in mind, although we’ve seen it on the left. (In fact it’s a betrayal of women’s liberation.)
There’s a dangerous feature of the current period compared with the ‘60s and ‘70s. There’s a layer of women today whose expectations have been raised. They expect equality, to have equal opportunity, equal rights. But their experience is increasingly one of inequality, and there’s a tendency to put it back on themselves.
In the ‘60s, as women fought to catch up, their consciousness was raised, and they got a true feeling of liberation from seeing the problem and trying to do something about it. Today, they see the problems of women’s oppression and can get increasingly depressed, in the absence of any ongoing fights. The impact on individual women can lead to individual crises.
So perhaps we need to give new attention to our women’s liberation work, to find ways to fight against the all-pervasive backlash.
To begin with, we can step up an ideological offensive, in the pages of Green Left Weekly. We should probably break out of the column approach. We’re not saying much new there, and I suspect it can have a marginalising effect – not being read by many of our male readers, and not by many women either. We need a campaigning approach in the body of the paper – there are certainly lots of things to be angry about – so that women see the paper as their campaigning paper.
Secondly, how can we revitalise our women’s liberation work, to lift it above the ritualistic schedule around International Women’s Day and Reclaim the Night events? We need a fresh look, not just going into another committee to organise a march, but creatively looking for fresh ways to organise aggressively against the backlash.
Probably we need a report at our coming congress.
Our youth dynamic
We also actually have a special responsibility in recruiting and integrating young people. We often take it for granted – throughout our history young people have been a permanent source of cadres and strength, and we continue to recruit youth. But how to improve, to get more recruits, and to have more staying as revolutionaries for life?
Forget the conservatives’ pathetic little aphorism “radical at 20, conservative at 50” or whatever. No! It’s not natural.
One reason for the attrition is the small size, the small impact we still have. That’s a function of the overall period.
But there are also subjective factors, things that we can change. There are the general points that apply to the party as a whole, but some of them apply even more so to young people.
We need to develop more of a campaigning culture, and recruit and integrate activists around this.
We won’t tolerate hierarchical attitudes. That’s not a youthful trait. It can be encouraged by our two-tier structure – Resistance and the party. But let’s elevate the importance of Resistance; remind comrades about our early history, how Resistance built the party; and expect just as much energy, enthusiasm, activism from young people today.
And we should foster an internal atmosphere in the party and Resistance that is welcoming, vibrant, activist and educational. Encourage the emulation of the socialist man and woman that Che wrote about so eloquently and embodied so inspirationally in his own life.
Team leadership qualities
We need more leaders. We know all members lead. But if we’re to grow, incrementally, and by leaps, we need the right sort of leadership.
We need leaders who put politics first, who lead politically and in struggle.
We reject a star system of leadership, but are building a team leadership, always oriented to party building rather than individual advancement.
We’re building a centralised party, but we’re democratic also, and have no truck with elitist thinking and hierarchical attitudes.
But there are areas where we can improve.
There are problems with our nomination commissions and closed sessions. No one of us can be completely happy with how recent DSP and Resistance closed sessions have turned out. Too often they’ve provided an arena for reckless denigration of other comrades. And we see it continue in the branches afterwards, with self-appointed experts on “personnel” loudly voicing their psychological assessment of other comrades. There’s no alternative solution being proposed, but let’s remind ourselves of the problems, and think about it.
And because we have a large NC in relation to our size still, and because, although we only meet two or three times a year, the NC meetings are interesting, very political events, comrades who can’t attend do miss out. We have The Activist, which we use to try to make the reports quickly available to all comrades. But it is still the case that comrades who move off the NC – and there will be a continuing process of comrades coming on and going off – find it hard. It’s not just there’s no “badge”; it’s missing out on interesting political discussions. So there’s an element of individualistic competition relating to our leadership bodies.
And then there’s the question, is your leadership and activism for show, or for solidly building the party? Are you in a framework where you must be seen while doing tasks, seen to be contributing? Or do you do things when others are not around? Think about what your framework is, and what it tells about priorities – personal advancement over the actual political contribution.
All of us should strive to do our best, but also examine the reasons. Healthy socialist competition can build the party, but individualist competitiveness can harm it. Use the first, but be conscious it can easily slip over into the second. Take pleasure in training and teaching others, don’t hoard your skills as a way of hanging on to your position or inflating your importance.
There is a layer of new comrades who aren’t too confident, or at least don’t openly display confidence. In such a situation it’s even more important that we’re conscious of rooting out any remnants of elitism, of the noisiest, most outspoken, being automatically elevated. Don’t neglect the quiet achievers, the ones who mightn’t look confident, but who can sometimes stay the longest and make the more lasting contributions.
When we have a strong, stable leadership, represented by our current NC comrades (and others), the problem of lack of confidence of newer comrades, or the quieter comrades, can sometimes even be exacerbated, so we have to be even more careful, more conscious.
Peter Boyle ended his summary of the party-building perspectives discussion at our NC last September on the following note:
“Finally, we must have respect for the party membership. It is very important that we have a strong consensus on this, a respect for our membership. It means a thorough rejection of elitism and privilege. Leninism is not elitist, despite what some bourgeois writers claim. It is the opposite. We believe in a centralised party, in unity in action; but elitism – no. It is foreign to our party tradition and you have got to hate it and look out for it in our own behaviour. Don’t look down on comrades who are new, who may know a little less or are less confident. And also respect comrades who raise differences.”
I’d like to thoroughly endorse those sentiments. We’re building a Leninist party, defending the principles of democratic centralism, and the necessity of this form of organisation in building a party that can overthrow capitalism. So in a situation where there are challenges to our type of party – from the bourgeoisie, and from within the movement – it’s all the more important that we do it properly. We can’t tolerate any distortions or misuses of our organisational methods. Our methods build the best teams, the most democratic type of party, and we don’t want new recruits to have any doubts about that. Unless we’re clear on that, and can demonstrate it, and refute the slanders of our political opponents, and those who’ve given up, we won’t grow as quickly and as solidly as we possibly can. All departures from our best practices, any succumbing to bourgeois influences inside the party, can have small but perceptible effects – in slowing recruitment, in lowering the commitment of comrades, of reducing comrades’ willingness to build the party for the long haul.
At this NC we want to set ourselves some ambitious projects, which will stretch us:
- Put on more full-time branch organisers, so we can implement our campaign targets and party-building tasks, and grow further;
- Purchase another building, in Adelaide or Darwin, or both;
- Expand the DSP into more regional towns, with Launceston as the next target, and strengthen our districts.
We’ll achieve these ambitious goals by raising financial consciousness and thereby reaching our pledge base target. This will provide the basis for further growth.
Our watchwords in the period ahead should be:
Recruit: Join up more provisional members. The potential is there.
Consolidate: Educate and train these recruits as cadres.
Retain: Integrate all members into the party for the long haul, as professional revolutionaries.
In recent years we’ve seen the impact we can have with many of our campaigns in Australia. That will continue. We’re also seeing the possibility of having an impact on the renewal of the socialist movement internationally. Washington’s aggression and the rising campaigns against imperialism and war guarantee the period ahead won’t be quiet, but open to hectic political intervention by our party. Over the years we’ve been learning and adjusting our party’s organisation, to be ready for greater challenges, and we’re already benefiting with our growth.
With this report we reaffirm the lessons of our past, what’s gotten us so far and what’s necessary to achieve our socialist goal: refining and improving our party-building tasks, our present operation; and improving our methods of functioning as a working-class, collectivist party that can make qualitative leaps in the future.
– The Activist was as the internal discussion bulletin of the Democratic Socialist Party