International work of the DSP: Report to the National Committee, June 1995

The Activist – Volume 12, Number 7, July 2002
By John Percy, National Secretary

In this period of a stepped up ideological offensive by the ruling class, with the neoliberal attack on all past working class gains, the glorification of the market economy, the boasting about the end of communism, many on the left have retreated.

The labour movement has been weakened. There’s much demoralisation among Marxists. And there’s a range of debates taking place, books being written, justifications being worked out for retreats. There’s rethinking about what went wrong with the socialist project, about the nature of the epoch.

In essence our debate with these people is the whole debate about socialist revolution: reform or revolution. It’s our ongoing debate – going on for 80 years and more – with the social democratic current, with Laborism, the ALP here, Labour parties in New Zealand and Britain, with the social democratic parties in Europe. It’s the debate with the more outright presenters of a pro-capitalist position, rehashing all the old anti-Marxist arguments – the working class is not a revolutionary class; we’re all middle class now; capitalism has solved its problems; globalisation of capitalism means it’s all different.

We’re having the same debate with many former Marxists who are retreating to social democracy, retreating from any belief that they can fundamentally change the capitalist system. Many of those opting for retreat of course will often use a language that implies they’re still looking for socialist solutions.

One of the ways the debate is phrased is, “Is this a period when the possibility of revolutionary change is no longer there, at least for the foreseeable future?”. Was the whole attempt to make socialist revolutions and build socialism in the 20th Century premature, as, for example, Irwin Silber and others argue? We started answering this at the conference and will take it up further.

Another way it’s phrased is, “Is it a return to the conditions of 1848, the situation outlined in the Communist Manifesto?”. Alan Charney, the national director of Democratic Socialists of America, the main social democratic organisation in the US, puts it like that in his document for their conference this year, and projects a return to a utopian socialist perspective, without the socialism.

We should answer all these variants of the old arguments, because times have changed and we can’t just win the debate by quoting the classics and not taking into account today’s actual circumstances, as well as the experiences of the past. We have to take the space, defend the socialist tradition and perspective, and answer those who are retreating. These are necessary polemics for asserting our views. It’s part of the process of combatting the influence of the ruling class in the workers’ movement. In the final analysis it is a polemic with the ideas of the bourgeoisie, though we should be careful about our tone and facile characterisations. At this stage we don’t want to cut off the debate with those in retreat; we don’t want to stop the process of the debate moving forward.

We can only gain from sharpening our ideas, strengthening our cadre, educating and training them in polemics. It’s educational. We have to be clear, sharp, up to date.

But we can conceptualise a second level of debate. There are important debates among those who are still fighting, among those who still defend a Marxist perspective, those not retreating. There are genuine debates about the prospects for socialism, the future of socialism, debates about the experience of Stalinism, of Leninism, about what sort of party, how to organise. There are debates among those who are seriously working for the renewal of the socialist movement.

What do we mean by renewal?

So what do we mean by socialist renewal? Obviously we don’t mean retreating, we don’t mean returning to past errors and dead ends in the movement. We envisage retaining the healthy traditions, the successful experiences. The way we’ve expressed it in the founding statement for Links is regroupment and discussion between those still for genuine socialism, those going in the right direction.

Of course that’s still algebraic, but the clear implication is to draw a line in that first debate between those who maintain, or are coming towards, a revolutionary Marxist perspective and those who are adapting to, going towards, liberal reformism.

The two debates overlap of course, and in this period of rethinking and renewal it’s often between different currents in the one party. In some cases this has already led to splits, as in the case of the FSLN and FMLN. In the last year these splits have been carried through and formalised. Within the PDS [Germany], PRC [Italy], SACP [South Africa], in parties in the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere, we also see the emergence of different wings, loosely characterised as revolutionaries vs reformists.

In international forums, such as the Sao Paulo Forum, it’s an all-in discussion, with both debates taking place, some moving to right, towards social democracy, and some rethinking, moving towards revolutionary Marxism.

And the perspective of Links is one of regrouping, of developing a renewal of the socialist movement, heading in the direction of a stronger revolutionary Marxist current.

But it will be broad at this stage, with positions we don’t necessarily agree with, sometimes positions of people retreating from a revolutionary perspective. Both debates will be there, with the hope that the direction is that of revolutionary Marxism, that we win some of the debate, win confused groups, regroup those who are genuine about revolutionary socialism.

We need to be able to relate to those coming from differing experiences with openness, leaving open the possibility of regroupment. We have to answer the hardened pro-capitalist forces in the workers’ movement, but link up with any moving in a revolutionary direction.

Links is the ideal vehicle. We’ve now developed an incredible range of contacts. We’ve been able to play a unique role. It’s most exciting.

Our goal will be to reaffirm the fundamentals of Marxism, but without ignoring the lessons of the last 100 years. We also need clarity on the political experiences of the 20th Century, and can’t just return to Marx, or before Marx. In particular, we need clarity on such basic questions as:

1. The degeneration of social democracy by 1914, the rise of imperialism, the growth of the labour aristocracy;

2. The successful Russian Revolution, how it was done, Lenin, the experience of 1917-23;

3. How the revolution was lost, the whole experience of Stalinism, 1924 to 1990.

We need clarity on all three, to understand the importance of the subjective factor, and thus to be able to make sense of the last 80 years of history.

Leninism and the vanguard party

The question of the party, the vanguard party and Leninism, is one of the most important issues that we think needs to be debated – and reaffirmed – in the international socialist movement as it attempts to regroup, renew itself following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the whole experience of Stalinism.

It’s an issue widely misunderstand. It has been under attack by the bourgeoisie, of course, but also from those giving up on the revolutionary perspective. In reaction to Stalinism, many people make the equation that “Leninism leads to Stalinism” and make a wholesale retreat from the communist tradition, even giving up on the possibility of socialist transformation. In reaction to the sectarianism endemic in the socialist movement, both the Stalinist tradition and the Trotskyist tradition, many people draw the same conclusions about the Bolshevik methods of organisation.

One of our goals with Links was obviously to have this as one of the issues we’d discuss in the magazine. We would want to raise our views on the party question, try to convince other collaborators coming from a Maoist, CP, or social democratic background of the correctness of our position, have a debate in a comradely way.

We were aware that one of our initial and closest collaborators on the Links project, Peter Camejo, had some differences with us on this. Although we came from the same political tradition, had gone through the break with the US SWP together, collaborated on our Cuba document, which was presented jointly to the 1985 FI [Fourth International] World Congress, and had many of the same criticisms of the sectarianism of the Trotskyist movement, we knew there were some differences on Leninist forms of organisation. He wrote an article in 1984 questioning the concept of a vanguard party. And his political existence in the last 10 years has been very much as an individual, isolated a lot of the time, hoping that somehow a big mass break might occur. Our practice in the last 10 years has been very different. Of course, we also hoped for a big mass break, and in the 1980s grasped any possibility for such a break to occur. But we continued to doggedly try to build a Leninist-type party, to recruit activists and train a Marxist cadre.

Well, he began to raise some of his differences with our methods of organisation during his visit to the International Green Left Conference at Easter last year. He didn’t like the way we organised the final session; he was uncomfortable about us raising the question of the party; he didn’t like us pushing the question of socialism more prominently, and felt we should emphasise the green issues more. He also tentatively raised the thought that perhaps the very existence of a party like ours actually prevented the development of a broader mass formation. And during the dispute in Perth branch and our pre-conference discussion last year we started hearing things like, “Well, Peter Camejo supports us”.

Of course, it was natural for our political collaborators in the US in the Bay Area to take an interest in our conference and discussion. They had some worries: were we being too harsh, making som e mistakes in our handling of the dispute? So Barry Sheppard came out, attended our conference, observed, talked to people. The NE Standing Committee had a meeting with Barry at the end of the conference, in which he said that even though he might have had some tactical difference over how we did a few things he was reassured about the democratic functioning of the discussion and the conference, and that the minority position was not denied its democratic rights.

Then earlier this year, while we were preparing Links number 4 and circulating the possible list of articles to members of the editorial board, we got a call from Peter Camejo. He strenuously objected to including an article on Leninism, based on the Jim Percy memorial talks given last year by Dick and Peter. He threatened to submit an attack on it.

Then about two months ago I got a call from him saying that he’d had a letter from Frank and Catherine, that they agreed on a lot of things, and he was going to maintain communications with them. He indicated he was now critical of the whole Cannon tradition of the US SWP, not just its degeneration under the Barnes leadership. He maintained he was not against Leninism, but against small groups who called themselves Leninist, that Lenin’s real practice was totally different from that of small Trotskyist groups. He also said that he was going to draft a document setting out his views and criticising where we went wrong. I asked if this was going to be a widely circulated document, or a letter to our leadership. At that time, he specifically replied that it’s for the information of our leadership.

Well, while Dick was staying at Matt McCarten’s house in Auckland on his way to the Sao Paulo Forum and Europe, he noticed a document next to his bed. It was Camejo’s draft critique of us, which he’d sent to Matt for his views. Dick read it and spoke to Matt about it.

It’s a 30-page document, and Dick says there’s nothing much in the document different from what Camejo has already told us. Camejo thinks we’re suffering from some form of sectarian “correct programism” and that this could represent a fear of engagement with real political opportunities. Dick said this was nonsense, and Matt agreed. (This year: World Environment Day, IWD, woodchipping, fees, East Timor… fear of engagement? How actually engaged is Camejo?)

According to Dick, it seems everything is read as exemplifying some iron law of sectarian degeneration, independent of real economic, social and political conditions, and the implication is very strongly present that building a propaganda group and cadre organisation is doomed to get in the way of building a real movement of anti-capitalist resistance. The document is titled “Return to materialism” and claims we commit an idealist error.

There’s also the question of whether or not the “period opened by the Russian Revolution” is still with us. Is revolution still possible? Or desirable? Dick thinks Camejo harbours real doubts on this problem.

There were lots more, according to Dick, including a lot of ill-informed and impressionistic comment about our “culture” which Camejo speculates may prevent us from really taking the force of his argument. (If we don’t agree, it’s not because his arguments might be wrong, but that we must be stubborn and narrow.)

Matt doesn’t agree with all of Camejo’s characterisations of us, but he said he did share two of Camejo’s concerns – he doesn’t like the new preamble to the constitution, and he thinks there was overkill in the Steve R [Perth] discussion.

Well, we naturally wanted to see this document, and would be interested to know who else Camejo had circulated it to. Our ex-members here? Who else in the Bay Area? So I phoned up Camejo. He was out of town but got back to me last Tuesday.

I explained that Dick had seen the document, and could we get a copy of the draft? He said no and was critical of Dick for reading other people’s mail. I asked him whether he’d circulated his draft to anyone in Australia, and he said yes (presumably Frank and Catherine). He initially said he didn’t know when the final draft would be ready; later he said in three weeks, and then that we’d get a copy. He said he’s waiting to get the views of Barry and Malik, and that the document will be “the collective thinking of quite a few people”. (Matt had gotten back to Camejo and said he should say some more positive things about the DSP.)

I asked him again whether this document is intended for our leadership, and he said no; it’s intended for “circulation to the whole movement”. (He didn’t specify exactly how extensive that would be.) He said that he hoped we’d make it available to our whole membership.

Well, there are two distinct considerations here. We’ve no problems with a debate on any political questions, including Leninism, the Bolshevik tradition and practice, Cannonism, organisational principles. Questions about Leninism and the party are ones we do want to take up in the international discussion, inject into Links, be involved in with the Philippine comrades, the SACP, etc. And even on our own practice, we’re willing to listen to any opinions of our collaborators, expressed in phone calls, letters to our leadership, or attendance at our conferences and meetings with our leadership, as Barry had.

But it’s a very different question once you start circulating public attacks on our party, and the problem is compounded if you’re collaborating in your public attacks with people here who are hostile to the party, former members. And it’s a very different matter if you start making use of and publishing bits from our internal discussion bulletin documents that have been made available to our political collaborators, as they have been to Camejo. It puts in doubt the level of any future collaboration – certainly we’d have second thoughts about sending Camejo our discussion bulletins in future.

Well, we haven’t seen the document here, but there were a number of other things he said in my discussion with him on Tuesday which gives an idea. He said we’re committing an idealist error, that we were anti-Leninist, that we’re in the tradition of the US SWP and Cannon, not that of Lenin. Cannon led everywhere to Barnes, except the DSP which has one foot in the past and one foot breaking with it. Camejo said most people on the left have broken with these concepts (even if that’s the case, it doesn’t make it right!), that every group that Cannon supported turned into a cult. He said that the US SWP was always utterly sectarian in its attitude to blacks, to the women’s movement, to the labour movement, and also in the antiwar movement, such as its opposition to the negotiations position during the Vietnam War days.

He said our position on the New Zealand Alliance was “shocking”, and that the Alliance was much closer to a Leninist party than the DSP. Causa R in Venezuela was closer (although they had some unspecified problems that he didn’t seem to want to elaborate on). For him, a Leninist party was any group that starts to gather together the mass social movement. (Numbers were everything, program practically nothing, a bit of an overreaction to the “correct programism” of many of the Trotskyist groups.) He said Lenin worked in a heterogeneous mass movement and through it formed a cadre-type party.

He said his document would give a lot of examples where we’re taking leftist postures. He claimed we didn’t really allow differences in our party. The internal culture prevented it. He claimed that in our discussion with Steve R we quickly raised a class characterisation. I disputed that, and he was particularly critical of a discussion contribution by Doug, which I presume he quotes heavily in his document. (I went and checked, it must be the conclusion where Doug indicates the logic of Steve R’s position would be to liquidate the party.) His tone for most of this phone conversation was extremely arrogant. Camejo has always had a very confident style, but when it’s directed against our party it can be very obnoxious, as you can imagine.

After a while he started stressing that he was doing this for our own good, out of “concern” for us. He’d be doing a disservice to us not to speak up. We faced the choice: “sectify” or move back the other way. He said he’s “a guy who’s on your side,” and he’s doing this because we’ve got a political problem. Nowhere has a group with the methodology of Trotskyism been able to succeed.

He was keen to drag in Barry and Malik [both US collaborators of the DSP]. I asked him whether they have the same position as him on Cannon. He said basically yes. He said that Alex, Barry and Malik agree that they see in the DSP the negative side of Cannonism.

The NE discussed these developments on Monday and Wednesday and agreed that we should make a formal protest to Camejo about his whole method. We also agreed that I should contact Barry and Malik to express our view about what Camejo was doing, and to see to what extent his claims about their level of political agreement with him was true. He’s previously exaggerated this, and his tactic of circulating his initial draft to a selected group was obviously designed to drive a wedge between us and Barry and Malik, and their group in particular.

I phoned Barry on Thursday and outlined what was happening. His first response was, “Oh my god”. He said he and Malik had been trying to contact Camejo to have a meeting and hoped to convince him not to circulate the document. He stressed several times that it was done without his and Malik’s support – completely. They don’t agree with it. He said they were very concerned about the document, which they thought had some good ideas in it but thought that Peter should not make it an attack against the DSP. They said that even if they thought some ideas in it were right, they didn’t agree with it as far as the DSP was concerned; they didn’t agree with it as a criticism of the DSP.

Barry’s response was encouraging, certainly a big relief. Barry stressed that he wants continued collaboration, and said he feels “closest to you of all.” Barry and Malik (and, he stressed, Caroline and the others) wanted to make this a real international collaboration.

He said he and Malik would get together to see what could be done to contain this. Thinking aloud, he asked, “What if I propose to Peter that he and I come out to Australia?”. Don’t cut off anything, he urged; don’t preclude anything. I explained that we were having a NC meeting this weekend, and that in my international work report I would have to report to the whole party leadership the facts about these developments. Barry urged, “Go easy in your report; don’t blast Peter; don’t shut doors”. At the end he said again, “Don’t be too harsh; let it go”. Peter’s got no support in this from Barry and Malik. Again I pointed out that now that it’s circulated to ex-members here, it could circulate very publicly at any time and be used by all our political opponents. He said, “If you’re breaking with Peter, so what, it’s only Peter flipping out. You won’t be breaking with me and Malik.”

He said he didn’t know why Peter did this. According to Barry, he gets angry, gets certain ideas, hopes for a big breakthrough…

Well, what could be Peter’s reasons for doing this? I suggested some to Barry, which he thought were a bit harsh. It could be designed to damage our collaboration with others, especially our relations with comrades in the US such as Barry and Malik. If his fake concern to “save us” was genuine, he would have written a letter to our leadership. He would have called over in Sydney while he was in New Zealand recently.

I don’t think it’s unrelated to the development of the Links project and the success it’s having. A public attack can only be designed to damage the Links project in the US, block us having any influence in the US, cut us off from collaborators, prevent our views on Leninism etc. having an influence, block a Leninist-oriented group developing. Any development in a healthy direction threatens his individualistic, hope-for-a- big-breakthrough orientation. There was an implicit threat in one of the conversations I had with him earlier – his views were a majority on the Links editorial board, he claimed. Presumably threats to vet articles in Links will escalate.

Camejo’s step is also designed to cut us off from collaborators in other countries, certainly New Zealand. It’s designed to force us into cutting ourselves off from the Alliance, to make a far more public criticism of the Alliance. Obviously after the NC we should get back in touch with Matt and give him our views about what Camejo has done.

Camejo’s method, for all his rejection of the Cannon tradition, is actually very much a Barnesite method, like the Seigal [US SWP] report at Oberlin attacking us, gathering dirt and dumping on us in a totally distorted fashion. It certainly isn’t a collaborative method.

From a psychological angle we know Camejo has quite an ego, and he probably assumed we agreed with his 1984 article 100%. Obviously he hadn’t read our documents very thoroughly, or our program and discussion bulletins until the last 12 months. He had a personal relationship through Jim [Percy] and thinks we’ve changed since Jim died, not realising our views haven’t changed and were the same ones expressed by Jim in his talks and reports. Thus he felt miffed when told we didn’t agree with him 100%.

What next? We’ll see what Barry and Malik can do to restrain him, but the horse is already out of the gate. Now that this document is in the hands of our ex-members here, even if Camejo doesn’t publicly release his final document, this first draft is certainly going to circulate in the milieu hostile to the party.

It’s not going to have much impact on our own members; most of them have been through a pretty thorough discussion of these questions. Perhaps it makes it all the more necessary for us to go ahead with more seminars and classes for our newer members on the classics, on Leninism, on the history of the movement, especially on Cannonism, the application of Leninism in the difficult situations of advanced capitalist countries. Once we get a copy of Camejo’s document we probably should circulate it to our members. Depending on its public circulation here, we might have to answer it in some form. Perhaps it can help in the training of a wider range of comrades if they’re given the task of answering aspects of it.

But in the worst case, if Barry and Malik can’t restrain him, and he goes ahead with an open public attack on us, it will mean a pretty definitive break in our collaboration. We have enormous political differences with many of our other collaborators, but they don’t engage in public attacks on us, nor we on them. Otherwise it would be very difficult to conduct a debate on our political positions and views.

If Barry and Malik stay firm, and don’t go along with him on this, it won’t be so easy for him to sabotage the US end of the Links project, although the fact that both Alex and Claudette work for him would pose some problems. What it would mean for future collaboration between Camejo and the rest of the ex-AISP comrades is a real problem.

This is a particularly unfortunate development when all the rest of our international work is proceeding well. It’s not necessarily the best form for discussing the Leninist party, to have a debate with Camejo. We certainly don’t want to have an esoteric debate about our practice and culture. And we wish we didn’t have to be diverted on this, expend a lot of energy when there are so many other useful things we could be doing, international discussions with real parties.

The Sao Paulo Forum

The Sao Paulo Forum has been the best example in the 1990s of an open forum for debate and discussion and possible renewal. We’ve attended the last two, and this year both Dick and Steve O attended the forum held in Montevideo. Dick stopped off in New Zealand on the way and after the forum went to London. He’s now in Belgium at the FI World Congress. He’ll travel around Europe for several weeks, then back to London, and home via Canada and the US.

We’ve only had a very preliminary report back from Dick about the contacts we made at the Foro and the Foro itself. He was very excited about what we were able to achieve. He was going to fax a thorough report back from London but didn’t make it – too busy there too, and he had to catch up on some sleep after only two hours a night in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, the rest taken up with political discussions.

Our Latin American contacts have been greatly expanded through the trip. Dick says that there is now at least one party in every country of Latin America with which we have party-to-party links. Links was very well received, as usual. We’ve obtained agreement for republication from all the major Latin American left writers, including people like Marta Harnecker.

In a few minutes on the phone he wasn’t able to fill in a lot of details, but some bits and pieces: he had very useful discussions with people from the main left party in the Dominican Republic; in Colombia, one of the best groups seems to be the Posadistas (I didn’t think they were still around, but he said there’s quite a few groups in Latin America); in Argentina there’s a myriad of groups, about 11 Marxist magazines, and one of the best groups is led by a former LTFer.

The FI caucus blotted their copybook with a terrible blunder. They tried to move for the exclusion from the forum of a Bolivian group that’s part of the repressive government. It didn’t go down well in a forum that provides a meeting place for the whole of the left, across the spectrum. The Cubans had to intervene to sort it out.

Cuban Communist Party

Our discussions with the Cubans at the meeting seem to have been extremely fruitful. Dick mentioned discussions with Abel Prieto (I think he’s Central Committee? Politbureau?) They were impressed with Links and will provide an authoritative figure from the CP leadership as a contributing editor.

They confirmed an invitation to us to the projected workshop on “The Future of Socialism”. This is the invitation-only gathering that Steve had been told about in Havana last year, which was originally set for October but is now scheduled for early next year. We’ll definitely have to include this in our plans for international travel next year.

We’ve had an increasing range of contacts with the Cubans in recent years, and the steps at the Foro come on top of this. They’ve been increasingly accessible to us, especially after Marcellino Fajardo arrived here as the consul, and since Steve O in Managua was in a position to make contact.

Steve O obtained a very interesting interview with Dario Machado, director of the Cuban Central Committee’s political think-tank, for Links 5 while he was at the International Solidarity Conference in Havana last year. Featuring it as the first article will be a further step in indicating the political direction of Links, of certainly supporting the Cuban Revolution. This will be useful in the US, where part of the Links readership, some in Solidarity for example, don’t support the Cuban CP.

Steve has done a great job in developing our network in Latin America and the Caribbean. He’s extended his time there, and there’s a possibility he’ll get a job in Brazil in the future. But he’s building up a range of contacts so that when he does return much of the useful communication with the region can continue, such as with Phil Courneuyeur, former Canadian FI comrade who’s been in Nicaragua, now in Brazil. Steve’s gone through Brazil on his way back to Managua. Karen Wald in Havana has agreed to be the Green Left correspondent there.

There’s going to be a big youth festival in Havana in early August. At this stage no comrades will be attending, although it would have been good to have a presence there. Ricardo A’s visit to Havana in January was useful for us, and even having Michael B there as part of the Green Team helped.

There’s been a range of Cuban visitors so far this year, and probably we’ve not been able to respond fully enough. We’ve done OK with the UJC visitor Alejandro, who’s touring for the Communist League. He had a very interesting response to Resistance. He loved it, had already heard about us, joined and has been wearing his Resistance badge.

He’ll be going to Manila next week, for four days with SANLAKAS/MR, but also two days with the LFS/Sison. Two Communist League chaperones will be going along but have asked Rob to go as translator, coming up with $600 so far for the ticket and promising the rest. So he’ll be going.

Then in July Melba Hernandez, a Central Committee member who participated in the Moncada assault will be touring here for Ocean Press. She’ll be in Melbourne at the same time as the Resistance Conference.

New Zealand Alliance

We’ve gained inspiration and hope from the events in New Zealand in the 1990s, the formation of New Labour and the Alliance, and have developed close links with the leaders, especially Matt McCarten. However, both we and Matt have felt frustrated in recent years by the political and organisational limitations – the failure to develop and educate socialist cadres, the narrowness of the central group of revolutionary socialists in the leadership, the failure to win youth to the organisation.

And recently we’ve been worried about the separation of the Alliance from the many mass struggles taking place, leaving space for the emergence of sectarian groupings on the left of the Alliance, as we’ve seen now with the linking up of the ISO group with the former Communist Party. As comrades know, we’ve had many discussions with Matt on this over the years and even offered concrete help, such as assistance in getting a newspaper off the ground or building a youth organisation.

In the context of recent mass struggles by Maoris and students, and the return of Jim Anderton to the leadership of the Alliance, it’s been useful having comrades make trips to Auckland recently. Michael T attended the Asian Students Association regional conference and student conference against privatisation of education in Auckland, and Dick passed through on his way to the Sao Paulo Forum.

Anderton’s return to the leadership of the Alliance has had a big impact and is opening up a real crisis in the Labour Party, with a Labour split a real possibility in the medium term. The latest poll has Anderton backed as preferred prime minister, and Helen Clarke the Labour leader at 2% (the margin of error of the poll!).

Michael’s visit confirmed the worries we’ve had from recent visits that the Alliance isn’t involved in most of the mass struggles and has an overwhelming focus on parliament. The Alliance was not visible in the anti-privatisation conference and much of the student actions, which were initiated by a newly formed group, the Radical Society, a campus-based group in Auckland now setting up branches in other cities. They describe themselves as socialist. Although they’re pretty loose, they are healthier than the sects, Socialist Workers Organisation and Workers Power, and have a firm activist orientation. The semi-formal coordinator is Bruce Cronin, who was part of the New Labour split and still a member, but according to Michael is disillusioned and cynical about the potential of broad left projects. There were rumours floating around that someone in RadSoc had registered the Communist Party as a political party name after the old CP became the SWO. Michael thought that at the leadership level there were people serious enough about what they were doing to consider the rumours a possibility.

Also in the new wave of militant Maori struggles, the Alliance doesn’t appear to have played much of a role, certainly not Mana Motuhake, the Maori component of the Alliance. The central organisation among the new groups is the campus-based Te Kawau Maro, which seems to have the best networks around the country.

Dick’s discussions with comrades there also confirmed that the Alliance is mostly not in the different struggles, with the one exception of the housing campaign, the struggle against moves to make public housing tenants pay market rents. And young people certainly aren’t joining the Alliance. Dick reports the few he saw wore suits and “gave off a definite odour of young apparatchik”. Murray went to his first Alliance meeting and was the youth in an audience of people 50-70 years old. The discussion centred on how to set up a Housie game to finance the branch.

“The left’s control of the Alliance depends almost totally on their control of the apparatus and hardly at all on an active left-minded rank and file”, writes Dick. “This is sustainable in the short run; Matt can always slap down attempts by the Jessons to manoeuvre the thing to the right. But the trouble is, as Matt is maybe beginning to grasp, is that too much of centralised direction by the apparatus undermines the very possibility of developing such a rank and file. What activist would want to go to the meetings Murray describes?”

Dick had an exchange with Matt on this and he didn’t disagree. To get the thing in balance, the central leadership is making progress on some of these issues. For example, they got the Democrats to hand over their paper, a glossy quarterly, and Barry Gribbin will edit it. We’ll see what it’s like, how much it gets beyond the election broadsheet type papers they’ve produced in the past. Dick says they’ve also got a better division of labour in the Alliance’s office, which will give them more time for political thought. And some of the better people are getting re-involved, such as Sally Mitchell who’s agreed to quit her current job and organise the parliamentary office, strengthening the axis between Auckland and Wellington. And Matt is going to have a talk to Ashok and his companion about getting re-involved. Dick met Ashok at the Greens conference which took place while he was there. Anderton gave a hard speech pulling the Greens into line. Ashok had told Dick before the speech that when he had joined the Greens they were a middle-class outfit and now they were a very middle-class outfit, and that he was thinking of dropping out of politics. He beamed throughout Anderton’s talk, as did other, older Greens who have been doing serious environmental work.

Anderton told the Greens that 1) if they didn’t ally with the working class and social justice movements they were dead; 2) that everyone knew that the Alliance was green and if they split with the Alliance they would only be helping Labour and the pro-big business Progressive Greens; 3) that many should stop pretending that they were really helping the Alliance because “we know what every Alliance branch is really doing and you can’t bluff us”; and 4) if people wanted to endlessly discuss in touchy-feely sessions that was their right, but the Alliance was serious about winning government and reversing the New Right agenda and what was required was serious united work. Of course this had a mixed reception.

Dick reports that it was particularly sweet because Bob Brown was there and many of the points Anderton made against the Green “schemers and naifs” ricocheted off them and hit Brown. Brown later complained to Matt that Anderton had been too harsh and also misrepresented the Australian situation.

Dick said that he and Murray racked their brains about what should be done about the Alliance’s problems, particularly the lack of links with any sort of activist base. The main thing would seem to be continuing to discuss the issues frankly with Matt, Sally and Matt Robson. Matt said he’d definitely be coming to our January conference, and Sally might come too.

Murray raised the idea of a Socialist Scholars Conference or Progressive Activists Conference or whatever in New Zealand, to be coordinated with something we put on in Australia, so we could share international guests. The idea would be to get the Alliance in the same room with those who are active, and in a big enough milieu to be able to marginalise the sects. Dick didn’t raise this with Matt but suggested we could discuss it with him at the end of the year.

Another idea from Matt was whether Resistance couldn’t spare one or two cadre to help build up the Alliance youth organisation. I’d be wary of this until there’s a bit more progress on other fronts; otherwise any comrades we sent – even if we had spare comrades – would run the risk of getting demoralised.

We’ll certainly have more Green Left Weekly coverage with Murray online soon. And Sally agreed to distribute Green Left in Wellington. With Murray and Sally we can also hope to have a better Links distribution, not just relying on Keith Locke’s bookshop.


Developments in Philippines politics and the left there strongly confirm the correctness of our decision to relate to the Manila-Rizal forces of the Communist Party of the Philippines. It’s been confirmed that the MR forces are the only real forces on the left. Bisig is weak, and the “third force”, Siglaya, which also split from the Sisonite reaffirmist leadership, was based on some of the staff units and had little mass base. Their limited mass base is even smaller today.

But most importantly, of course, we noted the political direction of MR compared to the other forces, breaking with Maoism, and reaffirming a Leninist perspective.

Since the elections they’re putting more emphasis on the national party-building project. They’re still in the process of linking up with the other regions that broke with Sison, the Visayas and Central Mindanao, and that seems to be going ahead OK. At the end of this month they’re holding a plenary meeting of the combined leadership, as a step to the future development of a united party. On the agenda will be the political program, organisational principles and a document on the relations between party and mass movement.

They’ve got many problems still, working out their party-building priorities, for example, underground vs legal work; establishing a paper, other publications, Marxist education of their members; financial problems. They’re really in the process of party formation, rather than party building. Working out a Leninist party-building perspective will be a prolonged process – all the methods, habits, traditions of the Maoist past are hard to turn around overnight.

Reihana will be going up there for a while, and it’s pretty much confirmed that she’s been able to get an Overseas Service Bureau posting, which is likely to start from the beginning of next year. This will help improve the communication and collaboration between our two parties, and the comrades there should be able to benefit a lot from her party-building experience here.

There’ll be a young comrade from Kamalayan coming down here for three months, continuing our exchange arrangements. He’ll attend the Resistance conference, speaking at the rally before it and doing a national speaking tour. Probably for the rest of his time here he’ll be based in Sydney, mixing with the Resistance national office and Sydney branch, and perhaps spending a good part of the time on Green Left, writing on the Philippines, but also learning to write on other issues and learning some of the technical sides of producing a paper.

The Philippines comrades could make a big impact in the international discussion and on the international process of renewal and regroupment of the genuine socialist forces, once they take some further steps in organising themselves as a party, getting their finances stabilised. This could be very important on the Indian subcontinent, especially with the CPI (ML); with ASA work and other parties in Asia (Indonesia, for example).


It’s very heartening to see the rise of the mass struggle in Indonesia and the concurrent development of the new Marxist current there. It’s not merely coincidence of course; the comrades are intimately involved in the leadership of many of the mass struggles. And we can be very proud of the real assistance we’ve been able to provide almost from the beginning: the production of Progres magazine, having many of the comrades attend our party schools, providing basic educational material for them, the speaking tours we’ve arranged for comrades, the coverage we’ve given to their struggle in Green Left, the trips we’ve made up there, even some modest financial help.

Our help has been unselfish in one way – we’re not looking for immediate returns for the DSP – but we know we’ll benefit tremendously from the growth of a strong revolutionary Marxist movement in Indonesia. I can’t help feeling that our internationalism here is a vivid contrast to the international approach of sectarian currents, who’d be in the business of trying to develop clones or satellites.

This year we helped them with the organisation of a leadership school, I think the most ambitious they’ve done so far. Doug went up there in February to conduct the two-week school. We hope to do another one in the future, this time for women comrades.

The gathering of cadres, the rebuilding from the ashes of 1965, and the increasing involvement in and building of a range of mass struggles has now culminated in their founding congress. This took place in April and seems to have been very successful politically and organisationally; there was no harassment by the regime. They’ve adopted extensive documents and are in the process of editing them now. We haven’t got copies yet. They adopted statutes and a name – the Socialist People’s Party.

As they consolidate their organisation further they’ll be able to do more international work and should be able to play a positive role in the debates on revolutionary perspectives, as well as in expanding our joint international contacts, given their previous contacts with the Sison current of the Philippines Communist Party.


Michael and Sujatha had an extremely busy and politically useful trip to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Comrades would have read some of the interviews and articles they’ve done, or heard their talks at the Sydney Easter conference, and they’ll be able to fill us in more in the discussion. But I’ll outline the most important and interesting new contacts we’ve made as a result of their trip.

The CPI and CPI (M) have essentially resolved the programmatic differences that led to their split in 1964, and unity is only a question of who retains most of their bureaucratic posts, with time being on the side of a stronger CPI (M), the CPI being in decline. Neither party has a revolutionary perspective. We are obtaining a very large order of the Marx-Engels-Lenin classics through the CPI.

Comrades will recall that the CPI (M) hosted the international meeting of parties from the Stalinist tradition in Calcutta in 1993 on the 175th anniversary of Marx’s birthday. Their conference in April this year had a similar array of international guests, including Peter Symon from the SPA. The CPI (M) seems to be playing a role in coalescing together something of the remnants of a Stalinist international.

The largest revolutionary party in India, however, is the CPI (ML) Liberation. Michael and Sujatha had the most interesting discussions with this party, were warmly received, and the avenues for ongoing contact have been established.

The party is the largest current coming from the Maoist Naxalite tradition in India and has 52,000 members. They remain strongest among the rural poor in Bihar but also have a strong base among students and are developing a union base through their national union federation, especially in Madras. Their general secretary is Vinod Mishra, who took over after previous leaders were killed in the struggle. In 1990 they came above ground as a political party and stood for the first time in elections in their own name.

They still describe the Soviet Union as having been “Soviet Social Imperialist”, seeing modern revisionism as having started in the post-Stalin period. Nevertheless, they are very critical of Stalin, particularly in relation to internal party and state democracy, and foreign affairs. They think that the Trotskyist position puts too much emphasis on the role of Stalin as an individual. Michael and Sujatha say they read our document on the collapse with interest. They maintain that China remains a communist country, the present economic measures being necessary experiments in the development of the socialist economy.

On the semi-feudal, semi-colonial debate there’s an interview with Vinod Mishra appearing in the next Links, which explains some of their positions. They seem to still use the term but as a loose description with few practical implications for strategy. The revolutionary struggle, they feel, will be led by the working class, but without success if isolated from the rural population and its demands.

Their trajectory is extremely interesting, and their practical activity seems to be assisting their continued political development. They’ve given us many of their documents and copies of their English language magazine Liberation. We’re now sending them Green Left, and they’re going to take a small bundle of Links. They don’t want to distribute it yet and thus be publicly identified with it, but expressed a willingness to write for it. We can follow this up further. They were also interested in things like the International Green Left Conference and any regional discussions.

Reading through their magazine and documents is actually interesting and useful! They’re of a relatively high standard and open to debates, certainly compared to other parties from a Stalinist tradition. For example, in July last year they held a central party school and printed up the talks as a book. The first day they had a discussion about Trotsky and Gramsci, the second day a critique of the CPI (M)’s program, the third day covered the environment question. They’ve discussed the views of Achin Vanaik, an Indian Trotskyist intellectual who used to be in the FI group there.

One article in Liberation describes their participation in the Brussels International Seminar, a regular gathering of Maoist parties hosted by the Belgian Maoists. They informed the organisers they were there only as observers, not delegates. The organisers said they didn’t allow observers, but it was now a security question so they couldn’t leave the venue. Eventually they were allowed to observe and wrote a critical report.


The next most interesting new contact was with the Workers Party of Bangladesh. Pip and Peter had met one of the central leaders at the seminar in Malaysia last year. This party also gave Michael and Sujatha a very warm welcome, and we’ll continue this contact, sending them Green Left Weekly and Links. The WPB has 5000 members and was formed in the late ‘80s out of a unity project between several Naxalite influenced groups and a CPI (M) affiliated group. The current leadership of the party is probably closest to the more radical wing of the CPI (M) today, and operate still entirely within the framework of Stalinism.

However, there are two important currents in the party. The first is a younger generation of leaders who while trained in the ways of the current leadership are more open to debates on political issues like the role of Stalinism and democratic centralism. Their political impact is felt most as a pressure on the leadership to give more attention to environmental and women’s questions.

The second and more significant is a strong anti-Stalinist current headed by Abul Bashar, the general secretary of the national trade union confederation. Following the emergence of Solidarity in Poland he began to develop an analysis of the Soviet Union in which he saw the state and the party separated from the masses and unaccountable to them. This later led him and his current to the position that the Eastern Bloc countries were deformed workers’ states usurped by a bureaucratic layer. Abul Bashar’s group is from the Naxalite tradition. They presented an alternative platform to the third party conference and won about a third of the conference floor. However, having lost they were removed from all their positions in the national leadership, with the exception of Abul Bashar who remains a Politbureau member.

They control the Chittagong branch of the party, the second city. They’re planning to launch a new national weekly broad left newspaper through personalities outside the party, a theoretical journal and a new radical trade union centre within the next two years. They are cautious about splitting the party at this point: in the current political climate unity is a step forward, they continue to make gains within the party, and it is not inhibiting the initiatives they are currently taking. The most interesting debates Michael and Sujatha had with them were on the question of democratic centralism. Having been on the receiving end of a good deal of centralism and not much democracy they reject it as an organisational principle. But they were not clear what to replace it with. They were interested in the MR experience for this reason and wanted to get a copy of the organisational principles of the DSP.


Comrades would already be fairly familiar with the situation in Nepal from articles in Links and Green Left. Michael and Sujatha’s visit has brought us more information about the political situation there and closer links with the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist). They’ve agreed to swap publications, and again gave Michael and Sujatha a warm welcome.

The party has 70,0000-plus full members. The largest current is the old Naxalite current and the next biggest one more closely associated with the CPI (M). The Naxalite current has placed all the key positions of the current government in the hands of the CPI (M)-aligned leaders and kept the key political positions of the party in its own hands.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, Michael and Sujatha’s visit also gathered more information about the political situation and strengthened the ties already developed with the NSSP – they’re on the Links editorial board, have made several visits here now, and we’re in contact with their supporters in Australia.

They have 3000-5000 members. Following the election of the People’s Alliance government and the split in the party, the NSSP was somewhat isolated but are now well-positioned as the PA government is increasingly exposed. While the split was very public it did not result in the loss of a large number of cadre. Michael and Sujatha report that there seemed to be a lot of theoretical and practical unity in the party.

Youth politics is very volatile there, with everyone wanting a revolution and debating how to achieve it. The JVP has split into three, and the NSSP is working closely with one section.

The NSSP is planning to set up an alternative media centre.

Hong Kong

Eva and I were able to visit Hong Kong just after the party conference and so re-established contact with the three small Trotskyist groups there. We were also able to have meetings with other individuals, former members of the groups.

The Revolutionary Communist Party, publishing October Review, is the FI section and mainly made up of old comrades, with only one of their members publicly active, although they publish the magazine and seem to have some money.

The Revolutionary Marxist League has formally dissolved, so is no longer affiliated to the FI, but the key members of it continue their activity through the April Fifth Action, a pro-democracy campaign group. The April Fifth Action and the RCP share an office in the middle of Kowloon. April Fifth comrades seem to be reasonably active, demos, pickets etc.

The Sprout group, whose main person is an older comrade in Macau, Su Da, is now called the Pioneer group. They’ve an office in an outer suburb, seem reasonably well-organised, hold classes and do propaganda work, and have recruited a few youth in recent years.

We’ve arranged for the three groups to get a small bundle of Links, and we’ll hopefully be getting more regular information from them. Perhaps the most interesting information we picked up was about the extent of the radicalisation among youth and students in Taiwan. One indication is the sort of books being commercially published there recently – works by Marx, Lenin, and all the titles by Trotsky that had been previously translated into Chinese, such as The History of the Russian Revolution, Revolution Betrayed etc. Capitalists won’t do things like this unless there’s a market.

All three groups are involved in electoral activity of one sort or another. Whether they’ll be able to stay in Hong Kong after 1997 is doubtful. Most will probably have to relocate overseas. The Pioneer group looks like it’s planning to go to Taiwan, and Yip Nin, former RML leader who’s not active at the moment is also looking at moving to Taiwan and getting involved in the radicalising situation there.

South African Communist Party

The South African Communist Party had its congress in April, and we were fortunate in being able to have Robynne M represent us there. She was going for a holiday to see relatives in Ireland and was able to schedule in a Johannesburg stop, as well as Italy, where she was warmly welcomed by the PRC, and she’s also going to Moscow.

Robynne reports she was received very well by the SACP – picked up at the airport, accommodation and meals provided, tours and meetings after the congress. More than 40 other parties from around the world attended, all the main past allies of the SACP, and we were given equal treatment. Robynne addressed the congress, delivering our greetings, and was well received.

Everyone loved Links, it was selling on the bookstalls, and every delegation got a copy. The Tudeh Party of Iran said they wanted a bundle and wanted to contribute an article.

As the Green Left article by Tim Dauth and Robynne reported, “Considerable discussion was given to the character of the SACP as both a vanguard and as a mass party”. An article by Blade Nzminande, elected deputy chairperson at the congress, which circulated before the congress will be carried in the coming issue of Links. Jeremy Cronin was elected deputy general secretary.

The party continues to grow; at the time of the congress it had 75,603 members. Obviously a lot of attention needs to be given to the education and consolidation of those members and development of the party’s organisation and branches.

British Militant Labour

In Britain we’re closely watching the development of Militant Labour, firstly because of their political evolution following the ditching of their entryism shibboleth and break with their founder Ted Grant, but also because of the fact that Phil Hearse has joined and is on full time for them. Phil still maintains close relations with us, and hasn’t ruled out in his mind being back in Australia one day. He’s agreed to distribute Links around the bookshops in London, where it’s sold well in the past.

We had already been noting their healthy involvement in struggles, some mass base in working class areas and in Scotland, and their strength – about 3000 members, 1500 cadre. Jason and Sarah were able to have discussions with them and Phil when they were over there six months ago. Jason can fill in more in the discussion. They’ve got a very impressive centre in London: 90 full-timers and an annual budget of around A$1.5 million, most of which gets raised in street collections. I’d like to quote some bits from a letter Phil sent to Pip recently, to give some idea of his assessment:

Militant Labour is a fascinating organisation, and I’m absolutely convinced after six months in it that it’s the British revolutionary organisation with the most dynamism and tactical intelligence…

Militant Labour has changed on a lot of things, basically because it broke with its central dogma – Labour Party entryism – and in the process lost all its most dogmatic and schematic leaders. But a political-cultural revolution doesn’t take place overnight, so it’s an organisation which is still thinking through a lot of things and still has hangovers from a sectarian and culturally impoverished past (especially on the international terrain). One symptom of the changes is the newly codified line on strategy – towards the building of a new mass socialist party in Britain. After the break with entryism, the line was simply “build the revolutionary party” – i.e., build Militant Labour; now it’s recognised that a new mass socialist party won’t simply be built around Militant, but as the labour movement recomposes in the face of Labour’s huge shift to the right, the task is to coalesce a broad left formation in which Militant would participate as an organised tendency. Now this may sound very ordinary and unoriginal stuff, but for Militant it’s a big breakthrough. The space for a new socialist formation is indicated by some of Militant’s election results: an average of 23% in the 19 Glasgow area local government seats where it stood – a ridiculous figure for a revolutionary organisation outside of a pre-revolutionary situation. Another symptom of the changes is the very positive line towards the Zapatistas, including producing Subcommandante Marcos T-shirts: 10 years ago there would just have been long articles denouncing the evils of “guerrillaism”.

They’ve been breaking with previous workerist positions on the social movements. Phil says they’re preparing a long article on lesbian and gay liberation for the monthly magazine he’s working on, which they’ll launch in September. But since it’s all new for them they’re having to have long discussions to work it out from first principles.

They still have a rotten position on Ireland, a relic of the traditional chauvinist approach of the British workers’ movement – it’s still along the lines of “Catholic and Protestant workers unite for socialism”, with no understanding of the national question and the role of the Protestant workers as a privileged caste.

Phil reports that their key strength is their youth – very few students in higher education, but a lot of working class youth. However, they have a low educational level, much lower than our comrades, according to Phil. That’s partly a result of their political orientations, still an element of workerism, with their community politics and campaigns orientation, and a narrow range of topics covered in their paper.

They’re still in the clone business, wanting to set up little groups of followers and construct their own international. As we know they’re a mixed bunch here. Steven Jolly has let it be known that he’d only join us as part of an entry operation.

Dick’s already had one meeting with the comrades handling their international work. He proposed to them that they get involved in the Links project. They listened, but would have to take it up with other sections of the leadership, e.g., Peter Taaffe. When Dick gets back to London after a month on the continent he’ll have further discussions with them.


Our knowledge of and contacts with many of the left parties in Europe was greatly improved by Jason and Sarah’s trip in December and January. Their visit to Spain, Portugal and the Basque country was especially useful, and perhaps Jason can fill in more about the United Left, Left Alternative, Marx Madera, Heri Batasuna and Zutig in the discussion.

The Party of Democratic Socialism in Germany, the PDS, held its conference earlier this year. Documents appearing in the coming issue of Links give us further information about the nature of the party, where there’s a range of views, with revolutionary and reformist wings. They’ve agreed to take 100 copies of Links, and Andre Brie has been added as a contributing editor.

As I mentioned, the Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy gave Robynne a warm welcome. They want more direct involvement in Links, not just through Luciana Castellina, who’s moving to the right.

Dick should be able to meet with all these parties in Europe in the coming month.

The tour by Boris Kagarlitsky for our regional Easter conferences strengthened our ties with him, and we got a better feel for his outlook and the perspectives of the left movement in Russia. The swing to the left is encouraging and the perspective of an election alliance with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation sounds very interesting and seems the best course. There’s an article in the coming Links by Kagarlitsky analysing the CPRF. Of course, the idea horrified the Stalinophobes at the Sydney meeting.

We haven’t heard back from him about the South African leg of the tour, but it doesn’t sound like it was well organised. Cronin commented that the “academics let us down”. I hope Boris was able to have some success in countering the misuse of his writings by reformist forces in South Africa. His differences with our viewpoint, on Leninism, on the vanguard party question, was put in perspective by an interesting little scenario in Perth. Asked what he thought of the DSP at a follow-up joining meeting, when comrades joked, “Would you like to join, Boris?”, his response was that he’d like a DSP in Moscow.

Boris, Irina, Buzgalin and other close contacts Renfrey has made will be even more important in the future because Renfrey won’t be there forever. In fact it’s likely they’ll come to settle back in Australia next year some time. The deteriorating standard of life in Moscow is firming up this decision. So we hope Boris and Irina continue, even step up, the Green Left and Links copy that comes from there.

The Fourth International

Dick is at the FI World Congress right now, which has been going on for the past five days. We haven’t had any reports back from him yet, but we weren’t expecting anything particularly exciting to happen. We’ll get a full report from him in the next week or so, and if there’s much in it of particular significance we’ll circulate it to NC members. Otherwise we’ll have a report back at the October NC.

Some of the issues taken up in the pre-conference discussion – which incidentally was pretty scanty – will be taken up by us in future articles in Green Left, Links or The Activist. We might print some of the documents for the information of comrades in The Activist, but a few initial observations on the FI: organisationally they’re having a lot of difficulties, short of cash, and with a very weak and not very competent centre. The LCR is still rent with factions and not growing.

They want to introduce a permanent observer status to the FI, suitable for groups like Solidarity, Zutig and the VSP in Germany, and would like to get us to take that up. We’ll politely decline.

You can gather some of their main political problems from a quick reading of their documents and a reading of the opposition responses from some of the more sectarian factions and groups. (Some of the documents are almost impossible to read, with bad translation from the French and the French structure still there, although translation isn’t their only problem.)

Pessimism about the period

Firstly, you notice throughout a feeling of pessimism about the possibilities for socialists in this period. They keep repeating that it’s the end of an era: the period opened by the Russian Revolution has closed, it’s a new historic period, it’s a historic mutation of the capitalist mode of production, we need a mutation in the international…

For example:

The crisis of the organised workers’ movement is fed by the end of three political cycles:

  • that opened by 1968, which has hit head-on the revolutionary left;
  • that opened by 1917, which has certainly destroyed the Stalinist world model, but also sowed a generalised doubt as to the “feasibility” of an alternative society to capitalism;
  • that opened by the last quarter of the 19th Century with the creation of a mass proletariat, the starting point for the roots of Social Democracy, trade unions and a “socialist counter-culture”, now all in decline.

Firstly, their repeated reference to a “new historic period” seems to cover their adaptation to the retreats. The end of the cycle of ‘68 refers to the retreat of middle-class intellectuals, a milieu they intermingled with in France, and which certainly did retreat, but quite some time ago, well before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The “new period” we’ve been in began really around 1979, with the neoliberal offensive of Thatcher, Reagan and Hawke. The 1989 collapses just accelerated that. It is a period of retreats, but unlike the previous retreats, from 1948 to the 1960s, for example, this is not in the context of a boom, of capitalist stability. The context is the deepening of capitalism’s social and economic crisis, and so we see a continuing radicalisation of youth, compared with the ‘50s. The gains of the ‘60s radicalisation have not completely reversed (cf. Honi Soit poll of views on women, environment, gays, racism, war.. Vietnam Syndrome).

Secondly, they’re giving in too much to the Leninism-leads-to-Stalinism line. We need to defend the Leninist tradition, the pre-Stalin tradition. Talking about “the cycle since 1917” starts to concede to the Silber stuff.

Thirdly, on the question of a mass proletariat and the roots of social democracy, the fact is the working class is bigger than ever (biggest general strike in history a few years ago in Brazil – 20 million-strong; big growth in the working class in Asia). And the political decline of social democracy, the real betrayal, was in the early years of this century, culminating in 1914.

Perhaps the different outlooks are a function of the different approaches by the FI and us to those traditional leaderships. We’ve had no illusions in social democracy for a long time. The FI still sees them as workers’ parties, rather than bourgeois liberal parties.

Similarly, perhaps the FI is hampered too by Stalinophobia, making it harder for them to orient to possibilities of change in the former CPs.

Also, by not embracing a Leninist perspective as enthusiastically as we have, they are still mired in Trotskyism as a unique current. But at the same time they have illusions in the traditional “workers’ parties”, especially the social democratic/Labourite parties. That is, they downplay the past betrayal, departure of social democracy, 1914, the whole question of the labour aristocracy. They downplay the Bolshevik party under Lenin, giving in to the “Leninism led to Stalinism” idea.

International regroupment

The socialist project is in crisis on the subjective level; there’s no socialist alternative to be seen. But capitalism is in real crisis too.

So with the FI’s pessimistic outlook about the capitalist crisis, and their spontaneist approach to party building, their whole perspective now gets centred on regroupment. A tactic gets generalised, just like the earlier generalisation of the entry tactic.

The FI majority document on building the FI, projecting relations with the PDS, PRC, UL, has prompted shrill objections by minorities in the LCR, ISG, Socialist Action etc.: “Return to and reaffirm traditional Trotskyist programme and tactics!”.

So, posed against their critics, the positions of the FI majority sound reasonably good! And they have made moves in the right direction. But where do we still disagree?

Fundamentally, the existence of the Fourth International itself is still an obstacle. (Federal meetings a step in the right direction; and not saying junk the Amsterdam school, for example. Journals, meetings, exchanges, youth camps etc., not dependent on existence of FI.)

Pluralism and democracy

Another question on which there’s much confusion in the post-Stalinist left, including in the FI, is on the question of pluralism.

The FI has pushed the idea of a “multi-party system” in post-capitalist states as a question of principle, and this has been the central line of their attack on Cuba. They pose the “one party state” against a social analysis of democracy. Is it possible to have multiple programs that represent the interests of the working class?

Also the FI is pushing the line of the need for pluralism within revolutionary parties, the idea that if you don’t have multiple factions you’re not democratic. It’s almost the idea of an all-inclusive party, pluralism as a principle, not striving for homogeneity.

We still aim to build a politically homogeneous combat party, a Leninist party. Such a party must function democratically, to be effective. Rights of tendency should be allowed, for the purpose of debating out a course of action. Pluralism is not a principle.

If there was, say, a mass break in the ALP, or big mass developments in Australia, where workers and others were thinking and debating, we’d want to be there. We can’t see it at the moment, although we tried for such breaks, for the development of such milieus, in the ‘80s. We ended up with Green Left Weekly, a paper where debates and discussions do happen. But it’s different on the international scene today.

There’s much confusion on the international left at the moment, and although many are demoralised, retreating, many others are thinking, searching for the way forward, open to debates.

So in this period we will have forums, like Sao Paulo, where there is a wide diversity of ideas. It’s useful that a forum like that be all-inclusive, where there’s the opportunity for discussion and revolutionaries are able to argue their case and make contact with parties and people moving in different directions.

This diversity is seen in the range of our contacts, the breadth of the recomposition, the splits, divisions.

And in this period we’ll have international magazines like Links, with a wide range of supporters, contributors and readers coming from diverse backgrounds.

But out of it will emerge greater clarity, unity.


At each national gathering we’re able to note the further support for and increasing spread of Links. All comrades who’ve taken it abroad report almost universal enthusiasm when it’s shown around, at conferences, visiting different parties. Our international distribution still isn’t systematic enough of course; we need more time to put into exchanges, promotions, subscription campaigns.

We want to have a more active input ourselves in the future, and here are some of the political issues we want to comment on:

  • The concept of a vanguard party;
  • The arguments raised in Socialism, What Went Wrong, i.e., the Stalinism question;
  • The nature of the epoch, taking up again the Silber book etc.;
  • Neoliberal ideological offensive in Australia (Doug);
  • The experience of building a socialist youth organisation (Resistance, Anne, John);
  • The experience of Resistance today (Tash and document?)

There’s a lot of copy still held over from the coming issue, but issue 6 is already likely to have such articles in it as:

  • Boris Kagarlitsky’s final chapter, the conclusion, of his latest book, The Mirage of Modernisation, which was unfortunately omitted from the Monthly Review Press’s US edition;
  • Documents from the Indonesian Socialist People’s Party founding congress;
  • The edited resolution from the SACP congress;
  • A report on the Sao Paulo conference.

As Links gets more established, we’ll find we get more and more articles flooding in, documents, discussion pieces, replies and comments, and unsolicited articles.

The financial situation of Links is still shaky. We need to follow that up more systematically. And we need to find ways to raise the consciousness about it among our members, get them to take subs, read it, sell it. We have to properly use it as a tool in our political work here and put some of it on the net.

Green Left Weekly

But having Links shouldn’t mean we forget about the value of Green Left as an international tool, the way it’s served us so well in this respect already, and the increasing impact it can have internationally. Being aware of all the pitfalls of a paper starting to substitute for an international magazine (for example, the US SWP’s Militant), we know the value of increasing GL‘s international circulation, in both subs and bundles. People want to read it and sell it. The main obstacle to a much larger international circulation is the airmail postage costs for a weekly. But already it’s a kind of international news service.

In any case we want to make use of the web to circulate GL in a more attractive form online. At the moment it’s accessible as a Pegasus conference and is carried by many of the Pegasus APC affiliates around the world, and often individual articles get reposted to other conferences. With the growth of the web in the last 12 months, more and more progressive people are able to access it, and many left groups will soon be on it. Stan is in the process of establishing the GLW web page, but so far there’s only the first issue for the year and the Easter issue on there, and we need to be able to load each issue up quickly each week. Then we can work on linking it up to other left sites, and linking it to web pages we can establish for the DSP, Resistance, AKSI etc. It would be good to get all our documents on the net/web, but for that we might need a stable, free site, such as through some uni or academic comrade.

We already have a unique network. This network is a political asset, and we can make more gains from it. Perhaps we can even find ways to make it more financially self-sustaining.

An international news service

One of the most valuable things from the old FI, and our association with the US SWP, was the invaluable international news service provided by Intercontinental Press. Looking back through the files of Direct Action from the ‘70s, you realise the enormous amount of international news that we could reprint from IP.

In the process of renewing the international socialist movement, and moving towards a more united, less sectarian international association of genuine revolutionary parties, we might find that a cooperative international news service might be able to play both a very productive role in itself and also a role in encouraging parties from different origins in a more cooperative and united direction.

Today, such a news service can be more efficient than the old IP. The benefits of modern technology, computers and the internet, would make it cheaper, faster, very effective. Parties have access to a wide range of news and articles on the internet already, but it can be overwhelming separating the wheat from the chaff. There is a lot of rubbish that you end up downloading. A socialist news service that developed a reputation for reliability, non-sectarianism, speed, and a good editorial style could have a useful impact. It would be in English but try to get as much translated from reliable sources in other languages as possible.

So what sort of base might it have? It would build upon our Links network, with all the forces involved in that, and others. Green Left would be the core of course; it already has the best international coverage, a real international network already built up. There’s also the FI and International Viewpoint, which has some good material when they don’t feel the need to wave the FI banner. Perhaps the real need would become more apparent, and the value of such a news service be increased and improved, when parties we collaborate with succeed in producing a regular newspaper themselves, for example, the SACP, the Philippines comrades, the Alliance in New Zealand. The news service would help them establish papers, and their papers would feed into the news service and make it more comprehensive.

Perhaps this is the next step we should be looking to in our international work and collaboration. It’s something we raised two years ago at the same time as we were preparing Links. (We actually first raised it back in 1989, when we thought we might be able to involve the Libyans and get some funding.) With Links established, although not financially stable yet, perhaps we can be thinking a bit more about the possibilities of such a news service, and comrades can raise it with different parties on future trips. With the successful projects of Green Left and Links under our belt, we have the authority to talk about this next.

Remembering the valuable role of IP, and before it World Outlook, it might be the useful next stage in bringing closer together the revolutionary socialists around the world. We need to make better use of the new technologies which can have the function of helping productive international discussions, of integrating the movement, exchanging experiences and ideas.

It reaffirms what we’ve said about internationalism and internationals. We want to reaffirm the content, not get caught up in and restricted by the forms. The international socialist movement doesn’t need half a dozen little internationals, each with their own banner and small clones, but real collaboration and discussion between parties. A discussion magazine like Links is an excellent model, as is attendance at each other’s conferences; useful international conferences and forums without sectarian agendas; generous assistance to developing parties and groups, especially in the Third World; useful educational institutes, like the FI’s Amsterdam school and ours. In this vein, the most useful step, and one that’s still lacking, would be an international news service.

Future work

So what other international work and international events can we see in the year ahead? We’ll have a good range of international guests at our conferences in 1996. For the January educational conference, Matt McCarten has already indicated he’s coming, and Sally Mitchell is almost certain to come also. For the Marxist educational conferences at Easter 1996 there’s a chance we’ll have a tour by FSLN leader Dorotea Wilson. Malik [Miah] also said he’d be back then. There’s also the possibility of an SACP tour; there was a good response to our letter suggesting future tours.

And we still have to be thinking about the possibility of something like an international solidarity conference, or something more directly linked to the DSP, which could be attended by a good number of our collaborators in the region, as well as the politicised migrant groups here – East Timorese, Indonesians, Filipinos, Latin Americans such as the FPL, the Guatemalans, the Sri Lankans, the ex-SPA Greeks, etc.

Then there’s a number of comrades who’ll be making trips. CISLAC’s got the Nicaragua brigade, with about half a dozen of our comrades going, and they’ll be there for the Fifth Continental Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean. Max [Lane] will go to the APCET meeting in August, and other comrades have personal trips planned which could assist our international work.

Never before have the openings for international work – the contacts, the possibilities for renewal and rebuilding – been greater. But it’s a bit overwhelming, organisationally and conceptually, the extent of the possibilities, and the actual contacts and international work we’re doing at the moment. Never before has there been such a range; never before has it been so useful, making a real contribution: the travel, trips, tours, the conferences here, the schools and classes, the circulation of information, the forums.

But we need to insert ourselves into the debates more, through Links, Green Left, The Activist. We need more discussion, more polemics; we need to be familiar with all the debates, magazines, networks. We need to do more thinking and produce more articles on the key questions in the discussion in the international socialist movement.

During the second half of this year the party leadership has to prepare our contributions on many of the issues being discussed internationally in preparation for our own conferences coming up, and for the meeting in Havana.

We need to expand the consciousness among our members, to ensure they have more familiarity and engagement with the international debates (and the history behind them), and have more engagement here, with letters, articles, debates.

Past criticisms of the extent of our international work have been totally misguided. International work is essential for the health of our party in a country like Australia. That’s been our tradition since the start. It’s necessary for the training, education, inspiration, consolidation for the long haul, of all our comrades. We’ve hammered this many times.

If we didn’t have this internationalist perspective (and a healthy, not sectarian one) I don’t think we would have survived this difficult period in Australia. With it, we can make a real contribution to the struggle for socialism around the world, and strengthen ourselves at the same time.

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