DSP Greetings to Resistance Conference

The Activist – Volume 12, Number 13, October 2002
By John Percy

[The following greetings from the DSP to the 31st National Conference of Resistance in Melbourne September 28-30, 2002, was presented by John Percy, DSP National Secretary.]

Comrades, this has been a very good conference, especially the liveliness and the seriousness of the discussion. At the end of most sessions there’s still been a sea of hands unable to get the call to speak! I think this reflects both the international political situation, and the keen interest sparked by the DSP’s proposals regarding the Socialist Alliance (SA). Certainly for next Resistance conference you’ll have to consider changing the agenda, to allow longer sessions for discussion.

Tumultuous times

Comrades, we’re living in tumultuous times. Times of war, economic crisis, and big political and ideological battles are times when we must redouble our campaigning efforts, but they’re also crucial times for building, for rebuilding our organisations, the organisations of the oppressed, of the opposition.

Greed, aggression, cruelty, exploitation are on the rampage. The standard arrogance of US imperialism in imposing its rule has brought increasing misery and hardship for the majority of the world’s people.

US President George Bush’s National Security Strategy document, his “manifesto” for imperialism, justifying aggression on a world scale, pre-emptive strikes, “regime change” – total rule of the globe by US imperialism. That threatens life on Earth.

Their cynicism and hypocrisy know no bounds. The hide of them to even sprinkle this doctrine of butchery and bullying with words like “freedom”. We know what their “freedom” means, what the effects on workers and peasants are when they talk about “extending the benefits of freedom across the globe”.

Any day Bush will unleash his war against Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people will die and countless more will die and suffer indirectly. Our pathetic lapdog of a Prime Minister guarantees we’ll be accomplices in this crime.

And this war comes at a time of prolonged and widespread capitalist economic crisis. They haven’t solved their problems of overproduction of course – that’s inherent in capitalism – so they’ll always have crises and recessions. But in spite of their long-term neoliberal onslaught against the working class they still haven’t hauled in the declining rate of profit. Their dot.com bubble burst spectacularly, a trillion dollars of telecom investment was trashed.

The more blatant corporate crooks have been getting exposed at a fantastic rate, in the US and in Australia – Enron, to the insurance company HIH. But increasingly people are realising they’re all crooks. The disguise is slipping, more and more people are able to see behind the mask.

What will war bring? Profits for arms corporations of course. Profits for the oil giants, cynically carving up Iraq’s oil even before war begins. But their edifice is shaky, unstable. Bush’s overarching reach for total power and permanent war could trigger a major economic disaster, dwarfing anything seen before.

War will further expand the millions of people desperate to escape imperialism’s disaster zones. And our disgusting, shameless leaders will raise the barriers against refugees, scapegoat these victims of their wars and exploitation, and whip up racist prejudice, even so low as to scuttle the boats, it now transpires.

The widening gaps between rich and poor worldwide, and even within the imperialist countries, heightens the crisis. And the imperialist rulers’ arrogant disregard for the looming environmental disasters – further confirmed at the Johannesburg Earth Summit – showed that capitalism has no regard for the Earth or its people, only profits.

Yet in face of the need for urgent action, the organisations of the oppressed are in disarray, not yet able to respond adequately. There’s urgent need for greater organisation of our side, in Australia and internationally.

But things have been changing, and we can be increasingly optimistic.

New movements

The huge movement against neoliberal globalisation burst dramatically on the scene at Seattle, moving through Prague, Melbourne, Genoa and many other cities to Rome and Barcelona.

And what a truly inspiring enormous demonstration in London this weekend, and big demonstrations in other cities around the world, even before Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair and John Howard can launch their planned onslaught.

A new generation of young people are moving into action. And many veterans from earlier struggles are getting a new burst of enthusiasm, getting inspiration to return to the struggle.

However, this new movement still has limited organisational form in most countries. In some countries, Italy, for example, it’s more advanced. But the need for stronger parties is urgent. We desperately need greater left unity, collaboration, and socialist renewal.

Nevertheless we see before us the possibilities to partly resolve the crisis in leadership, and recognise our responsibilities.

New framework ahead

As comrades know, the DSP is currently discussing a major step to respond to these possibilities and responsibilities. At our National Committee meeting next weekend, in our ongoing pre-congress discussions, and then at our December Congress, we’ll be considering, discussing, and taking a decision on a proposal to strengthen the SA. It’s a proposal for the DSP to do all our public campaigning and recruiting through the SA. In effect it’s a proposal that we operate as a tendency in the SA, and work out with the rest of the SA ways to make available our considerable political and organisational assets to build the SA.

This will be a very new framework in which to do our political work as revolutionary socialists. But we’re convinced it’s the best way to take advantage of the new opportunities, and respond to the urgent needs of building a stronger alternative.

It will be a challenge for all of us in the DSP. It won’t be easy.

It will require more effort, more thinking, more reaching out to others, moving out of any ruts we might have slipped in to. The DSP has well-developed and well-tested ways of doing things, learned over many years. It would be the easy choice to continue on that path, and we’d probably achieve steady growth, but the political times, and the experiences in the SA so far, demand we make a leap, and respond ambitiously to the challenge.

But a challenge for Resistance also

And it’s a big challenge for Resistance also.

Resistance has to respond to the world and local political challenges. It has to rise to the occasion, abandon any slovenly habits, any tired ways of doing politics, and look for possibilities to relate to the growing need and yearning for left unity.

Resistance has already supported the SA. In future, as it grows stronger, that support will be more important, building support for the SA among young people, high school students, campus students, young workers.

In the period ahead, as the DSP merges more fully with the SA, the role of an independent socialist youth organisation will become even more important, not less.

Socialist education

This move also challenges all comrades to take Marxist education more seriously.

Our theoretical development takes place not in isolation, in an ivory tower, and has no trace of elitism about it, but goes hand in hand with our political action, to help us understand, to lead and become more effective revolutionaries. In the immediate period ahead, in the transition, and as the SA becomes more of our framework, education becomes even more important.

Our well-established structure, tradition and program can get taken for granted. Too often we’ve just assumed newer comrades have read our documents, and are familiar with our history and traditions. In the SA it won’t be so easy, and it will have both good and bad ramifications.

Wrong positions, and political confusion and naivety, will be much more common. Comrades will have to be clear about our politics, able to argue, and educate in Marxism, and convince others with reason and facts (in this bigger milieu of course we also have to become more skilled at presenting our views in a popular way, getting rid of jargon and internal shorthand). Otherwise the SA experience could be negative, comrades could adapt to the mistaken ideas and political positions in the movements, which often ultimately reflect the ideas of the ruling class.

In this context, the lessons from the DSP and Resistance’s history are absolutely important. We all have to re-read, and familiarise ourselves with, the earlier debates, and polemics, where we thrashed out our views.

Resistance’s historical role

Comrades should remember Resistance’s proud historical role, and although today’s struggles are obviously our main concern and focus, we need to remember and learn from the important struggles of the past.

Resistance has been our tendency’s secret weapon, our magic formula. The close political collaboration between the DSP and Resistance has been the key to the success of our tendency. This collaboration has been unique on the Australian left, and it even stands out on an international scale.

Resistance comrades founded the DSP – Resistance came first, in 1967, when we had no party. It was the early leaders of Resistance who founded Direct Action, the precursor of GLW, in 1970, at Resistance’s founding national conference, and founded the DSP, in 1972.

The overwhelming majority of the current leadership of the DSP were at one time activists and leaders in Resistance. Time after time Resistance activists have renewed the ranks of the party. And the DSP has continued to build Resistance.

This mutual support has built us over the years, allowed us to weather difficult times, times when the rest of the left, here and overseas, has found it tough going. We’ve not only survived, but prospered. Resistance has grown. The DSP has grown. GLW has grown and its influence has grown.

This close political collaboration will be even more important in the period ahead.

Why an independent youth organisation

It’s worth reminding ourselves at a time like this of the fundamental principles, the thinking behind having an independent socialist youth organisation.

How young people are the most likely to rebel, to have an open mind, to be willing to challenge the existing order.

How in capitalist society today, with the need for a more skilled, more educated work force, an increasing proportion of young people pursue tertiary studies, are put in a situation where they can question, think about the wrongs of the world, take action to try and change things.

How young people will have more of a chance to learn, to gain confidence by organising independently of the party through having their own socialist youth organisation, politically linked, but organisationally independent.

How more young people are likely to join an organisation that they see as being composed of and led by people of roughly their own age, seeing young people leading, learning, in action in an organisation that they run themselves.

And though emphasising the centrality of politics, of building a serious political organisation, Resistance is also conscious of being able to provide a social environment for radicalising young people.

Comrades might not have read for a while one of the important political documents that helped give a framework and an understanding to the role of Resistance in its early days, that Fourth International document on The Worldwide Radicalisation of Youth. We’ve reprinted it many times as a pamphlet. It’s still worth a read every now and then.

The document was responding to the exciting times of the 1960s, the campaign against the war in Vietnam, the May-June 1968 revolt in France.

Resistance was built in the midst of those events, initially by our own trial and error, and then by looking to successful models around the world. The document drew together those common experiences, analysed the situations, and provided a clearer understanding on which youth organisations like Resistance could become stronger.

But Resistance showed its value in quieter times as well, in periods when it was more an uphill battle, and other left groups gave up. Resistance continued to struggle, to win and educate young people to socialism.

Today, we’re responding to another radicalisation among young people around the world.

Back then, Resistance had to counter the mistaken ideas and dead ends that were getting followed – Social Democratic parties, spontaneism, anarchism; anti-organisation, anti-politics – trends that disappeared themselves, and if followed by the whole movement, would have left no lasting legacy of those heroic struggles.

Again today, with a new radicalisation some of the old diversions and confused ideas surface again. Without Resistance to counter them, organise a Marxist alternative, many more keen young radicals will be demoralised, sucked into dead ends.

There’s a continuing radicalisation of young people. There’s a continuing alienation of young people under capitalism, in ALL advanced capitalist countries. The glorious consumer society, the cure-all market economy, is NOT solving their problems – the need for a meaningful life, for a decent education, for the right to a fulfilling job, etc.

Moreover, young people are not weighed down by the weight of the past, they don’t suffer from the false illusions of the past. Comrades radicalising today, in the framework of capitalism’s current crisis and its ongoing problems, don’t have big expectations from the past, from the Soviet Union, for example. They begin from the current issues and problems.

To develop a deeper understanding of those problems, of course, an understanding of history is required, and that’s one of the roles of our organisations, to educate, to situate today’s struggles in the broader international and historical context. And to give our CLASS orientation to events, countering the dominant propaganda of the ruling class and its mouthpieces.

Experience in the 1980s

Our motivation for the SA, and for this recent bold move for the DSP to move further into the SA, to operate as a tendency, is based on the real political developments in Australia and internationally.

But it’s not something out of the blue, not a “turn” in our fundamental perspectives.

It’s predicated on our previous thinking, rethinking, breaking with old schemas, that was such a feature of the party, then the Socialist Workers Party, in the 1980s.

That was another time of challenge, requiring tactical boldness. We’d completed the turn to industry, and had developed a small but confident team of cadres, a dedicated, committed party of activists.

We’d broken with a lot of the Trotskyist dogmas and sectarianism, on permanent revolution for example.

Most importantly, we’d broken with the wrong line regarding the Australian Labor Party (ALP), ditched the view common to so many of the Trotskyist groups that it was not a bourgeois party, but a “two-class party”, a bourgeois workers’ party.

We were looking for new forms, possibilities for regroupment, or unity with other left parties:

  • We had the exciting Nuclear Disarmament Party experience;
  • We had small fusions with Revolutionary Path, Socialist Fight, the Rosebery miners;
  • We had the experience of the New Left Party (NLP), attempting to regroup with the old Communist Party of Australia (CPA);
  • We attempted to unite with the Socialist Party of Australia (SPA) – now renamed the CPA – and ran SA election campaigns;
  • We made various efforts to link up with left greens.

Resistance was especially important through all these projects, and would have been even more important if any of these attempts, such as fusion with the CPA in a NLP, had been successful.

And when those attempts, despite our best efforts, didn’t succeed, Resistance was again vital, since some of the party leaders, some of the long-term party cadres, had been ground down by the previous struggles, by the turn to industry, by the new moves, and by the hope that perhaps now – with a new party – they might be able to lay down their burden. Well, even though none of those efforts at regroupment came off, some comrades still felt they had to lay down their burden.

In that situation, youth had to renew the party once again, Resistance leaders had to pick up where some of the older party leaders left off. Well, we hope that no DSP comrades will misinterpret our proposal regarding SA as in some way a chance to slacken off!

Why Resistance is even more important now

We should learn from our previous experiences.

Although it’s designed to build a bigger socialist movement, a bigger revolutionary party, and have more cadres around to carry out a bigger and more effective socialist intervention, it’s unlikely our proposal will mean less work for any of the existing DSP members. In fact, in the immediate term, we can expect to be busier, have more responsibilities and tasks (although we’ll be clearer in our allocation of priorities, with less conflict resulting from building both the SA and the DSP as public parties.)

But nevertheless, the role of Resistance becomes even more important.

It’s not just a role of filling gaps, but leading, in the Democratic Socialist Tendency (DST), in the SA, in the larger, stronger revolutionary current we’ll build here.

As Resistance National Coordinator Simon Butler pointed out on the first day of this conference, not enough of the young activists have been convinced to come behind the SA yet. The many newly radicalising young people who are active in the campaigns in support of refugees or the antiwar movement are a big part of the SA’s potential constituency. Resistance’s role will be crucial here.

1500 people have joined Resistance so far this year, and there are even larger numbers of young activists who can be attracted to a socialist organisation in the months ahead. But I think a stronger SA, embodying both the sentiment and the concrete gains from left unity, will help involve, educate, and retain a much larger number of those who join Resistance. I think it will be easier in the new framework for new comrades to feel they have a role – for a start there’s so much to do.

I think Resistance support for SA, and the likely influx of many more youth activists, will have a great impact on SA itself. It will inspire many of the less active SA members, many of whom are experienced activists themselves, in the ALP, the CPA in the past. They’ll feel encouraged, and more likely to get reactivated.

I remember from our past efforts at left regroupment in the 1980s, the energetic Resistance activists were viewed keenly – and enviously – by our potential partners in unity efforts.

Some in the SPA, for example, whom we attempted to unite with in 1988-89, stated it openly, they wanted our young people to carry on the struggle, to provide the continuity, which they could see was being broken, of some of the good trade union struggles they’d been in the leadership of (they missed their opportunity – the unity failed, and the CPA continues to grow older).

However, the old CPA of the 1980s, whom we also tried to unite with in 1987-88, in a NLP, were a little more ambiguous about Resistance. They recognised the importance of Resistance, but as we started joint activities, I think they became more conscious of our youth and the overall energy and commitment of our comrades, and realised, that although they had the numbers on paper in any new formation, they wouldn’t be able to match our energy and activity and youth (they missed their opportunity also, it really was the last chance for the CPA, and they closed down in 1991, to leave nothing but the ghost, the Search Foundation with the assets).

Resistance’s importance for socialist unity

In this new and important move to further left unity, Resistance can again play a vital role. A push by Resistance for unity and regroupment – on campus and among youth, and in the SA itself – can help convince any doubters to come behind it. Resistance can help encourage any holdouts among SA affiliates and other groups that they lose out if they continue to oppose the process. Resistance’s proposals for a joint socialist caucus in National Union of Students and joint socialist orientation-week forums already seem to have had a positive impact.

We’ve frequently pointed out how workers hate division in their ranks, how they yearn for unity. We’ve quoted from US Socialist Workers Party leader James P. Cannon’s keynote speech to the founding of the open American Communist Party in 1921. Workers want a united party – “They will hail it as the morning star”, he said. “The workers do not like division. There is nothing that dispirits them more than to see their own battlefront divided, their own leaders demoralised.”

But students and young people also want unity. So Resistance as champions of unity will attract the best of the young activists, and put pressure on other tendencies who resist greater unity. Our pressure will force most to agree, at least pay lip service to left unity, but the test will come in action, as Resistance shows its role in building the SA, and building the broadest unity in struggle.

But of course there’s the other side to unity, the debate, the discussion too, and in the framework of the SA that will also attract more people, help the Activist Recruitment Campaign, as well as educating and giving confidence to our cadres, and better clarifying perspectives about what to do next.

Resistance’s real internationalism

Resistance yesterday adopted its own manifesto, countering Bush’s manifesto for imperialism. There are big struggles ahead, and we’re gearing up to meet the challenge.

Many of these struggles are international struggles, involve international issues. And here Resistance is very much in its element, we were founded out of international struggles.

Resistance has been internationalist from the start, and is internationalist through and through. Our heroes have been Che, or Ho Chi Minh, or Malcolm X. We’ve organised solidarity with struggles from Vietnam, to Cuba, to South Africa, to East Timor. We’ve organised countless actions on international issues, and stood out on the left – even been criticised by our political opponents – for doing this.

With the increased debate in SA, and increased consciousness about left unity, our internationalist credentials will stand out even more.

An internationalist perspective is absolutely essential for revolutionaries in an imperialist country like Australia, to educate our ranks, and inoculate ourselves against the nationalist and racist poison dished out by our own ruling class. Of course, our primary political task is to make a revolution against our own ruling class, but that revolution will be aided by the solidarity we organise with people oppressed by imperialism.

Our real internationalism, real solidarity, and real fraternal links with other revolutionary parties in other countries, does stand out compared with the internationalism practiced by most of the other left groups. Too often they substitute membership of their narrow – usually tiny – “International” for actual international work, and unfortunately too often it has such dire results for their own organisation too, in terms of building an organisation able to stand on its own feet without interference from the mother party.

Certainly within the SA we’ll respect the links that other currents have with their international organisations, the International Socialist Tendency, the League for a Revolutionary Communist International, the Fourth International (FI), the Alliance for Workers Liberty, the Freedom Socialist Party and so on. But even within those Internationals we note the problems, and we’ll want to continue our contacts with the US International Socialist Organization, for example. And within the FI, we’ll naturally prioritise our contact with the healthier, stronger organisations like the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire, or the FI comrades working in larger organisations and alliances in Brazil, Italy, Portugal, Denmark for example, rather than the narrower, more sectarian groups.

But our real internationalism can best be seen in the wide range of collaborative links we’ve developed with other parties, parties coming from a variety of political traditions, especially in the Asian region. And these examples comprehensively refute the misguided practice of narrow internationals. Imagine, would the world revolution, or the Indonesian revolution, be served if the People’s Democratic Party split into a dozen separate groups, carved up by the various Trotskyist “Internationals”? Or the Labour Party Pakistan? Or the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)[Liberation], or the East Timor Socialist Party in East Timor, or the Power of the Working Class in South Korea, or the Philippines Workers Party in the Philippines? Just to pose the question for those countries exposes the fallacy of the approach.

Pledge DSP Support

Resistance has a proud history of having built the DSP, from the very beginning, and so solidly over three decades. And the DSP has supported Resistance, politically, and in many other ways.

If as we expect the perspectives presented by the DSP National Executive are adopted by our Congress, and we move into a new framework, the DST will continue to support Resistance. But it will be a changed type of support, which will have good results for both organisations.

Resistance will have to take on more responsibilities, and through that Resistance comrades will develop more political confidence, learn more quickly.

In a stronger SA, and with the stronger DST that will result, GLW, and all the political and organisational and material assets and resources will still be there. So it will still need a conscious effort for Resistance to be more self-sufficient, raising its own finances and so forth.

But the changed situation and the new relations that develop will mean that all Resistance comrades and especially the Resistance leadership, the National Committee elected here and the other comrades who take on leadership responsibility, will have to take on more political responsibility. They will have to increasingly become leaders for our tendency in the movements, to build our tendency and educate and train more revolutionary cadres, and to become leaders of the tendency and of SA as it develops.

So revolutionary greetings from the DSP. We pledge to continue our support for Resistance.

But at the same time, we call on Resistance, Resistance members and Resistance leaders, for a special effort in the exciting period ahead. There’s been talk of a slogan for Resistance, and I’ll offer you one: “Resistance! Now more than ever!”

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