SA or DSP? How can we best carry out our international work and international relations?

The Activist – Volume 15, Number 6, September 2005
By John Percy, Sydney Central branch

How should we carry out our international work and international relations with other parties in the period ahead? As the DSP, as the Socialist Alliance, or both? And what has been our experience internationally functioning as the Democratic Socialist Perspective, an internal tendency within the Socialist Alliance?

Looking at this particular area of our work, fairly clearly defined and a bit distant from the on-the-ground engagement with the SA, DSP and our campaigns, might allow us to assess a bit more objectively how we should function in the period ahead in Australia, be clear about which is the party we should be building, and what should be the nature of the DSP, and what should be the nature of the SA.

Our experience in this area in the last two years, and our needs in the period ahead of us, might also make it clearer what name our party should have for doing our international work – Democratic Socialist Perspective, or Democratic Socialist Party?

DSP or SA?

For our international relations with most other parties around the world, it’s completely unrealistic to relate to them through the Socialist Alliance.

Firstly, the SA’s “program” is very limited, largely a list of reforms on Australian issues, so even any relations that get established can only be conducted on a very superficial basis, not much beyond saying hello, and can’t relate to even a modest discussion on world politics. For any real discussion, you really have to start speaking as a representative of the DSP.

Secondly, with the varied small affiliates still nominally part of the Socialist Alliance, whole sections of our potential international collaboration and relations would be ruled out. If we had relations through the SA with some of the parties that these small affiliates characterise as “Stalinist” or “state capitalist” or “Menshevik” (putting aside the fact that they also call us Stalinist and Menshevik) then it would be a possible trigger for blowup of the alliance, or at least more disruption and sniping.

This aspect will be increasingly important in the next year or two, with the central importance of the Venezuelan revolution in world politics, and vitally important in our solidarity work and Resistance building here in Australia. The growing alliance between Cuba and Venezuela, and the impact that this revolutionary process is having, especially in Latin America but also in the rest of the world, makes our orientation to the process, and our relations with the Cuban Communist Party, and the parties and forces supporting the Bolivarian revolution, central to our work. It’s central to our work in Australia, and central to our international relations.

This comes at a time when we’ve put lots of time and effort and resources into making closer links with the leaders of the Venezuelan revolution, and have the opportunity to develop much closer collaboration with the Cuban revolutionaries than we’ve ever had before.

This can only be done through the DSP. To do it through the SA would either blow up the alliance, or restrict our comments to the most basic anti-imperialist solidarity, rather than our whole-hearted support for the revolutionary process and for the leaderships heading that process in Cuba and Venezuela. Hypothetically we could propose to the SA National Executive that the SA develop some sort of relations with Cuba, have the sects oppose it, and then push it through and go ahead. But if we went ahead representing the SA to the Cubans, say, we would have to be honest, pointing out that this wasn’t the unanimous position of the SA, but just the DSP bloc, and that the majority of affiliates were totally opposed to Cuba and wanted to overthrow the government.

At the recent very successful Socialism 2005 conference organised by the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM) in Kuala Lumpur on September 9-11 that Eva C and I have just returned from, the International Socialist Tendency, the international organisation led by the British Socialist Workers Party, of which the Australian International Socialist Organisation is an affiliate, was represented by Giles Unkpakorn from Thailand. In nearly every single intervention he made, he felt compelled to raise his state capitalist shibboleth, usually with a vile attack on Cuba, or Vietnam. When he made a particularly vicious attack on Cuba in the session on Venezuela, in which I was speaking, I felt compelled to rebuke him in my summary. I spoke on behalf of the DSP. Speaking on behalf of the SA, could I have done that? What if the SA had been represented at this conference by myself and Luke Deer? There would have been great confusion, and restrictions on political clarity. (Incidentally, Steve Jolly of the Socialist Party based in Melbourne, and their Committee for a Workers International international director, Clare Doyle, were both at the conference, ardently trying to woo the PSM and get them to sign up to their “International”. For this purpose they are opportunistically disguising their real line on Cuba and Che Guevara, since the PSM comrades are strong supporters of Cuba and Che.)

Clarity around Cuba and Venezuela is going to be necessary in most of the international conferences or forums that we attend in the coming period. That’s only going to be possible speaking as the DSP (or Resistance), not as the SA. In most countries in Latin America, where respect for the Cuban Revolution, and Fidel and Che, and the Venezuelan revolution, and Hugo Chavez, is overwhelming, we have to relate to the parties there as the DSP.

This same argument applies to our relations with the Communist Party of Vietnam. We’ve had formal relations with the CPV for several decades, on top of our special relationship for nearly 40 years with the Vietnamese liberation struggle, given the origins of Resistance and the DSP in the struggle against the US and Australian war against the people of Vietnam. But in the last year or so our relations have become more active, partly due to the more collaborative approach of the new comrades in the Vietnamese consulate general in Sydney, but it also seems to result from decisions coming from the external relations commission of the CPV in Hanoi.

Eva C and I were invited to attend the 60th anniversary celebrations in Hanoi of the founding of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976) on behalf of the DSP, and two conferences at the time organised by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations. After that we were joined by comrades Mike K, Sam W and Janet P for discussions with the CPV external relations commission, and meetings with leaders of the Vietnamese Federation of Trade Unions, the Vietnamese Women’s Union, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union, and then a very useful working meeting with the leaders of the Vietnam Association for the Victims of Agent Orange. In addition to receiving great Vietnamese hospitality, we made a lot of useful contacts, and agreed on a large number of concrete projects for collaboration and campaigns. None of this would have been possible as the SA of course, both from the Vietnamese end, and the SA end. (I plan to write up a detailed report of this trip, and the Malaysian conference, for a future The Activist.)

One of the most important aspects of our international work in the last 10 years has been the development of the DSP’s relations with a range of left parties in the Asian region. These parties come from a range of political traditions, some are very new, building from scratch, some are more established. The friendly relations the DSP has succeeded in establishing are partly because of the important principles of internationalism that we work by – not trying to establish our own narrow international, not interfering in other parties, not trying to recruit them to our narrow international or split them, relating on the basis of party-to-party collaboration and equality.

These include the Communist Party of India (M-L Liberation), the Labour Party Pakistan, the Peoples Democratic Party in Indonesia, the PMP in the Philippines (and other groups), the Socialist Party of Timor, Lalit in Mauritius, the Power of the Working Class in South Korea. There are others too. All these relations have been built up by the DSP, and it’s hard to see how it could have happened via the SA. It would be watered down to formalities, with the DSP wearing the SA hat, or even worse, the use of an SA hat by one of the sectarian little affiliates of the SA to try to plant their flag in a new country, by meddling in the internal affairs of these parties.

There’s no problem with one of the trade union leaders of the SA such as Chris Cain or Craig Johnston who come from a Communist Party background visiting these parties or their trade union affiliates as SA leaders, and speaking at their conferences on this basis. And sometimes DSP trade union leaders active in the SA can represent the SA at such gatherings, but the real relationship is going to be built and maintained through the DSP. It would be disastrous for any of the small affiliates, working on behalf of their “international”, IST, FSP, Workers Power (League for the Fifth International), or whatever, to be able to use the cover of the SA to carry out their own sectarian interventions in these parties. It would damage the relations of trust we’ve built up. (In any case I’m sure Chris Cain would not have wanted the message of greetings brought to the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour on his behalf by comrade Sam W to have had to go before the SA NE for approval.)

We should also reflect on the very successful Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conferences that we’ve held. These would not have been nearly as successful – and broad – if we hadn’t ultimately organised them through the DSP, using our DSP links with parties in the region, and setting the agenda through the DSP. If we had to do them through the SA, they would have been smaller, and there would have been many problems with the agenda. There would also have been a huge problem with the spirit of the conference, since the small affiliates don’t wholeheartedly support the revolutionary process in Venezuela, and don’t respect the Asian parties, who are our main collaborators in the region, as revolutionaries – to the small affiliates they are “petit bourgeois reformists”, or “Mensheviks”, or “Stalinists”. We would have lost that whole spirit of revolutionary unity, the feelings of comradeship and collaboration.

Also, think of the role of Links magazine in linking up the broad range of parties and intellectuals over the last 10 years, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. The structure and network has been set up by the DSP; if it was handed over to the SA to manage, the network would be smaller, not larger, and the content would be much less useful and interesting.

When we attend the New Zealand Workers Charter Conference in late October, do we have discussions with the leaders of the process, for example Grant Morgan, secretary of Socialist Worker, wearing our hat as a leader of the DSP, or a leader of the SA? It might be tempting to think, OK, here’s one case where it would be best as the SA, since the Workers Charter process aims at a broader regroupment of militant workers, perhaps similar to the SA. But the SA might be a suitable hat for delivering formal greetings, but not for real discussions. What if David Glanz, for example, also decides to attend? Does he represent the SA, or ISO, or both? In the SA discussions with NZ comrades, with Glanz and our comrades attending together, is there going to be a common view, let alone any useful discussion. The real discussions will have to take place on a party-to-party basis, that is, between the DSP and SW, or between the DSP, and Mike Treen or Matt McCarten. And do we decide to attend in a DSP body, pay the fare from DSP funds, and then put on the SA hat once we get over there?

In Europe and the US, how can we best do our international work and relate to parties and alliances there? Obviously any relations by the SA with the Trotskyist “Internationals” based in Europe or the US will just be used to the sectarian advantage of the particular small affiliate. There’s not a lot to be gained, and sometimes it’s just embarrassing, as with the greetings from the US Freedom Socialist Party to the last SA conference.

Where there are interesting new developments, as in Germany with the development of the Left Party, it’s hard to have good relations through the SA, since the major component is the PDS, with whom the DSP has good relations, but who are looked on with horror by the small affiliates.

In England, relations with Respect really amounts to relations with the SWP, and we relate to them directly through the DSP rather than having to wear the complicating hat of the SA. With other left electoral alliances in Europe, such as in Denmark and Portugal, the relations can best be done as the DSP, often relating to the leading party or individuals in the alliance, who come from the Fourth International tradition, and the relations often date back to our own time in the FI. Other parties in Europe, whether coming from the CP tradition or the FI tradition, are best handled as DSP relations.

In Scotland, our relations with the Scottish Socialist Party are as DSP members relating to leaders of the SSP, the majority of whom come from the International Socialist Movement, formerly Militant Labour, that was expelled from the CWI. We discuss with them our common problems – our difficulties with the ISO in the SA, their difficulties with the SWP in the SSP. Even with SSP leaders not from that tradition, the framework seems to be the same, we’re relating as the DSP.

In North America, who could we relate to as the Socialist Alliance? Not really anyone. Whereas as the DSP, we relate to the US International Socialist Organisation, expelled from the IST, and we’re unlikely to get consensus from within SA that we have comradely relations with them. We relate to former members of the US SWP who are on the same wavelength as us, and former members of the FI, and some current members of the FI, in Canada. As the DSP, we can have contact with other active currents, such as the Workers World Party, and their International Action Centre (they do good work in solidarity with Cuba). All we get as the SA is the FSP foisted on us, one of the smallest, most irrelevant groups.

In Africa, we want to relate directly through the DSP with the ISO in Zimbabwe, not through the IST, or their Australian affiliate. We want to continue the range of relations with the groups and individuals in South Africa that the DSP has established in the past.

There’s also the question of the Socialist Alliance constitutional legality. That is, given the varied political complexion of the SA, can we represent the SA without taking each visit or event to the SA National Executive? Without that it wouldn’t be democratic, and would often be counter to the wishes of the ISO, FSP, or the other smaller affiliates, and also many of those who assert that they’re independents. Or else we can act unilaterally, and ignore these considerations, now that we have an eight out of 15 majority on the SA’s National Executive? Do we just ignore the objections of the affiliates and the independents, and continue to do our DSP international work with the hat of the SA? That would mean we had rebadged the DSP as the SA, as some of our opponents in the SA allege. But there would be no point at all in that, no advantage for us, and it would threaten our ability to continue SA as a campaigning alliance. Representing the SA doesn’t increase our weight, as we might hope. There’s not a lot of extra weight on the ground, most of the SA’s members are nominal, not activists. But travelling as the SA can be a limitation on what we discuss, unless we take off the SA hat and become a DSP representative.

In some circumstances the Socialist Alliance can do international work, for example as a broad alliance relating to another broad alliance. But we can’t have extensive or deep political discussions unless it’s sort of under the counter, after the formalities, where we have to relate to other currents/parties as the DSP. In most situations we can’t relate as the SA, without risking a blowup of the SA.

By the time of APISC 2005 in March (which was listed as organised by Green left Weekly, with the SA as a sponsor, but the organisational work was done by the DSP), we had realised that the SA was not the framework for our international work, as well as not the framework for APISC. By then we had realised that the prospects of implementing the line of the last DSP Congress of pushing the SA to become a party and dissolving the resources of the DSP into it could not be implemented.

With the stalling of that process of hoping that the SA could become a party, what are the main components of the SA that can realistically be maintained, and how does that relate to our international work? The main function of the SA can be as a campaigning alliance. For that, detailed international relations are not needed. A secondary aspect of the SA that can be useful, is to envisage it as a periphery organisation for the DSP. For that, no international relations are needed either. A third aspect is as our electoral vehicle, and for that no international relations are required, unless we happened to get some comrades elected (highly unlikely in current circumstances). Thus international relations, and international work in the period ahead, are really the province of the DSP.

Confusion could be tolerated for a little while, in the hope of a transition to a new party, a leap. But when progress gets blocked (despite us having bent over backwards to build it) both by objective circumstances, and the sabotage of others, we have to recognise reality, and have the SA do the things it can still do, but not the things it can’t, such as cadre training and recruitment, education, and international work. Otherwise these suffer, and don’t get done, or get done badly.

Party or Perspective?

It’s absolutely clear that nearly all our international work in the period ahead will be done, has to be done, as the DSP. What is the most useful name for doing this work, Democratic Socialist Perspective, or Democratic Socialist Party?

We changed our name to “Perspective” when we had the political perspective of becoming an internal tendency in the Socialist Alliance. What the exact word was wasn’t so important then – it could have been Democratic Socialist platform, tendency, current… or perspective. We hit on “Perspective” so as not to have to change our initials, we could keep our logo.

Around the world, we knew of no other “Perspective”. That wasn’t a big problem, because we hoped that the Socialist Alliance would soon become the party, the transition wouldn’t take too long, and in any case, we weren’t projecting a lot of international work in that period (perhaps a mistake in relation to a number of countries.) So the question was on hold, from the transition from the DSP to the SA. But that transition is ruled out for now. (That’s the clear position of the DSP-SA relations resolution unanimously adopted at the DSP NE on August 15.) So since we can’t do our main international work as the SA, we need a publicly functioning DSP for this, and it is far far better if we are the Democratic Socialist Party.

Many of the international collaborators of the DSP haven’t actually adjusted to “Perspective”, and still refer to us as the Democratic Socialist Party. It’s hard to correct them, and hard to explain the motivation for “Perspective” when the actual political conditions that prompted the change have now gone. Syed Hussin Ali from the Malaysian People’s Party, now vice-president of the People’s Justice Party, has known the DSP for many years, and been to past conferences in Australia. He was at both the conferences in Hanoi, and the Malaysian Socialist Party conference. He asked, why the change to “Perspective”? What’s it mean? I couldn’t properly answer him, since all the reasons were from the past, and still continuing with it couldn’t be justified.

At the Malaysian conference, it was galling with Jolly there, puffing himself up as “the first socialist elected in Australia for decades”, and from the Socialist Party – which has a few dozen members in one city in Australia. I still had to use the hat of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, strange to many, and of course played on by Jolly as small, less important than him.

Mostly the Vietnamese comrades accurately adjusted to our current name – it was written down, and printed on the business cards we dished out to them. But the chairperson of the Solidarity conference at which I spoke had a novel solution to the problem. In introducing me, he referred to me each time as “John Percy, national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective Party of Australia”.

All our actual experience, in Socialist Alliance, and in developing international relations with parties around the world, argues for the DSP as being the organisation that has to carry out our international work. And for carrying out that work, it’s much more effective if we’re called a Party rather than a Perspective.

The second point in Paragraph 34 of the draft resolution on “The DSP and the Socialist Alliance” that was adopted unanimously at the August 15 DSP national executive meeting actually goes against the overall political assessment contained in the resolution. It can’t realistically be carried out. We can’t slip back into the – never actually existing, but hoped for – transition to the SA as the new party. In Peter Boyle’s report to the NE on the resolution, he argued we should just push through our majority line for international relations in the SA conferences and the SA NE, and not allow a veto from the small affiliates. That approach would not only be useless for developing real international collaboration with other parties, but would also render the Socialist Alliance even less useful for us in carrying out the more limited range of tasks it can do in the period ahead in Australia.

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