Opening night of the Marxism 2013 conference.
“We have our party back!” That expresses exactly the feelings of all former Revolutionary Socialist Party comrades after a year of unity with Socialist Alternative.
Jon Lamb, a former RSP comrade from Brisbane, made this point at the December 2013 Socialist Alternative conference, referring to one of the themes we were fighting for in the factional struggle in the old Democratic Socialist Party, from which we were expelled in 2008. We wanted our revolutionary Marxist party back, but the Socialist Alliance/DSP leaders dissolved the DSP in 2010. (And now they have also dissolved their youth organisation Resistance!)
The overwhelming assessment is that Socialist Alternative has been a very welcoming, very comradely party to be in. There’s a genuinely political, serious culture and understanding of the current political period in Australia. The very active (and mostly young) comrades are inspiring. We can look back on a very successful year, and a very successful unity.
A year of progress
The SA conference in December was very impressive, with excellent discussion. There was a no-nonsense attitude to assessing our successes and mistakes, and fostering democratic discussion (despite quite different outward forms and structures to the old DSP – the three-minute speaking limit leads to disciplined, sharp contributions, but can be frustrating, with so much to say). Former RSP comrades played an active role:
Two (out of 14) conference reports were given by former RSP members; eight delegates out of approximately 100 were former RSP members; former RSP members made 20 out of 188 contributions on the political reports; and there are five former RSPers elected to the SA National Committee of 40 again.
The 12 months that we have been united have been very successful and encouraging. There’s been real SA growth – from RSP unity and some extra comrades joining as a result, but overwhelmingly from campus recruitment. We’re still recruiting the cream of the radical youth.
Our work in 2013 in leading many of the campaigns and actively propagandising for socialism on an increasing number of campuses led to a record number of SA comrades being elected as delegates to the National Union of Students conference last year. We ended up with 29 office bearer positions In NUS and on universities around the country.
SA comrades were leading and initiating important political campaigns – the equal marriage rights demonstrations; rallies in support of refugees after the announcement of the ALP’s PNG “solution” – and comrades have been engaging in an increasing range of industrial struggles.
This success is in significant contrast to the recent experiences of others on the left – it’s a real example of left unity.
What basis for unity?
The clear basis for our unity has been revolutionary Marxism, and a general agreement on tasks and perspectives today. The 16-point “General Statement of Principles” that was discussed as the basis for our unity and adopted by SA’s conference in December 2012 is printed in every issue of Red Flag.
Credit must go to the leaders of SA in pushing through the unity discussions and carrying out the fusion. Comrades from the Revolutionary Socialist Party/DSP tradition have been made welcome at all levels in SA. We were not asked to give up our ideas. Neither were we pressured to give up areas of political involvement. If comrades so wish, they have a right to dissent publicly.
The serious organisation we are building is in marked contrast to so many of the left groups today – Leninism, not dogmatism; recruiting and building cadre, educating and training them.
We’re determined to “create an organisation that revolutionaries from different traditions and backgrounds can feel at home in and make their own”, stated SA leader Corey Oakley in issue 5 of the Marxist Left Review. That approach to unity has been successful and will be important in rebuilding and strengthening the left.
John Passant, a long-time comrade from the IS tradition, opposed the RSP unity with SA at the 2012 conference, insisting on the centrality of “state capitalist” theory as a criterion for membership. He tried to raise this again at the December 2013 Conference, but couldn’t get a seconder. Unfortunately, he resigned after the conference.
I hope he and others who have been stuck on old shibboleths recognise the gains made by SA and the benefits of its open revolutionary perspective, and rejoin in years to come.
The theory of “state capitalism” is not the uniting fundamental. Neither is supporting revolutionary Cuba, for example, which is my position, one opposed by the majority of SA comrades. Neither of these issues is likely to be the key for building a revolutionary party in Australia at the moment (though in the event of a new attack on Cuba by imperialism, I’m confident all SA comrades would mobilise in solidarity.)
There are full opportunities for political discussion in the preconference discussion bulletin, and in an ongoing online discussion forum, as well as in the branches and NC and informally.
The Leninist party-building project has been a clear-counter position to the “broad party” strategy that in recent decades misled many groups internationally who were yearning for a quick solution to the difficulties of the left. So many artificial attempts to form a “broad” party internationally have failed. (Of course, we don’t rule out participation in a genuine development of a new formation that has some real mass support.)
This “broad party” strategy has led to the failure of the DSP’s Socialist Alliance – its dwindling size, the fact that there are no other currents in this “alliance” and very few recruits. It’s illustrated by the fact that Green Left Weekly sales are less than a third of what they were at the beginning of the Alliance project.
Experience in action
Former RSP comrades have been able to participate in the work of the united organisation as much as they are able (though they’re not always able to keep up with the pace of SA’s young and enthusiastic cadres!). In addition to the NC, comrades have been on branch executives and helping lead our political and organisational campaigns.
It was a very smart move to launch Red Flag in June last year, another indication of the SA leadership’s astuteness, and perhaps also an indication of the benefit of the unity. SA has been able to benefit from former RSP/DSP experience with producing and distributing a socialist newspaper.
The Red Flag launch dinners were a big success. Anniversary dinners are coming up in June in all branches, so readers of Red Flag should plan to attend, subscribe and donate.
Most former RSP comrades have been able to contribute to Red Flag, and sometimes have presented different positions to the majority view in Red Flag, e.g. on Syria and Venezuela.
Former RSP comrades have been able to make useful contributions to Marxist Left Review, with Allen Myers as one of the editors. There are two articles in the current issue (No 7.). Max Lane on “Indonesia: trade unions and the regeneration of radical politics,” and Allen Myers on “Trotsky’s Transitional Program: its uses and abuses”. Scheduled for the following issue is an article on imperialism by Sam King.
Benefiting from each other’s traditions
The new Socialist Alternative is learning and benefiting from the unity. We’re preserving the positive traditions of the DSP/SWP, and of Cannonism, itself trashed by the sect leadership of the current US SWP.
The Socialist Alliance leaders publicly reject and denounce what they call the “narrow” tradition of the DSP. Our responsibility is to preserve that, and learn from both the good examples and the mistakes of past decades. My History of the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance, Volume 1 is available in SA centres and stalls, and covers the early years, 1965-72; the later years and lessons also need to be written down and made use of.
It’s very unfortunate that a longtime leader of the RSP and DSP, Doug Lorimer, passed away – he was looking forward to being part of the united organisation. SA organised memorial meetings in Sydney and Melbourne. As the tutor at the DSP school, the author of some important books and pamphlets and the writer of introductions to reprints of important titles by Lenin and others, he can still play an important educational role. We have plans for a collection of his more recent articles as a book.
It’s a difficult political period today, and a difficult country in which to create revolutionaries, but SA is still winning radicalising youth on the campuses and building a revolutionary cadre. Former RSPers are generally older (and more experienced) than most comrades in SA, but are very welcome to be part of an overwhelmingly youthful organisation.
Exemplary on women’s liberation
During the unity discussions last year with the Socialist Alliance, the Alliance leadership attempted to attack SA in regard to women’s liberation and distort our position. But SA has a vigorous anti-sexist culture, and its actual practice in winning and training women cadres is a concrete refutation of the smear. Neither the Alliance nor any other left group I know of here or around the world can match SA’s record in training and educating comrades on women’s liberation. They can’t match the development of real women revolutionaries. SA has 50 percent women leadership at all levels, from the national executive to branch committees, and it’s not done by quotas. SA’s recent national conference illustrates the role of women:
Seven of 14 reports at conference were given by women; 98 of 186 contributions in the discussion on the reports were by women; 22 of 40 on the National Committee elected by conference are women; and six of 10 of the elected National Executive are women.
Good prospects for our second year
We can look forward to another year of growth, building stronger campus clubs campaigning on education cuts and participating in, leading and initiating a range of political campaigns. We’ll be able to strengthen the smaller branches, and build branches in new cities, integrating and involving at-large comrades, in Australia and overseas.
We can substantially increase the distribution of Red Flag, which has already surpassed expectations. With a subscription campaign and a sales campaign after the Marxism 2014 conference, former RSP comrades can contribute their long experience in organising sales of the socialist press.
SA’s central task is to recruit and train cadres. We’ll still be basically a propaganda organisation for some time to come. But now that we’re the biggest left organisation in the country, building a bigger periphery becomes increasingly important. We need to organise the growing number of readers of our publications and supporters who aren’t in a position to be as active as members in a cadre organisation like SA requires. Again, this is an area where the benefit of the experience of former RSP/DSP comrades can be helpful.
One year on, our fusion provides an excellent example internationally of revolutionary unity – of what can and should be done.