- The world as it is
- The Stalinist dead end
- The democratic socialist alternative
- Getting there
- The DSP and Australian politics
- The DSP and other parties
- How the DSP works
The world as it is
Why does the DSP stand for socialism?
We stand for socialism as the only way to save human society and the environment from the diseases of capitalism, the private profit system that dominates the world today. This "global market economy" is simply destroying life on earth. See below for a a glimpse of today's world of poverty, violence and environmental devastation. Australia's economy and environment is locked into this global system.
But human societies have always suffered from these evils. Why blame capitalism for all of human society's evils? According to the United Nations, the number of human beings living in "abysmal human conditions" more than halved between 1960 and 1992 and developing countries are growing three times faster than industrial countries did a century ago. Surely no system has so revolutionised ordinary expectations of human life as capitalism?
First, a good part of the gains in world living standards were due to the development of countries that had overthrown capitalism (like China, Vietnam, Cuba and the countries of the former Soviet Union). In 1948 such countries accounted for only 7.2% of world industrial production: by 1984 they accounted for more than a quarter. Second, the "developing countries" make up only a part of the Third World. Since 1980 some countries have been de-developing as fast as others have developed.
Certainly capitalism was once progressive: industry, science and the world market expanded tremendously as capitalism developed. The capitalists also overturned the old power of landed aristocracies and slaveowners in the name of parliamentary democracy and human rights.
However, the days when capitalism played this progressive role are well and truly gone. With the rise first of big monopoly firms and then of the modern multinational corporation people like Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch have become parasites on society — "a perfect nuisance", in the words of the great socialist Frederick Engels.
Nowadays production doesn't depend on "entrepreneurs" like Kerry Packer or Rupert Murdoch, but on the collaborative labour of hundreds of millions of workers. The owners of industry have no function except to deprive workers of part of the product of their labour — in the form of profit — indulge in extravagant consumption and speculate in casinos, called finance markets.
So, yes, capitalism has made the elimination of poverty, famine, disease and illiteracy possible and the resources and know-how to solve these evils lie within our grasp. But this very same capitalist system retards their solution: what advance there has been this century would have been much greater had world development proceeded along socialist lines.
Why do you say that?
Capitalism is profit-driven, ruled by competition for markets among corporations and nations. A capitalist firm that doesn't try to maximise profit doesn't survive for very long — it goes broke or is taken over. Because private profit-making drives the entire system, it always produces the following results:
# An economy's productive potential is rarely used to the full. Sometimes it's more profitable to lay off workers and keep equipment idle — to operate single firms (and the economy as a whole) with "excess capacity". In today's recessions this can rise as high as 35 per cent, producing mass unemployment and misery.
# What is produced is the result of "effective demand". Demand is determined by the existing distribution of wealth and income, which is in turn determined by who owns the productive resources and who doesn't (that is, by which class and nation you are born into). So, second yachts for millionaires can take precedence over food for Africa. And tropical forests in Brazil are razed to grow soybeans which are fed to cows in Germany: these produce surplus butter that ends up in refrigerated "butter mountains". This is what we call the "anarchy of production" under capitalism.
# The cost of destroying our environment is not reflected in market prices. Since the beginning of industrial capitalism the polluters have not paid, they have flourished — at the expense of the health and safety of workers, working class communities and society as a whole. The social and environemental havoc they wreak are not minor blemishes on an otherwise efficient system (what the economists call "externalities"); they are part and parcel of a set-up that rewards those firms that most effectively offload their costs.
# A sizeable portion of the economy's surplus is wasted on unproductive spending. This includes the war budget, subsidies to business and the expense of maintaining the armed forces, police and prisons and the senior public service and the judiciary — in a phrase, the capitalist state apparatus.
# Competition for markets and resources leads to trade wars and real wars. The 20th century has seen more wars than any other epoch, including two world wars with 80 million lives lost.
Add up these results of today's capitalism and it's clear that the institutions of private enterprise have turned from promoters into inhibitors of further social and environmental progress.
Isn't life under capitalism today a far cry from the brutal system that Karl Marx described? Many working people now own their own homes, enjoy social security and at least tolerable working conditions. In Australia our real incomes are between three and four times higher than they were in 1950.
Living standards for workers in the industrialised countries certainly increased during the post-war boom (1947-1975). But this boom was abnormal, a product of the unprecedented destruction brought by World War II. Moreover, living standards have stagnated and even fallen over the last 15 years, and the small advances in income equality that took place during the boom have also been reversed.
Secondly, reforms such as the welfare state were not a thoughtful gift to the working people from the powers-that-be, but the fruit of long and sometimes bitter struggle. And since the world capitalist economy entered its present phase of reduced growth the welfare state has been under attack. For each competing capitalist economy it's a cost that must be reduced through privatisation, public sector cutbacks and labour market deregulation -- in a word, austerity.
Thirdly, a part of our living standards in the First World have been purchased through the exploitation of the Third World by multinational companies, where profit rates are higher than in the industrial countries. This has provided Australia's big companies with an extra fund of profits from which to meet workers' demands.
Lastly, while real world per capita income has increased threefold since 1930, the distribution of that income has overwhelmingly favoured the "haves" at the expense of the have-nots.
But capitalism is also very flexible. Why shouldn't it continue to adapt, overcoming, for example, the problems of the environment in the same way that it developed the welfare state after the Great Depression of the 1930s?
Sure, capitalism is adaptable: wherever there's a market opening you'll see capitalists. That's why we now have green (and New Age) entrepreneurs. But the main way capitalism "adapts" is not so painless: its chief methods are austerity and war.
Capitalism can thrive when it enjoys an adequate rate of profit and expanding markets. If profit rates are low each firm (and national economy) has to act to restore them, chiefly by reducing wages. This was the purpose of the ALP's Accord which has cut award rates of pay by around 25 per cent.
If existing markets are stagnant, then new ones must be opened up. That means trade wars, trading blocs like the North American Free Trade Agreement and "free trade" arrangements like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which allows the developed capitalist countries to gang up more aggressively against the Third World.
Once it achieves boom conditions capitalism can allow reforms. In most countries that isn't the case today: the system is stuck in a period of stagnation with growth rates well below those of the post-war boom.
Most serious of all, the ecological crisis is simply outrunning capitalism's capacity to adapt. Despite vast expenditure on government environment agencies and noble declarations of intent (like those made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit), the required practical measures cannot be implemented without sacrificing corporate and national competitiveness. That's why governments aren't even beginning to implement the basic program of environmental repair adopted at Rio.
Our socialist alternative flows from this diagnosis. Socialism means the democratically and ecologically planned use of humanity's accumulated economic, scientific and technical heritage to meet everyone's need for a decent life. It involves the socialisation of the "commanding heights" of the economy (banking and finance, major industry, communications); and it requires this to happen in the most advanced sectors of the world economy.
The Stalinist dead end
But look at the record of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. They had "social ownership of the means of production" yet they produced an economic shambles, an environmental disaster zone and a society most people hated. Hasn't socialism totally failed to live up to its promise?
Although they pretended to rule in the name of the people the regimes that collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989 were not socialist. They had taken several steps beyond capitalism, (overthrowing the old landlords and capitalists, introducing some sort of planned economy, building up welfare and education systems) but they lacked socialism's vital ingredient — economic and political democracy.
The roots of these distortions of socialism, where people's self-administration was stifled by a privileged elite of state officials, was the rise to power in the Soviet Union of the 1920s of a bureaucratic faction headed by Joseph Stalin.
This victory was made possible by the backwardness of Russia, the destruction inflicted by the capitalist powers' attempt to defeat the young Soviet state, and the failure of revolutions in countries like Germany and Italy. The socialist revolution became locked away in the more backward parts of the world economy.
Nonetheless, for a while (1930 to 1970) these economies enjoyed dramatic growth, largely due to the benefits of a planned economy. Without that the Soviet Union would never have been able to develop from a largely peasant into an industrial society, and to defeat the Nazi invasion in World War II.
However, for a planned economy to yield its full potential it has to harness the creativity of working people.Without criticism, feedback and democratic decision-making between various options there can be no flexible and efficient socialist planning. Unfortunately, by the time the Gorbachev leadership tried to do this through glasnost and perestroika, it was too late. The mass of people had lost faith in the system. Their attitude was summed up in the cynical saying: "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." Sixty years of bureaucratic terror and misrule had poisoned the socialist ideal.
With the fall of "communism" a section of the bureaucracy (under Boris Yeltsin) has moved to restore capitalism in the former Soviet Union, and the decline in production, living standards and the health of the people has been worse than since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
This confirms Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky's assessment of the choices facing the former Soviet Union, made in the 1930s: "The collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus to the abolition of state property. The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture."
Isn't the problem deeper than that? No amount of planning, democratic or bureaucratic, can substitute for the free play of the market. Also, capitalism may have its problems, but at least it guarantees technical progress. Wasn't it Karl Marx who said that capitalism "cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production"?
Under capitalism the latest technological breakthroughs are only applied to production if they are expected to be profitable. This generally happened while capitalism was competitive (before the rise of the monopolies) and is sometimes the case today (the computer revolution): often, however, powerful companies have a vested interest in buying up patents to suppress inventions that would devalue their existing investments.
Next, the direction of technical progress under capitalism is dictated by the needs of capital, chiefly its need to survive. That's why such technological marvels as the Stealth bomber co-exist with the destruction of public health and welfare and paltry research funding for environmentally benign technology. Much of the "technical progress" we have is lethal.
Lastly, technical progress is directly related to the amount of resources put into research and development. A democratic socialist society will devote a lot of resources into developing technologies to eliminate the most dangerous, tedious and polluting methods of production.
As for the market, whenever supporters of capitalism wax lyrical about its beautiful efficiency they always talk in the abstract. Their ideal market smoothly conveys information to buyers and sellers, guides resources to their most efficient use, and distributes income in precise proportion to the contribution given by land, labour and capital.
Look at the real world and the picture changes immediately. Not the economists' dream of supply equalling demand but mountains of unsold food while millions starve; not smooth adjustment of investment to meet demand for new machinery and buildings but the incurable cycle of boom-and-bust; not equality between buyer and seller but an unstoppable decline in the prices of Third World exports; not a few minor "externalities" but massive social and environmental costs unpaid by the polluters.
Yes, sometimes the market is the right tool for the job. The problem is that under capitalism the market and private ownership of resources dominate our entire economic and social life. By contrast, under democratic socialism, the extent of market relations and private enterprise will be an issue for democratic decision by society as a whole.
The democratic socialist alternative
How would a democratic socialist society actually work?
By following the principle that all decisions should be made by those affected by them or by their elected representatives. In a phrase, by extending the principle of democracy to all spheres of life.
The big decisions, like how much to save and consume, how much to devote to heavy industry and how much to social services, would be decided by a national assembly; decisions affecting only one industry or region would be made by (representatives of) the workers, communities and consumers concerned. In general the approach would be to decentralise decisionmaking as much as compatible with the overall good of society. This would be a powerful antidote to bureaucracy.
This approach is the most democratic and the most efficient because it most liberates working people's creative potential. Working class history is rich in examples (from the Soviet workers who designed tanks to win World War 2 to the alternative plans developed by the shop stewards at UK firm Lucas Aerospace) of what working people can achieve when freed from the constraints of capitalist and bureaucratic organisation. In a democratic socialist society, the fullest scope will be given to workers' creativity.
A second guiding principle will be that of supporting the interests of those who have most suffered discrimination and oppression. This will also require the active mobilisation of women, people of colour, lesbians and gay men in the ongoing struggle to root out remnants of racism, sexism, elitism and prejudice.
A socialist society would be free to develop a wide range of methods to ensure democratic rule. The rights of petition and referendum would be greatly extended; representatives would be accountable, subject to the right of recall and paid no more than the average wage. We don't have a detailed blueprint of such a system, which will arise out of the struggles of the working people themselves, but the early days of the Soviet Union and the Cuban system of People's Power show what is possible — and that was in conditions of terrible poverty and capitalist aggression.
Of course, democracy is not a magic wand that banishes conflicts and special interests at a stroke; nor can it be implemented irrespective of economic conditions. But it does enable conflict to be negotiated in a way that advances the general interest. The building of democratic socialism makes society a school of self-administration and self-management. As it progresses, the divisions and oppressive traditions inherited from capitalist society will gradually break down. Essential here is the progressive shortening of the working day, so that people can spend more and more time in learning the arts of administration and developing their all-round creative potential.
So what is the DSP's attitude to the remaining countries that are called socialist? Are there some you support more than others? Is there one that you consider a model for a socialist government in Australia?
It's actually misleading to call any of the existing countries where capitalism has been overthrown "socialist". Since socialism involves the use of the world's resources to meet human need, it can only exist on a world scale. So the "socialist" countries are countries on the road to socialism.
That said, we consider all the countries where capitalism has been overthrown as great gains for the peoples of the countries concerned and for working people all over the world. Because of the priority given to social spending they have achieved a higher real standard of living than capitalist powers with a similar income. Their very existence has helped scare capitalist governments into providing basic measures of social support like the dole.
These countries have our solidarity: we defend and support them unconditionally. That means opposing imperialist aggression (such as the US blockade of Cuba) and countering the unending barrage of lies and distortions directed against them in the mainstream media.
At the same time we distinguish between those where bureaucracies have usurped the political rights and power of the working people (China, North Korea) and those where the governments, despite innumerable difficulties, act in the working people's interests (Cuba, Vietnam).
We don't believe it is possible for one people's struggle for socialism to model itself on another if that means trying to imitate everything that was done or creating structures that are exactly the same; each country faces different conditions and problems, has its own traditions and culture, and has to work out its own way of dealing with them.
At the same time, there is a great deal that we can and should learn from the experiences of other countries. A leader of the Cuban Communist Party put it very well when he said that socialists have to be able "to learn from others and think for themselves".
This is also why the DSP maintains close links with like-minded parties in other countries: through mutual solidarity and discussion our common struggle for socialism is strengthened.
What does the DSP say about Australia? Do you support the Australian national interest?
When it comes to the Australian "national interest" we agree with the old saying: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." When Australian governments are intent on flogging a policy "in the national interest" 99 times out of a 100 it will mean involvement in crimes against the peoples of this region — like the Liberals' involvement in the Vietnam War, or Labor's acquiescence in the Indonesian genocide in East Timor.
The fundamental issue here is that Australia is an imperialist country: it's one of the group of developed capitalist countries that draw extra profits, above those provided by Australian workers, from the exploitation of the underdeveloped countries.
This is different from the situation in underdeveloped countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines. Nationalism there is progressive when it's directed against imperialism: it represents the rightful anger of the robbed against the robbers and people's aspiration to economic and political self-determination.
In Third World countries the main support of the system of oppression and exploitation are the multinational corporations: the local capitalists who co-operate with them are rightly seen as puppets of a foreign enemy.
By contrast, Australian capitalists are their own masters. They have an independent state that defends them, and they decide what "national interest" means. From Gallipoli to Vietnam, to Australia's deal to divide up the Timor Sea's oil with the Indonesian generals, the "national interest" is a code word for the interests of Australian corporations.
The DSP fights for Canberra to close US bases like Pine Gap, get out of Anzus and withdraw support from the murderous Suharto regime in Indonesia. We support the liberation struggles of the East Timorese, Bougainvilleans and West Papuans.
Of course, we don't confuse this "national interest" with pride in the Australian people's achievements in science and culture and all other fields of human endeavour. Indeed, it's partly because we're proud of the best in this tradition that we fight for Australia to have a progressive foreign policy — in solidarity with the rights of peoples and not with military dictators.
Socialists are a small minority today in Australia, and most Australians are comfortably well off. How can you achieve your goals?
The job of achieving these goals isn't ours. The transformation of society we envisage can only come about through conscious political action by the majority.
Some, inevitably a minority, will become convinced of the possibility of democratic socialism through study, reading and discussion. But most people will come to this view through struggle against capitalism as it touch their lives.
Yes, some Australian workers are comfortably enough off while they've still got jobs. But even for them "labour market restructuring", privatisation and deregulation are making life more and more insecure. And that's without talking about the two-and-a-half million people surviving below the poverty line. Don't forget, too, that the environmental crisis increasingly affects everybody.
Moreover, Australian big business's competitive needs dictate that austerity must continue. The Business Council of Australia and other employer groups never tire of reminding us how "restructuring" must be an unending process if the Australian economy is to stay in the race.
This means that working-class, community, environmental and many other struggles are unavoidable. As they involve broader masses of people, more will come to see that the root cause of our problems lies not in our individual inadequacy or sinfulness, nor simply in bad laws, nor in wrongheaded policy or poor government, but in the basic economic and political arrangements of this society.
When we list the immediate goals of the DSP — full employment, decent public services, environmental restoration and an end to all types of discrimination -- it's clear that there's already mass support for them and broad disillusionment with the existing parties that have abandoned nearly all pretence of delivering.
This state of affairs will sooner or later produce a new wave of rejection of politics-as-normal in Australia — possibly taking the form of an electoral alternative to Labor, like the centre-left Alliance in New Zealand, or of the revival of a genuine left wing in the unions after a decade of suffocation by the Accord.
Developments like these would transform the Australian political landscape, helping put the struggle for democratic socialism onto the agenda of mainstream politics. It could well lead to the formation of a new party of working people that would help to unite their struggles. That would make possible a radically different sort of government — one that put's people's needs first.
Are we talking about violent revolution here, or can change be brought about peacefully?
It certainly won't be brought about without action by masses of people. That's the only force that's capable of shifting entrenched interests, as the examples of the anti-Vietnam War and Franklin Dam movements show. However, we would be the last people to stand in the way of a peaceful solution.
The DSP stands for the universal application of the principle of democracy. That means economic democracy too, which involves having the working majority make the decisions that are presently made in corporate boardrooms. The question is: if a majority expresses its desire for democratic socialism, or threatens the present prerogatives of capital, will corporate Australia resign itself to the loss of these powers? History has yet to provide us with an example of such democratic behaviour on the part of the privileged few.
So, while we prefer to achieve our goals by means of peaceful mass struggle, we expect that big business will resist with all the resources it commands. That means working people must be prepared to defend their rights and gains, by whatever means necessary.
The DSP and Australian politics
Does your support for mass movements mean that the DSP is opposed to parliamentary democracy?
We support everything that is democratic about parliamentary democracy . . . which is precious little. As things stand we have a right to decide, every three or four years, whether Labour or Liberal will implement austerity. Once elected, "our" politicians are out of our control; parliamentary "democracy" enshrines the principle of unaccountability! Who over the last ten years voted for wage cuts; privatisation; Australian involvement in the Gulf War; tax cuts for the superrich and companies; interest rates at 20 per cent; and the 1990-1993 recession?
The DSP supports a wide range of proposals designed to democratise parliament and the electoral system. These range from proportional representation to citizen-initiated referenda and have the aim of promoting the accountability of elected representatives. For example, New Zealand with modified proportional representation now has a more democratic electoral system than Australia.
However, reforms like these would only help open the door to the solution of society's problems. We believe that lasting progress can only come through grassroots organisation and action. It's not that we don't see electoral politics as important. We support democratic socialist election campaigns and we look to unite with other progressive forces to help build an electoral alternative to Labor and Liberal.
Yet we recognise that this action is only part of building an all-round political alternative and that if parliament enacts progressive legislation it's nearly always just codifying in law victories that have been won through people's mass action.
Is that why the DSP puts a lot of attention into building the social movements, like women's liberation and the environment?
It all goes back to our view that only masses of people in action can bring genuine progress — especially the action of the most oppressed, outcast and victimised in this society. Through such struggle people don't only affirm pride in their identity; they also break down the prejudices of media dominated "public opinion", force their case onto the political agenda and, most importantly, come to experience the empowerment that comes with self-organisation.
Would there be equal opportunity legislation for women without the struggles of the women's liberation movement? Would we have even the inadequate "Mabo" legislation without decades of Aboriginal struggles? Such questions answer themselves.
For us such mass struggles are steps on the road to socialism. They are the school through which exploited classes and groups in society learn to know their own interests and how to advance them.
Finally, when we talk in a shorthand way about the social movements, we always have to keep in mind that each movement is different. Our analysis of such movements and how we think they can advance is covered in detail in the publications listed at the back of this pamphlet.
How do you see the role of the trade unions, especially when most of their leaders have supported the ACTU-ALP Accord?
It's certainly true, with a few exceptions, that union leaderships today are quite conservative; their reluctance to fight back against the attacks of capital is the main reason real wages and conditions have been declining over the past decade.
Today the ACTU is nearly completely integrated into the plans of the Labor government — look at Seceretary Bill Kelty's position on the Reserve Bank board. Despite the occasional scuffle with the Labor government, this integration has led the ACTU into anti-worker positions at home and abroad. It promotes the Liberal agenda of enterprise bargaining (which acts to increase competition amongst workers), and it supports the push of Australian big capital into the region, supporting government-run "yellow" unions, like the SPSI in Indonesia.
However, no matter how undemocratic and conservative they are, unions are the only real weapons that workers have to protect their interest. They're the only organisations through which all workers in an industry can be united; and that will be the case until the working people have a government of their own. So we're in favour of everything that strengthens unions, even unions that at present have a right-wing leadership.
The DSP says that there are three broad ways to achieve this: through building union democracy to return real decision-making power to members; through united action between unions (say in defense of the public sector and against privatisation); and through fighting for the political and organisational independence of the unions from the ALP.
The DSP and other parties
You keep attacking Labor and Liberal. Isn't there any difference between them?
Our general approach in politics is to build the broadest unity possible on the issues on which we share agreement. That applies to the ALP (and its factions), and any other political organisation.
However, individual issues apart, both Liberal and Labor are "bipartisan" on the fundamental goal of keeping Australian big capital on a better footing against its competitors. So they also agree that private profits must be restored, wages kept in check, the public sector made "lean and mean" and an aggressive Australian economic push made into Asian markets. Anything that gets in the way of these basics (like greenhouse gas reduction targets, full employment or East Timorese sovereignty) has got to go.
But there are important differences, mainly in the method with which they defend corporate interests. Labor's special offer for big capital -- one the Liberals can't match — is social peace and wage restraint policed by the ACTU. In the 1980s it was Labor that smashed the militant unionism of the air pilots and the Builders Labourers Federation; in the 1990s it is Labor that is able to implement slabs of the Coalition's Fightback! package and industrial relations agenda.
A second disadvantage for the Liberals (and the Nationals) is simply who they are — the Toorak and Sydney North Shore set, monarchist fogeys young and old, millionaire pastoralists and beer barons, anti-union hatchet men like Peter Costello and ultra-right gurus from bone "dry" think tanks like the H.R. Nicholls Society.
The ALP, on the other hand, is the party for the upwardly mobile and ambitious careerist — often young working-class men and women like Paul Keating who are hell-bent on rising as far above their class as possible. Labor is therefore much more easily able to pretend to govern "for all Australians". That makes it a much more flexible tool for the job of capitalist restructuring, as even Liberal-minded sections of big business increasingly acknowledge.
Surely the ALP is the representative of the unions?
When the ALP was founded, the idea was that it would be the parliamentary representative of the unions, but reality has proved a bit different. For a start, how do you "represent" the unions politically, when they consist of both ordinary members battling to pay the mortgage, and union officials enjoying million dollar homes and on the make for seats in parliament?
It's simply not possible to represent the interests of both, because they have different interests. The ALP and ACTU long ago settled the question by becoming the political representatives of conservative trade union officials. They think accepting the needs of capital is the only realistic policy: in fact they're as keen as management to have Australian business adopt "world's best practice", "benchmarking", "total quality" and all the other paraphenalia of "human resource management" — so long as business doesn't cut them out of the action.
But what about the ALP left wing? They fight for reforms, and they don't always agree with the actions and policies of Labor governments.
In general the ALP left vacillates between pressure from the working class and the social movements and pressure from the ALP right for them to preserve government discipline. The ALP's faction system is the method for negotiating these competing pressures.
What the traditional ALP left fears most of all is isolation from the ALP, which it identifies with the working class — despite all evidence to the contrary. This means that when most ALP left MPs have to choose between loyalty to any particular cause and loyalty to the ALP they nearly always end up bowing to the right majority in caucus.
So more often than not the left wing of the ALP, especially its leaders, are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Rather than championing the cause of workers and social movements against the right, the traditional Labor left often turns on the movements themselves, seeking to moderate their demands and struggles so as not to embarrass the Labor government and weaken its support within the corporate boardrooms.
But there are a lot of decent people in the ALP. Do you just write them off?
There are well-intentioned people in the ALP, who see working in that party as the most practical way of pursuing progressive policies. Indeed, it's quite tempting to think that "if only enough good people joined the ALP, it could be changed from within".
The only problem is . . . it never has been! "Good people" have been trying to reform the ALP for a century. The left has won a few victories on particular issues; but has never succeeded in wresting control from the right. Indeed, the history of the labour and progressive movements in the advanced capitalist countries does not boast one example of socialists successfully wresting control of a mass Labor (or Social Democratic) Party from the pro-capitalist right wing.
The basic reason is that, when threatened with the growth of a genuine left within the party, the pro-business right will use every manouevre and piece of skullduggery to maintain its control: if the left actually gets the upper hand the right splits.
And that's talking about a genuine left movement in the ALP: the actual ALP left has, with a few exceptions, simply been going through the motions of opposition to the Hawke-Keating-Kelty agenda. And sincere and principled ALP members have been booted out, more often than not for calling on ALP governments to implement ALP policy! They have joined the ranks of the tens of thousands of radical activists who have been used, corrupted or spat out by parties of this type.
It always pays to recall a little history when discussing this issue. For whether the left has had 25 or 45 per cent of the vote inside the ALP has never been an important factor in bringing about social progress or defeating the right. Indeed, in Australian history working people did best when there was a big left-wing party, the old Communist Party of Australia, outside the ALP, pressing on its left flank.
We think decent radicals should get out of the ALP and get involved in the job of building an authentic alternative to the Lib-Lab "one-party-with-two-factions" setup of politics today.
This analysis doesn't mean we don't work with ALP members in specific campaigns, for example against privatisation, or that they don't do valuable work for progressive causes. It's simply that such work would be much more valuable and effective if it were done outside the corrupting world of ALP numbers games and branch-stacking.
But if the ALP can't be trusted, what alternative is there? The Democrats? The Greens?
The alternative is a new party for working people. None of the existing "third parties" measures up, partly because they mostly don't understand that there is a fundamental conflict between the interests of working people and those of the employers, partly because most think getting into parliament is the be-all and end-all of political life. Of course, that doesn't mean that many activists in these parties won't be part of a new party.
A new party of working people would be:
# "Red and green". The fight for the environment can't be separated from the fight for social justice and jobs. A new working people's party have a red-green approach to all issues and would seek to build an alliance of all the victims of the present set-up, from small farmers to people on welfare, from the unemployed to Aboriginal people.
# Active and involving. The role for the "party faithful" in existing parties is to pay dues and hand out on election day. However, a new party of working people would be involved in the struggles and movements that bring progressive social change.
# Internationalist. A new party of working people would act on the principle "think globally, act locally". It would understand that there are no solutions to the problems of Australian society that involve accepting injustice and repression of others.
# Democratic and accountable. Instead of having parliamentarians who flout party policy as soon as they rise into parliament, it would require all representatives to faithful to the decisions of the party membership.
But why does the DSP advocate the formation of another party? How can it happen?
It's simply a matter of judging, realistically, what is required to break the logjam that exists because most people see no practical alternative other than Liberal or Labor. At present, there aren't thousands and thousands of people in Australia who are convinced of the need for socialism and who are ready to join a socialist party. But there are many thousands who are dissatisfied with Labor's right-wing course (from privatisation to East Timor) and who would support a party that consistently defended progressive policies.
That doesn't mean that there's no need for a party like the DSP — just the contrary. The role of socialists is crucial in bringing about a new party. We explain why and how to break from Labor, help to build progressive struggles and to form alliances between the different forces that are fighting back.
That's one of the reasons the DSP supports Green Left Weekly, Australia's main alternative paper. It helps activists in the social movements and the trade unions to stay informed and work together. It's a step towards closer forms of collaboration.
There are a number of ways such a party can come about. For example, a group of unions who were fed up with being sold out by Labor could promote it, as could an alliance of community and environmental organisations.
It may well be that the growth of such a party will involve different steps, starting with loose alliances and agreements around particular issues. we support any development with the potential to lead to the growth of a new party of working people.
A new party of working people sounds like a long shot. Shouldn't people just work for the causes they believe in and leave parties alone?
Ridding the world of the scourges of poverty, inequality, discrimination and inhumanity can't be achieved as a series of campaigns around issues, or even of getting a bigger vote for democratic socialism at successive elections. It's vital to get to the root causes of these problems.
There is little point in fighting against privatisation, restricted access to abortion or the betrayal of East Timor if we don't also fight for an end to the corporate monopoly of economic power and the Lib-Lab domination of Australian political life. Until that changes, evven the gains on "single issues"[ are at risk, as the ongoing struggle to defend and extend abortion rights so clearly shows.
It's a simple point: each of the main classes in society needs its own party to represent and fight for its interests. If the working people and social movements try to do without one they are doomed to fight with one hand tied behind their back.
How the DSP works
What do DSP members actually do?
DSP members work together to convince people that there is an alternative to this society and to the mainstream "Lib-Lab" political agenda, and to participate in all struggles and trends that point in that direction. Most of us are active in our union and/or one of the social movements. We also put a lot of effort into selling and raising funds for Green Left Weekly, the main alternative newspaper in Australia.
We also build and participate in broad gatherings of the left and green movements. We participate in election campaigns. We promote public discussion of current issues. We hold classes and seminars on socialist, feminist and environmental politics and theory. And members contribute financially to the party
How is the DSP organised?
Branches are normally formed on a geographical basis; all members in a city or part of a city will belong to a single branch. This meets at least monthly to discuss and decide on its activities.
How do you adopt policy and select leaders?
Each branch elects its own leadership; elections are held at least every six months. On a national level, we elect delegates to a national conference, usually held every two years, where party policies and activities are decided and the National Committee, our leadership between conferences, is elected. The National Committee elects other bodies that keep the party running from day to day.
DSP members who are involved in a particular area of activity meet together as necessary to discuss and co-ordinate their work. For example, DSP members who are active in a particular union or in the women's liberation movement or peace movements meet from time to time to discuss their activity.
The DSP tries to help and encourage each and every member to develop their abilities through experience and training in a range of different areas. Branch leaderships, for example, will ask members to take on tasks in which they can learn something new, and if necessary will ask a more experienced member to assist.
We try to "multiskill" all members. Probably the biggest test of existing leaders is how well they help to train new leaders, especially those who have extra difficulties put in their way by this society, such as women.
What role do young people have in the DSP?
We have members of all ages. At the same time, young people have particular interests and concerns, and want to be able to learn through their own experiences. We encourage young people, including those in the DSP, to join the radical youth organisation Resistance. The DSP collaborates politically with Resistance, but Resistance is an independent organisation, which decides its own policies and activities.
To be a DSP member do you have to be very active and know a lot about politics?
We have no hard and fast rules about how active members should be, because everyone has a different level of activity they can sustain and different amounts of time they can devote. In general members are encouraged to be as active as they can, but without wearing themselves out in constant hectic activity.
People interested in membership also needn't worry about their present level of political knowledge. As the saying goes: "It doesn't matter where you're coming from; it's where you're going that counts."
If you decide to join the DSP you become a provisional member. During that time you attend an introductory class series and get to see in more detail how the party works. If on closer acquaintance you're convinced the DSP is the party for you, you apply for full membership. This is then decided upon by the branch in your area.
Why should I join the DSP?
Because it's the best way to be part of the solution to our world's environmental and social crisis. History has shown time and again that without a skilled and experienced leadership we cannot win the big battles for social and environmental justice, no matter what partial victories we sustain on the way.
Having a party like the DSP means we don't have to "reinvent the wheel" when new struggles arise: while always learning from new struggles, the party applies the experience it has built up from previous engagements.
Building the party in all parts of the working class and the social movements helps each and every struggle by strengthening the alliances between them. Our work in sustaining Green Left Weekly is helping to revive a left, green and radical culture in this country.
Membership of a party like ours means that activists aren't prey to the ups and downs of political life: we understand why and how movements come and go and what needs to be done to advance the democratic socialist cause in the quiet times and the busy times.
If you want to be an effective fighter for socialism, you should join the DSP.