Our revolutionary party-building perspective and the Socialist Alliance

[The following is an edited report and summary to 22nd DSP Congress presented by Peter Boyle on behalf of NE majority. The general line of the report and summary was adopted with the votes of 45 out of 60 delegates and 30 out of 40 consultative delegates. There were no abstentions.]


The working class is the main social force in the struggle to replace capitalism with socialism. For socialism to be more than an idea it has to be a political movement of the working class. This proposition is at the heart of Karl Marx’s theory of socialism.

In advanced capitalist countries such as Australia, wage workers are the main producers, and the working class is the largest class, constituting more than 80% of the population. The labour of wage workers is indispensable to the economic life of modern capitalism, and is the main source of capitalist profit.

The central place of wage workers in the productive process gives them the social power to overthrow capitalism. No other social class or group has the power to achieve this.

Since the beginning of the 20th century all the necessary material conditions have existed within the imperialist countries and on a world scale for this social revolution. But the existence of the necessary material conditions is by itself insufficient. Unlike all previous social transformations, the socialist revolution demands conscious action by the working class and its allies. Socialism can only be achieved through the united action of millions of working men and women conscious of their social interests and the steps necessary to realise them.

The need for a revolutionary party

The principal task of earlier social revolutions was to sweep away outmoded relations of production and the institutions defending those relations, thus clearing the way for the already spontaneously developing new mode of production.

However, because the socialist revolution seeks to substitute socially-planned economic development for the existing system of exploitation of the producers, the new system cannot develop spontaneously once capitalism is abolished. It requires the conscious restructuring of social relations to eradicate the division of society into classes.

The socialist revolution is also the first process of fundamental social change in human history to be carried out by the lowest social class. Unlike the capitalist class, which carried out its social revolution after it had developed considerable economic power and had accumulated a large amount of managerial experience, the working class can only realise its potential economic power and gain managerial experience after it has overthrown the old social order. And to do so it has to overcome a very powerful and influential capitalist ruling class.

All of this conditions the strategy, tactics and organisation of the working class in its struggle for power.

The main weapon of the working class in its fight against capitalism is the potentially immense power of its collective action. The working class is capable of spontaneously engaging in vast struggles around immediate objectives, and of reaching the level of class consciousness necessary to create mass organisations (such as trade unions, strike committees) suitable for waging these struggles.

But such spontaneous action is insufficient to create the level of political consciousness, or to achieve the unity of action, required to overthrow capitalist rule and reorganise society along socialist lines.

Under capitalism, and for a considerable time after its overthrow, the working class is marked by uneven political consciousness stemming from the different conditions under which its members live and their different experience in struggle.

Moreover, the capitalist class deliberately fosters divisions within the working class and in society as a whole, granting privileges to some while systematically discriminating against others. Think: Tampa, Cronulla Beach.

During periods of intense mass struggle, large numbers of people become receptive to socialist ideas. In times of relative social passivity, the working class is more easily dominated by ruling-class ideology.

For all of these reasons, the working class cannot as a whole or spontaneously acquire the political class-consciousness necessary to prepare and guide its struggle for socialism. So we need a party uniting all who are struggling against the abuses and injustices of capitalism and who have developed a socialist consciousness. We need a party that persists through the rise and falls of the social movements.

The role and character of the revolutionary party

We need to build a mass revolutionary party to provide leadership to the struggles of the working class, not only for better terms for the sale of labour power and to win and defend progressive social reforms but for the abolition of the very social system that gives the rich control over the entire well-being of working people.

In the absence of such a party, the valuable experiences of groups of militant and politically conscious workers and other fighters tend to be isolated and lost.

But a party capable of undertaking such colossal tasks cannot arise spontaneously or haphazardly. It must be built continuously, consistently and consciously. This requires determined and systematic work aimed at winning influence in all sectors of the mass movement, and persistent attention to recruiting new members, training them to become professional revolutionary activists.

We need a party of principled opposition to the rule of the capitalist class and one that constantly seeks opportunities to organise the broadest masses for effective anti-capitalist political action.

If a revolutionary party is to avoid the dangers of sectarian isolation, it is necessary to maintain the closest contact with the broad masses of the working people and all the progressive social struggles of the day. Through this daily involvement with the realities of the struggle the party’s ideas are constantly modified and tested, and in this process the party makes judgments about appropriate organisational forms and its role in the existing political situation.

Ultimately, only a revolutionary socialist party that has deep roots in the working class, that is composed primarily of workers, and that enjoys the respect and confidence of the workers, can lead the oppressed and exploited masses in overthrowing the political and economic power of capital.

The central aim of the DSP is to build such a mass revolutionary socialist party in Australia.

If what I have said so far sounds familiar it is because it is pretty much word for word from the Program of the DSP on socialist strategy and tactics. It’s the closest thing we have to an “I believe”.

I’ve gone through this because it goes to the heart of the debate we have had in the pre-congress discussion. In the opinion of the National Executive/National Committee majority - and as the draft resolution states unambiguously - there are real and significant forces moving left-ward in the working class, forces that we are relating to, on a broad political basis, through building the Socialist Alliance as a new party project.

However, the NE/NC minority has argued strongly that this political opening does not exist and that it is just an opening that we wish existed. That’s the heart of our disagreement.

In the course of debate, the minority has begun to challenge our very concept of party-building strategy and tactics and has begun to distort our history, the lessons we have drawn from it and from struggles of other revolutionaries. So I am going to go through some of our history and our political heritage.

Our past left regroupment efforts

From the early 1980s to the early 1990s our party acted on every single opportunity we found to unite with real progressive forces in political motion.

  • In 1984, we initiated the Social Rights Conference to try and bring together forces opposed to the ALP-ACTU Accord. If only we then had the alliances we have with militant unionists that we have today!
  • Later that year we threw our efforts into building Nuclear Disarmament Party.
  • In 1986 and 1987, we explored to the fullest extent possible building a new left party with the previous Communist Party of Australia.
  • Then in 1988 and 1989, our party made every effort to unite with the Socialist Party of Australia (which has since renamed itself the CPA).
  • Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s we were involved in various Green alliances, including the formation that became the NSW Greens. We even helped draft slabs of their platform that survive today.

Left regroupment has never ever been there to be had – like a prepared dinner ready to be eaten. It has always been a struggle and so it is today in the Socialist Alliance. Many of the challenges we face today in the Socialist Alliance were also faced in our previous regroupment attempts in the 1980s.

Not a single one of those openings in the 1980s was an immediate opening to quickly build a new mass workers party. Yet we dived in and pursued these openings, just as the majority argues we need continue to pursue today’s regroupment openings through the Socialist Alliance, albeit with the appropriate tactical adjustments.

The suggestion that the regroupment openings in the 1980s offered quick roads to a mass party is a fiction born of hasty and careless polemic in the pre-congress discussion.

It is true that when Labor junked its anti-uranium policy in 1984, the NDP did grow fast – on the back of the already existing mass anti-nuclear campaign. Our party, then the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), jumped in to help that process by setting up NDP branches, becoming full-time NDP organisers and helping set up party-like structures for the fledging organisation. By early 1985, the NDP’s impact was being felt. In the elections, 642,435 people had cast their primary vote for the NDP, and thousands of members had joined in just a few months. It had won one Senate seat, and nearly won a second.

But while quite a few left-wingers from the ALP joined they did not, in general, put their hands up to take responsibility for the NDP’s organisation. Those who did, besides us were the more small-l liberal types (and the comrades assigned to full-time NDP organising became reluctant to do it over time for this reason). The NDP was a very loose party, and in no way socialist. The activity levels of the great bulk of its members (and there was difficulty getting agreement on who was a member and who wasn’t) barely extended beyond a bit of election campaigning.

As Comrade Greg Adamson explained in a 1999 Green Left Weekly article on that experience:

The party included a hugely diverse membership. Strong support was gained from the working-class industrial cities of Newcastle and Wollongong to the wealthy Sydney eastern suburbs. Hundreds of experienced and sceptical older political activists rubbed shoulders with enthusiastic and optimistic teenagers.

To forge a single political party from this range required patient, careful building of trust around practical and effective campaigns against the nuclear menace. However, the party's opponents were anything but willing to give the NDP the breathing space it needed. This external pressure was successful in causing a central core of high-profile leaders to doubt the possibility of building the NDP. (1)

So don’t imagine that the NDP was an example of an easy road to a new mass party. It was a struggle, which then turned into a conservative split led by Peter Garrett, Jo Vallentine and others.

If the New Left Party, the project we pursued with the old CPA, had been formed in the late 1980s, how big do you think it would have been? Probably not much bigger than the SA today. Maybe 1000 members, and most of them would have had the same average activity level of SA members. And what would have been the politics of most of these members? Their politics would have ranged from revolutionary Marxist to liberal left, with a fair few outright opportunists thrown in as well. We even had debates over 1985-86 about how prominent, or if at all, the “s” word should be in the new party’s name and its charter.

What union militant force would the New Left Party have pulled in had it succeeded? The CPA had a few union officials, but they were unlikely to have brought in an active militant trade union current such as the one we are currently engaged with via the Socialist Alliance. Their union officials had been unwilling to criticise the smashing of the Builders’ Labourers Federation, and some had even supported the Accord.

Our efforts at unity with the Socialist Party of Australia would have, if it had succeeded, given us a new party of about 500 members, quite a significant proportion of whom would have been inactive. To be generous, the SPA could have brought in about 70 activists, but many of them would have been 65 or older. They may have had another 200 inactive members on top of that. The SPA did have a number of union militants, mainly on the waterfront, but most were on the verge of retirement or had already retired. Indeed, the attraction of fusion with the SWP-DSP for some of these good old worker militants in the SPA was precisely the fact that we would bring in the young activists they knew were needed if the left was to have a future.

Lessons drawn in the 1990s

Did we later reconsider this approach to party building? Did we draw the conclusion that after all these failed regroupment attempts, our “real” party-building strategy was always just to build the DSP?

The NE minority report, given by Comrade John Percy, to our October 2005 NC quoted a paragraph from Jim Percy’s party-building report at the DSP NC, October 7, 1991:

One of the things we’ve done is to try every tactic to break out of our isolation. That’s what we did in the 1980s, and there’s a sort of danger in doing that, in and of itself – in downplaying the importance and permanency of our party, in unsettling comrades who start to look for a breakthrough or even begin to confuse our ideas with the less formed ideas of others on the left. (2)

John then added, “We had to emphasise the party again then, party-building and recadreisation!” and argued that now we have to do the same again. So this short quote from a report by Jim Percy in 1991 was enlisted to support the minority report’s proposition that our “central strategic task” is building the DSP as our party while the Socialist Alliance should be an auxiliary tactic to advance this strategic task.

It is very misleading to take that particular paragraph of Jim’s 1991 report out of context. But it taps a certain minority mood in the DSP’s membership today – one of nervousness and uncertainty about how we are faring and some pessimism about the objective conditions. It is not hard to understand where this is coming from. Comrades are worried about the small size of Resistance, low Green Left Weekly sales, etc. In addition, there is Howard’s legislative blitzkrieg following the Coalition obtaining a majority in both houses of federal Parliament and the still low morale of many social movement activists (the milieu that most influences the DSP membership).

We have put into place measures (both political and organisational) that are successfully addressing the recadreisation challenge and the need to strengthen Resistance. I will come back to this later in the report and the DSP tasks and youth work reports will take this up in greater detail.

But we also need to note the differences in objective conditions between 1991 and 2005. The context of Jim’s October 1991 report was a huge global defeat: the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, we are not on the edge of a whole period of global retreat. If anything we are coming out of that period. As the international situation report presented by Comrade Kerryn Williams set out yesterday, there is the new revolutionary upsurge in Latin America (around the Venezuelan Revolution), imperialism is bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq, and in Australia we have just witnessed the biggest workers’ protest in this country’s history. And this is not just our hopeful view of the international situation. It is the view of the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutionaries.

We need to understand the context without hype or undue pessimism, and I think the draft resolution sums up the objective conditions in a careful and balanced way. In contrast, the minority report to the October 2006 NC and the minority report on the Australian political situation both had a much bleaker analysis.

Party-building strategy and tactics

Jim Percy’s October 1991 report went on to review various different party-building tactics and I will go through these, but first let us reiterate what our party-building strategy is, because the tactics must serve the strategy. Our party-building strategy is to build a mass revolutionary vanguard party of the working class. All our party building tactics should advance that strategy. We know that the vanguard status of such a party has to won in struggle. We know that no party can decree itself a vanguard – such status can only be won through struggle, and we certainly can’t say that the DSP is now that vanguard, or will necessarily be the form that such a vanguard will take. So we do not see our party-building strategy as building the DSP, full stop.

We also know we want to build a mass party of revolutionaries who are united around a program and prepared to act in a disciplined way, but that the unity and discipline is based on the political authority and respect that has to be won through successful leadership in actual struggle. That is the political point in the famous clowning and phrase-mongering quote from Left-wing Communism. (3)

Lenin’s argument was that the discipline and unity required of a party that can lead a revolution is only built up politically through the class consciousness of the vanguard of the working class, its ability to link up with the broadest masses and ability to exercise political leadership over the masses. He said: “Without these conditions all attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end up in phrase-mongering and clowning. On the other hand these conditions cannot emerge at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience.”

Back in Jim Percy’s October 1991 report, you can read of the different kinds of party-building tactics we have used to advance out party-building strategy:

  1. Entrism, essentially a hostile tactic of entering a broader organisation to break it up and recruit from its ranks (a tactic which we have only attempted in the ALP and Young Labor);
  2. New party regroupment, seeking to regroup the socialist left, which in this country today includes mostly unorganised leftists;
  3. Fusions, which we successfully conducted with the Communist League in the 1970s and failed with the SPA in the 1980s; and
  4. Regroupment with broader left-ward moving elements, essentially what we attempted with the NDP and the Greens.

Through much of the 1990s, new regroupment openings did not arise. I remember discussions at our conferences then when some comrades asked why we were not creating such openings and remember replying that we can’t just create such openings because we understand that they will be necessary as part of our struggle to build a mass vanguard party. Some comrades thought there might be an opening when the Progressive Labour Party was formed. But our comrades in Melbourne concluded it was not a real opening. So building the DSP was our central party-building tactic in those years. We more or less held our own in membership, rising and falling a little with the movements.

But in the 1990s we also applied the regroupment tactic by replacing our party newspaper Direct Action with a broad, non-party newspaper project, Green Left Weekly. We did try to use the Green Left Association as an organizational form around which to attempt some degree of regroupment. While that did not really work, Green Left Weekly has kept and built up a broad political periphery. A significant part of this periphery has now become loosely organized in and around the Socialist Alliance.

Our 2002 decision to try and build the Socialist Alliance as a new party project was a combination of the second and fourth tactics described above. But it also had a new aspect because in all our previous regroupment attempts we faced stronger opponents within the project, whether it was the opportunist stars in the NDP or, the CPA. We faced an uphill battle even to win a basic democratic framework necessary to develop the politics of those projects.

In contrast, in the Socialist Alliance we were the initiators and the strongest force. While we made concessions we also quickly established a basic democratic framework and a political platform that allowed us to campaign in elections and in the movements. The initial modest progress with a loose regroupment with a number of smaller socialist groups, which is how the Alliance began in 2001, gave us a platform to attempt a regroupment with broader forces, including militant trade unionists and wider layers of leftists inspired and emboldened because of this link. (4)

In 2002, we recognized this opening in Socialist Alliance. We noticed that the affiliates had become less than half of its membership and that key natural leaders of the working class had joined. We saw a chance to build a new left party that might contest for more of the political space to the left of neo-liberal Labor, which Jim Percy’s October 1991 NC report identified as the “key tactical question of party building” for us in this period of neo-liberal advance, Lib-Lab bipartisanship and Stalinist collapse.

This was applying Leninism, as the party-building report adopted by the October 2003 NC meeting noted:

… some people may think that because we are leading the push for a new multi-tendency socialist party today, that the principles of organisation that we adopted in the DSP have proven a failure.

But that’s a mistake. We still stand by the principles of revolutionary organisation inspired by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. This is because history has shown us that a socialist revolution cannot be led by any other sort of party. We are fighting to develop the Socialist Alliance into a broad, multi-tendency socialist party as a stage in the process of building a mass revolutionary party of the Leninist-type in this country. We have declared this perspective openly from the start, and we mean it.

We would not be in this position of building a broad multi-tendency socialist party today if not for the fact that we organised the way we did in the DSP over the last three decades. We would not have the cadre resources, the real assets and the political maturity to lead this new stage in party building. (5)

Draft resolution on party-building strategy and tactics

The resolution “The DSP and the Socialist Alliance” which we went on to adopt at our 21st Congress was also careful to locate our perspectives within the framework of Leninist party-building strategy and the draft resolution for this Congress, our 22nd, also takes up the question of Leninist party-building strategy and tactics. First it reaffirms our Leninist party-building strategy:

… socialist consciousness cannot grow in the absence of socialist organisation – a mass revolutionary socialist party based in the working class. This is because socialist consciousness does not develop spontaneously. It has to be struggled for in the face of a capitalist class with immense and highly centralised military, financial, political and ideological power. (Paragraph 28)

Then it goes on to summarise the party-building lessons we draw from the Bolsheviks’ experience in the Russian Revolution:

The experience of all mass working-class and popular struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist society – beginning with the Russian Revolution – confirms the following key lessons of the pioneering Bolshevik experience in this regard:

Socialist consciousness and successful struggle is impossible without a revolutionary program for leading the class struggle to a revolutionary socialist conclusion;

That program can only be developed and effectively applied by a party which – through its consistent political activity – can win a leadership or vanguard role in the working class;

That party must be comprised of activists who carry out such a program and who agree with and are capable of working collectively (i.e. in a disciplined way) to advance it; and

That party must have an internationalist perspective, understanding the role of imperialism and be firm in its goal of overthrowing its own ruling class. (Paragraph 29)

In our many discussions with other revolutionary groups about the way forward for the Socialist Alliance, we’ve noted that it is easy to agree we would like to have a mass workers’ party with these characteristics, but the question is how to get there. The draft resolution then notes that the program, organisation and the leadership has to be developed and tested in real struggles:

However, neither in Australia nor anywhere can these features be decreed or conjured up. The revolutionary program, organisation and leadership have to be developed and tested in a real struggle to provide leadership to Australian workers in all the battles – economic, political and ideological – that they will face. (Paragraph 30)

Further, the resolution rejects the notion that any one of the small revolutionary organisations in Australia today is going simple grow into a mass revolutionary party through accumulation of members:

By the same token, the mass revolutionary socialist party in this country will never be built simply by the incremental growth of the existing small socialist propaganda groups. The road to such a party will be conditioned by the specific social conditions and political developments that emerge. Crucial in this process will be the consistent effort by the consciously revolutionary forces to win over and fuse with the leaderships that emerge in the working class. (Paragraph 31)

The resolution then goes on to sketch the framework of the new-party tactic that we have constantly sought to apply, whenever we have seen the openings, at least since the mid-1980s:

The DSP continues to see the struggle to build a broadly based anti-capitalist party as a stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in this country. This has been our view since our 11th Congress in January 1986, when we affirmed that: “Only the creation of a serious anti-capitalist alternative, necessarily founded on a complete break with Labor reformism, can ...open the way to working class victories in the struggle against the bosses’ attempts to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis. Revolutionaries therefore place a high priority on helping to develop such a political alternative – a broadly based party that consistently counterposes defence of the interests of the workers and their allies to the illusions of class peace fostered by the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy. The road to building such a political alternative lies along the line of seeking unity among all who are willing to break with Labor reformism and to encourage the most broadly based action in defence of the interests of workers and their allies.” (Resolution on “The ALP and the fight for socialism”, available in the pamphlet Labor and the Fight for Socialism). We are confident that, while such a broad left party necessarily begins with an incomplete class struggle platform and a broad socialist objective (i.e. does not have an explicitly revolutionary program), in the course of united engagement in mass struggles, it will steadily and democratically develop its program in a more explicitly revolutionary direction. (Paragraph 32)

But is this just a statement about our general openness to “broadly based anti-capitalist party as a stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in this country”? Or is this a reference to a specific opening for such a new party project today? The next paragraph of the resolution connects this to the specific new party opening we still see in the Socialist Alliance:

While the Socialist Alliance has adopted as its perspective transforming itself into a multi-tendency socialist party, this is just a beginning of such a new party project. If there is a new rise in the class struggle, new potential partners will be drawn into the project for a new party and the Socialist Alliance may have to become part of or be transformed into or be supplanted by new structures for best organising the strongest political voice for anti-neoliberal resistance. (Paragraph 33)

No amount of quoting selectively or fudging the context can help the NE minority escape this reality: that the line of the draft resolution is that we still see the Socialist Alliance as a “beginning of such a new party project”. It is a specific opening to try and build a “broadly based anti-capitalist party as a stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in this country”.

This opening starts with the Socialist Alliance initiative but “may have to become part of or be transformed into or be supplanted by new structures” in order to draw in new potential partners that are thrown up by a new rise in the class struggle. And earlier sections of the resolution identify the possible beginnings of such a rise in the struggle against Howard’s latest attacks on workers’, welfare and civil rights. Again, that’s an assessment the minority and the majority on the NE have voted for, as did the majority of congress delegates yesterday.

Bleaker outlook of the NE minority report

However, the NE minority party-building report to the October 2005 NC presented a much bleaker outlook for the class struggle, one that is essentially in direct contradiction to the general line of the draft resolution that they included in the minority platform.

And the minority report we heard yesterday on the Australian political situation repeated that more pessimistic outlook.

Contrast this to the draft resolution’s assessment that:

  • “While understanding that the post-1998 political developments did not mark the end of two-and-a-half decades of class retreat, the scale of the 2005 ruling class offensive and the initial mass response against it means that there is the potential for a shift in the working class struggle which we need to be ready to respond to.”(Paragraph 14)
  • “A growing section of the working class and other oppressed and victimised sections of society has continued to look for a political alternative to the major parties.” (Paragraph 15)
  • “Through the Socialist Alliance, socialist politics occupies a greater portion of its potential political space than would otherwise be the case and has won a stronger hearing in the working class than it has enjoyed for decades. It remains the best available political vehicle to win over more militant trade union leaders and work more closely with a wider layer of working-class militants in the current political conditions. Socialists will continue to win more of the respect and confidence of these working class leaders and militants if we continue to struggle for a united socialist party.” (Paragraph 18)

The draft resolution says, unambiguously, that there is a constituency for a new party of class struggle.

What is the Socialist Alliance?

We can all agree there is no instant mass party opening today. One of the real challenges for us at this Congress is to work out what next steps can be taken to build SA as a new party project in its early stage? And, how can we do this while building up the core of revolutionary cadre that will be essential to take this project forward?

However, an objective assessment of our work in the Socialist Alliance over the last few years, as has been reported by leading comrades from around the country in pre-congress discussion, shows clearly it is a new party project which has put socialism on the political agenda for greater numbers of people, and has won for the socialist left “a stronger hearing in the working class than it has enjoyed for decades”.

Critically Socialist Alliance has already won the allegiance of a significant layer of working-class militants beyond the most prominent trade union leaders like Chris Cain and Craig Johnston who are proud and very-publicly-so Socialist Alliance members. And it has the close collaboration, respect and attention of broader layers of union militants and activists in other social movements.

I say “critically” because the militant tendency in the trade union movement is real. It has had a significant effect on politics since 1998, from the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) struggle to the S11-2000 blockade to the two mass worker mobilisations last year. It has promoted cross-union solidarity. It has persistently and increasingly worked with the radical left on union and other political campaigns. It has inspired other activists in other social movements. It has demonstrated its role as a real vanguard in the working class.

We took moves to become part of this militant tendency, and have had some success in Melbourne, Geelong and Perth in particular. But that wasn’t our only response. In the second half of 2002, we decided we needed a new party project to deepen and develop our engagement with this real vanguard. This project begins in Socialist Allance, but as the draft resolution says, may have to take other forms to encompass more of the vanguard we seek to bring into a new party.

I guess if you had an “instant new party” expectation or if you envisaged the Socialist Alliance as a quick recruiting manouevre for the DSP, you might think it has been a total failure.

But if you saw the Socialist Alliance (as the draft resolution and the resolution adopted at the last Congress both clearly set out) as a party project to unite a broader political vanguard, one that “necessarily begins with an incomplete class struggle platform and a broad socialist objective (i.e. does not start out with an explicitly revolutionary program), in the course of united engagement in mass struggles, it will steadily and democratically develop its program in a more explicitly revolutionary direction” and “as a stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in this country”, then you wouldn’t be so quick to judge it a failure.

We have been clear about the transitional character of Socialist Alliance. We reject the minority’s caricature of Socialist Alliance’s politics as “old-style social-democratic” or “left-liberal”.

Our approach in Socialist Alliance is that outlined by the late Comrade Jim Percy in his October 1987 NC report “Building the revolutionary party”:

…there are many different elements in this real vanguard, but our strategy is to gather all of those elements together in one party. We don’t think this is a simple task, and it must be expected to take time…

Once such a party was formed our aim would be to clarify ideas, to make the party a living forum for discussion among the vanguard – the living forces for social change. Of course when we talk about discussion in this context, it must go hand-in-hand with political action. Practical experience can be as important as discussion in working through various ideas. (6)

So the pace at which the politics of Socialist Alliance develops is fundamentally set by the degree of real united campaigning we are able to achieve through the Alliance. This is why the draft resolution commits us to “build the Socialist Alliance as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks build, in actions and in words, a new mass workers’ party”. The greater political unity, confidence and active commitment required to advance this new party project, the next immediate steps, will be forged through such collective struggle.

So our commitment is not to advocate a new party when new forces come on the scene sometime in the unforeseeable future but rather to take practical steps along the road to building a new party today by “organising the most united left intervention in the social movements and in that process, continue to win the respect of and recruit broader layers of militant workers”. That’s spelt out unambiguously in paragraphs 21 and 34 of the draft resolution.

Preserving the revolutionary cadre

Anticipating from the start that the 2002 turn to building the Socialist Alliance as a new party project would be a political struggle, we decided that we would keep the DSP intact as an independent, selective and disciplined revolutionary cadre organization. There was some speculation about the DSP withering away at the December 2003 Congress but we knew that that was speculation. However, we did sacrifice some of the effectiveness of our independent organisation during 2004 in the process of trying to 1) make the space to develop the Socialist Alliance branches, 2) test out how much of our regular work could be done through the Socialist Alliance and 3) carry out the resources integration plan of the 21st Congress. But we began pulling back at the end of that year and then made a necessary sharper correction at the May 2005 NC.

We halted our integration plan because it would have jeopardised real gains of the socialist movement in this country, including its modest pool of revolutionary activists and Green Left Weekly.

Do we need to go much further than this? Does our actual experience tell us that we can no longer afford to lead the Socialist Alliance as a new party project at this time? The results from the sharp adjustment we made last May tell us no. The DSP cadre is intact, better organized and is growing once again. We are in a stronger position, both organisationally and politically, to build the Socialist Alliance as an attractive, campaigning organisation.

The next report will present and analyse the statistics that will show advances on all recadreisation indicators. But in brief:

  • DSP membership has grown and the biggest single source of recruits since May has been from the Socialist Alliance, with Resistance a close second;
  • Green Left Weekly distribution has stabilised; and
  • Financially, we are far healthier and secure than we ever were in the 1980s and 1990s. We ended the year with a surplus, we have no debt, and we have considerable assets (mainly in the form of Activist Centres).

Ask any of the comrades who have joined the DSP from SA since May, and this is what they’ll say. They joined because they see us putting in the resources and hard yards to try and make SA a new and broader left party. They also joined us, because they want to take part in the DSP’s discussions about how to grow SA into something bigger and broader and more effective, and want to help us do it.

Socialist Alliance is an ongoing source of new contacts and recruits for the DSP, as a number of branches experienced.

The DSP has also the respect of a broader layer because of the leadership and serious commitment it has shown in building the Socialist Alliance. It has broader political reach.

Tactical flexibility

The NE minority report to the October 2005 NC argued that the majority was “surrendering our tactical flexibility, by banking everything on Socialist Alliance”. But we haven’t banked everything on the Socialist Alliance.

  • There is Green Left Weekly, a newspaper with wide support in this country and a huge readership if you include its large and growing internet readership. The future of the Socialist Alliance rests heavily on GLW. Indeed, the future of Socialist Alliance depends very heavily on GLW! This is only to be expected. Interestingly, the cornerstone of the new left regroupment project in New Zealand, the Workers Charter process, is going to be a new broad left campaigning newspaper to be launched in 2006.
  • And there is Resistance. We still see Resistance as our main cadre-generating instrument. While Resistance today is smaller than it has been, reflecting mainly the collapse of the student movement, in November 2004 we put in place a program to revitalise Resistance by facilitating maximum exposure to the Venezuelan revolution, the first revolution of the 21st century. Like every revolution before it, it is winning a new generation around the world to revolutionary politics. And we are well placed. We organized the first 58-strong Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Brigade, sending 37 comrades from our tendency on it, and now we are beginning to see the results. As the NE majority youth report will explain, Resistance has crossed the threshold into bounce-back.

This gives us a lot of tactical flexibility. We don’t have all our eggs in one basket and there are no reasonable grounds for the panic being encouraged by the NE minority about the health of the DSP. Our current party-building tactics involve building both the Socialist Alliance, as a broad left party project, and the DSP, as an independent revolutionary organisation that plays a leading role in the Socialist Alliance project.(7) We can do this in a sustainable manner – and how we do this exactly will constitute a large part of our deliberations at this congress and beyond.

DSP’s responsibility in SA

The minority line comrades say they are prepared to build a new party of the left but only when the movements are on the rise and new class-struggle leaders come to us ready, willing and able to build such a new party.

This would be nice – but it hasn’t happened in our history of regroupment efforts, nor is it likely to happen as neatly as that. New working-class leaders will join SA (or something else) if they see in it some viable political formation into which they can fit their politics (which are not likely to be revolutionary socialist).

If SA is going to have the viability that will attract such people, it will need the wholehearted backing of a cadre force. That’s where the DSP comes in.

Any new party project is not going to develop overnight – even in the best of political conditions. Some new steps, or leaps, cannot be ruled out, of course, as the IR campaign continues into 2006. But, we don’t count on that. Essentially what the new resolution tells us is that we have to understand that incremental steps – setting up new branches, helping newer people organise and take responsibility, organising the most united left intervention in the movements possible (this is what “campaigning alliance” means), and working closer with militant unionists (on industrial and non-industrial issues) – are going to be vitally important in the next stage.

Our own cadre party has been built up this way. There was no instant DSP (correct program, constitution, add members and there you have the DSP!) so why should it be so different for a broader activist-oriented left party?

Our party’s history shows that we have taken a serious and responsible approach to the class struggle, seizing opportunities to regroup the left – both organisations and individuals. It is this that has attracted recruits to the SWP/DSP, and made us the biggest party on the Australian left since the disappearance of the old CPA.

It is no wonder that after vigorous debate, the October 2005 NC voted overwhelmingly for the general line of the NE majority report on party-building and rejected the NE minority counter-report.


I want to wind up with a quote from Jim Percy’s Traditions, Lessons and Socialist Perspectives (8):

… we made all the moves we could in the 1980s to overcome our relative isolation. Even if they seemed very dodgy in terms of developing this process we tried everything we could to break out of this isolation. One thing we’ve got to reaffirm about all these moves that we made, from the Nuclear Disarmament Party to the Greens, is that they did not have as their aim the liquidation of a revolutionary organisation or the liquidation of a cadre party or saying that this no longer mattered: that education, program, training, commitment, devotion, all of those things were now irrelevant providing we could just have 5000 members. On the contrary, they had as their aim increasing the number of revolutionary cadre, increasing the development of many, many more people who would have devotion, self-sacrifice and commitment and be active in a revolutionary organisation.

Our view was that if there was a broader formation of which we were a part then over time we would have, if the democratic conditions existed, the possibility of winning over many, many more people to our views of what needs to be done – the building of a revolutionary cadre organisation that would more and more approximate the sort of party that we think is necessary, that we learned from the past is necessary.

So what we’re saying is that these two alternatives – this loose, broader, mass formation of a centrist or leftward moving sort – whatever you might call it whether it’s Green or whatever, or a small cadre party – are not two equally valid alternatives. We never thought that and we are not saying that now. It’s a question of the political dynamic between the two things, a struggle of ideas in the broader arena. That’s what’s involved. One can lead to another. Sometimes you get one before another. Sometimes you have a broad, loose, politically heterogenous left formation and you’ve got a problem of not having the political cadre to transform it into an effective revolutionary organisation. Sometimes you’ve got the cadre and you’ve got the problem of not having a broad base to educate, train, and organise into a revolutionary organisation with mass influence. And that’s the dilemma we’re struggling with …

Well, it’s always a question of judging where we’re at when we carry our tactics like that, and we’re going to need these tactics again in the future because nothing we say about our now determined commitment to try and make the DSP grow in the coming couple of years means that we suddenly think that these sorts of tactics will not be necessary in the future. We’re not going to lapse into sectarianism, into some sort of vanguardism in its worst sense.

That was Jim Percy speaking in 1992 when openings for left regroupment were closed to us. Scroll forward to 2006. Less than two months ago, the biggest workers’ protest in Australia’s history took place. And together with a militant trade union minority that has grown as an independent political force since 1998, and worked increasingly closer with the radical left, we had a hand in making the 600,000-strong November 15 mobilisation and the preceding 350,000-strong June 30/July 1 protests happen in the face of ACTU and ALP opposition to a mass campaign against the new IR laws. Staring us in the face today is the ongoing challenge to develop greater political unity with this militant minority in and around the Socialist Alliance.

The NC/NE majority sees the draft resolution before you as summarising our adjusted party-building perspectives for today.

Our previous congress set a course of progressing the Socialist Alliance’s transformation into a united, multi-tendency socialist party and integrating as much of the resources of the Democratic Socialist Party into the Socialist Alliance as possible. While the Socialist Alliance has won a stronger hearing for socialism in the working class than it has enjoyed for decades, our experience over the last two years forces us to recognize that the pace at which this new party project is progressing is slower than we anticipated and this pace is dictated largely by objective conditions beyond our control. Persisting with the integration plan of our previous congress will jeopardise real gains of the socialist movement in this country, including its modest pool of activists and Green Left Weekly, which in our estimate is an invaluable and indispensable political institution on the Australian left. So we have adjusted our party building tactics accordingly.

The Socialist Alliance is still just a beginning of a new party project. But it is our new party project. We should state this boldly and mean it. If there is a new rise in the class struggle, new potential partners will be drawn into the project for a new party and the Socialist Alliance may have to become part of, or be transformed into, or be supplanted by new structures for best organising the strongest political voice for anti-neoliberal resistance.

Through this resolution the DSP renews its commitment to build and continue to offer leadership to the Socialist Alliance as a new party project. It rejects the approach of the NE/NC minority which is to declare that we are now building the DSP as our only party. That would be a fatal blow to the Socialist Alliance. We would be kidding ourselves to think otherwise.

However, in the meantime, the DSP has to continue to take urgent steps to replenish its cadre base and maintain the political, organisational and financial viability of its own structures. While continuing to build and offer leadership in the Socialist Alliance, we need to recruit to the DSP from within and outside the Socialist Alliance and, primarily through Resistance, win, educate and develop a new generation of revolutionary youth cadre. And our experience since the May 2005 correction shows that this can be done.


1. Greg Adamson, “The rise and undermining of anti-nuclear political action.” http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1999/361/361p8.htm

2. Jim Percy, Traditions, Lessons and Socialist Perspectives, p78

3. It is not an all-purpose Lenin quote on clowning and phrasemongering, as the NE minority report to the last NC flippantly treats it. Jim Percy discusses the meaning of this famous quote in the booklet The SWP and the Fourth International in the section titled “Lenin’s method” on pp 26-29.

4. See “Some notes on the pre-congress discussion”, Activist Vol 15, No 19, p.29

5. “Party-building perspectives for the ‘twin transitions’, Activist Vol 13 No 10, p. 21

6. Jim Percy, Building the Revolutionary Party: Some Recent Experiences, NCP 1988, p.22-23.

7. When I acknowledged, in the majority party-building report for the October NC, the inescapable additional effort that comes with building two parties (inverted commas or not), the minority objected to me calling the Socialist Alliance a party. And when I said if the word “party” was annoying then we could talk about building two organisations, they objected with an even sillier argument about not considering the DSP a party! Comrades, remember Jim Percy’s warning about having a sense of proportion.

8. "The DSP and the crisis of the left’’. Report presented to the 14th national conference of the DSP on January 4, 1992.