By Will Williams
[The following report and summary by Will Williams on behalf of the DSP National executive was adopted unanimously by the DSP National Committee at its January 10-11, 2009 plenum.]
April 10-12, 2009 will see an international conference in Sydney that showcases the DSP's socialist explanations of, and solutions to, the global capitalist crises. What better way to build our party?
We've put the exciting "World At a Crossroads; Building Socialism in the 21st Century" conference up front because this report proposes it be the key party building project for the next three months, central to all our plans and work.
It's exciting given the speakers we've already confirmed.
Michael Lebowitz, Marxist economist working in Venezuela, keen to discuss socialism in the 21st century and what it means, participatory democracy, state ownership, workers' control & Marxist economics;
Luis Bilbao, revolutionary journalist & author of 16 books on Latin American politics, a central participant in constructing the PSUV in Venezuela, and active in Latin America regional integration projects such as ALBA;
Ian Angus, Canadian Marxist in Socialist Voice; eco-socialist, an expert on the food crisis, capitalism's cooption of the environmental movement and greenwashing and more (including Darwin and evolution and radical blues!);
Plus other familiar faces, who are no less exciting. Our comrades from the LPP, CPI (ML), PSM, PRD/Papernas, Reihana Mohideen from the Philippines who'll be representing a new socialist party — the People's Party — launched just this month, Tomas Freitas from Timor and more.
From Australia we'll be approaching key speakers from the radical vanguard here: FOE's Cam Walker, NTEU Victoria president Jamie Doughney, Tim Anderson etc.
The speakers alone should make the conference easy to build and give us a real confidence to build it. With this line up we can guarantee a valuable and quenching political experience for everyone who attends.
But the main reason this conference is so exciting and interesting is the international political context in which it will take place. Capitalism is facing a severe crisis on numerous fronts: ecological, economic and political. The system's cracks are widening and there for everyone to see. At the same time powerful socialist movements are making gains in Latin America, led by the Venezuelans and Cubans.
Our ideas are no longer isolated and abstracted from the realities that people face under capitalism. Who would have guessed that Karl Marx would be in the best sellers list going into 2009? Broader layers of people are opening up to Marxism. So that gap between our previous, broad Green Left and Asia-Pacific international solidarity conferences on the one hand, and the more internal DSP Marxist educational conferences on the other is closing. Socialist ideas and the DSP are more relevant than ever and this conference will both reflect and strengthen that fact.
The conference will be gold for educating our comrades; absorbing Marxism into our very bones. But given the political context we can also go for broad outreach; our allies in the green movement, anti-war, trade unions, Latin American solidarity, students etc.
Some initial agenda ideas have been handed around; comrades should look over it and make suggestions, changes in order to make the conference more useful.
In terms of local speakers, we haven't really started approaching and involving Australian activists in the conference yet, so this is urgent and we need comrades to directly approach key activists in your city now and ask them if they'd like to be a speaker.
This conference is also a vital recruiting project for us in 2009 — not just to our socialist ideas but also to our socialist tendency — the DSP, Resistance and the Socialist Alliance. It's not just about ideas, not just about profile. It's about taking concrete advantage of capitalism's crisis and building socialist organisations.
We need every leading comrade to be thinking about ways to build the conference and how to best make use of it. We've got posters, leaflets (a full-colour leaflet is at the printers now and 10,000 copies will be in branches next week), a website, a YouTube that's had nearly 400 visits so far, A FB invite with nearly 80 confirmed etc. Let's crank up mass graffiti and chalk runs with the website. The name is sure to spark interest. The conference needs to be profiled massively on all our O-week stalls, contact lists drawn up in every branch for interested people. All our public events in the lead up to the conference should have an angle for publicising it, themed to build the conference in some way. We should use every avenue.
Ian Angus will be here from April 1 and has agreed to help us build the red-green pole in Australia. He'll probably visit Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, maybe Hobart and other smaller cities before the conference to speak at GLW hosted public forums. Adelaide's CLEAN group has expressed interest in co-presenting a bigger, broader meeting with Angus. Let's jump at these chances and make the most of them. Ian will enthusiastically plug GLW, socialism, the conference etc so we can't lose (he's also donating any sponsorship and paying for his international flight!). GL subscriptions should be a real focus for the Angus meetings.
Lebowitz has agreed to do public forums in Brisbane and Melbourne after the conference to discuss the capitalist economic crisis, Marxism and socialism in the 21st century. Take the momentum of the conference back into branches.
Can we pull the conference off? I think we certainly can. Look at our response to the massacre in Gaza for an idea of our capacity to organise. In Sydney, two of our Resistance /DSP leaders, coordinated a 4000-strong rally in less than two days. Rallies happened in Canberra, Brisbane and Perth on the same day, then Melbourne, Adelaide, Newcastle and Armidale the day after. In fact it seems like the only cities where rallies weren't organised straight away were where our members were away on holidays, like Hobart and Wollongong. I Look at the sensational 12-page GLW comrades have just produced; what a top example of relating to and making the most of political openings. Has the new Gaza special edition hit the mark? Well two Sydney comrades went out to Auburn yesterday and sold for 1.5 hours. They sold 55 GLWs in that time!
Where are we at?
Our response to the Gaza crisis was an important test because we suffered a damaging split last year and have been weakened by the long factional struggle. 2008 was traumatic but we're still here; we've survived.
But while the split is behind us, we need to be honest about where we're at. We've made important steps to rebuild but it's clear we are still in recovery.
The membership figures tell us we've made up about a third but this includes the fact that we've lost 15 or so more comrades since the split. 2008 was actually our highest recruiting year since 2001, the year after S11. We recruited 40 new members in 2008, which is excellent given the circumstances. Steady recruitment (speedy in Brisbane and Wollongong), strong finances and a successful GL subscriptions campaign is evidence that we are heading in the right direction.
But there are other critical indicators that show we still have a way to go. We didn't achieve our aim to replace Leninist Party Faction losses by the end of year for example; we still need 27 new members to achieve that. But the critical indicator is our GLW sales. I'll come back to this in more detail later, but our sales figures are historically low, including the hours and participation. This is a wake up sign that reflects the weakened state of our cadre base.
The National executive identified that our key weakness is our base organisation which is inseparable from the need to develop new leadership. We need to build from the ground up. Some extreme measures have been taken to try and solve some of these problems: e.g. the National executive decision to assign Peter B to Sydney branch. This will impact severely on our ability to maintain national organisation including specific movement interventions, but it looks like we have no other option. This NC needs to decide if that's the right thing to do.
To develop new cadre, new leaders in the party and overcome our sales weakness we urgently need to strengthen our base organising which means assigning leading comrades. This is why Alex and Kamala have been transferred to Perth; Peter, Tim D and Bri P to the Sydney branch, all to assist at the coalface. We also have some new face in the Resistance NO with Jess M and Andrew R making themselves available to co-organise Resistance nationally.
We still desperately need a comrade(s) to put up their hand to shore up Canberra branch. We need all comrades to keep stepping forward, and encouraging others to step forward, to take over-all responsibility for the party's development at this critical time in politics. Transferring is a fantastic political experience; it's really interesting to get a feel for the different political conditions in different cities. It's also valuable for the party; it transmits experiences, strengths of different comrades around the country. It's good for the team.
We need to make more of potential leadership in our ranks. More comrades these days need to play a part-time organiser role while working or studying as neoliberalism makes it harder to sustain an apparatus and network of paid organisers. We should continue striving for strong financial consciousness but nothing will substitute for developing new leaders.
So coming out of 2008, there's strong evidence we're heading in the right direction. We've recruited 40 people, our finances finished stronger than in recent years and we grew the GL subs base. But we're still in recovery, and the GLW sales bring that out. The big question is, can we recover fully? Yes, we can!
In addition to the positive indicators already mentioned, we go into 2009 with a united national leadership team and a renewed emphasis on developing a comradely, political culture in our branches. That was never guaranteed coming out of a factional struggle, we should be proud of that.
But working towards DSP recovery is not important because we all want to be mates again (though it is nice to have comrades speaking to each other!). It's important because the developing crises and cracks in the capitalist system mean that the need for revolutionary socialist organisation is more vital than ever.
Whether it's the brutal and cruel logic of the Israeli state, the insanity of the capitalist market with its perpetual crises or the systematic destruction of our natural habitat, the bankruptcy of the system is clear.
To set things straight revolution is unavoidable because capitalism suffers fundamental contradictions. On the one hand a tiny minority of super-rich individuals formally own and control much of the immense wealth of society. Importantly they own the means to produce wealth — the factories, the banks, the food farms and supermarkets, the establishment media, the transport systems, the "commanding heights" of industry. On the other hand the huge majority of people on Earth own not much more than our ability to work for the super-rich. So the work or labour is socialised but the wealth is privatised. We have no say in the key decisions that affect us.
This central contradiction — private ownership versus socialised production — is one we can't escape and one that needs resolution. Capitalist competition between the owners of private wealth only makes things worse. The strongest survive (or get bailed out); the weaker get taken over. Divide and rule tactics, whether its racism, sexism, homophobia etc, all serve to disunite the great majority of us and postpone the struggle to resolve the contradiction of capitalism.
In this context revolution is a huge thing, a huge job, one that will require the conscious involvement of millions of people. It's a job that means going up against a very powerful and well organised group of people. The Packers, Murdochs, Howards, Rudds etc will use their media, their immense financial resources, their police, judges and military against those fighting for justice. It means overcoming their divide and rule tactics and overcoming the heterogeneity of our class, the fact that everyone has different experiences, differing levels of education, different cultural backgrounds etc.
But we don't let that put us off. Revolution has happened before (and it's happening now in other parts of the world!) where the people are organised. United in a mass, revolutionary party with deep roots in the working class and other sectors, including students and the unemployed, the people can confront the rich & powerful and win the battle of democracy. We just have to be as organised as the ruling class. Our strength is not our material wealth; it's our people power — the most powerful force on the planet. But to cohere that force you need organisation, revolutionary organisation.
This underpins the objective need for a revolutionary party. The organisation flows from the task at hand. Working class political leadership is needed, and it needs to built before, not simply during, a revolutionary crisis. Otherwise it's too late.
So the problem of the working class is the problem of leadership. So too, the problem for the party is the need to develop leadership. That's why most of the proposals in this report are geared toward that aim.
But "leadership" is a much distorted term; our concept is the exact opposite of capitalist concept of leadership. Out there a leader gets ahead in the business world, the political world, even the school world, by being better than others. By competing and beating out the weaker competition — free market leadership. Because of oppression and prejudice under capitalism it's no wonder most "leaders" in Australia are male, white, straight, and speak only English.
That's the bullshit school of leadership. Our cadre concept of leadership turns it on its head. We need everyone to be leaders, regardless of background, race, class, gender etc. We need a supportive, comradely atmosphere where everyone is encouraged to contribute and be heard. Simple things like curbing grumpiness and blaming others instead of trying to find a constructive solution. We need to avoid this because it just means less people to train others. Because inclusive, broad team leadership is what makes us — the working class and oppressed — as strong as we can possibly be in the struggle to eradicate capitalism.
Our concept is team leadership, not individual stars, cults or cliques. Inclusive teams that always have the door open to others. An approach that helps others to lead and consciously trains others so there's always leadership renewal and replacement. Ambition is great, but again in the opposite sense to bourgeois ambition. Our incentive is collective advance, not personal. Everyone should strive to sell GLW like Paul Benedek or Sue Bolton, not because you'll be a hero but because it would be excellent for our collective sales and finances! When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. We're fighting against individualism, against exploitation and against the "dog eat dog" system.
To be consistent this approach needs to be conscious of developing women leaders and others from oppressed groups. We can't escape capitalism but we can do everything possible to breakdown barriers that make it harder for the oppressed to step up. Consciously challenging sexism, racism, queerphobia in our ranks is an example.
We need comrades in it for the long haul. The choice to devote your life to social change, to revolution, is the right one; commitment and loyalty to the program and ideas a good thing. In the aftermath of the faction fight we shouldn't confuse voluntarism and substitution with commitment and collective ambition. We've always been revolutionary optimists; we should hang on to that.
Being in a revolutionary party is the only way to survive as a revolutionary activist in the long term. You understand what's happening to you and the world and you're in step with that. It's the only thing that can help us resist the pressure to retreat, the constant ideological onslaught from the bourgeoisie, telling us all to conform. But you only have to think about the Gazans to know we've made the right choice; only have to think about the ecological time bomb to know that when we look back we won't regret doing everything we could to turn things around. All of this is part of our approach.
DSP building perspectives
It's stating the obvious but to develop leadership we'll need to be dynamic, flexible and confident in our outreach work. We need to have an aggressive orientation to campaign openings as the Australian politics and campaigns report noted. Strengthening Resistance and Socialist Alliance will be vital (and both have dedicated reports at this plenum).
The first thing to put up front is our education. Given the triple crises, we have enormous opportunities to attract people to our ideas, we need to build the Easter conference with this in mind. We have many new members and it's vital that we have an effective education program. We are entering what's going to be a very challenging period politically.
It goes without saying that we should continue organising new members into our existing classes, e.g. ITS, ITM, feminism and socialism etc. We need to make the most out of well presented pamphlets like What Resistance Stands For. On top of this we need to ensure we are hosting regular political discussions that challenge our members, on relevant topics. How we present the discussions is determined by what's most useful. We should be flexible — should this forum be in SA's name or GL's name for example. The key thing is to find the ways to present our fundamental ideas in relation to the changing world we live in.
Immediately after this NC we have the national cadre schools taking place in Melbourne and Sydney. The shorter 1-week school replaces the 17-class school to make it easier for more comrades to be involved. It's getting harder and harder to get time off work and study. But there's also a greater mix of content, a more useful mix of topics and readings. We'll see how they go and will have to make a careful assessment afterward. If they are deemed a success we can consider a repeat later in the year.
Resistance regional camps should be a high priority early in the year. More activist skill-ups, train the trainer type sessions. But I'll leave these for Mel's youth work report to elaborate on.
A central proposal in this section is that we make better use of our publication program in our education. It should primarily cater to our educational needs and we must constantly try to stimulate comrades' interest in and study our titles. This study needs to take place informally of course, but this idea is behind the content change in the cadre school - making more use of our publications.
We broke new ground last year in launching several new publications and making a big public fuss about them, Jim & Coral's Venezuela book in particular. But also Chris Slee's Cuba book and the Jim Percy party-building book. This bold approach is not only fantastic politically, but really boosts sales and comrades' interest in the books. We should really note these successes and think about doing the same in 2009.
Some of the exciting publication plans include: Terry T's book on the Aboriginal struggle and the Left which covers the decisive interaction between the indigenous struggle and the CPA will be out soon. We must make this a major public event with Aboriginal activists wherever possible. Wollongong has one planned with Fred Moore (key non-Aboriginal, left activist) and the local Aboriginal community to be held in the ACC. It could be very big we think.
Also the pamphlet Meltdown! a socialist look at the capitalist crisis, including a number of articles by comrades. This is a smaller one and will sell for $6 but one we can push every day from stalls.
And a bit later we'll bring out Jim Mc's book on the CPA-led Militant Minority Movement of the 1930s. This too should get the full treatment and hopefully we can create a surge of interest in left trade union circles and stimulate thinking about what is possible in our current situation.
There are other plans and ideas too, e.g. Palestine teach-ins. Melbourne plans to put on an ambitious one-day educational conference in March on "A century of struggle; Laborism and the radical alternative". It will have sessions on the ALP and the three main attempts to transform it or build an alternative to it (Socialisation Units, Wobblies and CPA) as well as discussing the way forward for the left right now. We hope to get some keynote outside speakers, such as Humphrey McQueen and Verity Burgmann as well as our own leading comrades. This will be a valuable experience and, if successful, may be reproducible in other cities.
GLW sales and subcriptions
Let's start with GLW subscriptions because there's good news to report. Nearly all branches had some success with the conscious subs push late in the year, but most especially Sydney, Wollongong and Brisbane. We didn't quite make the 1000 mark but we pushed it up to 960.
The value of our subscriber base can't be overstated. These are our closest and most loyal supporters, political people who read our ideas week in week out. A steady group contributing financially and convinced to some extent of our analysis and campaign perspectives and tactics. They are potential recruits, potential GL distributors, potential subs sellers themselves, and potential donators. A strong sub base can also take the pressure off our sales, especially if we have a bad week.
Let's build on this momentum from the subs campaign and continue the push by aiming for a new target: 1200 by Easter conference, keeping in mind that selling subs will be a key way to build a conference. An important proposal is that we build the cost of an intro sub to GLW into conference registration. We will gain many new readers for at least 7 weeks, like we did after the Climate Change | Social Change conference.
One key proposal here to help push for 1200 is that we distribute GLW for free at the climate change summit and Aboriginal rights convergence in Canberra. We should staple a subs form in every copy and really push subs. We'd need a conscious political approach, aiming for discussions with people, not just handing them out on masse. We could team up more confident sellers with new comrades and rove in teams, setting targets for subscriptions and introducing a bit of healthy socialist competition. Which team can sell the most subscriptions? It would mean foregoing sales income that issue, but it would hopefully be made up for in political gains and future returns.
We did this in the 1980s at mass Palm Sunday rallies; we also did it in 2001 at the M1 stock exchange actions. Comrades should discuss the pros and cons but that's a concrete. proposal. There will be plenty of other left literature at the convergence; this should give us the upper hand. And fair enough: GL is perfectly placed to orient to the red-green crowd even if you don't look beyond the name!
Other subs proposals include a special push for o-week & enrolment days; targeted mail-outs to universities, TAFEs, unions, climate change groups, SA members etc.
Also want to propose a 10% discount to Resistance Books to subscribers who sell subs themselves. Up to 100 of our subscribers have taken out gift subscriptions for friends recently, more that DSP members! We should encourage and reward this; and certainly produce another 'buy a gift sub' card with the discount on it. We've had heaps of calls in the NO from subscribers renewing their sub and responding to the $20 appeal; many saying 'keep up the great work' etc.
The main point coming out of last year's campaign is that maintaining and increasing our subs base depends so much on the consciousness of our members. We made definite gains so let's hang on to them and head for 1200.
As was said earlier, GLW sales have been seriously weakened over the last few years. We finished 2008 averaging just under 1100 sales per week in 292 hours. It's something we really need to think about, and act on. We can't just blame the split because, frankly, the LPF had already pulled out of sales long before their formal departure. Some objective factors impacting on our sales include the rise of the internet and also a lack of mass mobilisations. A key factor is a weakening of our committee work, again our base organisation.
We can't accept this decline in our most potent weapon in the battle of ideas. Put simply, sales in 2009 have to improve. The paper is not new, but it remains uniquely placed to relate to the broad layers of people opening up to radical ideas. The looming crisis and capitalist exploitation will continue to fuel rebellion, GLW is our best bet to tap into that.
To remind myself of how important the paper is I think of what we would do if we were building a party starting from scratch. We'd get a newspaper up and running, start systematically articulating our ideas. Once the organisation is up and running the paper continues to facilitate construction, exactly like Lenin's analogy about scaffolding that can never be used too many times!
Political openings will help improve sales which is why we need to sharply orient GLW to the people protesting Israel's war on Gaza. We have The Flame! What an amazing asset in terms of relating to the Arabic community and building ties with Arabic socialists, especially at this time of massive attack.
Comrades have already hit the streets with the special edition GLW, let's follow it up with a blitz next issue. The questions of "What solution to the Middle East wars and occupations?", history of Israel, Marxism and religion, Islamphophobia etc are on the tips of people's tongues. Let's make sure we give them the chance to read GL and the Flame.
As part of our O-week pushes, branches should scientifically consider increased GL bundles. We're not suggesting a blitz for O-weeks because they are staggered all over February and early March. Remember every Res joiner is a sale; put it in the sales sheet.
But let's go for a serious blitz a bit later, in the last week of March. Not the week leading up to the conference because that would be too much. But a few weeks after O-week in the lead up to the conference. Specifically aimed at involving o-week recruits and then getting then to the conference. A party building calendar of events. But, let's not do a 2008-style blitz! Let's go with the "old style" Blitz where we decide to nationally co-ordinate here and then make it happen with plenty of notice. Let's cancel all tendency meetings that week to maximise time in the streets. Let's minimise all other work that week so we can aim high for targets. Every comrade, especially leading comrades, should plan extra stalls themselves or double their norms that week. The subjective factor is vital here to take others with us. Well organised blitzes are worthwhile: they provide a fantastic platform to boost ongoing sales, especially participation. How many comrades first got involved in selling during a real blitz? So let's really think about it, every branch. If the last week in March isn't good, let's pick another one. But let's co-ordinate one here and lock it in.
Some other ideas include asking comrades to take five papers each during the Blitz (targeted) to distribute (that way they may be inclined to think who they could distribute the paper to on a regular basis). We should encourage comrades to "be like Soubhi"; he's not even in the DSP but takes 10 papers every week and gets them out.
We do need to get serious about this and admit that the NC campaign proposed at the October NC didn't really happen, or make much of a difference. The same comrades are leading. The figures show the decline, though. The sales rate has stayed relatively the same for years. But in 2002 we averaged 188 sellers on the street every week; in 2008 we averaged 110, or 78 less. This should sound alarm bells.
There are no easy answers, but we have identified the patchy organisation. Let's attack that in order to carry out the above proposals.
Relaunching sales committees in all branches would be a top start. They should include Resistance, DSP and SA members if possible and useful. If we can't relaunch a sales committee we do need to adjust, otherwise our most effective weapon will continue to decline. Stable committees with a leading comrade assigned to sales director will help us rebuild distribution. Looking at our base organisation will help us bend the stick to participation, involving more comrades and supporters in distro. This means that to not get sales committees up and running would reflect a lack of prioritisation on our part.
We want to investigate the creation of a national wikiesite for branches to enter weekly sales (to help get sales in on time and reduce chase-up and transfer of information time). Contacting and chasing comrades will still be vital but reducing administration would be a victory.
We want to establish a national sales hook-up to be run by Resistance/DSP that includes at least Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
We need to re-motivate our selling norms; full time branch organisers aim for 6 hours and part time organisers and GL-NO comrades aim for 4 hours. Working comrades should aim for 3 hours, which is really only a Saturday or Sunday spot, along with an hour during the week.
We're proposing that Pip take over subs inputting and print outs (for a trial at least) with a view to integrating subs into our party-building campaigns more. And that Jim Mc joins the national sales team when he comes back to Australia.
The point is we can improve organisation. Also we can improve the way we intervene with GLW and make more of political openings, e.g. the Gaza stuff. It's clear GLW is as effective as ever, the result in Auburn yesterday rams that home. GL's content and professionalism is there, we need to get back to basics with organisation. Developing stability in our internal committees is essential, both to improve organisation in the immediate term, but also to train a new generation of sales organisers.
We finished 2008 with a national deficit of $9.5k. Now a deficit is never good thing but this is the best result by far we've achieved since 2005 when we finished in surplus by $11k, largely due to the spectacular $100k Emergency Appeal. This shows that comrades responded in a serious way to the NC appeals to help make up for the financial losses incurred by the split.
Our national pledge base is nearly back to pre-split levels and branches have reduced debts to the NO by over $5000 since the October NC. Again GLW sales income is a key area of weakness financially but we've already covered that.
You can see from the handout finances are very uneven around the country. Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Newcastle and Wollongong achieved targets, including increased targets, and have kept debts minimal. Branches that have struggled, e.g. Canberra and Perth, were hit hardest by the split and suffered serious disorganisation throughout the year. Even those two branches managed to raise a third of their fundraising target and maintain semi-regular payments of dues etc.
In 2009 we need to stabilise where we're strong and focus energy where we're weak. This report proposes we maintain a GLW Fighting Fund target of $250,000, and that we launch that tonight. Is $250k too ambitious given the state of the party? Well we made 90% of target again last year. It would be different if we were falling $100k short even $50k. But no we went close despite the split and resulting disorganisation. We were greatly assisted by union donations, but they will hopefully be annual.
If we're to do this we need to push early again for comrades to pay their FF pledges up front if possible, targeting especially working comrades. This worked in 2008 and helped offset the start of year finances blues we inevitably seem to suffer. We should also continue the appeal for the UNITY fund. Until we actually make up the losses suffered from the split let's keep trying to persuade comrades.
Branches should draft a fundraising budget ASAP and send it through to the Finance Office. In this time of political uncertainty and crisis we should really be able to make more of our merchandise and bookshops, particularly if we see bigger mobilisations this year like the Gaza ones. Karl Marx's Capital is experiencing a revival — in the best sellers — and we should project that we are the people to see for Marx's writings.
Radical films. Let's make the most of the upcoming Che film by organising advance screenings and a coordinated approach to merchandise. Organisers should ring local cinemas now and ask whether the film is coming to town. We need to be all over it with T-shirts, badges, books, stubby holders etc.
But one really concrete projection out of this report to help boost our Fighting Fund is that we hold a special donations month for GLW, an equivalent to a radio-thon. It should be July or August to target people's tax returns, but it's mainly targeted at bigger potential donators like the unions and other mass organisations.
Actually chasing these things up takes time, and they often get put off as more urgent things surface (like an invasion of Gaza), but it might be easier if we collectively prioritise a special month for specific appeals with a deadline. Last year GLW received $7000 from unions. We should target the WA unions, others in Victoria, I reckon we could ask the Port Kembla MUA for a couple of hundred. Financially, it would be amazing, but politically it could be even more useful.
Once one union sticks their neck out it will that much easier to follow up others. This proposal comes from the Melbourne comrades who have made these donations happen so this report strongly recommends we do this. We'll have to think about a campaign logo, better name, give it some profile etc.
This doesn't mean branches shouldn't fundraise during other months; that would be suicide. But this type of appeal will make donating to us more tangible and help us concentrate our energies on following them up.
To finish off let's talk membership and recruitment. We haven't replaced our losses from the split but we've more than held the line (272 — 230 — 245). Brisbane and Wollongong have recruited nearly half the total with 10 and 8 new members respectively. One new joiner in Wollongong, Felix, is already organising Resistance.
In the end the way to improve our sales, finances and build the party and new leadership is to recruit. Let's continue our bold approach, maintain our flexibility with provisional membership, use that period of time to win people to the program. There's between 18-20 people around the party at the moment, solid potential recruits. Excitingly this number includes 2 potential re-joiners in Brisbane. Let's at least aim to recruit these people by Easter and then assess after the conference. So the national target is 260 members by Easter. Sydney has already kicked the campaign off by joining their first member of the year already!
With these proposals and plans — central to all is the Easter conference — we are seriously geared toward making the most out of a tumultuous 2009; despite it looking like a very unstable and unpredictable political climate.
We were weakened last year and we are still in recovery. That being said we didn't give up and there's plenty of evidence to prove we are on the right track.
If we put our heads together and then act together, we can certainly do great things.
At last night's GLW Fighting Fund launch, $83,600 was pledged by comrades and supporters to the 2009 appeal — an excellent start given it wasn't a national conference. Given we have up to 145 more comrades to approach this puts us in good stead. It means one of the first tasks for finance directors and organisers is to follow up the rest of the branch for pledges so we can feed the figures into the 2009 national budget.
The discussion has made me much more confident about the proposals in this report. There's a real seriousness to tackle the weakness of our base organisation, and at the same time an enthusiasm to relate to political openings in a confident way.
This summary won't include John Mc's suggestion to extend the 10% bookshop discount (proposed for subscribers who sell subs to friends) to all subscribers, because the idea behind the proposal was to acknowledge and encourage more subscribers to sell sub themselves. We should get out a new "buy a gift sub" card and include the discount information soon. That being said, John identified a real need to increase bookshop turnover and encourage subscribers to visit out activist centres so we should keep his proposal in mind and consider this problem at future NC meetings.
The proposal to give comrades a bundle of five GLWs should be clarified. It's not for all members, it should be targeted at comrades who are less active in regular distribution and those that find it harder to make regular stalls, spots etc. The point is not to find an easy way to reduce bundles; in fact the sales shouldn't be recorded until the papers are actually sold on to people. It needs to be done in a political way, local leaderships should have a think about who to target.
It was an oversight that the report didn't discuss the Links website <http://links.org.au/>. We should mark the value of this project and keep going with it. Terry said that 240,000 articles have been read on the site — what an amazing figure! The site is achieving what we aimed to do; comrades will remember that the hard-copy format of the Links magazine was completely out of step with the way discussion happens now more and more (online). Sue Bu's idea for a Christmas or special "best of" edition of Links could be great, so let's think about it for sure. It's something we could do public launches of like the Overland journal.
The Internet has certainly changed the way people access GLW. On the one hand there are people who say 'oh I wont buy one because I read it online', so it does impact negatively in that way. But I agree with Alison that this is not a huge factor. GLW's distribution has never been big enough (we've never "exhausted the market" so to speak) to the point where online readership will significantly reduce our street sales. Al says this is one reason the rate is still the same. And in fact the website might actually help increase sales in that online readers might be more likely to buy a hardcopy when they come across it in the streets.
The point is that regardless of whether or not the internet is impacting on sales negatively or positively, we should never stop trying to increase our street sales because of the interaction with people, the passivity of online reading, and the fact that we want to talk to people and recruit them. We don't just want readers we want active participants.
With that in mind, I want to highlight some of Alison's points on improving the GL website, the need to make it more interactive with the aim of "getting to know" the readers; who are they, where are they from? So comrades know we are in the process of re-tooling the GL website and relaunching a new one along these lines; Nick F will be the website editor. The aim should be for the website to be a part of the party building scaffolding in a more meaningful way. On a side note we are starting to make a little income from google ads too.
I'll finish on the points made about confidence and recovery. Paul's right that you can't exactly quantify recovery and that we don't want to simply return to the party we were before the split because we've improved some things. We are a different party now and we should always look toward the future. But I think Peter's point that the recovery process in general does exist is important. Our cadre force was weakened last year, especially at the base; it's just about making an honest assessment. The important thing is that we recognise the weaknesses and have started to turn things around.
The discussion has reflected on how the factional struggle impacted negatively on our party, but also reflected on some of the important gains. Our collective confidence did take a battering.
The constant charge from the LPF that everything we were doing was wrong or worse made an impression. It undermined not only our confidence and enthusiasm to get out there and talk to people, it also undermined our ability organise. Mutual trust broke down in our committees and fractions.
But the other side of the story is that the faction fight schooled and steeled a layer of comrades in Leninism. Not just the ideas but an experience; the ability to understand the lessons in order to apply them later. This includes our approach to leadership development, leadership transition and renewal, making space for others to step forward etc. The experience was very different across the country though; some branches felt the gains more than the weaknesses and vice versa!
But the gains coming out of the factional struggle are tangible and solid. The weaknesses, the under confidence etc, can be rebuilt. That's what we need to focus on, which is why we need to follow through with these proposals that include assigning key leading members to the coalface, serious attention in relaunching our committees in order to improve base organisation and develop new leaders in the struggle.
Who knows what's going to happen in 2009. But this discussion shows we know where we're at, we're serious about tackling our weaknesses and building on our strengths, and we're geared to make the most out of political openings. We have a whole year to act together and then we can re-assess at the 2010 congress.