Party-building perspectives report (June 2009 National Committee plenum)

It is time for the DSP to make a decisive turn towards building the Socialist Alliance as our new party. We've been held back for far too long already, first, by the hesitations of former Socialist Alliance affiliates and then by the former minority in the DSP. It was the responsible thing to take some time to deal with the destructive factional split in the DSP but that is behind us now and it is time we moved forward to build the Socialist Alliance as a bigger, more influential and more working class-based socialist organisation, than any currently in existence in Australia.

The general line of the following report and summary by Peter Boyle on behalf of the DSP National Executive was adopted unanimously by the DSP National Committee (NC) on June 7, 2009.

We know already from our experience that we do not have the resources to simultaneously organise the DSP, Resistance and the Socialist Alliance to their full potentials. Our current setting is unsustainable and is forcing us to pull our punches because: a) it involves considerable duplication and is an unnecessary drain on comrades' time and energy; and b) it is confusing to our own members as well as to people coming around the Socialist Alliance, the DSP and Resistance.

We're serious about left regroupment

The DSP is serious about left regroupment and we are serious about revolutionary socialism. We agree that socialist revolution requires a strong, united and disciplined revolutionary vanguard. However, a real revolutionary vanguard has to be forged in struggle and built through a process of regroupment/s and accumulation of political experience and actual political authority in the working class. Everything we have done in our tendency over the last four decades has been done to make small initial steps in this process. This is not to minimise what we've done but rather to have a sense of the true proportion of the work we have done and what has yet to be done.

We take seriously Lenin's warning to socialists from other countries who looked to the Bolsheviks as example to not just see the powerful party that was forged but to study its history to understand how it was forged. And we conclude that it is a mistake for any small revolutionary group to imagine that the building of a mass revolutionary vanguard is a simple process of cohering more and more people to some self-declared vanguard which claims to have the correct revolutionary program.

The real "Leninist" party building includes a permanent search for ways to unite with real emerging political vanguards in the working class, including (but more than) the regroupment with left groups and individuals. Left regroupment is not just some optional short-term tactic that some self-declared vanguard deploys from time to time to win a few more members from other political organisations. Unfortunately, that is how many on the far left today see left regroupment. And worse still they call this "Leninism" — and in doing so they have given Lenin a bad name.

We know real revolutionary vanguard status cannot be proclaimed simply by dint of adherence to a revolutionary program. It needs to be won in action. We also know that the high degree of political unity and discipline required in an effective revolutionary vanguard cannot be decreed by adopting a democratic centralist constitution.

All these things have to be struggled for continuously and the specific organisational forms required in each stage of gathering the forces for and assembling an effective political vehicle to lead the struggle for socialism vary from stage to stage of this process.

The political context today

We confront the challenge of left regroupment in a time of a severe, triple crisis of capitalism. First, the climate change crisis, which threatens human survival on a global level; second, the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression (though it is hitting Australia later than other countries); and third, the widespread crisis of legitimacy of capitalist neo-liberalism. The legitimacy crisis of capitalist neo-liberalism is not a new phenomenon. It has been mounting up for more than a decade and underpins the revolutionary advances in Latin America and elsewhere, as well as the waves of anti-capitalist movement since the turn of the century. We are moving into a period of significant political and social upheaval and we need to have the strongest political vehicle that we can assemble. We also need a vehicle that is able to reach and draw in the new forces for radical change that will be thrown up in such an upheaval and win these forces to a socialist perspective.

The left in Australia is too small to force the pace of the movements needed to fight the capitalist "solutions" to these crises that are being prepared and beginning to be imposed. We have to be in the growing resistance to these capitalist "solutions". Any left group that is content to just shout from the sidelines "Capitalism has failed, embrace socialism!" is doomed to become ever more isolated and sectarian. In our current interventions in these movements we are already caucusing and organising through the Socialist Alliance. This broadens the reach of socialists in the movement. This broadens the reach of socialists in the movement. But even here our work could be more effective if the Socialist Alliance develops and effective leadership bodies and branches.

Battle of ideas

There is also an expanded opening for political discussions about capitalism and socialism. If the left does well in this battle of ideas, it will also strengthen the resistance movements to the triple crisis. So we need to put our minds to how we can go on the offensive on this front.

While the World at a Crossroads Conference was hosted by the DSP and Resistance, the majority of participants were not DSP members. A number of the speakers were Socialist Alliance members who were not members of the DSP. A range of people, who would not necessarily agree with the DSP on all theoretical and historic issues that the DSP has taken positions on, were keen to have a discussion about socialism and revolution. We saw the same thing at the 2008 Climate Change | Social Change Conference.

Coming out of the World at a Crossroads Conference, we had some informal discussion about what to build in Australia as a next major international conference of socialist discussion, debate and collaboration. Michael Lebowitz, one of our guest speakers, suggested that we hold a conference next year about experiences in popular power and participatory democracy that takes in experiences (contemporary and historical) from around the world.

We've forged growing links with the comrades leading the communal councils/commune process in Venezuela, which seeks to become a new base institution of popular power. We've got links with numerous socialists who have studied the real experiences of the Soviet system, the Cuban democratic system, and other such historical experiences of popular power. We've got links with socialists involved in workers' management or who have done real studies on previous such experiments.

We have links with militant trade unionists in Australia with years of real experience in militant shop-floor and delegate organizing. We have links with local government activists who have explored participatory democracy at that level, and so on. Can we bring all these comrades together in a common discussion? Well, we are discussing this and other ideas with a broad range of collaborators. History has shown that the biggest problem for the world's oppressed majority is not coming to an awareness of the failures and injustices of the capitalist system but developing the confidence that the majority can exercise its democratic power in a participatory and sustainable way. It remains the key ideological question upon which turns the prospects for the transformation of socialism into a mass movement in the 21st century.

Which organisation would best host such a conference, should we decide to have it? I think it should be the Socialist Alliance. This would maximise the outreach. But to pull off such a conference, the international work and socialist education work that the DSP has done separately to the Socialist Alliance needs to be brought into the Socialist Alliance. I think that the broader Socialist Alliance membership will welcome this, just as they have welcomed Green Left Weekly as a supportive but independent broad left and green publication project.

Such an integration could spur greater activity and participation of the broader Socialist Alliance membership in socialist activism. But is the character of the Socialist Alliance as a left regroupment vehicle compatible with such an integration?

Political character of the Socialist Alliance

The groups that initiated the Alliance agreed on a common political platform focused on immediate class struggle responses to neo-liberalism. It was also explicitly socialist. We agreed not to make the historical and theoretical differences between the groups a barrier to working together around what we agreed on. At the same time, the Socialist Alliance created forums for ongoing public discussion and debate.

The basic idea was that we didn't have to have resolved all the ideological and historical disputes that divided the various factions of the left before agreeing to organise together on a fighting program against capitalist attacks and for socialist solutions to the urgent problems society faces today. Indeed, we were more likely to resolve these differences after we had gone through an extended experience of working together around what we agreed on — which was substantial.

The unprecedented unity of these left groups, which until then had spent lots of energy criticising each other, made a significant impact on the much broader layer of left activists who had not joined any of the pre-existing socialist groups. Hundreds of them joined the Socialist Alliance, quickly becoming the majority of its members. Among those who joined were a number of militant trade unionists — shop-floor delegates as well as a few elected leaders of militant unions, some leading indigenous activists, activists from other social movements and some left-wing intellectuals.

This was an important opening for the left in Australia, which was (and remains) small and relatively isolated in the labour movement. Would the left seize this as a chance to build a multi-tendency socialist party with a significant connection to the labour movement and other key social movements? This was clearly the wish of the large majority of Alliance members who were not members of any of the founding affiliate groups, and the DSP agreed with them. However, all the other affiliated revolutionary socialist groups disagreed. Each thought their own "correct" programs would be liquidated if they built the Alliance as our common party. They could conceive of the Alliance only as a site for their "real" revolutionary parties to intervene in or, at best, as a "united front of a special kind".

This view is sectarian because it spurned a chance to unite politically with a broader layer of left leadership in the movements. We have learned to treat the question of left unity seriously and not to play with it. Those who play with unity always pay a political price.

By the Socialist Alliance's May 2005 national conference, it was clear that all the other revolutionary groups affiliated to the Alliance were opposed to taking the Alliance forward. At most, they were willing to participate in the Alliance as a loose electoral front in which a minority retained veto powers by right of their group affiliate status. They began to pull back even the relatively modest resources they had put into the Alliance. By 2007, all the founding affiliates aside from the DSP and Resistance had formally left the Alliance.

The unwillingness of the other affiliates to really build the Socialist Alliance added to the cost on the DSP of keeping the project going — and made it harder for us to see how to move forward.

The DSP then underwent a protracted three-year-long internal faction fight, which took significant energy away from building the Socialist Alliance, Resistance and the DSP. Basically this faction fight was an expression in the DSP of the same sectarian political response of the departing Socialist Alliance affiliates.

But through all this the majority of the non-affiliate group membership of the Socialist Alliance continued to see the Alliance as their party. This resilience of Socialist Alliance is extremely valuable especially in the context of the Australian political landscape (in which it has most often been hard work to recruit and retain serious socialist activists). It is a strong reason why DSP members now need to focus on building the Socialist Alliance as our new party.

Lessons from France

Are we building the Socialist Alliance a revolutionary party or a reformist party? Is it a problem that the party we build does not describe itself as a "Marxist" party, albeit one which openly respects and values the central role of avowed revolutionary socialists and "Marxists" in it? Is it a problem if these "Marxists" are not organised as a distinct disciplined tendency within the Socialist Alliance?

While the Socialist Alliance remains an attempt to regroup the left around a class struggle program — as does the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France — in the case of the Socialist Alliance, this class-struggle program has developed considerably since 2001. We won the fight against those who wanted the Socialist Alliance to restrict itself to a social democratic platform. Instead, we were in favour of a transitional platform that developed along with the actual collective experience of the Socialist Alliance in accordance with the needs of political struggle. As a result, the Socialist Alliance now has a more developed class-struggle program. This developing program is totally consistent with the revolutionary perspective of the DSP and is closer to the DSP's program than it was in 2001. It is not an explicitly revolutionary program but is is implicitly revolutionary.

Small socialist organisations operating in relative isolation in the working class movements, or sometimes substantially outside these movements because they are composed almost totally of small groups of "socialist intellectuals" are chronically plagued with what might be called "Marxist" identity politics. That is they are more concerned about "proving" to themselves that they are "real Marxists" than actually applying what Marx, Engels and Lenin taught which is to build real socialist leadership in the working class. In fact, the further away such groups are from that objective, the more loudly they assert their "Marxist" identity. What passes as politics in "the left" as we have it in this country can degenerate to little more than a ridiculous I'm-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition. We've all seen this time and again with various little sects. And we've also seen this tendency in our own organisation.

In the formation years of the Socialist Alliance we had the argument about its character and politics. Comrades will remember that the ISO comrades were arguing that its program or platform should be kept "social democratic" supposedly because this would attract more people from the Labor party. Of course this fitted in with their idea that the ISO would remain the "real" revolutionary party intervening in the "reformist" Socialist Alliance. We disagreed and argued successfully for a transitional class struggle platform that developed as the Socialist Alliance carried out its interventions.

The same debate emerged around the LCR's decision to dissolve into the NPA.

We agree with the approach outlined earlier this year by LCR leader Francois Sabado in his debate with IST/SWP leader Alex Callinicos (See Links> <).

"Anti-capitalist parties like the NPA are 'revolutionary', in the sense that they want to put an end to capitalism ... and the building of a socialist society implies revolutions where those below drive out those above, and 'take the power to change the world'... They have a strategic programme and delimitations, but these are not completed.

"... So in what respect does this new party constitute a change with regard to the LCR? It must be a party that is broader than the LCR. A party which does not incorporate the entire history of Trotskyism and which has the ambition of making possible new revolutionary syntheses. A party which is not reduced to the unity of revolutionaries.

"A party which dialogues with millions of workers and young people. A party which translates its fundamental programmatic references into popular explanations, agitation and formulas...

"A party which is capable of conducting wide-ranging debates on the fundamental questions which affect society: the crisis of capitalism, global warming, bio-ethics, etc. A party of activists and adherents which makes it possible to integrate thousands of young people and workers with their social and political experience, preserving their links with the backgrounds they come from.

"A pluralist party which brings together a whole series of anti-capitalist currents. We do not want a second LCR or an enlarged and broader version of the LCR. To make a success of the gamble we are taking, this party must represent a new political reality, follow in the tradition of the revolutionary movement, and contribute to inventing the revolutions and the socialism of the 21st century."

We should have the same approach in the Socialist Alliance. If we merge the DSP into the Socialist Alliance we can open the road for the Socialist Alliance to develop its structures and leadership bodies to become a more effective vehicle to engage in the class struggle and to win a bigger support in the working class and other oppressed sectors for socialism. This in turn will further develop the political program and heritage of the Socialist Alliance.

But all such transformations need to be carried out through the democratic processes of the Socialist Alliance and within the framework of a culture of regroupment and inclusivity. If we do not do this, we will end up with simply the DSP re-labelled as the "Socialist Alliance".

Some of our critics say that all the Socialist Alliance is today is simply a projection of the DSP but we know they are wrong. Simply "rebadging" the DSP would be a waste of the real opportunity presented through the Socialist Alliance. So we have a real challenge here and I will come back to this later in the report.

Is it necessary to organise a separate revolutionary current in the Socialist Alliance today? Speaking of the LCR in the NPA, Comrade Sabado says the answer is "No".

"First of all for fundamental reasons, namely the anti-capitalist and revolutionary 'in the broad sense' character of the NPA, and the general identity of views between the positions of the LCR and those of the NPA. There are and there will of course be political differences between the LCR and the NPA, a greater heterogeneity and a great diversity of positions within the NPA, but the political bases under discussion for the founding congress of the new party already show political convergences between the ex-LCR and the future NPA.

"Also, even though the NPA already constitutes another reality than the LCR, even though it is the possible crucible of an anti-capitalist pluralism, it is not justified today to build a separate revolutionary current in the NPA.

"There is also a specific relation between the ex-LCR and the NPA. The ex-LCR represents the only national organisation taking part in the constitution of the NPA. There are other currents, like the Fraction of Lutte Ouvriere, the Gauche Revolutionnaire, communist activists, libertarians, but there are not, unfortunately, at this stage, organisations of a weight equivalent to that of the LCR.

"If that had been the case, the problem would be posed in different terms."

This also applies to the position of the DSP in the Socialist Alliance. There are no other national tendencies of an equivalent weight to that of the DSP in the Socialist Alliance today.

Sabado continues:

"In the present relationship of forces, the separate organisation of the ex-LCR in the NPA would block the process of building the new party. It would install a system of Russian dolls which would only create mistrust and dysfunctions.

"Lastly, the NPA does not start from nothing. It results from a whole experience of members of the ex-LCR, but also of thousands of others who have forged an opinion in a battle to defend a line of independence with respect to social liberalism and reformism.

"There is thus a militant synergy within the NPA, where revolutionary positions intersect with other political positions coming from other origins, other histories, other experiences. Only new political tests will lead to new alignments within the NPA, not former political attachments…"

While the arguments that Comrade Sabado makes about the LCR and the NPA apply to the DSP and the Socialist Alliance, this report is proposes that we defer the decision about to what extent, and in what form, the DSP should continue as after the January 2010 DSP Congress. But when we make that decision, we will be considering the important points that Sabado made. We don't want to close off the process of new political tests leading to new alignments within the Socialist Alliance, replacing and supplanting former political attachments. But at the same time we don't want to lose any of the gains we've made or give up any of the valuable work which are now carried out through a mixture of Socialist Alliance and DSP structures.

'But Australia is not France!'

Some might counter any reference to the French example with the cry: "But Australia is not France! The class struggle is more advanced in France than in Australia." And, of course, that is true.

We have come up against the relatively slower pace of struggle this earlier in the Socialist Alliance experience. For instance, we made the assessment back in the May 2005 DSP National Committee that:

"The objective political situation is making it difficult to develop the Socialist Alliance into an effective multi-tendency socialist party. Therefore the perspective adopted by the last Congress of trying to integrate as much of the resources of the DSP into the Socialist Alliance cannot proceed without new political developments which can unleash new forces and greater political confidence in the Socialist Alliance."

This May 2005 report concluded that, as a result of political retreats:

  1. The small affiliates remained opposed to and obstruct, abstain from or sabotage most collective political activity in Socialist Alliance.
  2. Too few leaders were emerging from the majority of SA members who were not in any affiliate group.
  3. The non-affiliate majority was not a confident, united or very active force in SA and was becoming demoralised by the internal situation in SA and by the broader political retreat.
  4. Socialist Alliance was heavily dependent on the DSP apparatus and fundraising.
  5. And meanwhile Green Left Weekly funding and distribution had to be carried fully by the DSP.

So what has changed?

Clearly, the working class movement in Australia is not on the offensive today. But it has gone through a certain process. It did mobilise around the Your Rights At Work campaign which ended in a partial victory, but which brought on the temporary demobilising effect of the Rudd Labor federal government.

Now the potential exists for mass disillusionment with Labor and therefore greater openness to left alternatives. This was closed in the previous period of SA building under Howard. Rudd Labor faces more opposition from militant trade unions than the Hawke government faced even years after it came in because of the Accord.

I want to quote from Comrade Paul Benedek's report from the ACTU Congress in Brisbane last week:

"....the whole congress was decked out in yellow shirts inscribed with 'one law for all' on the front and 'abolish the ABCC' on the back.

"It was worth reflecting on all the struggle that Socialist Alliance and our militant allies went through, remembering how hard it was at first to get any action going around the ABCC, and now here was everyone from ourselves to Sharan Burrow decked out in an unambiguous message in front of Deputy PM Gillard.

"The hall chanted 'One law for all!' when Gillard started trying to paint certain workers as thugs to justify the ALP's ABCC-lite."

As you know, Gillard then stomped out of the congress.

As Emma noted in the political situation report yesterday, this is a sharp contrast to the first ACTU Congress after the Hawke Labor government came in. Then only ONE delegate dared to vote against the Prices and Incomes Accord, a deadly attack on the trade union movement, and not one delegate dared to speak against it!

Gillard's reception at last week's ACTU Congress is reminiscent of the crisis the NSW Labor government has got into over its attempts to privatise the power industry, the ferries and now even prisons. Now the Queensland Labor government wants to go even further and privatise just about everything left in public hands in that state! And the demonstrations are already beginning.

As capitalist governments, Labor governments can't help doing this sort of stuff. Despite Rudd proclaiming the end of neo-liberalism, in his Monthly essay earlier this year, Labor governments up and down the country are implementing the neo-liberal agenda against overwhelming public opposition! So the context in which the disillusionment in Labor will play out further is the struggle against the ruling class attempts to inflict new defeats on the working class as part of its "solution" to its current global crisis.

So what we confront is the challenge of continuing to work with the militant trade union current, and other progressive movement activists, in putting up the best possible fight in a serious of defensive actions. Through these struggles we seek to strengthen and extend the militant minority so that it can in the future provide the class leadership that is needed before the working class in this country end the retreat and go on the offensive.

The resolution the DSP Congress in January 2004 adopted, which first outlined our perspective of building the Socialist Alliance as our new party argued: "The opening for the Socialist Alliance was very concrete. It was a response to the beginning of a new cycle of working-class and anti-capitalist struggle."

That beginning of a new cycle was real enough, even in Australia. And this is the heart of the challenge to link up with a new layer of working class militants that was posed for all the left by the experiences since the late 1990s, when those militants engaged in a series of political collaborations with the revolutionary left (from MUA solidarity to S11 and M1). After the formation of the Socialist Alliance in 2001, the support from leaders of the new militant current put a new party project on the agenda in a very concrete way.

That relationship continued in the fight against Work Choices. The Socialist Alliance is now relativelywell-placed (compared to any other left organisation in Australia) in the more advanced sections of the class , together with which we went through the struggle that brought down the Howard Liberal government. Also, as was argued earlier, the "triple global crisis" is now creating an expanded opening for socialists in the battle for ideas. And merging into the Socialist Alliance and building it more effectively as the sole party we build today gives us the best way of going on an offensive both in the movements and in the battle of ideas today.

But what about the five consequences of the objective situation which in the May 2005 National Committee we said were "making it difficult to develop the Socialist Alliance into an effective multi-tendency socialist party"?

Two of them (1 and 3) no longer apply. The other three still apply, by and large, but our calculation is that on each of these fronts (broader involvement in Socialist Alliance leadership, greater involvement in funding Green Left Weekly and the apparatus) we can best advance by organising our work through the Socialist Alliance.

Keep the door open

The Socialist Alliance should keep the door open to other left groups, including the former affiliates. In addition, we should also reaffirm our openness to take up any new openings for broader regroupment beyond Socialist Alliance that may emerge in the future. However, at this stage all the left groups outside the Socialist Alliance only seem to be in favour of left regroupment in the abstract — or at some other time. This could change but that is how it is at the moment.

Each one of the small socialist groups outside the Socialist Alliance say they'll be in a new left partyif what is on offer is a new mass party. Indeed, they'd be in such a party even if its politics was reformist or liberal. The Socialist Alliance is not a mass party, but it is an opportunity to regroup the willing left around a developing class struggle program. It is already the biggest and most influential socialist organisation in Australia and it continues to regroup the left. Non-DSP members remain a majority of the paid up membership of the Socialist Alliance. So it is a party significantly bigger than the DSP or any other socialist left organistion in Australia today. And with the total efforts of our comrades going into building it, the Socialist Alliance can be even bigger than it is today.

Reasons to begin organising at the branch/district level through the Socialist Alliance now

The NE proposes that we begin organising as much as possible of our work at the branch/district level through the Socialist Alliance from now for the following reasons:

  1. If all DSP branches and districts attempt to organise as much of their work as possible in the period leading up to the Congress through the Socialist Alliance branches, districts and caucuses/committees, we will not waste a critical six-month opportunity to build up the Socialist Alliance in the context of the deepening capitalist triple crisis.
  2. This would also properly test out the possibilities of the Socialist Alliance and hence make our pre-Congress discussion more concrete and constructive. Having a pre-Congress discussion that simply recycles old debates about the limited experience that our current organisational framework allows is unlikely to take us forward.

As the DSP branches and/or districts would still be meeting as needed to facilitate this shift and organise pre-Congress discussion and other preparations for the Congress, there will be the full DSP structure to fall back on if necessary. We would also continue recruitment to the DSP in this period.

The DSP NC in October 2009 can assess this arrangement and make any adjustments to the plans and perspectives we take to the Congress.

How will this experiment be different to that in 2004?

This experiment will be different to that in 2004 when we attempted, largely unsuccessfully, to make space for the development of Socialist Alliance branches for a number of reasons.

First, the Socialist Alliance has changed since 2004. The affiliate groups that did not want to build the Alliance have left. There is a much more united and constructive consensus about building the Socialist Alliance among its members today.

Second, and most importantly, we have won acceptance of Green Left Weekly as an independent broad left and green publication project that strongly supports the Socialist Alliance. Our ability to promote Green Left Weekly and activism around it is welcomed in the Socialist Alliance.

Third, the DSP has won more political authority in the Socialist Alliance.

Fourth, we have acquired valuable experience from past struggles, including from the factional struggles forced on us.

The second factor is most important. We understand the centrality of Green Left Weekly to party building. Remember that when Lenin famously wrote about the paper as the "scaffolding", he was confronting the task of gathering together a serious party out of previously fragmented groups of activists. So it really applies well to a party in formation.

"The role of a newspaper, however, is not limited solely to the dissemination of ideas, to political education, and to the enlistment of political allies. A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organiser." — Lenin's Collected Works Vol 5 p.22

Iskra's three years of activity (1901-1903) involved the elaboration of the party's program, its main tactics, and its forms of struggle. It was a scaffolding for party formation, to regroup and win greater unity.

Today Green Left Weekly could serve as the scaffolding to build the Socialist Alliance. So we need to use the paper better to do this job — and there is no doubt that we are under-using the paper as organising tool — and to convince others of its valuable role.

Winning greater unity and party-building activism

Our assessment is that we have the political support in the broader Socialist Alliance membership to take all or most of our political work into the Socialist Alliance, and, that the practical ways to do so can be found through a careful experimentation within the framework of Socialist Alliance democratic decision-making.

This experiment has to be careful to respect both these elements: to preserve the political support in the broader Socialist Alliance membership and to make sure our regular work continues. In order to do this there will have to be a double transformation — transformation of the DSP and transformation of the Socialist Alliance, through the decisions of its own bodies. Without transformations in both organisations, it will not be possible to take all the political work the DSP those over into the Socialist Alliance.

We have to campaign in the Socialist Alliance for voluntary party-building activism and serious commitment (including to Green Left Weekly), acknowledging the range of contributions various members make.

But leading DSP comrades cannot presume political authority in Socialist Alliance — we need to re-win leadership authority in a party with more than twice as many members and with less political homogeneity.

Proposals need to be clearly motivated and participation needs to be encouraged. We need to use a different language for certain things and to a degree try different forms to campaign for greater participation.

If Socialist Alliance agrees to accept our offer to shift our resources from a weekly DSP Newsletter to a weekly Socialist Alliance Newsletter then this publication can set a lead and share experiences in the various forms of campaigning for party-building activism.

In the period we are heading into, the challenge we face is not primarily to convince people to become active, like much of the 1990s was. We are already working with many, many people in the trade unions, the climate campaign, anti-war movement, LGBTI rights, Tamil solidarity, etc. Our challenge is convincing these people of socialism as a long-term goal, getting more agreement about "what to do next" and convincing large numbers of people, through experience, that working together is better than working alone.

If we do this right, over time, the Socialist Alliance will become more and more politically unified and as a result it will operate in a more collective and even disciplined way. Greater political effectiveness will be a winning argument all the way through this process. Every necessary development in the Socialist Alliance can be campaigned for, at the appropriate stage, on the basis of greater political effectiveness of the Alliance. Actually this process has begun. While there is no formal application of "discipline" or "democratic centralism" in the Socialist Alliance in practice the outcomes of its various caucuses and committees is unified political intervention.

What this reveals is the source of socialist unity in action. It does not come from formal enforcement but rather from political agreement and a commitment to struggle. The best example of this is the discipline of the picket line, which as comrades know, can be ferociously hard! It does not come about because all the picketers have formally adopted "democratic centralism" or decreed themselves disciplined "cadre" but it comes out of the class struggle and the political imperative for class unity.

The same political dynamic underlies the unity and discipline in a socialist party. The "democratic centralist" constitutions and organisational principles adopted by various parties simply codify this political necessity. Perhaps, over time the Socialist Alliance will carry out such codifications but that is not the challenge now. In fact, focusing on such formalities obscures the real challenge to develop the voluntary political unity that we have before us.

Leadership resources and structures

The DSP wants to use its resources to strengthen and develop the Socialist Alliance's leadership bodies and structure at the branch and district level. This means all sections of the DSP leadership need to be made available to be part of the Socialist Alliance leadership. This will be something new for us. We've always done a certain division of labour in our branches (and at the national level) and allocated only part of our leadership to Socialist Alliance.

But we want to carry out this process in two stages.

In the next six months, functioning and tested DSP branch and/or district leaderships would be made available at the branch and/or district level to build the Socialist Alliance. Given the character of politics in Australia the priority is developing a strong collective leadership at the city-wide level (be this branch or district, where there are more than one branch in the city). These teams need to be elected by the Socialist Alliance membership in those cities and be accountable to them.

We need to find a formula that preserves the ability to carry out effective political intervention (including effective use and distribution of Green Left Weekly) with preserving the existing Socialist Alliance branch structures (monthly branch meetings, branch convenors, etc). Making the spaces for the range of levels and types of activity of all the Socialist Alliance comrades and preserving the activity and leadership of the non-DSP Socialist Alliance membership will be critical here.

A mix of monthly branch meetings and more regular (district-wide, where there are multiple branches in cities) organising meetings which bring together Socialist Alliance members who want to be more active might be what we should propose to start with.

Within such a restructure it should be possible to intensify the organisation of the more active Socialist Alliance members by creating more regular organising meetings for Socialist Alliance to supplement the monthly branch meetings.

After the NC, DSP leaderships at the branch and district level should begin negotiating a starting point with the key non-DSP Socialist Alliance leadership comrades. We want to proceed with the confidence and support of these comrades.

The second stage involves the taking our national leadership teams into the Socialist Alliance structure.

If the experiment of working through Socialist Alliance structures at the branch and district level this year succeeds, and we decide to proceed with the merger, we would then need to negotiate new national leadership structures. At the national level, consideration needs to be given to strengthening the Socialist Alliance national executive and creating an intermediate broader national leadership body. Subcommittees at the national level would need to be formed to take on tasks relating to Green Left Weekly (editorial and distribution), international relations, socialist education and work with young people.

But can we take the socialist education work, currently organised through the DSP, into the broader Socialist Alliance without sacrificing education in Marxist ideas?

This should be possible if we treat our political heritage in the way Marx wanted his work to be treated, that is, not as religious doctrine but a contribution to the scientific analysis of social development and a guide to revolutionary socialist action.

Nothing needs to be dumbed down or rendered less revolutionary and education can take place in Socialist Alliance without the requirement that all members have to agree with everything we say. Our experience is that the socialist education we carry out is already welcomed by the broader Socialist Alliance membership.

What other structural guidelines should we propose for this attempted merger? This will be a question that will be worked on by the incoming national leadership but here are some ideas that we have begun discussing with the responsible bodies in the DSP and that we will soon be discussing with other comrades in the Socialist Alliance:

  1. Resistance should remain an independent affiliate of the Socialist Alliance. Socialist Alliance leadership bodies in turn should take on a supportive role of all comrades involved in youth work and collaborate closely with Resistance leadership at all levels.
  2. Green Left Weekly should remain independent but strongly supportive of Socialist Alliance and Resistance. Its character should remain that of a broad paper of the green lefts and the left greens. The strong practical and financial support by DSP members has kept the Green Left Weekly project alive and this will have to be maintained and extended within a voluntary framework in the Socialist Alliance. A similar approach could be applied to Resistance Books.
  3. Should we confirm this merger perspective at our January 2010 Congress, Links should be hosted by the Socialist Alliance and remain closely associated with Green Left Weekly.


The judgement of the National Executive is that the merger perspective allows us to best advance on movement intervention and party-building fronts.

We know we cannot do the best possible job on our current settings. We know already from our experience that we do not have the resources to simultaneously organise the DSP, Resistance and the Socialist Alliance to their full potentials and we are not making the best of each as a result.

The alternative choice is to abandon Socialist Alliance and concentrate on just building the DSP. That's the option the former minority faction in the DSP wanted. The National Executive's assessment is that abandoning the Socialist Alliance would cost too much in terms of broader political reach for the socialist movement in this country.

The socialist project is built on voluntary political commitment, and sacrificing hard-won extra political reach will have a major cost in the morale and effort of the cadre core and the broader layers this core leads.

So this report from the National Executive proposes the National Committee:

  1. Elects an NE charged with the tasks of investigating and preparing a plan for the merger of the DSP into the Socialist Alliance and to lead a discussion with Socialist Alliance about such a prospective merger.
  2. Opens written and oral pre-Congress discussion from the plenum.
  3. All DSP branches and districts should attempt to organise as much of their work as possible in the period leading up to the Congress through the Socialist Alliance branches, districts and caucuses/committees. In this time, the DSP branches and/or districts should meet as needed to facilitate this shift and organise pre-Congress discussion and other preparations for the Congress.
  4. We cease producing the DSP national newsletter and offer to transfer that effort into producing a Socialist Alliance national newsletter.
  5. The DSP NC in October 2009 should re-assess these arrangements and make proposals for the Congress.

These measures will leave the January 2010 Congress with the full option of altering or reversing these perspectives. It also reserves to the Congress the question of what form, if any, the DSP should continue to take after that Congress. The October National Committee plenum should make proposals on these matters.