Youth work and building Resistance report (October 2009 DSP National Committee plenum)

Resistance faces the huge task of trying to unite radical young people in a revolutionary socialist movement in Australia. This means that we need to grow in such a way that we move closer to this goal; being able to assess the political situation, recognise campaign openings and having the organisational tasks and perspectives to get us there.

The general line of this report, presented by Jay Fletcher on behalf of the DSP National Executive, was adopted by the DSP National Committee on October 4, 2009.

This is not just in terms of the proposed merger of the DSP into SA, which this report will address in detail, but the recognition that we strengthen Resistance through political clarity, our ability to produce the right analysis and assessment of unfolding events and relate correctly to campaigns.

Climate movement a priority

When the science, politics and social sentiment are all pointing to action on climate change, Resistance has made the assessment that the climate movement is exactly where we need to be. The majority of Australians want action on climate change, and the proportion of those who believe in drastic cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions is so much higher among young people. It is a growing international movement that must continue to develop the continuity and staying power necessary to achieve a safe climate. It is a long-term movement because it is a protest against a future possible world, and a fight to replace it with a better one.

We've carried out and defended the campaign decisions of the climate summit (which Resistance saw as an important step towards a nationally cohered climate movement) and we will continue to carry this out until the next summit.

The September Resistance National Council decided that Resistance prioritises being involved in organising, building and attending the National Climate Summit 2010. As in 2009, the next summit will (hopefully) determine a lot of our activity.

Our big priority has been building and participating in the Climate Camps — and comrades should contribute their thoughts on the camps that have already taken place.

The NSW Climate Camp is next weekend. We're aiming to have 50 people or more in the "Resistance Barrio", and planning a big, vibrant contingent for the march and rally. The big priority after the camps will be building the biggest possible Walk Against Warmings to coincide with the Copenhagen climate talks.

We've been working in the university environment collectives and, despite a weak student movement, young people are radicalising around climate change on campus.

Resistance and Socialist Alliance have some knowledgeable activists and we also have Green Left Weekly — which has among the best coverage and analysis of climate change and solutions.

As a result of the work we have done this year branches have run or will run for environment officer positions on campuses. Zane was elected uncontested at Newcastle uni. Duncan M ran on Hobart uni, Dom H on UQ and Patrick H, one of the key leaders of the growing environment collective at the University of Wollongong.

While on Newcastle university, the election was uncontested, in Wollongong and Brisbane we ran against hostile Liberals. Resistance members ran for these positions because students active in environment campaign urged us to and supported us.

Campus environment collectives

The branches who have oriented to campus and environment work are those that are growing, in Geelong, Hobart and Wollongong in particular.

We have built up credibility and authority and have more people around us who are convinced of our politics and approach. The Wollongong branch experience shows that when Resistance orients seriously to the environment collective, both the collective and Resistance grows — after a successful campus environment week, 24 people came to the collective and it has remained solid at 20+ people a week — the current environment officer on Wollongong uni is a Resistance member and branch organiser Patrick H was preselected by the environment collective to run in the elections.

In Geelong, a Resistance member is the environment officer on Deakin uni, and both Resistance and the collective are among the strongest in the country. Geelong branch had an impressive presence at Hazelwood and seven Resistance members are participating in environment campaigning on a weekly basis. One of the two branch organisers will be running for environment officer for 2010.

The gains made by Wollongong and Geelong led Hobart branch to restart the environment collective on Tasmania uni and three Resistance leaders now go to the environment collective each week. It has grown and the comrades are optimistic that it will continue to grow. The re-engagement with the environment work helped build the sizeable Graham Brown meeting and another one with Christine Milne. Also in Hobart, a number of medical students, who have been paying attention to climate change and health studies and are interested in Cuba (12 came to the GLW fundraising dinner) have boosted the club and our activities.

Brisbane Resistance has also run for environment officer on UQ, with comrade Dom H taking part in a broad-left ticket and a focus on re-building the collectives on campus. The campaign was to build an activist collective and push for a solar-powered uni. The presence of socialists on a broad-left ticket was targeted by right-wingers. But this gave Resistance the opportunity to talk about socialism while working with Greens and Labor-Left and Socialist Alternative.

In Newcastle, Zane A has just been elected environment officer. Resistance will have more current members on campus next year and Resistance-based activities are looking to be prioritised while working with a "grassroots-left", generally friendly union. Resistance also continues to initiate and carry out broad-reaching projects such as the Just Transition climate bus tour in November.

Other branches are prioritising climate change in different ways, and also running on some other campaigns that Resistance has identified as priorities.

Melbourne branch put a lot of energy into the building and promotion of the Hazelwood protest. The Resistance contingent was well planned and, as a consequence, more Resistance members and young people have been inspired to get active.

The branch is also planning action around the anniversary of the Afghanistan invasion.

Adelaide also put energy into their state's climate camp at Port Augusta. They are now focusing on workers' rights with the Ark Tribe campaign and Palestine solidarity, which is bringing new people around.

Brisbane is participating in the pro-choice campaign that is huge there right now.

In Wollongong, Reclaim the night has been initiated by Wollongong Resistance members, who are working mostly with people from the queer collective on UoW.

Equal Love and the campaign for same-sex marriage rights are cranking away in Canberra, with a lot of young people around and this, together with Venezuela solidarity work and environment work, has brought some new young people around Socialist Alliance in Canberra.

Women's and same-sex rights campaigns

Our women's rights work remains important. Campaigns around abortion law and also the Equal Love campaign are giving us the opportunity to work with more young women, which is important. Currently, we have no female Resistance branch organisers (and this is being worried over by most branches), although the three comrades taking on the biggest national tasks are women.

In Brisbane, a layer of women who'd stepped out of activity has stepped back in, particularly through our involvement in the abortion rights campaign there.

Where possible, we are projecting to increase our work in the explosive same-sex marriage rights campaign — which is drawing in new activists especially following the unexpected and impressive mobilisations on August 1. The campaign has won support from more than the queer movement: more than 60% of Australians support same-sex marriage and a change to the Federal Marriage Act.

One of the movement's strengths is its international reach: the demand for same-sex marriage is on the agenda in nearly all First World countries.

The next big focus for the same-sex rights movement is to organise rallies in late November for when the Senate inquiry reports to the public on November 26. The November 28 NDA and Queer Collaborations in Wollongong are all concerns for Resistance over the next period.

International solidarity

International solidarity continues to be an important part of Resistance's perspective. At the August 30 AVSN consultation in Melbourne, Resistance joined the youth work workshop and proposed a resolution to support the Venezuelan Organic Education Law on campuses across Australia.

The resolution also proposed AVSN organising campus forums with support from groups such as Resistance, Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Clubs, academics and student clubs. It also proposed approaching the NTEU, AEU and student unions to pass motions in support of the new law, and suggested publishing articles in student and staff publications. Where the resources exist, Resistance could play an effective role in carrying out these decisions.

We are generally good at responding to important events, such as the attack on Gaza (December-January) and the genocide of the Tamil peoples. This year we've moved on protests and solidarity actions as well as putting out Resistance statements, writing articles for GLW and making links and networks with communities under siege

Resistance has initiated some anti-war rallies around the anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan on campuses, but in most cases is helping to build the "Troops out of Afghanistan" national day of action along with SA. The Resistance National Council also discussed what we could do to strengthen solidarity with Honduras.

At this stage Resistance is prioritising building the climate movement. It's worth mentioning that we related well to the Students of Sustainability (SoS) and PowerShift conferences mid year, helping build them, participate and organise workshops, attendance at which was good.

DSP-SA Merger

Resistance believes that the DSP proposal to merge into the Socialist Alliance will boost Resistance: it holds out the possibility that we can hasten our re-building.

At the June National Committee, we discussed the DSP merger with a bigger and more influential Socialist Alliance, and determined that it will:

  • Strengthen our capacity to win young people to Resistance and socialism;
  • Alleviate the unnecessary drain on resources in our tendency, freeing up cadre to assist in the rebuilding; and
  • Help end confusion about our tendency.

The question is how do we come through this as strong as we possibly can? How do we ensure that the invaluable role the DSP plays in assisting Resistance is not lost in the merger process? Secondly, what are the ways to strengthen Resistance, the Socialist Alliance and the socialist movement? We also want to convince Resistance members to see the Socialist Alliance as our organisation, and build it.

In turn, we want Socialist Alliance members to see Resistance as an important part of the Socialist Alliance and build it among young people.

The role of the DSP

The DSP plays an invaluable role in collaborating with Resistance, and Resistance plays an essential role in convincing young people to become revolutionary socialists, thereby renewing and strengthening the DSP, and the socialist movement.

The health of Resistance is important to the health of the DSP and Socialist Alliance, and also renewing and growing the leadership of some movements. This is reflected in the fact that our branch organisers and National Executive are all members of the DSP. No Resistance leaders have truly stepped forward or have maintained membership without joining the DSP.

The merger will mean that this relationship does not continue in its current form. In June, Resistance made the assessment that three things are invaluable to our organisation:

  • Discussions about youth work on DSP bodies;
  • DSP collaboration with Resistance members; and
  • Discussions about priorities and initiatives and how we use our combined resources.

Our task is to make sure that these three critical facets of our work are not lost in the transition and merger.

Making the transition

For some time now we have defined ourselves as an organisation that works in political solidarity with the DSP and the Socialist Alliance.

However, the situation is more complicated. At the national level and in most branches, we continue to have discussions about political situation, campaigns, priorities and organisation around building membership — and the bulk of serious youth work discussions — on DSP bodies.

The historical, logical and ideal upshot of this is that it is the DSP — with knowledge, education and experience — that discusses, trains and supports our members in political perspectives and organisational tasks.

There is no reason these discussions can't happen on Socialist Alliance bodies. But the reason they haven't, at least in part, has been the duplication of local and national structures, and that the need was being satisfied by the DSP.

The DSP currently carries nearly all its discussion and activity on environment work and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights work through the Socialist Alliance.

Of course, the DSP has a conscious approach to our youth work, and the importance of this should not be underestimated. Discussions that involve Resistance comrades or focus on youth work help to prioritise and orient our organisation. Furthermore, the DSP membership, who understand the importance of youth work, make up a significant part of the Socialist Alliance membership. While this does not guarantee a conscious approach — only acting to value our youth work will — it will assist the process.

The concrete steps that have been taken since the June DSP NC that voted to pursue the merger are:

  • Resistance members have been part of the Socialist Alliance National Executive and national Socialist Alliance working groups and committees on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, environment work and the national conference. This has enabled discussion about priorities and initiatives and how we use our combined resources to carry them out. This has been most notable in our environment work, a campaign priority in both organisations, from the Climate Summit at the start of the year, to demonstrations against the CPRS, our involvement in SoS, Powershift and climate camp and the role that we have played in national debates.
  • Resistance comrades have taken youth work discussions to Socialist Alliance bodies at the branch level in Brisbane, Wollongong, Hobart, Western Sydney and Geelong. At a joint meeting of the DSP NE and the Socialist Alliance NE, Resistance took part in a discussion about the merger with a focus on cadre development in the Socialist Alliance.
  • Resistance has also contributed to the Socialist Alliance National Members Newsletter but this could be improved at both the branch and national level with more contributions. That said, there is a need for a fortnightly Resistance Campaigner and we don't want to strip either of content. Resistance Campaigner content in the Socialist Alliance National Newsletter will provide branch and national updates to both Resistance and the Socialist Alliance.

But we still need to:

  • Make the discussions about youth work on the Socialist Alliance NE and in all branches regular and thorough. This is important in terms of both gaining political and organisational clarity through formal Socialist Alliance feedback as well as helping to develop a mentoring and cooperative relationship with the Socialist Alliance.
  • Deepen the discussion about cadre development, including identifying what is essential to develop new leaders and convince young people to become committed revolutionaries, as well as take the concrete steps to ensure these things happen.
  • Invite Socialist Alliance leaders to Resistance branch meetings to talk about the Socialist Alliance. This is useful both to make the merger process clear to Resistance members and also demonstrate Resistance's set up and organisational practice.
  • Make Resistance NC reports available to the Socialist Alliance NE (or offer them to The Activist while also printing them in the Bulletin) and invite the national convenors to our NCs. This reflects our aim to be a part of Socialist Alliance discussions. But it goes both ways. It would be counter-productive to isolate Resistance discussions and it is just as important for Socialist Alliance to know what Resistance is talking about as vice versa.

Resistance will remain an independent socialist youth organisation. We need to continue to strive to make that an organisational reality: indeed, the DSP, Resistance and much of the Socialist Alliance understand that decision-making branch meetings, elected leaders as well as Resistance events, actions and campaigns are the best ways to gain political and organisational experience, and education and thus develop new activists and confident leaders.

A youth organisation can build active resistance to a system that affects young people in specific ways, and can organise with them where they are most affected is the best way to win radicalising young people to the movement for socialist change.

Resistance is explicitly revolutionary and there is no reason this should change as we work more with the Socialist Alliance.

Yet the crucial point remains in how the socialist party relates to the organisation of young people. We're going well in branches where Resistance and DSP have historically worked closely, and where this is now occurring in the Socialist Alliance. That is, SA and Resistance are the same team. We have the same end goal and we build the same movements; but we remain independent organisations and we have different roles.

National picture & organisation questions

One of the current national projects for Resistance is an update and reediting of What Resistance Stands For, our introductory magazine and cornerstone of our radical, socialist education.

To reflect the serious commitment Resistance has made to the climate movement it was clear a rewrite was necessary because, for example, there was no mention of the phrase "climate change". We need to be promoting our ideas around climate change solutions and eco-socialism.

Additionally, we needed to strengthen our views of 21st century socialism, the crisis of capitalism, and the imperialist wars that continue in Iraq and are escalating in Afghanistan.

Good propaganda material has to be a part of the way we grow Resistance — and so the rewrite and launching WRSF in each branch is important. The launch should be a huge and inspiring — a political fundraiser even — but this report proposes branches make public launches of the mag and work the new issue into our educational series.

Eight Resistance members wrote contributions to the new mag and most of them are long-term highly developed leaders and also all members of the DSP. However, 12 DSP members took part in reading the content, thinking through the politics and contributing to its overall structure. This is a clear and concrete example of the collaboration, or "mentoring", between the DSP and Resistance, and an example of what we cannot afford to lose in the merger.

Education

Education is indispensable for the development of cadre in a revolutionary organisation. Our assessment of the political situation, how we prioritise campaigns and the way in which we organise must necessarily flow from an understanding of history and its lessons. Education within our organisation means that we do not start from scratch in terms of political and organisational development, but pass on the lessons and experience.

Education around the country is uneven but given the importance of education to cadre development and our revolutionary approach we need to ensure that education continues to be an important focus for Resistance.

Along with this we have to realise that the Socialist Alliance is a less homogenous organisation than the DSP, and our education will reflect this. This offers opportunities both to learn and engage with what, to many of us, is new material and also to sharpen our arguments.

So, to reflect both the importance of education and what it can potentially mean in the context of the merger, Resistance has decided that branches plan a schedule for education. This should happen at the branch level so it can connect with branch campaigns, fellow-travellers as well as our capacity to carry it out.

Some branches are in a better position to carry out education programs and these branches could make a practice of sending through talks and plans to everyone. Carrying out these plans jointly with the Socialist Alliance should be the aim of both organisations.

We still need to aim to involve new members in "Introduction to Resistance", ITS and ITM classes. The new WRSF should be the key document we use. If Resistance can run this independently, this should be how it is carried out. However, the Hobart example of "co-sponsored" events could be a useful way to assist branch's education programs and rebuild them stronger, so comrades should try them out.

GLW distribution

When it comes to GLW distribution, Resistance's participation and organisation is uneven. This year we tried to reprioritise GLW, but it has been hard: sales is largely seen by our membership as something done by our leadership because it complements our work rather than it being central to our work.

Campaigning with Green Left Weekly is the basis for our weekly stalls and public outreach; it is the political base for our judgements, this is our access to people in the street and their sentiment and feelings.

Nationally Mel B is assigned to talk to branches to convince members of the paper's central, rather than complementary nature — convincing people of the political importance of the paper and some concrete steps to do this.

Our weaknesses on sales comes in the context of the DSP also struggling to better organise distribution of GLW. This means that while we should continue to take steps to improve sales and raise consciousness about the political importance of Green Left and our stalls, turning this around has to happen together with the DSP and Socialist Alliance.

Some branches that were not selling last year now are and have Resistance-organised stalls and sales spots. In two branches Resistance outsells the DSP most weeks.

We should seek to include Resistance members in discussions in the Socialist Alliance about stalls and sales and commit to targets as an organisation as part of overall branch targets. We also need to deepen national co-ordination and political motivation in this area of our work.

Finances

Resistance's finances are pretty weak, but this not new. We are not meeting the basics, such as regularly chasing up dues in branches and sending them through to the national office along with joiner fees; and we're not having political discussions about finances in our branches a large part of the time.

Moreover, because this is a long-term problem, financial consciousness in Resistance is very poor and an understanding of the resources we need to do what we do is not really understood by a lot of our membership.

In practice we often rely on the DSP to develop financial consciousness among Resistance comrades, which is a concern given the merger proposal.

However, our national leadership has been making moves towards turning this around and we've made some progress this year: Resistance is not using the full subsidy it was allocated in the DSP budget this year because we have both increased the amount of money coming in to the National Office, and because we have reduced spending.

Two branches, Brisbane and Wollongong, pay a regular sustainer to the national office. Wollongong Resistance also makes a monthly contribution to Activist Centre rent.

Resistance had a national finance fraction that was attended by 11 people. We talked through the basics of what needs to be done at the branch level and about raising financial consciousness among our membership. Some of the discussion looked at fundraising and grants but the clear focus coming out of the meeting was that we need to get the basics right and be talking to Resistance members about the political nature of finances.

We need to aim for the collection of dues from all those who consider themselves to be members of Resistance, and to have all dues passed on to the National Office. This is the first step in winning members to a rounded financial consciousness.

We covered the cost of the Graham Brown tour in mid-year. This we should use as motivation to push for a more conscious approach to our finances: making sure that initiatives, events and action are backed up by resources and finances.

DSP finance directors and people heading up Socialist Alliance finances in their branch should aim to meet with Resistance organisers or people assigned to finances at least once a month. It needs to be with both and this is because the question of finances in the Socialist Alliance is still being developed but it is where discussions are to happen in the near future if we are to retain our activist centres, ability to publish books etc. This will assist with the development of financial consciousness in Resistance by grounding decisions in the resources we have to carry them out. This is about developing the next generation of finance directors and the long-term backbone of the party.

Resistance is also launching a national auto-debit campaign to convince members to pay dues and pledges this way. Again, this is where the DSP's organisational and political experience can help out.

National leadership

However, all these campaigns rely on strengthening our national leadership, and the nationally assigned comrades.

We do have a national leadership team that meets weekly, but we only have one person part-time in the national office. Because of this we have a national leadership team where decisions are carried out by the members of the secretariat, the NE and the NC.

This marks a big step forward politically because it has grounded discussions in the realities about what it means to make and carry out decisions. It has meant a shift away from discussions about what Resistance should be doing, and extended the discussion into what we have the capacity to do: it has forced us to prioritise.

As a result secretariat members Jay F, Mel B and Tim D are all playing more of a role nationally.

But time and distance remain problems. Many members of these bodies are also leaders in movements and, as a result, inadvertently prioritise branch work. A contributing factor is being in a different city to the national office.

This has meant a scaling back of the national co-ordination of finances, GLW sales and campaigns. The solutions we're looking at is having three people part-time in the national office from the start of 2010. Jess will stay in the NO, and Jay F and Simon C from the secretariat have indicated they are available to play this role.

We are optimistic about what this will mean for national coordination and branch support. Three people in the national office will help create the conditions in which we can focus on nationally coordinating finances, GLW and our campaigns.

Since the June NC, Resistance has discussed the importance of getting the Resistance Campaigner out fortnightly. The Resistance Campaigner and taking part in SA national members' newsletter is an example of the broader question of national collaboration and discussion.

This report reaffirms the youth work perspectives voted on at the June NC. There are weaknesses in Resistance that we must continue to address, or risk mistraining the next generation of party leadership. This has to be done through Resistance nationally, and with the continued close collaboration, in a flexible and informed way, of comrades in the DSP and SA.