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Submitted by martin on Thu, 12/09/2002 - 10:46

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Riki Lane reports from Melbourne

Socialist Alliance (SA) members held a lively and frank discussion on the future of SA at the International Socialist Organisation's Marxism conference. One theme that almost all participants agreed on was the need to develop joint work in unions and campaigns.

Dick Nichols, from the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) outlined the DSP's proposals and why they raised them now. This is because:

1 SA is underperforming in relation to its potential;

2 The DSP needs to have a proper discussion amongst its members - despite

popular cliches, the DSP is not a top down organisation where the members do

what they are told;

3 We need a thorough clarifying debate in the lead up to the May conference. Issues like the constitution and asset transfers need to be worked out

He argued that socialists usually say that the best way to build the socialist cause is to strengthen our own organisations, but that is not the case now. There are possibilities to connect with possibly hundreds of working class militants sick of the ALP and thousands of anti-capitalist activists.

Workers' Liberty sees this quite differently. We think that building the working class movement is primary for socialists and that building our own organisations has to serve that goal. The common obsession with "building the party" as the solution to all questions has been a major problem. We welcome this shift by the DSP, but it is not just a question of special circumstances now.

Dick stressed that this is not a DSP takeover, not are they trying to capitalise on divisions in other affiliates.

In summing up Dick welcomed that the debate was off and running. He made four points:

1 There is no fait accompli, and the DSP are not rushing. The DSP only has 4/5 people on SA NE. SA has to make decisions through its processes.

2 Program - the DSP will make a proposal for a platform that is written in accessible language to make explicit the real basis of political agreement

3 What is a revolutionary program - it cannot be decided in advance of construction of an organisation that can lead struggles

4 DSP will support proposals for joint work. Differences should be openly discussed in SA, on the website etc.

Alison Thorne, from the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women (FSP/RW), stressed the need to celebrate, and start from, what SA has already achieved.

There is a need for a vibrant socialist electoral alternative, which the Greens cannot provide because they are not anti-capitalist.

We live in dangerous times, where democratic rights are being eroded. Leadership of the struggle to defend democratic rights needs at least equal priority in SA to election campaigning.

FSP/RW are for revolutionary regroupment. Programmatic matters are very important. FSP/RW are revolutionary socialist feminists, and do not want to be part of a radical labourite party.

SA is not a revolutionary organisation. Its development should not be rushed by the DSP.

She welcomed the discussion, which had clarified the issues.

Sue Johnson spoke for the ISO.

Her experience as candidate for Grayndler showed her that SA fills a political need. For the ISO, SA is as an electoral front.

There have been problems with SA. It has failed to make real roots in working class communities and unions. It has been good on propaganda, poor on participation in grassroots local campaigns. It is a long term project and will improve. It represents a step forward for left.

The nature of the period demands examination of organisational forms. However, she agreed with Alex Callinicos that the differences between left groups now are not so much about theory, but how they respond to concrete political events.

The DSP proposal states how much agreement there, so why do we have split campaigns in refugee and anti-war work in Sydney?

The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) model, as referred to by the DSP and Workers' Liberty (WL), has been successful, but cannot automatically be transposed elsewhere. The specific circumstances in the Scottish labour movement made it possible.

The DSP letter poses a fait accompli. It is not for the DSP to decide when the transition period to a party starts.

WL agrees with Sue that the SA is weak in its participation in grassroots campaigns, and that this needs to be a priority. We also agree that the existence of two refugee campaigns in Sydney is a major problem that needs to be resolved.

We disagree with Callinicos. It is true that the disputes over practical issues - eg how to respond to Islamic fundamentalist dominated rallies in support of Palestinians - have the greatest potential to divide the left. But different approaches to concrete events are rooted in different theoretical approaches that have to be debated through.

While the SSP model cannot just be adopted, it offers a useful example of how to have various tendencies working together with freedom to publish their own views.

David Glanz (ISO) welcomed the debate and offered the pages of Socialist Worker for the discussion. The discussion needs to continue - e.g. at the upcoming Resistance conference.

The International Socialist Tendency (IST) has shown flexibility about organisational forms - e.g. in Zimbabwe they have worked in the bourgeois dominated -Movement for Democratic Change, in Germany - in the Socialist Youth, in Scotland in the SSP.

In discussions the IST has had with the Fourth International (FI), the FI have argued for broad based workers parties, while the IST want mass revolutionary parties of the Bolshevik type.

The ISO will not be dissolving into a broad formation as it sees the need to maintain a revolutionary tendency.

Jonathan Sherlock (ISO) argued that the ISO & DSP disagree on what SA is. It is not a revolutionary party. It is a unique formation, like a united front, but not on a single issue. It is like Trotsky's idea of transitional demands

He supported SA developing joint work in unions and campaigns - it needs to do more than electoral work.

Other ISO members argued that SA and rev groups have different functions - SA is like a public outreach branch, or that SA should aim to be a small mass centrist party.

WL thinks that the ISO approach of keeping the SA program to an essentially reformist minimum in order to maintain the support of reformist class-struggle activists is mistaken.

We need to flesh out a clear class struggle program, taking up the issues of all those oppressed under capitalism, which points out the need to get rid of the whole rotten system. This does not have to alienate serious class struggle militants who do not yet see the need, or possibility, of taking on capital as a whole.

Riki Lane (WL) said that WL welcomed the DSP's proposal and the discussion.

WL has supported SA being an activist party on a more extensive program from the start. A vital question is what will be the nature of this party - a revolutionary regroupment, or a class struggle working class party with a multi-nucleated revolutionary core?

We need to discuss the political basis for this party, including:

1 What is the vision of socialism - nothing to do with Stalinism or seeing Cuba as a model;

2 How we relate to the ALP and the unions. This is the central question for in the Australian labour movement and there is no agreement;

3 Following on from that is the centrality of a working class orientation - giving priority to rank and file union organising and having a working class not cross class approach in campaigns.

We need to build political unity in theory and practice, not administrative unity.

The best way to proceed in building this party is to do it carefully and properly. Discuss the political program and develop joint work, especially in unions, on campus, in campaigns.

Carlene from Workers Power (WP) said that as a member of one of the smaller groups she was agnostic and felt as if she had a front row seat watching the blood flow.

She found worrying that any of the groups think they are THE revolutionary nucleus from which a revolutionary party will grow.

WP does not want to build a halfway house, between reform and revolution - the working class needs a revolutionary party.

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