Australian politics and campaign priorities (counter-report)

[The following is an edited version of the counter-report and summary to the 22nd DSP Congress presented by Max Lane on behalf of the NE minority. The vote for the general line of the report and summary was 15 out of 60 delegates and 10 out of 40 consultative delegates . There were no abstentions.]

At the October NC, the NE minority party-building report presented different campaign priorities for our party into 2006. At this congress, campaign priorities are also being discussed in the reports on Australian politics. But this is not the only reason that the NE minority has decided to present a counter-report. During the course of the pre-congress discussion, there has been debate back and forth as to what were the fundamental features of the general line of the Australian politics report in October. There were different assessments as to what consequences might be drawn from the analysis being made for our political work.

The purpose of this counter-report is not, however, to debate again which interpretation of the October NC documents is closer to its general line. What the NE minority wants to do with this report is to try to set out, as best we can, what are our views on the Australian political situation and what are the consequences we draw for our political work. A separate report is the best way for the membership and the delegates to be able to compare the two approaches.

Our mistaken assessment of objective conditions

In the resolution adopted unanimously by the NE on the relationship between the DSP and the Socialist Alliance, we find the following assessment:

The opening for the Socialist Alliance was very concrete, we noted in our 2003 resolution. We saw it as a response to the beginning of a new cycle of working-class and anti-capitalist struggle signalled by:

  • the mass high school walkouts against the racist One Nation Party of Pauline Hanson;
  • the mass opposition to the 1998 attack on the Maritime Union of Australia;
  • the mass solidarity with the East Timor national liberation struggle, which forced both Coalition and Labor parties to reverse their longstanding policy in support of the Indonesian occupation;
  • the 20,000-strong, three-day S11-2000 blockade of the Melbourne World Economic Forum; and
  • the huge anti-war movement that erupted before the invasion of Iraq.

In the next two paragraphs, the assessment that these mobilisations signalled a new cycle of working-class and anti-capitalist struggle was corrected. These paragraphs stated:

5. However, since then, the movements retreated significantly. The massive movement against the invasion of Iraq melted away quickly in the wake of the invasion and occupation by the US and its allied imperialist aggressors. Though opinion polls in Australia and other imperialist countries show majority opposition to that occupation the anti-war movement remains weak and in some cities divided and there have been no large anti-globalisation mobilizations over the last couple of years.

6. The re-election of the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government - and this time with a narrow majority in the Senate - deepened the mood of demoralization and demobilization in the broader social movements.

In fact, the five examples of more-or-less sustained campaigning cited above did not give a complete picture of the level of political opposition activity during the previous period. Comrade Sue Bolton in one of her PCD contributions added the following list of mobilisations:

  • the 30,000-strong union protest August 19 1996 outside federal parliament which broke into parliament house;
  • the two statewide strikes and mass mobilisations (up to 60,000 mobilised) in 1997 against the Victorian government’s attacks on Workcover;
  • the 1997 statewide stoppages and mass mobilisations (20,000-30,000-strong mobilisations) campaigning against the WA government’s anti-union laws;
  • the 1999 nationwide protests against the federal government’s 2nd wave of anti-union laws;
  • the blockade of NSW parliament house against the attacks on Workers’ Compensation;
  • the M1 protests which we initiated in 2001;
  • the Free Craig Johnston demonstration of up to 10,000 workers in Victoria; the James Hardie asbestos protests

Actually, comrades, if we think back on all that activity, campaigns and mobilisations, it is, perhaps, easy to understand why we may have thought that we might be heading for a “new cycle of working class and anti-capitalist struggle”. Except we let our Marxism lapse. We didn’t properly place all this activity within the overall framework of the state of the class struggle.

As the resolution on DSP-SA relations states:

… it is too early to proclaim … the end of the last two and a half decades of class retreat in the face of the capitalist neo-liberal offensive. Our characterization, at our last Congress, of the post-1998 political developments as the beginning of a turn in the working class struggle was over-optimistic.

All of the campaign activity and mobilisations that the Resolution and comrade Sue Bolton listed have taken place within the general context of “two and a half decades of retreat in the face of capitalist neo-liberal offensive” combined, also, with a ruling class ideological offensive to revive racism, xenophobia and chauvinism among Australian workers.

It was a mis-estimation, a wrong analysis, when we assessed that the campaign activities and mobilisations that had taken place were signalling the new start of a cycle of struggle, implying a sustained increase in mass mobilisation. The retreat was and is continuing. A retreat is a surrendering of ground by the working class to the enemy, the bourgeoisie. This retreat has been largely based upon the betrayals by the working class’s class-collaborationist misleadership. Of course, there have also been defeats after battles.

The latest setbacks that we have suffered are the easy passing into law of Howard’s new IR laws and the equally easy passing into law of the Howard-ALP anti-terror, anti-civil liberties laws. The new IR laws make many aspects of collective bargaining and trade union campaigning illegal with fines and jail penalties for unions, union leaders and union members. They are aimed to achieve a shift from collective bargaining as the dominant form of union defence of members’ conditions to individual bargaining with unions operating as negotiation agents.

The ease with which Howard was also able to declare, with no real political cost to him or his party, that the riots at Cronulla were not racist is another reflection of the setbacks we have suffered in the ideological sphere.

But comrades, think back again to that earlier list of campaign activity and mobilisations – it was a very intense period indeed.

And now we can add the two very large trade union mobilisations of 2005, including the latest mobilisation of 600,000 trade unionists on November 15.

If all that activity and mobilisation did not signal the beginning of a new cycle of anti-capitalist struggle, did it represent nothing at all? Has it all just been negated by the ongoing working class retreat? Are they negated again by the ongoing setbacks? Do all these campaign activities and mobilisations mean nothing at all?

Of course not. If any of us thought that we wouldn’t be here.

Politicisation and radicalisation in the face of retreat

Even, in fact, especially in retreat, the process of defeat and betrayal creates its own kinds of politicisation and, indeed, radicalisation.

First, there is anger at what has been taken away, at what has been lost, and the ground that has been surrendered, rights previously won and now lost.

Second, there is a deepening moral repugnance at the kind of society that is being fashioned under neo-liberal capitalism: selfish, philistine, inhumane, lacking in solidarity.

Third, there is puzzlement, questioning and passion to understand why this is happening; why the defeats? Why the betrayals? Why the extreme misery and wars in the Third World?

Of all the political groups in Australia, the DSP is the most familiar with these phenomena. The DSP was at the head of some of the most sustained campaigns responding to these discontents, including the most sustained, East Timor, and the most energetic, S11 in Melbourne. The DSP was engaged with most of the mobilisations and we reported all of them in Green Left Weekly. Our huge John Pilger forums in Sydney and Melbourne, our Pilger film festivals, the Tariq Ali meetings, Michael Moore film showings, the continued success of our APISC conferences, following on from the Socialist Scholars and International Green Left Conferences – all point to the existence of a layer of people who are in the process of developing an anti-capitalist consciousness. It is they too who have been at the core of the mobilisations against the war in Iraq, against racism, in solidarity with refugees. It is they too that we can expect to see at the community picket lines, as was the case during the 1998 MUA dispute.

This is the fundamental characteristic of the situation the DSP, a small cadre party, faces today. A continuing general retreat of the working class, suffering more defeats, but in the process seeing the forging of a constituency of people, angry at what they have been forced to give up, repelled by the direction that society is heading and seeking answers as to why it is happening and how the retreat can be halted and turned around. These people, this constituency, is made up of people whose politicisation and then radicalisation proceeds unevenly, provoked by different examples of injustice, occurring at different times, and is reflected in frequent rises and falls in levels of activity and levels of moral, and semi-spontaneous mobilisation around a range of different and changing issues. All this too takes place in a society where illusions in parliamentarism are strong. The size of this critical constituency can, perhaps, be measured by the size of the vote for the Greens, although no doubt some of the “revived advanced elements” still vote ALP, as the slightly lesser evil, especially those who are trade union members.

This activist dissent sits in turn on top of an even more widespread but more passive discontent. Witness the latest poll showing 66% against the war in Iraq.

Attack on the “Third World”

At the moment, the neo-liberal offensive continues, in its most brutal form, against the peoples of the Third World accompanied by wars of occupation, while in Australia, it is reviving racism, xenophobia and chauvinism and aiming to pull all the remaining collective bargaining teeth of the trade unions. There is, however, one area where the retreat has been halted and a counter-offensive is fully underway: the revolution in Venezuela – and Cuba. There is resistance to the neo-liberal offensive – occurring unevenly, in stop-start fashion – all around the globe, including Australia, as our list indicates. But it is in Venezuela where the retreat has not only been halted, but where the masses have gone on the offensive taking their revolution into the stage of the conscious struggle for socialism, not only raising the ideological banner of socialism but beginning to implement concrete measures to take the economy and society in a socialist direction. The battle for ideas launched in Cuba and the advances being won in Cuba now that it is emerging from the Special Period also represent another front of counter-attack.

The Indonesian peoples’ overthrow of Suharto, the East Timorese peoples’ defeat of the Indonesian occupation and the Australian and Portugeuse mobilisations against the scorched earth policy of the Indonesian military and demanding UN forces enter East Timor were also important victories. These were partial victories, for sure, only temporarily halting imperialism’s offensive, but they were major boosts for morale in Australia on the left and among progressives.

The Venezuelan revolution and the new alliance with Cuba, and now Bolivia, is aimed at extending the revolution in Latin America and has enormous potential for inspiring left and progressive people in Australia, and for radicalising some of them.

Our tactics, i.e. the political work we prioritise, must first-of-all be based on an understanding of all these key aspects of objective reality.

Is there a new conjuncture?

During the course of the pre-congress discussion, one issue that seems to be always present is the assessment that there may be underway a change in these conditions.

In her report outline presented to the NE, Comrade Sue Bolton made the point that: “we know that ACTU secretary Combet has no intention of carrying the militant promises he made at the National Press Club and November 15.”

This was followed a little later by:

The militant unions in Victoria and WA are still thinking about what sorts of initiatives that they can take. They are committed to more mass rallies with stoppages, but they’re not taking the level of initiative that we would like, hence, the Socialist Alliance-initiated petition to the ACTU.

During the course of the PCD, the NE minority has emphasised an assessment of the likely nature of trade union campaigning that is also formulated in the October NC report on Australian politics. After providing one assessment of the campaign up until October, the report continued:

The resistance to Howard’s IR attacks will probably take a different form once the legislation is passed, with struggle more focused on specific workplaces, sectors and unions under attack by the bosses.

On current evidence, this appears still to be the most likely dominant form of struggle into the next period. As Comrade Bolton stated in her outline, the militant unions in Victorian and WA (the home of the “militant union current”) are not taking the level of initiative necessary to force the ACTU to adopt a sustained mass action strategy. The Socialist Alliance initiative to launch a petition to the ACTU was and remains important. While the petition has obtained some support from within the AMWU, there are no signs yet of any organised influential national push behind a challenge to the ACTU’s current strategy.

It is correct to note the limitations of the militant trade unions and to point to the need for the petition initiative, at the same time the significance of the emergence of new centres of consistent union militancy should not be underestimated.

When Craig Johnston, as leader of the rank-and-file group, Workers First, won the position of AMWU Victorian State Secretary and Chris Cain won the position of MUA WA state secretary, for the first time, probably since the BLF, there were unions in Australia that had a genuinely militant leadership – consistently militant and determined to rebuild their unions as real instruments for collective struggle for better conditions. These two state union leaderships represented the core of a new trade union leadership current, qualitatively different from even the existing left leaderships of unions like the AMWU and CFMEU in other states or nationally.

It is not surprising that it was these two leaderships that identified with Socialist Alliance and its call for class struggle unionism and solidarity.

Craig Johnston was jailed in Victoria and ousted from his union position by the Cameronite national leadership, who replaced Johnston with a more amenable new state secretary. However Workers First remained in existence even if its energies were absorbed for a long time by the campaign in defence of Johnston. Despite this it still has retained a strong presence in the AMWU and is represented in the official leadership, by Chris Spindler, a DSP member in his position as AMWU state president. According to comrade Spindler, the Workers First is now becoming more active again. The continuing strength of the Workers First has meant that even the Cameron-appointed replacement for Craig Johnston has had to stay at arms length from both the Cameronite leadership as well as from the ALP. The AMWU distanced itself from the Sky Channel profiling of the ALP on November 15 organising its mobilization separately from this. Comrade Chris Spindler has documented in his PCD the range of campaign activities that the AMWU Vic has been able to carry out.

In WA, the MUA Chris Cain leadership team, which includes some of our DSP comrades, remains solidly entrenched and has respect and support among the membership. It has inherited a rotted out union structure with low levels of member participation and many outstanding grievances with the bosses to deal with. The comrades in the WA MUA inevitably have to concentrate on the actual rebuilding of their union and the re-activation of their membership. As a union with the deserved reputation for consistent militancy on the job and with contingents in all mobilisations, the WA MUA sets an example of consistent militancy which has meant that it has delivered a significant morale boost to militant workers in other unions in WA.

The victories of Workers First in the AMWU (Vic) and Chris Cain in the MUA (WA) were very significant victories. They represent new bases for rebuilding genuine members-based, militant unions. They are precious gains and defending them and their leaderships will be important challenges for the left in the coming period. Moreover, it also means that there are solid bases ensuring that there will be strong defensive struggles, at the very least, initiated from these quarters. This will surely have a positive impact in other unions. The CFMEU, especially where there is a remnant presence from former BLF unionists, may be another source of such initiatives. There will be a better base for raising alternative perspectives in broader trade union forums. There is little doubt that we are entering a period where there will be more trade union fights and more opportunities for political work by DSP members in this area. This is a positive change from the period leading up to 2005.

These militant union leaderships, however, do face major constraints in being able to take the kinds of initiatives that would be effective in forcing a consistent change in the ACTU’s strategy. In both cases, they face major tasks in rebuilding and reviving their unions, especially the MUA in WA which inherited a rotted out structure.
In WA, for example, because Chris Cain is not part of the WA ALP machinery and his leadership is one of the most militant union leaderships in WA, there is a constant struggle to avoid isolation. The union’s tactics must take into account maintaining alliances with other unions operating within the ALP framework. In the recent lead-up to the November mobilizations, the WA MUA leadership was unable to play a significant role as an organized center campaigning for an alternative strategy.

Beyond Workers First and the WA MUA leadership, the trade union militant forces at the trade union leadership level are few and far between. They are primarily left union leaderships that have been around a long time and who always, in the end, need to accommodate to the needs of the ALP. The exception to this is the leadership of the Geelong Labour Council, where our own comrade, Tim Gooden, is secretary.

Viewed nationally, looking beyond Melbourne, this weakness is quite stark

We have been looking, and at times thought there was more of an opening than what there was – like in Brisbane with the Worker’s Unity experience.

With the core of the militant trade union current so constrained, the prospect for any short-term campaign to change ACTU strategy away from ALP electoralism towards a sustained mass action strategy are very poor. A mass action strategy is, of course, more than the use of the occasional mass rally and march as a public relations action for the ACTU and ALP. It means mobilising the organized power of people, of workers, deepening and extending their organisation and mobilisation on a sustained basis and looking more and more to actions that cause disruption to the capitalists’ profits. The ACTU campaign will remain an essentially electoralist campaign, relying on TV advertising and marginal seat campaigning and occasionally using well-controlled mass rallies and marches, but only if deemed useful electorally. Even those on the “left” of the ACTU leadership, Doug Cameron and John Sutton, will not do anything to put the ALP’s re-election at risk.

We did see during 2005 the signs of a widespread and angry sentiment to mobilize among the ranks. It was that sentiment that was channeled behind calls by these militant unions, DSP members and other militants for a national action back in June/July and which the official trade union leaderships eventually decided to go with.

The June/July mobilizations showed them that, at this time, it was possible to organies well-controlled marches and rallies that could be good PR to back up the ACTU advertising and ALP polling. There were no signs that the ACTU would face break-away actions such as that which occurred at Parliament House 10 years ago in 1996. There was no reluctance by the ACTU to organise November 15, especially as the use of Sky Channel meant that they could dominate the platform in all major centres. Under these conditions, such well-controlled mass rallies and marches will remain an option for occasional use – using them too often will raise expectations too much. The ACTU Executive will be discussing the next such activity soon: but what it is not discussing is any package of activities that would shift its strategic framework.

**

We do not yet know all the ways where and when the capitalists will use Howard’s new IR laws to attack workers. But we are sure that it will happen. Perhaps they will seek out the weak chinks in the CFMEU. After all, they introduced a special law to enable that – a law which neither the ACTU nor any other union offered any opposition to. Or start spotfire actions, as has already begun in Victoria and WA on several CFMEU workplaces. Or maybe they will try to knock off unionised workplaces first, or try out the laws on so-called soft targets like the universities. Or, who knows, perhaps the ease with which they got the laws through parliament, challenged only by ACTU rallies where the ACTU made it clear that no industrial action was to follow, Howard will feel emboldened to launch an all-out attack on a large work-place or a whole sector.

This latter course may be the least likely, however. While the government can see that the ACTU is not interested in a campaign that will threaten real disruption to the capitalists’ profit-making activity, it can already see that its IR policies are very unpopular and could lose it votes to the ALP. The ACTU is only willing to lead a fight to re-elect the ALP. From the point of view of Howard and the Coalition government, this is the real threat they are concerned with at the moment: that they will lose votes, primary votes or through preferences, to the ALP.

In any case, any struggles on the ground, away from the electoral sphere, will all be defensive struggles. And they will be struggles waged under siege, in a period following two and a half decades of retreat and where the trade unions have lost half their membership. Union leaderships will want to pick their fights, and will let some workplaces go. This is already happening. So they will be difficult struggles, and some will be lost. But others will be won, and the process of rebuilding the trade unions will have some chance of making progress. Indeed, already there is an increase in trade union consciousness among workers. For the first time in many years, some trade unions are recruiting again as workers feel the need for an organization to defend themselves or at least represent them, in the worse case scenario and they need bargaining agents in AWA negotiations. There is an increase in trade union consciousness reported by our comrades working in the unions. So we know there will be struggles and we must re-affirm that every one of these struggles, all of them, without exception, will be extremely important struggles. Without such a resolute defence, which we must be part of, wherever we can, there will be no chance of eventually ending the retreat of the class and turning things around. The working class has been forced into a long retreat, but it has not suffered any kind of final or near final defeat. There is plenty of fight left in the class: this is so vividly revealed in the 1 million strong mobilisation in February 2003 - against a war in another country. But the political understanding and confidence and organisation to start to turn this retreat around has not yet developed. Of course, our task is to help lay the foundations to enable that to be rebuilt.

Within this framework, the NE minority supports all the proposals made in the October NC Australian Politics report aimed at strengthening our work in the trade union sphere. We must be at the forefront of any initiative aimed to build coordination among trade union members and officials, un-unionized workers, and community groups both in defence of any workplace or union under attack as well as aiming to pressure the ACTU into a using more effective strategy, i.e. sustained mass action.

The NE minority supports all these projections to be organised by regularly functioning DSP fractions of comrades working in the trade unions or assigned to this area of work.

In addition, there is another key area of work that we must continue. This is the serious trade union rebuilding work, such as that which is taking place under the leadership of Chris Cain in the MUA and in other unions. There are important organized rank-and-file efforts in the, in the CPSU in Canberra, in the PSA in NSW and in the NTEU and in different teachers’ unions.

Furthermore, we would add the necessity of the GLW and all SA as well as DSP propaganda material to be constantly taking up the demand for the full repeal of the Howard IR laws. We should be working out also what workers’ rights we should be propagandizing for to be incorporated into any new laws.

These projections of the DSP being there as participants in and in solidarity with these defensive struggles and as a part of any political work aimed at changing ACTU strategy do not, however, represent any qualitative change in how we have always viewed our political work. The analysis of where things might be heading do not take us out of the general framework we have established as describing the current political situation: namely, continuing retreat, but with the emergence of a rising constituency of activists and others, looking for ways to resist the neo-liberal offensive as well as racism and imperialist wars.

The emergence of this evolving constituency of activists has been taking place around a range of accumulated political questions - not only around the IR laws.

The overarching elements of the ruling class offensive

Howard’s attack on trade unions, specifically on collective bargaining, has long been on his agenda. However, an all-out attack has only become a real possibility recently because of the Coalition winning a majority in the Senate. Previously the ACTU has relied on the Greens and the Democrats to help ameliorate the worst aspects of any Coalition IR legislation. This attack, however, takes place within the framework of a longer-term offensive: the neo-liberal offensive against the welfare state, whose origins can be traced back at least two and a half decades. There has been a steady erosion of wages and the social wage during that whole period.

However, the impact of this process has been ameliorated for some sections of workers by the prolonged economic boom that the Australian economy has experienced. The erosion of wages and social services has been steady but uneven, with some sections of the workforce gaining temporarily. Of course, we don’t know how long this will last as there are signs of a slowdown.

Resisting this neo-liberal attack on the living conditions of Australian workers and, in particular, resisting the new attack on trade unions and collective bargaining must be one of the major campaigns of next year. We will not be giving up the struggle – we will be a part of it. The level of our involvement will, of course, be determined by how the trade unions and their members respond: what real and concrete openings there are.

But this is not the only front where the ruling class has been on the offensive.

During the period of the Howard government up until 2005, the more long-term overt form of the ruling class offensive has been ideological and political.

War, racism, xenophobia and chauvinism

One area of political campaigning that was projected in the October NC report was in defence of civil liberties. The recent passing of draconian anti-terror legislation in the federal parliament and in some state parliaments is another setback for the working class and progressive movement. The ease with which this was done reflects the relative success of the ruling class in pursuing its “war against terror” black propaganda against the non-Western peoples of the world and in building up a certain level of fear among Australians, including among the working class, of the “non-West”, signified through the use of the ruling class’s new code words: “Islam”, “fundamentalist”, “Islamic terrorist” and so on.

Initially, the examples that the ruling class used to try to convince people in Australia of the “alienness” and barbarian character of the non-Western people were that they were unprincipled “queue jumpers” trying to get into Australia and that they were the kind of people that would “throw babies overboard”.

Since the attack on the New York twin towers, acts of terror by Islamic fanatics of one kind or another have supplied more useful examples. From the point of view of the Australian ruling class, the first and second Bali bombings, the bombing of the Australian Embassy and Marriot Hotel in Jakarta have provided excellent cases for them to use for this purpose. The Bali bombings and the Embassy bombing, but especially the Bali bombings, have been exploited for all they are worth by the bourgeoisie to strengthen the fear of terrorism among people in Australia. The Jemaah Islamiyah and figures such as Abu Bakr Bashir and Amrozi have become well-known figures in Australia.

The perception of a link between Islam and backwardness and corruption has also been fostered by the media coverage of the trials of Australians in Indonesia, such as that of Schapelle Corby and Michelle Leslie. “Look this is what happens in these (Muslim, nonWestern) countries!” the media cries out.

The bombings in London, where the terrorists were people who were Britons of middle eastern background, has also been used to stir up fears here and used as a rationale for formulating and legislating the new round of so-called anti-terror laws.

These new laws represent a threat to anybody who is a critic of Australian imperialist policy, although, as with most repressive laws, their implementation depends also on the political balance of forces at the time. It is already clear, though, that they will be used quickly against some specific targets, namely, Islamic fundamentalists. This has already started to happen with the recent raids and arrests in Melbourne and Sydney.

Why is the ruling class so keen to target these people? First, they want to make sure that they cannot be held responsible if any terrorist acts, such as bombings, do take place. They need to be seen to be “doing something”. This will be usually police work, as the real solution, i.e. removing the sources of alienation and frustration caused by oppression, war and exploitation in the Third World, in particular in the middle east, is not on the ruling class’s agenda.

Second, these arrests and the media parading of these arrests is a specific form of ruling class propaganda activity. It is meant to keep the fear and image of the barbarian, non-West alive as much as it is to prevent terrorist acts. In other words, it is part of the ruling class’s ongoing ideological campaign to convince the Australian people (i.e. the Australian working class) that the non-Western world is hostile to the West and is a world comprised of “failed states” and indeed failed peoples.

This cannot be separated from the nature of the situation at the international level that we have entered into. What we have sometimes referred to as the “war against the Third World”, continues. It is underpinned by the intensification of neo-liberal globalisation, on top of which comes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to set up puppet colonial regimes, the use of the threat of war against states such as Iran and Syria and the building of the wall against the Palestinians in Palestine by the Israeli state.

Australian imperialism’s recent interventions in Papua New Guinea, the Solomons and Bougainville, as well as its increased direct presence in Indonesia, within the Indonesian financial bureaucracy and alongside Indonesia police, are also examples of this.

This intensified war against the Third World, and the escalating human suffering it is causing, establishes a long-term political framework for hostility between the peoples of the Third World against the rich and powerful of the rich world and, if the imperialists have their way, with the working classes of the rich world as well. The capitalist classes of the imperialist countries cannot afford to see any kind of build-up of solidarity with the peoples of the Third World. They were extremely frightened by the huge anti-globalisation demonstrations in Seattle and then in European cities just a few years ago.

Civil liberties campaigning, solidarity with Islamic community and refugees, anti-war

The new anti-terror laws and their draconian, extreme form has already provoked a significant amount of protest from human rights and lawyer groups. There will be a basis for building a campaign for the repeal of these laws and in solidarity with people who are attacked under these laws. The NE minority supports the proposals aimed at strengthening the DSP’s work in the area of campaigns in defence of civil liberties.

Specific and open solidarity with the Islamic community when they come under racist attack will be a key component. The anti-racism rallies in response to the Cronulla race riots is an example of this.

Ongoing opposition to mandatory detention and forms of discrimination in immigration policy will be another. We should retain our presence in and contact with refugee solidarity groups.

We must maintain our presence in the various anti-war coalitions preparing for the next round of protest actions on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2006. The visit to Australia of British PM, Tony Blair, will provide another great opportunity for such a mobilisation.

We will need to be alert also, from the very beginning of the year, to identify any movement or possible initiatives on campus around campaigns demanding the repeal of the VSU laws or initiatives to give real life to student unionism and student politics.

Internationalism

No less a key component must be our international solidarity work, in particular our campaigning with the Venezuelan socialist revolution. The DSP’s international work with fraternal parties active in the Asia Pacific region also remains vitally important.

Venezuela

Comrade Bolton has re-affirmed the key proposals of the Venezuelan solidarity campaign formulated in earlier reports, all of which the NE minority supports.

The NE minority is of the view that this campaign of solidarity with the Venezuelan socialist revolution must be a central campaign priority for our party in 2006. This Venezuelan revolution, still in its early stages, is the first socialist revolution since the Cuban revolution and the final consolidating victory in Vietnam. It is already having a profound impact in Latin America, as the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions combine their forces to take larger and more regional initiatives. The recent election of Evo Morales as President of Bolivia is another victory for the working class in Latin America.

In Australia, the DSP is the only organised force which understands the basic line of development of this revolution and which stands in full solidarity with it and its leadership. Our party must take up the cudgels and ensure that all the projections are carried out to the full.

This campaign cannot just be a campaign promoting the excitement of the mass activity in Venezuela – its “amazingness”, its popular radicalism – even if we use this kind of language sometimes. This is an opportunity to reach out to people with our politics, Marxist politics. It is a chance to reach out especially to young people, excited by the prospects that there in Venezuela, the anti-globalisation movement which many have identified with is having a victory. We will need to be able to use our Marxism to explain the stages of the revolution as they unfold; to be able to compare it with other revolutions. It will be an entry point into discussing Cuba.

Furthermore, this campaign will enable us to present our views about imperialism – i.e. neo-liberal globalisation – and the Third World in general and also about the connection between imperialism and war, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the general framework for world politics is determined by the globalised neo-liberal offensive and the so-called neo-con drive for wars of occupation, a contemporary revolutionary victory against this drive such as in Venezuela becomes an example whose preciousness cannot be undervalued. The DSP, its members and leaders, must be identified with solidarity with this revolution and its leadership. Resistance will become known as those “Venezuela people” – “those supporters of socialism everywhere.” Resistance will need to be taking news and analysis of the Venezuelan socialist revolution out onto the campus and winning supporters of this campaign there also.

Building this solidarity campaign cannot be reduced to the brigades. The brigades have to be part of, and complement, the building of a broad and vibrant campaign as a direct intervention into Australian politics.

Additionally, making this campaign a spearhead of our work will ensure a big, vital injection of internationalism into the left and progressive milieu where we will have significant influence. This is the best medicine for the ongoing attempts by Australian capital to revive racism, xenophobia and chauvinism amongst Australian workers as capital’s hoped for antidote to solidarity with the Third World resistance to imperialism. In the coming period, we will probably see more appeals by the ALP to this sentiment and by the ACTU – witness the use of the Australian national anthem and the almost all-white projection of the Australian working class on the November 15 Sky-Channel video presentations. This is something we should be consistently critiquing in Green Left Weekly.

We have the political analysis and instruments to be able to wield the weapon of internationalism very effectively in the coming period.

We will have a solid and inspiring Venezuelan solidarity campaign, We will have a tour by Venezuelan communist and leading activist in the Bolivarian revolution, Carolus Wimmer as well as a tour by a youth leader to coincide with the Resistance conference. Later in the year, in October, another tour by a trade union leader or by Commandate Izzara. Comrade Nelson Davila from the Venezuelan Embassy will visit all branches. There will be two more brigades that we will organise. A strong national coordinating committee will lead this campaign and also organise the publication of a dossier and a book.

Crucial will be the formation of Venezuelan Solidarity Committees in all states whose task will be to win support for the socialist revolution now unfolding in Venezuela; to join up members and to draw them into political activity in support of the revolution, including being ready to protest any and all US aggression. These committees will need to take their work into the unions, onto the campuses, into the other movement areas and into the community. The rise of the movement in Bolivia may mean that CISLAC could become involved also.

Other internationalist campaigning: APISC and APEC

During the 1990s and during the last five years, we have had important successes with our conference projects aimed at gathering as much of the left and activist milieu as our authority can muster to be at the one place at the one time for intensive political discussions. Our first big success was perhaps with the International Green Left Conference, although earlier conferences also went well. But we have had even better successes with the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conferences that we began in 1998, including the Marxism 2000 educational conference, which was a kind of an offshoot of the APISC conferences. (Melbourne comrades have also had good success with their conferences organised jointly with Friends of the Earth.)

The success of these conferences, gathering between 600-800 people, was mainly due to two reasons. First, they concentrated the authority we had won through our international work, represented in the range of parties and activists from overseas and the authority we had won through our campaigning work and through Green Left Weekly. Secondly, they met our needs in this period of general retreat and uneven and variegated rise of a new constituency of activists. The range of international speakers in a period when globalisation and anti-globalisation were key themes among almost all layers of activists was attractive, inspiring, informative and educational. In addition, there was also a range of local activists coming from the various campaigns here in Australia.

This year APISC again attracted more than 500 people, even though there was much less lead-up time for building it – just a few months. If we ask the question of 2005: at what event were we able to present our politics, revolutionary Marxist politics, in the most thorough way to the largest number of people what is the answer? The answer must be: at APISC.

The importance of the Venezuelan socialist revolution means that any APISC that is to be organized in 2007 must have an inter-continental character. We know already that this would be very popular with the Venezuelans as they are on a campaign to extend their support in Asia. We know that our Asian comrades are also keen to build solidarity with Venezuela. The PRD had a comrade on the brigade. In the Philippines they are starting solidarity committees.

In the NE minority party-building report to the October NC, the NE minority strongly motivated an early start to building APISC. A long lead time and a well-planned approach to building APISC, linking it to inter-continental solidarity with Venezuela, with the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements, the movements for international cooperation against racism, xenophobia and chauvinism and with local campaigns, especially for trade union rights and civil liberties, should guarantee another success.

With a sufficient lead-time, good resources and planning (which needs to be based on a correct analysis of the period we are in), we could realistically set a target of 1,000 registrations.

The NE minority Party Building report also proposed that an APISC in 2007 be organised under the banner of GLW and Resistance. APISC, if it were organized at Easter, would be about five months before the APEC Heads of Government Summit, which will bring George Bush and many other imperialist and pro-imperialist heads of government to Sydney. (There may also be some heads of governments, trying to remain independent of imperialist control, such as from Vietnam.) The conference would therefore be a great time and place for Resistance and the DSP to gather all those who may want to work with us, including SA members and contacts, in any interventions around the demonstrations that will surely be organized by many groups when APEC occurs. Having Resistance as a co-organiser of APISC will help such a positioning.

But the demonstrations against Bush are the not the only or even the most important thing. Having another big opportunity to gather together as many of the radicalizing milieu as possible, where we can present our politics in depth and with passion, is the key thing. Cementing the networks, international and local, that will help future campaigning is another important element. Building a resistance against parochialism and nationalism among this milieu, where we have some influence - this must be a part of our campaign work for the next period.

Engaging with others in struggle

The report to the October NC on Australian politics ended with a section entitled: “engaging with others in struggle”. The purpose of our reports on the political situation here in Australia is to help us work out what is the best way to “engage with others” so that we will be able to win a hearing for our politics and win people to our ideas and to joining our party, the DSP. Our deliberations about what campaigns we carry out and what resources we give them are determined by our assessment of what is happening on the ground, what real activity is already springing up and to what extent that activity, these new experiences will politicise and radicalise those that are involved. Where we see this is likely, we intervene and participate, allocating our scarce cadre resources carefully. We must have a clear analysis of what political activity is truly happening and whether there are signs of radicalisation.

In the context of the current debate, we are also required to assess whether allocating resources, headspace and physical energy and money to try to further progress Socialist Alliance into a party is the correct line of march, given the objective situation. A detailed assessment of the state of SA, its relations with the DSP and its future prospects are the subject of another counter-report. However, the general line of this counter-report is re-affirming an assessment that the conditions for the building of a broad left or mass workers party still do not yet exist.

In no sphere of activity can we identify evidence of new forces (i.e. large numbers of people) moving into sustained campaign activity, bringing forth new leaders, and breaking from the ALP. The conditions we face remain the same as those that we have faced over the last 20 years and which we have determined already are not the conditions that allow us to proceed beyond advocating, championing the need for a new workers party towards building such a new party in the here and now. They are conditions, which can be described as:

A continuing general retreat of the working class, suffering more defeats, but in the process seeing the forging of a constituency of people, angry at what they have been forced to give up, repelled by the direction that society is heading and seeking answers as to why it is happening and how the retreat can be halted and turned around. These people, this constituency, is made up of people whose politicisation and then radicalisation proceeds unevenly, provoked by different examples of injustice, occurring at different times, and is reflected in frequent rises and falls in levels of activity and levels of morale, semi-spontaneous mobilisation around a range of different and changing issues. They do not enter the political arena as a political force or forces with new leaders, but as individual activists, with irregular activity.

If we adopt the perspectives embodied in the NE minority’s series of counter-reports, we will have a strong basis to effectively intervene in Australian politics so as to build our party and increase its influence.

We will be engaged with others in struggle: in the industrial arena where struggles occur; in re-building rotted out unions; in campaigns against war, racism and suppression of civil liberties. Wherever effective we can use SA to involve others, though that has been limited by the majority's insistence on turning SA into "the party". It should have been possible on some IR campaigns, but obviously these are
broader, and hoping that SA would be the means has meant we've missed
out on many campaigns, eg in the Melbourne union solidarity organisation. We want to be building real united fronts that involve the whole of the left. This should be possible on anti-war, civil liberties, defending workers/unions, and against imperialist actions against Venezuela, when they occur. We are always after the broadest possible campaigns: this is one of the enduring lessons we learned from the experience of the campaigns against the Vietnam war.

We will be engaged also with others in the struggle for new ideas, our most pressing struggle at this time. Our solidarity campaign with the Venezuelan revolution, a serious attempt to build another APISC, based on a sound analysis of the objective political situation, can serve us well in this ideological struggle. In these areas in particular, the DSP and Resistance, should be leading the campaigns openly. We want to be up front in identifying with the leaderships of the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions.

Green Left

The assessment of the general political situation presented in this report stresses that while the ruling class offensive may be driven by some central priorities – implementing neo-liberal economics, breaking collective bargaining and deepening the fear of the non-Western peoples among Australian workers – the kind of politicisation and radicalisation that is resulting is sporadic, uneven, variegated, spread across many issues and is driven by anger at what is being lost, repugnance at the kind of society being created and a search for causes. This is a period of the struggle of ideas, of an intense propaganda battle. We cannot do without our participating in the struggles that unfold. But neither can we do without the maximum possible efforts to get our ideas, our Marxist critique of society out.

Green Left is our number one instrument here – to be a paper of record on the left, to help regroup all those individual activists who have a generally similar outlook, but also to carry our Marxist critique of society and politics.

In this period too, using the authority of Green Left, building GL public forums, held at least monthly, must also be seen as a major campaign priority. There should be no compromise on this campaign priority. The number of questions being thrown up by this period which demands our Marxist critique grows every day. From what is happening in Venezuela, to the political character of the ACTU, to the increase in suicide bombings in Indonesia, to the demonisation of Islam, to the economic stratification of the working class, to what is happening in Cuba, to the fate of East Timor after independence, what does a sustained mass action strategy mean for the trade unions, to what does the Packer empire stand upon – the issues are endless. The forums can also be instruments for networking, for providing platforms for our allies in SA or in other arenas to speak. Panels of speakers, as we all know, often attract more people. But the key role of these forums is to provide us a platform to present our analysis.

**

All in all comrades, it seems to me there is a lot of good political work to do for revolutionary Marxists. It is a good period for us, not because there is a halt to the working class retreat here in Australia yet, but because we are witnessing the unfolding of a new socialist revolution in Venezuela. A new alliance between revolutions – Cuba and Venezuela. We now also dominate the left as the main organised Marxist force, as small as we are. There are more people angry and questioning who we can reach out to. There might not yet – not yet - be the forces awakened and set in motion, organised and radicalising, to turn around the class struggle, to halt the retreat. But we have faced this reality for some time now, as has the left in many parts of the world, especially in the imperialist countries. We can and must face up to this reality and continue our struggle in the confidence that we can grow. We will be preparing the ground here for when the retreat will be halted and our class is on the offensive.

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