The Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance

[The following resolution was adopted by the DSP’s Congress in Sydney, January 5-8, 2006.]

Introduction

1. In the wake of the decision of the May 2003 Second National Conference of the Socialist Alliance to adopt the perspective of transforming itself into a single, multi-tendency socialist party and to “accept and welcome a strong revolutionary socialist stream as an integral part of our vision of a broad socialist party”, the Democratic Socialist Party declared itself an internal tendency in the Socialist Alliance and renamed itself the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) at its 21st Congress in Sydney, December 27-30, 2003.

2. The resolution “The Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance” set the DSP on a course of building the Socialist Alliance, progressing its transformation into a united, multi-tendency socialist party and integrating as much of the resources of the Democratic Socialist Party into the Socialist Alliance as possible. However, despite our best efforts, over the past two years we have not been able to build the Socialist Alliance into an effective new party and our attempt to integrate as much of the resources of the DSP into the Socialist Alliance as possible has stalled. While the smaller affiliates have remained opposed to, obstructed, or abstained from most collective political activity in the Socialist Alliance, too few leaders and activists have so far emerged from the majority of Socialist Alliance members who are not in any affiliate group. Whilst acknowledging the early stage of development of the Socialist Alliance, this resolution reaffirms the DSP’s commitment to building the Socialist Alliance as a new party project.

3. This resolution supersedes the 21st DSP Congress resolution “The Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance” and resets our perspectives and objectives for work in the Socialist Alliance.

Political space for the Socialist Alliance remains

4. The opening for the Socialist Alliance was very concrete, we noted in our 21st Congress resolution. We saw it as a response to the beginning of a new cycle of working-class and anti-capitalist struggle signaled 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.
Some sort of left unity project, like the Socialist Alliance, was essential if socialists were to get a broader hearing from the working class in these new circumstances.

5. However, since then, there have been some significant retreats in the social movements. 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 mobilisations 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 demoralisation and demobilisation in the broader social movements.

7. While the Socialist Alliance has fielded candidates in state, local and federal elections, the votes obtained have generally been lower than that previously obtained by Democratic Socialist Electoral League and other socialist candidates. This generally poor result, combined with Howard’s re-election, has resulted in a drop in participation and activity in most Socialist Alliance branches since late 2004.

8. The main reason for the Socialist Alliance’s poor votes is the electoral rise of the Greens, who now capture most of the broad left vote including that of many progressive people who respect the work of the Socialist Alliance. However, as elected Greens candidates at various levels of government are politically tested, the space for candidates to the left of the Greens will open up - as was demonstrated by the election of Socialist Party member Steve Jolly to the Yarra Council. The Green party is unclear about whether its aims can be achieved under capitalism or not. This leads the Greens to underestimate the importance of independent working-class mobilisation and organisation in favour of parliamentary activities. While there are some socialists and other grass-roots activists within the Greens, there is a rightward pressure exerted on the party by its wealthier supporters and by its parliamentary focus. Moreover, the Greens generally remain weak in many working class communities and electorates where anger and disillusionment with the ALP potentially provides the support base for a new workers’ party. As the Greens’ political limitations become clearer, the Socialist Alliance can convince left-wing Greens activists to join a working-class party with an effective strategy for social change and ecological sustainability. In this framework, the DSP remains committed to close collaboration between the Socialist Alliance and the Greens in community, social, environment and electoral campaigns.

9. While over the past two years there have been some setbacks for the militant trade union current (e.g. the deposing and jailing of militant former AMWU Victorian secretary Craig Johnston, a prominent Socialist Alliance member), that militant minority continues to exercise considerable influence in Victoria and has made gains in other states. The Socialist Alliance has gradually advanced the organisation of its members and supporters in the trade unions and has built campaigns around the demands of its action platform. Its united campaigning, while limited (notably the other affiliate groups are not very active in the trade union or other caucuses), continues to be more effective than the individual efforts of any single socialist group. In several cities, Socialist Alliance members are respected leaders of the militant trade union minority, enjoying the support of thousands of militant workers. The election of Socialist Alliance members Chris Cain as WA secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Tim Gooden as secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall Council, Chris Spindler as president of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the successful June 2005 National Trade Union Fightback Conference are a few examples of these gains.

10. The 2005 Fightback Conference brought together a broad range of militant trade unionists and was the initiative of militant trade unionists in and around the Socialist Alliance. Our initiative and campaign for mass delegates meetings and mass industrial and political action on June 30, first in Victoria and then in WA - which clearly sparked the broader and growing round of mass actions around June 30/July 1 — made this conference possible. The new national Fightback network launched at this conference has increased the potential to organise unionists for the fight against the federal government’s industrial relations legislation on a broader scale.

11. The Socialist Alliance is more widely identified by workers as the political pole of recent militant initiatives on the trade union movement and more militant workers are now joining the Socialist Alliance, though still at a modest rate. On the back of Fightback’s success, the fourth Socialist Alliance national conference elected a more democratic national executive that includes prominent trade union and social movement leaders such as Craig Johnston, Sam Watson and Tim Gooden. The challenge is to try to develop this into an effective leadership.

12. These two conferences set a challenge for the Socialist Alliance to play a serious role in helping lead the mass working-class resistance to the Howard government’s new anti-union laws. The 350,000 workers who mobilised on June 30/July 1, put the Howard government on the defensive. The June 30-July 1 trade union demonstrations were the largest mass mobilisations seen since February 2003. In the intervening two and half years, the biggest demonstration (apart from the 10-15,000 strong forest rally in Hobart in March 2004 and the 10,000-strong Save the Tasmanian Forests march in Melbourne in June 2004) in any single city was about 5,000-strong. The June 30-July 1 demonstrations were preceded by delegates meetings in some states which indicated a new willingness to fight in the trade union movement’s ranks. Activists in other social movements began to understand the strategic need to defend the trade union movement — the last remaining social movement in his country with any ongoing mass organisation.

13. The second round of mass protests (on November 15) in which more than 600,000 workers participated, took the struggle to a new stage. The current trade union leadership had to be pushed to organise the first protest against the IR laws. The Labor Party and the ACTU have also tried to funnel the mass opposition to the laws into a campaign to re-elect Labor at the next election, even though Labor has refused to commit to renouncing individual contracts or to repealing all the anti-union laws other than Howard’s WorkChoices legislation. But there has been mass working class support for a serious industrial and political campaign to resist these laws, which is producing contradictions within the ALP as governing party in all states and territories and as federal parliamentary opposition as well as within unions dominated by the ALP. Even after these laws are adopted, we can anticipate a series of struggles around their enforcement. Some unions are determined that they will continue to take industrial action, even though it will be illegal and their members and officials risk jail for doing so. Socialists have the duty to fight side-by-side with the militant trade unionists in these struggles to help the militant minority current to grow and increase its preparedness to take independent initiatives in the face of these attacks, drawing in all those who want to act against these laws.

14. While the Australian working class is being forced into political action, it is too early to proclaim this as the end of the last two and a half decades of class retreat in the face of the capitalist neoliberal offensive. Our characterisation, at our last Congress, of the post-1998 political developments as the beginning of a turn in the working class struggle was over-optimistic. Certainly those developments marked a broadening legitimacy crisis of neoliberal politicians and the rise of some new political vanguards and the partial revival of advanced political elements that had previously retreated into relative inactivity. However, the working class as a whole remained generally on the retreat. The long 15-year capitalist expansion cycle (with all its contradictions) continued to dampen resistance to capitalist neoliberal reforms. While understanding that the post-1998 political developments did not mark the end of two and a half decades of class retreat, the scale of the 2005 ruling class offensive and the initial mass response against it means that there is the potential for a shift in the working class struggle which we need to be ready to respond to.

15. Having led the working class into retreat and having championed the neoliberal offensive against the social gains of previous working class struggles, the ALP has been facing a serious political crisis. Labor's ever more explicit shift to the right — whether in government or in opposition — has opened up a space to its left that all serious socialists know we have to contend for. The replacement of Mark Latham by Kim Beazley destroyed the brief illusions sparked by Latham’s populist rhetoric and call for the withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq by Christmas 2004. Over time Labor’s shift to the right has created a deep structural crisis for the ALP—its activist base has been shrinking, aging and becoming more inactive, as dramatically exposed in former leader Latham’s memoirs. A growing section of the working class and other oppressed and victimised sections of society has continued to look for a political alternative to the major parties. At the same time, the viciousness of the Howard government’s attack is leading some unionists who don’t trust the Labor Party and oppose the Labor Party’s reactionary support for mandatory detention of refugees and the “anti-terrorism” legislation” to join the ALP despite these bi-partisan positions. Labor’s focus on opposition to the Howard WorkChoices legislation — even as it supports the Howard government’s “anti-terrorism” laws — is aimed at reconsolidating its support base.

16. As the ALP stands increasingly exposed, the Greens have filled most of the opening electoral space. However the Greens have not filled the space opened up by the crisis of leadership in the trade unions and the broader labour movement, especially given the vital challenges of the struggle against Howard’s anti-union laws.

17. At the same time winning the working class away from its traditional Labor misleadership requires a lot more than exposing the ALP’s betrayals. Indeed, today socialists are hard-pressed to keep up with the ALP politicians' relentless self-exposure! However, if disillusioned-in-Labor workers are to rise above despair, cynicism, and apathy they have to see a viable alternative political vehicle (or at least one in construction), an organisation which shows practical leadership on the issues that matter for them.

Changes to DSP perspectives in Socialist Alliance

18. To create this alternative it is simply not enough for revolutionary socialists to hold up their political program and call for the support from these workers breaking from the ALP. Rather, our challenge is to unite with the actual leaders of the working-class resistance, fighting alongside them in a common effort to reverse the cycle of defeat and reinvigorate the movement. Through the Socialist Alliance, socialist politics occupies a greater portion of its potential political space than would otherwise be the case and has won a stronger hearing in the working class than it has enjoyed for decades. It remains the best available political vehicle to win over more militant trade union leaders and work more closely with a wider layer of working-class militants in the current political conditions. Socialists will continue to win more of the respect and confidence of these working class leaders and militants if we continue to struggle for a united socialist party.

19. However, our experience over the last two years forces us to recognize that the pace at which these two intertwined processes develop is slower than we anticipated and furthermore is dictated largely by the objective conditions beyond our control.

20. This reality has posed a change for the DSP’s perspectives for the Socialist Alliance. Our December 2003 resolution to integrate as much of the resources of the Democratic Socialist Party into the Socialist Alliance as possible was based on an over-estimation of the political conditions. This attempt at integration failed because the conditions to build the Socialist Alliance into a new party did not exist. To persist with such an integration plan would have jeopardised real gains of the socialist movement in this country, including its modest pool of revolutionary activists and Green Left Weekly, which in our estimate is an invaluable and indispensable political institution on the Australian left.

21. The Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal “reforms” before it can harness the leadership resources and political confidence to take a significant step to creating a new socialist party. Nevertheless, for first time in many years many unionists look towards a left party project. By championing the need for a broadly based anti-capitalist party or a “new mass workers’ party” (as Craig Johnston put it at the Melbourne 2005 National Trade Union Fightback Conference) and by organizing the most united left intervention in the social movements, the Socialist Alliance can continue to win the respect of and recruit broader layers of militant workers to its ranks and in this way take practical steps along the road to such a party.

22. Green Left Weekly plays a critical role in this ongoing process of broader regroupment. For example, as a national newspaper, Green Left Weekly helps network and unite the militant trade unionists who are scattered across states and different unions and industries. Because there isn’t yet any party which unites all of the more militant unionists (some are Socialist Alliance members, some are still in the ALP, but most are not members of any party), a paper like Green Left Weekly can help bring such people together in a process which might eventually lead towards a more party-like formation.

23. The DSP will continue to make available meeting and organising space to the Socialist Alliance and will stand by the agreed protocols between Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly encouraging and securing greater access and input by the Socialist Alliance, its members and affiliates into Green Left Weekly; and placing the projection of the Socialist Alliance within Green Left Weekly in the hands of an editorial body that is accountable to and appointed by the Socialist Alliance. DSP members will also continue to politically organise together with other Socialist Alliance members through branches, caucuses, committees and working groups, wherever effective, in order to build the most united left political intervention possible and to build the Socialist Alliance.

24. In the meantime, the DSP has to continue to take urgent steps to replenish its cadre base and maintain the political, organisational and financial viability of its own structures. Socialist Alliance structures remain too loose and weak to win, educate and train new socialist activists and the Socialist Alliance caucuses and working groups have only partially begun to organise united interventions into the movements. We need to recruit to the DSP from within and outside the Socialist Alliance and, primarily through Resistance, win, educate and develop a new generation of revolutionary youth cadre.

25. In short, the DSP has not been able, and cannot afford, to operate as a purely internal tendency in the Socialist Alliance. The DSP functions as a public revolutionary socialist organisation, while continuing to be affiliated to the Socialist Alliance, to build it and to seek to provide political leadership to it.

Our revolutionary perspective in the Socialist Alliance

26. The DSP is a revolutionary socialist, Marxist, organisation. This means that the DSP is convinced that the socialist society for which the Socialist Alliance fights cannot be built unless the working class — which comprises the overwhelming majority in society today — conquers the power to make the decisions which are presently made by the corporate elites and those who govern for them. Only then will it be possible to put an end to inequality, injustice, poverty and oppression through the systematic and democratically-decided restructuring of all social relations.

27. For this transformation to take place, the vast majority of working people have to become conscious socialists — conscious of their own power as the productive majority of society and convinced, too, that the socialist alternative represents their interests and remains viable despite the perversions and crimes that Stalinism committed in its name. Such consciousness can only arise through working people participating in struggles to defend their own immediate interests and in solidarity with working people in struggle elsewhere.

28. But socialist consciousness cannot grow in the absence of socialist organisation — a mass revolutionary socialist party based in the working class. This is because socialist consciousness does not develop spontaneously. It has to be struggled for in the face of a capitalist class with immense and highly centralised military, financial, political and ideological power.

29. The experience of all mass working-class and popular struggle to overthrow capitalism and establish a socialist society — beginning with the Russian Revolution — confirms the following key lessons of the pioneering Bolshevik experience in this regard:

  • Socialist consciousness and successful struggle is impossible without a revolutionary program for leading the class struggle to a revolutionary socialist conclusion;
  • That program can only be developed and effectively applied by a party which — through its consistent political activity — can win a leadership or vanguard role in the working class;
  • That party must be comprised of activists who carry out such a program and who agree with and are capable of working collectively (i.e. in a disciplined way) to advance it; and
  • That party must have an internationalist perspective, understanding the role of imperialism and be firm in its goal of overthrowing its own ruling class.

30. However, neither in Australia nor anywhere can these features be decreed or conjured up. The revolutionary program, organisation and leadership have to be developed and tested in a real struggle to provide leadership to Australian workers in all the battles — economic, political and ideological — that they will face.

31. By the same token, the mass revolutionary socialist party in this country will never be built simply by the incremental growth of the existing small socialist propaganda groups. The road to such a party will be conditioned by the specific social conditions and political developments that emerge. Crucial in this process will be the consistent effort by the consciously revolutionary forces to win over and fuse with the leaderships that emerge in the working class.

32. The DSP continues to see the struggle to build a broadly based anti-capitalist party as a stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in this country. This has been our view since our 11th Congress in January 1986, when we affirmed that: “Only the creation of a serious anti-capitalist alternative, necessarily founded on a complete break with Labor reformism, can open the way to working class victories in the struggle against the bosses’ attempts to make working people pay for the capitalist crisis. Revolutionaries therefore place a high priority on helping to develop such a political alternative — a broadly based party that consistently counterposes defence of the interests of the workers and their allies to the illusions of class peace fostered by the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy. The road to building such a political alternative lies along the line of seeking unity among all who are willing to break with Labor reformism and to encourage the most broadly based action in defence of the interests of workers and their allies.” (Resolution on “The ALP and the fight for socialism”, available in the pamphlet Labor and the Fight for Socialism). We are confident that, while such a broad left party necessarily begins with an incomplete class struggle platform and a broad socialist objective (i.e. does not have an explicitly revolutionary program), in the course of united engagement in mass struggles, it will steadily and democratically develop its program in a more explicitly revolutionary direction.

33. While the Socialist Alliance has adopted as its perspective transforming itself into a multi-tendency socialist party, this is just a beginning of such a new party project. If there is a new rise in the class struggle, new potential partners will be drawn into the project for a new party and the Socialist Alliance may have to become part of or be transformed into or be supplanted by new structures for best organising the strongest political voice for anti-neoliberal resistance.

34. In accordance with the perspectives outlined above the objectives of the DSP within Socialist Alliance are as follows:

  • To build the Socialist Alliance as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks to build, in actions and in words, a new mass workers’ party because the greater political unity, confidence and active commitment required to advance this new party project will be forged through such collective struggle;
  • To promote internationalism and comradely collaboration between the Socialist Alliance and socialist organisations in other countries on the basis of solidarity and mutual non-interference;
  • To win other Socialist Alliance members to revolutionary socialism; and
  • To provide revolutionary socialist political leadership within the Socialist Alliance.
The DSP will pursue these aims and objectives within the democratic framework of the Socialist Alliance.

35. We are totally open about our revolutionary politics and seek to win others in the Socialist Alliance to it. Those comrades with whom we work now — and the many more who will join the Socialist Alliance in the future — will always know where the DSP is coming from. It will not seek to trick them into collaboration by hiding its revolutionary perspective.

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