Fusion creates new socialist party

By Allen Myers

The Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) is a new organisation on the Australian left, a fusion between a minority expelled from the Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Direct Action organisation, formerly the Marxist Solidarity Network, whose members, based in Melbourne and Geelong, left the DSP two years earlier. Direct Action spoke to Marce Cameron, the RSP’s national organiser, about the origins and aims of the new party. Cameron explained that the differences that led to the division of the DSP centred initially on the Socialist Alliance. “It was the inability of the majority to recognise the failure of the SA project — that is, the inability to correct a mistake — that made them seek a split”, Cameron said.

Early in 2001, the DSP proposed the creation of a Socialist Alliance. “We saw the SA as an organisation that would not only participate in elections but could also regroup the existing socialist organisations and people who were becoming involved in radical politics into united campaigning in the social movements. When the SA was launched, with meetings of several hundred people in Melbourne and Sydney, there were nine affiliates, among them the DSP and the International Socialist Organisation. As well, various `independents’ soon began joining and eventually became a majority of the membership.

“This initial popularity of the SA encouraged the DSP to try to force the pace of development, to turn the SA from an alliance into a `broad left‘ or `multi-tendency socialist‘ party. This idea was not agreed to by the other affiliates. However, it was favoured by most independent SA members, and the DSP used these members to pressure the other affiliates into going along with its proposals. The May 2003 SA national conference voted by a 75% majority for a `multi-tendency socialist party’. What we didn’t realise, was that the DSP as a whole had misjudged the political situation. We thought we were at the beginning of a working-class radicalisation, but we weren’t.”

Socialist Alliance fictions

Without such a radicalisation, the DSP’s plans for the SA could not be met. The SA membership never rose significantly above the figure for 2001. In this situation, the affiliates that opposed the broad party plan dropped out or stopped being active in the SA. “When the other affiliates began dropping away”, Cameron continued, “we discovered that the non-aligned members of the SA were not enough of a basis for a real party, even a small one. DSP members were carrying most of the organisational tasks — spending hours ringing SA members about events that they usually didn’t come to.” As a result, the DSP suffered as its cadres devoted most of their political time to the SA.

In May 2005, the increasingly visible problems of the SA caused the DSP national committee to vote unanimously for a shift of priorities — back to building the DSP as its basic party structure. “However, only a minority of the DSP drew the logical conclusion and sought to reorient the party’s activity”, Cameron said. “A majority soon talked themselves into the idea that the problems in the DSP were not really that serious and that the party’s misjudgment of the political environment was only a small error of timing. They wanted to continue building the SA as a broad party, only at a slower pace.”

This unrealistic perspective forced the majority not only to misjudge reality but also to modify their political approach. “To maintain the fiction that the SA was viable as a broad left party in formation, DSP members substituted for the SA activists who didn’t exist. DSP members’ political activity was soon almost always labelled as SA activity.” But as pretend “SA activists”, DSP members could present only the SA positions, not revolutionary Marxists ideas and explanations.

“As this became habit”, Cameron said, “many DSP cadres began drifting from a DSP consciousness into an SA consciousness. It really began to seem sectarian to them to seek to build the DSP as a public party or to insist on sharp distinctions between revolutionary politics and left reformist politics.”

Minority driven out

A minority of DSP members, now in the new RSP, argued against this gradual liquidation of the DSP and its program. After the DSP’s 2006 congress, which approved the majority line, the minority organised as the Leninist Party Faction. “The DSP constitution recognises members’ right to form factions”, Cameron said, “but the majority leaders had no intention of allowing ongoing criticism of their line. They began a campaign to discredit and eventually purge LPF members. They openly excluded the minority from branch executives, but that was only a small part. Fractions, which used to discuss and decide democratically on campaign interventions, were mostly replaced by orders from branch executives. Spying on LPF members’ email discussions began to take place almost immediately after the LPF was formed.”

At the DSP’s January 2008 congress, the LPF was allowed only a token representation on the national committee and national executive. “Soon after the congress”, said Cameron, “the majority began making false allegations against individual LPF members, and repeating the allegations even after they were disproved. As well, they started ordering LPF members not to participate in particular areas of work, such as Venezuelan and Palestinian solidarity.” In April came the laying of formal charges against the entire LPF for the “crime” of trying to organise campus solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution.

“The DSP majority leaders”, Cameron said, “want to keep up appearances for the pretend SA party, which is really just a front for the DSP, even at the cost of undermining the DSP itself. It will be up to the RSP to carry forward the project of building a revolutionary Marxist party, in the best traditions of the DSP before its attachment to a failed regroupment project led it astray.

“We are starting with only 60 members, and we recognise that some other revolutionary organisations in Australia are considerably bigger than we are. But none of the present parties is likely just to grow until it becomes a mass revolutionary party.” Cameron added that the building of a mass revolutionary party might involve an intermediate step of a broad left party, “like the DSP wanted but failed to create with the SA”.

That failure, he continued, was not for lack of trying. “The necessary objective conditions weren’t there. That kind of left regroupment project can become viable only when there is a sustained working-class upsurge to support it. The RSP is not going to pretend that the upsurge, or a broad party, has already arrived, but we’re also not going to sit on our hands. We will be participating in all the social movements and struggles that we can, and seeking to collaborate with other left groups wherever we agree. We think that a revolutionary party can grow in this period.”

Cameron pointed out that the RSP is being founded at a time of impending global catastrophes. “There is escalating climate change and growing food shortages in many underdeveloped countries. We have the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression, and Washington is threatening new aggressions even as its army is bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Solidarity with revolutions

For the RSP, such accumulating crises “are unmistakable evidence of humanity’s need to overthrow capitalism and build a global society of shared wealth and democratic planning to meet social needs”, said Cameron. “In some parts of the planet, this has already begun — most recently in Venezuela, where the Bolivarian Revolution is building the `socialism of the 21st century’. Venezuela’s socialist revolution provides moral and material support for Vietnam and especially Cuba.”

A central task of the RSP in the present period is building solidarity with Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, and with Cuba and Vietnam. “In the RSP’s view”, Cameron said, “such international solidarity is not an optional addition to the class struggle in Australia, but a necessary part of the fight against Australian nationalism and chauvinism, which are deliberately fostered to delude workers here into identifying with their exploiters.” The same is true regarding the RSP’s solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and opposition to Australian imperialism’s military-police interventions in the Asia-Pacific region.

Because Australia is a developed capitalist nation, and one that has particularly prospered by supplying minerals to China and India for a decade and a half, there has been a considerable erosion of former working-class militancy. In Cameron’s view, “The ALP and the ACTU bureaucracy have helped the capitalists to make deep inroads into working-class consciousness and organisation. In addition to enterprise bargaining and individual contracts, we have some of the harshest anti-union laws of any imperialist country. And the Rudd Labor government doesn’t plan to change that in any major way.”

Nevertheless, he is optimistic. “While there is not yet a mass radicalisation in Australia, the horrors and crimes of capitalism are leading individuals to radical conclusions and a willingness to consider socialist solutions. The numbers of such individuals are going to increase, including in the working class and the unions. We don’t know when the next mass radicalisation will come, but we think the task now is to prepare for it. That means intervening wherever we can to popularise the ideas of revolutionary socialism and to win and train the cadres that will be needed in the struggle to end capitalism.”

For more information about the Revolutionary Socialist Party, visit http://www.rsp.org.au