Words vs deeds: DSP resists campus Venezuela solidarity clubs

By Marcus Pabian

In November 2004, the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) adopted a national policy of seeking to establish clubs on university campuses to build solidarity with the socialist revolution in Venezuela. Yet, last month the DSP expelled all its members in the minority Leninist Party Faction because some of them had begun to build such clubs on Sydney University and the University of Western Sydney.

The socialist revolution in Venezuela is progressing towards greater people’s power, raising the dignity and living standards of the people and helping by its example to rebuild the socialist movement across the world. Yet the ambitious 2004 policy of the DSP — to organise students into a campaign of solidarity with, and study of, the revolution, became a taboo not to be implemented by DSP members, even if supported in words.

The DSP national committee in November 2004 adopted a report recognising that studying and actively supporting the Venezuelan revolution would help people in Australia to understand revolutionary socialist ideas and thereby contribute to strengthening the working class struggle in Australia. It projected building Venezuela solidarity clubs on campuses alongside launching the first brigade to Venezuela, showing documentary films about the revolution and building solidarity actions to commemorate the defeat of the US backed coup that briefly toppled socialist President Hugo Chavez in April 2002.

In May of the following year, at the next DSP national committee meeting, Resistance national coordinator Zoe Kenny reported that mainly youth and students were coming to the films and actions in support of Venezuela’s revolution.

A few months later, at its October 2005 meeting, the DSP national committee youth work report recognised that the loose networks it had helped to form around the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) needed to be turned into real decision making committees. Another report by Roberto Jorquera foresaw the revolution continuing to inspire a new generation of revolutionary activists.

However, a division had emerged within the DSP and led the majority to oppose building AVSN clubs on campus in practice, while giving the idea verbal support. The division in the DSP had emerged over the Socialist Alliance (SA). The DSP majority leadership thought that public opposition to the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation would lead to a working class upsurge that would swell the membership of the SA. They concluded that revolutionary politics were best left aside and replaced in public with the non-revolutionary ``broad left’‘ politics of the SA.

Downplaying revolutionary politics led to a shift away from Venezuela solidarity in 2006, when a proposal to build a student strike against Work Choices in June completely replaced building solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution and developing AVSN clubs on campus. This action of the DSP contradicted the reports adopted by its 2006 congress, which included a long list of ways to build Venezuela solidarity on campus.

The DSP’s commitment to building a vibrant and independent AVSN was gradually eroded by both the time demands of maintaining the SA and the hope it could become the vehicle for Venezuela solidarity. As a result, clubs on campus were replaced by the DSP doing most solidarity work in its own name. This contradiction between words and deeds has become most obvious recently.

In April the DSP voted at an AVSN meeting in Sydney to organise two AVSN meetings during May, one at Sydney University and one at UWS Bankstown. In practice, the DSP organised its own meetings about the revolution on those two campuses and asked AVSN to support them, rather than putting the effort into building AVSN as an independent organisation. Not only did the DSP dump AVSN meetings, but it also fought against its own members and then expelled them for trying to carry out the nominal national policy of building independent campus AVSN clubs.

Following the DSP’s 2008 congress, Sydney members of the DSP minority organised two AVSN stalls, one at Sydney University and one at UWS Bankstown, during the student orientation weeks in late February, to create momentum towards launching AVSN clubs on those campuses. The reaction of the DSP leadership was total opposition. The Sydney leadership of the DSP, which does not have the constistuted authority to overturn national policy, banned those who had helped at Sydney University and UWS Bankstown from doing any more AVSN work. Rather than stopping this move, the DSP national leadership demanded explanations from those who had organised the AVSN stalls — and then ignored their replies.

On April 5, when members of the DSP minority raised a motion at the annual general meeting of the AVSN in Sydney for AVSN campus club building activities to be endorsed, the DSP majority at the meeting argued against their own national policy and voted down the motion. A month later, the DSP majority leadership expelled the entire minority, which had just under 20% of the membership supporting it at the 2008 DSP congress, for the actions of those who raised a simple motion, in line with the DSP’s supposed national policy.

In practice, the policy of building independent AVSN campus clubs that could involve all students has not been carried out since the 2006 DSP congress. The DSP’s current approach will never lead to the biggest campaign in solidarity with the socialist revolution in Venezuela because it limits involvement to people who agree with the DSP and its youth wing, Resistance.

An open Venezuela campus solidarity club is the best vehicle to involve students who are inspired by the revolution, whether or not they want to join a particular socialist organisation. Venezuela solidarity clubs need to be independent organisations with an active life of their own, one that develops around campaigning with the direct and democratic input of activists through club meetings.

[Marcus Pabian, a member of the DSP for 10 years, has spent the past four years helping to establish the AVSN in both Melbourne and Sydney. He is now a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party.]