Perspectives for the RSP
(This resolution was adopted by the Third Congress of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, held in Melbourne September 29-30.)
We’re living through difficult, contradictory times, in Australia and internationally. The central feature of the international political situation today is the extremely stark contradictions of capitalism internationally, combined with the severe limitations of working class leadership in nearly every country.
The Revolutionary Socialist Party has suffered some serious setbacks; a number of groups of comrades have become demoralised since we were expelled from the Democratic Socialist Party and established the RSP, and have dropped out of our project. We’ve suffered from low levels of activity, and quite extensive demoralisation. Others on the left are not finding it easy going either.
Yet there’s still tremendous revolutionary potential in country after country. It’s a period of exceptional capitalist crisis; scientific and material advances could solve humanity’s wants and needs, yet irrational capitalism threatens civilisation and even the planet’s survival.
At this Third RSP Congress, we are presenting a three-pronged approach:
1. Reaffirming our basic political principles, perspectives and tradition;
2. Reaffirming the need for and our intention of publishing Direct Action;
3. Agreeing to pursue the possibilities of a regroupment with Socialist Alternative.
1. Reaffirming our political tradition
Need for revolution
We reaffirm the need for revolution, the overthrow of the capitalist system internationally, and its replacement with socialism, leading to a classless communist society.
All of us agree on the basics of Marxism. We would have agreement on this with most other organisations calling themselves Marxist (although many get saddled with weird extras, cultish deviations and misinterpretations).
The possibilities for humanity today are greater than ever dreamed of, due to enormous scientific and technological advances. Huge increases in productivity should lead to very short working hours that would provide the necessities of life for everyone. Humanity has the means to solve the problems, the means to provide a decent life for every human being on the planet.
But the increased dangers, the challenges to life on the planet itself, are also greater than ever before. The threat to billions of people from looming climate change gets more acute; the danger still looms of nuclear war, with thousands of nuclear weapons just awaiting the push of a button. More people are acquainted with the widening gap between rich and poor, the obscene wealth and power accumulated by the few under this outdated capitalist system.
Thus the needs for action, for change, for a revolution, are also greater.
Need for a Leninist Party
Getting there is a difficult challenge: how to get rid of capitalism, how to make a revolution.
Historical experience over the past century points clearly to some key lessons, the most important of which is the need for a revolutionary working class party, such as built by Lenin. We have learned from successful revolutions, especially the Russian Revolution of 1917, but also from the failures and missed opportunities.
“Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer”, Trotsky wrote in 1924 in his Lessons of October. We know we need a Leninist party, learning from the experiences of Lenin and the Bolsheviks:
despite the many misinterpretations by many people over the decades, by those heading for accommodations with capitalism, as well as those with good intentions;
despite the setbacks and criminal distortions of Stalinism. We saw the final fruits of this monstrosity two decades ago; at the time we still underestimated the damage done, the hollowing out of working-class consciousness;
despite the bad experiences of Trotskyism — not just those of the weird sects, but also the terrible experience of a once healthy current, the US Socialist Workers Party, which we partly developed from and learned many early lessons from;
despite the weaknesses, the political mistakes of the Fourth International, which we’ve experienced first hand in the past, and still are observing;
despite our own bad experiences and setbacks here in Australia, especially with the Boyle current, which has succeeded in dissolving the DSP, watering down the DSP program, destroying the historically gathered and trained cadre and squandering the accumulated assets;
and despite the comrades demoralised and retreating from the RSP over the last four years, who had put up such a strong fight initially to defend the DSP and defend the perspective of building a revolutionary Marxist party.
None of these developments negate the need for a party or the essential lessons of Lenin. We remain Leninists.
Lessons from the SWP/DSP history
We have a responsibility to preserve and educate about the lessons we’ve learned from SWP/DSP history, going back to our beginnings, but especially the many lessons that we fought for and reaffirmed during the political struggle in the DSP at the end of its life, as we established the Leninist Party Faction and then the RSP after we were expelled wholesale from the DSP. We need to preserve these lessons and continue to defend them.
One of the main lessons was relearning the difference between tactics and strategies, not making mistakes in relation to permanent tactics becoming permanent strategies, converting tactics into strategies. The “broad party” tactic became fetishised, until the DSP itself was dissolved. We’d seen earlier results of such a process, with the tactic of entry into the Labor Party becoming a permanent strategy for some in the old Trotskyist movement.
We also have a responsibility to defend the real history of the DSP from the rewriting that the DSP majority, the clique that now runs the Socialist Alliance, is carrying out, which amounts to a repudiation and distortion of the actual SWP/DSP experience. We have to defend the DSP’s real history, against the myths that Boyle is attempting to spread, for example the myth that the dissolution of the Leninist party was foreshadowed by the DSP in the ’80s. This was an incredibly creative period in our history, but anti-Leninism certainly wasn’t one of the “gains” of that decade.
These questions, the international issues and lessons from DSP history, really come down to the question of our program. Our program is a living thing, being updated through new developments in the class struggle locally and internationally. It’s a distillation of past history and struggles, drawing lessons from the past. By now there are many struggles and experiences; it’s a long history of working class and socialist struggle. But without the program, old mistakes are going to be repeated.
What we have to contribute
In addition to the written program, embodying as much as we can of the experience of past struggles, the small party we have today also carries the detailed and invaluable experiences of comrades’ individual experience in the class struggle. We’re a small band of comrades, but some have unique, unmatched, experiences in a range of struggles.
Comrades have invaluable memories and experiences — including important successes in the struggle we can be proud of, as well as lessons from defeats — in:
- international solidarity work (from Vietnam to Nicaragua to Palestine to East Timor and Indonesia and more);
- trade union work;
- women’s liberation work;
- environmental struggles;
- youth and student work.
So we have a unique political understanding that we can contribute. But are we in a position actually to contribute that political understanding, those lessons and those experiences? How do we best do it?
What stage are we at, and how should we function?
We’re a propaganda group, understanding the need for a revolutionary Leninist party, and hoping to get there one day, in the meantime advocating such a course and taking whatever small steps in that direction we can. So it’s important to get our views out, on issues of the day, on historical issues, on principles and theory.
Certainly this depends on the stage we’re at. When we’re stronger, commanding allegiance of a section of the class and able to initiate significant mass struggles for immediate or transitional demands, then there will be a different balance. But now, with tiny forces, propaganda comes to the fore.
We’re a small group, but most of our comrades have a lot to contribute, especially articles and analysis that the left and labour movement clearly need today, and will need if the left is to grow from propaganda groups into a proper working class revolutionary party.
2. Reaffirming publication of Direct Action
What’s possible as a small propaganda group, in difficult, contradictory times? How do we do this propaganda? What’s the best type of publication for us? Certainly we’ll be using the internet more; this will be increasingly important for us, and for the whole left. We’ll certainly improve our web site, reorganise it and promote it.
But we do need a printed publication still, for many reasons:
- for reaching out to new people, at meetings, actions, on streets, workplaces and campuses;
- as our “flag”, enabling us to intervene into political events;
- as an organiser of our comrades, drawing together our comrades and advertising our events;
- as a trainer of our new recruits, in writing and expressing our politics;
So we reaffirm the need to publish our printed Direct Action paper.
In this period we need to focus more on articles that express our revolutionary socialist perspective and the important political gains that we can contribute to revolutionaries coming from other traditions. It will still be a combination paper, but we need to provide more analysis, longer articles explaining our politics and tradition and fewer straight-out reports and conjunctural articles.
Bland reports, motherhood statements and mildly reformist demands won’t advance the struggle, won’t inspire our cadres and supporters and won’t win new people. We should avoid the trend of increasingly mild demands in Green Left Weekly and in Socialist Alliance election campaigns.
The format of our paper should be a 16-32 page tabloid published every two months. There are several reasons for retaining this format, not least reasons of economy; it’s still the cheapest format for us, printing the most words for the money, in an attractive form. Printing 1000 copies (the minimum run) of a 24-page tabloid costs about $800, whereas to print 500 copies of a 24-page sheet-fed A4 magazine (with about half the words) costs about $1500.
But it’s also for reasons of still aiming to reach out to new people who haven’t come across us before, attracting people’s attention with full-colour covers on relevant issues. And we want to maintain the practice of comrades reaching out to new people and others on the left.
Nevertheless the paper will still be mostly sold at political meetings and actions, reaching an audience who have been already partly acquainted with our views. Because we have to get a minimum print run of 1000 copies, perhaps we can have the practice of selling the paper vigorously in the first month of the issue, and handing copies out free in the second month, or selling it at political events and regular spots, and distributing it free in new locations.
3. Exploring unity with Socialist Alternative
At the same time as reaffirming our political tradition, and determining to publish Direct Action every two months, we should agree to pursue the possibilities of regroupment with Socialist Alternative as thoroughly and as openly as we can.
We have received a remarkably frank and open approach from Socialist Alternative to investigate the possibilities of unity. Socialist Alternative is the largest and most active socialist group in Australia today, and they raised the perspective of possible unity between our two revolutionary organisations.
We had seen a number of signs over the last 12 months of a lessening of sectarian habits and a tentative reaching out. (Perhaps this had been happening for longer, and perhaps we hadn’t been observing properly.) We noted their attendance at the Fourth International’s Manila school, and one of their leaders’ attendance at the FI’s International Committee meeting in Amsterdam in February, and their request for “permanent observer” status, which we also requested.
This approach is now very specific. Comrades can read the report of our representatives’ discussion with two Socialist Alternative leaders, which impressed him as “an open and honest discussion”.
An open, genuine overture
It seems they’re open to a process of regroupment that wouldn’t be excessively restrictive on our comrades either in terms of politics and ideas or in terms of activity. They stressed that the process shouldn’t be rushed; we should take it slowly and informally at first. That’s sensible.
They made it clear they had no objections to publishing our alternative viewpoints, on Cuba or Vietnam or our line on Syria. Of course it wouldn’t be useful for them and it wouldn’t be healthy for us to focus overwhelmingly on the issues that divide us and neglect the range of revolutionary perspectives on which we agree. In future discussions we’ll explore in more detail what their conceptions might be.
They also indicated that unity in their framework would not be very restrictive in terms of what activity our comrades would be expected to carry out. They pointed out that in their constitution they don’t operate on a democratic centralist basis in their current small size as a propaganda group — that’s for a future stage when a working class party is built.
Our initial impression was that while they would not have any objections to our comrades continuing doing work in areas that were not the current priorities of SA, they wouldn’t want to have an argument about making them a priority. But they didn’t have strong priorities of their own at the moment; at the moment the only national campaign they have is the same sex marriage campaign.
On most of the important political issues on the Australian scene, we could expect to have similar perspectives, and should be able to combine our efforts — on refugee rights, Palestine solidarity, trade union work, for example. There are a few areas of work where they don’t see eye-to-eye with us at the moment, but hopefully they wouldn’t object to us still carrying out work in these areas, such as Cuban and Latin American solidarity and Agent Orange Justice.
We should respond very positively to this overture.
The first concrete step is accepting the invitation of Socialist Alternative to suggest RSP speakers for their Marxism conference at Easter 2013 (March 28-31). We’ve accepted their offer to have five speakers: John Percy, Doug Lorimer, Max Lane, Kim Bullimore and Andrew Jamieson.
They’ve also invited five speakers from Asian parties that have been politically close to the DSP and RSP in the past:
- the Indonesian People’s Liberation Party;
- the Pakistan Labour Party;
- the Philippines Labour Party, PM;
- the Nava Sama Samaja Party in Sri Lanka;
- the Revolutionary Workers Party of the Philippines in Mindanao.
Together with the 14 Socialist Alternative leaders or supporters featured, plus John Pilger and some other interesting international and Australian speakers, it looks a very good conference. In some ways it’s comparable with the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conferences that we used to organise. We should wholeheartedly embrace it in that spirit.
We should mobilise as many of our members as we can to attend and participate in a friendly, constructive way. We should make our participation and collaboration a positive thing for them and a good lesson for others on the left. Let’s advertise the conference in DA, on our websites, blogs and Facebook pages.
The SA comrades have also invited RSP comrades to submit articles for their theoretical magazine, Marxist Left Review, and we’re responding to that.
The RSP NE will also seek opportunities for further informal (i.e. brainstorming) but organised discussion with the Socialist Alternative leadership. Three RSP leaders met with three Socialist Alternative leaders just before the RSP Congress, in Melbourne on September 28. The discussions were again extremely friendly and helpful.
The Socialist Alternative National Committee meets a week after our Congress, so they will have an opportunity for an assessment of the process among their broader leadership.
The NE also decided to recommend to RSP comrades to attend Socialist Alternative public forums and participate in them in a friendly and comradely manner. They have already invited some of our comrades to speak on panels on different topics.
What we offer
What will Socialist Alternative gain from a regroupment with us? What can we offer them? We don’t offer a lot in the way of activists and resources — we’re a small group. We certainly see our ideas, tradition and politics as being helpful for them, but that wouldn’t be their motivation.
Perhaps they recognise that a successful regroupment with the RSP, even the process of coming closer, will foster a better discussion atmosphere in the united organisation. Perhaps they recognise some limitations of their organisation in regard to political discussions. They know that a regroupment process with us will do wonders for their image on the left, making them a much more attractive organisation.
It will assist them in regrouping people from the IS milieu and their own former members. Socialist Alternative has already attracted many from the old ISO/Solidarity.
It will certainly assist us in regrouping from our milieu towards a united organisation, for example former RSP members and former DSP members who still retain a revolutionary perspective. Jorge Jorquera has been having discussions with Socialist Alternative for some time, and spoke at their Marxism conference this year. In early September, after we had started discussions with them, he announced his intention of joining.
And it will attract revolutionary socialists and militants from outside both our milieus. It would force others on the left to sit up and take notice. It would be seen as a contrast to the fake unity of Socialist Alliance, which rejects revolutionary socialism, Marxism, in pursuit of the mythical “broad” (right-wing) regroupment.
Respond in a non-factional, non-sectarian way
The RSP has nothing to lose by responding positively in a non-sectarian way to Socialist Alternative’s overture. There is a lot to gain if it comes off: the strengthening of the revolutionary Marxist forces in Australia.
And in fact we gain in the short term, even if we don’t succeed in the end — it gives our work a clear political framework it lacked so far this year, and would lay the basis for ongoing comradely collaboration.
These three prongs give us a clearer perspective coming out of the Congress for the year ahead.
Direct Action — October 9, 2012