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The Democratic Socialist Perspective: it's about finding a way forward

In the wake of the publication of the platforms that are to be voted on at next week's Democratic Socialist Perspective congress a debate has broken out on the Marxmail list primarily about the DSP itself.
An interesting and thoughtful contribution by Joaquin Bustelo criticisng the "narrow party" perspectives of Socialist Alternative was part of this thread.

Here is a response from DSP National Secretary, Perter Boyle in way of asserting some facts. It locates the DSP within the context of its Socialist Alliance experience

by Peter Boyle

Tom O'Lincoln wrote on Marxmail:"the minority's description of an "aging and depleted" DSP cadre is,sadly, very likely correct."
Don't be too sad, Tom. The DSP’s membership (excluding provisional members, on a three-month) between 1992 and 2000 was on average 244 (between 1981 and 1987, it had grown from 133 to 202). It currently is 268. It rose above 300 between 2001-2003, at the height anti-corporate movement was at its highpoint but fell after. In December 2003, the DSP was renamed “Democratic Socialist Perspective” (changed from “Party).

In 2004, DSP members focussed on recruiting to the Socialist Alliance rather than the DSP and DSP membership fell to about 250. Some 700 people who were not members of the DSP or the other small revolutionary socialist groups that affiliated were members of the Socialist Alliance in 2004. Since 2005, this dropped to about 500, at last count (around May 2007).

In May 2005 the DSP decided that its attempt to take over its organisational and political resources to Socialist Alliance had to be abandoned because the objective conditions were not creating sufficient new activist and leadership resources in the Socialist Alliance to allow such a transition to be carried out. Basically we pulled back to regroup and rebuild the DSP cadre.

If we can muster sufficient unity in the DSP to make a slightly bigger push in the Socialist Alliance, I suspect (and I don’t mean “hope”) that the Socialist Alliance membership could quickly return to its previous highpoint and move beyond. I am convinced that there is a broader left there that is still willing to be part of this political formation. I think this is possible while still growing an organised revolutionary core through the DSP, but that is something yet to be tested out.

The average age of DSP members at our last (January 2006) congress was 36. This may have been slightly higher than in previous congresses and can be attributed to the DSP having more members in their 40s, 50s and 60s than before. The average age of DSP leadership bodies is not much older (and is probably set to get younger). Compared with most other small left groups in imperialist countries the DSP has a younger membership. Maybe the ISO in the US has a similar age profile?

A dragged out political debate with a section of former Resistance leaders who wanted to adapt to the autonomist/anarchist youth currents that briefly flourished around the anti-globalisation movement and the massive retreat of the student movement on campuses seriously weakened Resistance in the early 2000s but it has recovered slowly over the last two years. Over the last two years, 44% of the DSP’s recruits have come from Resistance (39% – on the average older -- were recruited from the Socialist Alliance), the socialist youth organisation.

Over the last two years, the DSP has retained about 64% of its recruits from Resistance. This has been about the general rate of retention of youth recruits (over a two year period). As they get older, new pressures come on and different life choices are more sharply posed. Nothing new here. We have kept a smaller proportion of the youth recruits at other times. On the whole, considering that there is no radical youth culture today on the scale of that spawned by the 1960s-70s radicalisation, we are doing quite well.

By comparision, the retention rate of DSP members recruited from the Socialist Alliance over the last two years is 84%.

The activity levels of most DSP members remains high compared to other similar organisations in advanced capitalist countries, though there has been a steady reduction in hours spent distributing the newspaper, Green Left Weekly. Some of this may reflect a lower level of political activity but it also reflects other shifts. Some members are doing a lot more work in the trade union movement and as unemployment has been reduced (and most university students forced to get part-time jobs!) , a reserve of virtual full-time activists has all but disappeared.

I have studied, in close detail, the DSP membership patterns since 1994 and I do not detect any evidence that it is significantly “ageing and depleted”. The North American comrades on this list who have visited Australia and attended conferences and other events the DSP has organised would have impressions that support this conclusion.

The real discussion is not about going backwards but about how to go forwards. And the basic “Leninist” truth here is that there is no road to serious accumulation of revolutionary cadre without serious and organised engagement with the class struggle alongside serious study, development and propagation of revolutionary theory. Anything else is sectarian clowning and the left has too much of that already!

1 Com:

Peter Boyle | December 31, 2007

Peter Boyle said...

From Marxmail

Tom O'Lincoln wrote: What happened is that after the British SWP moved into the British Socialist Alliance, the DSP approached the ISO - publicly and privately - and negotiated the creation of such an alliance in Australia. Then they drew in other elements.

Upon which a layer of independents understandably thought: "Hey look, they're setting up a broad party for us." It was attractive. Hell if I'd been unaffiliated I'd have been attracted too.[*] But the independents could never have sustained the alliance on their own. They lacked the political momentum and solidarity, and also a large proportion of them were somewhat
older (yes, like me) ex-members of cadre groups who lacked the energy to build the alliance effectively. This is no criticism. To build such a thing took major inputs of energy.

They could join something propped up by the DSP apparatus (and to a lesser extent that of the ISO) and jog along within it as long as everyone was being nice to each other, but they didn't want to live with the consequences as it emerged that the DSP had effective control

So after 2005, with the combination of the withdrawal of the ISO and other small affiliates, reduced DSP substitution in Socialist Alliance organising, and the divisions in the DSP, would any of these independents remain in the Socialist Alliance? The answer is most did. All the militant trade union leaders who joined the Socialist Alliance have remained in and more have joined since. Indigenous leader Sam Watson remains proudly Socialist Alliance and is part of a new
indigenous leadership which has called the first national demonstration outside the convening of the new parliament on February 11 to protest the Liberal-Labor supported racist military intervention into Northern Territory remote indigenous communities.

500+ of these independents have stayed with Socialist Alliance even though it was clear since 2004, if not before, that the Greens would take up most of the electoral opening left by rightward moving Labor - so they saw Socialist Alliance as something other than an immediate electoral vehicle.

Indirectly, the fact that the "independents" have stayed with Socialist Alliance underlines the relative isolation of the ISO and other small affiliates from the actually existing movement. It is extraordinary that not one of these groups had any intervention (I mean a building-the-movement-type intervention) into the anti-Work Choices campaign.

The sweeping election victory of the Rudd Labor government came on the backs of a real mass movement of the working class against the Howard government's "Work Choices" industrial relations laws (even the bourgeoisie and the defeated Liberal leadership now concede that this election was a virtual referendum on Work Choices). This real mass
campaign would not have had the same character if not for a conscious intervention by Socialist Alliance comrades working together with other militant minority leaderships and activists in the trade unions (some of whom are in the Socialist Alliance and others still members of the Labor party or independents).

In January 2005, national trade union leadership in the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) insisted on no mass actions and no industrial action but we started a push for the same starting through mass delegates meetings in Victoria. The Victorian example spread and the rest is history.

The small DSP could not do this by itself - DSP comrades it needed to work with a broader, actually existing militant section of the trade unions. This militant section was significant enough to take this initiative but not strong enough to resist the conservative trade union officials from dominating the mass platforms once the campaign got going (though there were a few exceptions dues to bureaucratic incompetence!).

Socialist Alliance was critical to bringing together this collaboration with the militant unions (which resulted in the June 2005 National Trade Union Fightback Conference and as a result
has earned more respect from that section and broader layers that followed the process.

This earned respect was expressed in the form of donations to the modest Socialist Alliance 2007 federal election campaign from the following trade unions: WA Electrical Trade Union (ETU), Victorian ETU, Queensland ETU, Tasmanian ETU, Victorian Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), Victorian Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (Building division), NSW CFMEU (Building Division), WA Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Victorian MUA and the Victorian postal workers
union. These donations were made in the knowledge that the Socialist Alliance would not win a significant vote in the ballot box and most progressive voters would be voting Greens or Labor. Since the dissolution of the old Communist Party of Australia, no other socialist group has received this amount of public support from trade unions.

This is why Richard Fidler does post a valid question (in response to JoaquĆ­n) about the political reasons why unity with the ISO and other small affiliates formerly in the Socialist Alliance fell apart after 2005:

Sure, but you also have to ask yourself why this has not happened, or why the few attempts to form a "one big tent" party have been unsuccessful. Among the reasons, I would suggest, are inability to agree politically on even a few central tasks or demands, sectarianism on the part of small factional groupings within the broader formation, bureaucratism on the part of larger forces (unions, other mass organizations), etc. and above all the low level of political consciousness in almost all the major imperialist countries, as you yourself have repeatedly stated.

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