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Looking back/looking forward: the DSP merges into the Socialist Alliance

In January next year -- less than two months away -- the Democratic Socialist Perspective will more or less cease to exist and merge into the Socialist Alliance.

For the past six years I have been active in the Alliance, playing a dedicated role committed to shepherding it towards becoming a new Multi Tendecy Socialist Party (MTSP). How far we have come is a cause of some dispute on the left, but the project and its aspirations remain buoyant and the Socialist Alliance has charted a unique course  in recent Australian political history.

I think the merging of the DSP into the SA -- a move that had been delayed because of internal (a bitter factional dispute within the DSP over its SA orientation) and external factors ( the re-election of the Howard government in 2004 which impacted on all movements for social change ) -- is an efficacious means to break the political logjam that bears down upon the socialist left in this country. In effect, what the DSP has decided is to go for broke with its commitment to the Alliance.

This courageous act can only prove itself one way or the other in practice. But with the DSP being shifted to idle mode, I think it's worthwhile contemplating what the culmination means.

Since I was present at the birth of the DSP in 1972, I can now witness, at similar close quarters,  its passing. I don't want to get all nostalgic and compare then with now, per a column  by column measure of this and that. Instead, I want to point out who  was present at the founding conference of the DSP (foundered as the Socialist Workers League in January of that year) and who have remained politically active in the 37 years since.

Dave Holmes addressing Socialist Workers League founding conference, January 1972.
While it is standard to point out that a day is a long time in politics, 37 years is a very long time. But among those who attended the DSP's founding conference -- four will see it off: Geoff Payne, David Holmes(seen addressing the founding conference  --right.--that's me behind him), Jim McIlroy and myself. I'm not in the same league as these others as I've been in and out of the DSP a few times( although for the past four years I've been back in it., and for a good part of my adult life -- just over 25 years -- I've been a party member ) Geoff, Dave and Jim have been party stalwarts consistently  since Day One. The same can be said of another two other comrades -- Renfrey Clarke being one of them, who were members but not at the conference.

I know what politics has been like for all of that time and I know how very few  among those who fought the good fight back then are still fighting today. But what is so interesting, among those who still fight on, is that a major thread and personal and political resource has been their party membership.

Aside from we four conference going founding members who I've listed, another three unfortunately split from the DSP  18 months ago -- John Percy, Ian Jameson and Doug Lorimer. However as far as I can make out another ,at least,  four others are members of the Socialist Alliance -- Dave Kerin, Robynne Murphy, Greg Adamson and Jamie Doughney . I think there could be more but I don't know everyone in the Alliance.

So on the basis of my rough calculation at least ten founding members of the DSP, 37 years later, have signed on as Socialist Alliance activists.*

On top of that there are at least four Greens members that I know of who were founding DSP members , including the  NSW Greens  MP, Sylvia Hale. So from a room in the Sydney's Buffalo Hall at which the party was foundered from among I guess 100  attendees -- sixteen at least are still politically active and engaged in party related activity.

In comparison, almost all of those of my generation who remained  outside the party building experience,or were sucked into the ALP vortex, only have their nostalgia to look back upon.

My figures may even be a  bit askew, and I may be doing some people a  disservice by not noting their connection, but the ability of  parties to sustain and format activism should not be ignored. That's my point.

There is always a persistent anti-party sentiment in the left milieu -- except, I've always found , when it came to the ALP  when it was de riguer  to consider it the real 'workers party'...and the last 37 years have been rough weather... but building and sustaining parties rather than not building and sustaining parties, is the only real anchor for holding the line. and of returning to the attack again and again.

This achievement doesn't come without a price.As a recent DSP report put it:
 Small socialist organizations operating in relative isolation in the working class movements, or sometimes substantially outside these movements because they are composed almost totally of small groups of “socialist intellectuals” are chronically plagued with what might be called “Marxist” identity politics. That is they are more concerned about “proving” to themselves that they are “real Marxists” than actually applying what Marx, Engels and Lenin taught which is to build real socialist leadership in the working class. In fact, the further away such groups are from that objective, the more loudly they assert their “Marxist” identity. What passes as politics in “the left” as we have it in this country can degenerate to little more than a ridiculous I’m-more-Marxist-than-you pissing competition. We’ve all seen this time and again with various little sects. And we’ve also seen this tendency in our own organization.
Just because the DSP merges into the Alliance it doesn't follow that its set to be beer and skittles, but from January next year the perspective of building the Socialist Alliance -- and only the Socialist  Alliance --  becomes the core task of a group of activists who carry on where the DSP left off

* There has also been unfortunately some deaths: Jim Percy, Dr John McCarthy, and Dot Tumney.

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