Jan 13, 2010

The Socialist Alliance Conference: a participant's account

Maybe it seems strange that when one conference closes another one opens.  But that's what happened  on January 2nd this year. The Democratic Socialist Perspective which was formed  38 years ago  ( its founding conference was in January 1972 ) formally closed up shop and merged with the Socialist Alliance.

The merger was a foregone conclusion as no one, as far as I'm aware,  either in the DSP or the Socialist Alliance,  opposed the the merger from the day it was first raised -- some time after  April 2009.

 I won't go into the discussion that preceded this decision as the main markers are logged on the DSP website. Nonetheless, as Peter Boyle told the opening public meeting for the Alliance conference:
Sadly,it is an unusual and rare thing for socialist groups, like the DSP, to break from the idea that they are the “true” party of socialism, with the sole correct political program, and seriously embrace left unity.I say this not to boast but more by way of an apology and excuse for the DSP taking so long to take this step. After all, the Socialist Alliance was launched in 2001 and now it is 2010!

But then what may seem self evident in hindsight may not always be   that way  as the delay in merging -- first flagged in 2003 -- was checked by a succession of  "issues" that  obscured  the DSP's perspective and  the vigor of the  its orientation towards the SA.

The experience , first of the DSP conference, then engaging with the Alliance one,was  a liberating  journey all in the space of four very intense days.  While the DSP never caucused  its work in the Socialist Alliance or pre-empted participation by its membership, it was still a collective with its own cultural attributes, loyalties and  esprit de corps ethos separate from the rest of the SA membership.

"Putting the DSP down" (so to speak) and moving on politically was an essential first step  toward broadening the collaboration and opening  up  to a deepening  of the  partnerships that sustain the SA.

I'm not saying that for the sake of justification but rather I'm reporting on what began to happen as these January days ticked over. The ex-DSP membership -- now no longer made up of DSP members --  seemed, to me anyway, to embrace the SA conference as bona fide political activists without the personal complication of a previously composed agenda. The niggling secondary loyalty that decreed a certain hesitancy of engagement -- and even a reluctance   in  political confidence -- was sidelined by a direct and absolute focus on the politics to hand.

So what ensued was a level of  enthusiasm I have not experienced in any decision making conference I have attended in the past (and that's going back 40 years). Consequently, the SA conference became an exceptional political event because this fostered a certain  galvanizing of 100% attention and focus that really took off in the workshops where it was all in -- with  DSP exers and  the rest alike jumping in to share their two bob's worth of POV.

We had so much discussion that on some matters we decided we did not have enough of it and held over deciding  so that we could canvas more broadly in the Alliance by extending our exchanges. As long time Indigenous activist Pat Eatock said of the conference:
It's been such a comfortable conference – energising, inspiring, but most of all it's one big family, it's an extended family and Kooris can really relate to that....This is the only organisation ... it took me a long time to become a member. I became a member last February and I'd been sort of hanging around with this mob for over a year before I made that decision. But that decision was based on the fact that the processes I see are so good. I don't really know how they have dispute resolution because there doesn’t seem to be any dispute!
Of course disputes do occur but I guess what the conference confirmed once again -- this is in fact a SA habit -- is that the SA does strive for consensus -- although it is not brutally ruled by it.There is indeed  so much unity in the Alliance because we get the priority right and strive to work together in action rather than allow ourselves to be bogged down in disputation over political differences where we may disagree with one another -- at least for now. It is indeed a very grand unity of (socialist) purpose rather than one contained by a boutique ideology

The SA is not so much a red wedge but a political envelope that moves forward  despite the fact that  members are not all  in step with one another. And the way the conference unfolded was a great example of that process in action.

But then you have to be part of it to get my meaning...

As Dave Kerin reminds us:
It's a tremendously creative period of change that's now going to enable people like myself of the historic left who have been, if you like, almost unattached, to have a home now that provides us with support in our work. We've never ceased doing the work as socialists, but when you're doing that work alone you feel more worn out...I'm a year and a half off 60 and, to see that goal, for my remaining life on the planet I'll be fully engaged in that along with Socialist Alliance.
Photographs: This post and related pests: Alex Bainbridge

Coming very soon: RatbagMedia's own short vox pop video montage of the SA conference.