fresh developments in Australian unity debates

Ben Courtice benj at
Thu Nov 7 16:36:55 MST 2002

Jeff Sparrow wrote:
OK, let's put it like this. Which of the policies that the DSP
held in 1991 (when it clearly believed that differences of principle
existed between it and other groups on the left) has it now abandoned?
When did it decide it was wrong and why?
For my part, I can't see any differences between the group then and the
group now --- which is why the kinds of arguments we have in campaigns
remain almost identical. As I keep saying, the only substantive
difference seems to be that the ISO has moved rightward.

Ben writes:
You're right that the DSP's political positions haven't changed much since
 1991 or so. In fact even back then we were in favour of unity with other
groups. You are probably vaguely aware of the various processes of the
1980s whereby the DSP tried to unite into a broader party with various
other forces, mainly the CPA and SPA. We weren't doing this to dissolve
 our principles (which we seem to have kept) but to bring into being a larger
left party that could start to take advantage of Labor's shift to the right, and
create an activist party to challenge it. We've always been in favour of
revolutionaries and militants working together.

In 1992 the DSP internal bulletin reprinted a letter from the ISO suggesting
that as the two largest organisations of the left the DSP and ISO should
publish a joint discussion bulletin. The DSP leadership reply was, more
or less, that unless the ISo was genuinely interested in some sort of unity
process we didn't see the point, and considering the ISO usually referred to
the DSP as "Stalinists" (with all the connotations of reformism, bureaucracy,
authoritarianism and lack of democracy etc) we didn't see that they could be
genuine. Of course if the ISO had been genuine and had re-thought the
name-calling, matters could have been different.

In the early 1990s the DSP also had some talks with Communist Intervention,
without fruit, and then in the mid 1990s we suggested to the Militant (CWI)
group that since we seemed to have a similar line in practice we should
explore the issue of unity. The biggest stumbling block was that they wanted
to remain a CWI-affiliated caucus, which we (rightly or wrongly) thought would
undermine our democracy.

Subsequently Militant merged with Communist Intervention and Socialist
Democracy (two other Trotskyist groups) and did some work inside the PLP. The
fused organisation grew dramatically at first -- unity is appealing on the left -- but
soon divisions (over what, I don't know) arose and the whole organisation blew
apart. Not too much later the PLP also blew apart (although it still exists, just like
Militant -- now the "Socialist Party" -- still exists: much smaller and somewhat

Whatever lessons can be drawn from all this, the DSP has all along been in favour
of regrouping revolutionaries and since the 1980s in favour of some larger party of
the working class, possibly including reformists. Obviously as Militant and the PLP
show, both models have risks, which in my view vindicates the fact that the DSP has
taken a cautious attitude. I think we are doing that now. We aren't proposing some
programmatic fusion of different revolutionary tendencies, we're proposing a
framework to let the things we agree on be conducted together. In fact I think this
will make the other 5, 10, whatever % that we disagree on easier to evaluate as we
won't be fighting over stall space, meeting times, etc etc etc

as an aside, it's Ben C not Ben J. My email address only reflects the fact that some
people call me benj (benji, benny, benno, etc not to mention the less friendly names).

Ben Courtice

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