(fwd from Dave Riley): Socialist Allaince -- strategy and tactics

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Sun Nov 10 18:54:50 MST 2002


Dave Riley writes:

>>"Unity" isn't just a good idea at the time. It's more
the key piece in a jigsaw puzzle.  It's not a metaphysical leap of faith but
a concrete tactical option that dovetails with the main strategy  all these
groups share -- that of party building.<<

This hits the nail right on the head, although "Party building" is a term I
don't like for what I think should be the strategic approach of the Marxist
movement. It puts the emphasis on the organization and structure, rather
than the class.

What needs to happen is for the *class* to become a "party," a conscious
political force. Whatever vehicle or form is the one through which motion in
this direction is taking place, that's where revolutionary socialists need
to be.

That is precisely one of the great merits I see to the DSP's unity
proposals, that it isn't about my particular little (or big) group but
rather it's about the creation of a vehicle through which increasing numbers
of working people can come to class political consciousness and coordinate
their efforts.

Viewing things this way casts a radically different light on a number of
organizational practices and traditions inherited from the early days of the
Comintern, which collectively are presented as Leninism but quite
demonstrably are not necessarily so. One of these, for example, is the
tradition of holding major political discussions in private, in restrictde
circulation bulletins, contrary to the Bolshevik practice. And it is very
interesting to me that the DSP comrades, when they came up with this idea
for trying to qualitatively expand and transform the Australian communist
movement (although they don't use that term), the first thing they did was
to chuck that secretiveness out the window. While there may be components of
the discussion that remain private, or so the DSP has said, the truth is
that nothing of political significance is likely to stay "internal" because
the task is to draw a much broader layer of people than the DSP memebership
into the discussion.

A case in point is the organization report. I do not know whether the DSP
took the initiative to circulate this beyond its ranks, although it is clear
that posting it on the Internet wasn't their doing, but rather that it was
carried out by opponents of the regroupment the DSP comrades are pushing.

Steve Painter has posted the link here, together with his fear-mongering
response/introduction:

"The public posture of the DSP so far is pained bewilderment that anyone
could be suspicious of their motives or intentions, but Boyle's report and
others by John Percy and Dick Nichols make it clear that other participants
in the Socialist Alliance have every reason to be cautious about the DSP's
proposals and intentions".

The report, together with the introduction/critique, is here:

http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Boyle.html

And I urge those who have been following this situation in Australia to read
not just the critique that was on list, but the report that gave rise to it
also.

Basically it says, come January, the DS Party will become the DS Tendency.
In fact, it is quite a bit more than a tendency as these things are normally
understood within a left group, because the DST will "inherit" so to speak
everything that the DSP is, and will maintain its democratic centralist
structure, leading committees and so forth and so on. But the meaning of it
becomes clear if you think of it this way:  it is a "tendecy" of the workers
movement in Australia, not an internal caucus within the Socialist Alliance.
Whether caucuses should form within SA, and in what forms, around what
issues, these questions are all being held in abeyance by the DSP cdes.

I don't know what so scandalized Bob Gould and Steve Painter, the authors of
the critical introduction, about this.

The Socialist Alliance, I take it, has YET to be transformed into anything
even vaguely resembling a rounded, functioning revolutionary organization.
There isn't even *agreement* among all the SA forces on this regroupment,
nevermind how to carry it out concretely. As I understand it, the SA's OWN
analysis of whether/how to do this will BEGIN after the DSP's own national
congress adopts this orientation and formally opens negotiations.

Simple "Liquidation" of the DSP into the Socialist Alliance on Jan 1, 2003
could only mean one of two things.

a) The organizational structure the DSP has built up over the years, the
finances and offices and newspaper and web site and everything else, will
disintegrate and collapse since everyone is doing their own thing in the SA
in a totally disorganized way or

b) The DSP comrades continue to function in a consciously disciplined
manner, but instead of now organizing sales, collecting sustainers, and so
on through the DSP branches, they impose those traditions, structures and
modes of functioning on the local SA groupings. The essence of this would
be, whatever their intentions, that the DSP comrades would use their
political/organization muscle to usurp the name/structures of the SA. This
*would* be a vulgar takeover disguised as a "regroupment."

Yet simple continuation of the DSP as it now exists and functions, until and
unless a fusion/regroupment accord was reached,  would open up a yawning
chasm between the party's political priorities and its practice.

So instead the DSP is proposing other steps, consistent with the proposed
regroupment, to prepare the way for it. This is clearly a transitional
setup, and clearly presented as such.

 First, it may seem only an empty symbol, but I think it is of great
importance here, they take down the "party" flag. They now recognize that
they are one current, whose immediate goal is to transform the SA into the
vehicle for building a revolutionary party. These communists are saying that
they "do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class
parties." And comrades I'm sure won't miss the very *striking* similarity
between the way the DSP/T is now positioning itself and earlier experiences,
especially those of *real* "Leninism" as it functioned in the RSDLP until
the eve of WWI.

Second, there are a series of proposals which basically are the first,
preparatory steps towards winding down the DSP/T as a separate organization.
One is to focus recruitment efforts on recruiting to the SA, and to not
campaign within the SA to win members for the DST at this stage. Another is
to move from weekly to monthly DSP/T branch meetings. Another is to focus
the organizing of work in the mass movements in and through the SA.

And there are a series of proposals around something that may seem
counterintuitive, which is to strengthen the more "internal" branch
committees and institutions (sales, finances, education). Why? Because
obviously, in moving from weekly to monthly branch meetings, and towards
much more of the political life of the comrades revolving around the SA
rather than the DSP/T as such, there is a danger that the entire structure
will collapse. That obviously doesn't do anyone any good.

There is, in addition, a bit of a polemic with those who are said to believe
the DSP has a "sectarian ultra-Cannonist weakness," and quoting me in
particular as a representative of this trend.

Seeing as I pretty much like what the DSP is proposing, that I think it sets
a real example for the world movement, I wouldn't choose this moment to zero
in on the sectarian weaknesses of  "Cannonism" as manifested by the DSP. For
one thing, what I really know about the DSP are only those things you can
tell from afar and what I surmise from the current from which the DSP drew
its inspiration (the American SWP, in a previous incarnation).

For another the kind of thing the DSP is proposing is precisely along the
lines of what I've been raising for years now.

(see especially: "Organizational Flexibility in Building Revolutionary
Parties,
http://www.marxmail.org/archives/July99/organizational_flexibility_in_bu.htm
;
and also "Reflections on the decline of American Trotskyism,"
http://www.marxmail.org/archives/July99/reflections_on_the_decline_of_am.htm
;
"Re: J.P. Cannon on the Vanguard Party,
http://www.mail-archive.com/marxism@lists.panix.com/msg11795.html;
and, "On Trotskyism, and why I am not a 'Trotskyist'"
http://www.mail-archive.com/marxism@lists.panix.com/msg12964.html .

A lot of the report's focus, taking off from this mention of my note, is on
discipline, what it springs from and so on. If by discipline is meant
organized, serious functioning, I've got no quarrel with that.

I do believe the SWP in the mid-70s was right when it projected reducing the
expectations on the level of activity and relative financial contributions,
noting that as more and more regular working people joined the party, there
would be a greater spread in these than there had been in the past few
years.

Unfortunately, the SWP reversed that and much else with the 1978 turn to
industry and what followed, to the extent where today the organization as
such has perhaps 300 members, and then perhaps 300 others who contribute
financially on a regular basis and actively participate in its work
coordinated and directed by party bodies but aren't members of the party
because they aren't "real" professional revolutionaries.

I've no idea if the DSP is seriously afflicted with this "professional
revolutionary" syndrome, but I believe what is involved, the increasing and,
ideally, complete subordination of an individual's life to the needs of the
movement, is simply and flatly the wrong basis for party membership under
"normal" bourgeois-democratic conditions. As applied by the US SWP, it tends
to creates a vanguardist elite whose lives and concerns bear very little
resemblance to those of most working people.

[For example, if the SWP membership were more similar to the adult
population as a whole, with, say, half or more being parents, I wonder
whether a couple of years ago the SWP might not have felt much more strongly
about the Elián González case --the Cuban 5-year-old-boy kidnapped by the
counterrevolutionary Miami Mafia-- leading it to take a different position
on the INS raid that freed the child (which the SWP denounced, even while
the Cuban people and pretty much everyone else in the world, except for the
Mafia itself and the most inveterate right-wingers, breathed a sigh of
relief).]

But returning to the DSP/T, this "professional revolutionary" thing is,
however, a concern because of phrases like this in the report (this one
directly after quoting me): "Us 'Percyites' have made better progress over
the last three decades than any other revolutionary organisation in this
Lucky Country because we have won enough political authority needed to exact
the kind of hard work and sacrifice that has built everything we have."

Many of us on this list have led the life of what the SWP tradition calls
"professional revolutionaries," strcturing our whole life around the party,
subordinating everything else to the movement's needs, willing to move
anywhere and take on any assignment at the party's call. And I do not
believe making that, or something close to it, the norm for membership is
the way to build a genuine workers party under the kinds of conditions the
DSP faces, or we face here in the US, or in Britain, France, Canada, etc.
Yes, building an organization takes hard work, self-sacrifice, discipline.

In addition, and worse, in the SWP's tradition of my generation, something
else came with this level of activism, which was an unthinking acquiescence
to all positions put forth by the leadership on every subject under the sun.
On this, some phrases in the report about the degree of homogeneity the DSP
has achieved are worrisome, and that being a source for discplined
functioning, are worrisome.

I am NOW generally leery of a party having broad-ranging positions on
theoretical and historical questions. People need to be free to look into
and think through these subjects on their own, without the psychological
pressure and/or comfort of knowing someone else has already thought through
and come up with the "correct" position.

Theoretical insight and a real understanding of marxism cannot be
collectively conquered by the vote of a party Congress or Poitical
Committee. These are acquisitions in which there is a dialectic between
different individuals, between reflection and practice, and between the
different individuals and the collective engaged in purposeful political
activity.

I think on this, as on other subjects, the Cuban Communist Party set a
useful example when they voted to lift what had been a defacto ban on
religious believers belonging to the party. This means, explicitly, that one
doesn't have to agree with dialectical materialism, which is the
underpinning of Marxism, to belong to the party. What one has to agree with
is the party's *political program* -- developing a socialist society in Cuba
(and in a certain, specific way); proletarian internationalism and so on.

I don't want to present a bill of particulars against the DSP comrades for
specific "sectarian ultra-Cannonist weakness," but these are some of the
weaknesses, and unintended consequences, as I view them now, of the
"Cannonism" which they drew inspiration from, as it was actually practiced
by us in the YSA and SWP 20-30 years ago.

At any rate, I'm convinced that the regroupment course the DSP has set out
on provides a very good framework for sorting out these and many more
issues, and, most importantly, addressing them not from the angle of the
eternal "Leninist" verities on how groups "ought" to be organized. Instead
they'll be looked at from the bottom up in the framework of trying to create
a new revolutionary organization. I think perhaps in the course of this
project, some of the things people like Louis Proyect and myself have been
saying about organizational questions will appear to the comrades in a new
light, much as the DSP has revealed itself in a new light to at least some
of us by undertaking this initiative.

So, if I am to be counted among the DSP's "critics," as the report says, let
it be noted that I am among its *friendly* critics, and wish the DSP and SA
comrades every success in this new stage in building the revolutionary
movement in Australia.

José


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