On the NE minority’s ‘cynical manoeuvre’ – a reply to Comrade Brewer
The Activist - Volume 15, Number 11 – October 2005
By Doug Lorimer, Sydney branch
In her PCD article "Political divisions in the DSP and how to proceed" (The Activist Vol. 15, No. 10) Comrade Pat Brewer urges "comrades to read exactly what the documents are saying so the differences can be clearly expressed". However, she completely ignores her own advice and bases her assessment of what the NE minority is saying not upon the documents we have written, but upon the assumption that we are engaged in a "cynical manoeuvre" to shut down the Socialist Alliance. Comrade Brewer is not alone in doing this. The same approach is evident in the PCD contributions of other comrades who support the political position advocated by Comrade Peter Boyle, as was pointed out by Comrade Iggy Kim and myself in our PCD articles in the previous issue of The Activist.
Where these comrades bother to refer to what we have presented in writing, they invariably distort what we have written to fit it into their preconceived notion that we want to shut down the SA. Comrade Brewer provides a number of examples of this. She writes:
"I am unclear as to exactly what ‘SA as an auxiliary tactic’ means. In the minority report John P outlines a variety of activities we could at times engage SA in on pages 11 and 12 – irregular meeting on a quarterly or even less frequent basis, some city wide aggregates, some trade union caucuses, some social-political events, some stalls but primarily GLW not SA, and project SA conferences more as internal not external big events. We should close down branch offices of SA, get rid of Seeing Red, refuse to have other tendencies material on SA stalls unless they are prepared to staff the stalls. We should continue to join members to SA and service them with emails but we should deny their membership details ‘to the sects’. We should use SA to initiate campaigns and call broader coalitions."
Comrade Brewer claims that in his draft NC report Comrade John Percy advocated that "We close down branch offices of SA". What does the draft NC report actually say on this? "We should close the Bankstown office. It’s draining $180 per week from us, and not being used. No-one goes in there for weeks at a time." Comrade Percy proposed closing down one office that is not being used. But Comrade Brewer infers from this that he proposed closing down all or most branch offices of SA – because she assumes that the NE minority wants to shut down the SA. (On October 9, the Sydney DSP branch executive unanimously voted to close down the Bankstown office. Will Comrade Brewer infer from this that all of the members of the Sydney branch executive want to shut down the SA?)
Comrade Percy’s draft NC report proposed that "We can have Socialist Alliance stalls, but recognise that they’re primarily GLW stalls", i.e., recognise that the main activity of our comrades staffing these stalls is distributing GLW. Comrade Brewer infers from this that the draft NE minority report is proposing that we have "some stalls but primarily GLW not SA". But isn’t it the case that on all the street stalls that DSP comrades have staffed as SA members and that carry SA publicity, the main activity of our comrades has been selling GLW? Is Comrade Brewer now proposing that they shouldn’t do this?
Comrade Percy’s draft NC report proposed that we "reconsider the role of Seeing Red. It’s a financial drain on us, with a not great political impact for our politics. Green Left Weekly is a much better tool, and our resources – money, writers, layout skills, and distribution efforts – would be better poured into that". Comrade Brewer infers from this that the draft report proposed we "get rid of Seeing Red", when it actually proposed that we "reconsider" its role, i.e., we have a discussion about its usefulness in helping to build the SA as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that advocates a mass workers’ party., i.e., is the production of a glossy, coffee-table, quarterly magazine the best use of our limited resources for building the SA as a campaigning alliance, particularly in the trade union movement?
Comrade Brewer states that she supports the general line of the NE’s draft resolution "The DSP and the Socialist Alliance", which presumably means she supports the new perspective it sets the DSP for building the SA, i.e., "as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party". But when it comes to having a discussion of what this will concretely mean for the allocation of our resources, she denounces as part of a "cynical manoeuvre" to shut down the SA any proposal that involves scrapping, or even reconsidering, the allocation of resources we made to the SA when we had the perspective of trying to rapidly progress its transformation into a multi-tendency socialist party. Is it any wonder that comrades who support the NE minority position accuse supporters of the NE majority who adopt such a stance of engaging inphrasemongering when they profess "support" for the "general line" of the NE’s draft resolution – of turning its proposed new perspective of building the SA as a campaigning alliance, rather than as a new party, into a mere phrase, devoid of any concrete content?
The SA as an auxiliary tactic
Comrade Brewer states that she is unclear as to exactly what "SA as an auxiliary tactic" means. I presume she knows what the word "tactic" means. If she is unclear what the word "auxiliary" means, I suggest she consult a dictionary. The Macquarie Dictionary, for example, defines the word "auxiliary" as "giving support, helping, aiding, assisting", as "subsidiary, additional", and as "a group or organisation which assists or is supplementary" to another group or organisation.
If the SA is not "the party we are building today", and the DSP is "the party we are building", our work in the SA, oriented to building it as "a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party", is an auxiliary (supplementary, additional) activity that aids, helps, assists us in building the DSP – just as DSP comrades’ work in Resistance is an auxiliary tactic to building the DSP, or their work in the Venezuela solidarity committees will be an auxiliary tactic to building the DSP.
Similarly, DSP comrades’ work in the WA branch of the MUA is an auxiliary tactic to building the DSP. Of course, one of the big differences between the SA today and the WA branch of the MUA is that DSP comrades hold the majority of leadership positions in the former while we do not in the latter. In the SA we have few allies prepared to take on leadership responsibilities. In neither case, though, do we want to turn these organisations into DSP fronts. In both cases, we should seek to build them as campaigning organisations that draw other people into the campaigning activity that the respective organisation engages in and that develop new class-struggle-oriented activists and leaders. Those of them that we are able to convince of our revolutionary Marxist politics, including the need to build a Leninist-type party today, should be approached to join the DSP.
In his September 25 email to the NE, Comrade Dick Nichols correctly described the SA a "united front instrument" (though he also declared his support for a draft NC report that describes the SA as a "second party"). The Program of the Democratic Socialist Party points out that:
"Within the complex system of actions, methods, and interconnected demands required to forge working-class unity in action, the united-front tactic has particular importance. The united front provides a vehicle for mobilisation of the broadest masses in defence of their immediate interests even though broader agreement might not be possible.
"While the party constantly seeks to publicise its general perspectives and policies, counterposing them to those of the supporters of capitalism, this alone is not enough to convince broad layers of working people that the party’s policies are correct. Only experience in action can advance the consciousness of masses of working people. Action provides a practical test of policies and tactics. Therefore, the party does not make its proposals for establishing a united front conditional upon mass acceptance of its overall policies and general perspectives.
"The party bases its united-front initiatives on the immediate needs of the masses in the objective situation. For that purpose the party advances specific demands that develop unity in action. The party stands for broad, militant, democratically organised, mass mobilisations in support of these demands.
"To be effective, united fronts should be formed around clearly defined issues, should be founded on a democratic attitude towards discussion of the best means of pursuing the joint objective, and should involve respect for the right of all participants to continue expressing their views and to act on other questions.
"Inherently, the united-front tactic involves seeking agreements with non-revolutionary political forces. Concessions in the interests of establishing and maintaining the united front should not undercut its central purpose – the mobilisation of the broadest possible forces against the policies of the capitalist class.
"The united front is not an end in itself, but a means to unify and mobilise the masses, to draw them away from the influence of pro-capitalist leaders and to win them to the party’s policies and revolutionary perspectives. (p. 73)
That is, our work in campaigning alliances, in united-front organisations, such as the SA, is a party-building tactic, an auxiliary activity to building a revolutionary workers’ party. Why is Comrade Brewer unable to grasp "exactly" what the phrase "SA as an auxiliary tactic" means? Is it because she treats the perspective of building the SA as a campaigning alliance as an empty phrase?
What is the position of the NE majority?
Comrade Brewer states that "What is central is our orientation to whether we ‘build SA as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party ’ (The Activist Vol. 15, No. 8, p. 7). which is the NE majority position, or whether ‘SA is as auxiliary tactic’ since there is ‘no political basis for progressing SA to a new party’ as the minority NE position advocates (The Activist Vol. 15. No. 8, p. 12). Please note that neither position states that SA is a party now but the majority states that it is part of a perspective to move towards building such a new left party project in the future. That means it is a campaigning alliance with a purpose to develop the dynamic towards a future mass workers’ party whether that takes the form of SA or ‘decides to change its name in the process of drawing new forces or merge with other forces into a new entity’ as the draft party building report states on page 6."
Comrade Brewer seeks to invent a difference between the objective set for the DSP in the NE’s draft resolution of building the SA as a "campaigning alliance in the social movements (particularly the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party" (which she asserts is the NE majority’s position) and the NE minority’s clarification that this means we need to regard our work in the SA as an "auxiliary tactic" since "there is no political basis for progressing SA to a new party". Please note Comrade Brewer: The view that "there is no political basis for progressing SA to a new party" is not just the view of the NE minority; it is the explicitly stated position of the NE’s draft resolution. It states that the political conditions ("basis") "to build the Socialist Alliance into a new party did not exist" when we embarked on our "turn" to "progress" SA to a new party. It also states that the "Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal ‘reforms’ before it can harness the leadership resources and political confidence to take a significant step to creating a new socialist party" (emphasis added). In the absence of these political conditions, the draft resolution sets as the DSP’s perspective for our work in the SA building it "as a campaigning alliance", a united-front, "in the social movements (in particular the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party ".
According to Comrade Brewer, the NE majority position does not state that "the SA is now a party". But the NE majority’s draft NC report (The Activist Vol. 15, No. 8) declares that the "turn" proposed in September 2002 to convert the Democratic Socialist Party into a tendency within the SA so as to transform the SA into a party has given us SA as a "second party".. It affirms that we "can and need to build ‘two parties’ at this time: The DSP and the Socialist Alliance" and it affirms that we "are ‘building two parties’ today as part of our struggle to build a single mass revolutionary party". Furthermore, it affirms that the "opening we were responding to in 2002" (with our "turn" to "making the Socialist Alliance the party we build today") "has not closed" but is "still opening up". If the NE majority does not believe that the SA "is now a party" and can not be transformed into one without a "regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn in resistance to the capitalist neoliberal ‘reforms"’ (as the NE’s draft resolution states), why doesn’t the NE majority’s draft NC report simply state that we are building one actually existing party today (the DSP) and the SA as a "campaigning alliance with a purpose to develop the dynamic towards a future mass workers’ party " (as Comrade Brewer puts it)?
In my PCD article in The Activist Vol. 15, No. 9, I argued that it is because Comrade Boyle believes that if we don’t keep bullshitting to Craig Johnson and Chris Cain that we in the DSP regard the Socialist Alliance as "the party we are building", they won’t collaborate ("engage") and we’ll lose ‘an historic opportunity to work more closely with important leadership elements in the militant trend in the trade unions’," i.e., Chris Cain and Craig Johnston. In her PCD article, Comrade Brewer confirms that argument. Criticising the NE minority’s argument that we should tell the truth about the SA to our collaborators in the SA, i.e., that it is not a new left party and cannot be progressed in today’s political conditions into a new left party, Comrade Brewer writes: "We are seen as leaders of SA... Instead of leading SA, we just ‘honestly’ tell the militant trade union leaders that their support for building a new left party is to be put on hold, but perhaps could be boosted later on at our discretion."
So, we shouldn’t tell them that we have concluded that the political conditions to build the SA as a new left party do not exist today, and that in our judgement they won’t exist without the emergence of "broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal ‘reforms’"; we shouldn’t tell them that, therefore, we in the DSP have decided to ditch our perspective of "making the Socialist Alliance the party we build today" and will try to "build the Socialist Alliance as a campaigning alliance in the social movements (in particular the trade union movement) that seeks to build a new mass workers’ party "? Instead, we should carry out a cynical manoeuvre against Chris Cain and Craig Johnston – while building the SA as a campaigning alliance rather than a new left party, we should deceive them into thinking we are still committed to making the "Socialist Alliance the party we build today". Is that how Comrade Brewer proposes the DSP provide "leadership" in the SA?
Providing leadership ... in the DSP
Comrade Brewer writes: "I have to infer the nature of the political differences in the leadership by default. They are clearer when you look at the motions and amendments in the NE that have been lost. I suggest comrades look at these very carefully since there isn’t time for me to go through them in this contribution and I want to touch on the question of process in more detail in a moment. Let me just take up one that took place in the NE where the alternate tasks reports were presented."
She then quotes the following motion that comrades Lane, Percy and I put to the September 26 NE meeting – "That the national executive recommend to the national committee that it propose that the 22nd DSP Congress rescind all of the constitutional amendments adopted by the 21st DSP Congress." She adds the comment: "To have adopted such a motion would pre-empt a democratic discussion in the DSP taking place in the lead up to the congress because it assumes that the question of building SA has already been decided."
We put forward a motion that the NE take a recommendation to the NC (the party’s highest decision-making body between its congresses) that it make a proposal to the party congress regarding changes to the DSP constitution. Why Comrade Brewer thinks the adoption by the NE of this motion "would pre-empt democratic discussion in the DSP" on the "question of building SA" is beyond me. Did the adoption by the NE on August 15 of a draft resolution on "The DSP and the Socialist Alliance" that proposes that at the party congress in January the DSP adopt a new perspective for building the SA "pre-empt democratic discussion in the DSP" on the "question of building SA"? Shouldn’t the party’s national leadership bodies indicate to the party membership as a whole before they elect their congress delegates what these bodies intend to ask the delegates at the party congress to vote on – so that these proposals can be discussed by the party membership as a whole before they elect their delegates? Isn’t that part of the responsibility of providing leadership to the party?