Socialist Alliance Debate sparks discussion about Revolutionary Regroupment

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There is a discussion inside the Socialist Alliance about which way forward. In late August 2002, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) announced plans to dramatically change how it would work as part of the Socialist Alliance. The DSP outlined a process which would result in its ceasing to operate as a public organisation, instead functioning as a tendency within the Socialist Alliance. Other affiliates — including the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) — rejected the DSP’s unilateral approach, its focus on organisational rather than political questions and its January 2003 time frame. The DSP has since withdrawn its timeline but not its plan. Socialist Alliance activists and affiliate organisations are currently discussing the nature of Socialist Alliance. This discussion has also sparked a renewed interest in exploring the concept of revolutionary regroupment.

The FSP made its first public comment about the way forward for Socialist Alliance on 8 September, 2002. Alison Thorne, Melbourne Branch Organiser and a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive, spoke as part of a panel at the International Socialist Organisation-sponsored Marxism 2002 conference. Our view is that it is not the vehicle for revolutionary regroupment. The full text of this speech can be found at www.socialist-alliance.org/debate_fsp.shtml Contributions to the discussion by other Socialist Alliance affiliates and activists can be found at www.socialist-alliance.org/debate.shtml

Below, Thorne outlines some of the key ideas the FSP thinks must be discussed as part of any effort to advance regroupment of the revolutionary left.

People with a broad interest in socialism often ask why there are so many different left groups and why we all can’t just get together. This is a very good question. After all, we all seem to agree on many of the basic questions, we’re all selling our newspapers and all working to win new people to socialism.

But there is a reason why the different socialist organisations exist — on many important questions, we simply don’t agree.

The Socialist Alliance, formed nearly two years ago, was a very interesting and exciting initiative. It sought to identify areas of broad agreement in order to unite socialists from eight diverse socialist organisations, as well as many individual activists, around these limited but shared goals.

The Alliance has achieved a lot in its short history by focusing on the areas of agreement and working together on this basis. Within this framework, we have worked together extremely well. But our differences have not gone away. We just put them to one side while we pursued our shared goals.

Unity in action isn’t regroupment. The DSP presented its proposal — to cease building itself in favour of operating as a tendency within Socialist Alliance — as “a big step forward toward left regroupment in Australia.”

We disagree. The FSP draws a clear distinction between coalitions and united fronts, which are based on unity in action around agreed goals, and revolutionary regroupment. Regroupment is something which may be achieved after a thorough process of discussion around program. Exploration could take place to see if there is sufficient agreement for revolutionaries from two or more tendencies to fuse into one larger organisation.

As part of the discussion inside the Alliance, members of the DSP continue to place their emphasis on how well we’ve worked together on practical tasks together and on other organisational questions such as resources. But a decision by revolutionaries to fuse into a single revolutionary party is a political, not an organisational question.

Rather than being an effective vehicle for regroupment, Socialist Alliance is the opposite. That is hardly surprising. To date, all participants within Socialist Alliance have worked hard to preserve unity around our agreed, but limited, platform and goals. The goodwill on everyone’s part, concentrating on areas of agreement in order to keep the Alliance on track, mitigates against exploring programmatic differences.

SA affiliates know which issues divide us and understand why we are not in a single revolutionary party. Our differences are real and centre on questions which can be life or death issues in situations of explosive class struggle.

The last 70 years are littered with examples of unprincipled combinations, splits and purges. Devoid of an open, principled discussion of both differences and agreement, the DSP’s proposals risk throwing the historic Socialist Alliance project onto the same scrapheap.

The centrality of feminism. The Freedom Socialist Party is a Trotskyist feminist party — both our Trotskyism and our feminism are non-negotiable. It’s a key difference between ourselves and all other SA affiliates.

While it’s true that the DSP also calls itself feminist, its conception of feminism is very different from our own revolutionary feminism. The DSP focuses narrowly on women’s rights, rather than on how feminism is integral to revolutionary struggle. The DSP does not allow women within its own organisation to form a caucus, presumably because this is “divisive.”

However, organisations have disintegrated under the weight of internal sexism. The Black Panther Party in the U.S. was destroyed by rampant sexism. The Workers Revolutionary Party in Britain imploded as a result of a sexist culture which tolerated women comrades being sexually abused. The right of oppressed groups to form caucuses is not an abstract question, but, we believe, is key to combating sexism, racism and homophobia which, because of the pressures of capitalist ideology, can manifest themselves in even the most revolutionary organisations.

We call ourselves feminists because we recognise that the struggle for women’s complete equality lies at the heart of the class struggle — and at the same time reaches out to women of all classes and races, attracting them to the banner of working class revolution. We also recognise that feminism has a dual nature. Like the struggle against racism, it is at once independent of and dialectically interwoven with the class struggle.

Freedom Socialist Party leaders Clara Fraser and Susan Williams explain this in their essay Socialist Feminism: Where the Battle of the Sexes Resolves Itself. They say: “the woman question has historically been indissolubly linked to the class struggle… All women, regardless of class, are subjected to political, legal, cultural and economic discrimination, and this subjugation as an entire sex confers an independent character on woman’s struggle.

“The patriarchal capitalist class relies on women for the extraction of unpaid domestic labour, and simultaneously exploits women in still another way — as a vast pool of cheap labour…That is why the bourgeoisie can no more eradicate sexism than it can eliminate racism, which provides similar economic super-benefits to capital: all wage exploitation would have to go in the bargain.

“The terrible survival problems of women, therefore, can be solved only by fundamental change, and feminist demands lead logically and irresistibly toward the clear necessity for socialist revolution.”

Our revolutionary feminism challenges the view that the “real working class” is the straight, white, male, blue collar workers. There is a sociologically entrenched layer of highly paid, straight, white, male workers, who may fire up industrially to defend their own privileges, but whose political backwardness and lack of solidarity makes them an enormous social support to the capitalist class.

Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, described the conservative role of this layer in his book Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. He said: “it is quite possible to bribe the labour leaders and the upper stratum of the labour aristocracy. And the capitalists of the ‘advanced’ countries are bribing them: they bribe them in a thousand different ways, direct and indirect, overt and covert.

“This stratum of bourgeoisified workers, or the ‘labour aristocracy,’ who are quite philistine in their mode of life, in the size of their earnings and in their outlook…are the agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real channels of reformism and chauvinism.”

Clara Fraser concurs: “white skin privilege, male chauvinism, and heterosexism have turned millions of workers into lackeys of the boss, shorn of class consciousness and permeated with elitism. This is the social base of the labour bureaucracy.” So writes Fraser, in On the Dialectics of U.S. “Backwardness.” (www.marxists.org/archive/fraser/1980/backwardness.htm)

Feminism is not some optional add-on. Women’s leadership is key to the emancipation of humanity.

The role of the working class in global revolution. The theory of permanent revolution is another crucial political question distinguishing different tendencies within Socialist Alliance.

In a 1982 article in the Freedom Socialist newspaper, Murry Weiss and Robert Crisman succinctly defined the idea: “Permanent Revolution is the process of worldwide, uninterrupted, and uninterruptible struggle of all oppressed people, led by the proletariat, for economic, social and political liberation.”

Permanent Revolution describes how, inevitably, all of the tasks of revolution — both democratic and socialist, fall to the working class. Why? Because in the era of imperialism, the capitalist class is neither willing nor able to fulfil basic democratic demands. This theory is in contrast to the formalistic position, best exemplified by Stalinism, that first it is necessary to have a democratic, capitalist revolution and then, at some unspecified time in the future, the working class will be in a position to make a socialist revolution. Because the DSP uses a version of this scheme, we consider it to have some of the features of Stalinism in its program.

Permanent Revolution is one of the theoretical cornerstones of Trotskyism, which the DSP abandoned several years ago as it moved away from its Trotskyist origins to its current politics.

Not only the theory of Permanent Revolution, but history itself, show that revolutions do not unfold according to a pre-ordained plan. The Russian Revolution confirmed this brilliantly. Someone forgot to tell Lenin that the “pre-ordained plan” mandated that once feudalism had been toppled, the workers should hand over leadership to the bourgeoisie for decades to come. Just weeks after the “democratic” revolution of February, 1917, he called on the workers to challenge the provisional government and raised the demand, “All Power to the Soviets!” Six months later, backward Russia made a socialist revolution!

Of course, the Russian Revolution was defeated, although it took 74 years for capitalism to do so. Yet, this, too, validates Permanent Revolution. The flip side of a Stalinist “staged theory” of revolution is that there can be socialism in one country. The fact that the Soviet Workers State is no longer there gives the lie to that dead-end ideology.

The question of Permanent Revolution is just as relevant today. The example of Indonesia shows why. Tossed together by imperialism from the remnants of various colonial empires, the oppressed nationalities of Indonesia were subjugated by brutal military rule from Jakarta. When the people finally overthrew the dictator Suharto, the country started to fall apart. Nations renewed the struggle for independence, and rightwing terror squads have killed tens of thousands from Aceh to East Timor. The country is tearing itself to pieces.

Capitalist rule has manifestly failed in Indonesia, fulfilling few of the democratic tasks, such as national unity, emancipation of the peasants and universal suffrage. What can fulfil these tasks, and solve the national liberation struggles without starving the Javanese of food and resources? Only a socialist revolution, led by the united working class of all the nations of the archipelago and aided and defended by the workers of the region’s core capitalist countries, chiefly Australia. That means, of course, that the liberation of the workers and nations of Indonesia are intimately bound up with a revolution in this country.

Speaking of core capitalist countries, the necessity of revolution in the United States of America is a fundamental political question which many socialists ignore. Because of its economic and military weight, the U.S. is the centre of world capitalism. This also makes it central to world revolution. U.S. revolutionary, James P. Cannon, first insisted on the central importance and very real prospect of U.S. revolt in his 1946 Theses on the American Revolution.

Permanent Revolution is not only about the emancipation of the peoples of colonised nations. It’s about ridding the whole planet of capitalism. Anti-Americanism is a feature of Australian political debate, as if the working people of the United States are responsible for the depredations of the U.S. government and ruling class. The dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975 after interference from the CIA is the source of much of the animosity. Yet if the working class of the U.S. got organised to stop such meddling, it would not occur. More than this, if we were to make a revolution here, without a similar uprising by U.S. workers, we would be crushed by U.S. imperialism, and sooner rather than later.

The day-to-day effects of the class struggle vary between countries. But capitalism, and its failures, are global. The working class is the revolutionary class — everywhere. Whether it be the starvation wages of Brazilian workers, the genocide of Australia’s Indigenous Nations or the subjugation of women in peasant slavery, only the working class — in all its diversity — has the political experience and the social weight to end misery for once and for all. Without stopping to comply with some artificial plan about how it’s done.

Dissolve? No thanks! The Freedom Socialist Party believes that these revolutionary feminist ideas represent the program required to emancipate humanity. Do the other affiliates in Socialist Alliance agree? No.

So, should the Freedom Socialist Party ditch revolutionary feminism and join those who see blue collar workers engaged in heavy industrial production as having the real social weight and power? Should we be satisfied with the demands of women and queers being optional extras — defined merely as questions of democratic rights? Should we advise the tiny East Timorese working class not to struggle to make a socialist revolution but to confine themselves to the bourgeois democratic tasks of capitalist nation building? Again, no!

But does this mean that we can’t work with other socialists with whom we have disagreements on these fundamental questions? Of course we can work together!

We have been working and will continue to work together around the very important agreed goals and objectives of Socialist Alliance. But let us not mistake what we have achieved — impressive as it is — as the precursor for revolutionary regroupment.

The Freedom Socialist Party — through a process of recruitment and regroupment — is working to create a mass revolutionary vanguard party made up of committed activists who have reached the conclusion that only a socialist revolution can bring about the beginning of the end of oppression. A party made up of members who understand that revolution will not happen spontaneously and needs to be organised.

The capitalist State is the most tightly organised institution in history, and globalisation is increasing centralised control through technology, anti-democratic laws and the use of the police, the military and spy agencies. To resist the State apparatus, let alone rid the world of its scourge, we need to be just as organised as the State itself.

The Freedom Socialist Party will proudly continue building our international tendency with no apologies. We invite Socialist Alliance members — and everybody else — interested to talk more about revolutionary feminism to check us out. If you agree with us — join! And then work with us inside Socialist Alliance to continue forging an active, democratic and diverse united front which is the much-needed bold and vibrant socialist voice for working people.

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