Thursday, March 01, 2007

Where is the IST going?


One of the most significant differences between the old International Socialists (IS) and today’s SWP is the question of international organisation. The IS had the modest view that their authority was very limited as they were not a mass party, nor had they led any significant victories, and therefore they had no authority to advise other socialist organisations internationally. They believed that any future socialist international would evolve out of the concrete requirements of international solidarity between mass organisation that had grown in different ways in different countries. For example, much of the international discussions of the IS during the 1970s were with soft Maoists organisations abroad.

At some time in the 1980s this changed, and the International Socialist Tendency (IST) became a more formal organisation, and as Cliff documents in his autobiography he started meddling in the internal life of sister organisations in France and Germany. (They must have been so pleased he didn’t have a passport!)

In 2001 the SWP formally split with the International Socialist organisation (ISO) in the USA. An organisation of about the same size as the SWP, but in a country with 6 times the population. Since when the ISO have acrried out a "rectification" programme to rid themselves of some of what they regard as the more unfortunate traits they inherited from London, including the "Star system", and the hopefully self explanatory "ful-timer bullshit" syndrome. They have started to orient on the Greens an important develpoment due to Peter Camejo's leading involvement in the Green party

Interestingly the SWP’s own pretext for the split was the unfounded allegation that the ISO had precipitated a split in the Greek SEK. And indeed the SWP’s international affilates have seen split after split in recent years. As the ISO leadership astutely observed “In expelling the ISO, the SWP CC is applying a hypocritical double standard. The SWP leadership can, apparently, engage in factional intervention in the ISO, backing a tiny faction, and openly siding with that faction against the ISO, but our decision to send a comrade to Greece is considered grounds for expulsion from the Tendency.”

What is interesting is that although the argument was ostensibly about a difference of emphasis towards the protests in Seattle, these publicly expressed differences made no sense. They were not fundamental issues over which to split two sister organisations, as they revolved not over questions of principle but tactics. However as James P Cannon observed, people always have two reason for what they do, the good reason and the real reason.

The underlying tension seems to have had a financial basis. The leadership of the ISO had asked the seemingly innocent question of where all the money that had been raised for developing the IS Tendency internationally had gone to. To which Alex Callinicos rather grumpily replied that he was not accountable because the IST was not a formal international party. But it was a good question because a lot of money had been raised, especially for the development of the South African group, but nothing had come out of it.

There may have been a further underlying tension between the SWP and ISO, as I have heard rumours from two different sources of a dispute over a large financial legacy left to the SWP by an American comrade, who had been living in London when he made his will.

It is certainly reasonable to ask for some assessment about why, despite all the money and effort that has gone into building the SWP’s international links, the IST seems to be a shambles. Nowadays, almost every country where the SWP has an international affiliate also has a rival organisation with similar politics, and in many cases the unofficial group is bigger than the official one.

For example in Australia the Socialist Alternative is an IS derived organisation, resulting from the expulsion of the Melbourne branch including Tom o’Lincoln some years ago. Socialist Alternative are basically a propaganda group following a similar party building model to that adopted by the SWP in the 1980s. The expulsions seem to have been precipitated by an intervention from London, after a visit to Oz by Chris Bambury. Socialist Alternative can sustain themselves perhaps indefinitely on that isolationist, propaganda basis, but to what purpose?

In contrast the official SWP affiliate, the ISO, seems to be in terminal crisis. Within the last couple of weeks they finally formally resigned from the Australian Socialist Alliance (SA), however their participation had been problematic for a while, as they sought to apply perspectives from London which stressed the Coalition model that the SWP favoured for Respect. Their long term leading comrade David Glanz has now taken a backseat role, and I have heard rumours that some comrades may have resigned over the ISO leaving the SA.

In New Zealand, the propaganda version of the IS politics is called the International Socialists. It is significant that their web site links to the American ISO, and to the Australian Socialist Alternative, although I do not believe that the American ISO is fostering formal international links. For those familiar with the traditional British SWP of the 1980s and 1990s, the IS(NZ) web site has a comfortable feel to it.

The official IST affiliate in new Zealand, called Socialist Worker, have not updated their web-site for a couple of years, but are quite independent of the London line, and leading comrades like Grant Morgan have been regular attendees at events organised by the DSP in Australia. Socialist Worker’s orientation on left regroupment appears to be at odds with current London thinking.

Of course, the ISO of Zimbabwe also thinks independently, and has publicly disagreed with London over the issue of internal party democracy (they support the allowing of permanent factions) and over Alex Callinicos’s criticism of them for standing a candidate for parliament.

The French comrades of Socialisme Par en Bas (Speb) find themselves in the strange position of being a permanent tendency within the LCR. (they are no longer linked to from the SWP’s own web site) competing with the Socialisme Internationale group, comrades with almost identical politics to theirs, who were expelled by Cliff just for being too old and conservative. Yet even the British SWP have remarked that without experience the Speb comrades run round like head-bangers. Ostensibly the Speb are in the LCR to provide a revolutionary pole of attraction within an organisation that the British SWP regard as essentially a rightward leaning swamp. However entry into the LCR has its own problems, as the faction rights extended require that any meeting of the faction are open to all LCR members – including those that Speb have expelled!

The situation in Ireland is bizarre. For some reason the IST now advertise two organisations, one in the South and one in the North, although historically the SWP (Ireland) were a 32 counties organisation. The current elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly sees the SWP standing two candidates under two different banners. In Foyle Eamonn Mccann is standing under the Socialist Environmental Alliance banner, while in Belfast the SWP are standing a 19 year old student, Seán Mitchell, for the People Before Profit Alliance. Their electoral platform is against imperialism (in Iraq !!!) and for troops out (of Iraq !!!!). A few years back a group of SW members broke from Keiran Allen's SWP and joined the USFI affilate, Socialist Democracy.

To finish on a positive note, In Germany Linksruck seem to be playing a mature and constructive role in the formation of a new party, arising from the merger of the PDS and WASG. But they will need to think entirely for themselves as the situation they are finding themselves in is very different from anything that the British SWP have been involved with. Models of behaviour derived from the experience in Respect in England or Solidarity in Scotland will not serve them well in a much larger party, where for example the PDS alone have 68000 members.


Snowball said...

Also on the positive side there are now small groups in parts of Latin America, South East Asia and Africa where there was nothing before. I am thinking of the particularly heroic role played by the comrades in Thailand in speaking out against the recent military coup. The German experience is also to some extent replicated in Italy where there is a small faction inside of Rifondazione Communista...

Mark P said...

The IST has seen two parallel proceses:

1) All of the substantial organisations affiliated to it have been expelled, suffered major splits or declined drastically. The SWP itself excluded of course - it has certainly declined but not in the kind of spectacular way its affiliates have.

The biggest sister party, the American ISO, was expelled for reasons which seem bizarre even to the seasoned sect watcher. It's replacement group, Left Turn then decided to walk, leaving the IST with essentially nothing in the USA.

The second biggest satellite, the Greek SEK, suffered a major split with more than a third of its activists leaving.

The third biggest satellite, Linksruck in Germany, also suffered a major split. It too lost perhaps a third of its members in the split and has since continued to decline.

There were no other groups with much over 200 members. In fact only the Irish and Australian groups were on that kind of scale. The Australian ISO has suffered a whole series of splits, reducing to a group of a few dozen in a country with at least four (4!) organisations with similar IST style politics.

The Irish SWP, uniquely, hasn't suffered a major split although it did throw off a couple of tiny grouplets. Instead it has remained relatively cohesive even as it has declined and declined.

2) Simultaneous to this decline in the strength of IST affiliates, the number of IST affiliates has gone up. Even as all of the organisations with some significant membership base have falled apart, a whole series of very tiny groups have been set up in new countries.

This doesn't come close to compensating for the numbers of members lost elsewhere - taken together it is unlikely that the total membership of the new groups amounts to even 50 - but it does give the IST the kind of global spread which it long lacked and which its rivals on the Trotskyist left (USFI, CWI, even the IMT) have long had.

3) These two changes alter the ecology of the IST quite considerably. It was always an undemocratic organisation with the SWP enjoying overwhelming dominance. But now there is much less in the way of strong secondary groups. The SWP instead is surrounded by a larger number of much weaker organisations. This does not bode well for anyone who thinks that the IST might democratise itself or become less dominated by the British SWP.

AN said...

I think your assessment of the significance of the growth of new groups is correct Mark, and it is a sign of the decline of real influence of the IST that they publicise them. In the past they used to only refer to international sister (daughter?) organisation when they were stable and had a publication.

I note from the IST website, that the number of regular publications is much more limited.

In my round up I also failed to mention the Canadian IS, who have also suffered splits.

Incidently, the former model of building international links that the IS had, seesm to be preety much the way the DSP operates now - of trying to build friendly relations with whatever is most significnat on the ground, rather than trying to export its own politics by cloning grouplets.

AN said...

I would also take issue with Snowball's estimation that in Africa, Southern Asia and South America there "was nothing before".

Even if we limit ourselves to consideration of the Trotskyist left then there have been organisations of considerable size, especially in South America.

I am dubious that adding yet another small propaganda circle is progress.

Mark P said...

To be fair to Snowball, I think it's fairly clear that when he said "there was nothing before", he was referring exclusively to IST organisations rather than making the claim that there was no far left in those areas before. As you say, all of those places have much more substantial Trotskyist organisations of other stripes.

I'm not sure by the way that the old IS had quite the same approach as the current DSP. In Ireland in particular it has a long history of trying to organise sister parties. The DSP by contrast seems to be much more firmly opposed to the idea of international organisation. I am not, by the way, at all impressed with the DSP approach. It actively seeks influence in the left of the Asia-Pacific region, but does so without any kind of accountability to an international organisation.

What's interesting about the IST's creation of new groups is that it seems to be done in a way which differs considerably from the approach of the other main Trotskyist internationals. By that I mean the focus is immediately on recruiting a couple of supporters in (or sending them to) a country and then trying to build from there. The likes of the USFI or CWI generally make discussion with existing groups their first port of call, only moving on to building completely new groups if those talks prove fruitless.

AN said...

Ok Mark, I have reconsidered what Snowball wrote, and you are probably right. I was being unfair on him!!!

generally the IS were pragmatic, so if some people in another country started making sypathetic noises they were happy enough, but there was no formal international grouping, certainly durung the first period of my SWP membership (1978 to 1980), and so the varous international groups would develop according to the beats of their own drums.

BUt when I rejoined there was a mini-Comintern. I don't know what happened in between.

You are right about the IST's modell of buidling, the Thai group that Snowball refers to has been built round Giles Ungpakorn, who used to be in Oxford SWP, before returning to Thailand. And the group in South Korea was built around a student recruited while stuidying in the USA. But it is not a univeral model, and I believe the Greek SEK and the canadian groups started life as splits from larger organisations.

With regard to the DSP approach to international work, I don't see what is wrong with trying to extend your infleucne, and in the absence of actual mass parties the leadership of whaich really know something, then international accountability is just the blind leading the blind

Mark P said...

As far as the SEK is concerned, I believe it was founded by Greek students who had been in the SWP while in London. The politics of the SEK then diverged from those of the SWP for a while, before they came back towards the mother party.

But I actually wasn't talking about the older satellites above. I was talking about the SWP's current strategy and the recent expansion in the number of small IST groups. The point I was making is that their current approach is different from that of groups like the USFI and CWI, which at least in their present incarnations talk to existing groups first and only if that goes nowhere do they strike out alone.

On the DSP: Their behaviour in the Asia Pacific region is the worst of all worlds. They are relatively wealthy, as a group in a first world country, which lets them try to act as patrons, tutoring the left in poorer countries in the region. Through publications, websites, foriegn trips etc they can export their ideas but without the parties they are seeking to influence having any way to influence them reciprocally. It happens by different channels, but you end up with the same kind of one way traffic in ideas which you get in the IST.

It particularly irritates me because they use their lopsided relationships to push ideas which I think are profoundly mistaken. Most obviously they use their influence over left groups in the region to push their neo-Stalinist stages theory of revolution in the neo-colonial world. In Australia that's just a bizarre quirk of theirs. In Asia it's poison.

AN said...


I have differnces with the DSP over the way they organise as a Leninist Party, a concpt of vanguardism that Ii no longer hold with.

But it is a distortion of their politics to argue that they put forward a "neo-Stalinist stages theory of revolution in the neo-colonial world"

As I understand it, what the DSP argue is that the trotskist assumption that the working class can take power is predictaed upon the working class being in a position to take power. Or rather that Permanent Revolution is a generally applicable scvhema - a fact that simple inspection of the history of the 20th centrury will show to be false.
In most of the world today the workers movement is not in that position, and may thereofre participate in pushing for acheivable outcomes, and in an uninterrupted process simultaneoulsy pushing towards extending that struggle towsrds socialism. Which I think is what you caracature as a stages theory, buit on closer examination is actually what happened in Russia, where Lenin's analysis fits the facts more clsoely than Trotsky's.

How it helps to describe people as "Stalinist" is beyond me.

From what I see of the DSP, the aid that they give to other socialist organisations is not contingent on them agreeing with DSP policies, if you know of example otherwise please tell me.

In any event, is the relatioonshipp between the SWP(GB) and the ISO Zmbabwe so very different from that?

AN said...

And indeed didn't the Ukrainian scam reveal that most left groups in the English speaking world, including the CWI, were playing the same game of seeking to buy infleunce, and were caught out by con artists!

Tawfiq Chahboune said...

Even by their crazed standards, crazy Trots (is there any other kind?) do something crazy - though not quite as crazy as admiring the sociopaths and anti-socialist (and wearer of funny hats) Lenin and Trotsky. I don't get it. What's the story here?

What John Lennon sang about Mao is equally true about Leninists and Trotskyists: But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow.

No wonder so many people who would be open to socialism shy away from what they think is the Left: the Left *seems* to be dominated by people who genuinely admire sociopaths!

AN said...

Crazy they may be, but the trot groups have held together alayer of cadre that are a resource for the movemetn, and they can be a tremendous asset - if they can just break from the sociopathic delusion that they are always right, an d the cargo Cult belief that if they build a replica of all Bolsheviks than all the red ceremonies will summon the revolutioon from the skies.

The good news is we know it can be done, that is the lasting lesson of the SSP.

Mark P said...

I don't think this is the thread to get into the question of stages, Stalinism or the DSP's politics more generally. I can't however resist pointing out that the notion that the disastrous history of Stalinism in the third world was based on exactly the argument that a working class revolution wasn't possible and that all that could be looked for were "achievable outcomes".

Of course if the working class in incapable of taking power in a historical period, the search for achievable outcomes necessarily means forging alliances with the more "progressive" elements of the capitalist class. So for instance, from where I'm sitting the dissolution of the "socialist" PRD in Indonesia into the "national democratic" PAPERNAS isn't so much a step forward for left unity as a step backwards into third world Stalinism's cross class politics.

Anyway getting away from the contentious issue of what the DSP uses the influence it seeks for and getting back to the core question for the purposes of this thread of how it gains influence in the first place:

Their assistance is not dependent on their advice being taken, but their assistance does add weight to their advice. Even this though isn't the core of what I was driving at. I'm not making some allegation of bribery or corruption. What I am saying is that their relationships are such that the politics can only flow one way. They have the resources to influence their neighbours, their neighbours currently do not have the resources to influence them.

This is a structural problem, which will always exist when revolutionaries from countries with wildly varying levels of wealth seek to work together. In a democratically organised international body, this problem does not automatically disappear but structures do exist which allow for real discussion and influence to flow in both directions. In a one party dictatorship like the IST this isn't true. Neither is it true in the kind of links which the DSP has sought to forge.

neprimerimye said...

The evolution of the international work carried out by the SRG-IS-SWP is long and complicated. And until late in his life Tony Cliff didn't involve himself. It would have been a blessing for the SWP if he had maintained that stance one suspects given that his involvement led to the internal dismantling of the SAG and the loss of valuable cadre as a result.

More importantly the various groups now in the IST are politically at some considerable remove from the politics of the old IS of the early 1970's. Indeed they are some considerable degree to the right of the groups which first came toagether in the annual meetings of the SWP and its international co-thinkers in the early 1980's. Just to cite the most glaring examle of this move to the right today many member groups of the IST camapign not to build the revolutionary party, that is to say their own group, but top build a boroad left party that may well not even be based on the working classes.

While the old approach of the 1980's may justifably be criticsed as sectarian the current approach is far more dangerous in that it may well lead to the total collapse and liquidation of IST groups. Although in the case of Socialist Worker in Aotearoa/New Zealand who would mourn the loss of a group which stands in continuity with the old pro-Albanian 'Communist' Party? A group, I note, which has lost much of its cadre in any case.

With regard to the detail of Andy's piece, naturally I disagree with his rightist critique, I note that the development of Socialist Alternative in Australia was very different from how it is represented here. For a start Tom O'Lincoln was not a founder of the group but had once been in opposition to the leadership of SAlt around Mick Armstrong only joining SAlt some time later. Today SAlt, for all its faults and it is bwedevilled by sectism, is the largest IS group in OZ and the second largest far left group in that country following the Zinovievite DSP. I'm sorry about Dave Glanz's discomforture however as I had some respect for him a long time ago when we worked together but he was never chap able to think independently alas.

That the SWP allege that the LCR is a rightist swamp, true enough mind, is risable given that both IS factions in its ranks are on the right of the Ligue. At least they were opposed to the ruinning of an openly revolutionary communist candidate and in favour of opening the candidature to forcers to the Ligue's right. Forces which, it must be said, are of little social weight and in standing could only muddy the waters.

As for Germany the role played by Lnksruck as not been terribly postive IF one wishes to see the development of a revolutionary pole in a workers' party to the left of the SPD. not that the fusion of the PDS and WASG could development such a new party given that th WASG is small and the PDS consists for the most part of pensioners.

AN said...

I am certainly happy to defer to your knowledge of the history of Socialist Alternative, Mike.

With reagrd to France, i think you are right in saying it is a mistake for the IS groups to be supporting Bove instead of Olivier Besancenot, and you cannot help feelng that this has less to do with France, and more to do with echoing the tactic of tailing Galloway and Sheridan, although Bove does have more integrity than either of those charletans.

Despite the relatively unfavourable age profile of the PDS, the last time I looked into it, i recall they had about 10% of the membership under 30, which would be about 7000 comrades, a reasonable number by the standards of the hard left.

neprimerimye said...

Well i have to agree that Bove has more integrity than Sheridan or Galloway. More importantly I am of the opinion that Besancenot has more integrity than Rees or German. Indeed critical though I am of the LCR their leadership is now more principled, or Bolshevik if you like, than that of the SWP.

As for the PDS even those of its members who are under 30 are not turning left and certainly not to revolutionary politics. Many of them will be functionaries and careerists looking to hold those offices still in the gift of the PDS in either local government of perhaps in the trade unions. The same may well be true of much of the WASG. While the hard left might well find it advisable to work within the new party it is not going to be a good experience or one that will bring many new comrades to the tarnished banners of the sects concerned.

stylegar said...

As usual with these elegies, you happily exclude experiences like South Korea, where the IST group had close to 1000 members last time I checked. And when the concrete behaviour of one IST group seems at odds with your distorted schema, you suspect foul play in one way or another, or brandish the group in question as 'deviating' from the one, true IST (read: SWP) line, like you do with the groups in NZ or Zimbabwe. The IST just isn't the monolithic formation you're describing.

Born sceptic said...

Last time you checked the IST group in South Korea had close to 1000 members? Did you check this in your sleep, right before a giant clown chased you around your kitchen?

DSPer said...

I think there is a gross misrepresentation of the DSP's alliances with a outfits and processes in Asia by Mark P.. The DSP's rejection of "Permanent Revolution" is here caricatured as a shibboleth with which they annoint Asian outfits with an imprimatur. If Mark you were better informed and had made it a habit to read LINKS you'd see that that is not the case. I guess, the best example of why that isn't so, is the Labour Party of Pakistan which aggressively upholds a traditional Trotskyist position on Permanent Revolution but still has excellent relations with the DSP.

As for this crude attempt to suggest that the DSP employs largesse to control and influence other outfits in the region -- you better come up with some facts when you try to pass that furphy around as good coin.

A lot of the DSP networking is premissed on a regroupment perspective and one that does not seek a toy international formula. Inasmuch as any formality exists, the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conferences have been the main get together. While these are usually held in Australia, one has been held in Indonesia-- but as the recent conference of Papernas proves, these localities aren't necessarily safe places to hold conferences.In the case of the Jakarta APSC -- a few participants from Australia were jailed by the military when they arrived.

As for Mark P's more general assertions that equate the DSP's internationalism with the IST -- I gotta laugh, because it is so ignorant of the sort of fraternal relations that do exist and do prosper across the region. These relations and mutual contacts cover Indian parties with a Maoist/Naxalite tradition; classically Trotskyists outfits like the Pakistan Labour Party (who came out of the CWI); the new regroupment project in Indonesia, Papernas; the New Zealand Socialist Worker group (an IST affiliate plus the Unity trade union comrades)and groups that have come out of the collapse of the old Phillippino CPP and, as I recall, even representatives of the US ISO spoke at the last Asia Pacific Conference as well as Stan Goff and reps from the Zimbadewean ISO(who I think is also in the IST). Mark P's problem is that he wants to read a subtext into parties that relate to one another as though it automatically has to parallel cominternism. But very few of these outfits would be networking and participating in this ongoing exchange if any attempt at such cominternism were involved. Thats' the point. And he misses it entirely.

Do you seriously think the New Zealanders. the comrades from Zimbadwe or the US ISO would sign on to speak at ASPC if that was the standard practice?

As for the permanent revolution furphy -- maybe you should check out the recent DSP assessment of Venezuelan Revolution. There's an unfortunate attempt on the far left to caricature the DSP's re-assessment (now almost 20 years on) of Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution.The Venezuelan document is a good way to explore the methodology involved and gets this argument away from comfortable abstractions that most of the Trotskyist left, unfortunately, want to wallow in.

but this is a complex issue that doesn't lend itself to sloganising. But if you want to explore the methodology involved, read the Venezuelan document.

The core excuse for cominternism is to create the "International party" around a set program and exclude the rest. This is the thinking that underscores the IST , the CWI. the FI, et al. But when that isn't the schemata , the whole process changes. It's a totally different logic.

The SWP's problem --which is also a problem for all the local franchises -- is that it is no way to do business as it has inbuilt self destruct switch. If what Andy says is true of the IST, there is a similar problem for the Fourth International and the CWI which feeds off the same logic . Back in the seventies, as an indication of the absurdity involved, the FI tried to engineer a continent wide STRATEGY for Latin America
just as we are treated to talk of a "united front of a special kind" from the IST today.

It also \fosters dependencies so that fledging affiliates expect the mother party to do their thinking for them other than deal with their own context through a process of learning from their own mistakes and building confidence as they go. The ISO's main problem here, as it is for all those splinter grousp in the same tradition, is that they function as empty shells into which IST politics is emptied.

DSPer said...

Sorry. The Venezuelan reference I gave was to the DSP congress resolution . This is the document I was referring to as it is post the recent elections there:After the elections: Assessing Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution

stylegar said...

Born septic said: 'Did you check this in your sleep, right before a giant clown chased you around your kitchen?'

Fuck off, Septic. You would probably not be interested anyway. 'Socialist unity' my arse.

imatrot said...

A: the ISO in Australia may be small but it is bigger than a few dozen with maybe 100 members nationally.

b: It is just simply not true that the ISO blindly follows the line of the SWP. whilst both groups are focusing on the anti war movement tell me why the only reason the ISO would do so is because of the SWP?

c. Dave Glaz's decision to take a back seat role is due to work and personal reasons it has nothing to do with politics.

d. whether or not Socialist Alternative are bigger is not the point they are a propagandist dead end in terms of actually building a revolutionary organisation.

imatrot said...

To DSPer just because the ISO has a similar theoretical background to the SWP does not means that the ISO is an empty shell.

The actual history of the IS tradition in Australia is not of the result of some colonisation but the amalagamation of similar ideas developing here along with the influence of Tom Olincoln from the US.

It may help to sharpen up (your often politically weak) young comrades to polemicise in such ways but it is blatently false.

Maybe you just are annoyed that the ISO critiques your destruction of the Socialist Alliance, soft stalinist tendencies and the fact that the ISO holds a different and in my opinion a better theoretical framework for analysing the world.

Anonymous said...

Mark P accuses the DSP of using patronage to colonise the SE Asian Left with our politics, in a similar fashion to the SWP/IST. This baseless smear insults us, and just as importantly, insults our allies in the SE Asia -- and it is more than a little ironic. In my 15 years of experience in the DSP I have found that themeatic to discussion of international solidarity work has been the importance of solidarity that does NOT push a politcal wheelbarrow - ie tell others how to conduct their work or what line they should adopt. I am confindent that the DSP has been true to its word in this respect because of our own negative experiences with the US SWP in the early 1980's. In that respect, we have been like the son who has consciously sought to avoid the errors of his father (although I'm not implying that the US SWP was like our father).

DSPer said...

I'm sorry as I did not mean to come across as crude as I've been made out to be. My general point was that cominternism functions by giving franchisees politics-- otherwise whats' the point of it in terms of the big picture? The presumption being that the politics so shared are correct ones.Perhaps they are. But inbuilt in such a formulaic approach to internationalism is the problem that when they are wrong -- the whole gang catches the disease. And I think thats' a trap. Look at Gerry Healey's toy international?

The irony is that in terms of international relations the DSP has probably better relations with other sections of the IST than its affiliate in Australia? Why? Because the ISO "know" what the DSP is like and other IST sections don't? OK. believe that if you will -- but the core problem I suggest is that the way the ISO do politics, and the other IST like groups are similar, is not one premissed by a regroupment agenda --and as is referenced here, the DSP is "stalinist" or "soft stalinist" anyway and that is supposed to tell us everything we care to know about the matter.

End of story...!

And this is where we come back to the problem of IST cominternism -- implicit in every comintern formula is the core belief that we're revolutionary and everyone else isn't or is wanting in that department. Essentially it is the politics of arrogance based on... what? And that's' the problem. Lenin's 3rd International was warped (initially to revolutionary advantage)by the presence, status and role of the CPSU -- but we don't have that today as a basis to excuse a leading role of one section of these toy internatioanals over another/ or one toy international over another toy international. But that's the logic that was set in motion by Trotsky in 1938 and the same disease has become chronic since then. Go back and read the bull Trotsky wrote about the Fourth International and its historic destiny.

And we poor heirs follow the formula chapter and verse because we think it is the way to do international work: ergo set up a sort of "international" party.

I'm saying it's a trap. And if you look at the real history of these outfits -- eg: take Andy Newman's potted history here -- you have to ask yourself whats' the friggin point? Where are the gains that are supposed to be on offer? All I see (and it was the same for the FI) is a history of factionalism and power plays without much change at the coal face.- -- even disrupting the ability of sections to do politics.(Thats' true of the ISO here isn't it with the expulsions now and then? It was true for the DSP up until 1985.) Thats' true of the IST, thats' true of the FI and it's true of the CWI and any other pompous outfit that claims the mantle.

Better I say to drop all this international organisational pretense and open yourself up to a more organic and inclusive internationalism where outfits work out ALL THEIR OWN politics and make ALL THEIR OWN mistakes -- while sending shibboleths to the garbage bin.

Thats' the good oil.Without it you can't adopt the sort of humility you need to learn from other comrades' experiences nor the confidence to learn from your own.

Peter Boyle said...

I recently visited Indonesia to attend the launch of PAPERNAS, the National Liberation Party of Unity, on behalf of the DSP. Among other foreign observers was a member of the German PDS, Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo from Laban Ng Masa in the Philippines and a comrades from the Malaysian Socialist Party (PSM). These are all parties the DSP has worked with but they don't belong to some "international" formal or informal. These relations are based on political solidarity and mutual non-interference. The comrades in the PRD and PAPERNAS are doing things the way they think best, not as the DSP or any other group has told them to as Mark P insultingly suggests (he should go tell that to the Indonesian comrades' faces).

Re the "dissolving" PRD, see:

Dita Sari: `The movements need a political breakthrough'

here, and here, and here.

Anonymous said...


> Has the PRD "disolved" like he says?

Re the "dissolving" PRD, see:

Dita Sari: `The movements need a political breakthrough'


AN said...

Well I am glad we have been joined by the DSP comrades to argue their own corner.

And I totally agree that it is necessary to look at devlopments in the concrete rather than following abstarct schema.

With regard to Stylgar's point. I omitted discussion of the Korean group simply on the basis that I know nothing about them. There are clearly occasions when the different IS groups develop their own positions, for example the thesis from Keiran Allan that Ireland is not a neo-colony. A position that was never promoted within the British SWP.

However the essential model that London is correct and has a rigt to interfere is well documented. Not only does Cliff's autobiography boast of the way he interfered in the German and French sections, but we have the very well documented case of the split between the ISO and SWP, where Alex Callinicos even got hold of the e-mail lists and started e-mailing direct to ISO members - but without the ISO having any reciprocal way of involving the British SWP membership.

What is most bizarre is that - as the ISO attest - not a single one of the IST's sections contacted the ISO to askk their side of the story.

the trouble with this cominternism is that it is all predicated upon differentiation within the left, on the assumption that the special merits of theory that seperates one group from the rest gives them thw right to be the vanguard.

In fact this is obviously false. Despite almost the same theoretical background the ISO(USA) and SWP(GB) had a different appreciation of the significance of the anti-globalistaion movement. Rather than letting this play out and see who was right, London felt they had some special access to the truth.

The IST are not unique in this, look how the CWI has fallen out with the oabor party of pakistan or the Scottish comrades.

Dave Riley said...

I need to take up this point by imatrot about the 'destruction' of the Socialist Alliance.

If only it were true then we could all go home happy and get on with our various political lives separate from one another the way things were back in the good old days of closed caucus politics at ten paces.... There are many critiques examining the "destruction" of the (Australian) Socialist Alliance by the DSP but none of them are true.Last time I looked the SA seemed to be functioning OK.

It IS true that the ISO no longer play a part in it.In fact they notified the SA leadership only last month of their exit. Nonetheless the door is always open for the ISO comrades to return. And frankly I wish that the ISO would reconsider their position. We all do.

The problem with the ISO's past role in the SA was that it tried to drag the Alliance toward a Respect template when the majority of the SA MEMBERSHIP did not want that. You can go on about the DSP ,I'm sure, in way of seeking someone to blame for this rejection, but the ISO's primary motivation was to create a Respect-type franchise in Australia. This is why the ISO was so keen to limit the SA to being an electoral coalition and restrict its extra parliamentary activities. It was this insistence that isolated the ISO and the other small affiliates in the Alliance. This is also why their exit (by default initially over a year back) didn't impact greatly on the Alliance and the branch it vacated -- the Wills branch/the ISO's 'model' branch --still prospers.

The ISO's tactical problem was that it also had to pretend to non aligned SA members that it supported the new party dynamic while trying at the same time to roll the project back to an electoral coalition. To cover this contradiction, the ISO sort to engineer a block against the DSP -- thus we get treated to any number of excuses blaming the DSP for anything & everything that was supposed to be wrong with the Socialist Alliance.

It may be convenient to suggest that the SA is dead but in my neck of the woods -- Brisbane -- for example,we've consolidating a succesful & important partnership with the local Murri community, led by key aboriginal leaders like Sam Watson who consider that the SA is very much alive:

From an interview I did with SAM WATSON: “For the past five or six years, the Aboriginal political impetus seemed to have been lost because of the enormous pressure placed on us by state and federal administrations. The Socialist Alliance has formed close working partnerships with key Aboriginal leaders and have been strong supporters of major Aboriginal political initiatives, such as those around the deaths in custody campaign, the continuing struggle for land rights, for equal wages, the return of the stolen wages, and our struggle for secure, meaningful long-term employment and secure, decent housing, health care and education....The Socialist Alliance has shown that it is the only political group in Australia that is prepared to cultivate and present Aboriginal candidates in state and federal elections. So I’m a proud member of the Socialist Alliance, as well as a proud Aboriginal person who has been committed to social justice and Aboriginal civil rights for some decades.” SOURCE

Is Sam talking bullshit? Is he a duped fool? Or is he telling it like it is?

Sam will be the SA's lead senate candidate in Queensland at the upcoming federal election.And if you want to check out the current SA campaign for the NSW state election, go here You also should note that Sam has led the succesful campaign to have Qld copper charged for the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee. This is a historic win for the Indigenous Movement in this country.

neprimerimye said...

Imatrot wrote "whether or not Socialist Alternative are bigger is not the point they are a propagandist dead end in terms of actually building a revolutionary organisation."

There are problems with this statement in that none of the left groups in OZ are much more than small insignificant propaganda groups at very best marginal to the working classes and their shrunken organisations. In that regard the ISO is no different at all from Socialist Alternative whatever airs and graces it might wish to give itself. All of the groups, including SA, have problems with sectism that result from an inflated self image, derived to some considerable degree from the Zinovievite model of party building.

Again if ISO is politically superior to SA then it is fair to ask the comrades from the ISO for proof. But when one searchs the ISO site one can find nothing that indicates that it has a practice qualitatively superior to that of SA. Indeed in tarrying overlong in the dead electoralist dead end of the Socialist Alliance the tactical judgement of its leadership seems inferior to that of SA. Moreover one searches in vain for documentary proof of the political superiority of the ISO and finds that the political/programatic differences between the two groups are not developed by the ISO at all. Strange that if the ISO is politically inependent of the Rees-German opportunists.

Also strange in relation to the development of the IS tendency in Australia that of all the founding and leading comrades in the 70's and 80's who remain politically activenot a single one is in the ranks of the ISO. Quite a few however are in SA. Odd that.

Liam Mac Uaid said...

It always amuses me when I go to Belfast and by the spookiest coincidence the posters advertising SWP meetings are identical to what you see in London. It's a bit like the Starbucks approach to politics. A more pertinent point is that it is not possible to manufacture a revolutionary international organisation unless it's established during a period of revolutionary upheaval. I think too that such a grouping needs a minimum of two or three component organisations with comparable political authority. The current international groupings are holding operations.

AN said...

Mike has a point here,

I don't want to dispute whether or not the ISO or SAlt are better than one another, but most noticeably the political differences between the two groups are more tactical and strategic rather than being ones of fundamental principle.

The differences seem to be more that the ISO are more inclined to follow whatever wheeze that London comes up with next,, whereas the SAlt comrades develop their own perspectives based upon their own experience.

If the IST were realy serious they would try to broker a reunificatioon of the various IS groups in Oz. BUt the pretentioons of a mini-Comintern that excludes the ISO(USA) are clearly based aout the prestige an authority of London, rather than trying to develop living relationships.

With ragrd toiio Dave Riley's point, I think he is being a little uncharitable to the ISO(oz) in saying "that it also had to pretend to non aligned SA members that it supported the new party dynamic ". i suspect that their position was not so much consciously duplicitous as contradictory, is so far that they probably genuinely believe that had the SA followed the Respect colaition model then things would have improved.

It is hard wired into the SWP mind set that the successful experiences of the best areas can be duplicated if only you try a little harder, and if they can't be dupolklicated it is not becasue objective circumstances are different (exceptionalism) but beacseu you are crap.

AN said...


Thinkking of the expereince of SR in Britain though, it has allowed you to leverage the clout of the LCR, for example getting big name speakers, etc.

Mark P said...

I find myself grinning a bit at some of the more intemperate responses to my earlier posts from partisans of the DSP.

People who regularly claim that socialist organisations around the world are mere local franchises or are incapable of thinking for themselves because they are part of an international organisation muster all of their outrage that someone should supposedly suggest something similar about organisations which their own group seeks to influence! I can smell the hypocrisy from halfway around the world. It is apparently alright to make these kinds of claima about say the United Socialist Party or the NSSP in Sri Lanka, but it is a shocking and grave "insult" to supposedly make a similar remark about say the PRD/PAPERNAS in Indonesia!

Of course I say "supposedly" because I did not in fact say that any organisation merely does what it is told by the DSP. I did not mirror the kind of arguments their partisans regularly make about everbody else, instead I made the much less aggressive argument that the DSP has a profoundly unequal relationship with the groups it seeks to influence in that part of the world. What's more I specifically denied that this relationship was based on anything as crass as bribing such groups to adopt DSP ideas.

Instead what I actually argued was that:

Their assistance is not dependent on their advice being taken, but their assistance does add weight to their advice. Even this though isn't the core of what I was driving at. I'm not making some allegation of bribery or corruption. What I am saying is that their relationships are such that the politics can only flow one way. They have the resources to influence their neighbours, their neighbours currently do not have the resources to influence them.

This is a structural problem, which will always exist when revolutionaries from countries with wildly varying levels of wealth seek to work together. In a democratically organised international body, this problem does not automatically disappear but structures do exist which allow for real discussion and influence to flow in both directions. In a one party dictatorship like the IST this isn't true. Neither is it true in the kind of links which the DSP has sought to forge.

The DSP, simply put, has the money for the websites, publications, foreign trips and so on. This gives it the potential to influence the groups it seeks to sway in the region. Those groups do not have the resources to have a reciprocal effect without democratic international structures to operate in.

On another point, various DSP posters have complained about my use of the word dissolution when discussion the relationship of the "socialist" PRD to the "national democratic" PAPERNAS. The very article you link to in response makes it clear that the PRD is setting aside its seperate activism to build the non-socialist PAPERNAS. It is of course true that the PRD will still retain a formal organisation on a diminished scale. This is what I was talking about when I described these events as less a step forward for left unity and more a step backwards into Stalinist ideas of cross class coalitions. Ideas which have led to complete disaster for the Indonesian left before.

Dave Riley said...

If anyone wants to call me uncharitable I will concede that I perhaps was so in the way I phrased the point I was trying to make. So I'll apologize for any of that inference of duplicity. Let's accept instead Andy's formulation that the ISO found itself in a contradictory position after the 2004 conference.

My general point was that their approach was to foster a Respect template in Australia. And I make that point because it relates to what i see is the IST's penchant for universal tactics. I cannot see how a version of Respect can be engineered here as the components that make up Respect aren't replicable in Australia at the present time and especially not while the Alliance exists. The associated complication is that any electoral coalition here would soon enough beg the question of forming a new political party -- and that was precisely the trajectory the Socialist Alliance followed because that question was posed so sharply by the SA membership.

I gather that in the case of Respect in England the SWP is weighted enough within it to dampen down such a new party dynamic. I cannot see such a ready strength being available elsewhere without totally crippling the formation from the instance of its birth.

So I see the Respect strategy having a few major drawbacks no matter how universally it may be promoted.

imatrot said...

Dave Riley holds on to the mirage of the ISO supposed wish to import "Respect" into Australia like a drunk picks a fight with a lightpost. It simply isn't real and it just makes him look stupid.

The arguments we had were against the DSP's move towards a 'multi tendency party' and calling for a braoder electoral alliance. But it was never proposed that it was possible of even desirable to create a Respect type organisation in Australia.

Dave Riley obviously takes umbrance with an motion at a Alliance national conference to acknowledge the success of Respect and the election of Galloway. A motion that was defeated with the help of the DSP on the basis of a conspiracy theory that this meant that the ISO was saying that the Alliance should turn itself into Respect. Surprising in the sense that the SSP model was always triumphed (this of course being an example of 'good' imports from overseas).Another example of the DSP's control freakery that led to every motion that was not imbued with enough of their fantaticism to be defeated, a move that was to see the withdrawal of the majority of the non aligned members. (That is non alligned in the sense of they didn't subsequently join the DSP aka Dave Riley himself and Alex (lets take it outside) Miller.)

The failure of the "alliance' can be found in that it hasn't lived up to the DSP's overblown expectations and is the real empty shell in the Australian far left, especially after the DSP hounded out the vast majority of affiliates and independently minded independents who dared stand up to the DSP. Even signifigant sections of the DSP accept this reality expressed by the formation of the Leninist Party Faction.If dave Riley thinks that what exists now is a functioning Alliance god help us!

In terms of which of the ISO or SA are better than the other was not my point. The ISO has recognised, and that is partly why we joined the Alliance in the first place, that Salts ultra (abstract) propagandist way of building is not how to build revolutionary politics whilst at the same time attempting to build mass movements.

Whilst it is true that the ISO has made mistakes along the way, as a wise person once said if you never make mistakes then you musn't have done anything. However, it has continued to grapple with the problem facing the left the world over of how to build revolutionary politics and relate to a broader movement.

imatrot said...

In addtion it is not possible to point to one success in this case Sam Watson. One dish doesn't make a banquet. (By the way the ISO supported Sams qld election campaign despite having a position of non involvement with the Alliance).

Whilst having an activist like Sam in the Alliance is a good thing it doesn't cover the large problems with the organisation and doesn't mean the Alliance has any larger presence. Similary whilst an ISO member is the sectretary of the NSW Firefighters union that does not mean that we have a significant base in the workers movement or even the firefighters union itself.

The fact might be that some branches of the Alliance may still function.However, will Dave deny that the level of activity, attendence and total number of branches has reduced significantly? That is what is left is a rebadged DSP plus a few left over individuals. The Alliance will continue stumbling on until the DSP comes to its senses and either puts it to sleep which would hardly cause a wimper or allow the obvious contradiction between the reality of the Alliance and its overblown perspective of it collide and further weaken its organisation, a history that can be viewed by the Leninist Party Faction, and the small split based in Melbourne,and the subsequent faction fight that that threatens to further split the organisation and in a more devastating way. Hopefully that doesn't happen as the left in Australia could do without any more splits

cliffspab said...

An interesting discussion.

The Canadian IS has had one split of significance, back in early 1996. Those who left the IS formed the New Socialist Group which publishes a good magazine, New Socialist. However, the group is only mildly active in Toronto, mostly out of York University where David McNally is a professor. The Canadian IS remains the dominant socialist group in Canada, though it is still largely Ontario-based.

If anyone is interested, here's a history of the Canadian IS from its origins in the early 1970s to its eventual linking up with the IS/SWP in the latter half of the decade.

Regarding the SWP(UK)/ISO(US) split, it's a mistake to claim that this was simply a dispute between these two groups, with no input from other IST groups. I won't dispute the nastiness of the split and the many questionable manoeuvres from both sides (many of which we must admit are rumours, lies and half-truths).

However, in the period leading up to the split, the Canadian IS had more than a handful of negative experiences with the ISO. This was especially true at the A16 World Bank demos in DC. A couple of examples. Firstly, ISO members urged their Canadian comrades not to sell copies of the Canadian Socialist Worker. Secondly, the ISO organized a forum during the protests to commemorate the political legacy of Tony Cliff (who had died about a week earlier) rather than build, attend and raise Marxist politics in the numerous movement events being held at the same time (a point raised by Canadian IS and ignored by the ISO). Things like this, and a bunch of other examples, all exemplified the ISO's unwillingness to seriously engage the anti-globalization movement, but rather stand out as the "real" revolutionaries. Hypocritically, during the split almost a year later, the ISO SC would write that it was the Canadian IS who was ultraleft at A16 for having a handful of "One Solution Revolution" placards (among others). There are more examples like this, and it should be noted that nearly all these tensions and disagreements emerged following Seattle.

Needless to say, most critics of the SWP's role in this split completely ignore this Canadian aspect, effectively adopting the ISO's accusation that the Canadian IS "rubber stamped" the SWP's decision. The Canadian IS did not take the decision lightly as if losing an ally in the United States made no difference.

This particular international aspect is of course skimmed over by Cliff and Callinicos in their letters and the one pamphlet on the split. This is one reason why so few who discuss this split fail to address the Canadian IS's role and experience. This is understandable but also reveals that few people have a grasp of what really happened beyond the documents available. Of course, I don't claim to know the entire story, but I do know one part that is never told.

AN said...


An unchartable person reading your comments about the SA(oz) failing to live up to its "overblown pers" cannot help but compare the gap between hype and reality of Respect!

Also, although I can only judge Australian events from a distance, it is clear that the ISO did have a different concpet of the SA as a shared electoral badge, while the constituent organisations would lead an independent life between elections. (This can be agined for examople from reading the ISO's own contributions to SA debates, comparing the life in Will's branch to the rest of the SA).

At root, the position of the SWP and its daughter organisations is that on pronciple there must be an organisational sepratation between reformists and revolutionsries. It therefore resisted a partyist logic within the SA(England) and launched Respect on that model.

Now, Alex callinicos used to deny that respect was seen as a model for others to follow, but their unprincipled split from the SSP, and failed attempt to lumber Solidarity with a resepct type model have proven they do have this as an international model.

Also, the issue of the DSP and its international links is a bit of a distraction from the point I was originally making, that the DSP approach is the same that the IS used to adopt before the 1980s.

AN said...


To be fair the examples you give are no more than the differences I have experienced of different emphases between differnet SWP regions in England at times in the past.

They hardy amount to the sort of principled differences that justify political splits.

AN said...


Cut and paste error, that should have read

"An unchartable person reading your comments about the SA(oz) failing to live up to its "overblown perspectives" cannot help but compare the gap between hype and reality of Respect!

Dave Riley said...

imatrot begs the question: if the ISO supports Sam Watson's SA election campaign,why then wouldn't it support other SA candidates? Or do they have to be aboriginal before they get the nod from the ISO? Is that the criterion?

If that is so, shouldn't the ISO also be working for Jacqueline Xtreme's campaign in the NSW elections? She's a Koorie, you see. Surely she also deserves the nod....

Rohan G said...

The Australian experience shows that overcoming left disunity is a difficult and complicated task - a risky venture with which can come undone easily.

Imatrot accuses the DSP of control freakery by trying to impose a model - that of a multi-tendancy socialist party (MTSP). I am concerned that those who are unfamiliar with the SA unity factional struggle will conclude that this is a fair and reasonable accusation, because to seek to impose your own model - that is, YOUR prefered organisational structure - goes against the spirit of how authentic unity should be achieved. I want to discuss two questions in this regard: 1) Why did the DSP push for SA to be a MTSP? 2) Is the concept of a MTSP really a model - in other words, is this the best way to characterise the idea of a MTSP?

The SA got started with discussion for joint electoral work between the DSP, ISO and other left groups. I'm not going to attempt a plotted history here, the important point is that agreement was reached to develop an "electoral alliance". This was a significant step forward in left unity. But it also carried a logic that left unity would materialise perhaps only during election campaigns. The DSP had a much more ambitious goal than left unity operating for a few weeks or months with gaps of years in between depending on State and Federal election timetables. So the DSP collectively decided to cease operating as it had done - with a primary focus of building itself as a public party - and instead operate as an internal tendency in the SA with primary focus on building the SA and a push for the SA to be a MTSP.

I think this frightened the pants off many of the groups - especially the ISO - who hadn't expected such a maneuver. The down side of this move, I think, is that it played into other groups' paranoia. "What the hell are the DSP doing?" they asked. What were trying to pull off is a principled opportunistic maneuver. We weren't going to f**k around with left unity in a talk-shop fashion. We saw an opportunity to stop building us (so to speak) and start building SA as a vehicle for more serious unity instead. Trying to achieve unity by ideas first and then moving to practical unity smacks of idealism in the philosophical sense. Doing things this way, the risk of endless talkshopping and nitpicking is very great - especially after years of organisational competition and mutual distrust. So rather than raising the idea of deeper more practical unity - in the form of a MTSP - in theory, by putting out the call for it in the abstract, the DSP decided that we should use our resources and commitment to get the ball rolling and lead the way by example.

In this respect the MTSP so-called "model" was merely the most appropriate general structure for a more seriously unified organisation - one that had room for authentic left social democrats as well as all the various tendencies for revolutionary socialism. But as Andy has noted, "The position of the SWP and its daughter organisations is that on principle there must be an organisational sepratation between reformists and revolutionaries." So they weren't going to buy it. They and their mothership wanted SA as an elections only vehicle - something that inoculated them the spread of Reformism. They therefore accused the DSP of trying to impose the SSP MTSP "model" on SA. Is the MTSP concept a model? I don't want to get into a semantic debate but isn't a model a blueprint that deliniates both form and structure? For example, is a single tendency socialist party a model? I think the answer is, "Not really." The ISO were accusing us of attempting to introduce the SSP party structure onto SA, which we weren't. For us the SSP was an inspiration in what was possible - an example - but not a model to copycat because democracy entails developing your own organisational structure through discussion and debate.

The ISO should not be taken seriously when they say that SA is a failure - whereas this would not necessarily be the case if others said the same thing. Now that the ISO have jumped ship, they have to say it is sinking!

AN said...

Rohan, you sent me an e-mail off list about your blog, but I somehow accidently deleted before reading it - so if you could send it again please.

imatrot said...

Dave i don't know what you are getting at with your wierd post.

The reason the ISO supported Sam in the state election is that we didn't see that there was anything better or any other more useful way of intervening in the election. Further Sam is a high profile Murri activist and especially considering the role that he played in the Palm Island death in custody campaign. Thus, we thought supporting Sam was the right thing to do.

Further, in the upcoming Federal election the ISO is trying to intervene around the issue of Iraq. This will mean different stratagies in different areas.

I think what i was trying to infer was that the ISO is still maintaining a non sectarian approach to the Alliance and that if it is possible to work together then we should

cliffspab said...

an wrote: To be fair the examples you give are no more than the differences I have experienced of different emphases between differnet SWP regions in England at times in the past.

They hardy amount to the sort of principled differences that justify political splits.

You've completely missed the point. I did not claim that these examples alone amounted to grounds for a principled split. The examples I gave were symptoms of a larger political dispute. Nor did I say that this political problem was the entire reason for the split. There were obviously other issues involved.

Rather, my intention was simply to provide a brief summary of the relations between the ISO and IS Canada during the political period leading up to the split - an experience which undercuts the claim that the split was simply the work of a dictatorial SWP Central Committee, or Alex Callinicos for that matter. In short, the general understanding of the split has rarely, if ever, considered the experience of the Canadian IS, and that this understanding is therefore incomplete (and in my opinion, seriously flawed).

Dave Riley said...

But imatrot, whether Sam is a candidate for the SA or not it still is the SAME party with the SAME policies and the SAME membership and to some significant degree, the SAME voters.You are suggesting that your tactics are to support Sam Watson and perhaps no other. Thats' your right but I think it is very contradictory especially when you assert so keenly that the SA is dead.

If it is dead, does that mean it perhaps lives in Queensland because Sam gives it 'life'? And if it were England, what would you think of a left group who decided to only support George Galloway and no other Respect candidate but preferred to stay out of Respect?

Now if your electoral strategy is to focus on the Iraq war and you are not planning to stand candidates yourself then, say, in NSW, you should also support such leading anti- war activists as Pip Hinman and Raoul Bassi-- shouldn't you -- in the present state poll? They ARE leading anti war activists aren't they? The trap I hope you don't set yourselves up for is the one Socialist Alternative wallows in -- to religiously ignore the SA and call instead for a vote for the Greens and ALP as though the Alliance didn't exist, even when you editorialise

But hasn't the SA got much better policies on the war than these other parties because the ISO help write them? Isn't its anti war platform the best the ISO could help draft?

The SA will work with you in a New York minute -- you know, and we know, that -- because the SA has worked with and comprised the ISO for the past 6 years and as far as I can gather there was not one massive difference over matters of tactics and policy -- except when the SA adopted a new party mode. The ISO even voted for the SA resolution on defence for Cuba without a blink. There were ways around most differences you see -- even on Cuba!

I can understand strategic interest and flexible electoral policy but if the Alliance's vote is something of the magnitude of one percent or two percent or whatever, how do you classify the hundreds of people in each electorate who vote for it? Shouldn't they know that it's supposed to be dead?

[I often wonder what 'life' the ISO's proposed electoral coalition was supposed to have between polls. How could it boast more 'life' than the present Alliance which is actively involved in so many campaigns in its own name,week in week out; runs any number of activities around the country and picks up traction in the bourgeois media as being the main culprits for this and that --because so often we ARE.]

I want to open the SA up as much as possible to the ISO even when it is outside it but I fear you have isolated yourself a bit by exiting so formally and while I'm sure there will be a sector on the far left who will read your exit as proof positive of the moribund state of the Alliance there are others, I think many more others, who will mark the ISO down for being dismissive of left unity.

You will pay a price, you see,.. but I'm sure you know that.

I realize you have a different tactical appreciation but you are forcing yourself into the same political ambivalence that plagued the IST members in Scotland, but with the one major difference that you do not have a competing project on this particular island.

The other factor I guess relevant to this discussion is that in terms of alliances and reach out the SA is very proactive and you'll know that Raoul Bassi ( a SA candidate in the NSW elections)came under red baiting attack recently because he is former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mamdouh Habib's election campaign manager in the current NSW elections.

Habid's not a SA member and is unlikely to be but he is standing on a progressive platform linked to the Moslem community in Western Sydney. But that didn't stop the Sydney press trying to denigrate this supposed "ex terrorist" as being a front campaign for the SA. But Habid's campaign grew out of a suburban anti war activism, did it not, that the SA western Sydney comrades are involved in?

The SA has had the same or similar supportive stance in Victoria in regard to the independent socialist campaigns of Steve Jolley(SP) and Jorge Jorquera.

But my view would be that any new alliances are more likely to develop and consolidate outside polling days --so I suggest there is a limit to how effective an electoral strategy can be by itself and it is a mistake to narrow your tactical focus...which I fear you do for all the reasons we have been discussing in this thread.

imatrot said...

Dave you remind me of a very stubborn emperor with no clothes. That is, everyone continues to tell you you have no clothes on but still you keep triumphing the wonderful fabric.

I don't know who you are kidding in your reference to the few hundred (if it actually passed the double digits) voters for the alliance justifies its existance. The same laughable position was adopted with the 500 concious voters for socialism guff after Sam's campaign. In terms of statisitics it just falls into the margin of error. Further, it would be possible to claim, on your argument, that the dummy or spoilt vote has the same amount of justification. Further, it is important to understand the importance of a decent vote and the demoralisation caused by such miniscule returns.

Many people were attracted to the Alliance during electoral campaigns but were soon demoralised because of the such low vote. Whilst hardened revolutionaries can justify this, people who are just shifting to the left and are still attached to the idea of electoral politics can be easily put off by it.

This is exactly what happened after the Oxley campaign that saw ISO Alliance candidates get the largest Alliance return in the state election but a significantly smaller result in the federal election. By the way, the State result showed the strength of the ISO local campaign strategy around local issues such as the sale of public housing as compared to the propagandist approach that the DSP led the Alliance down. However, because of subjective and objective reasons this wasn't able to be continued in the Federal campaign.

Further, i don't get your point about who we should support. Surely you are contradicting yourself if you think it is wrong to support one Alliance campaign and not another, whilst you admit that you support the Socialist Party with Jolly, but do you support its other candidates (if they have any)?. Do you support the Progressive Labour Party (who by the way got a lot more votes than the Alliance ever have) in Newcastle or do you run against them like you have done before? Do you support the Socialist Equality party?

What are you trying to infur about Habib? are you saying we wouldn't support him just because of Raul Bassi and the fact that SA is involved in the western Sydney anti war movement or are you just rambling innanities? I personally think it would be a great idea for people to get involved in that campaign.

AN said...


Yes I am afriad I am stil missing the point.

Did the Canadian IS have direct input into the decision of the IST to expell the ISO?

Dave Riley said...

To Imatrot:I agree that the ISO were probably 'demoralised', as you say, by the SA votes but that was because you set yourself for such a fall. You couched your involvement within electoral parameters and of course the SA hasn't delivered as you hoped. There's this parallel universe going on here to the extent that you simply don't get it.(Although I know some of your members do).I'm not suggesting you are alone on the left in that regard but you have this rigid interventionist schema that it has to be an electoral coalition according to your set template or the whole exercise isn't worthy of your engagement.

On the other hand I'm saying --among other things -- that the SA is a major asset on the left because of the support it has garnered, the networks it has consolidated and the national organisation it has fostered.

But I expect you'd want to dismiss all that as just "the DSP rebadged"...

Thats' your prerogative, I guess -- but what if, in fact, the Alliance was actually succeeding to some degree and what if it was establishing itself as a small but significant pole of attraction on the left? ... Where does that leave you -- after handing over the credits so vociferously to the DSP?

Thats' why I don't think it is very useful or very wise to so keenly announce its demise when it obviously isn't dead. All you are doing is isolating yourself from whatever motion there is within and around the Socialist Alliance. If I were you, I'd try to have a bit each way...

cliffspab said...

Well, I don't remember the IST expelling the ISO but rather the SWP severing relations and requesting that IST-affiliated groups to do so. Whether one wants to conflate the SWP/SWP-CC/Callinicos with the IST is up to them, though I suspect this will be done mostly by those hell-bent on skirting any engagement with the content of the debate for other purposes.

Nevertheless, IS Canada's decision to follow the SWP's call had nothing to do with "rubber stamping" a decision, but was based on real strained relations emanating from political differences with the ISO. As for how other groups in the IST severed relations, I don't know. We can certainly appreciate why the SEK did so.

My point was that the relationship and history between IS Canada and the ISO is a dimension that is not brought up in the critiques of the SWP's role in the split and the IST in general. Not knowing this and/or failing to bring this history up undermines the criticisms.

Although, I suppose one can "get my point" and register the information, but simply discard it when it comes to re-evaluating their analysis of the split.

cliffspab said...

a sentence in their should read "As for why other groups in the IST severed relations..."

imatrit said...

i wasn't talking about the ISO being demoralised but the people we drew around us during campaign.

If you want to kid yourself there hasn't been a major drop of in activity then please yourself just let those who want to escape your fantasy land live peacefully in reality

Dave Riley said...

Anyone who wants to assess how moribund the AustralianSocialist Allianceis, should check out its web pages for an overview or do a "Socialist Alliance" search of the Green Left Weekly pages on the web.

My view would be that of all the left groups in Australia it is the SA that is currently making the most headway in what are difficult times here.

The SA critics' main problem is that they have no way of knowing who is in the Alliance and who isn't.

A test for the project currently is that we have to re-register the party federally before the middle of this year. All parties without members in federal parliament were summarily de-registered in December last year. It's not a huge ask -- 500 members with statutory declarations to that fact.

I point out however, that once registered, the Alliance will be officially recognised as a bona fide political party under federal electoral laws and will appear as such on all ballot papers for the election due this year(& on all TV screens covering the event). So voters will have the choice to vote Labor or Green...or this outfit claiming it's the Socialist Alliance. Thats' the advantage of registration and we've been registered thus far for years. The problem that our critics don't address at all is that the Alliance is seen by thousands of Australians as the official face of socialism in this country. And as far as many are concerned any reference to socialists probably means to the Alliance.This is why we have been so succesful in regional areas -- as people have related to and joined the Alliance after noting our electoral presence. This is also partly why the Alliance signifies a major break from the inner urban ghetto-isation of the socialist left.

Voting is another matter -- and for the moment the Greens have soaked up most of the protest vote left of the Australian Labor Party.

Outside of elections, where the Alliance is mostly engaged, the SA is heavily involved in many campaigns nationally.We had been working hard trying to steer the massive trade union rallies over Howard's IR legislation away from the crippling control of the ACTU bureaucracy/ALP. Although we registered some gains in that regard during the early mass mobilisations, it's clear now that the only focus allowed is "your rights at work: worth voting(Labor) for!" It remains to be seen whether Labor if elected will tear up the industrial legislation.

Aside from our ongoing anti-war work and last year our key role around the Lebanon invasion, the Alliance has been the major partner to the Indigenous community in the militant street driven campaign around the death in police custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004. This campaign won a historic victory with the charging of the copper concerned. It also signals the return of the alliance between the socialist left and militant indigenous leaders that was a notable achievement of the old Communist Party here.Sam Watson, for instance,as a result of his tactical presence & leadership during this campaign is probably now one of the main indigenous leaders in the country. Whether we can translate that into votes remains to be seen. But in the wake of a massive racist resurgance in Australia and the gutting of all autonomous aboriginal services the indigenous fightback is a very significant benchmark.

We've also garnered a significant presence in the LBGT community especially in New South Wales. Aside from the everyday campaigning, these shots of our Mardi Gras presence suggests a rather vibrant side to our supposed dead project.

At the present time our NSW branches are engaged in the state election and our candidate package indicates some of the depth that exists in the Alliance.

[I was going to offer more but my browser crashed and I lost it]

Rohan G said...


I don't know who you are kidding in your reference to the few hundred (if it actually passed the double digits) voters for the alliance justifies its existance..

...Many people were attracted to the Alliance during electoral campaigns but were soon demoralised because of the such low vote. Whilst hardened revolutionaries can justify this, people who are just shifting to the left and are still attached to the idea of electoral politics can be easily put off by it.


Yep, it's very true that many people have been demoralised by SA's poor vote results. But the DSP doesn't make the political mistake of justifying the existance of our electoral work, in partnership with others in the SA, mostly or only in terms these results. Partly that's because we don't build a conceptual wall between electoral work and building revolutionary politics.

Ths SA ship isn't glamorous. It has a few leaks here and there. But it's floating along nicely though - whatever you think.

AN said...

I cannot comment on the specifics of the Oz theatre.

But with regard to electoral work generally, it is a long haul process, and we shouldn't expect quick gains. It needs patience, and continuity using the same electoral label time and time again.

The trouble for me with Iamatrot's arguments, that the SA demoralises people due to its lack of electroal success, is that you can extend this to arguing that given the difficult state of the left and our relative lack of success and infleunce in almost every field we should all give up altogther!

Dave Riley said...

I think what AN says is true and there has been a wave of passivity that has come over the far left here in Australia as most groups (but not the ISO I should point out) have chosen to retire to the bunker. The core feature of the SA is that it does return to the attack time and time again --and as I went to some pains to point out, the electoral sphere is only one component of this. The problem with these rationales about electoralism that the ISO utilize is that here it panders to the logic of The Greens.

If you think the marker for a socialist left or of political relevance is an electoral presence, then why bother with the hard yards on the far left? Why not sign on with the Greens? As I have pointed out elsewhere there is a layer here in Australia who have retired from socialist and Marxist politics and have joined the Greens. So any attempt to create a sort of quasi left formation here in the mode of Respect, has the problem that there is one already -- the green parties in each state and federally. Thats' where the Respect platform is presently located.

So for the moment the SA's audience is a niche one. There has to be some future differentiation in play before the Alliance can move into some of the electoral space now occupied by the Greens. That means a component of the SA's reach out work has to be a conciliatory approach towards the Greens and an attempt to involve them in extra parliamentary campaign work. The Greens major handicap, however, is that they tend to be very electoralist. So generally there is this clear differentiation in play already between the Greens and the Alliance. But that's hardly a bullet point on polling day is it? This is why some members of my SA branch are also Green Party members -- even though such dual membership should get you expelled from The Greens{the Greens operate under a strict proscription clause] or the Labor Party (and another member of my branch is also in the ALP).

I'd like to also take up some of Rohan G's points: I think it's true that the dynamic for a new MTSP type party has receded somewhat over the past 18 months - 2 years. This has meant that we cannot proceed at the same pace that was the case previously. So the Alliance is advancing much slower than it had in the past. Much of this has been due to the stalemate political situation following on from the re-election of the Howard Coalition government in November 2004 and the failure of the Iraq anti-war movement to thrive despite our role in the conflict.

I think everyone has been doing it tough.

This situation has impacted on the Alliance too and there has been some shrinkage and a few branches have been merged. The associated problem we have is that it's so darn difficult to organize this project as on the one hand we seek to make it open and accessible, and on the other we are constrained by these draconian electoral laws. We used to allow any write in to join the SA; now we have to secure a signed declaration from each prospective member. Similarly, the requirements under state electoral laws is one of the reasons we haven't pushed for registering the SA in some states (such as here in Queensland). Even our accounts must be vetted by the various electoral commissions.

An associated organisational issue within the present political climate here is the challenge of engineering ways to involve different membership layers in the Alliance. Just because you have this membership it doesn't mean that you can get it to a branch meeting or by default put it to work. We are dealing with an amorphous political culture, different from the socialist left tradition that we may be used to of meetings, meetings, meetings...

We have learnt that you can engage members in activity by being considerate of the complexity of the various situations you may have out there. I won't go into those stories here but the question of involvement is a ongoing challenge for us.But we are making headway such that some members may choose to donate money(rather generously as it sometimes turns out), others to work for us on polling days... and then there are those who sign on as full blown activists.

So when it comes to a polling days we aren't just monitoring our votes -- we are also logging the level of mobilisation we can generate and how much real active identification exists with the project.

Another feature of our history so far that I should point out(and this relates to any potential role of the ISO et al could have had if they had a different approach): Creating and building Alliance branches usually requires that some of those involved have a background in left wing politics -- either as exers or as current members of one or other of the socialist groups. There's this logic of cultural continuity and some know how involved.I guess it can be called a sort of cadre-driven exercise, especial in these present political conditions. So obviously this restricts our geographical growth --although it is not a hard and fast rule.(EG:Our New England branch is made up of members with no background what so ever in radical politics).

I'll end with a few parting paragraphs from our last conference resolution which I think puts the SA in its real time context:

:" Socialist Alliance re-affirms its core objective of promoting left unity and regroupment. However, we recognise that the Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and political convergence with the broader forces generated by a new upturn of resistance before it can develop the social base and harness the leadership resources needed to take a significant step towards creating a new mass socialist party.... Nonetheless, for first time in many years many in the working class look towards Socialist Alliance as a valuable step forward along that path. By championing the need for a broadly based anti-capitalist or new mass workers’ party and by always helping to organise the most united left intervention possible in the social movements, the Socialist Alliance can continue to win the respect of broader layers of militant workers and social justice activists, and win them to its ranks. In this way Socialist Alliance will continue to take practical steps along the road to building the political force that Australia’s workers, poor and oppressed need."

AN said...

With regard to the Greens, if we look at the German expereince a few years ago the greens totally dominated the left protest vote, but the dynamic around the WASG, and the evolution from the old geoverneing SED towards the left social democratic PDS has meant that the hard left has overtaken the greens for the radical vote.

But ten years ago that would have seemed impossible.

Anonymous said...

The Canadian IS was founded in the 1970s by a group of York Univesity students involved in the "Waffle" faction of the New Democratic Party who had come into contact with the American International Socialists which was a Draperite/Schactmanite group that was starting to come into the orbit of the British Cliffites (ultimately leading to a split and the creation of the ISO).

The IS seem to have survived their big split in the mid 1990s when co-founder David McNally and his followers left to form the New Socialist Group (which is similar to the US group Solidarity) and the IS actually grew in the mid 1990s where NSG has stagnated. However, the IS seems to have declined in the past five or six years and have lost many of their branches outside of Toronto (not to a split but to people dropping out) and are able to mobilise far fewer cadre in Toronto now than they would have 10 years ago if the number of paper sellers at demos is any indication.

My guess is their actual membership is under 200 which would place them at the size they were at in the late 1980s before their growth spurt. They are better positioned in the labour union bureaucracy today than they were 15 years ago but they don't organize grassroots radical factions in unions, rather they prefer to adapt to the union leadership in an effort to get resources for IS led campaigns.

Anonymous said...


You say that the IS is the dominant socialist organization in Canada. Do they even meet anymore? You also say that the New SOcialists is mildly active in Toronto. I see more New Socialist activities in Toronto than i see the IS. Or maybe i am not hanging around the right spots. I check both of their website regularly and am involved in anti-racist and latin american solidarity work in toronto. Also of significance in Ontario is the Socialist Project. Which have noticed has been doing a lot of joint work with the new socialist in latin american solidarity projects.

Dave Riley said...

FYI: New Zealand Socialist worker has just begun a blogging project:

Daphne L said...

Someone wrote:

Although in the case of Socialist Worker in Aotearoa/New Zealand who would mourn the loss of a group which stands in continuity with the old pro-Albanian 'Communist' Party? A group, I note, which has lost much of its cadre in any case.

Socialist Worker is in fact one of the two largest revolutionary organisations in New Zealand, the other being the quasi-Maoist Workers Party of New Zealand. (The two are of roughly the same - not very large, sadly - size.) I'm not sure where the above commenter gets his "loss of cadre" information from - perhaps the extremely NPOV Wikipedia article that the Dunedin ISO wrote about us?

As to the pro-Albania history, I am personally very proud that my organisation destalinised itself thoroughly in 1991 once it became obvious that it had ended up in a political cul-de-sac, and independently arrived at a version of the theory of state capitalism. The above commenter seems to believe that the sincere working class activists who joined in the 80's are forever tarnished with the crimes of Enver Hoxha. But as Lenin said, the mark of a true revolutionary is not that she never makes mistakes but that she knows how to correct them.

AN said...

Hiya daphne, good to see you here.

Nick Kelly said...

Daphne describes the Workers' Party of New Zealand as:
"quasi-Maoist Workers Party of New Zealand."

The criticism of our group from the Socialist Workers' Party of New Zealand varies daily, sometimes we are "quasi-Maoist" on other days we are like the former NZ pro-Moscow group the 'Socialist Unity Party' who had a number of union officials in the 1970's and 1980's. The SUP were well know for their support of Labour in elections. SW have been very critical of the Workers' Party for being "too critical" of Labour. Socialist Worker could at least be consistant in their attacks on the Workers' Party of New Zealand.

As for the SW losing cadre this is pretty hard to dispute. 6 years ago SW were by far the largest group on the NZ left with the most widely distributed socialist paper and branches in all main centres. In 2007 their paper has been replaced by a journal that comes out occasionally and the party very rarely do paper sales. They also contribute to a broad left paper called Workers Charter which is a militant unionist paper and certainly is no Marxist publication. Their membership is mainly in Auckland with a handful of members are still in Christchurch and Wellington.
Their politics have drifted rightward as they have shrunk. In 2004 the party stoped referring to the 'working class' in their publications and began refering to 'grass roots folk'. Not long after this their publication's name changed from Socialist Worker to Unity (Unity now being a journal printed every couple of months, whereas Socialist worker was a regular paper).

As for the move away from Albania, I'd consider the move pretty opportunist. Prior to 1991 The Communist Party of New Zealand had a policy of not allowing homosexuals in the Party. After they became Cliffites there was an article in Socialist Worker supporting gay rights. At no point was their any formal change of policy or more importantly a correction for their earlier damanging line like the Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA put did when they changed their previously reactionary line on Homosexuality about 5 or 6 years ago.

I'd say the Socialist Workers' Party of New Zealand is in more of a political cul-de-sac now than it ever was.

Dave Riley said...

I doubt that anyone is interested in a competition between your two orgs over details of background and history -- but I'd like to know what impact the various electoral projects to the left of the Labor Party during the nineties have had in way of regrouping a NZ left.--and what that has meant to outfits such as yours

Philip Ferguson said...

Daphne refers to the "quasi Maoist Workers Party" in NZ. Well, I guess it would be as accurate to refer to it as the "quasi Trotskyist Workers Party" since the organisation contains people who come from a pro-Mao and pro-Trotsky background and is the result of a fusion of those forces with independent leftists. Interestingly, our fusion process has lasted whereas SW's fusion with the Dunedin ISO failed after about a year.
We now publish the only regular Marxist paper in NZ as well as a magazine and we're the only left current with branches in the four main cities; in fact SW is now almost exclusively a North Island group.
I also don't think there is any doubt about SW's shrinkage. Ten years ago they were claiming in their paper that they had 130 members; their activist core now is only a tiny vestige of that. Their turnover rate is very high as they lurch from one flavour-of-the-month campaign to another. Each one is going to be the big breakthrough and the membership is geed up to go out and be hyperactive around that campaign. A year or two later and the campaign is gone, along with a bunch of worn-out and confused members.
In the past such members usually drifted out of left politics. The formation of the WP, however, has meant that people who disagree with the rightward drift and flavour-of-the-month approach to politics of SW now have a sane, Marxist alternative.
Several prominent SW activists, including their former national industrial organiser, have joined the WP, bringing a wealth of organising experience.

Philip Ferguson said...

Daphne wrote that the pro-Albania past of the SW in NZ sholdn't be held against it.

This is a fair point.

Indeed, in 1994 when I returned to NZ I was quite impressed by their de-Stalinisation and thought seriously about joining them.

As I was doing so, however, they jumped into the frying pan of the British SWP. Having lived in that part of the world I was very familiar with the thoroughly undemocratic internal life of the British SWP, its growing rightward drift and its attempt to create mirror-image groups in other parts of the world.

That put me right off.

Unfortunately, having rejected Enver some of the central leaders of the NZ group kind of replaced him with Tony Cliff. They tried to apply in NZ the British model. In fact, I had the impression that a major factor in why the old pro-Albania CP chose the British SWP to align to was that it was the biggest far left current in the English-speaking world. Perhaps no-one had told them that bigger doesn't necessarily mean better.

While the British SWP has moved further and further to the right, epitmoised by the classless swamp politics of Respect - a mini-popular front which incorporates opponents of abortion, gay rights and other basic liberties - the NZ wing has found itself increasingly rudderless.

Although, in fairness, they haven't abandoned class politics to the same degree as their British Mother Ship, they decided to dump the word "socialist" from their (increasingly sporadic) publication, which now has the meaningless title, "Unity", and the term working class is often replaced by terms like "grassroots folk" and "the flaxroots" (when they're talking about Maori workers).

They would have been much better off not aligning with anyone overseas when they were forced to ditch Albania. It would have been more productive spending a few years reviewing their past, drawing some deep lessons and working out a way forward in NZ based entirely on application of Marxism to the NZ reality instead of looking for a quick-fix by hitching up to the British SWP.

Basically, they have been paying the price for that bad decisioin ever since.

Philip Ferguson said...

Dave Riley wants to know about left of Labour initiatives and what impact they have had on SW and WP in New Zealand.

WP is actually the result of a regroupment that came out of the 2002 elections. A small left circle around the magazine 'revolution' and a small left circle around the paper 'The Spark', along with a number of independents, formed a coalition called the Anti-Capitalist Alliance to run some candidates in the 2002 election to begin the process of challenging Labour.

I was part of 'revolution' and our view, since we started the mag in 1997, was that Labour is a social-liberal party, ie a liberal cpaitlaist party (a view I see SW have now adopted, although without crediting us). The comrades around 'The Spark', who were pro-Mao, had the same view of Labour and that, along with shared views on a number of other pressing issues of today, enabled us to work together extremely well. We ran candidates in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, who naturally got tiny votes but it was a start. Also, an independent left activist who ad run - he'd got as many votes as our canddiates combined - joined us shortly after the elections.

In the last election, we ran in seven or eight seats, and beat the left social-democratic Alliance in several. The Alliance had 10 to 13 MPs in the late 1990s and several million dollars passed through their coffers, so our very modest vote wasn't really too bad for revolutionaries.

After working together for several years, the Spark and Revo people, along with most of the independents fused into a single group, the Revolutionary Workers League, within the ACA. In 2007, the ACA changed its name to the Workers Party.

However, I assume you are talking about the Alliance, and maybe the Greens, when you refer to left-of-Labour electoral projects.

I think the Spark comrades supported a vote for the Alliance in 1993 but not after that. If Revo had've been around in 1993 we might have supported a vote for the Alliance, I'm not sure. But we started in 1997 and we argued from the time we began that there was simply no material basis and therefore no political space for a left social democratic project.

I recall us getting continuously hectored by a DSPer who lived here for a while about this.

I think we were proven right by what happened to the Alliance. We argued that the Alliance metldonw was inevitable and it would have been a waste of our time and energy, been completely demoralising, and just generally have pointed in the wrong direction, to have supported the Alliance or to have been part of it, certainly after 1993.

However, in terms of political campaigning we worked with Alliance activists wherever possible and were on good terms with them, and still are with what is left of the Alliance.

The other main electoral alternative to Labour was the Greens. There was no way we would ever have supported them. They are kiwi nationalists and supporters of NZ imperialism, they're a middle class liberal outfit and we have nothing in common with them.

More recently there has been the formation of the Maori Party. We argued that a party formed on the basis of 'race', especially in the context of NZ (probably the most integrated society in the world, in terms of the two main ethnic groups, Maori and pakeha) would inevitably be reactionary. I think we've been proven right on that one. The Maori Party leadership represents the burgeoning Maori bourgeoisie and middle class and are reactionary on fundamental class questions (also their founder voted in parliament against the Civil Unions bill).

By contrast we advocate working class unity on the basis of fighting for the interests of all workers and especially the most oppressed (Maori, women workers), not for classless parties which, in reality, represent the interests of capital and the middle class.

Although former Alliance leader Laila Harre claimed that the Maori Party had broken the mold of NZ politics and was here to stay I don't think this is the case. An eruption of class conflict would tear the Maori Party apart. Even with our present low levels of class conflict, I don't think the Maori Party has much of a future.

AN said...

Blimey - this thread runs and runs doen't it.

i must admit that i always suspected that there was an element of pragmatism for Socialsit Worker in NZ choosing to link up with the IST.

Perhaps the same process is relevent with other groups like the Zimbabwe iSO, as the IST can help with resources like producing papers, pamphlets, international links for solidarity work,, etc.

Dave Riley said...

You see in terms of the Respect strategy the NZ experience is very interesting at least from my side of the ditch. While it is obvious where a lot of people are located politically now -- people I have known in the past -- like Russel Norman (Greens leader) the NZ experience of regroupment or whatever your preferred label is very instructive because i think you can say it has failed so far, despite that wad of electoral outfits outside the Labor Party -- a party who discovered "New Labour" before Australian LP and Britain LP did. In fact it led the way.

I say it has failed in the sense that it has only fostered a sort of gaggle of formations within electoral space -- the sort of party formation that could have been has not arisen there. Despite the rather impression aggregation of The Alliance in its hey day. But we, nonetheless, draw a lot of inspiration from the Unite trade union and its work, for instance against McDonalds.

So I have to ask about the present dynamic of the Workers Charter process? Where's that at? Who is, and who is not, a part of it?

And why not...?

neprimerimye said...

Daphne Lawless writes in reply to my last contribution in this thread to the effect that the information in my post was wrong. Yet the contributions of Nick Kelly and Phil Ferguson both provide proof that it is Daphne whose contribution is lacking in a grounding in fact. With regard to the loss of cadre and membership that Socialist Worker (NZ) has experienced little more need be said but I note that a reading of the journal Daphne co-edits, Unity, reveals a latter from an ex-member of SW, Don Franks, that also confirms my assertions. One can only wonder as to whether or not Daphne reads Unity?

From her post we do know that she has time to read the Wikipedia entry on her group. Although I can assure her that, contrary to her unfounded assertion, that members of the Dunedin ISO did not originate or write it. Although former members of both SW and ISO did provide information to the original author. As did Phil Ferguson for that matter as he can confirm.

As for the abandonment of Hoxjaism by the forerunners of SW I would be far more impressed had that happened before the final collapse of the state capitalist tyrannies which so oppressed the working class in those countries over which they ruled. I would also be more impressed if SW had abandoned the typically Zinovieivite interpretation of so called democratic centralism and the banning of internal factions which cannot but stymie internal democracy. I note that both SW and the SWP (Britain) by banning any and all internal factions make a mockery of their claim to stand on the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. For that matter they stand in contradiction to the positions developed in the booklet ‘Party and Class’ which I assume both sell to this day.



AN said...

On assumes thaty daphne does read Unity, as i believe she is the editor

Hercule said...

Way back in this thread someone wrote : With reagrd to France, i think you are right in saying it is a mistake for the IS groups to be supporting Bove instead of Olivier Besancenot, and you cannot help feelng that this has less to do with France, and more to do with echoing the tactic of tailing Galloway and Sheridan, although Bove does have more integrity than either of those charletans.

I'd like to make a few comments on this rather ill-informed remark. First, factually, the official IS group, known as ex-SPEB, apart from a few dissidents, do not support Bové, but have decided, following the SWP apparently, to back Besancenot, on the grounds that it would be fatal to split the LCR (which however is hopelessly split anyway). They believe that by backing the Ligue's candidate they will be in a better position to influence the majority away from its sectarian stance.

Second, I have no idea if Bové has more integrity than Galloway or Sheridan. This is simply not the point. Bové's campaign did not emerge from a professional caucus or by different groups striking a deal, but was a grassroots revolt from members of the local left-unity committees (Collectifs unitaires antilibéraux) against the cynical manoeuvres of the CP majority trying to impose their own general secretary as a so-called 'unity' candidate. Besancenot's campaign, or for that matter that of Lutte Ouvrière's Arlette Laguiller, whatever their formal merits, simply do not connect with this milieu. Bové's campaign certainly has its weaknesses, but it is the only movement bringing together members of the CP, the Greens, the LCR and - most importantly - a majority of non-aligned activists and ex-members of different political groups.

Third, I can assure your readers that no-one in either of the IS groups that I have ever spoken to or read has ever suggested that the Respect and Solidarity models should be imported into France, or even that they should be regarded as models. I do believe that the examples of Respect and Stop the War can and should be used to demonstrate to French socialists that revolutionaries have a duty to show solidarity, and develop political links, with Muslims. Bové is also one of the few leading French leftists not to have fallen for islamophobia in the name of secularism. But the emergence of the local left-unity committees and the enthusuiasm of many militants for the Bové campaign are the result of the internal dynamics of the French left in the period which saw the success of the NO campaign in the Eurpean referendum in 2005 and the defeat of the government over the 'first employment contract' in 2006.

Fourth, while supporting the LCR's Besancenot is a perfectly respectable option for revolutionaries, it is important to understand the weaknesses of the LCR's analysis, and the debates which are taking place with the organisation. This is perhaps not the place to go into what has happened on the French left since Besancenot and Laguiller obtained 10 % between them in the 2002 presidential elections. Suffice it to say that Lutte Ouvrière has gone even further down the road of splendid isolation and that the LCR majority has made a series of fatal mistakes in relating to the movement which emerged from the successful referendum campaign (in which it must be said they played a postive role, while LO simply refused to take part).

As a result, some members of the minority have left the organisation (it is impossible to say how many), some are supporting the Besancenot campaign out of party loyalty while severely condemning the leadership's policies, others are supporting José Bové - effectively against the candidate of their own organisation - while others are refusing to take sides and doing nothing. In this confused situation, revolutionaries have to make choices. The group to which I belong, Socialisme International ( ), believes that the Bové campaign offers the best hope for a positive outcome for the radical left, and thus for French workers.

AN said...

Thanks for the clarification Hercule.

Philip Ferguson said...

Dave Riley asks about Workers Charter in New Zealand.

WC is/was an example of the fact that the NZ Socialist Worker group has not abandoned class politics to the extent that the British Mother Ship has.

However, WC it seems to me is pretty much dead in the water, confirming WP's analysis of it right at the start.

The problem with WC was on two levels.

One was in terms of its own dynamic. It was neither one thing nor the other. It wasn't a party, it wasn't a pre-party and it wasn't really a class-struggle platform for working class activists. It was a set of fairly low-level and banal points that pretty much 95 percent of the population could agree with - in the abstract. One of the first things that happened was that the executive of the CTU (NZ equivalent of the TUC) adopted it. So that was the kiss of death, right there. WC was so broad you can't actually build a cohesive anything around that.

The other problem was that the level of class struggle in NZ at present is extremely low and has been for years. SW persistently tried to either ignore that or find a shortcut around. For years they ran with the British SWP idiocy about the 1990s being "the 1930s in slow motion" and they have never really abandoned that, not deep down.

So WC was formed with the usual great fanfare and a lot of nonsense about class struggle breaking out everywhere in NZ.

Eighteen months on, there really isn't much left of WC.

In fact, people who were quite key to it at the beginning, such as Matt McCarten and Mike Treen of Unite, didn't go to the last WC conference. I think they were even out of the loop in terms of getting much info about it.

We rightly decided not to waste our time being involved in WC, any more than we were interested in getting involved in any other SW-initiated dead-ends. Instead we got more involved in Unite and other workplace organising and in consolidating our own current.

In Auckland, the only place SW still has any real strength, SW has also pulled out of Unite. Instead they're building their own union, Solidarity. This, too, was announced with much fanfare, but I doubt it will get off the ground.

I'll give SW and their main leader, Grant Morgan, one thing. They have an amazing amount of energy. Unfortunately it is all sound and fury, and signifies very little in reality.

DaphneL said...

We rightly decided not to waste our time being involved in WC,

In fact, two of Phil's colleagues in the leadership of the WPNZ contributed to the last WC paper. I'm not sure what this indicates, but it's worth mentioning.

Instead they're building their own union, Solidarity. This, too, was announced with much fanfare,

In fact, the launch of Solidarity was extremely low-key. Publicity "fanfare" would have been totally counterproductive, putting the employers that Solidarity was targeting on alert. That still seems to be the strategy indicated.

Joseph said...

Hey Phil

SW activists still working for Unite- three last count as temporary contract recruiters for the Wananga and two as full time organisers. Why do you think we have pulled out of Unite?

I have been working on Solidarity recruitment work in East Tamaki and South Auckland. Not glamourous, bugger all fanfares and media stunts as compared to SupersizeMyPay.Com, slow, steady and patient work. Surprised you have the wrong end of the stick on this.


Joe Carolan

AN said...

It owuod be intersting to know what the rationale for Solidarity is, as Unite already seem to fill that space?

But I am only basing this on the information given here, so if anyone could explain, it would be appreciated.

neprimerimye said...

The advocacy of a united left Presidential candidacy around Bove by the two IS tradition groups in france may not be inspired by the disaster that is Respect but it indicative of the move to the right of the IST in general. Indeed it is contrary to both the views of Trotsky and of the old IS.

As I would hope, although one does not expect it to be so these days, that comrades will be familiar with the writings of Trotsky I shall not refer to his opposition to unity candidates such as that of Bove. What I wouild like to draw the attention of Hercule to are the comments of Duncan Hallas in 1977 when opposing a similar, though more leftist, electoral project.

Here are a few quotes from Hallas;

"Our aim in contesting parliamentary elections is to build the SWP. We do not put the emphasis on getting the biggest possible vote for the 'far-left'. Protest votes, and that is what is being spoken of, are not without significance, but they are incomparably less important than building the party."

The point here is how would support for a Bove campaign build a revolutionary alternative? At best all that a Bove candidacy can offer is the opportunity to cast a ballot on the first round, a protest vote, and then what? Nothing!

By contrast a revolutionary candidate, which one would hope an LCR candidacy would be, would seek to offer militants a political way forward and an organisation that could give a lead in future struggles.

"Years ago Trotsky wrote of the SAP, a left breakaway from the German Social Democrats, that when they "criticise the 'party egoism' of the Social-Democracy and of the Communist Party; when Seydewitz (an SAP leader) assures us that so far as he is concerned 'the interests of the class come before the interests of the party,' they only fall into political sentimentalism or, what is worse, behind this sentimental phraseology they screen the interests of their own party. This method is no good... The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a programme, the programme cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party." That is our position..."

In short Hallas here as doing little more than updating Trotsky and repeating the argument that electoral propaganda campaigns are not a tactic in which revolutionaries can engage as they will dilute the revolutionary message we seek to take to the working masses.

PS The complete version of the Hallas article can be found here scroll down to find it.

AN said...


Hercule has clarified that the ex-SPEB ae supporting the LCR candidate.

But anyway, Hallas's remarks were based upon a perspective when the SWP believed it they would be able to grow rapidly.

Perhpas a differnt perspective aplies when we ae not only up shit creak without a paddle, but the boat has sunk.

neprimerimye said...


Hallas made his remarks in a very different context to the situation which exists today on that we can agree. We could go further and argue the same considerations ought to be made in relation to Trotskys remarks in the 1930's.

But the point remains however that a small revolutionary tendency can at best only give critical support to the candidates of reformist or centrist parties. And Bove is not proposing to run as a socialist or candidate of a workers party. In which case endorsing his candidacy can only confuse the best movement activists whom the comrades cannot but seek to recruit to the Ligue and to IS politics.

Now you might argue that my position, which is that of Lenin and Trotsky, is sectarian. But if that is so I must ask how is it sectarian to advocate the indepenence of the workers movement from all bourgeois and petty bourgeois tendencies which is what I'm seeking to do in these posts?

And, if I may be aloowed to repeat myself, what does a Bove candidacy offer once the election is over? Where are the best militants who would vote for him meant to go while they wait for the next election?

AN said...

Actually MIke - this is one of the occassions when I agree with you

Philip Ferguson said...

Ah, I've just realised who Joe C means when he said two full-time Unite organisers are SW.

Perhaps I should have said "active SW members" are not as involved in Unite in Auckland as before.

In terms of Solidarity, I actually wish you well, but I really don't understand the logic of what you are trying to do.

I think it is another grandiose idea that you guys have adopted on the basis of a false reading of the times and the mistaken view that you can generalise the Unite experience to other sectors of the workforce.


Philip Ferguson said...

Daphne mentioned several WPers writing for 'Workers Charter' (the paper).

Yes, we write stuff for the paper because it reaches people our own press doesn't, it carries some useful articles and discussions/debates, such as around the Service and Food Workers' "Clean Start" campaign (which we are highly critical of).

If the paper was geared towards becoming the paper of a network of workplace/union militants, it could actually play a potentially useful role.

But the SW perspective for WC, that it would develop (in the short term) into a new broad left party, was always a non-starter.

Another comrade asked about Solidarity and Unite. Solidarity is actually attempting to organise among a different section of workers to Unite, so there isn't a conflict of interest as far as I am aware.


John Mullen said...

Naturally many comrades will not agree with our decision (Socialisme International) to support the Bové candidacy. Sometimes the disagreements are inevitable, but I do feel that many do not understand the situation.
What to do in a situation where a very large number of active class fighters, involved in political not just union struggles, are not ready to join the revolutionary currents ?
The defeat of the neoliberal European treaty was carried out due to an aliance of PCF LCR and non party Left. As the Right prepares its Thatcherite revolution under Sarkozy, and the Socialist party slowly moves blairist, it seemed a great idea to have a united radical left candidacy, in particular in a context where it could be carried by a movement within which there was absolutely no need to hide our differences as revolutionaries. This united candidacy was stopped by the LCR leadership inventing differences or at least underlining them, and by the PCF leadership concerned about their position within the institutions. Then the Bové candidacy was put forward by those sections of the movement ( a lot of ex PCF, quite a few PCF of whom some resigned from the national committee, some rebel greens, and a lot of non party Left). The Bové candidacy will continue to defend that an electoral front of the antiliberal Left would be a great step forward.

Naturally some comrades think that such a front would not be a step forward...
But we are encouraged by the dynamic of the Bové campaign - mass meetings, much more multicoloured than most of the other Left campaigns, and a real tone of "rise up" rather than of "this is what WE would do for YOU".

John Mullen
Editor Socialisme INternational

AN said...

Thanks for that JOhn

I hope that you appreciate that any remarks we make in England about the situation in France are intended only to generate debate and improve our understanding, rather than advising you what to do.

I am generally sympathtic to the argument you put forward here, and I do think that a united left candidate would be a step forward

except that ( from this distance) it seems the Bové candidacy has not created a broad united left candidate that everyone can rally around, but rather added just another left candiadte.

Can you clarify your point about the LCR leadership inventing differences at the last moment? And was it ever possibel that the PCF would have supported Bové? Are there forces within the PCF sympathetic to such left regroupment? - which woould of course not be unprecedented given the examples of PRC in Italy, and even more relveantly the PDS in Germany.

Colin Falconer said...

John has run off to Australia for a week so I'll add a few comments myself.

I think the LCR's approach to the left unity process was always a top-down one. They insisted from the beginning thet they would only get involved if the other forces involved clarified their position on going into government with the Socialist Party.

Of course, this is an important question, but the Ligue's approach amounted to something like saying 'Sign on the dotted line that you will never ever join up with the Socialists ('cross your heart and hope to die'), and we might reconsider our position'. This proved to be an excellent way not only of allowing the CP and others to charge the Ligue with sectarianism and armchair criticism but of pissing off rank-and-filers, most of whom believed that the likelihood of the radical left joining a Royal/Hollande government was less than zero.

The Ligue's insistence on this point did however lead to some rewording of the Collectifs' position statement, to the effect that they not only rejected the idea of joining a government pursuing neoliberal policies, but that this effectively ruled out any coalition with the Socialists at least in the envisageable future (and there would in my view have been no point in saying "never"). Although certainly not perfect, the new formulation was sufficient to convince most doubters that no such deal was on the cards - and was the best that could be expected in the circumstances. Most rank-and-file militants were very concerned to get the LCR aboard, despite their irritation at lengthy harangues from supporters of the LCR majority - in part because of a belief that the Ligue would act as a counterweight to the CP.

A decision by the Ligue at this point to accept a united campaign with a non-party figure as candidate on the ballot paper, but in which Besancenot would have played a leading role - even a predominant one given his popularity and undoubted talent - as spokesperson, rather than pushing ahead with their own campaign would probably have electrified the movement, and made it impossible for the CP to attempt to force through a candidacy of their own general secretary. I believe it would also have done a hell of a lot for the Ligue's reputation as a 'party of the movement', rather than a 'party for the party'. This was the argument of the LCR minority, but as usual with the Ligue the internal battle-lines had been drawn up months before between the 5 (five !) competing factions and the potential for members crossing over from the majority to the minority was extremely limited.

Your question about the CP would require a very long answer. Suffice it to say that the party is split, certainly not down the middle, but with a considerable section either supporting the Bové campaign or holding back from supporting the CP's candidate, Buffet. Bové obtained his 500 signatures in large part because of the support of CP mayors and regional councillors and his campaign organiser is a CP member. In my area, Seine-Saint-Denis, the 'Communistes unitaires' are particularly strong, and have recently decided to set themselves up as an association and hold open forums on their future as a political tendency. This does not of course mean that the CP is finished, and although they are running a weak campaign with a weak candidate, they have decades of experience of running election campaigns, whereas Bové's organisation is largely improvised and plagued by amateurism.

I'm making no predictions about the result, I'm just going to get stuck in and enjoy campaigning for Bové (it'll make a change after months of meetings endlessly discussing the chances of a unity candidate with CPers and LCR members who probably never had the intention of supporting one).

A bientôt !

Colin (Saint-Denis, France)

Dave Riley said...

Is the Australian Socialist Alliance dead? AS dead as the ISO says it is supposed to be?

The vote for the SA in the recent NSW state election is currently registering a 230% increase on its 2003 vote .

Similar increases have been logged in the lower house seats the SA stood candidates in -such as Wollongong

Tom O'Lincoln said...

Having just seen this thread, I want to clarify what's said about me. I was not expelled from the ISO; in fact when I eventually left I made a point of saying I had no complaints about how I'd been treated personally; I just disagreed. After leaving I eventually joined Socialist Alternative.

Neither was I at any time "in opposition to the leadership of SAlt around Mick Armstrong". The writer is probably conflating a much earlier set of events in the 1980s.

Dave Riley said...

The ISO has formally and officially withdrawn from the Socialist Alliance with a letter sent to the SA national executive over the last momth. This exit has led a discussion on the GLW list HERE.

Dave Riley said...

Australian initiative relevant to this exchange
Public Meeting - All Welcome
Special Guest Speaker: Munyaradzi Gwisai Former Movement for Democratic Change MP, deputy chairperson Zimbabwe Social Forum,
International Socialist Organisation (Zimbabwe)

7.30pm Wednesday April 18 Newtown Neighbourhood Centre (King St, opp Newtown Station) Entry by donation

Robert Mugabe's dictatorship has taken Zimbabwe to breaking point. Official inflation is 1700 per cent. Skyrocketing food prices and high
unemployment mean the poor face difficult struggle to survive. After a series of strikes earlier this year sparked renewed resistance, the
regime intensified its crackdown on dissent. Munyaradzi Gwisai has been at the frontline of the struggle for the rights of workers and
the poor in Zimbabwe, and has faced arrest and beatings by the regime's security forces. He will speak on the democratic struggle in
Zimbabwe and where it is headed.

Meeting endorsed by Andrew Ferguson (CFMEU State secretary), Socialist Alliance, Socialist Worker

cliffspab said...

The two anonymous posters on the Canadian IS after my last post are quite out of touch with what's going in the Canadian far left. The first contribution is misleading due to its obvious Toronto-centrism. Membership, while not increasing with any significance has definitely not dropped. Ottawa now has two branches and about 30 new members - all established in the last three years. Hardly a decline. The organization has thrown its weight behind anti-war organizing and you'll find that many of its members are (unfortunately) not selling SW but carrying out the dirty work of stewarding, MCing, operating other equipment and so on. Its quite easy to sell papers when you don't do any of the organizing. The last criticism regarding the IS's "tailing the union bureaucracy" completely ignores the reality of the Canadian labour movement. There is no sustained, centralized labour militancy of any sort so it is rather absurd to expect the IS to dedicate its limited resources and membership to a strategy that was far more appropriate in the 1960s or 70s. The IS has oriented to the anti-war movement, since this is obviously the key issue of the day and where most politically conscious working class people are active. When labour militancy returns and the IS fails to organize radical factions, then the criticism MIGHT be valid.

The second anonymous poster on the Canadian IS must have been locked in a closet for the past decade. I may be wrong, but the views presented seem to accurately represent the experience of a leftist at York University where the NSG and Socialist Project have a permanent presence because they are organized around leading Marxist academics there (McNally and Panitch, respectively). Both rely more on building a presence through "star power", getting high profile speakers to grace their platforms by using the connections of their well-established Marxist academics.

The Socialist Project have no visible organized presence beyond Toronto. Their "second" location - Ottawa - has about two events a year and does not carry out any public interventions of any sort. Claiming the Socialist Project has significance in Ontario is wrong. In Toronto, yes, in Ontario, no. As for Latin American solidarity, there are numerous coalitions in Toronto so to expect to find members of every far left group in every one is absurd.

Does the IS even meet anymore? Any stroll down one of Toronto's main streets - Bloor comes to mind - and you'll see numerous IS posters. Oh, and there's this conference in Toronto every May called Marxism. It is the largest socialist conference in Canada and draws several hundred people each year. So, yes, the IS still meets.

Anonymous said...

May Day statement by central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand
from UNITYblog by Vaughan
Venezuela's deepening revolution & international socialist coordination

Central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand

1 May 2007

This May Day statement by the central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand takes up an invitation from Alex Callinicos, a leader of the British Socialist Workers Party, to respond to his proposal (27 September 2006) that the International Socialist Tendency (IST) adopt a new "Coordination" structure.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand has been an affiliate of the IST since 1995. We believe that the question of an IST Coordination demands that the whole IST first comes to a consensus on the global political context and critical global tasks of the IST, since questions of organisation and politics cannot be separated.


Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that key elements of the global political context include:

* Huge turmoil and rivalries within global imperialism, which is driving the US state's global war to maintain its position relative to rival powers, chiefly China, the European Union and Russia.

* The weakening of the US state's ability to assert its will by military force as a result of the heroic resistance of Iraqi people to the imperialist occupation of their country.

* Massive grassroots opposition around the world to the Iraq war, which in some countries has seen large anti-war movements emerge. If Iran is attacked, there will likely be an explosion of the anti-war movement onto the streets.

* Heightened grassroots concern about planetary environmental chaos, due to the climate change issue "bursting through" into the mainstream.

* Neo-liberalism facing growing political opposition, which is currently the most advanced across Latin America.

* Signs of rising worker unrest and unionisation across some countries.

* The deepening revolutionary process in Venezuela, marked by the "left turn" of Hugo Chavez in parallel with his re-election as president on 3 December 2006.


Socialist Worker-New Zealand regards the unfolding revolution in Venezuela as of epochal significance.

With the US military bogged down in Iraq, there is more space for Venezuela's socialist Chavistas to seriously challenge capitalism right on Washington's doorstep.

This challenge has profound implications for the world's socialists. The deepening revolution in Venezuela is an historic opportunity for socialists everywhere to spotlight a real-life alternative to capitalism's inequality, eco-chaos and war.

Is the unfolding Venezuelan revolution the most important leap forward for the workers' cause since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution? The answer from delegates at Socialist Worker-New Zealand's recent national conference was a unanimous "yes".

The masses in Venezuela are behind a genuine revolutionary project in a way that has not occurred in the last 90 years. While nothing is certain, this could well create the mass impetus for a huge revival in the international revolutionary socialist movement.

It is the world historic significance of events in Venezuela, and the implications for IST coordination and direction, that is the focus of this Socialist Worker-New Zealand statement.


Socialist Worker-New Zealand offers this summary analysis of the political situation in Venezuela:

* There is, at present, a dual power scenario in Venezuela where opposing class forces are "balanced out". While this state of affairs has lasted for quite a while, it is inherently unstable and cannot last forever. Either one class coalition or the other will win the war over whether Venezuela will move beyond capitalism to socialism. In this war the impact of global events will play a pivotal role, since the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union in the 1920s showed that "socialism in one country" cannot forever withstand the pressures of world capitalism.

* A huge proportion of Venezuela's population are actively involved in the revolutionary process. The role of the grassroots masses was decisive in beating back the right-wing military coup of 2002 and restoring the elected Chavista government. In the presidential election of December 2006 Hugo Chavez, who campaigned on an openly socialist platform, received 63% of the vote (7.3 million people). Over the week before polling day, 2.5 million people in Caracas, half the capital's entire population, took to the streets to support Chavez against counter-revolutionary provocations.

* The masses and the leaders of the Bolivarian Revolution are having to confront fundamental issues about what socialism is and how it can be won. In particular, the question of state power is being debated on a mass scale: Can the existing capitalist state be bent to a new popular will? Or must new organs of grassroots power be created to confront the pro-capitalist bureaucracy and the economic power of the capitalist class? Increasingly the answer is being seen in the practical construction of alternative structures of popular power.


Chavez & Co, who are the established leaders of the revolution, have learnt a lot since the former army officer was first elected president in 1998. Crucially they have learnt from the actions of the masses of people, who in turn have been inspired by Chavista leaders who are calling for "socialism in the 21st century".

Both the leadership and the masses have learnt by having to counter the military coups, economic sabotage and propaganda warfare of pro-capitalist forces. When you are engaged in open battle, you either learn very quickly or you lose.

Early in 2005 Chavez spoke of how he had once believed in a "third way", which he described as trying to "put a mask" on the capitalist beast, but this had been "smashed by reality" and he was now a socialist. Over the last six months Chavez has moved further towards revolutionary conclusions, calling himself a Trotskyist and proclaiming "permanent revolution". He has made repeated calls for the "dismantling of the bourgeois state" in order to build socialism in Venezuela.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand recognises the very positive initiatives coming from Chavez & Co to push beyond dual power towards socialism. Chavez calls this process a "revolution within the revolution". These initiatives include:


The expansion of communal councils (currently numbering 19,000) across all of Venezuela is encouraging mass participatory democracy and drawing more grassroots people into the revolutionary process.

The communal councils are a positive move to empower the urban poor -- the casualised workers and petty traders in the cities who make up over half of Venezuela's total population. While these councils are not the same as the workers' soviets of 1917 Russia, they are vital in a land where the majority of people live in cities but do not have permanent jobs, let alone belong to unions.

The communal councils possibly have more in common with the poor peasants' committees which the Bolsheviks tried (but failed) to establish as an emancipatory vehicle for Russia's masses of rural workers and poor peasants. The big difference is that the Bolsheviks' poor peasants committees' were set up in the countryside, where their dispersal over huge areas made them unequal to the pressures of class enemies, while the Chavistas' communal councils have arisen in the cities, where a mass concentration of the urban poor and their proximity to organised workers gives them every chance of displacing capitalism's organs of political power.


The popular social missions, directly funded by nationalised oil revenues, have been improving the living conditions of Venezuela's poor.

And the education, health, social welfare and co-operative missions, all relying on armies of volunteers, have begun to establish new lines of power. Chavez put it this way in June 2006:

"The social missions became the instruments of constructing socialism. But they are not socialism itself. They are weapons in the construction of socialism, aimed to include everybody, to establish and to practice equality."


Venezuela remains a capitalist economy, and capital is still flowing into the country seeking profits. But the Chavez government has introduced measures that are challenging the rule of capital. These include:

* Pushing forward with the nationalisation of oil processing, as well as the planned nationalisation of telecom and power companies.
* Government redistribution of wealth from state-owned oil to the poor of Venezuela.
Major increases in the minimum wage.
* Tightening up tax regulations so the rich cannot evade taxes.
* Imposition of maximum prices for basic foodstuffs.
* Moves to repeal the independence of Venezuela's neo-liberal Central Bank.


To move beyond dual power towards socialism demands a mass socialist party that educates, unites and organises grassroots people around the struggle for liberation from below.

Chavez sparked the formation of a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which he compares to Lenin's Bolshevik Party.

The process of forming this "combat party" is already sharpening the differences between revolutionaries and reformists, which had been submerged by the previous ill-defined grouping of parties "supporting" Chavez. Those parties have all been given the option of either dissolving into the new mass socialist party or remaining outside the Chavista government.

It would be utopian to think that the PSUV could be an instantly homogenous party of revolutionaries. It will, however, be a mass socialist party with organic connections to grassroots people who support the unfolding revolution. The process of building the PSUV will challenge the reformist wing of the Bolivarian movement and precipitate a "battle of ideas" in which the masses will participate.

While the initiative for the PSUV came from Chavez, it will be built "from below". Socialist militants, who played a key role in mobilising the Chavista vote during the 2006 presidential election, have become the "promoters" of the new mass socialist party. They are going out to the people to register members, who will be organised into "socialist battalions" of 200 people each. The aim is to organise 20,000 of these "battalions" across Venezuela, from which delegates will be elected to attend the PSUV's founding conference in August 2007.

The conference will run for three or more months, with regular breaks so that delegates can return to their own "battalion" to discuss proposals and come back with a refreshed mandate from below.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the PSUV is vital to educate, unite and organise the grassroots masses in Venezuela so they can push forward the socialist revolution.

Just as Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes all revolutionaries inside Venezuela need to join this mass socialist party, so too we believe that revolutionary groups in other countries need to establish comradely relations with the PSUV.

In combination, the communal councils, social missions, challenges to the market, formation of the PSUV and other emancipatory initiatives by Chavez & Co form a transitional mechanism by which the grassroots people of Venezuela can move towards the socialist defeat of counter-revolutionary forces. Trotsky's transitional programme lives on inside Venezuela as the concept of liberation from below gains concrete mass form.


The future of Venezuela's unfolding revolution is closely linked to the growth and mobilisation of unionised workers, who at present are only a tiny number compared to city-based casualised workers and petty traders, easily the biggest population groups in the country.

The small scale of Venezuela's unionised workers is a weakness in the revolution that cannot be easily overcome. This weakness is compounded by a debilitating political split in the major union centre, the National Union of Workers (UNT). These social and political factors are hindering organised workers from speeding up the revolutionary process.

This weakness is recognised by the Chavista government. Chavez has often spoken of the need for the UNT and the organised workers to take a leading role in the revolution. Workers have been encouraged to take control of factories and create workers' councils. Some small but positive advances in this direction have been taken.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes that the PSUV will be crucial to pulling unionised workers into the forefront of the revolution. That was certainly the role Lenin's Bolsheviks played among the small sector of unionised workers in pre-revolutionary Russia.


While Chavez & Co started from a radical reformist viewpoint, the unfolding class struggle has pushed them towards a socialist perspective which is now assuming ever-sharper mass revolutionary features.

Obviously nobody can say for sure whether the Venezuelan revolution will win out. But right ow Chavez & Co are moving in a consistently socialist direction as they seek to overcome capitalism. In the process, they are confronting many problems unique to Venezuela and thus coming up with solutions not seen before in socialist history, such as the major role of communal councils in a land where far more city dwellers work in the "informal" economy than in corporate or state entities.

Venezuela's unfolding revolution is drawing massive support from grassroots people across Latin America, which is fueling a continental revolt against neo-liberal economics and US imperial domination. In Ecuador and Bolivia, presidents have recently been elected on the back of explicitly socialist challenges to corporate rule.

These are exciting times. Socialism is being seriously talked about and acted upon by millions of people inspired by Chavez and the "revolution within the revolution" in Venezuela.

Socialists worldwide should be enthusiastic about the Bolivarian Revolution. Socialists worldwide need to engage with the revolution's leaders, who will be in the PSUV, so there can be a reciprocity of ideas that promotes the global struggle for grassroots self-emancipation. Thus Socialist Worker-New Zealand is looking to forge practical links with our PSUV comrades in a land where socialism is well on the way to becoming a determining force.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand and a broad range of other leftists have formed the Venezuela Aotearoa Solidarity Team (VAST). We want to bring awareness of Venezuela's revolution to the working class in this country. We want to build a solidarity coalition able to effectively oppose any intervention in Venezuela by the US state and its foreign allies.

In our socialist work in broad coalitions, such as the anti-war, anti-Islamophobic and climate change movements, we are pointing to Venezuela as a positive alternative to imperialism, oppression and eco-meltdown.


It is within the context of the deepening revolution in Venezuela that Socialist Worker-New Zealand responds to Alex Callinicos's proposal to create an IST "Coordination". Alex defines such a Coordination as consisting of "selected organisations" whose leaderships would consult and meet between annual IST gatherings "to deal with initiatives, problems, etc".

Socialist Worker-New Zealand has two substantive concerns with this Coordination proposal. First, it is not intimately linked to the global political situation, and in particular to how the IST needs to engage with the mass revolutionary process in Venezuela. Instead, the proposal is couched in terms of the IST's own internal processes.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the unfolding Venezuelan revolution, if it continues to move in the direction it's currently going, will reshape the socialist and labour movements in every country on every continent, just as the unfolding Bolshevik revolution did from 1917-24. Therefore, rather than looking inwards, the IST needs to be focused outwards towards the most advanced revolutionary upsurge in 90 years and the global socialist regroupments it will inevitably set into motion.

At present, there seem to be real differences between IST affiliates over the nature of what is happening in Venezuela. At one end of the IST spectrum, Socialist Worker-New Zealand see Chavez & Co as being at the centre of the most important "revolution in the revolution" since the Bolsheviks proclaimed "All power to the Soviets" in 1917 Russia. At the other end of the IST spectrum, the Venezuelan revolution was a "non-topic" in the official discussion bulletins of the British Socialist Workers Party in the lead-up to their national conference in January 2007.

So how do we form an IST Coordination when the IST appears to lack real political coordination over the key strategic issue of Venezuela's revolution? If we were to do it just on the basis of IST tactical organisation, any such IST Coordination would be a sham from the outset.

The deepening Venezuelan revolution has sparked intense discussions among the world's different Marxist organisations about what makes a revolution, how to move towards socialism, what is the dialectic between the leaders and the masses, how to establish workers' control and other strategic questions.

We all have a lot to learn from the world historic events in Venezuela. We cannot assume that any one Marxist group has readymade answers to everything. Any IST Coordination, therefore, must be based on facilitating this global debate among all Marxist groups, most of them outside the IST, in tandem with fusing the IST into a strategic engagement with the PSUV's leaders.

It's a global debate about the Venezuelan revolution that the IST needs to start coordinating, and that requires democratic input from all IST affiliates around the world.

That brings us to our second substantive concern. The IST Coordination proposal calls for unspecified powers to be granted to "selected" organisations. Any such "selection" would leave non-selected IST groups on the margins of IST decision-making, given the tyranny of distance over a global coalition like the IST. It would fix the bureaucratic curse of the initiating "centre" and the non-initiating "periphery" onto the IST.

Why can't every IST affiliate have one representative on the IST Coordination? With modern communications technology, face-to-face meetings in London can be replaced by extremely cheap "virtual" meetings that link all continents. The material basis already exists for an all-in IST Coordination that interacts on a global scale as frequently as needed. The real question is whether the IST has the political consensus and the political will to bring it about.


In the opinion of Socialist Worker-New Zealand, it is urgent and critical for the IST to relate to the revolutionary process in Venezuela and the opportunities it is creating for socialists worldwide.

To move in this direction, Socialist Worker-New Zealand makes three concrete proposals:

(1) As many Spanish-speaking IST comrades as possible to attend the three-month founding conference of the PSUV starting in August 2007.

(2) In consultation with PSUV leaders and Marxists from other countries attending the PSUV conference, the Spanish-speaking IST attendees to initiate a global debate about the nature, strategies and prospects of the Venezuelan revolution.

(3) To help coordinate this global debate about the Venezuelan revolution, an IST Coordination be created consisting of one delegate from every IST group and relying on modern technology to hold all-in "virtual" meetings as required.


The failure of US forces in Iraq has opened up more space for the world's socialists to operate. In Venezuela, for the first time since Lenin's Bolsheviks, we are seeing a mass movement well on the way towards establishing socialism within the borders of a whole country. The front line of the epochal war between capitalism and socialism is now in Venezuela.

Even where there has been resistance to the neo-liberal offensive over the last two decades, the international workers' movement has been floundering on the widespread assumption that "there is no alternative". The Venezuelan revolution is putting socialism back on the agenda in a practical and living way -- the way most people will come to socialism. The IST must be an organic part of this process.

Any IST Coordination needs to be focused on relating to forces outside the IST. That's because the forward movement of the Venezuelan revolution and the wider Latin American uprisings look likely to provide the essential material foundations for a positive regroupment of the socialist and radical left on every continent, and the parallel emergence of a mass socialist international.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes the political and organisational decisions made within the IST must reflect this historic opportunity to move towards a mass socialist international. This is the first time since the early days of the Comintern that such a possibility has existed.

This requires the IST to directly engage with PSUV leaders in the building of a mass socialist international. The IST can play a positive role in this process if we make that turn now.

Socialist Worker-New Zealand invites feedback from IST affiliates and other socialist organisations. Please send your comments to:

Central committee, Socialist Worker-New Zealand, PO Box 13-685,Auckland, New Zealand.

+64 9 634 3984


Central committee of Socialist Worker-New Zealand


* Don Archer
* Grant Brookes
* Joe Carolan
* Gordon Farris
* Vaughan Gunson
* Bernie Hornfeck
* Peter Hughes
* Daphne Lawless
* Grant Morgan
* Len Parker
* Tony Snelling-Berg