At the NSW Socialist Alliance State Conference, which was held Sunday 7 November, I (i.e., Pat Donohoe) moved a motion calling on the National Council to prepare a report and recommendation on party organisation for debate at the next Socialist Alliance National Conference.
I did this in light of the changes which have taken place in Socialist Alliance since the last National Conference, including the dissolution of the Democratic Socialist Perspective and consequent changes to party organisation. Together with the challenges of the global crisis of capitalism, these changes make a review, analysis and assessment of our party organisation both timely and necessary.
But these issues are, obviously, national issues, which need to be thoroughly discussed and debated at a national level. This contribution to Alliance Voices is an attempt to start the debate with an articulation of a number of criticisms shared by a number of NSW comrades. I hope that Alliance Voices will see a lively and constructive debate on these issues in the lead-up to National Conference.
Four issues were originally raised in the motion to NSW state conference, and I will address all four:
1. The reduction of the number of party full-timers.
It is timely to examine the need for such a large full-time party apparatus. Given the current lack of significant mass social movements in Australia and the reality that the Socialist Alliance is not yet a mass party, are there better ways to organise and better uses for our financial and human resources?
2. The introduction of mandatory rotation of both party full-timers and office bearers.
The mandatory rotation of party full-timers and office bearers is a democratic practice, which has been used in progressive organisations and unions such as the NSW Builders Labourers Federation in the past, which would foster the development of revolutionary leadership and confidence in the party, as well as serving as a guard against the tendency to fall into bureaucratic complacence.
Mandatory rotation of officers on, say, a two-year cycle would both keep full-time comrades from being divorced from the everyday reality of working-class life and struggle and give opportunity for new comrades with fresh ideas to be developed.
The removal from the social relations of capitalism which long-term full-time work for the party entails distorts assessments about class consciousness, the relative strength of the class and the methods of organising taking place spontaneously.
Under such a framework, all office bearers and full-timers would be able to serve for two years, and then have to leave the party apparatus (but obviously not party activism) for two years before being able to return to an office bearing or full-time position in the party. In this way, even a relatively small organisation like Socialist Alliance would be able to maintain this check on bureaucratic stagnation.
3. The discontinuation of Green Left Weekly as a hardcopy print publication and a move to it being completely online, with flyers for specific purposes used to agitate at demonstrations, stalls and to organise instead.
Green Left Weekly is a huge drain on party resources, both financial and human. The old tactic that it is used as an organiser and builder of the party has been proven to be ineffective by experience. Less people are selling the paper and less people are buying it, and it is not pulling in new recruits because it is an outmoded form. Few people read hardcopy print papers these days. The online and electronic media of blogs, homepages, Facebook and wikis are more relevant to people in struggle today than having a paper pushed at them at a demonstration or stall. We do still need to campaign of course, to organise, agitate and disseminate socialist ideas. But there are more effective forms and media available today in the struggle for 21st Century Socialism.
Green Left Weekly remains an important progressive voice and source of information outside the interests of the mainstream, capitalist press. However, the view of its centrality to the party project is a vestige of an out-dated version of Marxist-Leninist dogma that needs to be updated. All the far left groups adhere to the same strategy, at any demonstration you will find all of them pushing their own little paper for their own little group. And in the process they actually alienate potential new members rather than recruit. The world has moved on since Lenin wrote about the importance of the paper in the early part of the twentieth century. We need to move on, too.
Additionally, as an organisation committed to the environment and fighting climate change, it is difficult to justify the unnecessary printing of hardcopy that is not even achieving what it is supposed to.
4. The fostering and support of groups to develop socialist theory and analysis.
The nature of capitalism and the working class has changed dramatically in recent decades, let alone since the times in which Marx, Lenin, Grasmsci and others were writing. For instance, take the changes introduced over recent decades by capital to optimise short-term exploitation and to minimise its responsibility to the working class: increased casualisation of the workforce, increased “flexibility”, and the “modernisation” of awards and bargaining agreements have shifted the terrain and nature of working-class struggle. Such changes, reflected in political, social and cultural changes in late capitalism, are vital to recognise and theorise. While Marx’s fundamental critiques of capitalism and alienation remain valid, the changing dynamics of capitalism demand that socialists revisit the analysis of capitalism, the concept of class consciousness, how resistance and struggle against capital emerge, and how socialists should relate to and engage in such struggles.
The Australian left is working on the basis of outmoded and out-dated theoretical assumptions, and has largely ignored or remained oblivious to much theoretical debate and research taking place internationally (particularly in Europe). The Australian left has also neglected to engage in meaningful theoretical development and research itself.
Over the last twelve months a number of small groups, consisting of a spectrum of revolutionary positions, have set about attempting to address some of these questions, including the kind of organisation required in the 21st century. Some of these groupings are seeking to conduct both empirical research and theoretical development around questions of: capitalism and its changing nature; the working class, developments in its nature and composition; and the forms of resistance and struggle in which the working class currently engages.
The Socialist Alliance must recognise the need to engage with such questions in an authentic way and must support such research and theoretical work, and meaningfully engage with such groups.
This does not mean that we should engage in intellectual discussion removed from practice, as one speaker against my motion at NSW State Conference suggested. The same speaker also suggested that Green Left Weekly developed such theory in actual struggle. Green Left Weekly does indeed report on ongoing struggles from around the world. However, there is very little development of theory coming out of those struggles in the pages of Green Left Weekly - in fact there is little more than simple reporting. What little more there is than this is based on the theoretical assumptions that the Australian left has based its work on for the last several decades. It is time that we re-thought those ideas that we take so blithely for granted, particularly those around organisation.
There are groups on the far left that are having these discussions and these debates, and far from being divorced from the class struggle, they are engaging people who are attempting to criticise and perfect the forms of struggle and resistance they are engaged in, whether as workers, students or in a variety of social movements. The Socialist Alliance will only gain from meaningful engagement with such debate.