The Resistance and Socialist Alliance conference 'How to Make a Revolution' was held at the Brisbane Activist Centre over the weekend of the 13-15 of December.
Over the weekend we had over 80 registrants for either the full weekend or for parts of the conference, raised over $1,000 for the GLW Fighting Fund, and joined around 5 new people to Socialist Alliance. About 50 youth attended the conference for the full weekend, slightly down on our target, but not far from it.
The strength of the conference was not numerical, but political. The sessions were generally of a very high standard and level of political seriousness and the discussion was more engaged than I've seen at some previous conferences. New comrades stepped up for presenting sessions or chairing. It was clear from talking to comrades that the conference was an inspiring event for many if not all participants. A layer of new members made a qualitative step forward in terms of confidence and commitment to the Socialist Alliance over the weekend and have gone back to their respective branches with ideas for what to do next for branch building.
The conference was divided into streams: feminism, revolutionary strategy, student struggles, and introductory sessions. The feminism stream was particularly successful and helped continue the development of Socialist Alliance's feminist politics. In these sessions a number of comrades suggested the party put on a Marxist-Feminist conference and produce a new pamphlet on this area of our work.
The education stream was perhaps the least successful, due in part to the absence of a real implantation of our organisation on campuses and in the student movement. This is something that the party has decided to try to turn around, but it shows that a lot of work will need to go into it. Nonetheless, the student sessions at least opened up a space for getting the discussion going on involvement in the student movement.
The key theme of the 'mass action' perspective ran through the conference in a very explicit and organic way. This strengthened the overall impact of the conference on the newer (and older) members, providing a much-needed space to discuss our perspective coming out of the unity process.
This model of selecting a couple streams and a key political message was, I think, a very good move. Of course it came with drawbacks, as a number of comrades noted, insofar as we were not able to fit in sessions specifically dealing with the refugee situation or the LGBTIQ struggle, for example, but it contributed to a feeling of taking key questions seriously, rather than just having a session on everything for the sake of it.
For me a key session or even stream that was missing was one on the dialectic of party and class. What we didn't do enough of was discuss in both theoretical and practical terms how the mass action perspective relates to the building of a socialist party in Australia today. I suggest this be a theme at the next educational conference.
The contributions by comrade Soh Sook Hwa from the Socialist Party of Malaysia were a very good and inspiring addition, and helped foster a concrete internationalist perspective amongst new comrades.
A number of suggestions were made about the presentation format of sessions. Comrades generally felt that more interactive sessions would be useful, along with more visual and multi-media components to help with the processing of information, especially for newer comrades. At future conferences the mode of delivery should be considered with more care, and the form of the session tailored to the content presented.
One issue that became apparent on the campus working group day on the Monday was the continuing confusion many comrades are feeling around the formal Resistance/Socialist Alliance relationship. Which group should comrades be recruiting to? Which body is organising our youth work? How does Resistance relate to the campus working group in SA? With Resistance as a national organisation at a nearly non-existent level, some real decisions will need to be made at the next SA conference. The establishment of a 'youth caucus' or working group within SA called 'Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance' appears to be the most likely and supported option amongst young comrades, although what that means will need to be fleshed out in discussion over the next few months. The new relationship could be voted on at a 1-day Resistance national conference as a satellite of the June SA conference. I will draft these proposals shortly and get the ball rolling on the discussion.
All in all, the conference showed that while we're starting small with our re-orientation towards campus work and cadre development, we already have a number of very committed youth around the country who are inspired to put in the hard yards. What is clear is that the party should prioritise building youth leadership teams in branches around the country. This means both consolidation of the core we already have. The January organisers’ school will be a useful opportunity for this, and the work in this area should continue at branch level after the school.
It is important that we ensure we are clear about the priorities of youth recruitment. We do not need to desperately run out and recruit large handfuls of youth in every branch. We need to be clear that in terms of youth, the key issue here is recruiting them to clear politics, correct practice, and integrating them into strong teams. This requires a very consistent approach and one that puts serious emphasis on one-on-one political discussions with new members. It means educating them beyond our ITM classes and into the more serious theory of party building. If we get this right in the short-term, we'll have set ourselves up for much more rapid growth in the medium-term.
Youth in the party are in general lacking experience around the country, and our thin middle layer in the party at branch level between the older ex-DSP cadre and the emerging youth leadership makes it more difficult to pass on lessons and experience. Extra attention needs to be paid to this over the next period, and should be driven from the national SA leadership, while a national youth leadership team emerges from the strengthening of teams at branch level and the integration of them into the life of the party (along with a clarification of national structures for youth).
There is a great capacity to recruit and develop youth in the party over the next year, with attacks by conservative governments at State and Federal level and also with G20 coming to Australia. I suspect if we decide to go with another similar educational conference for youth at the end of next year, it will be an even greater success!