Resistance and youth work in Socialist Alliance

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[This report aims to give an indication of issues considered in the initial stages of discussion that has taken place around this issue, and does not yet reflect any formal position of Resistance or Socialist Alliance. For additional context, see Youth Work, Resistance and Socialist Alliance. Discussion around this important issue will be ongoing in the coming months.]

I am speaking to Section 5, part C of the Socialist Alliance perspectives resolutions which reads:

Socialist Alliance needs to actively engage with and recruit young activists. To this end, SA works with the socialist youth organisation Resistance to the two organisations’ mutual benefit. SA seeks to develop closer collaboration with Resistance at the branch and national level. To facilitate this, SA offers automatic membership to all members of Resistance.

This proposal has come about due to an important discussion that began in September last year regarding Resistance and youth work within Socialist Alliance. The question has been, should Resistance continue as an independent organisation or should it be dissolved into Socialist Alliance?

We should keep in mind that the present resolution is only offering automatic membership of Socialist Alliance to Resistance. The final decision on what Resistance does rests with Resistance. While that is the limit of the resolution, it’s important that this conference has the opportunity to talk about the future of Resistance for several reasons.

First, this discussion, as I mentioned, has already been going on within both Socialist Alliance and Resistance for several months, and this conference provides an opportunity for the broadest meeting of our members to discuss it together.

Secondly, youth work is very important for any political party, especially a socialist party, if it hopes to have a viable future. Young people, generally speaking, aren’t burdened by valuable careers, accumulated debt, the demoralisation of past defeats or the general weariness of living under capitalism for so many decades.

It’s for these reasons that young people are more open to radical ideas, and they can bring new ideas to a party and reinforce the experience of older comrades. Youth work is vital for party building. Therefore it’s important for Socialist Alliance to take this ongoing discussion seriously.

Lastly, this discussion here will give an indication to Resistance of the general feeling within Socialist Alliance of such a move to dissolution.

This discussion began over concerns over the functionality of some Resistance branches. The problem is mainly characterised by a lack of young, experienced cadre which makes it difficult to maintain an independent Resistance branch. This leads to wasted energy and undue pressure on cadre. This is nothing new to Resistance: historically its branches have alternated between highs and lows.

And so this discussion has developed in an effort to find ways for Resistance and Socialist Alliance to work together more efficiently.

I think we need to look at it in this way: what are the pros and cons of an independence Resistance versus a youth wing operating within Socialist Alliance.

Remaining independent, Resistance allows young people to join a radical organisation that isn’t a registered political party. This is important for a small number of potential recruits who would have various reasons for not wanting to join a registered party, such as members of the Greens. I know of one young Greens member who was interested in Socialist Alliance but only joined Resistance because of the Greens' proscribed membership rules.

Independence also affords Resistance the opportunity to develop our own political positions. This political sovereignty would be lost if Resistance dissolved into Socialist Alliance. However, at the moment Resistance is affiliated to Socialist Alliance, and we have no political disagreements anyway, at least for the moment.

We should also look at the relationships between Resistance and the former Democratic Socialist Party, and Resistance and Socialist Alliance. In regards to the DSP, Resistance acted as a broader organisation to attract young people, educate and train them. Some would then join the DSP. Thus it was important for Resistance to maintain its independence in order to maintain its broadness.

Resistance plays the same role of attracting and training youth and encouraging them to join Socialist Alliance. But Socialist Alliance is already a broad-based party, and so the importance of Resistance’s formal independence is reduced.

One of the strengths of Resistance has always been that it gives young people the chance to acquire experience and develop themselves politically by having responsibility for their own organisation. This independent youth organising enables young leaders to develop, who might otherwise be overshadowed by older, more experienced comrades in a combined party.

By folding into Socialist Alliance, Resistance cadre would be free of the responsibility of trying to organise and be part of two separate organisations. We wouldn’t have to maintain separate finances (which hasn’t been working as well as it should), and we could eliminate the duplication of memberships, contact lists, databases etc.

I think the most important aspect is the necessity of attracting and training young cadre. And this can only be done by allowing structure for youth to organise themselves. Such structures can operate as part of Socialist Alliance, without the need to maintain a separate organisation. This gives the advantage of removing the duplication and redundant administrative work of maintaining an independent organisation. A youth wing of Socialist Alliance is, in my opinion, the best option.

What structures would we need and how could they operate within Socialist Alliance?

The simplest idea would be that young people be encouraged to take part in a youth working group, or fraction. Working groups are a model that Socialist Alliance already utilises. Such working groups would be responsible for the branch’s youth work.

Branch meetings could be combined, removing the pressure for separate Res meetings. Of course, if the youth component of a branch is numerous and strong enough, they may choose to hold their own meetings anyway.

We then need to determine whether we should maintain national youth structures. I think youth in Socialist Alliance should keep the chance to make assessments of our youth work and Socialist Alliance nationally. A national youth body could also organise yearly educational and decision-making conferences for youth. The Resistance national bank account should probably be kept to fund such conferences or any other projects.

This is just one example of how youth work could occur within Socialist Alliance. It hasn’t been discussed formally as a possible scenario, but it does give an indication of what has been discussed. Hopefully this will inspire more discussion and ideas amongst comrades in Socialist Alliance and Resistance.