By Jon Land
SYDNEY — The Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance commemorated 150 years of the Communist Manifesto with a socialist education conference here, January 3 to 7. The 255 conference participants reaffirmed and discussed the relevance of the document in providing an alternative to the waste and misery of capitalism.
Lively and informative discussion was prompted by the plenary sessions and 48 seminars and workshops during the course of the conference. These sessions were supplemented by classes specifically on the Communist Manifesto.
There were five streams to the seminar series, looking at Marxist economics, uninterrupted revolution, Stalinism, internationalism and the impact of historical events on Marx and Engels' theories.
Workshop topics included the Marxist theory of the state, the origins of women's oppression, trade unions, lesbian and gay rights and Marxist philosophy, to name just a sample.
The conference opened with a feature talk by DSP national secretary John Percy, titled "150 years of the Communist Manifesto: Its Relevance for Today".
Percy addressed the global crisis which capitalism has created through overproduction and over-accumulation. The inevitable result of this process, he stated, was the increasing impoverishment and polarisation between the rich and poor — within and between nations.
Highlighting the current economic situation in Asia and the manoeuvres of US imperialism through the IMF, he looked at how the US is using the crisis to open up markets in the region for its benefit. The intervention of the IMF will result in the poor paying for the blunders of corrupt entrepreneurs and governments.
On the importance of the Manifesto to those who have struggled for a better world, Percy said: "Hundreds of millions of people all around the world have been inspired into lives of activism and heroic sacrifice by its brilliant analysis of capitalist society, history and politics and by its call for a revolutionary change. Future generations will fully appreciate its significance."
While noting that there had been significant changes in society since 1848, he refuted claims by bourgeois and "ex-Marxist" critics that the Communist Manifesto is an inappropriate guide for analysis and action today. Its validity had been more than proven by the test of events.
"Marx and Engels laid out their vision of a new society pregnant in the old, and the possibility of achieving that vision, and striving for that new society, socialism.
"It's even more urgent and relevant today, and the economic and social basis makes it even more possible. What's lacking is the subjective element, the confidence and consciousness of the masses, and the revolutionary socialist party. We here are an important part of the solution. Our responsibility is large — to take the ideas and the revolutionary spirit of the Communist Manifesto into the next millennium", said Percy.
Other feature talks dealt with issues crucial to the fight back against neo-liberal austerity, drawing on the experiences of Marx and Engels. These included the role of internationalism, capitalism and the ecological crisis, revolutionary socialism and reformism, the revolutionary potential of the working class, Marx and Engels on the party and a history of the Marxist press. Matt McCarten, chairperson of the New Zealand Alliance, gave an update on the situation since the 1996 elections.
"Fighting Racism in 1998: Applying 150 years of experience in the Marxist movement " and "Women and Socialism: The Marxist Perspective on the Liberation of Women" were popular plenary sessions. DSP national executive member Lisa Macdonald traced the origins of racial oppression and how racism divides the working class.
In the context of a new wave of racism in Australia today, Macdonald assessed the current state of the anti-racism movement and the importance of a Marxist strategy in fighting against racial oppression.
DSP national executive member Margaret Allan in "Women and Socialism" examined the history of the struggle for equality for women and the central role that socialists have played in this movement. Allan also contrasted the Marxist view on women and the family with those of other currents in feminism.
Other areas that the DSP is involved with were taken up by national executive member Carla Gorton on the final day of the conference. Opposition to uranium mining at Jabiluka, the campaign against cuts to higher education and solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Indonesia will be high on the agenda.
Gorton also stated that the DSP would step up its solidarity in defence of the waterside workers currently under attack by the Howard government. DSP members working in the public sector would continue to campaign against the loss of jobs and conditions.
Priority will be given to Green Left Weekly, which has played a vital role for socialists and progressives through linking different social justice campaigns.
Resistance national coordinator Sean Healy spoke on the role of young people as leaders and activists in the revolutionary movement. He believes that more and more young people are taking an interest in socialist politics.
"There was a significant number of young people at the conference, which reflects this", Healy told Green Left Weekly. "I think many young people see the world in a certain crisis and are looking for reasons to explain this and how to fight against it. This is a central part of the appeal of socialist politics generally, and of the Communist Manifesto.
"Resistance members from around the country were very interested in the classes on the Manifesto, wanting to know what the analysis of Marx and Engels was and how it stood up for today. They found that it still does have relevance and makes sense — the Manifesto's view of the class struggle and the necessity of overthrowing capitalism."
Healy felt that the conference "was a very optimistic one. There was a very good sense that this is what the history of our movement is. What can we learn from it, what can we apply from it to the struggles of today to get rid of this rotten system? So it was a very inspiring conference for all who attended."