The challenges, opportunities and responsibilities that socialists face today are huge.
Start with the opportunities. The financial and economic crisis that was never supposed to happen is leading thousands of people to wonder whether socialism's "19th century doctrine" (in the words of PM Kevin Rudd) might not still have a few things to say about the world we live in.
The interested reception that the Socialist Alliance's New South Wales and Victorian council election campaigns have been getting confirm that more people are prepared to listen to a socialist message — even if many of them end up voting Green as the most practical way of saying "no!" to the major parties.
The local government campaigns have also brought the Socialist Alliance into closer contact with migrant left and socialist movements, and with the working-class communities that support them, like the Communist Party of Sudan comrades in western Sydney and the Turkish and Kurdish left in Melbourne's north.
But with the opportunities come the challenges. The capitalist economic crisis may be opening many minds to a socialist analysis, but what about our counter-proposals? How convincing are they?
Can we be confident that as working people are driven to look for alternatives many won't be seduced by right-wing populism?
What about our capacity to lead and influence the struggles of the day in an anti-capitalist direction?
The Socialist Alliance's sixth national conference in Geelong on December 6-7 will provide an invaluable opportunity to better understand the economic, environmental and social crises in order to improve our socialist proposals. That way we can better carry out our responsibilities as leaders and activists in the struggles that alone can seriously change things.
The first day of the conference will be devoted to a special public forum aimed at analysing the triple crisis of financial meltdown, global warming and rising social misery. Dr Jamie Doughney (Victoria University) and David Spratt (Carbon Equity Project) will lead the discussion.
Following workshops that go into more specific aspects of the crisis, Dave Kerin (Union Solidarity), John Rice (Adelaide Ecosocialists), Luke van der Meulen (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, La Trobe Valley) and Melanie Barnes (Resistance) will lead a panel addressing the key elements of a pro-people program against the crisis.
This will lead into a discussion to draw out the core elements of an anti-crisis program that can feed into the broader movements for social and environmental justice.
The rest of the conference will focus more directly on improving the Socialist Alliance's policies and work.
Resolutions and proposals will be grouped under themes, leading off with the politics and campaigns needed to build the rickety Australian trade union movement.
Other sessions will cover our work in the struggle for Indigenous justice (led by our national Indigenous rights spokesperson Sam Watson), in the campaign against global warming (headed by national environment coordinator David White), and in further strengthening ties with the migrant left.
This last session will also feature alliance members Soubhi Iskander (Communist Party of Sudan), well-known fighter for Tamil rights Dr Brian Seneviratne and Turan Ertekin (Party of Labour, Turkey).
The conference will also feature two special events; a presentation by Nelson Davila (Venezuelan charge d'affaires in Australia) on "Latin America's struggle for a new world", and "The Great Afghan Socialist Feast" on Saturday night, to be addressed by prominent civil liberties lawyer Rob Stary and Margarita Windisch, participant in a recent trade union delegation to the Western Sahara.
To find out more, or to read the pre-conference discussion, visit http://www.socialist-alliance.org.
[Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Socialist Alliance.]