Melbourne conference a major left event


By Jo Brown

MELBOURNE — The Marxist educational conference, "Campaigning for democratic socialism", to be held here over Easter, is shaping up as a major event on the city's left calendar.

To be held at the Lincoln Institute (625 Swanston St, Carlton) April 13-16, the conference features 33 plenary and workshop sessions addressed by more than 60 speakers.

A highlight will be the attendance of three international guest speakers. Boris Kagarlitsky, one of the most prominent socialists in the new Russia, will open the conference at a public meeting on Thursday, April 13, at 7pm.

The other special guest speakers are Teresita Carpio, a leader of the United Workers of the Philippines, a trade union of mainly women workers, and Malik Miah, a member of the US socialist organisation Solidarity.

Several sessions will take up Victorian politics under Jeff Kennett. A plenary panel on "The Kennett offensive and what to do about it" features Iain Stewart, a prominent activist in the struggle to save Albert Park, Stephen Jolly from the Militant Tendency and Sue Bolton from the Democratic Socialist Party.

There will also be workshops on "Restructuring Melbourne", "The politics of privatisation" and "Freeway madness or public transport?" with a range of progressive academics and left activists.

Women's rights and feminism will be a major focus. On Friday morning Teresita Carpio will join Australia Asia Workers Links activist and women's studies lecturer Jeannie Rea and Melanie Sjoberg from the DSP in a plenary discussion of "Women's Asia: resistance and struggle". There will also be workshops on "Women, race and class" and "What feminism has done for women".

World politics and international solidarity will be strongly addressed with topics such as "Indonesia and East Timor: openings in '95", Malik Miah discussing "US politics today" and workshops on "Australian imperialism in the region", "Grassroots initiatives in Latin America", "Western Europe: austerity, racism and the left", "Cuba: defending the revolution", "Latin America: ferment on the left" and "Negotiations in world politics today".

"The politics of woodchipping" will discuss how to build a successful campaign without polarising timber industry workers and environmentalists. A panel of student activists will take up the fight against tertiary fees after the success of the March 23 actions. Another panel will address the struggle for gay and lesbian rights, particularly recent experiences such as the campaign against Tasmania's anti-homosexual laws.

The state of the trade unions will be taken up in a panel whose participants include Steve Roach, secretary of the rebel Shearers and Rural Workers Union, Martin Kingham, secretary of the Victorian branch of the CFMEU, and Lara Pullen, an industrial organiser with the ACT CPSU.

The final plenary session will address the vexed question of the ALP. This will bring together community activist Kevin Healy, state Labor MLA Carol Marple and DSP National Executive member Pip Hinman.

A workshop on "Building an alternative media" features public radio presenter Superna Aggarwal, Dennis Evans from Radio 3CR, Green Left Weekly journalist Bronwen Beechey and RMIT media studies tutor Linda Paric. And composer and actor Irene Vela of Melbourne Workers Theatre and Ray Pereira, one of Australia's best-known percussionists, feature together in a workshop on "Cultural struggle and social change".

Conference organiser Dave Holmes says, "We hope that the conference is a real event for the Melbourne left. It will certainly be broad, informative and stimulating. We reject any idea that socialism and Marxism are finished. On the contrary, democratic socialism is more relevant than ever before.

"We hope the conference can bring a lot of left activists together and provide a forum to canvass the issues in a productive way."

There will be a chance to relax at the conference dinner on Saturday night with great food, drink and music and a chance to talk with Malik Miah.

If you live in Tasmania or South Australia and are interested in travelling to the conference with other GLW readers from those states, please phone Hobart 346 397 or Adelaide 231 6982.