By Dave Wright
SYDNEY — The Marxist education conference, held at Glebe High School, attracted around 250 people from across NSW. The majority of participants were young activists from a variety of campaigns and movements in Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle and Wollongong.
The conference brought together environmentalists, trade unionists, students, academics and activists from a range of campaigns and Third World solidarity committees. The diverse range of people, experiences and ideas made for a lot of discussion and debate throughout the three days of workshops, panels and feature talks.
One of the highlights was the Friday night public meeting at Glebe Town Hall addressed by Russian socialist Boris Kagarlitsky, which was attended by more than 200 people. In his presentation, Kagarlitsky outlined the grim picture of the impact of capitalist restoration on the Russian people. He concluded that the struggle for socialism is more necessary and urgent than ever in that country, while stressing the need for socialists to learn the lessons of Stalinism in their efforts to build a democratic new left in the 1990s.
Speakers from Cuba, Bougainville, Sri Lanka and the Philippines contributed further to a strong sense of internationalism at the conference. This culminated in an inspiring final session on "Socialism and Internationalism", which emphasised the vital importance of linking activists and their struggles around the world and acknowledged the valuable contribution that this conference had made to this end.
The campaign for a free East Timor was a major theme, with speakers from a variety of Timorese liberation organisations and solidarity committees in Australia discussing the role of the ALP and Australian imperialism in the oppression of the East Timorese people, as well as the plans, aims and hopes of the independence movement for peace and justice. A video presentation documenting many of the public campaign activities in Sydney over the past two years was used to launch the upcoming national day of action on East Timor on May 13.
In addition to political developments on the world stage, the conference agenda covered a diverse range of questions and issues confronting socialists in Australia. These included more theoretical questions such as the relevance of Leninism and revolutionary strategies, and concrete issues such as the impact of the Mabo legislation, gay and lesbian liberation, rebuilding the trade unions and migrant rights.
One of the particularly vibrant discussions which developed was around the question of whether left activists should work within or outside the ALP. At a panel on jobs and the environment, for example, Kevin Parker from the Wilderness Society and Gavin Hillier from the timber workers division of the CFMEU spoke, against the majority of conference participants, in favour of relating to the Labor Party rather than building an independent political alternative in 1995.
The conference closed with conference participants — young and older, newly radicalised or more experienced — joining Sydney's Resistance Choir in an enthusiastic reclaiming and revival of that old favourite of the socialist movement, "The Internationale".