By Maurice Sibelle
BRISBANE — Some 160 people gathered at Brisbane's Resistance Centre over the Easter weekend. The conference was the largest, most thought-provoking and inspiring gathering of socialists to be held here for many years.
There were some 60 guest speakers at 20 workshops, three feature talks, two major panels and a debate. Zanny Begg, former Green Left Weekly layout artist, presented a display of her prints "Imprints of Struggle", and local photographer Peter Fischmann presented his Cuban Photographic Exhibition.
The conference was opened by Allen Myers, editor of Green Left Weekly, who spoke on the relevance of Marxism. He said that "the contradictions within capitalism that lead to revolution are intensifying, and Marxism is needed to understand them and guide our activity in overcoming capitalism".
Jim McIlroy, Brisbane secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, debated Ian McLean, former state president of the ALP on whether socialists should work with or against the Labor Party. McIlroy's contention was that "the ALP is a roadblock to socialism, today more than ever. Labor is a capitalist party within the working-class movement. It cannot be reformed ... Right now the priority should be on working to build an independent third force, not being imprisoned within the ALP." Mclean argued that there were no viable alternatives and it was doubtful, given the experiences of the socialist movement, that one could be built.
At a feature panel on the future of green and left politics, speakers discussed what type of alliance was needed to break the Labor and Liberal dominance over Australian Politics. Speakers were Susan Price from the DSP, Mark Taylor from the Queensland Greens, Jason Neville from the Australian Democrats, Bob Leach from Left Connections and Norman Johnson from the Australian Indigenous People's Party.
Leach insisted that there was room for only one left party in an alliance, and he said that party was Left Connections. Price argued that, to be successful, any alliance ,had to be open, democratic and inclusive. Nevertheless, an alliance seemed a long way down the track, given the rivalry between the Australian Democrats and the Queensland Greens.
A major theme was the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Australia. A special workshop discussing the history of the CPA generated spirited discussion and was followed by a "Communist Film Night", featuring Point of Departure, a film about Jean Devanny and From Under the Bed, about Queensland Communists.
A workshop was given by Lionel Fogarty and Sam Watson on the Daniel Yock death in custody and the Pinkenba abduction of black youth by police. Following a moving account of his relationship with his brother, Daniel Yock, Fogarty described his mistrust of the criminal justice system. He announced his intention to run in the next state elections.
The conference also tackled the environment crisis and socialist solutions, the way forward for the free education campaign and the origins of and strategies for women's liberation. Workshops were held on struggles in Latin America, Indonesia, Ireland and the South-East Asian region. A well-attended workshop on trade union struggles condemned the current trade union leadership. Artist and activists shared their views on art as a force for social change.
Running through the conference was a debate over Leninism. Susan Price from the DSP explained, "The DSP is a Marxist-Leninist party, and we don't think that is a bad thing. We don't think it is rigid or dogmatic for the party to develop a position and defend it. We don't believe it is wrong to try to win people to our ideas. We see it as a positive step towards building an alternative that we seek, through the most through democratic discussion, to reach agreement, to make decisions and then to act in a united manner."
A feature of the conference was the Green Left Weekly Dinner Cabaret held on the Saturday night. In a relaxed atmosphere Allen Myers explained the success of the Green Left project and urged people to subscribe and get involved in the project. Artists Sue Monk, Lachlan Hurst, Philip Monsour, Sue Ferrers and Kate Turner teamed up to perform songs of struggle to an appreciative audience.