Socialism for the new millennium conferences

May 5, 1999


Socialism for the new millennium conferences

— "Socialism for the new millennium" conferences, organised by the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance, were held in Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney over the Anzac Day long weekend.

Robyn Marshall reports from Brisbane that some 80 people attended during two days of lively discussion of many key issues for the radical and socialist movements.

Highlighting the opening morning was a panel "Indonesia: the unfinished revolution". Greg Poulgrain, research fellow at Queensland University of Technology, outlined the 1965 coup, which led to the bloody imposition of the Suharto regime. Gerry Van Klinken, senior lecturer at Griffith University, spoke on the political currents in contemporary Indonesian politics. Nick Fredman, DSP organiser in Lismore, discussed the growing democratic movement in Indonesia and the strategy for revolutionary change proposed by the People's Democratic Party. A wide-ranging discussion ensued.

Workshops followed on the struggle for freedom in East Timor, featuring East Timorese community activist Alfonso Corte-Real and Dani Coulson from ASIET and Resistance; the history of the anti-uranium movement, introduced by Andy Gianniotis; and the role of US imperialism, from Kurdistan to Kosova, presented by Nick Everett.

A feature panel on the lessons of the MUA struggle heard from Dick Nichols, DSP national industrial organiser; Bob Carnegie, former Queensland MUA branch official; Mark Walker, organiser for the Transport Workers Union; and Jim McIlroy, Brisbane DSP branch secretary and CPSU delegate.

The session involved a vigorous discussion of the events of the 1998 Patrick lockout and the rise of a rank and file opposition within the MUA.

On the Sunday evening, an inspiring film, The Legend of Fred Paterson, was shown. This tells the story of Australia's only Communist member of parliament.

The second day led off with a panel "Fight VSU! Fight the Liberals!". Discussion ranged over the problems and tactical issues facing the student movement, in particular the conservative role of the ALP-dominated NUS leadership.

Workshops followed on the topics: Did Leninism lead to Stalinism?; Asian economies in crisis; and Cuba, Latin America and the legacy of Che Guevara.

The final afternoon featured a panel headed "Time to get angry again — women's rights under attack". Unna Liddy, from the Queensland Women's Interests Coalition, Matilda Alexander, Griffith University women's officer, and Ruth Ratcliffe, Brisbane Resistance organiser, addressed the current stage of the women's movement and major issues facing it.

Workshops followed: "White Australia has a black history: racism in Australia", presented by Andrea Marklew and Martin Schenke; and "An introduction to the DSP and the left", by Jody Betzien.

The final feature talk, by Graham Matthews, Brisbane DSP organiser, discussed some of the key issues facing the socialist movement, and the lessons of major events and debates around reform versus revolution which have dominated the 20th century.

Concluding that capitalism is entering a new stage of crisis, Matthews said the question was posed to all conference participants that the fight for socialism is essential if humanity is to survive.

In Sydney, writes James Smith, 150 activists of all ages and walks of life attended the conference, held at the University of Technology. Unionists, feminists, environmentalists, solidarity activists and others exchanged and debated ideas on a wide range of struggles.

In the opening session, "Behind the war in Kosova", Green Left Weekly writer Mike Karadjis outlined the history of the conflict, the attitude Marxists should take towards the intervention by NATO and how Kosovars can win self-determination.

"We should be demanding that NATO stop the bombing as well as independence for Kosova. The only people armed and defending Kosova should be Kosovars", he said.

The feature session on April 24 was "Fighting Reith one year after the MUA dispute". The panel included John Maitland, joint national president of the CFMEU, Tim Gooden, secretary of the ACT Government Section of the CPSU, and CPSU organiser Sue Bull. Gooden explained the increasing importance of rank-and-file campaigns and highlighted the success of the Workers First campaign in Victoria.

A dinner titled "Forty years of the Cuban Revolution" was held on Saturday evening.

The opening session on April 25 was titled "Is capitalism ecologically sustainable?". Anti-nuclear campaigner and Green Left journalist Dr Jim Green outlined the growth of the global nuclear threat."To rid the world of the nuclear industry, we need to rid the world of capitalism", Green said.

Sydney University Resistance activist Keira Courtney examined why capitalism is driven to degrade the environment. Courtney examined the Greens' strategy of appealing to big business to improve its image and trying to make capitalism sustainable. She argued that it was necessary to go beyond individual battles and work towards overthrowing capitalism.

The feature panel titled "Tactics in the class struggle in Indonesia" included Chris Latham and Dave Gosling, who recently returned from Indonesia as part of the Resistance exposure tour.

Gosling presented Suharto's rise to power and accumulation of wealth, his relationship with Western capitalists and how the IMF program was being used to bail out the businesses of Suharto and his cronies.

Latham outlined the tactics of the radical wing of the movement, highlighting the rapid growth of the People's Democratic Party (PRD).

Liam Mitchell, from Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), described the role the solidarity movement should be playing: "We should demand that the Australian government end all military ties with Indonesia and to pressure the Indonesian government to end its repression".

The conference ended with a dinner and talk, "The world socialist movement". John Percy, national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, outlined the state of the international socialist movement, its relevance for the struggles of the working class and oppressed and how we can go about building socialism in Australia.

The conference included 20 workshops, with speakers and activists from Sydney, Canberra, Newcastle, Wollongong and Parramatta.

In Melbourne, Martin Iltis reports, around 100 people attended. A wide range of activists spoke on issues including unionism, environmental justice, feminism and international solidarity.

The opening panel, "Issues, debates and strategies for the labour and social movements", set the tone. Cam Walker, from Friends of the Earth, stressed that those committed to environmental justice cannot divorce the environment from issues of social justice.

DSP member Sarah Lantz, an activist in the International Women's Day collective, stated the necessity for separate organisational structures that give women the confidence and space to organise politically, and the need for the women's movement to unite its struggle with others.

Craig Johnston, Victorian assistant secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, described the success of the Workers First grassroots formation. He contrasted its approach of mounting real campaigns in support of workers' rights to those of most union leaderships, which have a primary focus on supporting the ALP.

Max Lane, national coordinator of ASIET, emphasised the importance of international solidarity and called for activists to mount mass actions here to pressure the Australian government to withdraw military support for the Indonesian regime.

Sessions on East Timor and Indonesia attracted considerable interest. Professor Arief Budiman, from the Institute of Asian Languages at Melbourne University, stated that after the Indonesian elections, one of the three mainstream "opposition" parties could well govern in coalition with the ruling Golkar party. None of these parties have a commitment to self-determination for East Timor or even a clear political program.

Budiman said that the People's Democratic Party (PRD) does have a clear program but its lack of financial resources and situation in the student movement meant that it had little impact.

ASIET activist Vannessa Hearman disputed this characterisation. She pointed out that demands first put forward by the PRD, such as freezing the assets of Suharto and putting him on trial, and ending the military's role in politics, had been adopted by the student democracy movement. The popular demand for a transitional government to administer the elections was first proposed by the PRD. Hearman also referred to organisations in the union, urban poor and peasant movements which are affiliated to the PRD.

Fretilin activist Joaquim Santos gave a historical account of the problems confronting the East Timorese. He emphasised the need for activists in Australia to maintain pressure on the government to end recognition of Indonesian rule.

International cooperation and possible regroupment of the left were taken up in panels with the conference's international guest, Adam Novak, editor of the Fourth International magazine International Viewpoint. Novak expressed a preference for formal alliances between different left groupings that need not be overly concerned with programmatic agreement. Members of the DSP argued that alliances should be based on substantive political agreement. They pointed to close relations with parties such as the PRD in Indonesia, Socialist Party of Labour in the Philippines and the Labour Party Pakistan, which did not necessitate a formal "international" formation.

The liveliest debate was sparked by the session, "Is abortion a moral issue?". Leslie Canold, author of The Abortion Myth, argued that the feminist movement has lost the battle over abortion by failing to "talk about how women feel about the foetus". While locating herself as a pro-choice feminist, Canold centred her argument on individual women's morality.

In contrast, Sarah Lantz argued that abortion is foremost an issue of rights. Although most people still favour a woman's right to abortion, the anti-choice lobby has reduced women's access to abortion over the last decade.

Lantz said that a main reason for this was the movement's decline into an ALP framework. She pointed out that all ALP policy, including the Western Australian Davenport bill, refused to repeal abortion laws and make abortion a freely available health choice that all women can access.

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