Campaigning against the imperialist 'War on Terrorism'

The Activist - Volume 13, Number 1, January 2003

Pip Hinman, National Executive

[The following report was adopted by the 20th Congress of the Democratic Socialist Party with two regular and one consultative votes against, and three regular delegates abstaining.]

Comrades, this report is divided into two sections: the first deals with our movement priorities and the second takes up the debate about our movement building approach and tactics.

To work out what we have to do in the social movements, we start with as objective as possible assessment of the real state in the movements today, and their broader political context. This assessment, of course, is an ongoing one. One of the proposals in this report is that The Activist remains open, not just for theoretical and historical questions, but also to continue our assessment of the global justice movement and our orientation to it. Naturally, there may be variations between different comrades’ assessments at any one point in time. How do we resolve these differences? We carry out the majority line and continue to check it against objective reality and the results from our actual practice in the movements. This is the Marxist method.

We can’t start with an abstract idealisation of a particular movement and then try and prescribe tactics and perspectives. This was the mistaken approach that Comrade Sean Healy took in his contribution to The Activist in May (Volume 12, Number 3) about the "anti-capitalist movement". This mistaken approach was repeated by Comrade Danny Fairfax in his contribution to the pre-congress discussion (The Activist, Volume 12, Number 18).

Proclaiming the movement against neoliberal globalisation the "movement of movements" does not justify wrenching it out of actual political developments. No movement can be understood out of the real historical context.

There were plenty of words in Sean’s article in the May Activist about what was supposedly "new" about this movement but that article didn’t take into account major political developments such as the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US and the imperialist "war on terrorism". These developments have severely altered political conditions. They even helped dictate the outcome of the Doha World Trade Organisation (WTO) summit in Qatar, which reversed the formal victory at the Seattle summit which was to stall the current WTO round of negotiations. At Doha the negotiations were restarted - at the point of a gun!

We agree that the protests against the neoliberal summits did not end after September 11, 2001. Indeed we’ve seen the biggest mobilisations yet at Genoa, Barcelona and Florence. But even these protests at the summits have changed - they’ve changed in focus, in composition and in their tactics.

The movement has changed dramatically because a new aspect of the struggle has opened up in the form of a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of the working class in the imperialist countries. Bush, Blair, Howard & Co. have since been on an unprecedented campaign to turn them against the masses of the Third World, to fear them, hate them, to see them as racially and culturally inferior and, ultimately, to get them to collaborate or acquiesce in a sequence of one-sided wars against the Third World.

Part I - Our campaign priorities

At our last congress in 2000 we identified the relationship between the anti-capitalist globalisation protests and the broader mass working class disillusionment in neoliberal solutions as what gave the new movement its power.

Today, the post Seattle movement is still politically well in advance of the mass of class forces which give it its strength. It is a militant minority movement. But the masses are looking on with growing interest, applauding even. Small detachments from the working class are joining the mobilisations; bigger detachments will follow…

This connection between the protests and the broader masses is what the ruling class feared, not the minor disruptive effects of a few clashes between masked youth and the police.

By launching the "war on terrorism" the imperialists see a chance to sever the dangerous relationship between the working class in the imperialist countries and the global justice activists. But they have also raised the stakes, because the war may actually deepen and de-pacify that link.

Obviously we are going for the latter outcome. That is why the main proposal I will be urging all delegates to vote for in this report is that we make building the mass opposition to the US-led "war on terrorism" - with Iraq as the immediate target - the party’s main priority in our movement intervention.

In a broad sense, this has been our main priority - and that of the global justice movement - since US President George Bush declared his extended and open-ended "war against terrorism" last year and this priority can only change when that imperialist offensive is defeated.

Of course, if we reaffirm this basic priority we are not voting to ignore the refugee rights movement or other expressions of the movement for global justice. Rather we are recognising that they are fronts of the same movement and our shared perspective in all these campaigns is to build mass resistance to imperialism’s offensive.

We’ve had a very hectic year campaigning against the imperialist offensive. We should feel proud to have been the driving force for many of the key mobilisations in support of refugee rights and against the wars on Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq and for global justice and solidarity with the Third World. Overall, according to my rough estimate, we played a big part in initiating mobilisations this last year of close to 200,000 people or so across Australia against various aspects of the imperialist offensive. (The accompanying statistics, which don’t take into account the numerous meetings we also helped organise, gives some idea of this.)

As a result, many comrades have won authority in broader movement circles and the structures we’ve struggled for have also allowed new activists to take bigger levels of responsibility for the campaigns.

The war on Afghanistan to refugee rights

Last year we helped mobilise up to 15,000 people around the country into the streets against the war on Afghanistan, with almost no institutional support. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) was pro-war and most of the union leaderships agreed or were not game to challenge this. As the intensive US-British bombing campaign in Afghanistan ran out of targets after two months, the one-sided war was soon over bar the mopping up and propping up of the new puppet regime.

The Human Rights Day rallies of December 2001 indicated that people were less prepared to mobilise against war and that the movement (which rose quickly around the world) had failed to stop. However, we made sure that the anti-war networks were maintained in the form of e-lists and loose networks while shifting our priority to what was fast becoming the big moral issue of the day - the Australian government’s racism and cruelty towards refugees.

This racist offensive was very much part of the ongoing imperialist offensive; its role was to prepare the masses in the imperialist countries to accept further unjust wars. The open-ended "war on terrorism" will only be accepted by the working class in the imperialist countries if the ruling class succeeds in building up racism against the people of the Third World. How else can it sell a one-sided war - of the rich and powerful against the poor and least powerful nations - one after another? How else can it sell the idea of gross double standard on the value of life, where thousands of Third World lives aren’t valued as much as a single Western life?

So the sharp shift we made to refugee rights work was also a tactical regroupment. In Australia, we judged that the campaign in defence of refugees was an essential part of preparing mass resistance to the next phase of the imperialists’ "war on terrorism". The connection was dramatised by the fact that many of the refugees sent into detention or turned back at sea were from Afghanistan.

We saw that the ruling class was divided on how far to drive the racist wedge with former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and former Howard advisor Neville Roach taking a critical stand. This allowed the refugee rights movement to develop a breadth not seen in Australian politics for some time, and it opened up the possibilities for united front mass work.

We were quick to grasp the openings to mobilise support for the Woomera hunger strikers in January this year, while the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and others on the left were distracted with tailing the newly-formed Labor for Refugees. We started building alliances with broader layers of people moving into action, notably the Rural Australians for Refugees (RAR, with whom we collaborated over the Canberra convergence) and ChilOut in New South Wales, recognising the importance of keeping the movement independent of both major capitalist parties.

And we had successes in mobilising thousands of people for the February rallies, the Canberra convergence, Palm Sunday in March, the Villawood and Woomera actions in April; the June 23-24 national day of action, the Tampa Day protests, and the October 26 actions, not to mention helping to host numerous public meetings, film screenings and helping organise protests at the detention centres themselves: Villawood, Maribyrong and Curtin. We noted that for the first time in many years, the refugee movement and the alliances that were being built involved broader layers of activists, well beyond the inner-city left ghetto.

We put work into arguing though some important tactical positions with the rest of the left on how to build the campaign at critical junctures. For example we disagreed with Socialist Alternative’s (SaAlt) ultra-left tactics at Maribyrong and argued instead, like Woomera2002 in June, the civil disobedience actions had to be defensible to broader forces. We argued that if the civil disobedience action was to be effective, it had to involve the majority of the protesters and be politically prepared beforehand with the clear political message - "bad laws need to be broken".

M1-2002 focussed on the attacks on refugees. The protest targets - blockades of Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) in Sydney and the Department of Immigration in Melbourne and other cities - were selected to try and capitalise on the extensive networking that had begun around refugees and bring in a broader layer, but we were only partially successful.

This was due to a number of political factors including: not having the advantage of a "post-S11 effect"; a lack of time to build the protests; and our finite resources to put into the networking. In the end, the protests were big enough to keep M1 on the agenda for this coming year, although in some cities, notably Perth, we made big steps forward in getting the unions to take M1 seriously.

In Melbourne, the M1 protests were organised by the far left and the connecting lunch time rally of 10,000 was organised by Trades Hall Council, although we managed to involve some unionists to take part in the 500-strong blockade outside the Department of Immigration and Multi-cultural Affairs. While Trades Hall refused to support the blockade, the official platform did have speakers take up the major issues of the day including refugee policy as well as Comrade Felicity Martin representing the M1 Collective.

Post M1, our movement work focussed on refugee rights and Palestine. As the National Executive (NE) perspectives report in May argued: "In Australia, [these] two issues being the immediate fronts of the war against the Third World, which has become the dominant focus of the movement against capitalist globalisation/neoliberalism. The attack on Iraq appears to have been deferred".

Re-prioritising direct anti-war work

But by October, even before the SIEV-X commemoration rallies in the middle of that month, the US war plans for Iraq with the Howard government a key ally, had been stepped up. The refugee demonstrations were large enough, but we as noted at our National Committee (NC) that month, there was a rising mass sentiment against a war yet there wasn’t the corresponding movement structures to harness it.

We were encouraged by the huge response to our GLW covers opposing the war, noting that many buyers were potential anti-war activists. We reviewed our priorities again, and branches started regalvanising old anti-war committees, setting up new ones (as in the case of Lismore, Sydney, Darwin and elsewhere) and, in the biggest cities, forcing our way into the ALP-dominated "coalitions" which had sought to exclude us before.

With the opinion polls opposing the war remaining steady or only slightly decreasing, even after the Bali bombing and the huge response to the November 30/December 1 rallies across the nation, we know that if we work at building open, democratic and inclusive movement organisations, this next round of organising will produce dividends for the next so-called "terrorist" nation the US decides to launch a war on.

While the activist structures are still relatively weak, the fact that we’ve seen doctors, actors, religious leaders and others come out strongly against the war indicates a huge potential to mobilise.

Strengthening the anti-war movement

The party’s top campaign priority right now is to strengthen the anti-war movement. In some places, this will mean strengthening the committees which are organising the actions; in others it will mean checking out local groups being set up; in others it will mean spending more time organising our own periphery around Resistance, GLW, the party and Socialist Alliance (SA). Given the time constraints, each branch will have to weigh up which requires most attention.

The main anti-war coalitions restarted in September-October, after becoming e-mail lists in the wake of the war on Afghanistan. It’s clear that our work in building the refugee movement for the better part of the year - the victims of the US-led "war on terror" - helped to prepare the ground for this round of anti-war organising. The major refugee campaigns and actions were supported by umbrella organisations which made "End Mandatory Detention" their key mobilising demand. This reflected the high level of collaboration between the far-left organised refugee groups and the more liberal wings of the movement, a factor which has helped set a precedent for greater collaboration around anti-war organising.

We have made significant progress in opening up, democratising and setting up vibrant anti-war coalitions/groups in some cities, though we still have work to do. But with an impending war, this could be easier as politics and activity can often override petty sectarian behaviour.

The last round of protests was interesting. In Sydney and Melbourne at least, the contingents notable by their absence were student/campus contingents (although there was a lively Sydney university contingent) and union contingents which involved more than a few dozen people. This is largely due to the union bureaucrats’ refusal to organise their members around any social issue, but we shouldn’t confuse this with the fact that many unionists did come - many with their families - and are willing to be mobilised.

Comrade Andrew Hall has won considerable authority for his efforts in pulling together the Trade Unionists for Refugees network this last year, something that has assisted efforts at building a progressive caucus in the Community and Public Sector Union. The same approach should be taken to the anti-war work, and in Sydney at least it’s been started with Comrade Melanie Sjorberg regalvanising Trade Unionists Against the War. We should be trying this elsewhere to build up support for the emergency actions and follow-up rallies, and in particular the projected next international day of action planned for February 15-16, 2003.

In Melbourne, where we have a close working relationship with the left unions, and have a number of comrades in Workers First (WF), we should try and set up a similar group, starting with an e-mail appeal. Stephen Jolly successfully moved that the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union go out in protest the day after any US attack on Iraq. We should take similar initiatives in other unions. Where we think it’s appropriate, the anti-war networks could be workplace based.

There have been important developments made in regional centres such as Lismore - with a highly successful NoWar group and rally in November - and Launceston, with our controversial peace float in the Christmas parade. The coverage the local papers was overwhelmingly positive; comrades should use this discussion to report on progress made in their cities.

In Sydney and Melbourne where the main anti-war coalitions are dominated by the ALP and fellow-travelers (mainly the Stalinist remnants), we’ve made sure we’re not isolated; for instance, we successfully got Comrade Vanessa Hearman onto the Melbourne rally platform for SA and she got a big cheer.

The delegated structures have come about largely because the ALP and their friends are still so strong, and the Greens still weak. The bureaucrats are keen to try to marginalise the far left. However, in Sydney Peter Murphy and Bruce Childs’ attempts to exclude the far left backfired badly, and our comrades played a central role in making November 30 happen.

Apart from breaking the attempt to exclude the radical left, we had another big victory in Sydney around the main demands for the movement. When word got out in October that the Palm Sunday committee had plans to hold a major rally on November 30 with the main demand "Stop President Bush, UN not unilateralism, Peace with Justice", we (along with many others it turned out) decided to attend to argue for better politics and a broader organising committee.

Seeing the strength of opposition the conservatives didn’t put up a fight and agreed to "No War on Iraq", and "No Australian involvement" as the key demands. They also agreed to a broader coalition which included Sydney’s two other anti-war groups - the Sydney Peace Network, formed by the Stalinists who split from the Palm Sunday committee and No War on Iraq initiated by us and activists from the Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

So the political focus of the last round of rallies was clear - and the reason so many people mobilised - but we need to make sure that the movement’s main demands are not softened.

The Melbourne and Sydney coalitions remain bureaucratic delegated structures and are not going to be easily opened up. New activists don’t find them welcoming. In general, it’s better to invite new interested people to local neighbourhood, campus or workplace groups or ad hoc activist workshops in the Resistance Centres. The coalitions will not function much more than as umbrella groups to take central responsibility for the mass rallies. Most of the activism on the ground will have to be organised through other means.

In particular, we should also be making sure that we are pushing SA to build the anti-war campaign and have a good profile at the mass events.

If the war on Iraq is short and the movement subsides quickly - like the war on Afghanistan - we’ll make sure that the networks are in place for the next US target in its ongoing "war on terror". But Iraq may not be like Afghanistan.

In Sydney, the No War on Iraq group, while not meeting, has continued to build its e-mail network and now includes around 600 people. The New South Wales Trades and Labor Council has set up an announcement list - which the coalition advertises on all its material now - which includes some 300-350 people. But there is no reason why we could not build up e-mail anti-war networks that include thousands of people around the country. These lists, particularly those being moderated by us, are going to be important, especially if imperialism moves from one short one-sided war to another.

Our efforts at setting up anti-war groups on campuses will be covered in detail by Comrade Simon’s report on Building Resistance. Suffice to say there have been some promising signs, including some largish meetings of students at the end of semester on Sydney University which resulted in a good-sized contingent for November 30. Resistance’s Blitz Week success shows that there are heaps of young people just waiting to be organised - they just needed to be phoned and asked.

Making an effort to recruit more activists to the party and Resistance during this period will be an important part of making sure that we have more scope to initiate and lead a variety of campaigns, while winning more people to the ideas of socialism and revolution.

Comrades should stagger their holidays so that a confident team is running on the campaign right after this congress. It’s possible that the US will start bombing as early as the end of January so we must be on high alert and involving new activists in the emergency protests and preparations for mass protests on February 15-16.

Refugee rights work in the next year

While our focus now is on the direct anti-war campaign, we are not proposing to drop our commitment to the refugee rights campaign committees where we’ve also had some big successes in the last year. This will continue to be the second biggest area of ongoing movement involvement. The report at the October NC covered our refugee movement campaign work in some detail, and this report won’t cover that ground again.

While the more liberal sections of the movement are perhaps more wary about agreeing to mass protests, there are no signs that they have thrown in the towel. The recent RAR conference agreed to a long list of campaigns, including supporting the protest at Baxter at Easter and a national day of protest in June.

If it wasn’t for the ongoing pressure, the Howard government would not have quietly agreed at the end of the year to allow women and children to live outside the prison camps. The Coalition has checkmated the ALP by moving government policy into line with the ALP’s "new" policy which has intensified Labor’s internal conflict. Carmen Lawrence’s decision to quit the shadow cabinet reveals the extent of the demoralisation inside the ALP, something we have to find ways of exploiting.

With a large cross-over between the activist refugee rights and anti-war campaigns, it’s inevitable that some of the mass mobilisations around refugees have slowed towards the end of the year. However, as the Bhaktiari family campaign showed, such a short sharp campaigns still receive broad sympathy and we should be on the look out for such openings as refugees with temporary protection visas are put back into detention or deported.

Three projects are emerging as key campaigns for the first part of the year. It’s a little unclear where exactly the proposal for a refugee summit for early March, an initiative of the ISO, is at. But with RAR, Free the Refugees Campaign (FRC), Refugee Action Collective (RAC) and Labor-for-refugees supporting the call, we want to make sure that it stays broad enough to include the more liberal refugee groups, not just those being led by the left. We are attending the summit organising meetings and there’ll be a fraction to discuss some ideas we can toss in to these discussions.

Organising has already started on a protest at the newest refugee prison site in South Australia - Baxter - next Easter. Predictably, SaAlt and the ISO and others have labeled it the next "anti-capitalist convergence", thereby immediately narrowing its potential. We want to make sure that this protest is supported by the broadest possible forces, and the same for any proposed civil disobedience action. In Melbourne, a networking group which includes No One is Illegal, the Greens, the refugee groups and the Socialist Party has been set up. We want to make sure that Adelaide RAC group plays a central role, as well as Perth Refugee Rights Action Network, Melbourne RAC and Melbourne West RAC as well as the Sydney and Newcastle groups, all of which have built up significant credibility and have broad networks. We want to avoid a self-appointed clique in Melbourne running the protest.

The next major focus, at this stage, is the proposal for another national day of action on refugees in June. We should try and make sure that organising for all these protests is democratic and inclusive.

Sydney FRC, which has organised some well attended public meetings, and includes some keen independent activists, now has an e-mail list of 715 people.

Despite good joint work between FRC with Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney, including the first big-name refugee rights benefit concert, our suggestions about a merger of the two groups seems to have fallen on deaf ears at RAC (at least with the three ISO comrades who organise Sydney RAC). FRC will draft a letter to RAC which contains the proposal, which can also be distributed to other groups. This will build up the pressure for unity from outside and inside RAC. In the meantime we should keep trying to initiate joint work in Sydney and build FRC.

M1 in 2003

M1 this year was smaller than we’d hoped, due to the "war on terror" propaganda, lack of organised union participation, and the relatively short time we had to build it. It’s clear that M1 has won a certain symbolic place in what passes for the global justice movement in this country. This is because, at our initiative, M1-2001 became the sequel to S11-2000.

But M1 has another value. In the trade union movement it has become part of the struggle to revitalise May Day as celebration of working class militancy and internationalism. We are interested in building the best and broadest M1 in 2003 for both these values.

Looked at from both these perspectives, M1 is a struggle against the conservative trade union bureaucracy in this country. First this bureaucracy has largely adapted and gone along with neoliberal globalisation. Certainly the New South Wales Labor Council has explicitly embraced neoliberal globalisation. Sections of the old-left trade union bureaucracy, such as the Cameron national leadership of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Maritime Union of Australia, support a protectionist, nationalist response to globalisation (hiding behind the ambiguous "fair trade" slogan). Secondly, the trade union bureaucracy - at least in New South Wales - has sought to demobilise the working class and isolate the militant minority (May Day this year is an example).

What do we suggest? If there’s a war on this must be a major focus. Perhaps a slogan like "No war; another world is possible". In New South Wales, and possibly other states, we’re going to have to wage a battle to get the "terror" laws repealed. We may be able to get some unions to come out against these and the other attacks on democratic rights and civil liberties.

We also need to continue to work to try and involve the militant trade union left in M1. Our solidarity with WF struggle against Cameron’s attacks has bought us into closer contact not only with WF, but a range of militant left unionists. This, together with Leigh Hubbard’s left tack, could mean a more coordinated campaign against the attacks of a more cocky second-term Bracks Labor government in Victoria. So in Melbourne and in Perth in particular, the themes must relate directly to the core concerns of the militant unions.

We cannot propose a single formula for M1 across the country. But if we can come up with the right political angle for the day, and one that attracts interest from a range of rank and file unionists, that will be the single biggest pressure we can exert on more unions to come behind the protests.

Also we should not assume that some form of blockade or other civil disobedience action is necessary. The tactics must suit the challenge of building the biggest mobilisation possible around M1. We know we can get the far left and its periphery out for some direct action but that’s not enough; we need to try and make M1 broader.

In Melbourne, we have to careful not to be squeezed out of the whole day by Trades Hall which decided to re-appropriate M1 this year as a workers’ day. This was a victory for the M1 Alliance. But it won’t be as much a victory if the radical left sacrifices the agenda totally to Trades Hall (currently under pressure to become less outspoken against the Bracks government).

In Perth, this year, we had success in mobilising some left union support for M1 (including funding for Ali Kazak, the Palestine Liberation Organisation representative in Australia, to go to Perth). A similar proposal for a non-violent civil disobedience M1 action will be proposed by our comrades in Perth next year. Trades Hall may even shift the May Day march to May 1.

In Hobart, comrades are trying to get agreement with the unions - which are organising a rank and file delegates convention on the day - to join a lunch time unity rally around demands to be decided.

Perhaps we could kick off organising for M1 with a re-launch of the M1 Alliance from a public meeting at which the main themes - the war on terror, on workers and refugees and on our civil rights - are addressed. In Melbourne and possibly Sydney asking Craig Johnston onto such a panel would be useful and inspiring. In Sydney, we’ll need a focus on asserting the right to mass political expression of dissent, given the Carr government’s readiness to ban street marches.

Perhaps we could think about reclaiming the streets in front of Parliament and convening popular assemblies to discuss the main issues of the day? Following the ban on WTO marches, simply having a march and rally on the day in Sydney may become a civil disobedience action.

We need to ask the ISO leadership in Melbourne and Sydney about their thinking on M1. It would be better if we could work together. Some of the same lessons are being drawn. David Glantz was very critical of the left’s adaptation to the autonomists at the WTO protests, as were other ISO leaders. It’s not clear that we’ll succeed in coming up with an agreed approach, but we have to try.

There’s also a new group in Sydney, "Global Justice", that Marina Carman has set up. We’re in touch with it and will try and work together. It may be pitching to organise M1 in Sydney. However, we’re absolutely determined to ensure that organising for M1 is open, democratic and inclusive.

International solidarity

Other areas of our movement work will continue to be important, if not our top priority, given international developments. This year Sydney Committee in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean (CISLAC) comrades initiated a successful Latin American solidarity seminar, which involved many Latin American solidarity groups, and plans are underway for a bigger conference in June in Sydney, a day of which will be devoted to a national consultation.

With the Communist Party of Australia gone and less divisions between the remaining groups, we have a chance of broadening the reach and involvement of CISLAC, something we have to try given the ferocity of imperialism’s attacks on the continent. The Brisbane group has waged a good campaign in support of the Cuban five and continues to involve independent activists. While the pressure on Venezuelan President Chavez mounts, we should be prepared to initiate more solidarity actions at short notice.

SA now hosts a Latin American solidarity caucus, which is already assisting reach-out work.

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific (ASAP) has helped to build broader coalitions against the refugee laws and the war, in Sydney at least, and we should be on the lookout to use it in other cities in the same way. The web site is becoming increasingly popular. Campaigning this year around the arbitrary detention of Lesley McCulloch and Joy-Lee Sadler in Indonesia’s northern-most province of Aceh has won ASAP a range of new contacts including sympathetic academics, and some media types who now ring us on a regular basis.

Among other things, ASAP will need to step up its campaign against US and Australia strengthening military ties with Indonesia’s special forces, Kopassus, and do more to use particular cases - such as that of Reihan, a leader of the Acehnese women’s movement who has been charged with insulting the president Megawati and faces a possible year in jail - to campaign for democratic rights in Indonesia. These cases, and the killings at the Freeport gold and copper mine in West Papua, have sparked more media interest in the struggles for independence in West Papua and Aceh and we need to use these opportunities to build a deeper understanding of, and resistance to, our own imperialist rulers.

The recent protests and violent retaliation by the police in East Timor reminds us too that we have to maintain our coverage of events in East Timor as the crisis there becomes more acute. Darwin Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), which is affiliated to ASAP, conducted two brigades to East Timor this year, and hosted a Timor Socialist Party (PST) comrade for some weeks. While the stretch on branch resources has to be weighed, it’s true that Darwin ASIET has built up some significant authority and such brigades are useful solidarity tools, even if only manage one a year. We need to find more ways of carrying out solidarity work with PST, in particular by giving them more coverage in GLW.

Part II - Our movement building strategy

The first part of the report focussed on our priorities in the movement. In the second part of this report, I want to focus on our approach to movement building, in particular as it has been taken up in the pre-Congress discussion.

United fronts

To organise a mass movement in Australia today, we have to work with a variety of political forces whose political character is liberal or left liberal at best. These forces have a bigger influence over the mass of working people today. So we have to come to some limited political agreement on united action with them. We cannot fudge this basic balance of forces, or the political differences we have to bridge.

Trotsky once said that the united front "is imposed by the dialectics of the class struggle" (Trotsky, The German Catastrophe: The Responsibility of the Leadership, May 1933). That is - as the Scottish Socialist Party’s Nick McKerrell points out in the useful article we reprinted in The Activist (Volume 12, Number 12) - once as a Marxist you are involved in any broad political activity like a strike, community campaign or demonstration you will by necessity be working with others who are not of the same viewpoint as you.

If we did not work together on this basis then no successes would be possible. That is ABC for anyone that has been involved in a mass struggle.

Comrade Nick Fredman also made some good points in his Pre-Congress Discussion (The Activist, Volume 12, Number 21) on united fronts, including the fact that for a united front to be successful it has to relate to the specific project at hand.

To simply try and organise everything through a "Global Justice" group will not necessarily work as the Lismore experience and the ISO fiasco on campuses last year with "Global Action" revealed.

It may seem attractive on campuses where the organising of campaigns has shrunk down to a handful of activists to set up a multi-issue global justice group. But we have to be mindful of using campaigns to break out of this narrow layer and involve more students in activist politics. This may well involve organising "single issue" campaign committees around the key mobilising issue, despite the fact that many of the same students will be involved in all the campaigns.

Single-issue versus multi-issue campaigns

After our work this year we can be confident that we can mobilise tens of thousands of people, perhaps even hundred of thousands against the imperialist offensive.

To mobilise these masses we will continue to use the so-called "single-issue" form of coalition building, not because we have any illusions about how people radicalise, but because it’s been proven time and time again to be the most unifying form of coalition building.

We will continue to implement the approach we learnt from the anti-Vietnam War movement. The important lessons we learnt from that great struggle were that the movement’s strength came from two things: clear demands on government and a clear mass mobilisation focus. While the anti-war movement grew up in the midst of a broader deeper radicalisation in the 1960s and 1970s, the fight to maintain the focus on withdrawing troops encapsulated by the "Out Now" demand was central to the movement’s success.

Other strategies were advanced, as Comrade Nick Everett pointed to in his Pre-Congress Discussion (The Activist, Volume 12, Number 20), but clear anti-war demands united the broadest numbers of working people in action placing the single biggest mass pressure on imperialist governments.

We should adopt the same strategy to build opposition to today’s imperialist wars.

Nothing that Comrades Danny Fairfax and Sean Healy have raised convinces us to abandon this approach to building the anti-war movement. Nothing - absolutely nothing - in the experience of the movement against neoliberal globalisation of the last few years, indicates that this is a mistake or outmoded. Indeed every recent major mobilisation - Barcelona and Florence in particular - convinces the NE majority that this is the right approach.

We adopt this approach to unite the broadest possible forces against imperialism’s main offensive right now. The unity and strength of mass campaigns hinges on this. If we abandon this approach to pander to the anti-capitalist fantasies of a small layer of inner-city radicals more interested in lifestyle "radicalism" we will not have the tens of thousands taking to the street in opposition as the imperialists muster their forces for yet another bloody war to impose their world order.

Around 50% of Australians want to stop the war and we want to bring as much as possible of this majority on to the streets. If the movement is to tap this mass sentiment it has to keep its united focus against the war and Australian involvement and not narrow the mobilisation by adding a range of other demands, directly or indirectly linked, that people may or may not agree on.

We should be clear that the movement’s focus around a "single issue" - or more accurately a clear set of limited but anti-imperialist demands - doesn’t mean that the activists themselves have "single-issue" consciousness. The consciousness of the majority of activists in the movements and that of many of those who sympathise with the movement is "multi-issue". Many could be even be described as having "anti-system" consciousness though clearly only a small minority are socialist. Why is there this gap? Mainly because the "system" that the broader layer is opposed to is neoliberal capitalism (also known as "neoliberal globalisation" or just "globalisation"). Some in this layer are not sure if capitalism itself can be replaced or if socialism is that replacement. Still they could all subscribe to the hope that "a different world is possible".

A mass anti-war campaign today will spread multi-issue and indeed revolutionary consciousness. Anything that works against this will reduce the radicalisation.

Of course, to consolidate this radical, anti-capitalist consciousness, revolutionary socialist have to do more than build the movement. We have to be talking to and recruiting this radicalising layer to SA, Resistance and the DSP. These are the key organisations we want to promote to those with a consciousness about the need to struggle for global justice. It is not our project to set up a Clayton’s party or Resistance, which is "anti-capitalist" but not socialist, which doesn’t talk up socialism or socialist solutions to the crisis of capitalism. That’s a project for those who want to reinforce anti-socialist prejudices, to cut off or stunt the political radicalisation process. That is not our project.

Civil disobedience

Sean also argued in his Activist article that a specifically "new" character of the global justice movement is its embrace of civil disobedience - as opposed to the "old" form of peaceful mass mobilisation - the predominant form of protest in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. But this approach confuses style with substance and ignores reality.

I am not arguing that the tactic of mass civil disobedience hasn’t been - or isn’t now - an important aspect of the global justice protests. As we noted at our last Congress, the post-Seattle movement rebelled against the political leaders and structures of the old social movements, arguing that the tactic of mass civil disobedience expressed a strong desire to break free of the "normal channels" of dissent.

But the movement is moving on from this rather superficial form of rejection of previous co-options of movements.

The 1 million-strong Florence march against the impending war on Iraq was also extremely peaceful, a beautiful rejoinder to the black propaganda dished out for weeks in advance by the reactionary Silvio Berlusconi government.

It also stood in stack contrast to the July 2001 Genoa march, in which the black bloc stormed the red zone resulting in police violence which left Carlo Guilliani dead and scores injured.

We’ve also noted at our last Congress the new movement’s "fear of centralisation" - which led to an over-adaptation to the autonomist-anarchist-affinity group style of "organising" which then inhibited the movement from expressing clear demands. This allowed Non-government organisations (NGO), union bureaucrats (at least in Seattle) and other conservative institutions to speak for the movement on the key issues and politics. As we saw in the international reports, this is still going on in some of the Social Forums but it is increasingly being challenged.

The new movement can organise democratically without sacrificing the cultural and political diversity it treasures. As we said at the October 2001 NC, "There is no necessity for a central leadership that ‘tells everyone how to protest’, but the movement needs some collectively if it is going to grow and keep its political independence".

We also noted that there are political costs and dangers associated with civil disobedience, and that we should not underestimate these. "The other side has also learnt lessons from S11. There is the police violence, the possibility of pre-emptive arrests, as we have seen in the US, the possible use of ‘conspiracy’ charges, million-dollar civil suits against organisers, etc."

Our approach has always been that the tactics follow from the politics of the protest and not the other way around. This approach has the best chance of mobilising the broadest section of the working class taking into account the actual existing balance of forces. This remains our approach because it has been confirmed several times since S11 - at the May 1 protests and more recently at the WTO protests in Sydney.

Civil disobedience tactics are not new, as Comrade Nick Everett pointed out in his Pre-Congress Discussion. They were an integral part of the anti-Vietnam war movement and the earlier US civil rights movement, but they were most effective when they complemented or were part of mass forms of dissent.

Another form in which the tactics over politics argument comes up is that the "old" forms of protest - the mass street march - are no longer appealing to the new generation of activists. But is this really the case? Were young people so disinterested or uninspired by Florence? By the recent anti-war marches? There’s no evidence for this as Resistance has had a field day getting new contacts from those rallies active in special sales week and behind anti-war stalls.

Yes, it’s true that some mass marches have been boring. Sydney’s silent Palm Sunday march this year springs to mind, though it was interesting to see how many home-made placards and banners had been prepared for the event, and how many generations took part. The AMWU’s march and rally against the WTO at the end of 2000 could also be described as boring - but again not because of the participants but rather the ambiguous fair trade slogan and the predictable fake left union leaders who dominated the platform.

I agree with Comrade Sean that the East Timor rally on September 11, 1999 which was also peaceful and didn’t include civil disobedience, was different. It was palpably angry. But politics was the reason. In Sydney at least we had a chance to inject our political analysis of events behind the crisis in East Timor and we didn’t shy away from laying some of the blame on Australian governments - Liberal and Labor. The crowd loved it, because Comrade Max Lane spoke the truth, and the ALP, at least in Sydney, never managed to catch up and contain the movement.

What makes mass rallies "boring" or not is their political content, not their form.

Elevating tactics over politics could mean missing the only possible way of reaching out beyond the militant minority to broader layers of our class.

Not-so-new organisational forms

Comrades Danny Fairfax and Sean Healy argue that the global justice movement is completely "new", different from any of the "old" movements, and as such we need to find new structures and new forms of organising.

But is the affinity group model of organising actually new? No, it’s been used by the environment movement, the women’s movement and many others with various degrees of success. While it pretends to be the most democratic form of organising, allowing everyone their say and preventing anyone from "imposing" their ideas on anyone else, in actual fact, the model encourages undemocratic, cliquish behaviour. The biggest or most manipulative mouth rules most of the time.

As the ISO admit in their internal discussion bulletin organising for Woomera, which was ostensibly based on affinity groups, became pretty highly centralised out in the desert when the pressure was on and tactics could win or lose the necessary public support for the protest. The same applied to the WTO protests. While many of the affinity groups - anarchists and autonomists and SaAlt and, for a while the ISO - refused to collaborate on a plan, when the police got heavy the left blocs came together to salvage the protest on both November 14 and 15.

There is absolutely nothing new about the organisational forms used by the World Social Forum (WSF) and other social forums. There is a lot of liberal posturing about consensus decision-making, about non-hierarchical, non-party organisation but our investigation of WSF and its associated structures indicates that this is a posture.

We see value in participating in international social forums - to the extent we can afford to play this game - and we see value in participating in any social forums organised in Australia. But we don’t see them as being central to organising the mass movement. They clearly do not play this role in the US and Britain, while in Italy and some other parts of Europe it is the participation of mass radical organisations that give the social forums their political content and significance.

The absence of any mass radical organisation in this country severely limits the role of social forums here. We will participate in social forums - there is one being planned in Brisbane for March - but we won’t prioritise them as the best or main way to build the progressive mass movements today. If we are wrong about this we will change our assessment.

For democratic organisation in the movement

Arguing that we need "new" structures and "new" forms of organising to get in touch with radicalising youth, downplays the key factor drawing people towards becoming activists - the politics. To use a cliché - it puts the cart before the horse.

We still maintain, as we said at the October NC after S11: "We need to struggle to keep the movement open, inclusive and democratic. We should not sacrifice democratic functioning to adapt to the undemocratic anarchist organisational forms - even if they were used in Seattle". We saw that by the time the movement got to Prague, there were already criticisms of certain Seattle-process "Nazis" bossing activists around in the name of "new" organisational forms.

This is an important fight for democratic organising to have and win - as we did in Melbourne in the S11 Alliance. People who don’t want democracy can go and set up their own affinity groups, councils of spokes or whatever, which is what the Autonomous Web of Liberation people did in Melbourne and the S11 Alliance was better off for it. In Sydney, some of our comrades and some ISO comrades bent over backwards to the anarchist organisational model in the lead-up to the anti-WTO protests, and still the anarchists went off and did their own thing!

In the lead-up to the WTO we went along with the autonomists’ so-called "new" form of organising - a spokescouncil - which got very little organised in advance, and allowed the tactics to come before politics. The fact that decisions could be sabotaged by one person dissenting meant that everyone present generally wanted to avoid having political discussions - just in case there was dissent! So the (good) politics was rammed through bureaucratically - and we spent our time at the spokescouncil meetings trying to second-guess what the anarchist-autonomists were likely to do, and work out how to make the protests united.

This totally undemocratic form of organising was, to some extent, the result of the adaptation to the autonomists by some of our comrades and the ISO. We did try and caucus beforehand with the ISO, but we were unsuccessful in winning agreement for a more democratic form of organising. Despite this, collaboration with the ISO during the two of the three days of protests was critical to averting some of the near disasters created by police provocation.

A contributing reason to the problem of tactics being elevated above politics was the lack of involvement from the unions in New South Wales. After refusing to allow opposition to the war to become part of the official mobilising focus against the WTO, the union bureaucrats signaled their opposition to working with the left, although there was some cross-over between the AFTINET (Australian Free Trade and Investment Network) and NoWTO groups. In this way, the bureaucrats were quite happy with the spokescouncil model, knowing its propensity to divide and separate rather than unite. Had the unions decided to participate in a real protest against the WTO, as some did in the lead-up to S11, we would have been more likely to win people to a more democratic organising body.

But because we alone were left to argue in AFTINET why unions should support the "No War, No WTO" slogan, we were defeated. The ISO and other lefts, including some Greens and an activist representing the newly-formed Action for a Tobin Tax to Assist the Citizen group were unsure of how to take up the fight. It was after this that the unions decided not to march; only those with a direct line to Macquarie Street knew then that Police Minister Michael Costa had decided to issue a ban on all marches for the three-four days of the anti-WTO protests.

After this final back down, we decided to call an 11am march against war and the WTO. Interestingly, we had to battle for support! Despite the ISO, SaAlt, and the NoWTO group’s support for "autonomous actions", they didn’t see fit to support the action called by Resistance and other groups. Resistance worked hard to build it in the face of such sectarianism, and managed to get a range of endorsements. But the NoWTO group refused to add it to their publicity, and right up to the day we were unsure if we’d have support from the ISO. Eventually, the initiative became an important all-in focus for the November 14 protests that had, up to then, taken the form of a 5-6 hour corporate scumbag tour through the city.


How do we help advance the progressive mass movements today?

First, the movement for global justice cannot be separated from the real struggle against imperialism today. Comrade Danny made fun of this paragraph from Comrade Iggy’s report in Party Campaigner Number 328: "The million-strong anti-war march by anti-globalisation protesters in Florence this weekend confirms our political assessment that anti-corporate globalisation today means anti-war because anti-imperialism is the progressive content of ‘anti-globalisation’ [emphasis added].

But Iggy was right. Neoliberal globalisation is nothing but actually existing imperialism and you cannot oppose imperialism today without opposing the imperialist war. Thousands of militant unionists and ordinary folk agreed with this in Florence. The unionists tossed out the abstract slogan "Another Europe is Possible" to the grumbles of a few NGO activists for the slogan "No to War". Iggy was not "garbled" as Danny tried to make out. Rather it’s Danny’s approach to the movement which is confused because it is based on a fantastic, abstract idealisation of the so-called new movement, rather than the reality of anti-globalisation struggles today.

Opposing imperialism’s war on the Third World - whether that is in the form of extracting debt repayments, the neoliberal restructuring of their economies, or a war for material and political hegemony - is what is progressive about this movement. Its conservative wing - organised around the protection of imperialist capitalists from competition from the Third World - is largely quiet today and abstaining from the movement.

We can call it a global justice movement if you like; it probably sits a bit easier with forces that are quite clearly not anti-capitalists, including some NGOs, trade union officials, liberal intellectuals and politicians. But our assessment of this movement, whatever you call it, is that if it is to have any impact on broader forces, it has to place demands to oppose "the war on terror" at the top of the list. It is the cutting edge of the movement.

Second we cannot fetishise "new" organisational forms. We use what works to mobilise a mass movement against imperialism - nothing more and nothing less. We are interested in forms that turn the movement outward not inward. Only a mass mobilisation strategy can link any campaign to the one force under capitalism that is capable of truly transforming society - the working class. We will continue to participate in future social forums - international and local - but we won’t prioritise them as the best or main way to build the mass movements today.

Third, we must be upfront with our argument that a different world is possible to that offered by capitalism in its late imperialist stage. We argue that that alternative is socialist. This is an essential component of our united front work with other political forces in the movements. While we work alongside those with a mixed range of consciousness in a series of united fronts, we must keep our independent socialist voice.

In the context of the debate around the so-called "new movement" this means we resist the temptation to dumb down our revolutionary socialist politics into some vague liberal radicalism. To accept that it is only "cool" to speak in the dumbed down language of liberal radicalism is to cede unnecessary political ground to the Laborites, the Greens and the tiny sectarian anarchist currents in this country. We work with other political currents in the movement, but we do so as socialists. In this political climate, we have an opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to find the ways of presenting the socialist alternative.


Sean says he agrees with the priorities set out in the first half of the NE majority report but then he goes on to sketch an approach to movement work that will totally undo this.

First, if we don’t have the ability to shift resources from one movement to another we would not be able to prioritise building the anti-war movement. A major reason for our successes this year and comrades becoming leaders in the refugee and anti-war movements was precisely because of our sharp shifts at critical junctures.

When the movement subsided after the war on Afghanistan ended, we jumped in to build the mass opposition to the policy on refugees. We didn’t abandon the anti-war networks as we put energy into the refugee campaign; we tried to find new ways of keeping anti-war activists involved. The revival of the anti-war movement towards the end of the year has been made easier by our consistent work in the refugee rights campaign.

Of course, if it wasn’t for the high level of agreement in the party about our overall perspectives and approach we would not have been able to do this successfully. The mobilisation statistics are one measure of our successes, and the number of experienced movement activists sitting in this room is another.

Second, if our comrades don’t intervene into the movements in a disciplined way we will work against each other and minimise our impact. The best possible way of campaigning is to discuss the tactics and unite in action. We had difficulty this year in our intervention in Sydney around the Social Forum and the anti-WTO protests not because there were differences in approach, but because the comrades that had the differences weren’t prepared to carry out the majority line in these movement areas. So our intervention into these projects could have been better.

Unlike much of the left, we have a commitment to building the movement; this is our heritage. Of course, we follow movement democracy. Even when we were excluded from the Palm Sunday committee we built the march and rally in a non-sectarian way. But unfortunately we’re still too small and weak to win everything we’d like - such as democracy and transparency in the movement committees. We’ve had to go along with the delegated structures of the anti-war committees in Melbourne and Sydney, but we’re still involved in a non-sectarian way.

Third, if we don’t apply the united front tactic (the so-called single-issue campaign approach) to build a mass movement then we won’t unite the broadest forces and we will reduce the broader radicalisation process. Limited united fronts around demands on imperialist government that cut against their attack allows us to reach beyond the radical left to sections of the militant working class.

M1 this year and the anti-WTO protests show we can mobilise between 1000-2000 radical-minded people quite easily; the problem is to go further. To extend on Sean’s water metaphor, I’d say that there’s a sea of potentiality for the global justice movement - but the real question is how to mobilise the mass anti-neoliberal sentiment that permeates the working class. Only by taking steps which turn us outwards will we be able to build the global justice movement and strengthen our movement for socialism.

Fourth, if we don’t try and politically analyse the movements and the various forces struggling within them - because we are afraid of labeling - then we won’t be able to work out what to do. The movements are not one big homogeneous whole; we disagree with the ISO comrades who tend to get all muddled up in the over-excitement about "anti-capitalism" - simultaneously overestimating the anti-systemic consciousness while giving anti-capitalism the most elastic definitions.

The movement cannot afford to be oriented to the tiny, sectarian and utterly irrelevant autonomist and anarchist currents in this country. This would be totally destructive and actually reduce radical consciousness and willingness to take political action.

Finally, if we don’t build the party while doing our movement work then the movement will be weaker and the real anti-capitalist movement - the socialist movement - won’t grow.

Sean raised some good ideas for the M1 and we should discuss these. But the approach Sean suggested - in movement terms - would lead to sectarian mistakes by failing to unite the broadest numbers in mass action against imperialist aggression.

There are specific projects that the NE majority report didn’t take up, but which we will take part in during this year, including the September WTO solidarity protests with Cancun in Mexico. We are also open to working with any structures to advance the movement for global justice.

But we don’t prioritise general global justice structures over those that are most capable of organising mass action against war or for refugee rights because these are the real structures that build the movement for global justice in this country today.

We also don’t want to initiate organisations of "anti-capitalists". Rather, the major structure we are building to regroup the radical and revolutionary left is SA.

Half of the counter report focussed on party-building issues such as GLW, transfers and the balance between the party and movement work that will be taken up in the party building report tomorrow. There’s not the time to address them in this summary. But I urge comrades to vote for the general line of the NE majority report which includes both our campaign priorities (anti-war, refugees, M1 and international solidarity campaigns) and our approach to the movements.

It’s important to make a decision about both parts of the report because if delegates don’t endorse the movement approach outlined we will not be in a position to implement these priorities.

It’s been a useful and clarifying discussion on the nature of the global justice movement and our orientation to it and we can continue it in the pages of The Activist. I’d urge comrades should take advantage of this. We can have differences, but we must act in a disciplined and loyal manner in the movements - democratic discussion but also unity in action.

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