January 2009 NC: DSP’s youth work and building Resistance

By Mel Barnes

[The following report by Mel Barnes, presented on behalf of the DSP NE, was adopted unanimously by the DSP National Committee at its January 10-11, 2009 plenum.]

Resistance has started off the year well. As soon as comrades saw the news reports about the attacks on Gaza they responded immediately and organised emergency rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and other cities soon followed. This is a strength of Resistance, and one we need to continue building on. We are an organisation that can respond very quickly to events and in this way we bring attention to these issues, and we win respect for doing so. We take ourselves seriously as an activist organisation, and the main role of an activist is to act.

Let’s start with a quote by Hugo Chavez from when he was speaking to students three years ago:

"Each one of you needs to be an importer of this idea; repeat it on the street corner and on the street, write it on the murals of the cities, on the walls of the towns and cities, repeat it in the universities, repeat it where you live, sleep, and work. Go and repeat that imperialism is not invincible. Go and repeat that we are in a time of offensive. Go and repeat that a new time is approaching. Go and repeat in different areas that there is a threat that people need to see and hear. Go and fill them with hope and strength, the peoples you represent."

This is what Resistance needs to do, and sometimes we do it very well, but we can always get better at it.

State of Resistance branches

2008 was a difficult year for Resistance without mass mobilisations for us to throw ourselves into and get in touch with radical young people. Contrast this with the mass mobilisations in 2006 and 2007 against Howard’s policies on climate change and Work Choices. In that context Resistance was able to call protests around young workers’ rights, or the environment with some success. This changed in 2008 with the election of the Rudd government. None of us had had experience of organising under a Labor government before, and we found it more difficult to initiate successful protests because of the illusions the new government created among our allies and the public, and they didn’t think that protests were needed.

Resistance has a stable leadership with a good new layer of leaders were elected to the NC at our conference last year. We have around 90 Res members, but only 35 of these sell GLW on a weekly basis. At the DSP NC in October 2008, we realised that we needed to get more Resistance members campaigning with Green Left Weekly on a weekly basis. So we started a “back to basics” campaign to get our sales up to 350 a week, and more members selling.

We didn’t reach these targets because of the slow down at the end of last year and a lack of national organisation around it. We’ll continue with this target of lifting our sales and getting more of our active membership on stalls every week and combine this with a renewed push to joining people to Resistance.

Branches around the country are fairly uneven. Brisbane and Wollongong are very healthy with a large number of active members, a strong leadership team, and are good at taking initiatives such as Wollongong with the campaign to ban Tasers, and Brisbane with the picket of the coal conference. 

Many of our branches are still rebuilding, such as Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart. Sydney branch will be organised by a solid team in 2009 of Tim D and Kylie G.

Melbourne has gone through a period of base building and now is in a very good position to grow this year.

Hobart has quietened down after the highs of the Students Against the Pulp Mill campaign, but it still has about seven active members.  With Stu transferring form Geelong to GLW in Sydney this year, Melbourne branch will have to play a greater role in backing up Geelong

We need to acknowledge some of our branches are weak, such as Perth, Adelaide and Canberra. Some good work has been done in these branches, but it has been difficult for them to consolidate a good team. Perth comrades have worked hard at rebuilding themselves, and there is good potential there.

In these branches we have to see organising Resistance as a tendency-wide project. When we only have a few newish Resistance members around it’s hard to get that momentum up to join more people because it’s hard to attract people to join an organisation of only a few people. In this case Resistance members should be organised through the DSP, and the Socialist Alliance, and keep up a Resistance profile through broadsheets, zines, posters and through integrating people into the national discussion by making sure they come to the conference and national council meetings.

We are focusing on building strong leadership teams for this year. There will be some changes with Bri being de-assigned from national coordinator and organising the Sydney DSP branch. Andrew R will stay in Brisbane and will be available to become a national organiser and Jess M will be available to work in the Resistance NO part time from Sydney and Wollongong

In 2008, Resistance experimented with having a more decentralised national office, with the secretariat meeting weekly and taking responsibility for national organising rather than just one organiser. This isn’t easy and we need to increase the informal collaboration and contact between organisers around the country.

We also introduced monthly NC meetings, which has been working well, with a broad list of invites so that new members who are active are invited and integrated into the national framework quickly. We’ve been trying to back up the weak branches by getting comrades to travel to those branches to help out with events, by keeping in close contact with their active members and by getting those branches to give updates about their branch to NC meetings. 

Perspectives for 2009

There are lots of political issues that young people are concerned about, the major issues are still climate change and the war on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. These are the issues that young people are politicised by and there are lots of opportunities for us to create actions around these issues and get young people involved in the struggle against them.

2009 is going to be a big year for the climate change movement. Resistance has a good position in the leadership of this movement through the work we’ve done in the past couple of years. However the movement is still not united around a common strategy.

The focus for the year for most climate activists will be the climate negotiations in Copenhagen at the end of the year. The Australian Youth Climate coalition is mainly concerned with organising young people into lobbying politicians and attending the big negotiation conferences. They see this year as the last year for action or else we’re all doomed, and when the government doesn’t come to their senses by the end of the year like they expect, there’s a danger that demoralisation will set in.

We have worked more closely with the The Australian Student Environment Network which is involved in organising the Climate Action Summit in Canberra. Their major proposal at the summit will be to organise sit-ins at politicians’ offices in the lead up to Copenhagen, and escalate them if the government doesn’t respond. As limited as they are, Resistance should be involved in these smaller actions where we can be, as well as organising our own actions with these people. 

The climate summit will be a pretty important conference that will set some strategy and plans for the rest of the year, and Resistance will have delegates to so that we can be part of the discussions about the direction of the climate movement for the next year. We’ll also be holding workshops during the summit to build on the work we’ve done in the climate movement. After the summit there will be a convergence on Parliament House, and organisers are expecting a couple of thousand people at it.

The proposals Resistance will take to the summit will be an NDA in May, which I’ll go into in more depth in a minute, as well as another large mobilisation at the end of the year to coincide with the Copenhagen talks. We also want to tour Graham Brown, the retired coal worker from Newcastle, around some campuses in June, around World Environment Day. This will help to build support for the radical solutions to the climate crisis.

Responding to Palestine

Already Resistance has responded well to the war against Palestine, by being involved in initiating rallies in many cities. The primary task for Resistance is to continue to help build the mass demonstrations as large as possible to maximise the political pressure on Rudd. There is a lot of confusion and racism about Israel’s war on Palestine, with many people condemning violence on both sides without understanding the context. We need to make sure our own membership is clear on the politics and when we go back to campus in a couple of weeks we should hold O-week forums on the issues, or joint meetings with the Muslim students association etc, and explain the role of imperialism and the response our government has had compared to the response by the government of Venezuela and Cuba.

On other tasks, we should draft up two statements: one general one in solidarity with the Palestinian people and another on what we see as the main political tasks for the movement. 

We should look at making the petition initiated by the Gaza Defence Committee in Sydney to be a national project, as well, its an attempt to try and get as many organisations and individuals to sign as possible. We can use it on stalls, as well as approach others we work with to sign on as soon as possible.

The other idea is to look at the Academic Boycott campaign, as it was put by the President of the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees. We can urge academics around the world to intensify their boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and to isolate the Israeli academy in international forums, associations of academics, and other international venues. 

We could then look at initiating a campaign to call on universities to completely boycott all Israeli academic institutions. We could draft up a statement of support this week and look and asking academics and universities to sign on. This could be a specific task, which Resistance takes the lead on.

Economic crisis

We know that the economic crisis will affect all of the work we do in the coming year, but we aren’t sure just yet how soon this crisis will affect young people or in what ways. Analysts are predicting that Australia will enter a recession this year. A Sydney Morning Herald report from January 2 stated that, “School-leavers face the grimmest job market in years, prompting concerns about the emergence of a new generation of long-term unemployed”.Although historically in a recession it is generally young people who are hardest hit, this hasn’t started to happen yet, but this situation might change quickly and we need to be able to respond to it quickly. It would be worthwhile branches scheduling meetings around the last time Australia was in a recession and how the Labor government responded, and how activists fought back. We need to develop Resistance as an organisation that can respond to these issues, whether it’s attacks on student rights and welfare and worker rights, or the justification of putting the economy ahead of the environment. 

Rebuilding Resistance

The biggest focus we need to have this year is to continue rebuilding Resistance. One of the major proposals from this report is that we launch a recruitment drive in Resistance from now until the conference in April.  The joiner target will be 550, and we can begin by confidently recruiting at the Palestine rallies, at O-week and on campus, at music festivals like the Big Day Out, from stalls and at the conference itself. This is a project that cannot just be left to Resistance to do, we need all the help from the DSP as well, and it will coincide with a recruitment drive to SA and the DSP at the same time. How do we do this?

Resistance has proved itself to be confident in being leaders in the movements, calling actions and working with other people and groups. But one of the dangers we face is that we build the movements at the expense of ourselves, and after the movement has dipped we can be left without gaining new members. It isn’t sectarian to be upfront about our socialist politics and the fact that we want to build our organisation. We shouldn’t be afraid to recruit confidently, although it does take practice and that’s something the DSP needs to help us out with. We want to be bold, and to stand out, and to make a fuss – that’s the whole point. If we make every stall vibrant, are visible and confident at every big rally, have weekly branch meetings and paste ups, do ITSs with every new member as quickly as possible, these are the little steps that altogether take us a long way down the path of rebuilding ourselves. 

Campus work

Our campus work is in a weak state at the moment, but it is important that we continue our presence on campus because it is still the best place to meet and recruit young people interested in politics. In getting ready for O-week and thinking about our clubs on campus over the next couple of weeks, we want to propose that this year Resistance branches focus on one campus in their city and build up a strong base on that. For example there is going to be six comrades on UQ this year, giving us a great opportunity to build up a strong base there.

Sometimes, when we can see the potential on lots of campuses, we can spread ourselves too thinly and are therefore weak across all campuses. But with a strong base on one campus we can build our forums and speak-outs more effectively and from there can challenge other left groups over their ideas. It’s not just Socialist Alternative that we want to challenge, but the young Greens and the individualistic ideas that tend to dominate in many environment collectives.

We should also profile our Marxist politics more openly, because there are always people who will be attracted to theoretical ideas, but even more so as the economic crisis begins to bite, more people will be looking around for answers to the crisis, and they’ll be open to the possibility of an alternative system. 

At the 2008 DSP Congress Resistance assessed that “Nationally our campus work is uneven and this needs to be one of the key things that we turn around in 08”. We wanted to start clubs on campus and get active in the environment collectives which we saw as the most active clubs left standing after VSU.

But we weren’t able to achieve this. The student movement continues to decline with no significant campaigns initiated by students on campus in the last year. The National Union of Students is dominated by Labor students who have killed the fight-back against VSU, even though there were two NDAs around VSU in 2008, these were poorly organised and attended. At the NUS conference in December they scrapped funding for the position of environment officer, which used to be paid, because that position would have been filled by an independent

Because there is no student movement it is difficult to initiate actions even in places where Resistance is the only left group on campus, like in HobartGeelong and Adelaide. We don’t have any Resistance clubs that meet on campus, and we’ve had difficulty attracting large numbers of new people to our forums on campus. However we have had some success working with other groups, in Geelong we built up a strong “Students for Palestine” club.

How do we do battle with other left groups, particularly Socialist Alternative? We know that we have a better political perspective and this year we have got a really a really solid plan of projects and campaigns. So this should give us the confidence to recruit on that basis, and we need DSP members to recruit to Resistance as well and have the political discussions around Cuba and Venezuela and Socialist Alliance, and why we’re not Stalinists. We shouldn’t be freaked out by them, but out of all the good work we do in building the movement and making alliances won’t automatically build ourselves unless we’re conscious of asking people to join and challenging the ideas of other groups. 

O-weeks

The National Office will be producing a glossy Res poster to be put up around uni, but no national O-week forum poster. Branches will be able to come up with their own forum around the socialist solutions to the environment and economic crises, as well as forums on Palestine.

We’ve found that it’s better to hold these forums in the first week, and another one in the second week because the longer we wait to get new members involved, the harder it is to do that. We need to go really hard on recruitment, because O-week is still the time when we join up the most people to Resistance. 

With the tours of speakers like Fred Fuentes, Ian Angus and Michael Lebowitz, leading up to and after the Marxism conference there will be some great forums on campus that will be a fantastic opportunity to build Resistance and to profile ourselves on campus. 

There will also be report-backs from Resistance members who went on the recent brigades to Venezuela and Cuba. Seven members went to Venezuela and 4 went to Cuba and 1 to El Salvador.  Focus these report-backs around particular topics that are relevant to the groups we’re talking to, like Venezuela’s environment work to the environment collectives, or their indigenous missions to Indigenous groups. It keeps our members interested as well. With all the sustainability groups popping up these days we should be involved and introduce people to the politics and programs in Venezuela and Cuba.

Other campaigns that we’ll be involved in are the convergence on Canberra for the Indigenous rights as well as keeping up actions around the war in Afghanistan.

Where there are openings for branches to take action around local issues they should do that, Wollongong has had some success in doing that and they are now known as the “leading activists” in the city, as reported by the paper. 

Resistance’s campaign work

Environment work

The success of the climate emergency rally in Melbourne on July 5 inspired Resistance at our national conference in August to initiate climate emergency rallies across Australia in September. This was our major project in the last half of the year and we saw the need to cohere the climate movement, develop a mass action approach and develop more radical demands. A week of action from Sept 21 coincided with the dramatic melting of the Artic sea ice in the Northern summer. Rallies were held in every city but the turnout was smaller than we expected, reflecting the weakness of the movement at the moment.

The signing of the Kyoto protocol by the new Rudd government and the discussion around implementing an emission reduction scheme, caused many people to think that this government would take care of climate change and attending protests was not needed. However out of these protests we built on the networks we’d made during the Fossil Fools Day rallies and we set up committees of ‘People for a Safe Climate’ in Brisbane, Sydney and Hobart. 

Adelaide also had a successful climate emergency conference, which brought together a range of activists who challenged that idea that Australia could continue business as usual while ignoring the threat of climate change.

Resistance also helped build and participated in the Walk Against Warming rallies held in November and December, which were also lot smaller in every city in 2008 compared with the rallies in previous years. The demands of these rallies were also notably more vague and in most cities the rallies were organised by a closed group of the nature conservation councils.

Anti-war work

Anti-war work remains at a low ebb around the country and is uneven around branches. We successfully toured Palestinian solidarity activist Isaac around quite a few branches last year. 

Venezuela solidarity

We toured Kiraz in most branches at the end of last year, attracting small numbers of new people to these forums. Seven Res comrades participated on the recent brigade to Venezuela. And we’ve been continuing to educate our members about latest developments in branch meetings. 

Education

At the end of 2008 we focussed on educating our membership about the financial crisis and the Marxist response. There are education camps happening early in 2009 in Melbourne with Geelong, Hobart and Adelaide, and in Sydney with Wollongong, Canberra and Brisbane.

World at a Crossroads & Resistance conferences

The other big focus for Resistance in the first half of the year will be the April World at a Crossroads conference and the Resistance conference which will be a one-day conference held the day after the Marxism conference.  This will be a challenge because it means the reports will have to be packed into one day, but we’ll also have just had two or three days of politics, workshops and discussions.

The Nominations Commission to elect a new National Council will still be held during the three days. The two conferences aren’t separate events: the Resistance conference will just be an extension of the Marxism conference. This means that Resistance will have a strong presence at the conference, through leading workshops, speaking on panels, interviewing international guests, and participating in discussion. Resistance will also be working closely with the DSP to make this a really successful and engaging conference, and to get all our members along to be able to experience it.

As well as the joiner target of 550 from the start of year until this conference, we’ve also planned a delegate target of 60 Resistance delegates. This means we have to start talking to our members about it now and at O-week when new members join. The earlier we talk about this conference, and the more emphasis we put on it, the more likely people will be excited to come to it, so we need to start talking to members about it right away. 

We’ll also have a training day and/or a large NC in July when a lot of our comrades will be in Melbourne for the Students of Sustainability conference. So a one-day conference doesn’t mean we’ll miss out on any politics, or miss out on having the national discussions we need to plan our events for the rest of the year. 

As a way to build links with international groups we’re also planning to do a mini-brigade to Indonesia and Malaysia in the second half of the year, to meet with the students and young workers over there. This is something Resistance has been talking about doing for the past couple of years, because our relationship with the young Indonesian comrades isn’t as strong as it was 10 years ago and we want to keep it up.

Major initiative in May

The major project that Resistance will be initiating in the first half of the year is a national day of action, or week of action, around the slogan, “Our planet is worth more than their profits”. This will tie together the environmental and economic crises, and there is a lot of discontent around both issues with the pathetic 5% target and the deepening of the economic crisis.

This project will be a strong Resistance building event, this is the main motivation for this action. But a protest around these issues is needed and has the potential to attract a good number of people because of the anger about the government’s actions.

The government will use the economic crisis to cut back on spending for the climate crisis. Big business is pressuring the government to wait until the economic crisis is over before tackling the environmental one. But we can’t wait, and we don’t know how long the economic crisis might last, so waiting is just an excuse they are using to avoid the cuts they know are coming. And we can’t wait, because the longer we wait the worse the crisis will be. Economists are warning that 2009 will be when Australia will join other developed countries like the US, UK, Canada and Japan in recession. This will mean job losses and people will start to react. 

We can hold a protest outside of places like corporations or other corporate targets, like banks, the stock exchange, coal corporations, or maybe a government target like a politician’s office. We can have a different target depending on the city, but the theme and politics will be the same nation wide.

These protests will help to radicalise the environment movement to take up wider social issues, and steer it in a direction of proving that big protests are more useful and empowering than small, secret lock-ons. We want to tap into the anti-corporate sentiment that’s out there, obviously the political situation is different from when we had large protests outside stock exchanges in 2001, but we could stir up some of that anger around corporations who are selling out our planet and our government who are bailing them out rather than helping the environment. 

In deciding on these targets we need to assess what themes will draw young people out to participate in an action like this. We don’t know what the political situation will be like exactly in six months time, how deep the coming economic crisis will be by then or how it will be affecting young people. 

We’ve already started discussing whether or not we want to call a blockade for this action. It might be the thing that inspires people to come, in some branches, but we can’t make that call just yet until we know what allies we have to pull it off and what the feeling is around the protest. There may also be the possibility of calling high school strikes for it, but again that depends on what branches consider they can achieve. 

We need to start planning for this action right away, so that by O-week we have a leaflet and can have an organising meeting. We want to put out a broad call for other groups to join us, but one of the things we learnt from Fossil Fools Day protest last year is that if other groups aren’t prepared to get onboard then we don’t have to wait for them and we can do it on our own.

Resistance’s relationship to Socialist Alliance

Strengthening the relationship between Resistance and SA, so that all Res members identify with SA and come along to meetings, and the conference. Leaders of Resistance are pretty involved in SA branches but the rest of Res isn’t necessarily.

Balancing the relationship between Res, DSP and SA can be difficult because it puts more responsibility onto Res members to take on more work, attend more meetings and can overload people.

Resistance should have its own campaigns apart from SA, but work alongside SA on campaigns that we have in common, sharing information but also collectivizing work and making decisions together.

Newcastle’s election campaign is a really good example of how Resistance can play a energetic role in SA. Three young comrades stood for election and made a splash with their youth oriented policies and their stark difference from any other candidates. SA can be seen as the larger network that Resistance members should be involved in.

 Resistance’s relationship to the DSP

2008 was also a difficult year for us because of the split in the DSP which destabilised some DSP branches, and this flowed on into the Resistance branches, with so much energy taken up by the faction fight, unavoidably it meant less back-up from the DSP to Res, and Res leaders taking on a lot of responsibility for the DSP.

The effects of the faction fight has demoralised some of our members, and exhausted others, but we have survived that period. We are still in the process of rebuilding Resistance, and this will continue this year.

This is the time when we need the DSP to help Resistance rebuild, to go hard on this recruitment campaign, to help out on campus, and at rallies, and with education.

Strengthening the number of Resistance members who identify with GLW, write for it and campaign with it off stalls will strengthen the relationship between the DSP and Res. Because that’s one really important way to introduce Res members to the ideas of the DSP, of training them up in activism, and of convincing them to becoming life long revolutionaries.

It’s a good time to be a socialist because so many more people are looking for answers to the several crises that are happening in the world right now, and we have the answer about why that’s happening and where we should be going. We should feel proud of the work we’ve done, and be confident to build ourselves bigger.

I’ll end on another quote, this one from Michael Lebowitz: “Socialism is the future, build it now”.l
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