Militant Australia courts DSP

Socialist Party in crisis

Not so long ago, Scotland was the jewel in the crown of the Committee for a Workers International. Now, Scottish Militant Labour has evolved from the economistic centrism of the Militant Tendency to a revolting open embrace of nationalism. The unprincipled autonomy granted to the Scottish section of Militant Labour - now the Socialist Party in England and Wales - is almost complete. The long, opportunist rope which comrade Taaffe allowed SML has become a noose around the CWI’s neck. In one sense, Scotland is dropping off the CWI body politic.

Yet Scotland is not the only place where the CWI shows signs of advanced decay. An international faction has recently been declared, led by the Pakistan section. Its platform includes proposals for the democratisation of the international organisation, the readmission of the expelled US minority and a clear demarcation between the international executive committee and the executive committee of the Socialist Party.

Whether comrade Farooq Tariq’s intentions in Pakistan are sincere, or whether he is constructing yet an all too familiar political escape pod, I do not know.

Another potential spot of bother is in Australia. On May 26, Stephen Jolly, national secretary of Militant (Australia), wrote a letter on behalf of its national committee to the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Party. The DSP - the largest left group in Australia - was a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International until the early 1980s.

In part, the short missive states:

“We would like representatives of your party to meet three of our NC members to discuss the rights and responsibilities Militant members would have in a merged organisation; perspectives and strategies for our work in a post-united situation; any issues you may want to discuss.”

Militant in Australia - a few dozen strong compared with the DSP’s almost 300 - recently split after a less than successful fusion with two small Melbourne-based groups, Communist Intervention and Solidarity. The DSP proposed exploring the possibilities of a merger in 1996. Yet, boosted by its increased profile resulting from its role in the occupation of Richmond Secondary College in Melbourne, and having just incorporated the two smaller groups, Militant must have judged it could go it alone.

Now that a merger with the DSP is back on the table, not surprisingly one of the main issues under discussion is Militant’s relationship with the CWI. The bulk of the June 23 letter from the DSP deals with this question.

The group is unequivocal: “As long as the DSP is not affiliated to the CWI, no individual member of the DSP can have any other relation to the CWI than that of the DSP as a whole.”

The DSP has only recently taken up any sort of contacts with the CWI and it is very unlikely that it would ever affiliate. Militant would clearly have to end its formal relationship with the CWI before it could join the DSP.

The DSP’s response is careful to point out that the merger of two revolutionary organisations is not the same as the creation of a broad formation. But neither group has theorised the necessity and implications of communist rapprochement in what is still a difficult period for revolutionaries. Regroupment is analysed through the sect-like prism of the James Cannon school of party-building adhered to by the DSP. The necessity of genuine democratic centralism - ie, a non-ideological or non-confessional Party based on openness - is not even contemplated. Typically, the DSP’s 28-page weekly paper is silent on the whole negotiation process.

Size is not the main question for a revolutionary organisation. Fusion in and of itself will not produce the desired result. After all, opportunist fusions, followed by sectarian splits, followed by fusions are hardly new to the Trotskyite world. The DSP’s level of  theorisation on the question of revolutionary unity is summed up in two letters to Militant (July 22 1996 and June 23 1998). In 1996 it wrote:

“The left and progressive public does not understand why there are so many separate socialist groups. It is not possible to combine everyone [but] there is an objective basis for uniting our two organisations.”

On June 23 this year, the DSP said: “This of course does not mean that we are asking you to give up any of your ideas or that you would be admitted to the DSP simply as individuals. We recognise that you constitute a distinct political tendency with representation on the national ... leadership.” Further: “Like all other DSP members you would have the right to constitute a faction within the party to promote such a position [as affiliation to the CWI].” But, in line with the gospel according to Cannon, this faction will have no public face.

Apparently the international affiliation of a revolutionary party is not really the business of the working class. Militant and the DSP both come from the tradition of ‘democratic centralism’ - ie, bureaucratic centralism - which enforces a strict demarcation between the real arguments carried in internal bulletins and the brain fodder fed to the working class in open publications.

The period of reaction, combined with the opportunist theory and practice of the left, is giving rise to a variety of unprincipled splits and mergers. The actions of the CWI’s Australian affiliate is creating yet more tensions within the crisis-ridden SP.

Martin Blum