Thus I make these criticism of the DSP's present approach as a way of helping the DSP. I am not optimistic as to how it will be received by the DSP given its internal culture. Only time will tell its effect.
I remain supportive of the DSP as one of the healthiest expressions of the radicalization of the 1960s and an organization that certainly can continue to play, as it has up to now, an important role not only in Australia but in helping the international movement.
What should we do?
Recognizing past errors can help us to understand how best to proceed today. The fact that organizations like Solidarity in the United States and the DSP in Australia exist with committed members but without mass roots is simply a fact of life. It is also an accomplishment.
It is far better that such organizations exist than that they don't. The question is how to overcome isolation? The problem is not organizational, although it has an organizational side.
Meeting less often or lower levels of participation or commitment will not necessarily increase the size and influence of an organization like the DSP. Experiments in this direction in the mid-1980s resulted in the opposite. The level of activity inevitably is driven more by political developments outside of our control than any internal decisions.
Sensitivity to this issue within the framework of maintaining an activist organization is important, but we must avoid developing an internal culture that is alien and in conflict with the existing mass culture of our respective countries, and especially among working people.
The problem of reaching out is political. One step that came out of the thinking around this question in the DSP was the change of the newspaper from Direct Action, as a strictly party paper, to Green Left Weekly, with its more open political content. This step was a success.
What is needed to begin to over come the isolation is a political shift away from sectarian traditions, language, internal culture and methods of intervention in the direction of the kind of thinking behind establishing Green Left.
The question of language is not a tactical question. It reflects the real political content of our movement. If we are serious about becoming effective and actually changing society, we must stop playing "revolution". For us to succeed, especially in the "Third Wave" world we now live in, our movement must be more internationalist then ever and must be deeply rooted to succeed.
Rather than start from what happened in history it is better to start from what is needed in the world to create a peaceful, just, ecologically sound, prosperous society for all, and how that translates for one's own country, including the immediate steps that need to be taken, objectively.
The development of independent mass politics, independent of those in power, and posing the question of who should rule, are essential to make all the work around specific demands and reforms really meaningful. The failure of the rise of the trade unions in the 1930s developing into a mass political party in the United States was tragic for the entire development of social struggles since then.
The defeat in the USSR set the framework for the defeat in the United States, since the left dominated by the Communist Party was able to betray the workers' movement and keep it tied to the two-party system.
But because of the change in objective circumstances, these subjective factors are now changed. The possibility of a revival of our movement is now on the agenda over the next historic period.
The Alliance and the Workers Party of Brazil are signs of the change. Neither is a finished product, something that is impossible, just as a new-born baby cannot be instantly an adult. The existence of an organisation like the DSP, on a much lesser level, is also a start even if it is isolated because it carries certain elements of what a successful mass movement will need.
But the key is for the DSP or its equivalents in other countries to help develop the mass movement, to root itself in the masses, or it can end up as an impediment to progress, as almost all organisations calling themselves Leninist today are.
The future changes in society will only come about after our movement has literally become the culture of working people, precisely in the manner in which the Sandinistas became in Nicaragua or Causa R is now achieving in Venezuela, or the July 26 Movement did in the late 1950s in Cuba.
Those old enough to have lived during the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement will remember what it was like when large layers of the population, especially the youth, had a culture of struggle. For us to "win", this must occur on a more massive scale than ever, and it must be international more than ever.
For the few groups that have survived the last 30 years, and still maintain a commitment to socialism, but are isolated, it is imperative to make these changes.
The "turn to industry" of the United States SWP in the late 1970s was a farcical ultraleft expression of this underlying problem. After the massive explosion of the antiwar movement and the SWP's participation in it, its sectarian isolation stood out more clearly.
The organisation had to choose which way to go, and in the name of going to root itself in the working-class and end its isolation, the SWP codified its sectarian existence even more profoundly.
We need to do exactly the opposite. In this sense the fear of selling out, the fear of not sufficiently ideologically separating ourselves from other currents, of not continuously "exposing" the limitations of protest movements, has to be confronted.
Deep down, the fear of selling out is a lack of self-confidence, something any organisation that is isolated inevitably develops.
Objective versus subjective
In preparing this criticism it was, of course, necessary to focus, and thus to be one-sided, to bend the stick.
The process of internal education of the membership of any organisation committed to socialism is critical.
That is, the subjective factor is itself an important part of the equation. While this article is clearly focused against one-sided vanguardism or subjective errors, I want to make it clear that the question is not choosing between the two but the correct interrelationship between objective and subjective factors.
While recognising there was a sectarian side to Cannonism, we should also recognise that many of Cannon's organisational ideas are simply good organising techniques.
Many of his ideas on how executive committees should function, the relationship between elected leaders, how to express ideas and how to organize discussions, are certainly of value.
Lenin was terribly wrong when he suggested that the international should not only set the line but determine tactics for each country. The need for leaderships to arise in each country, even within each area of struggle, is imperative for the kind of movement we need to build.
Leaderships make mistakes, by definition. That is normal. The movement internationally will include various currents; that is normal. In fact, we may discover over time that it is really essential, given the diversity of issues with the working people of the world.
Imitating others is a dead end, but one can learn from almost any experiences, especially successful ones. For a period, large numbers set out to imitate the Cubans in Latin America. This was a mistake. So were the attempts to imitate the Russians after 1917. People who can think for themselves have the best chance of success.