Pre-Conference Discussion Document no1.
Socialist Aotearoa is now a little over a year old. It was founded on the 1st of May, 2008, and has since gained new supporters and grown modestly in size. This document is intended to begin a discussion amongst comrades on changes we need to make to our media, meetings and internal democracy to enable us to grow in our second year. We are holding our first Annual Conference on the weekend around August 15th, and we are encouraging members and supporters to prepare position papers that we can discuss in the Pre-Conference period.
Socialist Aotearoa was founded by dissident members of Socialist Worker who opposed that group's decision to launch the Residents Action Movement as the new party of the broad left in New Zealand for the 2008 National elections. We felt that this organisation was neither broad- it did not involve other key activists on the Left from outside the SW orbit in groups such as Unite, the WP, the Alliance, nor was it particularly left- with many concessions made by leading members to economic nationalism, socialism being a dirty word, neither Left or Rightism, etc. Despite leading members of SW-RAM claiming a membership of 3000 plus for their organisation following our departure, they gained less than 500 votes throughout the country for the broad left option, that ran in opposition to both the Alliance and the Workers Party tickets.
Although the founding members came from an International Socialist tradition, we soon attracted supporters from syndicalist, ecosocialist and other anti capitalist ideologies. We widened out membership criteria to agreement with five key points, which we called the five fingers for a fist, and ratified this at our Foundation Hui.
Since then, we have worked well together-
organising political forums, screenings and educationals both on and off campus,
carrying out internal education for new members in revolutionary socialism
interventions in demonstrations, strikes and protests,
making posters, leaflets, badges, t-shirts and bulletins,
writing for our blog SocialistAotearoa.org
The next decade ahead in capitalism sees us face both economic and ecological crisis, crisis we believe cannot be solved by mild mannered, broad left, parliamentary reformism. Although not opposed to "broad left" unity with other genuine left groups, unions and parties in United Fronts, we believe that we must help to create an explicitly anti-capitalist, revolutionary movement outside of the orbit of left social democratic reformism. We see Socialist Aotearoa as a dynamic part of this movement, but not the only part. We have good relationships with key activists in the Tino Rangatiratanga, Climate Change, Anti-war, Anarchist, International Solidarity and trade union movements who are also revolutionaries, and these relationships we maintain through a process of dialogue and mutual respect.
In our second year, we now need to look at how we should organise if we want to continue growing.
Group dynamics amongst a group of 5 differ from a group of 30-40, which in turn will differ from a group of one or two hundred. We have made the first transition from 5 to 30- in the year ahead we should aim to double our size to 60 members. Here are some suggestions on how we can do that.
(a) no more tyranny of structurelessness- for a democratic and accountable leadership.
We have had many internal meetings and Hui throughout the year, but the organisation has like all groups without a formally elected "leadership", formed an informal leadership group who plan activities and strategies on an increasingly ad-hoc basis. We want to move away from this model to give membership more responsibility and accountability. How we do this should be a theme for the upcoming conference.
(b) building cells and fractions around realities
We now have comrades in the University of Auckland, AUT, and MIT campuses. We also have a cluster of members in both South Auckland and Hamilton. We have individual members in other cities of Aoteaora. We also have members in a number of different unions- Unite and the NDU being two of the largest. How we organise and grow within these geographical and political areas requires us now to think of branch, cell or fraction structures.
(c ) a turn to recruitment
We should not be mere consumers of the spectacles of strikes, demonstrations and mass meetings. These mobilisations are key moments in our political life where the arguments for a revolutionary, anti capitalist alternative are needed. However, one thing we share with the rest of the NZ Left is a cultivated amateurism when it comes to building support.
The revolution is not our private property- we need to
poster, sticker and stencil city walls to build upcoming meetings and demonstrations
make sure we have a leaflet or bulletin for all screenings, protests and strikes we intervene in
operate recruitment stalls at major festivals, mobilisations and campus O weeks
talk to new people as fellow human beings and invite them to participate in our activities
build the union in our workplaces and win the best co workers to socialism
A comrade who after one year of political activity has not convinced one other worker or friend to become a revolutionary obviously is not getting the proper support from our organisation. We need to move away from being consumers of politics as a spectacle and act as participants in our own history. The larger the revolutionary group, the more the impact we will have on both local and national politics.
At the moment we have a relaxed and informal approach to membership of Socialist Aotearoa- and that is both a good and bad thing. Good in that we do not have a cult like, oppressively dogmatic atmosphere around us, bad in that we have very little resources.
In any organisation, members activity and availability is constrained by material factors- long work hours, modularised and commercialised education, dependent children, time or financial poverty, etc. Socialist Aotearoa takes the words of Bobby Sands as inspiration- "In the revolution, everybody has their part to play, however small." Thus, membership for our organisation is open to anyone who agrees with the five fingers for a fist foundation principles.
We should now go a stage further. In many countries throughout the world right now, revolutionaries make real sacrifices for freedom, democracy and workers rights. They are imprisoned, tortured and murdered. They give their lives for the cause, and are remembered by the Red Flag.
We are not at that stage yet in Aoteaora. Yet some of our members and supporters have been arrested, suffered police brutality, been locked out by bosses etc. There comes a time when to be a revolutionary means to put your body on the gear of the machine. We do this voluntarily for our fellow workers and humanity because it is the right thing to do.
What sacrifices should we be making in the early stages of building a revolutionary anti capitalist movement in Aoteaora? Should we have weekly weekend stalls? Should we be doing industrial stalls outside key workplaces we want to organise at 530am in the morning? Should we be paying weekly dues to build up our resource base? Should we take a lead in our individual workplaces to organise the union around us, going for delegate positions?
At the very least, we should begin formalising membership to decide who are supporters and who are members and begin this process by asking activists to make a weekly koha to Socialist Aotearoa's resource base. This would of course be linked to how much that member could afford, but just like union dues, it should be weekly and it should be paid by AP. Due paying members vote at Hui and at Conference and decide the political strategy of the organisation.
(e) Creating our own media
We want to encourage more comrades to write for our blog, SocialistAotearoa.org, which now has a readership of about 400 different people per week. Articles needn't be huge or academic- short reports on strikes or protests we have been to, complete with digital photos attached, are vital to keeping the homegrown element relevant and up to date. Email them to email@example.com
For the premiere of the Battle in Seattle, we printed out the first copy of an A3 Bulletin that we called Anti Capitalist, which many people liked on the night. This could be a format that we use when something big comes up quickly, where we need a series of articles and analysis that is specific for a particular event or issue.
A larger publication that is monthly or quarterly, that is in pamphlet or newspaper form, would require us to form an Editorial Board, and begin mixing reportage with more in depth theoretical analysis of events. It is now time to begin doing this, and how we do this should also be the subject of discussion at conference.
Conclusion- Where we want to be
Socialist Aotearoa should be a vibrant, creative and imaginative group on the NZ Left. We should be printing our own well designed leaflets, badges, pamphlets and journal. Our graphic posters and provoking stencils and graffiti should be the writing on the wall. We should raise funds to buy the necessary machinery, such as a badge maker, screen printer, flags and software.
We should be raising funds through poetry nights, communist cabarets and screening controversial left wing films. We should hold no holds barred political debates that become socialist showdowns.
We should be taking our own photographs, filming our own videos, recording our own interviews, writing our own stories, and uploading all of these files onto the net through SocialistAotearoa.org.
We should have branches in AUT, MIT and UofA. These campus groups should be registered political societies that apply for funding and that can book rooms and lecture halls. Campuses should be covered in our posters for upcoming meetings or debates, and there should be weekly stalls building for demonstrations or campaigns off campus too.
We should have fractions in the major unions, where SA activists can come together to discuss our involvement in building the rank and file movement. We should be winning the best worker activists to socialism and to Socialist Aoteaora.
We should have geographical branches in Hamilton, South Auckland, Auckland City Centre and Wellington. These branches should also have weekend activity that they organise at major markets or busy streets.
We should have members who pay dues and aim to recruit new people. If we can double our membership to 60 by next year, we will be doing very well.
We should be at the forefront of building the movements, be it Anti-War, International Solidarity, Climate Camp etc. and rebuild a combative Anti Capitalist movement as a priority.
I hope these suggestions encourage some debate amongst comrades. Please begin to write your own responses, suggestions or Pre-Conference submissions. These will be compiled in the next Pre-Conference document which will be emailed to all members and supporters next week.
Appendix- Five Fingers for a Fist
Socialist Aotearoa was founded on the 1st of May, 2008, and had its principles of unity, Five Fingers for A Fist, ratified at a Foundation Hui on May 10th. These were-
1. One Solution, Revolution!
Socialist Aotearoa is a revolutionary, socialist, anti capitalist group. We believe in socialism from below, system change not climate change, and Rosa Luxemburg's battlecry that "Revolutionaries are those who fight the hardest for reforms in the here and now!".
2. Workers of the World, Unite.
Socialist Aotearoa is an international socialist group. We oppose all imperialist wars and occupations, and support all genuine national liberation struggles for independence. We demand the immediate withdrawal of New Zealand colonial troops from Afghanistan and the Pacific. We support the struggle for Tino Rangatiratanga and self determination for Maori in Aotearoa, fully aware of the bloody history of the New Zealand state's past and the dispossession of Maori today. We welcome refugees and immigrants to Aotearoa, and fight against racism wherever we find it.
3. Equality for all.
We oppose all oppressions based on race, gender, sexuality and religion.
4. United Fronts
Socialist Aotearoa will co-operate with other left wing parties, unions and movements, but maintain its organisational independence and state it's politics honestly and openly. We will work in United Fronts, but reserve the right to publish and contribute our own socialist ideas within them.
5. For a Rank and File network within the Trade Union movement.
The working class movement is the force we believe will change the world. As demonstrated by general strikes and revolutions throughout the decades, it has the power to shut down the system and replace it with a better world based on sharing and direct democracy. As such, Socialist Aotearoa members are active in our unions as volunteers, members, delegates and organisers.
We are with the Union leaders when they fight, but believe that union bureaucracy acts as a negotiating layer between the workers and the bosses. In order to counteract the influence of the Labour Party's union bosses , rank and file union members and delegates must organise a cross-union, cross-industry network of solidarity and struggle.