The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) held its recent Congress in Durban, KwaZulu/Natal on 5 and 6 October 2002. Forty-five delegates, overwhelmingly working class youth representing the four most important provinces, Gauteng, the Western and Eastern Cape and KwaZulu/Natal, attended.
Eighth CWI World Congress
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Reports from CWI sections in South Africa, Sri Lanka and Sweden on their party campaigns and activities over the last twelve months. These are edited versions of reports presented to the Eighth World Congress of the CWI, held in Belgium from 23-30 November. Over the next week, CWI Online will publish many more party building reports from all areas of the world. We urge all readers that agree with the ideas of the CWI to help us in the struggle for a socialist world. Join the CWI today!
CWI Online, 22 December 2002
For many of the comrades present, the congress was their first exposure to some of the main ideas, strategy and programme of the CWI. Although many of the youth present are not experienced in the ideas and traditions of the CWI, they have a formidable record of struggle in fighting against the exclusion of poor students unable to pay tuition fees, of supporting workers affected by privatisation and against evictions, water and electricity cut-offs in communities.
The reports from the delegates at the Congress demonstrated the scope and depth of involvement of our comrades in student, trade union and community work. The reports also showed that the Congress represented a decisive new turn in the history of CWI South Africa.
The organization had more than trebled its membership by October. Since the congress we have continued to grow, with 15 more joining and 2 new branches formed. One was established in Khayelitsha in the Western Cape – the site of fierce clashes between the community and the state over electricity and water cut-offs, evictions and "down sizing" in which people in rent and bond arrears are forcibly moved into smaller "more affordable" shacks. Comrades based in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu Natal formed the other in Bizana in the Eastern Cape
The role of the branch
One of the most important tasks recently has been to focus the minds of comrades on the need to take the turn towards building branches as the most important task in consolidating the gains we have made for DSM over the last period.
The Soweto (south) branch alone has recruited new comrades, including the official "electrician" (he leads "Operation Khanyisa" (Light Up in Zulu) the reconnection of houses cut-off for arrears, and appeared on an investigative television programme Special Assignment) of the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee.
The branch has provided the opportunity for the comrades to take the building of the organisation into their own hands, forced them to develop themselves politically, organisationally and theoretically as they take it in turn to provide lead-offs, take responsibility for our interventions and recruitment. The branches have also unearthed the hidden talent in the organisation. It has above all created a finance consciousness with Jo’burg Central branch collecting 95% of its target within the first month of the congress.
We have ten branches in total. We also have one in central Johannesburg, Orange Farm (a squatter camp) Sebokeng (near Sharpville where the infamous pass law massacres took place in the 1960) making a total of 5 in Gauteng.
We have three branches in Kwa Zulu Natal led by our student comrades: one at the University of Durban Westville where our main SSM branch is located and one in Umlazi township. There is one branch in Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape, which includes a comrade who had returned from the last group that had parted company with the CWI. A third branch in southern Kwa Zula Natal is in Port Shepstone and is led by comrades originally form the Eastern Cape and who have since the congress established a branch in that province.
A programme of political education has been developed in some branches and the beginning of a more co-ordinated approach towards intervening in various campaigns and struggles is being discussed.
At the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, we launched the second branch of the Socialist Student Movement on the ISR’s international day of action for free education on 15th March. The Wits work has above all raised the profile and credibility of the organisation. It is reflected in the hostile reaction of both our opponents and our enemies.
The SRC (Students’ Union) at first refused the SSM registration, and when this was successfully fought, denied it its financial allocation. Shortly before the recent congress our comrades were drawn into a struggle of cleaning workers on campus who had survived the retrenchment suffered by many of their counterparts after the cleaning services were outsourced to a private company as part of the university’s broader privatization programme. While some of these workers were still members of the Cosatu affiliate, Nehawu (National Health and Allied Workers Union), the biggest public sector union in the country, many were also members of others were members of non-affiliated mainly fly-by-night independent unions. The Nehawu members are bitterly disillusioned and howled down its organiser when he attended a mass meeting of 300.
At the University of Durban Westville, the Socialist Student Movement has rapidly gained the reputation of being the best organized student force on campus. We have intervened in a number of campaigns and struggles such as the R10 campaign for a flat rate for basic services in poor communities. We have been involved in an ongoing battle with the university administration, which led to the temporary banning of SSM on campus. However, the university was forced to retract its statement banning the SSM after it caused a huge outcry from students, some academic staff and the media.
The SSM stood 5 candidates, four of them DSM members in the recent elections to the Student representative council (student union) winning one seat. The non-DSM candidate won with third highest vote and has been unanimously elected president. They organised a tremendous campaign, which directly led to a 35% poll – the highest in any tertiary institution in the country. The SSM comrades responded to the disruption of one campaign meeting by organising an intervention that saw 1,000 students toyi-toying with them at the end of the campaign speeches.
The UDW SSM has intervened in a number of different public events around the Johannesburg Earth Summit and was greeted with a standing ovation when they entered the hall during the pro-Palestinian rally on the eve of the summit march. Comrades in Europe on BBC World saw the SSM banner during the march. The UDW SSM also intervened in a public meeting addressed by Naomi Klein (who had turned down an invitation to address a public meeting organised by the SSM) raising the need to put forward a clear socialist alternative as opposed to "another world is possible" The SSM is spreading into townships and will soon be launching an SSM branch in Umlazi.
Trade Union Work
Our comrades in SAMWU have continued to play a leading role in the union and has led to the union president requesting our comrade who is the chairperson of the privatised Johannesburg Water company to stand as chairperson of the Johannesburg branch – the biggest and politically most powerful branch in the past but now headless – something we will not attempt at this stage We have three comrades on three office bearers on that shop steward structure. Enormous challenges await us in this union.
Since the last World Congress, after a big battle in court, the USP (United Socialist Party) has been recognised as a party by the electoral commission. Since then we have run in two elections – the General Election in 2001 and the Municipal Council elections in 2002.
The General Election took place in an atmosphere of communalism stirred up by the ruling parties of the People’s Alliance (PA) – a coalition of capitalist and traditional Left parties and the JVP. (People’s Liberation Front, a petit-bourgeois populist Sinhala chauvinist party disguised as Marxists).
Despite this full-scale communalist atmosphere, the right-wing bourgeois UNF (United National Front of UNP and one or two small Tamil parties) won the election on a platform of an immediate end to the 19 year civil war by negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Since the cease-fire agreement in February 2002, for the people of the South (majority Sinhala), North (Tamils) and East (mainly Muslim together with Tamil and Sinhala), life has returned to almost normal, with people going about their business as usual. Travel around all parts of the island has now become possible and we have made many visits, including the recent historic ones to Jaffna. We have also been able to go much more easily to the Pottuvil area in the East, where we have an established group of comrades. The youth work has gained new momentum as a result of recruiting new young enthusiastic members in Jaffna and Trincomalee who recently were able to visit Colombo for our conference.
Up to now the UNF government has managed to survive, based on the hopes of the masses for a lasting peace as the outcome of the ongoing negotiations. On the other hand, the government has accelerated the implementation of the economic austerity programmes dictated by the World Bank including privatisation and cuts to social spending. This has led to increasing anger from the working class and the poor masses.
Although the USP is still a small party these changed circumstances mean big opportunities and challenges ahead. Even with our small forces and modest resources, we have been able to get our name known – through poster campaigns, leaflets and through appearances on the TV and in the papers. We are a truly island-wide party now, and the only one with a real mix of Tamil and Sinhala membership.
Our influence in the Government Press, in Colombo has increased. We sell many papers there, inside and outside and are poised to win a majority on the trade union committee in that important establishment.
Since the last World Congress, we have built a good influence amongst health workers with nine new members who are health workers. We have good prospects of winning the leading positions in one of the health workers’ unions.
We stood in the last election campaign in an atmosphere of heightened communalism on a principled socialist programme, including acceptance of the right of the Tamil speaking minority to self determination, was a difficult test which other parties could not pass.
The main areas of recent recruitment have been the trade union anti-privatisation campaign, the election campaigns and anti-war campaign.
To ensure new comrades are looked after and integrated into the ideas, life and work of the party, special meetings with new individual members or new groups are organised.
Our paper, ’Red Star’, is an 8 page monthly. It is the only bilingual paper in Sri Lanka (with articles in Sinhala and Tamil). Present paper sales are 80%-90% of the copies printed. Sales went down during the period of high communal tension last year and are now growing again. At branch meetings we encourage members to write. More comrades need to write for the paper more frequently.
We sell the paper regularly in street sales in the cities and at the main railway stations. Also branches go and meet the contacts in the areas to sell papers. High postage costs make selling subscriptions difficult. The more established branches have paper organisers.
Each contact/new recruit is discussed with about finance along with the discussions on the ideas and work.
The question of financing the party work is understood by each comrade however more examples of how the International dues and special appeal money are spent would be useful.
In order to develop the next layer of comrades politically and organisationally at a national and local level, especially younger comrades, the leadership organises regular individual discussions with promising new/young comrades. New/young comrades are encouraged to be involved in the various committees – the Youth Bureau, Trade Union Bureau, Organisation Bureau, etc. at national level, and also at branch level. We have set up a Youth Committee and launched a Sri Lankan version of the ISR, doing leafleting at the universities and aiming to take up the issues of student accommodation and youth (including graduate) unemployment.
The South Asia Region
As a high priority we plan to organise a visit to India in the near future.
Visits by comrades from other sections to us in Sri Lanka are always very welcome.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, Colombo
The election in September marked a new chapter for our party (Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna – RS). Our target was to keep our two councillors in Umeå and gain one new in Luleå. The result was a great success – from two councillors to three in Umeå and two for the first time in Luleå. In total, five in the two most important cities in the north of Sweden. Our clear socialist alternative received 2900 votes in Umeå and 1500 votes in Luleå. We showed our ability to sink roots among workers on a broader scale than ever before a pointer for the future on a bigger scale.
The election campaigns in other areas, where we had no possibilities to get elected, also served to strengthen the party and to educate new active members politically and in our methods. The party also received some national attention during the campaign. Swedens’ biggest morning paper Dagens Nyheter featured us as the strongest left party outside parliament. "Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna aims to be a true workers alternative in politics", they wrote in their article, alongside a photo of one of the anti-war protests we organised in Stockholm.
We are now using the election successes to reach new areas, rebuild the party in some regions and thereby strengthen our national impact. This is also based on a change in the objective situation, with radicalisation in a layer of youth; new prospects of workers’ struggle; continued discontent towards the established parties; polarisation with racists gaining in the elections; the international situation, especially Bush’s war plans.
RS is a leading force in the protests against the war against Iraq, in campaigns against racism and in mobilising for the demos at the EU summit in Copenhagen in December. In Stockholm, we took the initiative for a network against the war, as we did last year on the Afghanistan war. More than 40 organisations affiliated, including the Left party and the Greens, with some new organisations and semi-establishment peace-NGO’s led by social democrats. A comrade spoke at the demo 26 October, who got the best reception of all. With 3,000 attending, we sold over 200 papers and got some new contacts and one new member. We have launched ’School students against war’ and we are discussing to set up ’Students against war’, both to be linked to Elevkampanjen/ISR. These campaigns can organise activities and meetings, with the aim to organize school protests/strikes the day the war starts.
In Umeå and Luleå, at the moment we have campaigns against racism and the racist parties, with demos in both cities in November. In Södertälje, where the Nazi-connected ’National Democrats’ won two seats in the council, we are organising a campaign in alliance with some immigrant organisations.
For the EU summit in Copenhagen, 13-14 December, we have a target of sending two coaches for the demos, as a national mobilisation. The demo will probably focus on the US war against Iraq and on racism. We have also recruited some members in Skåne (south Sweden, next to Denmark).
Strengthening the party
There was no quick fix. A more difficult situation needs more explanation. To address the lack of cadres, we laid greater emphasis on political education, and on youth work. We produced more political material and organised study weekends. We explained the reasons for the change in the situation, and that it would not last.
We had to focus on concrete targets. One such target has been a steady increase in standing orders for the paper, now over 1000. Generally, we needed a tighter follow up on results, such as finance and branch meeting attendance. This did not mean that we just turned inwards. All the time, we took initiatives for campaigns and actions, participated in networks etc.
This year means a new turn in the situation. We have new possibilities, as shown in the election campaign. Party meetings and activities must be prepared with good political content and clear targets for the branch.
Elevkampanjen/ISR organised a rally in May at the Socialism 2002 event, with around 100 participants. Now, we are using Elevkampanjen/ISR for the mobilisation för Copenhagen, to attract youth.
We have a record as a fighting party for women’s rights, mainly through both the campaigns against sexual harassment and initiatives for 8 March events. Comrades are regularly requested by the media for comments on women’s rights. Similarly, on anti-racism, we are involved in all major campaigns. A high proportion of the subscribers of the paper are immigrants. The change in the objective situation will also open new possibilities in workplaces and unions, an area particularly difficult in the recent period.
Just one example of new possibilities was a bus driver interviewed in a feature in Offensiv on private local transport, who ordered 25 copies.
Through the councillors, we have launched a petition for a fight over wages from Kommunal (’Unison’). Earlier this year, the party together with workers on a ship travelling between Sweden and Finland, achieved equal conditions for Pakistani and Kashmiri workers as for the Swedish/Finnish staff.
Our struggle over issues in local communities makes us stand out compared to other left organisations. In Umeå, we organised short warnings strikes in elderly care, in Luleå demonstrations against reduction of school staff, in Stockholm a local campaign we led stopped a privatisation of a council swimming facility and won a 2000 SEK (over 200 euro) compensation for several thousands in a campaign we initiated after a power black out.
This years’ results are encouraging, not just in the election. The challenge in front of the party is to sustain this strengthening of the party.
We have produced Offensiv as a weekly for five years. We have since November 1997 produced 252 issues (5 Nov) with 3016 pages. We have reached our previous target 1000 subscribers on standing orders (1033 5 Nov), and totally over 2000 subscribers on average for the first half-year.
Our site www.socialisterna.org has been revamped and has an steady increase in visitors. In the 10 weeks since August we have had more than 1000 visits, compared with two weeks last year.
We have our headquarters in Stockholm, with regional centers in Umeå and Luleå.
We print magazine, pamphlets, posters ourselves.