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Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference

p>by John Percy

John Percy is the national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party, which hosted the conference.

The second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference, held in Sydney March 28-April 1 was an outstanding success. Seven hundred and fifty people, including international participants from more than thirty countries, attended.

Exhausting but exhilarating, sometimes a bit chaotic, but always politically stimulating, it provided a unique opportunity for left activists in the Asia Pacific region to get together, exchange views, discuss politics and build closer collaboration and foster solidarity actions with each other's struggles.

The conference took place at a crucial time, under the shadow of the war drive and global aggression by US imperialism following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, but it was also illuminated by the beacons of recent popular resistance and massive workers' actions.

Outside our region, anti-globalisation actions have grown in recent years, culminating in the huge 300,000 demonstration in Genoa, and recently the even more impressive 500,000 in Barcelona, and several million workers demonstrating in Rome. International collaboration and discussion among left forces have also expanded immensely. In Latin America for the last eleven years, all left parties have been meeting each year at the São Paulo Forum. In Europe, there have been new collaborations, new alliances, both within countries and Europe-wide. Most spectacular of all have been the very successful World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil, attracting 15,000 participants in January 2001, and 50,000 this year.

A public meeting on March 28 launched the conference, giving a sample of the rich and diverse four days of discussion ahead. It was addressed by Dita Sari, from Indonesia's National Front for Labour Struggles, Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), Roberto Baggio from the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers' Movement, Sonny Melencio, chairperson of the Philippines Socialist Party of Labour, Michael Albert, from Z magazine and Z-Net in the US, and Riz Wakil, a refugee from Afghanistan, now living in Australia.

"International work is a responsibility that must be undertaken as well as the national work we do in our own countries", Dita Sari, who recently turned down a human rights award of US$50,000 from shoe giant Reebok, said in her address to the conference. The conference rose to that challenge, and helped all participants fulfil that international responsibility.

This conference followed on from the immensely successful first Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in 1998, attended by 750 people, including sixty-seven international guests. That was tremendously educational and inspiring for all participants, and it built many new links of collaboration in the region. At the conference close, the participants resolved to continue the process.

A bridging role was played by the Marxism 2000 conference in January 2000, organised by the Democratic Socialist Party and Resistance. It had a similar format to the 1998 conference, and was attended by 450 people, including fifty-three representatives of overseas parties and movements, mainly from the Asian region.

The Socialism 21 Conference in Katmandu organised by the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) in November 2000 was another conference in this spirit, bringing together socialists from around the world.

In New Delhi in March 2001, the 400-strong People's Conference Against Globalisation brought together left academics, NGOs and social movement activists from all over India and signified a new phase in the development of the movement on the Indian subcontinent.

Then in June last year, dozens of activists from Asia and around the world came to Jakarta for the Asia Pacific People's Solidarity Conference, hosted by Indonesian pro-democracy activists and participants in the campaigns of people's struggles there. On the second day, Indonesian police broke up the conference, arresting thirty-two foreign participants, while a right-wing militia attacked the conference organisers. A protest campaign within Indonesia and around the world forced the police to back down and release the detainees.

For many of us, the Sydney conference was a reunion following the attack on the Jakarta conference. Many participants had gotten to know each other better during the night spent in Jakarta's central police station.

Achievements

This conference marked a qualitative step forward compared with the first solidarity conference four years ago. The conference clearly demonstrated a higher level of political clarity and organisational consolidation amongst the participants. Partly this reflected the political events of the last few years, the development of the anti-neo-liberal globalisation movement and the rising anti-war movement.

It also reflected the increasing level of mutual respect and collaboration that's developed among the left organisations in the region in recent years. So at this conference we were able to work together to produce resolutions and perspectives to adopt at the conference, with concrete proposals for action. The informal get-together of regional left organisations after the conference was a real working discussion, working out how to take the collaboration further.

This conference also drew the participation of a number of significant new organisations from the Asian region, with socialist parties being organised in South Korea, East Timor and Malaysia.

For the left in Australia, the conference was also an important step forward. Building a Marxist current within an imperialist country like Australia, we're not going anywhere unless we instil among our activists deep feelings of solidarity with the people of the world and fierce opposition to imperialism, including Australian imperialism. The conference achieved this goal of furthering the education and international consciousness of the ranks of the Democratic Socialist Party and our supporters, and of bringing many more new activists around the party and our youth organisation, Resistance.

Themes

When we issued the call for the second Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference fifteen months earlier, we projected two central themes among the many important areas of politics we wanted to discuss:

  • the very exciting new movement against neo-liberal globalisation that had been heralded by the demonstration in Seattle, followed by many actions around the world, and most recently with our own September 11-13, 2000, blockade of the World Economic Forum meeting at the Melbourne Crown Casino.
  • the new possibilities for collaboration and cooperation between parties and movements coming from varied political traditions-new parties being formed, Socialist Alliances setting up, varied electoral alliances being organised, and the possibility for a renewal of a genuine, non-sectarian socialist left.

In the last six months an even more important theme emerged for the conference—how to counter imperialism's offensive against the Third World and against workers and democratic rights in the imperialist countries following the terrorist attacks of September 11. The conference discussed how to organise opposition to Bush's war drive, and how to build solidarity with the struggles of the people of the Third World for their political and economic freedom.

Other plenary sessions discussed the impact of globalisation and militarism in Asia; the labour movement and global justice; race, class and colonialism in the twenty-first century; and social alternatives and strategies to respond to the Asian economic crisis.

In Australia another important issue has been given greater urgency—how to reverse the shameful bipartisan treatment of refugees. Thus it was not just four days of discussion—the conference initiated an international solidarity demonstration with the refugees imprisoned at Villawood Detention Centre. A thousand people were there to bring a very strong message of international support to the refugees.

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific was formally launched at the conference dinner on March 30. This completed the process of transformation of ASIET, Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor, to a solidarity organisation with the responsibility for disseminating information and organising action in support of people's struggles in the whole region. ASIET began with a focus on Indonesia, expanded to East Timor solidarity action as well, and now felt it had to take up struggles in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, India and elsewhere. It's a big responsibility, but we think there's a lot of support that can be mobilised among Australians for these issues.

International attendance

Our international guest speakers not only had to overcome the tyranny of distance to get here, but they also had to overcome other major obstacles in order to attend, not least the increasingly racist and xenophobic Australian government.

Comrades Farooq Tariq and Abdul Kanjoo from Pakistan were given an especially hard time, but were finally granted a visa. Comrade Victor Briz, president of the BMP in the Philippines, the largest Manila labour organisation, got his visa after quite incredible harassment from the Australian embassy in Manila. Perhaps most preposterous was the case of comrade Ahmed Shawki, from the US International Socialist Organization. For most US citizens, entry is easy and automatic, getting an electronic travel authority issued via the internet. But Ahmed had the wrong name, background, and look, and was initially refused.

Overseas participants included representatives from: the Acehnese People's Democratic Front; the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan; Krishok Federation, a peasants' organisation in Bangladesh; the Bougainville Interim Government and Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom; the Free Burma Action Committee; the Socialist Party of Timor; the Socialist Workers Party, Britain; Workers Power, Britain; Workers Liberty, Britain; ATTAC, France, and Revolutionary Communist League; Voice of Democracy, Hong Kong; the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist); the Centre of Indian Trade Unions; the Worker Communist Party of Iraq; the Malaysian Socialist Party; Socialist Workers Organisation, New Zealand; Seraiki National Party, Pakistan; Labour Party Pakistan; Philippines Resources Centre for People's Development; the Solidarity of Filipino Workers (BMP) trade union federation; Philippines Socialist Party of Labour; Khanya College, South Africa; Power of the Working Class, South Korea; the Communist Party of Sudan; Left International Forum and Left Party of Sweden; the Freedom and Solidarity Party, Turkey; Solidarity, USA; the International Socialist Organization, USA; the Free Papua Movement, West Papua. South African radical writer and activist Dale McKinley also took part.

The conference received messages of greetings from dozens of other organisations that were unable to attend, unable to raise the funds or get a visa in time.

Hundreds of Australian-based participants active in movements around indigenous people's rights, international solidarity, the environment, women's rights, lesbian and gay rights, peace, social justice and trade union rights also conducted workshops.

Resolutions

The speech to the final plenary session of the conference, opening discussion on future perspectives, was given by Max Lane, the chairperson of Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific, and a member of the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Party.

Lane outlined the very significant new developments in world politics that have marked all recent national and international discussions on the left and among all the movements against corporate globalisation, war, militarism, racism and colonialism—the demonstrations against corporate globalisation, the rising movement against war, and the crisis in the Third World, exemplified by the Argentinean collapse.

He pointed to a further new development which

...has been a political process within the anti-globalisation movement, among the resistances against the offensives of imperialism, which has come, at least partially, to be symbolised by the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre and the initiatives for other regional social forums ...

This is the process of seeking greater collaboration, convergence and coordination between all those movements, organisations, institutions and individuals who have taken a stand and are moving against corporate globalisation, as well as now opposing the US war drive ...

The reality is that the capitalist classes' offensives against the oppressed classes and peoples of the world have provoked a rise in resistance—both a resistance of the immediate victims of intensified exploitation and oppression and war as well as a rise in resistance generated by a moral rejection and sense of solidarity by those who are not yet suffering the full force of the intensification of exploitation and oppression.

The final plenary session of the conference adopted the following resolution:

This conference:

1. Declares its support for the Call for Mobilisation that was issued after the last World Social Forum and urges all organisations at this conference to also support the Call in their own name.

2. Declares its support for the proposal that the 2004 World Social Forum be held in India.

3. Declares that it will support and help organise the holding of a regional gathering in Manila, the Philippines, in one year's time to discuss and help strengthen the process of coordination and convergence of the anti-globalisation and anti-war struggles in the Asia Pacific region, and calls on all those who support building such greater coordination to join us in such a gathering.

4. Calls for an Asia Pacific region-wide Emergency Action to be held on April 19 in Solidarity with the people of Palestine and the Middle East.

Many of the international guests representing organisations in the region enthusiastically supported the perspectives, and the resolutions were unanimously adopted.

Dita Sari summed it up when she stated emphatically, to the earnest approval of all present: "It is now the responsibility of each participant from each organisation here to try to put these agreements into practice".

Manila conference

The Philippines participants have begun organising to win endorsers and organisational support for the Manila conference. They hope to gather a broad majority of the Philippines mass social and political forces to support the conference.

Undoubtedly there will be many aims for the Manila conference. All the organisations and individuals in the Philippines who eventually come behind the conference will have particular hopes and objectives that such a conference can further the process of education and mobilisation there, just as we in Australia benefit from the solidarity conferences that have been organised here.

But there was a specific need to provide a meeting place for all the anti-globalisation and anti-war forces in the region to come together to discuss and exchange views and mobilise their resources in a big way. Following the success of the first two World Social Forums held in Porto Alegre in Brazil, the conference felt there was a real need and the possibility of extending and deepening that process in the Asia Pacific region.

Naturally enough, the Asian region was rather underrepresented in Porto Alegre, which brought together huge numbers of activists and organisations from Latin America, and also southern Europe. Porto Alegre projected that the 2004 World Social Forum would be held in India, and the resolution from our conference stated that the conference and the participating organisations would throw their weight wholeheartedly behind that perspective. So the Manila conference is projected to come behind that objective, to build the 2004 WSF for India, to connect with the WSF process, and to promote it in the Asia Pacific region.

Exactly what will be the breadth of the Manila conference, how it will relate to the WSF process and the forum projected for India, depends on how it gets built in the Philippines and throughout the region. If they inspire enough support in the Philippines, and in the Asia Pacific region, they hope the conference will be seen as an Asia Pacific Social Forum, but in any case, as the resolution stated, they will be organising to build a regional gathering in Manila in about twelve months "to discuss and help strengthen the process of coordination and convergence of the anti-globalisation and anti-war struggles" in the Asia Pacific region.

World Social Forum

The conference was inspired by a message of solidarity from the Brazilian organising committee of the World Social Forum.

The World Social Forum process has had a remarkable success in dynamically mobilising the growing popular sentiment against imperialist globalisation and bringing together so many of the organisations and activists campaigning on the many issues of resistance. It's based on the millions of demonstrators around the world, from Seattle to Genoa to Barcelona and dozens of other sites of resistance to capitalism's global attacks. It's based on the many organisations, old and new, large and small, which are organising this resistance. And it had a fortuitous start, able to use the resources of the state of Rio Grande del Sol and the city of Porto Alegre where the Brazilian Workers Party is in government, and able to provide the infrastructure for such a meeting.

But the WSF is a worldwide process, and the demonstrations and the actions and the resistance are worldwide, and the activists in Porto Alegre rightly assessed that the process had to be spread worldwide.

Also, we know that the process itself is a site of contestation, with more conservative elements wanting to limit it, or bask in its glory, whether they are parliamentarians and ministers who are themselves involved in implementing neo-liberal attacks on the workers and the poor, or even the representatives of imperialism's international institutions wanting to get on board. But the process won't be coopted, or tainted by those efforts, because it's based on very clear demands and goals, which are in conflict with the capitalist system, and based on the activism of millions and the ideas of democracy and freedom.

The uniting slogan of the movement—"Another World Is Possible"—should be able to repel any efforts to divert the movement from its fundamental anti-neo-liberal globalisation and anti-war goals.

The conference assessed the WSF process as a healthy development that provides a broad and intense meeting place for the organisations and activists, and can have a role in furthering the struggle and clarifying political perspectives. It won't be a static institution, of course, but must go forward as the campaigns and movements develop and become stronger, must learn from those movements, and help them take further steps.

Next steps

In the few weeks since the conference, we've seen further encouraging steps taken by our side resisting imperialism's attacks.

The magnificent April 16 general strike by Italian workers has severely shaken the Berlusconi regime, slowing down plans for further neo-liberal attacks on Europe's workers.

The mobilisations by millions of Venezuelan workers and poor dealt a humiliating blow to Washington and their local elite's two-day coup that attempted to topple the Hugo Chavez government. That defeat will slow down their plans for total hegemony over and subjugation of Latin America.

The heroic resistance of the Palestinian people to the genocidal attacks of the Israeli army has temporarily slowed down Washington's plans for war against other countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq.

The April 19 international day of solidarity with Palestine declared by the conference proved to be an important display of international solidarity. In Sydney, 2000 demonstrated; there were 800 in Brisbane, 600 in Melbourne, 300 in Adelaide, 160 in Perth, 150 in Canberra, 40 in Hobart and 40 in Lismore. There were demonstrations in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan, and in India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

But imperialism's agenda of neo-liberal attacks and further economic and political conquest still exists, and we have to redouble our efforts to resist, and build organisations and links that can organise resistance, build solidarity and beat them back.

Over the last few years, we've seen some great mobilisations in Australia-in 1998 against Pauline Hanson's racist One Nation push, and high school students were exemplary in these actions; in 1999 in defence of the people of East Timor demanding their independence and defence against the Indonesian army and its militia; the September 11-13, 2000, blockade of the World Economic Forum at the Crown Casino in Melbourne; in 2001 with May Day blockades of the stock exchanges and financial institutions in eight cities.

All these movements had a significant impact. Recently we've had large demonstrations in support of refugees, and against Israel's murderous attacks on the Palestinian people. These and many other varied campaigns and protests show a wide milieu of activists willing to go onto the streets, for a variety of issues. But this sentiment and milieu have not been reflected in the permanent establishment and growth of ongoing, structured movements.

Certainly our party, the DSP, has had modest growth in the last few years as a result of this relative political upsurge. But in the years ahead there is potential for even greater growth of the left forces, and creation of more lasting structures for the movements. Perhaps the key developments will be the future emergence of trade unions and workers' organisations that are willing to fight. We're hopeful this will happen, and that there will be an increasing convergence between the primarily young activists on the streets and workers organised in fighting unions.

We'll be continuing to build solidarity, build the Manila conference, build towards the WSF in India in 2004, but most importantly step up building the struggle here in Australia.

As Dipankar Bhattacharya pointed out in his address to the conference opening plenary session, "The best way we in India can oppose imperialist globalisation and the war and racism is by defeating the Indian collaborators of US imperialism who are unleashing a reign of communal fascism". While stepping up international political cooperation among broad sections of the anti-globalisation forces, the radical left must also deepen the movement in every available national and local context. "The deeper we go, the stronger we grow", he pointed out.

Intense experience

The four days of the conference were an intense experience, packed with nine plenary sessions, held in the main hall; seven major sessions in the main hall or marquee, and more than 110 workshops in classrooms. There were many hard choices about which workshops to attend. In fact, the main complaint at the conference was that there were too many choices. But the alternative was a conference lasting for weeks.

Two conference bulletins were produced, with reprints of relevant documents and articles, copies of papers that were presented, and papers from comrades who in the end were unable to attend. Many of the conference papers will be posted on the conference web site, www.global-revolt.org, and some will be printed in Links magazine.

The evenings were taken up with the conference dinner, a barbecue to welcome the international guests, and an international cultural night. On the final day, as we sang the "Internationale" with the international guests leading from the stage, we felt the real spirit of solidarity and internationalism that was the essence of the conference.

All participants came away revived, inspired, and clearer in our solidarity tasks, working together on the myriad struggles in our region towards our common goal of making the world a better place. Another world, free of war, poverty, ignorance and exploitation, is definitely possible.

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