International workers' movement news

Scottish Socialist Party conference

The third annual conference of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), held in Glasgow February 10-11, adopted an ambitious program of activities for the coming year. Key among these were a decision to contest all of Scotland’s 72 Westminster seats in the British elections, and plans to greatly raise the profile of the party’s paper, Scottish Socialist Voice, which will be going weekly.

The success of Tommy Sheridan in winning a seat in the Scottish parliamentary elections has forced the establishment to pay attention to the SSP. Imprisoned for his role in the fight against Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax (a tax on individuals rather than property or income), Sheridan is a popular household name across Scotland. The challenge for the SSP has been to generalise the support for him and other activists into support for a socialist alternative.

Part of the response has been the writing of Imagine, a clear and popular explanation of the socialist project by Sheridan and another central party leader, Alan McCombes. The book has been immensely popular, selling thousands of copies in a few weeks. A London launch of the book on February 23 attracted an enthusiastic audience of 300.

Today the SSP has 2500 members across Scotland, including in the remote Orkneys and Western Isles. The party’s key platform plank is for an independent, socialist Scotland, a message it hopes will win it up to 100, 000 votes in the coming elections.

The SSP emerged from a regroupment of left parties around the Scottish Socialist Alliance in the late 1990s, initiated by Scottish Militant Labour. One of the many highlights of the SSP conference was the enthusiastic greetings presented by the Socialist Workers Party, whose members in Scotland are now involved in discussions to join the SSP. The conference resolved to further develop discussions with the SWP to maximise the chances of success of this important development.

In addition to the SWP, greetings were received from the French Revolutionary Communist League, the Danish Red Green Alliance, the Australian Democratic Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance in England, the Committee for a Workers International, the Party of Communist Refoundation in Italy, the Red Electoral Alliance in Norway, the Left from Luxembourg, and the Socialist Alliance and Cymru Goch from Wales.

Popoy Lagman assassinated

The leader of the militant BMP trade union federation and prominent leftist, Filemon “Popoy” Lagman, was assassinated on February 6. Four gunmen opened fire while Lagman was visiting the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines.

Happening just weeks after the fall of President Joseph Estrada, it is the first political assassination to occur under the new regime of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and signals the possible beginning of a campaign of terror targeting the country’s leftist movement.

Many suspect that a rightist faction of the military loyal to the ousted Estrada was behind the killing, with the intention of destabilising Arroyo’s government and sowing intrigue among the competing armed factions of the left.

Lagman was a long-time leader of the country’s revolutionary movement. Joining the underground Communist Party of the Philippines in the 1970s and rising to become the head of its metro Manila unit, he played a central part in the movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

When the urban-based strategy of Lagman and other Manila party leaders came into conflict with the dogmatic pronouncements of CPP chairperson Jose Maria Sison, the entire metro Manila unit split from the party and turned its attention to the urban mass movement. The BMP, with Lagman at its head, was formed in 1995, as part of the Sanlakas federation of mass organisations.

While the BMP and Sanlakas have since undergone a series of sometimes acrimonious splits, Lagman was still widely regarded as a revolutionary leader of considerable stature.

People’s Conference Against Globalisation, Delhi

The 400-strong People’s Conference Against Globalisation held in New Delhi March 21-23 brought together left academics, NGOs and social movement activists from all over India. It was an important gathering which indicated a new phase for the development of the movement against globalisation on the Indian subcontinent.

The keynote speaker was Walden Bello, who said that a crisis of legitimacy now exists amongst the institutions of the corporate elite, the IMF, WTO and World Bank, which has led to divisions among the ruling elite. This division, he said, was partly due to the rising popular movement against globalisation and debate by the elite institutions about how to respond. The resultant shift in the balance of forces meant that our side had to use this opportunity to go on the offensive. Specifically, Bello argued that we had to: expose and oppose the “global compact” put forward by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; call for NGOs and unions that have engaged in the consultative process with the global corporate elite to withdraw immediately; and to prevent the new trade round in Qatar from proceeding. “I would lend my name to a campaign to prevent ministers attending the Qatar meeting”, Bello said.

The bulk of the sessions provided a detailed analysis of the effects of globalisation on Indian culture and economy. Privatisation, agriculture, industry, finance, transport, health and education were discussed. Contributions were made from a wide variety of grassroots organisations and trade unions. Greetings were given by international guests including Alternatives (Canada); Linda Waldron of the DSP (Australia); Abdul Majeed Kanjoo, president of the Seraiki National Party (Pakistan) and Jhala Nath Khanal of the CPN(UML) (Nepal). The last three speakers emphasised the need for left unity and international solidarity in order to defeat global capitalism.

The final session of the conference unanimously agreed to continue the process begun by the conference. An organising committee was established and regional meetings are planned to organise campaigns at a local level.

According to Dipankar Bhattacharya, national secretary of the CPI-ML (Liberation), one of the organisations on the conference planning committee, the two main objectives for the conference were met. These objectives were “to bring together an Indian rainbow of the parliamentary left, social movements, progressive academics and the revolutionary left, and to build a bridge between theory and activism ... We achieved this without duplicating existing structures”, Bhattacharya concluded.

DSP congress: globalising resistance to capitalism

A key task of the Democratic Socialist Party’s 19th congress, held January 3-7 near Sydney and attended by 287 delegates and observers, was to assess the significance of the growing movement against corporate globalisation in world and Australian politics, and to vote on proposals to help develop this movement.

The opening report on “The international political situation: austerity and war”, by Green Left Weekly editor and DSP National Executive member Doug Lorimer, assessed that this new movement presented revolutionary Marxists with the opportunity to win large numbers of working people in the imperialist countries to an anti-capitalist, internationalist consciousness. Australian activists got a taste of this new anti-corporate movement at the 20,000-strong S11 protests against the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Melbourne last September.

DSP national executive member Peter Boyle noted in his report on “The Australian political situation and our perspectives after S11”, “Last September thousands of activists from the mass social movements of the last three decades joined up with younger activists at the three-day S11 blockade of the World Economic Forum”, and this “revitalised the faith in ‘people’s power’ in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands more”. (See the article by Peter Boyle in Links number 17.)

Other highlights of the congress included the adoption of a resolution outlining Australia’s imperialist role in the Asia-Pacific region (printed in this issue) and a new resolution on the Cuban Revolution.

There was also a report on political developments in Indonesia by DSP national executive member and ASIET (Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor) national chairperson Max Lane, a report on the party’s perspectives and tasks for 2001 presented by National Executive member Pip Hinman, a report on the international work of the DSP by national secretary John Percy, a report on student work and building Resistance by Nikki Ulasowski, and a report on the DSP’s trade union work by National Executive member Melanie Sjoberg.

The participation in the congress of different revolutionary parties from around the world helped take the process of international collaboration another step forward. For the first time, a representative of the Communist Party of Cuba came from Havana to participate in the congress. Abelardo Cueto Sosa, the head of the Asia-Oceania bureau of the international department of the Central Committee, was present throughout the congress and participated directly in several sessions.

Also present at the congress were representatives from South Korea’s Power of the Working Class, the Worker Communist Party of Iraq, the Worker Communist Party of Iran, the US socialist group Solidarity, the People’s Democratic Party of Indonesia, the Acehnese radical group Student Solidarity for the People, the Bangladesh Agricultural Farm Labourers’ Federation, the Dutch Indonesia and East Timor solidarity group SOLITIN, the Socialist Youth League of Norway and the Chilean Popular and Indigenous Network.

There were also dozens of messages of solidarity and greetings sent by parties, organisations and individuals who were unable to attend. The Australian government refused visas to attend the congress to Antonio Lopez, the deputy secretary of the Socialist Party of Timor, Antonio Raymundo from the Resource Centre for People’s Development in the Philippines and representatives of the Saraiki National Party from Pakistan and the Afghanistan Labour Revolutionary Organisation.

Zapatista march on Mexico City sparks mass support

The Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) march on Mexico City culminated March 11 at a rally of 100,000 people in the central square. The Zapatista March for Dignity aimed to publicise the plight of Mexico’s indigenous peoples and to press its demand for adoption of the San Andres peace accords to put an end to the conflict in Chiapas.

The accords—initially approved by past-president Ernesto Zedillo’s administration and then indefinitely postponed—involve constitutional reforms to codify indigenous peoples’ rights in terms of limited autonomy by the Indian communities and regions over their political, judicial and cultural life, agricultural organisation and environmental protection. The Zapatistas plan to meet with congressional deputies and the Legislative Peace Commission to push adoption of the bill.

On February 24, 25 Zapatista leaders headed by Subcomandante Marcos left Chiapas, accompanied by local supporters and foreign observers. They were masked but not armed. Even before their departure, the Zapatista march had succeeded in putting Chiapas on the front burner in terms of Mexican public opinion, and as the main headline in the national press. Furthermore, it has forced all political forces in the country to relate to the protest.

The EZLN’s protest breaks a five-month silence and has proven once again that the rebels are capable of galvanising mass support when the need arises and becoming an obligatory reference point for the country’s social protest movements.

The Zapatista march attracted huge mobilizations accompanying the protest through 12 states, rallying in 32 cities. In cities such as San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas; Juchitan and Oaxaca, Oaxaca; Orizaba, Veracruz; and Puebla, Puebla, tens of thousands of the indigenous poor and their supporters turned out for unprecedentedly large and militant rallies. Public opinion polls show more than 75% support for the Zapatistas.

Australian left unites to form Socialist Alliance

Fresh from the inspiration of S11, when tens of thousands confronted the world’s power brokers at Melbourne’s Crown Casino, and with plans well under way for mass blockades of stock exchanges and financial districts on May 1, eight Australian radical left organisations have united to form the Socialist Alliance, a combined electoral front to contest this year’s federal election. The participants were also inspired by the success of the Socialist Alliances in England and the Scottish Socialist Party.

Meeting in Sydney on February 17, the Democratic Socialist Party, the International Socialist Organisation, the Freedom Socialist Party, the Workers League, the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (Australian branch), Workers Power and Workers Liberty agreed to form the alliance. Socialist Democracy has also agreed to join. Others also are likely to get on board. Sections of the Progressive Labour Party have expressed enthusiasm. Socialist Alternative is likely to participate on a state by state basis, while the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) has indicated it is not likely to join.

A membership drive is now under way to ensure speedy registration with the electoral office, and public meetings are being planned to launch the Socialist Alliance in all major cities. A platform representing the basic political consensus of the eight groups that initially formed the Socialist Alliance has been drafted. A final platform for the federal elections will be discussed by the members of the Socialist Alliance and decided on by its first conference, which is to be held mid-year.

Visit the Socialist Alliance web site at <>.