Fusion forms new group – Revolutionary Workers League

Philip Ferguson

The Spark 15 June 2004

On the day after the Anti-Capitalist Alliance’s anti-imperialist conference (People’s Resistance-2004), another gathering took place. Members of the ACA belonging to the Workers Party, the revolution group and some belonging to no group merged to form a new Marxist current, the Revolutionary Workers League.

The Workers Party and revolution initiated the ACA in early 2002 and have been working more and more closely together ever since. Last October, at the last ACA national gathering, they decided to embark on a formal fusion process, with the aim of fusing at Queen�s Birthday weekend (in New Zealand, the first weekend of June).

A number of previously non-aligned ACA activists also took part in the discussions leading up to the fusion. In particular, most of the non-aligned Wellington ACA activists joined in the fusion process.

Discussion of a draft programme for the new RWL took place over several months leading up the ACA conference and the fusion, and this discussion was open to all ACA activists, regardless of whether or not they were in either WP or the revolution group.

The draft programme benefited greatly from this discussion and was adopted at the fusion meeting.

The fusion gathering also adopted a one-page document on the requirements of membership, governing the level of commitment expected from members. We recognise that the revolution is not imminent in New Zealand, we are still in a period of downturn, and there is little point in hyper-activism. Hyper-activism can only lead to demoralisation and burn-out in this period. However, serious commitment is still required for membership of the RWL, including financing the group, selling the group’s publications (in particular, participating in regular stalls) and being active in an area of work such as anti-imperialist campaigning or workplace organising.

The new organisation has small branches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and aims to have a further branch, or branch core, in Hamilton (New Zealand’s fourth city) by the end of the year.

The fact that WP had a regular paper (The Spark) and the revolution group had a regularish review (revolution magazine) gives the new organisation an impressive publication set-up. The Spark will continue to be published every 2-3 weeks, as the basic paper of the RWL, and �revolution� will be the new group�s review/magazine, coming out three-four times a year.

The fusion gathering elected Daphna Whitmore as national secretary and Mark Muller as national industrial organiser. Also elected were editorial boards for our publications; for revolution�Philip Ferguson, Paul Hopkinson, and Daphna Whitmore; and for The Spark�Daphna Whitmore, Philip Ferguson, Sam Kingi, Jared Phillips and Don Franks (a long-time Wellington working class activist who is not a member of the RWL, but works closely with us and the ACA). A national treasurer was elected and local organisers will be elected at a branch level.

Interestingly, the RWL has historical links through current members and supporters with all three major far-left groups in New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s – the CPNZ (which was pro-China in the 70s and pro-Albania in the 80s), the Socialist Action League (which was the New Zealand section of the Trotskyist Fourth International in the 1970s and for much of the 1980s) and the Workers Communist League (which was pro-China for much of that era).

The fusion is also interesting in that it crosses historical divisions on the left. The Workers Party, for instance, was a pro-Mao (but not Maoist) group, while revolution was a pro-Trotsky (but not Trotskyist) group. The most prominent founder of the WP came out of the CPNZ while the most prominent founder of the revolution group came out of the SAL.

Differences continue to exist over historical questions such as the degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Stalin/Trotsky debate and some aspects of the Chinese revolution. It was agreed that these are not sufficient to prevent principled revolutionary unity and can be discussed at leisure in the future by members of the RWL, including publicly in the organisation�s press. Differences over current issues, which cut across the WP/revolution divide anyway, can also be aired publicly in the new RWL�s publications.

This is seen as being more in line with the practice of Lenin and the Bolsheviks than the kind of dogmatic, monolithic �culture� that pervades much of the Marxist left, both �Stalinist� and �Trotskyist�.

Another striking feature of the new group is its focus on work in the working class. The new organisation and its supporters include several middle-aged worker-militants, with years of rank-and-file organising among fellow manual workers in the timber and car industries, metal stores, and cleaning jobs.

Most of the new, young members have also been amassing experience as activists and leading volunteer workplace organisers, most notably in UNITE!, the new union for the low-paid and beneficiaries. New activists also have recently gained experience in the Rail and Maritime union, the Service and Food Workers union the teachers� union, and a construction union.

Most of the new young members are students, but both WP and revolution had a practice of orienting student members to the working class rather than isolating them in campus activism. Turning students outwards to the class will continue as an important part of the RWL’s overall orientation to the working class. As well as fitting our idea that students should put their talents at the service of the working class, this approach also enables us to attract the best elements from the campuses.

The fact that so many students these days work manual jobs, often doing almost as many hours at such jobs as they spend on their studies, also makes this approach the right one to take towards students.

The RWL, at its inception, is still a tiny organisation in the context of New Zealand. However it probably has a larger activist core than any other group on the left now. This would certainly be the case of the overall ACA, which the RWL is thoroughly committed to continuing to build as a broader, militant left current.

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