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More than 500 people participated in the biggest gathering of social justice and international solidarity activists in Australia since 2002, when they attended the Third Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference (APISC 2005), in Sydney on March 24-28.

The APISC conferences (the last was held in 2002) are established as the biggest left discussion conferences in Australia. The conference was opened by Ashfield mayor Rae Jones, who declared Ashfield municipality a no-war zone soon after he was elected 10 months ago. Messages have come in since the conference from many participants, both from Australia and overseas, declaring it “the best APISC ever.

But it was clear from the mood of delegates that it would not be long before there would be another APISC. Green Left Weekly and Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific, who organised this conference, indicated that there would be another conference or similar event to counter the APEC Heads

Of Government Summit scheduled for Sydney in 2007. One long banner stretched the whole length of the main hall declaring “Onwards to counter APEC Sydney 2007”. US President George Bush will be in Sydney then, as will the heads of

government from around the Pacific rim. There was strong sentiment that there should be another gathering that was both Asia-Pacific and international to raise the banners of opposition to neoliberal globalisation and war.

While it was still an Asia Pacific conference, with speakers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Aceh, West Papua, East Timor, India and New Zealand and many sessions dealing with Asia and Australia’s relations with the region, APISC 2005 also had other foci. The war of occupation in Iraq, the politics of US empire in the Middle East as well as the upsurge in peoples power movements in Latin America were all part of the more than four days of activity.

No gathering of activists occurring at this time could have avoided the issue of the war of occupation in Iraq, and the presence of US anti-war campaigner Stan Goff helped elevate this issue to a central place. Goff, a former US soldier, spoke at a pre-conference public meeting as well as on a panel on how to build the anti-war movement.

These two sessions, combined with workshop roundtable discussions on the anti-war movement, consolidated this issue as central to any progressive political agenda at the moment. There are already signs that new local peace groups will emerge from this conference.

In a letter written to the conference organisers after he returned to the US, Goff wrote that the participants “from around Asia-Pacific nations have thoroughly convinced me of the strategic necessity to begin international collaboration on the development of an anti-base campaign, in conjunction with the anti-war upwave in the international left right now, and given the centrality of military power projection to the imperial project in this period. ... the struggles against bases in Diego Garcia, Okinawa, Korea and elsewhere must be ratcheted up.”

The most powerful state in the world has declared a state of permanent war against “all who are not with us”, and war came up often in the conference. “When you talk about war in Iraq, remember too the war in Aceh”, emphasised Dita Sari, the chairperson of the People’s Democratic Party (PRD) from Indonesia. The PRD is the only political party in Indonesia that supports a referendum of self-determination in Aceh.

Discussion about the politics of the Indonesian archipelago dominated at least three major sessions at the conference, not only taking up the struggles against neoliberal globalisation and militarism in Indonesia, Aceh and Papua, but also the struggle for development in East Timor three years after winning formal political independence. Four East Timorese, from the Socialist Party of Timor and from Timorese non-government organisations, all hammered the Australian government’s refusal to acknowledge the halfway line between the two countries as the maritime border and its theft of East Timor’s oil.

Fascinating elaboration on an emerging re-organisation of the fight against neoliberalism in New Zealand, debates over the state of the left in the United States, reflections on the future of socialism — as well as analysis of past collapses — and discussions over campaigns for social justice organised by activists from almost every sector of activity — trade unions, gay rights, women’s movement, environment movement, Latin American solidarity and many more wound their way through the conference.

Other regions were represented by Ram Seegobin, the first representative of the socialist movement in Mauritius, Lalit, to visit Australia, Srilata Swaminathan, the president of the All-India Womens Association, Helmuth Markov from the Party of Democratic Socialism in Germany and Taylan Bilgic from the Labour Party of Turkey.

It is impossible to capture all this in a single article in Green Left Weekly, except, perhaps, by emphasising how the conference underscored the potential of what we can build in the coming years.

The conference was imbued with a sense of solidarity: from the comradely debate around tactics, through to the intense energy of the dance-off that finished up the cultural evening. It was particularly noticeable in the successful outreach of the conference to the families of the victimised Aboriginal community of Redfern, now fighting back for justice.

The conference will unquestionably help international cooperation. Connections were strengthened between leaders of Asian left parties, and discussion was free-flowing between leaders of different political organisations within the same country (from the United States, for example, Goff, a member of the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation, spoke alongside Ahmed Shawki from the International Socialist Organization and independent socialists Barry Sheppard and Caroline Lund attended) — or across the Tasman and in Europe.

The Cuban Consul-General Nelida Hernandez addressed a plenary session to a standing ovation. The Vietnamese Consul-General Nguyen Thu Phiet, spoke on a plenary panel, and in workshops, along with the Vietnamese consul, Tran Nhu Hung. Ali Kazak, the head of the General Palestinian Delegation to Australia, also spoke.

There were, however, no participants from Pakistan. Farooq Tariq, the general secretary of the Labour Party of Pakistan, and two other LPP members were denied visas to attend the conference. Tariq called the decision a disgrace and a deliberate targeting of the LPP because of its role in the movement against the war in Iraq. The LPP is planning protests outside the Australian High Commission in the weeks ahead. Visas for many of the Indonesian delegates were only issued at the last moment after lobbying of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.

The real question now is what can we build from these new connections and the momentum and confidence flowing from the conference. The energy was noticeable in the discussion because there is a movement that needs such discussion. The conference was organised by Green Left Weekly and by Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific. A great deal of the necessary discussion can be carried out through these two organisations. But GLW and ASAP will not be enough. What else then?

The Venezuelan Solidarity Network and Committees in Solidarity with Latin America and the Caribbean also featured strongly at the conference. Together with the socialist youth organisation Resistance, their activists led workshops on a range of different issues relating to Latin America. This included a packed-out plenary session on Venezuela, in which the coordinator of the August Venezuelan solidarity brigade, Fred Fuentes, and the GLW writer on Venezuela, Stuart Munckton, spoke. The VSN, CISLAC and the Venezuelan brigade are other important vehicles for furthering this collective discussion, planning and action.

But the unity felt at the conference was not just because of a joining together around particular issues. It was inspired by the allegiance, sometimes understood with different emphases, to socialism.

Young activists, as well as veterans of more than 60 years’ struggle like former Indonesian political prisoner, journalist and publisher, Joesoef Isak or Filipino socialist and former president of the University of the Philippines, Francisco Nemenzo, all stressed this. Solutions to the real problems for humanity — environmental, cultural, economic and social poverty — as well as the strategies for popular power becoming state power were ever present. This emphasis pointed to the need to transfer the unity felt at the conference to the main socialist vehicle in Australia, the Socialist Alliance.

How can we best further the unity felt at the conference around socialism, around solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela; around collaboration with progressive forces in the region in opposing neoliberal globalisation and Australian government and business depredations against the peoples of the region; and around reaching out to build an independent anti-war movement unbeholden to the fake opposition of Laborism?

The conference left activists with a challenge: to find the ways to transfer the unity felt at throughout the four-day event around socialism, around solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela, around collaboration with progressive forces in the region opposing neoliberal globalisation and Australian ruling class exploitation, and around reaching out to build an independent anti-war movement independent of laborism. This challenge in particular presents itself to the Socialist Alliance.

From Green Left Weekly, April 6, 2005.

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