Divisions in the Sydney peace movement
In September 2002, forces linked to three groups — the Palm Sunday Committee, the Sydney Network for Peace and No War — came together to found the Walk Against the War Coalition. The Walk Against the War Coalition successfully organised the mass protests against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. However, behind the successful actions there were a range of conflicts on organisational and political matters. The political position and behaviour of some groups in the Walk Against the War Coalition provoked increasing anger and frustration among a range of the affiliates. In response, they began in April to discuss how best to continue and develop the anti-war work in Sydney. The Communist Party of Australia (CPA) was invited into this process in mid-June. It culminated in the formation of the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition on July 7. Almost all the members of the Walk Against the War Coalition were invited to participate in the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition. It is incorrect that, as Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) member Nick Everett claims, the new coalition was "kept secret from many affiliates of the Walk Against the War Coalition, including the NSW Greens, Socialist Alliance, Muslim organisations and representatives of local peace groups, solidarity organisations and many individuals who have been active in the peace movement." It is correct that the Socialist Alliance was not one of the groups invited to join the new coalition. The CPA made it clear that it does not in principle support what amount to organisational bans in a broad movement. They undermine the concept of a broad coalition in which a range of groups, whose policies and approaches may diverge on many questions, come together to work on those issues held in common. We hold the view that organisational measures do not solve political and tactical differences. Such conflict will continue, although in different forms, and will still have to be fought out politically and over time. However, the principle of trying to unite the broadest possible movement should never be treated as an absolute, isolated from other considerations. Our main concern remains to work with other groups to consolidate and develop the anti-war movement in Sydney on as broad a basis as possible. The new Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition has a far broader base among trade unions, community and peace groups, sections of the ALP and religious bodies than do the ultra-left groups. We also believe that the composition of the new coalition can provide an effective basis for much more sustained work in the trade unions to make the slogan "peace is union business" real. The Charter of the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition brings together anti- war and anti-globalisation issues — a move we regard as positive. The quality of the work of the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition and its popular influence will be determined over time. The degree to which trade unionists, community organisations and younger people, especially on university and college campuses, will become involved will also be determined by the attractiveness and vigour of the activities of the new coalition. Claims made by ultra-left groups that the changes will undermine the anti- war movement and exclude the left depend on whether ultra-left and Trotskyist organisations are to be seen as genuine left groups and whether they are prepared to take a more constructive approach in the coalitions they join than has often been the case in the past. There are many experiences in other areas of political work that do not lead us to give a positive answer to this question. CPA members in the Walk Against the War Coalition had been concerned for some time about the disruptive role of the DSP and some other ultra-left (Trotskyist) groups in the anti-war campaign in Sydney. While anti-war coalitions in other States issued leaflets and other material explaining and analysing events in the Middle East, in Sydney the Walk Against the War Coalition was generally unable to achieve consensus and was therefore only able to publicise slogans and events. This was a serious weakness. It became a greater problem, which had the potential to destroy efforts to inform and educate the community, at a time when mass mobilisations were on the wane. The need to confront new issues — the threats against North Korea (DPRK), Syria and Iran, and the free trade negotiations between Australia and the US are just two examples. — as well as the ongoing campaign against the occupation and privatisation of Iraq demand more public education. But they also make the likelihood of political divisions and blocking actions even greater. There were on-going divisions on the Coalition's attitude to the United Nations, on questions including the number and selection of speakers and the approach to the organisation of street actions. There was concern about the approach of the ultra-left groups to the blossoming local peace groups. The local groups they dominate have focussed on an intensive program of actions irrespective of the ability of communities to cope. The real potential for these groups, in our opinion, lies in them concentrating on community work and drawing previously inactive people into membership of and activity in the local groups. Many active anti-war groups and individuals in Sydney distrust the DSP, believing that the prime focus of their activities is not to build the anti-war movement but to expand their own party's membership and influence. For CPA members in Sydney, as elsewhere in Australia, the task remains to link and to build — in the best way possible in the objective circumstances — the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements, reinforcing in every way possible their anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly, democratic features.