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Web discussions of note: Australian Socialist Alliance

This is a debate on the GLW List which is in two sections two years apart. The topic headers don't really indicate its content, so let's call it: Left parties and the Socialist Alliance option

1 Com:

Peter Boyle | May 23, 2007

In that discussion I responded (on a related thread)to an accusation by Peter

Murray, a leader of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) that what the DSP had done

was:

"obviously to liquidate the DSP into a left social-democratic party, now called Socialist Alliance."

From the very beginning in 2001, one of the debates with the ISO comrades in the Socialist Alliance was over the politics of the Alliance. They argued that its platform should be kept social democratic so as to be acceptable to left ALP types who we would seek to draw in. The DSP members argued that it should not be kept "social democratic" but be a developing transitional platform based on class-struggle politics democratically decided by the Socialist Alliance membership. I recall that your group, the Freedom Socialist Party along with Workers Liberty and Workers Power all opposed this approach of the ISO, though the latter two at least wanted a more revolutonary platform. In the end the large sections of the platform that was adopted by the Socialist Alliance was drafted (very well) by FSP comrades and with a few amendments was adopted. This is still the basic platform of the Socialist Alliance. Are you telling us that it was "social democratic"?

Of course you are right to make the point that an organisation can have a very good paper program but in practice it could be carrying out completely different one. But explain how the Socialist Alliance has done this?

Let's be a bit more concrete.

In the campaign against the new "Work Choices" anti-union laws, Socialist Alliace members have sought to build alliances with other union militants, not in the Socialist Alliance, to get going a sustained campaign of mass industry action demonstrations in face of originally implacable opposition to this course from the ACTU leadership in the beginning of 2005. This broader alliance participated in the 2005 Fightback conference, which I am sure you attended. The four subsequent mass nation-wide workers mobilisations would never have taken place if not for this initiative by union militants.

Have a look at the record of this campaign (Socialist Alliance's major campaign over the last two years)and explain what was wrong:

Union leaders: `Defy Howard's laws!'

Now's the time for a united fight-back!

Action proposals adopted by National Union Fightback Conference

Fight-back kit against Howard's IR plans

What next to defeat Howard's anti-union laws?

Biggest workers' protest in Australian history

ACTU urged to call new national stoppage

Militant union leaders call for nationwide strike on June 28

Most unions to rally on June 28

300,000 march for workers' rights - next NDA November 30

Work Choices: We can stop Howard and pressure Labor

Defend the Right to Strike!

Geelong hosts Union Activists Workshop

As any reader of the list can see from this record, we are not just talking about Socialist Alliance propaganda here but a record of action.

And perhaps you might want to explain the FSP's contribution to that campaign that would not have been better carried out together with the Socialist Alliance?

And how it was more revolutionary?

And then we can go on to other campaigns like the Mulrinji black deaths in custody campaign (which FSP members played an active role in, the anti-war campaign, the same-sex rights campaign, etc, in all of which Socialist Alliance members like Sam Watson and Jakalene X have played leading roles.

* * *

I also argued in another related thread:

Through the Socialist Alliance, the DSP and ISO worked very well in several social movements, not least in the antiwar and trade union movements. It proved that there was more that we agreed on politically than we disagreed on. There was sufficient unity to bring assemble the general political platform that Socialist Alliance still rests on.

It was not true that we needed some deeper programmatic agreement. And you are right, many people who are not members of any of these groups responded positively to it and joined the Socialist Alliance. Most are still members of the Socialist Alliance...

As to winning hearts and minds, I suggest the Socialist Aliance is making modest grounds, despite the angry arguments within the narrow circles of the far left.

Its vote in the NSW upper house nearly trebled since the last election from 5,408 to 15,142 with a very modest campaign. Electorally speaking this is nothing significant but as an indication of growing support it says something. Indeed if you look at the distribution of this vote here you will see 1) a clear pattern of support along class lines, and 2) a higher vote in areas Socialist Alliance has done political work in the local community.

* * *

A bane of the far left propaganda groups is the mistaken belief that our-day-will-come-because-we-have-the-correct-program. Each little revolutionary group hangs on to the belief that because they have the "correct" program only the real socialist party can be their organization.

When we in the DSP broke from the Fourth International in 1985, we formalised the rejection of this sectarian approach. We rejected:

- a view of program abstracted from the practice of parties, which leads to judging other left political currents by their words rather than their deeds and so leads to the view that our current is the only real Marxist revolutionary current;

- an attitude to other class-struggle or revolutionary currents that downplays their achievements and seeks for programmatic differences rather than practical agreements;

- a reluctance to put our program into practice, as seen in the failure to orient to the industrial working class and establish a base when the conditions for doing so exist.

We also rejected the idea that building a mass revolutionary party was like making a cup of instant coffee: add capitalist crisis and working class leadership crisis to little group with correct program and that's it! We also rejected the misplaced but unfortunately characteristic arrogance of many small socialist groups whose political arrogance was often in inverse proportion to their political achievements. And we also sought to move away from the empty debating school methods of the sects in which political arguments were often blown out of all proportion and left opponents in debate were too hastily characterised as alien class forces because of the supposed "logic" of their arguments.

I say the DSP rejected this pproach but this does not mean that the DSP is immune from these tendencies. Far from it. As long as the socialist movement remains relatively isolated these tendencies will arise again and again in any socialist group. It has to be fought back not just with political argument but with a relentless commitment to engagement in real struggles, real movements. Of course when the movements retreat this job becomes tougher.

* * *

Shane Hopkinsion then wrote:

"I think this captures the issue - IF we are to make some political assessment of the viability (or not) of the SA project then we need to look beyond sectarian name-calling and look at the OBJECTIVE factors. I recall the early rationale for the SA project along the lines that there was a change in the political conditions that warranted an attempt at left regroupment. I didn't think so then
tho I was part of trying to build SA in Central Queensland in the early days.

"In retrospect either some participants made some subjective errors - which of course always occurs - but the argument needs to be that these errors were of such magnitude as to doom the project OR there were objective reasons why such a project was (or is) impossible in which case we admit we were wrong (at least in
retrospect - eg it seemed right at the time but things turned out differently) and move on that much the wiser for next time."

I responded:

Both subjective and objective factors have influenced the course of development of the Socialist Alliance.

In my opinion both Shane and Tom O'Linclon share a tendency towards over-determinism and over-pessimism about objective conditions. But that's always been how some socialists tended to lean while others tended to lean in the direction of over-optimism and adventurism. Of course erring in the direction of pessimism just about guarantees that you will be "proved right" sometimes but then again if socialists don't try, don't reach a little...

In May 2005, the DSP made the assessment that:

"The objective political situation is making it difficult to develop the Socialist Alliance into an effective multi-tendency socialist party. Therefore the perspective adopted by the last [DSP] Congress of trying to integrate as much of the resources of the DSP into the Socialist Alliance cannot proceed without new political developments which can unleash new forces and greater political confidence in the Socialist Alliance."

We developed this assessment at the subsequent DSP Congress, which followed vigorous internal debate about Socialist Alliance and the objective situation (among other matters), and stated frankly in a resolution (see here

here ) that our previous assessment that Australian politics was at the "beginning of a new cycle of working-class and anti-capitalist struggle" (influenced by the anti-globalisation movement and the
appearance of a new militant wing in the trade unions)was an over-estimation of the objective situation.

"While the Australian working class is being forced into political action [against Work Choices], it is too early to proclaim this as the end of the last two and a half decades of class retreat in the face of the capitalist neoliberal
offensive. Our characterisation, at our last Congress, of the post-1998 political developments as the beginning of a turn in the working class struggle was over-optimistic. Certainly those developments marked a broadening legitimacy crisis of
neoliberal politicians and the rise of some new political vanguards and the partial revival of advanced political elements that had previously retreated into relative inactivity. However, the working class as a whole remained generally on the retreat. The long 15-year capitalist expansion cycle (with all its contradictions) continued to dampen resistance to capitalist neoliberal reforms... "

We noted that there have been some significant retreats in the social movements.

- The massive movement against the invasion of Iraq melted away quickly in the wake of the invasion and occupation by the US and its allied imperialist aggressors. Though opinion polls in Australia and other imperialist countries show majority opposition to that occupation, the anti-war movement remains weak and in some cities divided and there have been no large anti-globalisation mobilisations over the last couple of years.

- The re-election of the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government - and this time with a narrow majority in the Senate - deepened the mood of demoralisation
and demobilisation in the broader social movements.

We also noted that:

"Having led the working class into retreat and having championed the neoliberal offensive against the social gains of previous working class struggles, the ALP has been facing a serious political crisis. Labor's ever more explicit shift to
the right — whether in government or in opposition — has opened up a space to its left that all serious socialists know we have to contend for...

"As the ALP stands increasingly exposed, the Greens have filled most of the opening electoral space. However the Greens have not filled the space opened up by the crisis of leadership in the trade unions and the broader labour movement, especially given the vital challenges of the struggle against Howard's anti-union laws."

We concluded that the Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and regroupment with broader left forces that are generated by a new upturn of resistance to the capitalist neoliberal "reforms" before it can harness the leadership resources and political confidence to take a
significant step to creating a new socialist party. Nevertheless, for first time in many years many unionists look towards a left party project. By championing the need for a broadly based anti-capitalist party or a "new mass workers' party" and by organizing the most united left intervention in the social movements, the Socialist Alliance can continue to win the respect of and recruit broader layers of militant workers to its ranks and in this way take practical steps along the road to such a party.

We also noted that we were open to new forms and vehicles of regroupment:

"While the Socialist Alliance has adopted as its perspective transforming itself into a multi-tendency socialist party, this is just a beginning of such a new party project. If there is a new rise in the class struggle, new potential partners will be drawn into the project for a new party and the Socialist Alliance may have to become part of or be transformed into or be supplanted by new structures for best organising the strongest political voice for anti-
neoliberal resistance."

As to the subjective factors, none of the participants in the Socialist Alliance should pretend to infallibility. We are all small groups of socialists with limited experience in leading major struggles and correspondingly limited political authority. And in progressive politics ALL authority has to be won in struggle. Paper programs not yet put to the test (and developed and concretised)
in significant struggles can bring limited authority and influence. That's the reality.

But there is not much point doing-the-humble with the phrase "we've all made mistakes". That's why I posed the question on tis list. OK, what should have been
done differently and what should be done now?

Let's hear some suggestions.

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