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Localism and left regroupment -- the Socialist Alliance experience

by Dave Riley

Mark Perryman writes on the Socialist Unity blog as part of a discussion on Respect:
With the help of other activists they targeted a ward, won a council seat and now have the potential to build something locally. There will be tens, hundreds of localities just like this dotted around the country. But it takes a single minded orientation towards community politics combined with non-sectarian socialist principles.
DAVE RILEY: That's self evident unfortunately.It's the same in the way here in Australia as we are finding with the Socialist Alliance that in transcending the inner city left ghettos -- which are so often Greens(party) dominated electorally the SA is drawing a keener response in regional centres.

However, Mark's point, obscures the debate that is had over local versus broader issues and here -- adherents of the English Respect model (which is to not form a new party regrouping left forces -- but to club together something else --a party you have when you aren't having a party) were keen to force the SA into being focused on local "community politics" instead of the bigger issue campaigns which were thought to be the province of the SA affiliates -- the professional Marxian organisations.The gang of Bolsheviks was supposed to work together inside one or two suburbs at the community level, but work separately when it came to broader anti war coalitions and the like. That was the "unity" on offer from these outfits -- one contained by geography-- and anything else was short lived those few times it did occur (such as in some trade union caucuses and very briefly in the antiwar movement).

But these occasions proved how viable, attainable and effective such unity in action could be.

The localism argument is a very mistaken view as it engineered a rigid either/or template that is simply unsustainable in way of political relevance and potential...and amounts to another political panacea that so often doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Of course you "act locally" but you also do more than "think" globally. That's the Greens cop out -- an attempt to depoliticize the big issues that warrant tactical consideration and debate.

From my POV I'm pretty much over the ability of much of this (English speaking) far left to create a viable political alternative (let alone discuss the prospect) because the diseases it suffers from seem so chronic. We more or less wasted three years here bending over for and playing up to the most intense factionalism for the sake of maintaining a unity gloss.(There was far less unity and very much less participation I assure you than onlookers assumed there was). As soon as the politics got tough and the buoyancy subsided a bit -- these outfits exited en masse. Now, in a quickening political climate, we have a viable project without the dead weight of such factionalism almost for its own sake...And, I hate to say it!, we're doing much better in our ability to network and reach out without being held hostage to so many shibboleths and factional rages.

Nonetheless it is a pity they didn't stick around as none of these outfits are offering one iota of an alternative in way of a political project today.

After so many years in the Alliance they walked away with nothing to show for their past affiliation and no optional project to trumpet about. Tragically, to a groupuscule, they returned to their own self contained bunker existence.

In the meantime, the promise to coalesce something broader than the SA just got very much sharper here in Australia because of the politics of the Rudd leadership of the ALP.

In effect, the Alliance has 'turned the corner" from the doldrum we'd been stuck in since Howard's re-election. There's a greater buoyancy which we are trying to relate to:That also means that we embrace a totally open political agenda without the constraints engineered for Respect (and what would have been the fate for the SA here too if the exited affiliates had had their way) --
  1. Chronic localism
  2. A united front rather than a new party perspective
  3. An overwhelming focus on elections to the detriment to out-of-polling-day campaigning
It remains to be seen how we'll fair in the upcoming federal election. At issue won't be so much our poll results as we still have to deal with a massive "Greens factor" here as they have dominated the electoral space left of the ALP. But if we can use the election to mobilize bigger numbers of people working for and supporting us in the campaign then we're ahead of where we've been. That's the marker ..and the networking, especially into ALP ranks and among Greens members --as well as with community organisations. That's the sort of leg work/ground work we are doing.

The other factor here, that interests me, is a our potential to raise the question of generating a broader formation by regrouping 'the left' through a series of engineered stages. This is all about initiating and consolidating partnerships and enriching the networks, especially in the trade unions, we have already fostered.

To that end, if we do it right, we can look forward to locally instigated Alliance branches being established in the wake of this upcoming election campaign.

Guess we gotta rewrite and update the branch building DIY manual..
This month Alliance has had its party registration confirmed in the Victoria as a bona fide political party with at least 500 paid up members there.Since we have to also negotiate re-registration federally it will be very difficult for the Australian Electoral Commission to deny us.

2 Com:

Anonymous | August 04, 2007

oh dear. i thought i had come across an independent socialist website from Australia. Unfortunately it is another DSP front .. ah well. I used to be a member of the SA. The DSP destroyed it, leaving an organisation which had 2000 odd members at the end of 2001. To less than 500 nationally today. Explanation - bureaucratic centralism. No one is attracted to an organisation which is lead at the nose by a bunch of middle aged tossers in Sydney.

Dave Riley | August 04, 2007

I'm sorry "Anonymous" but your assertion doesn't fit the facts. Less than 500 members? I don't think so.

If you go here you'll see that the SA has over 500 members in Victoria alone.

But that aside I'm jack sick of the whinge-ing far lefties like yourself caught up in navel gazing politics rather than real time political joint work who can offer the world nothing but complaints and political cowardice.

Who, whats' more,back themselves up with anonymous sweeping assertions without any evidence being shared to "prove" their point.

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