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The Greens, preferences and the spectre of (socialist)left regroupment not.

by Dave Riley

Because the International Socialist Organisation (as well as Socialist Alternative) has called for a first preference vote for The Greens at the coming federal poll while totally ignoring the existence of any socialist election campaigns the Socialist Party had challenged them to a public debate on the matter . This is the ISO's reply as published on Leftwrites by Steve Jolly.

THE SP also replies to the ISO's letter.

The exchange is interesting as it reflects the perspectives of both organisations in way of their outlook (and, I suggest from my POV, their oversights).

To give you some context,while both are activist organisations with some excellent campaign credits to their respective banners, the SP has about 12 -20 members nationally and the IS0 could claim about 100* --so we aren't talking about a major issue being debated in way of reach out and impact --especially when geographical spread is factored in.

But in terms of aggregating the existing far left groups into some ongoing unity project the exchange is nonetheless relevant because it formally marks off an episode in Australian radical politics when the promise of regroupment was thought to be held hostage to an assumption that there was some pre-existing preference of these outfits to voluntarily work with one another on the same socialist project.
  • See related thread on LeftClick here

*I'll correct & adjust my (generous?)estimates anytime I'm referenced otherwise

1. 3/10/2007

Reply to SP from the ISO

Dear Kylie and Socialist Party comrades,

We have to decline your offer of a public debate between our two organizations as we feel it would not be a constructive way of pursuing a discussion about socialist strategy and tactics viz the federal election. But we are happy to send someone to address one of your regular meetings in Melbourne if you wish us to clarify things in more detail.

You correctly point out that we are supporting the Greens at this election. Unfortunately, we found some of your characterisations of the Greens as sectarian and wrong. For example, to say the Greens are “not an explicitly anti-war party” is silly. Of course they are. The contradictions in their politics that you refer to require a principled response from socialists—we agree with this. But it is better to pursue these discussions in a constructive way, as part of a broader struggle to build a new left beyond the Labor Party. Constructively participating in the Greens election campaign is a useful way to do this—it’s certainly better rather than writing them off as “a small capitalist party”.

We support the Greens because they represent a very important layer of people that firmly rejects the Labor Party’s political sell-outs. Most Greens supporters reject Labor’s capitulation to neo-liberalism and support the kind of social democratic policies that were once expected from the Labor Party. But you don’t seem to have recognised this significant point. While we acknowledge many of the limitations of Green politics and we retain an independent, socialist view of the world, we feel that as the struggle moves forward this layer of people can help build a new left independent of Labor’s betrayals. Until recently we believed that the Socialist Alliance was a vehicle for furthering this aim. Unfortunately the SA was too narrow and sectarian to achieve this.

We acknowledge the local work of your comrades in Melbourne. We welcomed Steve Jolly’s election to Yarra council in November 2004 and we recognise that this was the product of many years of focussed work in the local area. We are familiar with such an approach, having had decent results ourselves as part of the Socialist Alliance in council elections in Moreland in 2003 and Boroondara in 2004.

The reality, however, is that the socialist vote at this federal election will be negligible. We do not question your right to run a candidate in the seat of Melbourne. Unfortunately, we find it hard to believe that it can attract the kind of broad support capable of aiding the development of a genuine leftwing challenge to Labor. There may be doubts about the political capacity of the Greens to do this as well—but at least they attract a broad layer of people who want a real political alternative. In a context in which many trade unionists are questioning their support for the Labor Party, and growing calls for unions to back the Greens, we would rather be part of this important discussion than point out weaknesses from the outside.

In this regard, we find it slightly weird that you would demand for our support at the election. The Socialist Party was certainly not prepared to compromise and participate in the Socialist Alliance during its formative years. With regard to your letter, you could have easily come to us, asked for a clarification of our position and we would have happily obliged. Instead, you “challenge” us to a public debate with an open letter, presumably in order to ‘expose’ the incorrectness of our politics. In our view, this behaviour reflects the kind of pettiness that the left should leave behind.


David Glanz and Tom Barnes
For the International Socialist Organisation


2. 16/10/2007

Reply from SP

Dear ISO comrades,
Your response to our letter challenging you to a debate on the Greens is perhaps one of the weakest letters we have ever received from another socialist organisation, we almost feel sorry for you publishing it. It is however not surprising that you have declined our offer to a debate as you are clearly having trouble defending your opportunist politics around this question.

If an open debate is not a constructive way of pursuing a discussion about socialist strategy and tactics in elections then what is?

You say our “characterisations of the Greens [are] sectarian and wrong. For example, to say the Greens are “not an explicitly anti-war party” is silly. Of course they are.” What evidence do you have to back your description of the Greens as an anti-war party? We ask this question because in the latest edition of your newspaper (Socialist Worker) you state: “Even the Greens don’t have the war on their political radar.”

We maintain the Greens’ opposition to the war in Iraq has not come from a consistent opposition to imperialist war and interventions. It has been a tactical rather than a principled anti-war position. The Greens have always said that the Iraq war should have been carried out under the auspices of the United Nations and this was the main reason they opposed it.

Bob Brown has made many speeches where he has argued that Australian forces would have been better deployed in “our region”.

We have written many articles about the Greens in the past and below we publish a recent article we published in the October issue of our newspaper, The Socialist.

You say that “The reality, however, is that the socialist vote at this federal election will be negligible”. This may be true but what is the difference between this election and the last one where you to called for a vote for socialist candidates. How will we build support for the ideas of socialism if we don’t first support socialist organisations when they are small?

The Greens are a small capitalist party based on the more progressive layers of the middle class, as you acknowledged recently in a centre page article of Socialist Worker on exactly this topic.

In the absence of a mass leftwing workers’ party in Australia, the Greens have gained an electoral base in the inner-city. They have some good members who could well play a role in the future in a new workers’ party. Indeed some of their leading figures, including parliamentary candidates in this area, see the Greens as a sort of ‘holding bay’ until a new workers’ party comes on the scene.

The best way to influence the rank and file of the Greens is to mobilise amongst the community as well as firm but friendly criticisms of their political weaknesses. These weaknesses stem from their lack of a class and socialist analysis, their parliamentary cretinism, and their inability to organise and to work with the community to mobilise on the streets behind their policies – at least in Victoria.

Calling for a vote for the Greens, acting as their unsolicited, unpaid political advisors which the ISO obviously see their role today, will get you nowhere. Rather than win over people from the Greens to your party, we predict you will lose members to the Greens. Your newspaper today is like a fanzine for the Greens with headlines like “Greens a shining light amidst election gloom” (Socialist Worker, 15/10/04).

We need to be calling on people to vote Socialist (where a socialist is standing) with preferences to the Greens. This de facto Green vote will then go to that party with a clear socialist message attached, while increasing the vote for socialists and the raising the flag for socialist ideas.

There are two ironies in this discussion.

1. The Greens were delighted when we decided to stand Kylie McGregor in the seat of Melbourne. They know that a layer of voters (especially disaffected working class voters) are angry with the rightwing drift of the ALP but are put-off by the middle class character of the Greens and the experience of them on local Council. Some of these people will vote for SP and that vote will be preferenced to the Greens. These are votes the Greens would otherwise not of received. In other words the more leftwing Greens support our campaign for electoral reasons plus the political pressure it puts on their party from the left. These people are to the left of the ISO on this issue!

2. Every week the SP does joint work with the Green councillors on real campaigns on the ground eg the (successful) fight to save St. Andrews Kindergarten and the campaign against the State government’s rise in public housing rents. Our firm but friendly political criticisms of the Greens does not in any way stop us working with them. Hardly a week goes by when SP is not in the local paper criticising the ALP and Greens in this area and hardly a week goes by when we do not work with the Greens on real issues. We are winning people from Green politics to socialist politics, not the other way around. This is the principled way for socialists to act. Your position is to the Right of us, and will have no impact on the Greens. Your statement that “we would rather be part of this important discussion than point out weaknesses from the outside” is the opposite of reality – you and your rightward drifting party are on the outside, not us.

On top of engaging in the debates about which way forward for a new workers party with other left groups, we have also publicly debated the ALP, the Greens and several union leaders. We are unaware of your organisation engaging in such an open and public discussion around this important topic. We have also written a pamphlet called ‘The Case for a New Workers’ Party’ and many articles in our newspaper. Again this can hardly be called just ‘pointing out weaknesses from the outside’.

By the way we agree with the general points you made as recently as 2001 when you stated in your paper: “We will enthusiastically work alongside Greens in many campaigns. Where there is a Green candidate that campaigns on a left, anti-Liberal platform they should receive Socialist Alliance preferences. But the Socialist Alliance is a far better alternative than the Greens because it is clear that the source of environmental and social problems is capitalist society and is committed to both offering an electoral alternative and building a mass workers’ movement.”

You say in your letter that “Until recently we believed that the Socialist Alliance was a vehicle for furthering this aim” (building a new left independent of Labor) but “Unfortunately the SA was too narrow and sectarian to achieve this”.

You also say that “The Socialist Party was certainly not prepared to compromise and participate in the Socialist Alliance during its formative years.” This is true; we saw no point, unlike yourselves, wasting 5 years on a project that was destined for failure from day one. This does not mean that we shied away from the debate. Read again what we said in a February 2001 letter to the Socialist Alliance.

“No such forces exist as a basis for this proposed alliance. It would be a fundamental error to be under the illusion that a new viable party will be created by the gathering together of the already-existing small left parties and a very thin layer of non-aligned individuals. This layer, in addition to being small, is also overwhelmingly made up of long-standing activists, rather than of fresh layers just moving into struggle. We are in favour of a new mass party for the working class. This will not develop immediately but over a period and this process cannot be viewed in isolation from the class struggle and the situation in the workers’ movement. Any attempt to declare a new party of the working class before the forces necessary to make such a formation real have congregated, will end up the same way as the Progressive Labour Party.”

We believe your incorrect perspective on the Socialist Alliance has been a disaster for the ISO in terms of its membership and influence. Today the ISO is a shell of what it was in the 1990s. In desperation you are grasping at the straws of the Green Party. It is one thing to put up socialist demands on a reformist workers’ party, it is delusional to put them on the Greens. We know from the experience of New Zealand, Germany, Ireland, and even on local Councils in Australia, that once they get into power the dominant forces in the Greens will sell-out their principles for the perks of office.

The zig-zags of your organisation are almost unbelievable. You have come from a position where you once described the Socialist Party and our sister parties worldwide as “reformist” for even daring to stand for bourgeois parliaments. You often took on an anarchist position of boycotting elections.

Then for years after the Labor Party had as you say “capitulated to neo-liberalism” you continued to call for a vote for them. You then, without any explanation, announced that you would now be standing in elections under the banner of the Socialist Alliance. When that doesn’t work out for you, you decide to ditch the idea of fighting for socialist ideas in the electoral arena and call for a vote for the capitalist alternative of the Greens!

This ISO position reflects a general shift to the Right in the IST in general. Your newspaper in the 1990s, despite its formulistic approach at least clearly called for socialism. Today you would be hard pressed to find the word in your paper, apart from the title.

We did not challenge you to a debate in order to expose the incorrectness of your politics. We are quite confident that you are more than capable of exposing the incorrectness of your politics without our help. We look forward to comradely debates on polling day when ISO members are handing out Greens ‘how to vote cards’ and SP members are fighting for the ideas of socialism.


Kylie McGregor
On behalf of the Socialist Party

13 Com:

Red Wombat | October 17, 2007

Dave Riley writes:
"SP has about 12 -20 members nationally and the IS0 could claim about 100"

This is probably inaccurate. I have no idea about the *actual* size of the SP, but I'd accept that they are more or less around that size, although they may be modestly larger. The ISO, however, went through a massive crisis during the past few years. I wouldn't place them much above 50, really. If you include peripheral, inactive and new members, I would still balk at the 100 figure.

David Glanz writes:
"Unfortunately the SA was too narrow and sectarian to achieve this."

Unfortunately, Glanz fails ot recognise that the sectarianism which some of the far left brought to the Socialist Alliance is precisely the same thing the ISO continue to live out. They brought it with them, and they take it away with them too. Meanwhile the Socialist Alliance moves on to bigger and better things without the baggage, while the ISO decides to opportunistically leech off the Greens.

There are socialists in the Greens already, and certainly organised socialists are forbidden on pains of expulsion from working within the Greens. But simply running patsy to them doesn't help much.

Socialist politics - and socialist activism - will have a much greater effect on the socialists and non-socialists in the Greens if we can pose a coherent and organised alternative. We should - and do - still work with them. But working FOR them? It's more likely the tactic of a group trying to recover from a crisis by simply trying to recruit by being "friendly". And nothing much more.

Compare this to the work that the Socialist Alliance does - working with the Greens, but also putting forward a non-sectarian and rational alternative to the mish-mash of Green politics.

It is no coincidence that many of our members are ex-Greens (or are still Greens, as we allow dual membership, which the Greens and ALP do not).

Similarly, the SP, for all their faults and limitations, are able to expose the failings of the Greens FROM THE LEFT by presenting an explicitly socialist alternative.

David Glanz writes:
"In a context in which many trade unionists are questioning their support for the Labor Party, and growing calls for unions to back the Greens, we would rather be part of this important discussion than point out weaknesses from the outside."

Except that we are NOT on "the outside", except of Parliament. I can't speak for the SP, but Socialist Alliance has an ear, and many allies and active (and leading) members, within the union movement, the environmental movement, and elsewhere, and is seen by many as a credible alternative to both the ALP and Greens. The question is, are we big enough yet to be VIABLE? For that we need greater unity, size, and, eventually, votes.

The ISO approach - which is something of a return to old practice - is to dismiss electoral politics as useless unless you get into parliament.

A few years ago they were talking up the possibility of Socialist Alliance getting elected, which most of the rest of us thought a bit of wishful thinking. When we came nowhere close to winning, they first started recriminations, and then stepped-back from involvement.

The end of Glanz's statement is a perfect example of why the ISO statement is fundamentally dishonest. It reads as: "You didn't support the unity project which we have left and now don't support, so why should we support you?"

The first half (and the end) of the SP letter I also have little problem with on a brief read - more or less - but then they fall into their own trap by trying to use the Socialist Alliance in a sectarian manner.

The failure of the ISO to engage with the rest of the left due to their opportunism and sectarianism finds a lovely mirror in the sectarianism of the SP comrades.

Read these letters below, the first from the Socialist Alliance to the SP, and the second their response:


1. Letter from Socialist Alliance Victoria to Socialist Party

Monday October 8, 2007

Dear comrades

As previously discussed with your national party organiser Anthony Main we would like to produce a joint statement from Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Party calling for a vote for socialist candidates in the upcoming Federal election.

We think it is important to show solidarity with other socialist candidates who put forward an anti-capitalist platform especially in the context where some groups on the left call for a direct vote for the Greens.

We also believe such a united statement will send a positive message to the progressive movement, our supporters and the broader left.

Socialist Alliance will certainly encourage its members and supporters to vote for the Socialist Party candidate Kylie McGregor in the seat of Melbourne and we hope that the Socialist Party would call for a vote for Socialist Alliance in the Senate.


Margarita Windisch
Socialist Alliance State convener and Senate candidate

2. Reply from Socialist Party to Socialist Alliance Victoria

To: Margarita Windisch

Dear SA comrades,

We have discussed your proposal at our NS and at this stage we do not
wish to sign on to a formal joint statement.

We are however calling for people to vote 1 for socialist candidates
where they can.

This obviously includes voting for SA candidates where they are standing.

We will also be happy to print on our how to vote card in the seat of
Melbourne that we encourage people to vote for the SA in the Senate.

We wish you all the best with your electoral campaigning.


Anthony Main
On behalf of SP

Red Wombat | October 17, 2007

The wombats also suggest readers check out:

AN | October 17, 2007

Reading these letters, you cannot help get the feeling that the authors think they are writing a historically signicant exchange of opinions that historians will be studying in the future.

Given that the total membership of both groups could fit in one bus, then it doesn't really matter who they call a vote for. Almost no-one cares.

Paradoxicallt, the only group of people who should and do care, and the left activists who see the need for new thinking and left regroupment, and these are the very people thr ISO is turing its back on now, and that the SP turned its back on by not joining the SA.

Anonymous | October 17, 2007

You can lead people to water, but you can't force them to drink...
Hopefully a sense of both emergency and upliftment might yet result in a wave of unity sweeping through Melbourne's socialist groups, in time.
It's a start (SP offering to put Socialist Alliance candidates references on their how-to-vote cards).
A start is better than nothing at all....

Dave Riley | October 17, 2007

While I guess that I'm reaching my use by date as a keen proponent of arguing the SA case in the face of the attacks and such from the far left orgs -- my major interest is still to combat obscurantism in this polemic -- which will not be going away in a hurry.

If the IS0 has indeed shrunk as much as RW suggests, then the situation on the far left is worse than this exercise in preferencing would suggest.

My main interest is emphasizing how little interest there is among these outfits for 'left unity' initiatives that comprise an organisational dynamic. In place of recognising that we have been treated to pat explanations such as the ISO's here: "Unfortunately the SA was too narrow and sectarian to achieve this."

How "narrow" and how "sectarian" is the SA supposed to be given the present context of this approaching election -- and the present level of fight back in this country?

And the letter from the SP is self evident, I think....they're waiting for the "real" and patented workers party to come along rather than put in the hard yards today with the Alliance consolidating and extending its networks --and, I should add, its regroupment message-- which in the SA's case is much more than rhetoric.

Nonetheless, while no major break out or fight back occurs, Australian socialist politics is going to be held hostage to such, somewhat hollow, assertions and constrained by a certain blasé attitude to the very real gains that the SA is registering.

With Rudd in the Lodge -- we can but hope that things will indeed change.. But one thing will be certain: dealing with a federal Labor government will not be just about electioneering every few years but about more fundamental political exercises as they impact on the social change movements and the trade unions. And this will be played out with Labor trapped from head to toe in Ruddism.

It's going to be such a time that you wouldn't want to be dead for quids!

Dave Riley | October 17, 2007

Opps! Maybe I spoke too early re The Lodge resident:

Sportingbet <http://www.sportingbet.com.au/> issued a media statement: ‘Since Prime Minister John Howard declared the election race open on Sunday, the majority of punters across Australia have supported the Coalition. Sportingbet Australia has seen “the outsiders”, the Coalition, commanding 73% of the bets placed on the election, by keen punters across the nation. And the odds of a Howard victory have tightened over the weekend from $2.90 into $2.75, while the ALP wobbled
out to $1.45 from $1.40.’

Source: http://www.ozpolitics.info/blog/

Anonymous | October 18, 2007

Many people on this blog are still deluding themselves that the SA is going to play a viable role in regrouping the left in this country. You must be either extremely naive or stupid. Your membership is going backwards and almost all groups except the DSP fronts of course have left!

Even leading figures like Craig Johnston are jumping ship. I personally cant blame SP for not wanting to sign a joint electoral statement with SA when people like Craig are going around saying (in personal discussions and in mass union meetings) "that as a proud member of SA I urge you all to vote for Labor" (quote!)

I have some differences with SP but as for the 12 members that they allegedly have, these people must have super human powers to be able to do the work they do!

You are all small including the SA which consistently bumps up its membership figures but yet we never see any of these thousands around.

Get real this discussion is important (im talking to an here) because if you cant have a correct approach when you are small what problems is it going to produce when you are big and it matters.

Dave Riley | October 18, 2007

I guess Anonymous had to reprise the standard mantra: that people "are still deluding themselves that the SA is going to play a viable role in regrouping the left in this country. You must be either extremely naive or stupid. Your membership is going backwards and almost all groups except the DSP fronts of course have left!"

Let's get away from this shallow discourse with its unsubstantiated assertions of this and that and not much else.

Petulant is it not?

I don't know what the present national membership of the SA is. I do know that it is registered as an electoral party in NSW, Vic and Tasmania and that it has
120 members in Queensland.*

I also know that the health of the SA project has to be measured also on how many members are involved in its activities and attend its events. That's not the same, of course, as its total or paper membership. Nonetheless, this criterion is one that is not insisted upon in regard to the Greens membership for instance (primarily because of their electoral weight)-- but I grant you it is relevant to the SA as we are very much more interested in what the SA does or can do.

So we should therefore begin to judge the SA this time around by how many people work for it on polling day or how many attend, say, the upcoming campaign launch in Melbourne and sundry other mobilisations.

That's the test I suggest -- not only in inner city Melbourne but throughout the country especially in regional centres where the SA has done quite good.

As for the exit of "all groups" -- that's the point: they have left -- all these smaller socialist outfits have exited. The question then is: does this negate any prospect of left regroupment being fostered and promoted within the SA skin ? If you think that the only left is this handful of groups then you'd be keen to denigrate the SA, of course, as a failure. But as Red Wombat asserts, with the exit of "all" these "groups" the factional environment in the SA has improved greatly and, I suggest, any successes (or cock ups!)here on in will have nothing to do with these outfits whatsoever.

The irony too is that despite this exit the SA did not collapse and despite this exit the great bulk of the active non aligned SA core -- among trade union, indigenous and migrant activists for instance -- remained loyal to the project.

The festering question that Anonymous does not address is that if the SA exercise is wrong footed, how is the left to be regrouped in this country? I don't see another project on offer do you -- except the electorialist perspective of the Greens(as the ISO has so defaulted)? I don't see another way being offered in real time that embraces an activist and socialist agenda? All I see is optional rhetoric.

We can talk about a few alliances and such but, they are historically, a dime a dozen and come and go with the years. No -- real regroupment is about creating & consolidating a broad left party not ab hoc alliances for elections and the like.

So I hazard the opinion that the SA is a beginning along that route and any future new stage or stages will be built on the SA's achivement and harness its resources.

Is that so very difficult to comprehend? Doesn't that make a teeny weeny bit of political sense?

* SA QLD Membership breakdown -- September 2007:
85 wider-Brisbane area
17 Gold Coast branch
6 broad North Queensland
4 Sunshine Coast area
7 Other Queensland at large and overseas

Nick Fredman | October 18, 2007

from GLW list contribution

This is my response to this discussion:

While on the whole I think the ISO characterisation of the Greens is more accurate and useful than that of the SP, this is somewhat separate from the question of socialist electoral tactics. Also the ISO comrades do not seem to comprehend the lack of revolutionary principle and honesty shown by not even mentioning socialist candidates in their paper. If they truly think it useless for people to vote for SP or SA, the ISO should have the honesty to argue this in their paper.

I wonder what the ISO "participation" consists of, besides scarcely read SW articles and handing out on the day? Are they allowed into any discussions on Greens policy, activities or tactics in the elections without running
foul of the proscription on dual membership that saw the DSP expelled from the Greens in 1992?

My experience of socialist election campaigns chimes with that the SP comrade above who argues that independent socialist campaigns facilitate, rather than hinder, collaboration and discussion with left Greens. E.g. numerous times as the DSP or SA we have initiated broader public actions around election related issues that the Greens have joined, work that was greatly facilitated by standing.I'm sure this is more useful than the literary "participation" of the ISO, which I wonder if many Greens will even notice.

The ISO lurched into electoral work, becoming instant experts, and lurched out again when the big votes they (and nor most of SA) had illusions in weren't always forthcoming.

Things will no doubt change in coming years, and a new broad party may well result from elements of the Greens, labour left, militant unionists and the far left, but at the moment the ISO seems to have lurched, again, into a "desperately seeking Respect" exercise without honestly addressing the different tactics socialists are taking to this election.

Peter Boyle | October 18, 2007

I think the SP's agreement to call "for people to vote 1 for socialist candidates where they can" and "print on our how to vote card in the seat of Melbourne that we encourage people to vote for the SA in the Senate" should be welcomed and commended. Anthony Main also participated constructively in a workshop on the Socialist Alliance experience at last week's Latin America-Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum in Melbourne. The Forum itself was a step forward in left collaboration.

Red Wombat | October 18, 2007

Just to clarify, as a couple of people have queried my contribution about the SP/ SA correspondence, I agree with Peter. I think it's a good thing that the SP is calling for a socialist vote, and an especially good thing that they are also offering to include an encouragement to vote SA. (That is, by "mirror" I meant a reflection, ie the opposite).

While obviously it would be better if we could do this from a more formal standpoint, either via a joint statement, or as part of the same organisation, it is still a positive step.

A also agree with Peter's assessment of the recent Forum in Melbourne - which, it should be pointed out, Socialist Alternative boycotted, and the ISO played a negligible role in. The wombats' assessment is that the Forum also shows what potential there is for further regroupment and cooperation on the left, both in Australia and abroad.

There will be more opportunities to develop such unity in the future, especially in the face of the challenges presented if the ALP wins, and it is incumbent on the left (and socialists in particular) to prepare the most effective responses to these.

Nick Fredman | October 19, 2007

Of interest may be my comments on the continuing discussion on Leftwrites http://www.leftwrites.net/2007/10/17/debatediscussion-spiso-on-greens-preferences-etc/

Me: "To the extent that people don’t give a shit about socialist candidates they won’t give a shit about what socialists say or do generally".

Dave: "I wouldn’t link the two. While the CPA won a sizeable chunk of trade union support, they generally did poorly in elections".

I stand corrected that socialists often have differential support in different areans. But I think it's greatly mistaken *not* to link the two. It would be highly unlikely that the CPA *didn't* garner recruits and broader support from its electoral work that helped its trade union work. And I don't think there's any magic formula that's good for all time that states an organisation has to have x support before contesting bourgeois elections - I'm sure the SP here and groups internationally that have achieved a breakthrough like Scottish Militant got some small votes as part of building up their support.

It's a tactic. I think some on the far left fetishise seeing that in that in itself it breeds electoralist illusions and/or cuts off collaboration with reformist leftists, thinking it's radically different from other tactics. Related seems to be a tendency also think it's dreadfully embarrasing if we get 3% or 1%.

I'd like to learn more of the experiences of the SP, which is why I think it's unfortunate they don't want to run their campaigns as part of SA (which I strongly think could have little impact on what they want to do and say generally, if that's the way they wanted it, but would be positive for the radical left as just possibly they might have something to learn too), but accept that's not on the cards. I also accept how much evidence I put forward that socialist campaigns have been effective in promoting socialism, recruiting socialists, and initiating and/or building broader campaigns, some groups and indidividuals aren't going to be convinced without further breakthroughs.

Likewise without this some aren't going to get over their bizarrely reductionist idea that one's theory of the USSR or Cuban revolution *determines* one's level of agreement on tactics today (a claim BTW falsified by the fact that the FSP and ISO roughly agreed on things in SA, as likewise did the DSP and WL). And the related bizarre idea it's Stalinist to think Marxists agreeing on general principles of Marxism and a general line of march today can be in one organisation. Last time I checked the history books the Bolsheviks allowed considerable differences, the Stalinists banned them.

Yes greater unity will require some objective change, but it's a cop out not to recognise there's a subjective element of will, of trying things out as well. Otherwise we'll just keep plodding on with the same line up of numerous groupslets, as we have for 40 years, as the upsurges over the next decade or 2 aren't likely to be bigger than the several upsurges in the last 40 years.

Dave Riley | October 19, 2007

A few points:

(1)The Greens have been around for over 15 years so it is to the credit of SAlt and the ISO that the have decided to finally aggressively relate to them at election time. This development, given their historical allegiance to the ALP as primarily a ‘workers party’, is to be applauded. Nonetheless, the whole history of alternative electoral options in recent times goes way back to 1984 and the Nuclear Disarmament Party. Between 1984 and 1992 there were some very useful electoral alliances generated between reds and greens. That electoral promise that began then is being harnessed today primarily by The Greens who formally separated from their past by dint of a proscription clause.

(2) Ten years ago, as Bob Brown has pointed out, The Greens had not attained take off as they had only 750 members nationally. It took a shift to embracing social issues and the onset of the Iraq War to help log big changes for them.

(3)I agree with Nick that the ISO’s analysis of the Greens is closer to the truth than the SPs but the ISO’s view lacks a considered familiarity with Greens political habits and culture.That’s why, I think, the promise of a new left won’t be as assured as they try to make out.

(4)No one is saying that outfits aren’t allowed to adopt a position on the elections that doesn’t support the Alliance—and in effect, a better position in my estimation than they have embraced previously—but to totally ignore the existence of the SA, especially when the ISO itself had spent more than five years talking it up as a electoral way forward, smacks of political absurdity. If I was a dedicated reader of their mags—or an active Greens member—I’d be wondering what planet these people were coming from.(But that’s only my POV I’m sure.)

(5)The problem that the far left generally suffers from is that it sees itself as the real McCoy socialist left and cannot comprehend that anything could be sustainable without their input and controlling influence.The Socialist Alliance survives and sustains itself as a voluntary partnership between socialists who are and who are not members of x number of groups. But that’s not supposed to happen—especially when the project is supposed to be warped by the over-riding presence of the DSP.So not only doesn’t the SA exist—according to the ISO’s and SAlt’s editorialising—but hundreds of comrades throughout the country who formally call themselves socialists are summarily ignored.Among this number are some leading political activists whose party allegiance is, in effect, dismissed as lunacy or denigrated as a political aberration. Similarly, that the SA has this time around been receiving election donations from trade union branches suggests that the project isn’t being treated in that quarter as it is being ignored by these same far left groups.

(6) Nonetheless, what the SA project does is raise the spectre of the ‘left” or “socialist” party in a way that has not been addressed since the demise of the Aaronite Communist Party. It does this when much of this socialist left has fallen victim to demoralisation and has tended to default to a propagandist perspective in the hope that “our day will come” soon enough. While the SA membership shrunk after the last federal poll, with an associated downturn in movement buoyancy —- as far as I can estimate from my experience here in QLD, it is the only left project that has consistently grown over the past two years so that now here we are recovering to any membership high point we had in the past.

(7)There is this gross tendency to completely misunderstand the nature of the Alliance as a party building project. Driven by an unfortunate preference for the politics of sectariana—what is missed is the fact that the SA seeks to encompass and embrace “the left” in a party building project and to that end there will be many more stages, alliances and manoevres to com—but the key element is the party principle.In fact, that’s the core divide on the Australian far left at the present time and the main reason for the affiliate exit from the SA:that a party was being planned for and consciously engineered rather than a loose formation like the English Respect.(That and the context & consequences in the SA of the political downturn.)

(8)The ongoing problem the SA presents to the already existing far left outfits is that while it exists it will be in their way. In effect it is the Alliance that is competing ideologically with the Greens—not SAlt or the ISO or what have you.Like it or not, the Socialist Alliance does command a political space that is identifiable in a way that socialist politics & socialist organisations have not owned for some time. This is still a very small patented space, I grant you—a niche—but it would be myopic not to recognise that it exists. The question then is if the Greens can experience take off—both in size and electoral support—can the SA? Can the SA experience further growth and consolidate its networks more—especially in the trade unions? Is the Greens occupation of electoral space unassailable from the left? Can the red green alliances of the past be replicated in future between the SA and the Greens? And if they can’t be, does the trend for the Greens to accommodate to corporate politics enlarge that electoral space for a project like the SA’s to prosper electorally?

(9) Within this mix are a lot of variables and possible or potential partnerships: A split in the ALP —esp by trade unions and trade unionists? A major growth in a National Black Alliance strategy as raised in Alice Springs recently? A consolidation of a consciously socialist current in the Greens? A rethink by elements on the far left?...A lot of things are possible. Lets’ not be schematic. But I have to raise the point that whatever occurs “we” on the left are better placed to relate to it with a vehicle like the Alliance than being contained within copyrighted groupuscules at ten paces.

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