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Socialist Alliance, Greens and where to now

by Dave Riley
I've always taken the view with the Socialist Alliance that the core requisite is frankness and fact. Thats' backed up by the reality that we have a very public internal party persona. We'd leak big time if we were in the obscurantism business.

No secrets -- otherwise confidence and trust would suffer.

What strikes me so much in the wake of last Saturday is that it is no longer last Saturday and the tasks, such as they are, is business as usual. Same ole same ole.

What that means for the Greens is going to be very interesting given that its another four years before there's a day in the sun electorally at that level.

Have the Greens moved away from a parliamentarist mode to something else as a consequence of their engagement with Your Rights at Work politics? Has the activist left now gravitated to that milieu as Socialist Alternative and the International Socialist Organisation would have it?

And with the electoral deference to the Greens has the Socialist Alliance been totally marginalised as a consequence? Is there no prospect in chipping away at that voter niche?

My experiences suggest differently because a party like the Greens has this overwhelming incapacity to morph into a consistent campaigning outfit. I'm sure some localised Greens outfits have made that transition but we're not talking about a generic phenomenon -- otherwise in Greens touchstones like Grayndler (in the Greens Sydney inner city heartland), Pip Hinman would be a no go completely. We earn every friggin vote we got through the effort of doing stuff 365 days per year.

If you like thats' our tragedy and encapsulates the present sentence which we are serving: regardless of our attainments in the movements and within mobilisations, we've not been able as yet to translate that presence into electoral numbers. I guess the best example of that is here in Queensland where well known indigenous activist Sam Watson( especially in the wake of the Mulrunji deaths in custody campaign) wasn't able to lift SA senate numbers. That doesn't make him any less the activist or less relevant to Murri politics but it does underscore our relative shallow electoral presence.

I'm sure a lot of this has to do with our limited resources ( how many $AUD millions was in the Greens war chest?)and constrained ( read almost non- "existent") mainstream media profile -- but the key element is that aside from the Your Rights at Work mobes, and the Lebanon protests, there's been no major rise in the movements over the past two years. Your Rights at Work were the clincher despite how warped and contained those events were. Those are what got Rudd across the line.

We tried to mark off our APEC presence in New South Wales with Alex Bainbridge on our senate ticket -- so I guess that shows how far we can get profiling that way at this stage of our development and broader presence. [And Alex did get media during August.]

But we are dealing with 'reach out' issues I've never had to consider before. We are so qualitatively beyond the confines of the circle spirit inner urban left that its all new territory for all of us. Its all DIY too.

AND we are negotiating this journey with a very loyal and dedicated membership team. The partnerships that underpin the SA are still holding. People are forgetting that. The only hiccup we've experienced --aside from the vagaries of the Howard years -- is the exit of the small affiliates through 2006.

No one can say that they then went on to do great things and make their mark in the world, alone or collectively. They left with the promise of nothing -- regardless of their rationale.

When I see what this has meant for the ISO I have to say its like cutting off your nose despite your face.

During the period 2005/06 we had a drop off in numbers in sync with the pits of the Howard experience -- this is what these affiliates embraced -- that very broad demoralisation. I guess the affiliates themselves accounted for a segment of that too inasmuch as their members were signed up to the SA.But as we pull together the statistics for this campaign we know how it stacks up with previous elections in terms of member and supporter engagement. Here in Qld we received three times the level of donations compared to the 2004 campaign and a separate trade union instigated windfall that was historically unique .

On top of that the partyish -- MultiTendencySocialstParty - push that flows from our 2005 SA conference decision has gone through a period of tweaking and consolidation. We're learning to deal with some very new experiences on the left --and, most importantly, we are learning from each other regardless of what tradition we come from. So a new team is forming albeit unevenly around the country as we get down to the business at hand.

The approach we took where its all about working together on task and campaigns is bearing fruit. You can imagine how complex that can be -- fostering a cooperative engagement across geographical and, at times, political divides.

But we can still deliver the goods. when the time comes so that next year --as the Rudd honeymoon wanes -- is going to be very interesting.

17 Com:

John Tracey | December 01, 2007


There is another possibility that you don't seem to have canvassed, that is that progressive people in Australia either dislike the SA or they find it irrelevant.

I mentioned before the election that I was dissapointed that Sam Watson would be marginalised by his association with the SA. The vote compounds my dissapointment.

Even in West End, the most leftist community in Queensland Sam could not get a foot in.

At the Hill End booth the Greens outpolled the ALP. Sam got .61% which, while almost 10 times the state average, indicated that the SA was just not taken seriously by progressives.
Sam's highest vote was at the West End booth, where the coffee shop crowd votes, where he got a massive 1.28%. Sam is well known and respected in West End, especially amongst the coffee shop crowd, yet even this failed to attract significant votes to SA.

There was indeed a radical sentiment in the West End community but SA was unable to connect to it.

SA seems to have failed to campaign in West End, despite it being Sam's home base. The key issues of GLW in the lead up to the election were Venesuala and Pakistan with very little on senate issues, in particular Aboriginal issues, in particular Sam's candidacy.

I was astounded by the Sam Watson campaign poster that went up around West End. It failed to mention that Sam was running in the election. It reads like personality cult propaganda rather than an election poster.

The only time I noticed SA promoting Sam as a candidate was bragging to factional opponents that you had him as a candidate.

I was similarly astounded at the absense of indiginous policy behind the campaign. Sam's vision reads as a good introduction to a policy, relying on vague apple pie plattitudes, but there was no policy or idea of substance behind it, only an unfinished 2004 indigenous charter which fails to even mention land rights.

Whie the SA continues to tackle political issues in a shallow tokenistic and opportunistic way it will never gather support in the electorate and the community.

Dave Riley | December 01, 2007

Last time you ran argumentation here, John Tracey, you insisted that the approach should be to back Andrew Bartlett at the poll. And now you lament that the SA did bad by Sam.

Did we? And if we supposedly did you want to fit us up with playing white politics at Sam's expense. So I suggest you take it up with him or other indigenous activists. Go tell them that the SA is "shallow, tokenistic and opportunistic" in regard to indigenous issues.

Make that your mission -- your New Years resolution.

That's your gripe, isn't it? Well gripe away.

Take you complaints into the Murri community-- make it your crusade outside of cyberspace (where you presently run it).

Sam's senate figures reflect the general level of the SA vote nationally -- the polarised election and what sustenance the Greens could muster in the context of that divide.

Since you did not work on his/our campaign -- in fact you were quite hostile to it, weren't you? -- I cant see where you have much credence in regard to attacking it now so we should listen. If you worked on Bartlett's I could say a few things too --and if you worked on Waters, ditto.

But John, no matter what the result was going to be -- you would have been complaining about it and running what we do down. You know what's what and we're supposedly something else again.

You also assume that we're some well, oiled group of election spin doctors when we only do the best we can given our resources and collective skills.

And as I said to you before we don't practice substitutionism either in policy or practice. This is our politics warts and all.

If you don't like it and want to change it -- policy or practice --join the SA and make us perform to the Tracey agenda.

John Tracey | December 01, 2007

Defensive abuse and villification is no substitute for political analysis and critique.

So please forgive me if I decline the repeated invitation to join the SA.

Perhaps if you had an indigenous policy that included at least land rights, and if you campaigned as hard for the Australian revolution as you do for the Venezualan revolution, and you encouraged debate and analysis rather than regurgitation of the party line and you worked out a way to work with other left and community organisations with integrity, then I would be tempted to join.

Dave Riley | December 01, 2007

What you mean John Tracey is for the SA to work out a way to work with you.

And I guess that's a reasonable request.

Its' not on the top of my list, mind, but I can see your POV.

However, I'm not going to start advocating that we redo any aspect of our policy because you demand changes. Thats' not my business or my intention. You miss the point entirely.

The SA is not about creating the best of all possible programs. It's about doing what we can do with the people who have signed on to do it and getting broad agreement for that. And my guess is that no one is going to redraft SA indigenous policy except, in the main, SA indigenous members.

Any thing else would be presumptuous.

So if you don't like it or you think its inadequate you know who to lobby.This is not a conspiracy as much as you like to paint it out to be.

If there are gaps relative to current issues then in part we make that up by employing newspaper articles, interviews and media releases.

As for coverage in GLW -- you're right, the paper needs to do more coverage on indigenous issues and I'm as much at fault in terms of local coverage as anyone.

John T | December 01, 2007

You have got to admit that going into the 2007 election with an unfinished 2004 indigenous charter that doesn't include land rights is pretty poor.

It is wrong of you to blame it on the blackfellas.

Dave Riley | December 02, 2007

I tell you policy development is a challenge for us. It's an ongoing issue. That's why it seems piecemeal.

But that's fortunately, not our only activity. Thats' what you learn after a while -- it's not what you say but what you do and the socialist left , as you know, is so often caught up in "adopting positions" and posturing rather than doing.

The plus this election was that we were able to develop these charter projects with more verve and getup with broader layers of members and others being engaged. We did that esp in regard to climate.

It's true that we have to address the indigenous stuff that way too and maybe we can initiate that during 2008. I think that could be very useful as a means to develop a response in the wake of the NT invasion --a marker in the wind given that so many liberals have gone belly up for it and there was partisan support.

You try to make out that this is a rubber stamping process and that somehow theres' a controlling edge that manipulates what is discussed and what isn't or whats' decided and what is not.

Thats' not the case. This is a very broad group of people spread over the continent trying to engineer ways and means to work together by working together.

And what you see is what you get -- the proof of the particular pudding we are making.

So our next stop I guess is Invasion Day around the country -- and we have been working to revive protests where they have dropped off .

Red Wombat | December 02, 2007
This comment has been removed by the author.
Red Wombat | December 02, 2007

Actually, I drafted an updated indigenous policy, but for reasons yet to be ascertained (most likely shortage of resources to edit and lay-out the final copy) it was not put out, which I think was a mistake, but hardly hoists us on a petard.

The fact that we remain involved in the indigenous campaigns on the ground, while trying to support indigenous leadership of those campaigns (as I am in Sydney, helping to organise the Day of Action on Nov 18) is more important than whether that involvement or support is translated into votes.

John T | December 04, 2007

Red Wombat,

When do you think SA might get the resources to upload the updated policy?

Forgive my cynicism, but you managed to publish a whole range of policy, articles and other material during the election campaign, it is clearly a cop out to say you lacked the resources to publish an indigenous policy.

The simple fact is that indigenous issues was not a priority, at least not as high a priority as Venesuala or critique of ISO. You managed to publish thousands of words on these issues during the campaign.

This slackness of itself does not hoist you on a petard, but to be bragging widely about having an indigenous candidate and being connected to Aboriginal australia, as SA did, while neglecting indigenous issues seems to me to be a clear case of opportunism and tokenism.

Similarly, supporting Aboriginal street rallies and publically claiming credibility for your involvement, without engaging in the broader discussion and education process is shallow support indeed.

You do no service to the complexities of Aboriginal liberation by reducing it to a slogan or a rally or a candidate.

Just as SA says, it is not election day that counts, it is the activity on every other day that does. Same with indigenous issues, it is not action at the rally that counts, it is what happens every other day.

The not updated charter calls for a "treaty". What does this mean? Who will the treaty be between? What will be the content of the treaty?

Are you just appropriating the word "treaty" because it is one that has been used a lot and makes an appropriate slogan, or are you serious about a treaty? If so, what steps have SA made towards initiating or participating in such a treaty? Bejam Denis Walker has had a treaty process for nearly 2 decades, and there is at least one former SA leader who signed up in the past.

Why wont SA join a treaty process while they are advocating treaty in rallies and policy statements?

Get real, get past the slogan consciousness.

Slogans are meaningless if you cant explain what they mean, and a policy statement is just one way to explain the slogans.

bill weller | December 04, 2007

Perhaps if you had an indigenous policy that included at least land rights, and if you campaigned as hard for the Australian revolution as you do for the Venezualan revolution,

How true is this! Greenleft list is becoming Chavez own newspaper and local issues are missing

Dave Riley | December 04, 2007

Is Venezuela irrelevant to Australia and the indigenous struggle here? Bill Weller says no it's not. and denigrate any desire to be interested in what transpires in that country.

But then the indigenous aspect of Bolivarianism has been noted broadly even if Bill Weller desires to remain ignorant of its relevance..

Maybe we can all consider that if we manage to get Chavez to visit Australia next year as the solidarity movement has been trying to arrange..


Dear President Chavez,

As a leading elder of the Murri Aboriginal people of Queensland,Australia, an author, playwright and film-maker, and a candidate for the Senate for Queensland for the Socialist Alliance, I would like to warmly invite you to visit our country to meet our people and share experiences with us.

We have been closely observing the important social advances made by people of Venezuela with the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution, under your leadership. In particular, we note the rights granted under the Bolivarian Constitution to the indigenous peoples of Venezuela, and the significant gains in health, education and other areas made by those peoples in the past period. And we note the development of a genuine participatory democracy in Venezuela, unique in the world.

Although we are on opposite sides of the globe, we feel that our shared ideals of social justice and democracy bring us close together. Every country has its own traditions and culture and has to find its own solutions, but what Venezuela has been able to achieve in so little time will be a source of inspiration and ideas for many in Australia.

In light of this, we believe that a visit to our country by yourself would not only help to improve the awareness of the Australian people of developments in Venezuela, but also be an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen the ties of friendship and solidarity between our two peoples.

Looking forward to the prospect of your visit to Australia, whenever that can be arranged,

Yours in solidarity and friendship,
Sam Watson

John T. | December 05, 2007

Dave, your last response is more dishonest, defensive villification.

Just because some people feel that Australian issues should be the priority for the Australian movement does not mean they are ignorant or dismissive of international issues. It is a simple case of priorities, and the Australian indigenous struggle simply wasn't one of SA's in the election.

I have certainly noticed the centrality of indigenous sovereignty, land reform and decolonisation in the Venezualan reforms.

The venezualan strategy is of little relevence to Australia because 2% of the Australian polulation is indigenous whereas venesuala, like South Africa is a predominantly indigenous population. The working class in South Africa or Venesuala are the sovereign indigenous population so the class struggle and the process of decolonisation is one and the same thing. This is not the case in Australia, despite the organised left accepting indigenous people as fellow workers within the imposed colonial class paradigm.

I am sure the Venezualan land reforms would be very valuable in drawing up a framework of Aboriginal land rights to amend or replace native tile legislation. At this point in history such international models could be taken very seriously by black and white policy makers.

I look forward to the Venezuala experts applying themselves to the question of Australian Aboriginal land rights.

However to reduce the Venesualan movement to a token symbol of ideology around which to campaign and recruit in Australia, especially while local issues are neglected, is to make Venezuala irrelevant - an interesting story but of no relevence to the historical circumstances in this country.

The real lesson of Venesuala is of indigenous sovereignty, decolonisation and land reform. This is not an "indigenous aspect" of Venesuala, it is the essence. Yet this essense has not yet been translated into the European/Australian socialist reporting of the revolution.

bill weller | December 05, 2007

Its not that what is happening in Venezuela is not of interest its just too much compared to what is happening here. This link which was on the greenleft discussion list should be a topic of intense discussion as it could affect the future of the SA and the Greens but i would doubt it will get more than 3 comments. We have before us a new age in the political environment of Australia and yet we are bombarded with articles comments and opinions on overseas news. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2007/11/28/1196036982629.html

Anonymous | December 08, 2007

""I've always taken the view with the Socialist Alliance that the core requisite is frankness and fact.""

Bahahahahahahah - biggest lie ever said on this website. The Socialist Alliance has been constantly lying about its influence and membership for the past 6 years. Remember when it had 2000 members (sic)? Now that it has less than 400 it is still claiming everything from 1000 to 3000 members. Being a former member of the SA I know for a fact that they use non-members to boost their membership (primarily apolitical people related to SA members who help them get electoral registration).

Here are the facts about the SA which Dave will not tell us.

* The only elected Socialist is a CWI member who will have nothing to do with the SA. And who the DSP have run a defamation campaign against for more than a decade.
* Their membership has been static between 400-500 members between 2004 and 2007.
* All of the groups which the SA boast as being part of a united response have all left.
* The figures for former SA members in the Greens and ALP outnumber current SA members.
* The SA is rapidly losing influence in the Unions. The WA MUA is set to dump Chris Cain. The AMWU VIC was one of the most radical unions in Australia until SA ultraleftism caused the defeat of Workers First.

How about a bit more frankness and fact Mr Riley.

Peter Boyle | December 08, 2007

Anonymous:"* The only elected Socialist is a CWI member who will have nothing to do with the SA. And who the DSP have run a defamation campaign against for more than a decade."

Socialist Party (CWI) Steve Jolly is a Yarra Councillor in Inner East Melbourne and has done a good job. Socialist Alliance supported the SP candidate in Melbourne, Kylie McGregor, in the Nov 24 federal election. She received 512 votes (0.62%). This was generally in the same ball park as the votes received by most Socialist Alliance candidates. There is no "defamation campaign" - anonymous invented this.

Anonymous:"* Their membership has been static between 400-500 members between 2004 and 2007."

The highest membership ever claimed by Socialist Alliance was 1074 (back in 2003 or 2004) and the last count (early this year) of financial membership was 774.

Anonymous:"* All of the groups which the SA boast as being part of a united response have all left."

The ISO, FSP and WP groups left the Socialist Alliance and that has been publicly discussed by SA.

Anonymous:"* The figures for former SA members in the Greens and ALP outnumber current SA members."

I don't know where "anonymous" could possibly get such infs (unless he/she has access to secret police intelligence) but that's doubtful.

Anonymous:"* The SA is rapidly losing influence in the Unions. The WA MUA is set to dump Chris Cain. The AMWU VIC was one of the most radical unions in Australia until SA ultraleftism caused the defeat of Workers First."

The team led by SA member Chris Cain was re-elected to lead the WA MUA, the fastest growing and now possibly the biggest branch of that union. Activists from Workers First (now no longer organised as such) had the biggest win yet in elections in the AMWU and now control the Victorian branch of that union. Socialist Alliance received donations for its federal election campaign from 9 unions: WA ETU, Vic ETU, Qld ETU, Tasmanian ETU, WA MUA, Vic MUA, Vic CFMEU, NSW CFMEU and Vic AMWU. The Vic posties union also contributed in kind. No socialist election campaign has received this level of trade union support since the demise of the old CPA. I am now convinced that "Anonymous" couldn't be a cop as even police intelligence could not possibly be that way off... or could it???

Dave Riley | December 08, 2007

Anon:How about a bit more frankness and fact Mr Riley?

Peter Boyle addressed particular facts.

Of course there are many more facts about an enterprise like the SA but since it has been my habit for years to argue the Alliance case I don't repeat myself on every occasion.

But facts aside -- the frank part is the most important: if we cannot prove in practice that the Alliance way of doing political business is a much better modus operandi for the socialist left then we will not prosper. It's as simply as that.

Reality rules. Not abuse.

Nonetheless we have to fight a constant rearguard defence on the left against a campaign of disinformation and baiting . IF we are as Anonymous says we are then why bother with the vitriole?

Let the rest of the left get on with their separate and competing political lives..and the SA can go to hell.

That the SA exists is a topic that divides the local organisationally aligned left quite sharply. Some prefer to write it out of the political landscape and pretend it doesn't exist.

Others want to invent crude fit ups for the SA to prove diabolical habits. Or make the SA out to be inadequate to any task it sets itself.

But the reality is that a project like the Alliance is never going to be complete or just so. It will always suffer from contradictions, mistakes and failings -- and it would be ridiculous to pretend otherwise. It proceeds by dint of the collective effort of those who have signed on with it. It proceeds in the context of present political circumstances and where that party exercise is at.

But that is our great strength and these detractors miss that attribute entirely. The SA is a campaigning alliance of socialists who have committed themselves to a new broad party endeavor and we are engineering this by the collective effort, commitment and imagination of those people.

WE don't have a ready DIY formula. But despite that we're doing quite well. That means, I hope, that we don't so easily allow ourselves to be ruled by schemas or have become formalistic in our approaches; that we learn from each other and absorb the SA's collective experiences as we go; that we keep trying to push the envelope in ways it has not been explored before...

Because if you think the SA could do what it does better and with greater verve and forethought, then join the SA and show us all how it should be done.

John T | December 09, 2007

I stand corrected, perhaps.

I have been googling about Venezuelas indiginous population and it seems it is numbered at less than 2%. I assume this refers to people still living a tribal lifestyle.

However a definition of indigenous as used in Australia would give a very different figure.

Urban and peasent Venesualans descended from tribal Indians do not seem to be considered indigenous in the statistics.

I stand by what I said about decolonisation and the class struggle being the same thing in Venezuala but different things in Australia.

On another matter. The Palm Island senate count has finally come in. http://vtr.aec.gov.au/SenatePollingPlaceFirstPrefs-13745-5685.htm

S.A only got 1 vote.

There could be many reasons why you failed to connect to the very community you were campaigning on behalf of, and I hope you will explore these reasons.

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