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The story so far...

by Dave Riley

With less than two weeks to go before the upcoming federal election the situation is interesting relative to political prospects.

Most of Marxian left from the Communist Party to the International Socialist Organisation, is calling for a first preference vote for the The Greens and totally ignoring the existence of the Socialist Alliance regroupment project. The one core exception to this trend is the Socialist Party which is calling for an SA # 1 vote in the Senate especially in their How-To-Vote cards to be distributed on polling day in the only seat where they are standing a candidate.

Nonetheless, a few state branches of some key unions (all still formally affiliated to the Labor Party) have officially donated to the SA campaign as they have to the Greens. While this initiative has been opposed unsuccessfully by some of their federal leaders, the union support is a significant political development and it is unique for an avowedly socialist party to receive such backing . But for the ISO and its split off and larger offshoot, Socialist Alternative, their sudden discovery of The Greens tails the move in the trade unions in that direction as forcefully they both had subscribed to a rigid Laborist position and argued that calling for a vote for Labor was pitched as a class vote.

"Another Liberal Party"

In fact the ISO left the Socialist Alliance with this justification:

Secondly, there is absolutely no role for sectarianism towards working people who have broken with Labor, considering making the break, or simply unhappy with the party’s direction. Formations that establish unnecessary conditions on the participation of such individuals will remain on the margins of politics. In this regard, the development of the Alliance into an organization that routinely treats the ALP as if it were simply “Another Liberal Party” is inexcusable. This is especially so in the context of Labor’s resurgence under Kevin Rudd. Labor’s challenge to Howard raises a number of difficult questions that socialists have a duty to relate to, such as the US alliance or the privatisation debate, to name two of the most important examples. But the starting point must be what we have in common with Labor supporters, and an effort on our part to create the possibility of united action. There is no longer any doubt that the internal climate created by the DSP has established insurmountable barriers to the Alliance’s ability to attract any significant number of former or current Labor supporters.” Source

Labor has got so bad that these outfits, now tailing a few trade unions, are looking to the Greens to offer some left amalgam after the poll. As the ISO argues in a piece -- All unions should back the Greens:

The Greens have so far received some support for their policies from the Electrical Trades Union, the Firefighters Union, Independent Teachers Union and the Finance Sector Union….But we have to go much further than this. All unions should support the Greens across the board-in the lower house as well as the upper house.The more union support the Greens get at this election, the stronger the union movement and the progressive left will be when the election campaign is over.Source
The ISO’s primary objection to the SA was described this way:
But the Socialist Alliance was doomed by subjective, not objective, factors. The Democratic Socialist Perspective used its organisational weight to impose a series of disastrous decisions that debilitated and demoralised many members and affiliates. These included declaring the SA a multi-tendency socialist party; insisting that Green Left Weekly be the “paper of the Socialist Alliance”; and taking 100 per cent of membership fees from local branches and effectively crippling local work…Alongside this, the DSP continued to use its long-established organising methods within the Alliance, with its members generating a pace of activity suited to a revolutionary organisation, not a broad left party. As a result the Alliance is now little more than a re-badged DSP.Source

I have to repeat myself with the point that the purported “organisational weight” of the DSP was an alliance between the DSP and non aligned SA elements(by then most SA members were not members of any affiliate) which carried 75% support on the floor of conference (isolating the ISO and other small affiliates) over the issue of whether the SA would proceed to becoming a multi tendency broad left party rather than remain an electoral alliance (as referred to by some as ” a united front of a special kind”). The ISO after threatening to split from the SA if the shift was endorsed relented and remained in the Alliance for the next three years.

At the moment this “rebadged DSP” has about two thirds of its membership not in the DSP including, among these, some key militant trade union leaders, indigenous and migrant activists. The SA is also registering in this poll with the most radical and emissions environment policy to be put to the electorate (much to the chagrin of the peak bodies in the environment movement). Indeed, it is the SA rather than the cheer squading far left outfits which is taking the ideological challenge up to the Greens in way of the environment and capitalism and when the Greens decided to make a pitch for trade union support, their new industrial policy has scrubbed up looking very similar the SA’s Workers Charter.

But since this polarised election between the two major parties the alternative vote may not prosper at this poll so that the continuing irony of the SA’s existence will persist: despite its campaign and movement presence its electoral weight is constrained by the voting niche already held by The Greens to the left of Labor.

Post poll

After the poll, the fun is sure to begin. With a likely Labor victory the fact that Labor has simply embraced a “lite” version of the present government’s hated industrial legislation the key question is whether the deepening disillusionment with and ambivalent attitude to Labor will default to support for the Greens alone( overwhelmingly an electoralist formation) or is there an opening to drive the left regroupment agenda further within some key sectors, such as within the trade unions and among disillusioned ALP supporters?

So with most of the far left cheer-squading the Greens (or calling for ALP support still as some are doing) as a preferred and primary poll intervention, the very existence of the SA raises the spectre of broadening and deepening the new party process by building on the campaign respect the project has already earnt in various sectors — especially in trade unions, but also among a layer of indigenous activists and in some migrant communities.

The political quickening that has accompanied the prospect that the hated Howard government will be thrown out has finally dragged campaign buoyancy out of the doldrums it sunk into in the wake of the 2004 election and already the SA is beginning to recover its stride as it engages in this election campaign and as it registers increases in the numbers who have volunteered, donated or renewed their membership. There has also been an increase in the number of SA members who hold dual party membership between the Greens and the SA.

Regardless of what develops, the SA project has survived the exodus of its far left affiliates and the campaign downturn that buoyed them out of the project and saw some membership falloff . But its key partners have remained loyal to the exercise.

5 Com:

Anonymous | November 13, 2007

I am spanish and I don´t know many things about Australia and the Socialist Alliance, but from outside I can't understand how you can build the left vote, asking almost for a green vote. You have green party speakers in your events, you ask for votes for sa/green... You don´t look critical/diferent from greens, and the green party is the big in elections.

Dave Riley | November 13, 2007

Re: ANONYMOUS -=- Good point and I failed to cover that aspect. The SA calls for a vote for the Greens and actively engages with them by trying to get green party speakers to our events as well as other movement events. And where possible we pitch a Greens/SA package (not that that is always reciprocated).

The handicap is the limitations of the Greens politics which in effect requires the formation of another party which is both red and green(or green and left) and more consciously anti-capitalist (and, socialist) and less electoralist in its makeup.

So thats' the approach and the core questions are:
(a) whether such a party project should be pursued?
(b) what potential exists for it to grow and prosper?
(c) is the Socialist Alliance that vehicle?

If you answer "no" to those questions you then default to the perspective adopted as I suggested in the post: supporting the Greens as the only option you allow to be available to you.

Anonymous | November 13, 2007

Shhhh... Don't tell anyone. Virtually all Green members above the age of 30 hate the DSP with a passion. After all they tried to abort the greens by doing what they did to the NDP. One of the main reasons the Greens have been successful is that they kicked your meddling arses out before you could do any major dammage.

Peter Boyle | November 13, 2007

anonymous said: "Virtually all Green members above the age of 30 hate the DSP with a passion..."

Far from it, the Socialist Alliance election campaign has the support of quite a few Greens members (including those 33+ and with considerable political experience). Some vote 1 SA, 2 Greens, some donate money to our election campaign and others work closely with us in the movements. They respect and support our interventions.

Dave Riley | November 14, 2007

"One of the main reasons the Greens have been succesful.." was that as well as the label patent, the Greens harnessed the achievement of the NDP (a senator on the mainland) and that of the Tassie Independents buoyed by the Hare Clarke voting system there and the significant and important activist role played in the No Dams campaign by leaders like Bob Brown. From there, especially since 2003, the Greens have harnessed the electoral space left of Labor. Ten years ago, as Brown has said, they had about 750 members -- about what the SA has today.

I'm familiar with the Greens credentials and achievements and we need to value that because they mark a major shift in Australian electoral politics. But there is also the issue of the Greens limitations and as I suggest, it's easy to monitor those because SA members and supporters who are also in the Greens are quite open about what those are.

I don't have to harp on about those as people are quite capable or working them out for themselves. As I suggest the SA actively works to engage with the Greens and partner them in any campaign initiative. We preference them as a matter of course and principle ahead of all the major parties.They've got our senate preferences for instance across the country. And if Greens members want to hold dual membership -- thats' fine. Thats' the sort of partnership process the SA is about.

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