Australian SA: Regroupment in a revolutionary party
Have the hard-line ‘Cliffite sectarians’ seen the light?
Real unity effort, or just a pose?
article below, headed ‘A new kind of left unity’, is the
editorial from the latest issue of the magazine, Socialist
Alternative, published by the Australian organisation of the same
name. Socialist Alternative - now the largest of the Australian
far-left groups with around 300 members - split from the Socialist
Workers Party’s International Socialist Tendency a decade ago, and
has generally been regarded by the rest of the left as the most
sectarian of all the revolutionary groups in Australia.
great deal of scepticism has been expressed about not only the call
for Marxist unity made in the article, but about the proposed merger
with the Revolutionary Socialist Party. While both SA and the RSP
seem to reject standing in elections almost on principle, their world
outlook is very different. The RSP is an ex-Fourth International
grouping, which now places its hopes in Cuba, Vietnam and the
Venezuela of Hugo Chávez. It has set up ‘Chávista’ clubs on a
number of campuses, while SA retains its IST, state-capitalist
viewpoint. What is more, it is pointed out that an SA merger with the
RSP would represent no more than a fait accompli - many
leading RSP members have already left to join SA.
for the SA’s new-found understanding of democratic centralism, some
say that its practice has been typically bureaucratic, with minority
positions being denied publication and comrades being allegedly
expelled for raising criticisms. It is also claimed that it has a
very hostile attitude to the IST affiliate, Solidarity, which it
seems, is one group “with whom it would be impossible to genuinely
unite” (see below).
Weekly Worker was told that SA would not respond to our
approach, when we expressed an interest in republishing this article.
And so far that has turned out to be the case.
even if all the allegations above are true, we believe the unity call
should be welcomed. We should treat it as having been made in good
faith until proved otherwise.
invite the views of others on the left, particularly in Australia.
is an unusual edition of Socialist Alternative magazine. In
most issues, our front page and lead article address some pressing
issue of Australian or international politics from a socialist point
of view: defending refugee rights, championing trade union struggles
or attacking the capitalist system as a whole.
we do not publish this magazine just to draw attention to the
injustices of the world, or provide a Marxist explanation for why
society is the way it is. We want to contribute to building sustained
resistance to the system, a fightback that can eventually become a
revolutionary challenge to the existing order.
share with many others on the socialist left the conviction that a
crucial component of any effective challenge to capitalism will be
the construction of revolutionary socialist organisations in every
country that can challenge reformist forces like the Labor Party for
leadership of the workers’ movement, and organise militant workers
and students into a force that can lead a sustained assault on the
institutions of capitalist rule.
don’t deny we are a very long way from such an ambitious goal
today. But even the most perfunctory look at the dire future facing
the planet, and the crisis of world capitalism that is savaging
working class living standards across the globe, indicates the
urgency of building a challenge not just to aspects of capitalism,
but to the system as a whole.
recent months, Socialist Alternative has embarked on a project that
we hope will be an important step on the long road to building a
serious revolutionary socialist force in Australian politics.
have been in discussions with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)
about uniting our organisations, discussions which we are confident
will lead to a successful merger early next year. The RSP comes from
a different political tradition to us, and we have differences on
important questions. But we agree about the key issues facing
socialists in Australia, and on the basics of what a socialist
organisation in Australia needs to stand for, as is outlined in the
statements by both organisations.
discussions with the RSP, and the fact that several long-term
socialist activists from different political traditions to Socialist
Alternative have joined us in the last few months, has led us to
think more generally about how the socialist left in Australia can
elements of the far left that exist in most western countries today
are for the most part derived from currents that trace their heritage
back to the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition against
Stalin in the 1920s. But for much of the subsequent history -
particularly following World War II - these currents have been
divided and sub-divided, often with great acrimony. Disputes about
the class nature of the USSR and other ‘socialist’ states
combined with arguments about tactical and strategic questions,
leading to a far left that was deeply divided, sometimes to the point
do not want to downplay the importance of these historic disputes, or
pretend that we are renouncing our historic positions. We do not
count ourselves among those who think citing The life of Brian
is an incredibly witty and original response to anyone who makes an
argument against another current on the left. Nor do we want to adopt
a ‘Don’t mention the war’ approach to the issues of today that
still divide us.
the reality is not only that the far left agrees on much more than it
disagrees, but also that historic positions are no necessary guide to
contemporary political positions. For example, the ‘state
capitalist’ tradition that Socialist Alternative comes from (which
characterises the USSR and other ‘socialist’ countries as a
statised version of capitalism, rather than socialist or ‘workers’
states’) has been divided over the two central debates on the
international left in 2012 - the Syrian revolution and the rise of
Syriza in Greece. These questions have also divided the other
tendencies of Trotskyism internationally.
what are we proposing? In simple terms, a regroupment of the
revolutionary socialist left in Australia. In the period since the
great struggles of the 1960s and 70s a great number of socialists
have gone through the varied far-left organisations. Many of these
organisations have come and gone, and when they went many
revolutionaries went with them, not feeling there was another group
they could join.
we want to create is an organisation that does not start with the
historic differences that divide the far left, but a socialist
programme for Australia today: for revolution; for a Marxist party;
against imperialism; against all oppression; against the capitalist
state; for workers’ power.
are not proposing a ‘broad party’ that tries to involve all kinds
of non-socialist forces. We want a Marxist party, with a clear
programme and principles. We want a political organisation that
operates on the basis of majority decisions, but where minorities
have the right to their opinions. We don’t want ‘unity’ for its
own sake, but unity of the forces who want to fight for revolutionary
of Socialist Alternative who come from the International Socialist
tradition are not about to abandon our views. But neither do we
demand or expect that people from other traditions will abandon
theirs. When and if these different traditions lead us to disagree on
issues of practical policy, we will debate them out in a democratic
manner, including in our publications.
do not subscribe to the view that ‘Leninism’ demands a party
publication that only puts the view of majorities. This caricature
has nothing to do with anything Lenin or the Bolsheviks ever did or
said. That is not to say that our magazine will become some broad
left publication in which revolutionary and reformist views are both
tolerated. But debates between revolutionaries? Absolutely.
think this is a relatively new initiative on the left - not just in
Australia, but internationally. There have, of course, been
innumerable left-unity projects since the fall of the USSR, but
almost all have been about abandoning a clear Marxist line or
watering down political positions.
certain countries - Greece is the most obvious - there is a serious
space for revolutionaries to contribute to the construction of mass
workers’ parties that can cohere the working class as a whole, or
at least serious sections of the class. In those situations, it would
be mad for revolutionaries to counterpose their own organisations to
the mass of radicalising workers.
this is not the situation we face in most countries, least of all
Australia. Here we are laying the basis for the future. Confronting
contemporary capitalism is not just a matter of building campaigns
and movements, but of constructing a systematic ideological
alternative, a counter to the hegemony of capitalist ideas. We want
to build a clearly Marxist, revolutionary organisation,
uncompromising in its struggle against reformism, determined to
pursue a class-struggle line in word and deed.
are very encouraged by the response we have received so far to our
statements and approaches.
are realists: there are inevitably some sectarian elements of the
left with whom it would be impossible to genuinely unite, as if they
did join our ranks it would only be with the purpose of creating
discord and rancour.
for anyone who is serious about building a revolutionary socialist
organisation in Australia: we want to be a group you can make your
own. The revolutionary left has been too small, too divided, and too
sidelined for too long. We have a world to win. Let’s make a start.