Thursday November 08 2012

Australian SA: Regroupment in a revolutionary party

Have the hard-line ‘Cliffite sectarians’ seen the light?

Real unity effort, or just a pose?

 The 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.

A 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.

As 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).

The 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.

Nevertheless, 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.

We invite the views of others on the left, particularly in Australia.



This 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.

But 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.

We 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.

We 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.

Over 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.

We 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.

The 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 build.

The 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 of parody.

We 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.

But 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.

So 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.

What 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.

We 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 change.

Members 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.

We 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.

We 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.

In 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.

But 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.

We are very encouraged by the response we have received so far to our statements and approaches.

We 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.

But 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.



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