Socialist Alternative Australia: Strange sort of unity
Last month the Weekly Worker published a statement from the Australian group, Socialist Alternative, calling for a “new kind of left unity” (‘Solidarity in a revolutionary party’, November 8).
Hugo Chávez: split issue?
SA has a reputation for extreme sectarianism we were willing to
consider the possibility that it had mended its ways, especially when
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
Weekly Worker emailed the group and its journal, Socialist
Alternative, both before and after we republished its statement,
but unfortunately received only automated responses. It is very
strange that a group calling for Marxist unity refuses even to reply
to approaches from others on the revolutionary left.
is the response to Socialist Alternative’s call from Solidarity -
like SA one of several Australian splinters from the Socialist
Workers Party’s International Socialist Tendency:
unity and a stronger left
announcement of the proposed merger between Socialist Alternative and
the Revolutionary Socialist Party has triggered some discussion about
the prospects for unity on the far left.
the context of a rightward-moving Labor government, and the threat of
an Abbott Liberal government in power after the next federal election
- not to mention the global crisis of capitalism - there is a
pressing need for a stronger left. Public sector workers and students
across the country are receiving a taste of the austerity policies
gripping Europe, and job losses are, again, starting to mount.
face government attacks on refugees, Muslims and Aboriginal people
and the threat of climate change and increased ‘natural disasters’.
A more united left could be a stronger force for building grassroots
movements for change, as well as helping to increase the support for
socialist ideas within the working class.
taking unity seriously also involves recognising that the existing
differences on the left, in terms of political theory and practical
orientation, cannot simply be brushed aside or papered over.
is a superficial attraction to the idea of merging organisations as a
short cut to building a bigger organisation. Going from 250 to 275
members can seem a big jump when the far left is so small, but the
political basis of any fusion is far more important than resulting
size. Simply building a bigger sect does not mean any greater
influence of socialist ideas in the movements or the working class -
far from it.
has shown by its own practice that we are committed to building
greater unity where there is a real basis for it. Our own
organisation was formed in 2008 out of a merger between three
existing groups in the International Socialist tradition: the
International Socialist Organisation (ISO), Solidarity and the
Socialist Action Group.
this was only possible as a result of an extended period of joint
work, discussion and reappraisal of previously held positions. The
possibility of talks leading to our merger came from the recognition
that there was a practical convergence in our approaches to both
building campaigns and movements and to building a revolutionary
our perspective, there are important challenges that any organisation
on the revolutionary left in Australia must face up to. Foremost
among them are the problems of propagandism and sectarianism - for
instance an approach that measures the value of struggles by what the
group can get out of it.
Alternative and the Revolutionary Socialist Party insist they are
united by their intention to build a cadre organisation. But cadre
can’t be built in isolation from the day-to-day struggles of
workers and the movements.
response of much of the far left to the difficult decades following
the upturn in struggle in the 1960s and 1970s was to retreat into a
routine of socialist propaganda, rather than recognising the
importance of continuing to find ways to intervene in the wider left
(such as the unions, the Labor Party and more recently The Greens)
and to constructively building broad-based campaigns and social
has attempted, within our own limited resources, to take union work
and the building of political campaigns seriously, with modest union
work as well as work around the Northern Territory Intervention,
refugee rights, climate change and on university campuses. It is
primarily through such political interventions that socialist
activists learn how to argue their politics and lead struggles in the
effort and goodwill are necessary to ensure that self-interest does
not get in the way of working together to fight around issues of
immediate concern to the class. Too often, the left has put
differences over their analysis of Cuba or whether or not Stalinist
Russia was state-capitalist or a degenerated workers’ state in the
way of this.
said that, we also recognise that theoretical positions are important
in determining such things as an understanding of the trade union
bureaucracy, the state, maintaining a consistent anti-imperialist
stance, and the potential of the revolutions transforming the Middle
experience is that, along with practical campaigning, engaging with
and intervening in ideological debates both generally and on the left
is a crucial part of developing revolutionary socialist activists.
the past, without practical convergence and an openness to
reassessing previously held positions, attempts to unite the existing
left groups in Australia have ended badly. It is too easy to see
uniting the left as a short cut to size and influence rather than
recognising that it is political practice that is key to effective
touchstone for a sound basis for regrouping the revolutionary left
must be its attitude to the wider task of relating to the crisis of
Labor and the task of winning reformist workers. The Labor Party is
increasingly divorced from its working class base, yet it retains the
electoral allegiance of significant sections of the class. Although
it remains ambivalent about how much it is an explicitly left party,
the Greens have increasingly occupied the political space vacated by
the Labor left.
original Socialist Alliance is one example of a failed unity project.
It began in 2001 as an electoral alliance that united virtually the
entire far left, including the International Socialist Organisation
(ISO) and the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), as well as at least
five smaller socialist groups. It foundered, not least because
despite the united organisational form there were markedly different
motivations for unity. The DSP, in particular, saw the alliance as
the beginning of a multi-tendency party and despite being an
‘alliance’ in name, there was no convergence in political
practice. By 2006 all the other participating groups except the DSP
had withdrawn from, or ceased to be active in, the Socialist
hopes that the merger between the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)
and Socialist Alternative can contribute towards strengthening social
movements and campaigns, and lay the basis for a stronger socialist
left in Australia.
there are obviously large obstacles to overcome. Last year, Socialist
Alternative attempted to shout down a pro-refugee Labor speaker at a
lobby of the Labor Party’s national conference. A slightly larger
fused organisation committed to the same sectarian politics that
produced that incident is not going to build a more influential left.
is it clear what political reappraisal the two groups have undergone
to lead them towards fusing. Prior to the regroupment discussions,
the two groups attached great importance to their respective
theoretical differences. The RSP thought that Socialist Alternative’s
politics on Cuba and Chávez in Venezuela demonstrated “the utter
bankruptcy” of Socialist Alternative’s dogmatic “state-capitalist
in an exchange with the ISO, in 2003, Socialist Alternative insisted
that regroupment with the DSP was impossible, because, “We believe
that regroupment is impossible without agreement on fundamental
questions of political principle,”2 referring to the
political heritage of the International Socialist tradition (ie,
state capitalism and socialism from below).
Socialist Alternative now proposes that the fused organisation drop
any reference to state capitalism in its statement of principles.
Some more explanation of how the respective groups’ reassessment of
the basis of fusion would greatly assist an understanding of what
principles underpin the fusion of the two groups.
its part, Solidarity will continue to seek, and looks forward to,
collaboration with all of the left in the struggles that,
collectively, we face ahead. The possibilities of building a more
united and effective left will be forged by patient discussion and
cooperatively building those struggles.
‘Why some socialists can’t see revolutions’ Direct Action
Letter to the ISO from Socialist Alternative, February 2003: