Socialist Alliance: what's worth defending?

March 23, 2005

Socialist Alliance non-aligned national executive member Dave Riley continues a debate about the best way forward for the Socialist Alliance.

While the Socialist Alliance was founded as an electoral coalition by several socialist formations four years ago, it is a mistake to assume that this has been the main dynamic of the project. That was primarily a catalyst, a vessel. The irony was that this unity packaging also drew to the alliance a large number of non-aligned members so that by the end of 2002, almost 70% of the alliance's membership was made up of people who did not belong to any of the founding organisations.

So it is a misnomer to refer to this as a "unity" project, as I think it is primarily a regroupment one, as the initial coalescence generated a much more robust dynamic that inspired people to come on board. I like to describe the alliance as having three pillars: the left groups who are affiliated to it; ex-members of various outfits — such as myself — as well as long-term left activists who did not join any of the existing socialist formations; and people new to socialist politics.

SA has primarily served as a pole of attraction on a left that has fractured into an exotic miscellanea of competing closed caucuses, which, in reality, not many people joined. Its achievement in that regard is self evident, such that now the alliance can boast that it has brought together not only Marxist outfits, but also left-wing academics, militant trade unionists, some important Indigenous leaders, migrant activists and the like into a viable new formation, the likes of which Australia has not seen since the demise of the old Communist Party.

Currently the alliance has around 1200 members nationally. That figure is the actual paid-up membership and does not include all the members of the affiliated groups, nor the two migrant organisations that have joined during the last 12 months. So there's that very real quantitive growth in an organised left presence here that has meant that people are beginning to identify the socialist left with the alliance.

The existence of the alliance has also enabled a greater coordination of campaign work nationally, in trade unions, within the anti-war movement and so forth, so that we can now expect a certain confident reach and influence that wasn't there before.

Similarly, for the first time in a long time our kind of politics has moved out of the inner-city left ghettoes and has begun to colonise suburban fringes and regional centres in an organised way. Given that the most that some of our affiliates could boast was a minuscule presence in two or three state capitals, this expansion to around 30 branches nationwide for the alliance is an extraordinary achievement in the space of just four years of political convergence.

At its last two national conferences, the alliance has affirmed by some 70-75% the trajectory of piloting SA toward a multi-tendency socialist party (MTSP) perspective. Unfortunately, our significant success in this regard has been engineered in the face of determined opposition from within the socialist affiliates, who have chosen instead to try to slow down or obstruct the MTSP trajectory, regardless of the overwhelming membership endorsement of that position.

This has fostered the existence of two alliances where seemingly only one exists. There is a divide that festers in SA, which tends to determine the format of our debates. The affiliates are preoccupied with wedge bogey man politics — fixated on the Democratic Socialist Perspective — rather than addressing the tasks to hand.

Underlying the current debate in the alliance is an attempt to concertina the MTSP debate along an electoral axis by suggesting that the way forward for the alliance is to focus on community level campaigning instead of tackling the broader political issues such as the Iraq war, a trade union fightback, refugee rights, etc., or building SA more consciously as a national organisation. This is an argument designed to locate joint work at the neighbourhood level of the alliance and nowhere else.

So while the debate is confined to elections and poll returns and not about activity outside that envelope, the discussion is somewhat rarefied and separated from the very real challenges thrown up by everyday struggles. In a very real way a crude super electoralism is being counterposed to the MTSP trajectory as though we should all reconsider and put the Australian Socialist Alliance into reverse mode. No thank you.

From Green Left Weekly, March 23, 2005.

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