Unity talks stall, but collaboration to continue


Unity negotiations between Australia's two largest socialist organisations, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative, ended after the latter's National Committee decided on October 26-27 that the unity process had “reached an impasse and consequently we are for ending the negotiations with the Alliance”.

Over the past few months there were tactical disagreements between the two groups over how to advance the movements for the rights of asylum seekers and for women's liberation.

However, since February the two groups had agreed on a process for negotiating such disagreement and in July the Socialist Alliance submitted a first draft of common perspectives for discussion. However, Socialist Alternative had not been prepared to discuss that document in the last two negotiation meetings, held on August 11 and September 15.

Following those two meetings, the Socialist Alliance informed Socialist Alternative of its preparedness to persist with the agreed process but that it was also prepared to consider other forms of ongoing cooperation should the two groups be unable agree on organisational unity.

Socialist Alternative's decision to end the unity talks was conveyed in a November 8 email to the Socialist Alliance. This email said the Socialist Alternative National Committee had also agreed:

“The unity process has led to more collaboration and joint activities between us and the Alliance and this has been a step forward. We don’t want the unity discussions to end in pointless acrimony. The situation may change at some point in the future and greater possibilities for revolutionary unity may open up and we should be alert for that possibility.

“We want the collaboration between ourselves and the Alliance to continue wherever possible in union, student and campaign work. We have invited a number of their comrades to speak at our upcoming union activists’ conference in Melbourne. We will be approaching them about having speakers at next year’s Marxism conference.”

The Socialist Alliance National Council had met earlier on October 5-6 and resolved to persist with the attempt to negotiate a common political program as a basis for a new united organisation. It also reaffirmed a political approach to the unity process adopted in its June meeting.

“We do not have to reach absolute agreement on a detailed revolutionary program with Socialist Alternative. We can unite around a general agreement on political objectives, what to do now to take the struggle forward (not necessarily agreement on all historical assessments or assessments of political processes in other countries) and a democratic structure based on unity in action with freedom of discussion and freedom of opinion.

“An effective united program of action — i.e. what to do now to take the struggle forward — should encompass the strengths of the current political interventions of both Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative. A new united organisation should not abandon any significant areas of political engagement of either group. If it does, a united organisation might be bigger than either of the two existing groups, but this would not strengthen the socialist movement as a whole.

“In parallel with leadership negotiations with Socialist Alternative around an effective united program of action, the Socialist Alliance is also prepared to have discussions with Socialist Alternative about more practical matters associated with unity and organise other confidence building measures, including joint membership meetings.

“However, such supplementary activities cannot substitute for a serious leadership negotiation on agreed political objectives, what to do now to take the struggle forward and a democratic structure based on unity in action with freedom of discussion and freedom of opinion.”

The Socialist Alliance’s National Council had also empowered the organisation's negotiating team to prepare practical solutions to disagreements on issues such as participation in parliamentary elections.

The Socialist Alliance remains open to collaboration wherever possible with Socialist Alternative and to continuing a broader political discussion in the left about how to advance the struggle for socialism. We remain confident that in the future all groups and individuals persisting in the struggle for socialism will find the ways to unite.

[Susan Price and Peter Boyle are National co-conveners of Socialist Alliance. Documents and correspondence relating to the unity process have been published on Alliance Voices here.]

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