Socialist Alliance takes a new step for left unity

Wednesday, May 14, 2003 - 10:00

BY PETER BOYLE

MELBOURNE — On May 10, delegates to the second national conference of the Socialist Alliance decided by a 75% majority vote to move the alliance toward becoming a united, multi-tendency socialist party.

The conference supported the following motion:

"

Conference endorses these eight points:

1. We want the Alliance to become a single, multi-tendency
socialist party.

2. We want to progress this move right now, starting with
this conference.

3. A commitment from affiliates to building the Socialist
Alliance through increasing
integration needs to be demonstrated, in word and in deed.

4. Our multi-tendency socialist party should be as broad as
possible.

5. We accept and welcome a strong revolutionary socialist
stream as an integral part of
our vision of a broad Socialist party.

6. We need strong democratic structures to accommodate
diversity.

7. We need a common socialist voice: in our platform, in a
national paper, and in our
campaigns.

8. The Alliance recognises the organisational and programmatic integrity of its affiliate organisations and welcomes their continued existence as tendencies within the alliance

"

This decision is the culmination of months of debate in the Socialist Alliance. Last September, the alliance's largest affiliate, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), offered to cease operating as a public organisation and transfer its organisational and political resources to the alliance.

The second largest affiliate, the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), then threatened to leave the alliance if the DSP proceeded to do this. The DSP consequently deferred its offer to allow more time for discussion.

A couple of other smaller affiliates, including the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), the Workers League and Socialist Democracy (a group that sympathises with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) also opposed the DSP proposal.

However in the weeks leading up to the national conference, a group of Socialist Alliance members who do not belong to any of the affiliate groups began to organise around a call for the alliance to become a multi-tendency socialist organisation. This call had been signed by 157 other "non-aligned" alliance members by the time of the conference.

The initiative by this group, which called itself the Non-Aligned Caucus, sparked new interest in the Socialist Alliance. Many members who had been dismayed by the stalled socialist regroupment process, swung back into activity. This was not surprising as most of the people who had joined the alliance, but who were not members of affiliate groups, did so on the expectation of greater unity between the affiliated socialist groups. The non-affiliate members now are a majority of alliance members.

At the conference, 43% of the 121 delegates, who represented branches across Australia, were not members of affiliated groups. The great majority of these delegates supported the call for a united, multi-tendency socialist party. One-hundred-and-fifty people who were not delegates also attended the conference.

The case for the Non-Aligned Caucus was presented by Australia's best-known Marxist historian, Humphrey McQueen. He argued for a voluntary, inclusive, "step-by-step" process of socialist regroupment.

"We have to acknowledge that we don't have all the answers. We still have to discover some of the questions", he said. However, McQueen added, we can "learn by doing".

In the conference discussion, the Non-Aligned Caucus proposal was supported by the DSP and Workers Liberty but opposed by the ISO and the FSP. The latter two groups argued that the alliance should be kept as a "united front".

Another affiliate, Workers Power, proposed a campaign for a "New Workers Party" instead.

Several militant unionists spoke passionately for the Non-Aligned Caucus proposal. These included former Victorian state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Craig Johnston, who is a leader of the militant AMWU grouping Workers First, National Tertiary Education Union militant Louise Walker, Maritime Union militant Chris Cain, Health and Community Sector Union organiser Linda Seaborne and Workers First militant Simon Millar.

Non-Aligned Caucus organisers John van der Velden and Michael Morphett also spoke forcefully for the unity motion.

All the affiliate groups who argued against the Non-Aligned Caucus motion indicated in debate that they would continue to participate in the Socialist Alliance regardless of the outcome of this vote. They also welcomed the greater role of the non-aligned members and supported a plan to elect a new 21-member national executive, with a majority of comrades who do not belong to the affiliate groups.

Van der Velden told Green Left Weekly after the first day of the two-day conference that, in his opinion, the alliance had "taken a major step forward for socialism in Australia". He congratulated delegates for debating this question "within the framework of moving ahead and resolving differences together".

McQueen told GLW: "The success of the first two years of the alliance was clear in the vivacity and friendliness of the debate at this conference. Each affiliate group had brought along and shared their experiences and this diversity of views and spread of experiences are forces for unity."

The conference received greetings from a range of parties, activist groups and militant unions. Martin Kingham, Victorian state secretary of the Construction, Forestry and Mining Union, delivered greetings, as did Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth, local Victorian Greens councillor Gurm, FSP (USA) national secretary Henry Noble and Jakob Rumbiak from the Free Papua Movement.

Kingham received a warm applause from the conference. He is the first of several militant union leaders to be prosecuted following the anti-union royal commission into the building industry. He was acquitted on May 2, in a significant victory for unionism. Kingham congratulated the Socialist Alliance for playing "an important part in rebuilding the left in the unions".

Greetings were also received from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the Peoples Democratic Party) of Indonesia, the Labour Party Pakistan, Power of the Working Class of South Korea, Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) — Liberation, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and the Anti-Privatisation Forum of South Africa.

The SSP greetings were particularly welcomed, as many delegates saw that party, which evolved out of a socialist alliance that came together eight years ago, as a powerful example of what is possible. The recent election of six SSP comrades to the Scottish parliament was greeted as "our victory too" and a "huge inspiration for the socialist movement around the world".

At the end of the first day of the conference, most of the 260 attendees went to a function organised by Workers First in Melbourne's well-known Comrades Bar. The militant unionists had put on a feast and a night of noisy celebration capped off an historic day for left unity.

[Peter Boyle is a member of the incoming Socialist Alliance national executive and a member of the DSP. A report on the other decisions of the conference will appear in the next issue of Green Left Weekly. More information on the conference, and the debates in the lead up to it, is available from <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>]

From Green Left Weekly, May 14, 2003.

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From GLW issue 537