Australia: Left unites to form Socialist Alliance

Green Left Parramatta glparramatta at
Tue Feb 27 05:40:36 MST 2001

The following article appears in the latest
issue of Green Left Weekly (,
Australia's radical newspaper.

See also or


Left unites to form Socialist Alliance

BY SEAN HEALY, February 28, 2001

The word is out. The Australian left is on a roll.
Fresh from the inspiration of S11, when tens of thousands
confronted the world's power brokers at Melbourne's Crown Casino,
and with plans well underway for mass blockades of stock
exchanges and financial districts on May 1, eight radical left
organisations have united to form the Socialist Alliance, a
combined electoral front to contest this year's federal election.

Meeting in Sydney on February 17, the Democratic Socialist Party
(DSP), the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), the
Freedom Socialist Party, the Workers League, the Worker-Communist
Party of Iraq (Australian branch), Workers Power and Workers
Liberty agreed to form the alliance. Socialist Democracy has also
agreed to join.

Others also are likely to get on board. The Melbourne branch of
the Progressive Labour Party has recommended to the rest of the
party that it too join the Socialist Alliance and leading PLP
members in Canberra and Sydney have expressed enthusiasm for
doing so. The Communist Party (formerly the SPA), Socialist
Alternative and the Socialist Party (formerly Militant) are
discussing whether they will join the alliance.


The Socialist Alliance is an unprecedented step
forward for the Australian socialist left — and
enthusiasm for it is total.

``This is a tremendously exciting development'', the International
Socialist Organisation's Ian Rintoul told Green Left Weekly,
summing up the mood of all the alliance's participants.

Rintoul argues that the alliance couldn't come at a better time:
``All political indications from the Western Australian and
Queensland elections are that the Socialist Alliance will strike
a chord with a large number of people who are looking for an
alternative to economic rationalism — that was also the message
of S11''.

The Democratic Socialist Party's Peter Boyle agrees. ``The context
for this initiative is the revival of radicalism following
Seattle'', he said, referring to the massive protests against the
World Trade Organisation in the US west-coast city in November
1999, which kicked off the burgeoning anti-corporate movement in
the industrialised countries.

``That has brought a renewed confidence to the radical left,
particularly after S11, which was a very big mobilisation of the
forces to the left of Labor and which was organised by the left.
There's a huge pent-up frustration expressed in society against
the almost-common neo-liberal agendas of the major parties. S11
has given us the extra confidence to feel we can reach that
frustration and channel it leftward''.

Alison Thorne, of the Freedom Socialist Party, says the prospect
of more effectively challenging Labor is the alliance's biggest
potential strength.

``A lot of people are jubilant at the Coalition going down the
gurgler, and rightly so. But Labor provided no sharply defined
alternative in WA, did they? They continued to support mandatory
sentencing, for example, which is absolutely disgraceful. So it's
critically important that we popularise socialist ideas; it's
crucial that socialists work to build an alternative to the Labor
Party'', she told Green Left Weekly.

`Hansonism phase two'

Thorne also raises another reason why she's keen on the Socialist
Alliance, a reason which weighs heavily on the minds of all the
alliance partners: ``Hansonism phase two'', One Nation's attempt to
``pose as an anti-globalisation protest vote'' and the ``crucial
need for the left to provide an alternative movement to
globalisation which is not economic nationalist''.

The way Boyle puts it is that while S11 has given the radical
left the confidence to form the Socialist Alliance, the
re-emergence of One Nation has provided the ``urgency'', adding ``If
the left isn't able to present as the radical opposition to the
major party consensus, then some of that dissent will go to the
far right''.

Rintoul sees it similarly, but believes the alliance can be a
very effective counter to One Nation.

``Hanson does represent the danger of pulling the whole
anti-globalisation sentiment to the right'', he noted. ``But the
election results aren't so much an indicator of that yet; they
show rather that people are looking to the left. In terms of a
popular critique of economic rationalism and globalisation, the
Socialist Alliance can be tremendously important.''

Lisa Farrance, of Workers Power, also sees the WA and Queensland
results as a sign of a ``significant shift leftwards'' in the
working class' views, adding that ``at the same time, people don't
have full illusions that Labor will deliver''.

``That frustration amongst working-class people is a big part of
what's forcing us to be unified, to provide the alternative
that's needed'', she said.

She believes the growing anti-corporate movement is an obvious
part of the alliance's core target audience. ``The movement is a
little more left here than elsewhere and a lot more unified in a
number of ways; it's a lot less hostile to the idea of unity than
in countries where more anarchist forces are dominant. There's a
huge political opportunity with the anti-corporate movement for
the alliance to draw towards it significant numbers of forces,
especially given the ALP is so hostile to the movement.''

But Farrance also thinks the Socialist Alliance can play a ``key
role'' in ``joining forces from a number of areas, joining them
into a common struggle'', listing especially industrial disputes,
such as that in Victoria's Yallourn Valley, and indigenous
struggles. ``We could be the only political organisation
nationally that really campaigns for land rights'', she stated.

Positive pole of attraction

The Socialist Alliance provides a chance to do more than take
advantage of immediate opportunities, though, its participants
say: it's also a chance for the left to find some much-needed
common ground and common purpose.

Socialist Democracy's John Tully told Green Left Weekly, ``For
longer than any of us care to remember, the left has been split
into a plethora of small groups, and it hasn't been helpful.''

``We can't keep blaming `the objective situation' for our failure
to grow'', he said. ``The objective situation surely must favour a
genuine alternative to the present system. There is a crying need
for an organisation that gets stuck in there and attacks
everything that is wrong about this system.''

``The left's lack of unity has not helped. None of us have been
innocent of wanting hegemony for our own small group'', he said,
adding, ``We have been hegemonists in our thinking when we should
be pluralists''.

The Socialist Alliance provides an opportunity to change that for
the better, Tully believes. ``The alliance should provide a
positive pole of attraction and enable us to intervene much more
effectively in the political process than we've been able to do

Boyle believes that it is ``very significant'' that there is a
``greater degree of political unity of the forces coming into this
alliance'' than in some other attempts at left regroupment in the

``For a start, these are all radical groups, they all have
revolutionary politics as their basic ideas'', he said. ``Any
differences are specific to how to implement those ideas.''

In contrast, most past attempts to regroup the left have been
``based on a liberal, rather than a radical, opening, with unity
with left-reformist forces, like the Greens or the old Communist
Party'', Boyle argued. ``This attempt is very different.''

``From the point of view of the DSP, the one factor which has made
the Socialist Alliance feasible is the willingness of the second
major socialist organisation, the ISO, to participate in it'', he

Ian Rintoul said that there were two major developments which led
the ISO to take a closer look at electoral openings and the
possibility of a left electoral alliance: ``First, there was the
whole development of the anti-capitalist movement, which
demonstrated that there's a whole layer of people in Australia
looking for a radical alternative.''

``Along with that, there's the tremendous crisis in
social-democracy, in reformism'', he added. ``The Labor Party has
moved rightwards and disaffected many of the working-class people
who in the past looked to it. We can appeal to them now to
support us.''

S11 legacy

Rintoul and Boyle both say that international efforts at
socialist electoral alliances, particularly in Western Europe,
have had a big impact on their respective organisation's

``The experience of Britain [where the ISO's sister party, the
Socialist Workers Party, is a leading force in a network of
socialist alliances] has been important, giving us another look
at how electoral activity can be used'', Rintoul said.

``Our experience, and that of the left, has been that elections
are treated primarily as propaganda exercises. The Socialist
Alliance experience in Britain has shown us that it's an
opportunity for more, for building an active membership
organisation, which can mobilise on the issues and which isn't
about electoralism.''

Boyle adds the examples of Scotland, ``where the regroupment of
the radical left has gone even further, into a new party, the
Scottish Socialist Party'', and that of France, where an electoral
alliance between the two largest socialist parties, the Ligue
Communiste Revolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvriere, won five seats in
the 1999 European parliament, ``an unprecedented electoral victory
for the radical left in a rich country''.

Boyle also believes that the decision to make the Socialist
Alliance a membership organisation, rather than just a pact
between parties, is an important one and a ``recognition of the
legacy of S11''.

``What S11 showed was that there are people coming to radical
conclusions in this country far greater in number than the
collective organisational reach of the existing left'', he said.
``So there's a recognition now that for us to get to that bigger
community of radicals, we have to be united — there's a common
desire to break out of marginalisation.''

``The decision to make it a membership organisation shows an
ambition to grow'', Boyle stated.

The next steps for the alliance include discussion on a summary
document on its process, structure and politics and the
consolidation of groups in all major cities. The stage will then
be set for big public launches of the Socialist Alliance.

The upshot of the Socialist Alliance's formation is hard to
underestimate: the days of a weak, divided, ghettoised left
appear to be ending, amid a rise of massive, new protest
movements and a new sense that revolutionary socialists can unite
to popularise their message and again become an important force
in Australian politics.

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