Re Australian Socialist Alliance

Peter Boyle peterb at
Mon Dec 16 16:24:51 MST 2002

The following comment on the Socialist Alliance debate in
Australia was published by the Communist Party of Great
Britain in its latest issue of its newspaper:

ISO ultimatum stalls left unity
Weekly Worker 460 Thursday December 12 2002

The Socialist Alliance in Australia, while formed later than
its counterparts in Britain, has been quicker to move in a
partyist direction - apart, that is, from the obvious case
of Scotland, where the Scottish Socialist Party has also
developed in a nationalist direction. Whereas the 'party
question' in the SA in England and Wales is treated with
disdain by many - not least the largest component, the
Socialist Workers Party, in Australia it is the debate.

On September 2, the Democratic Socialist Party national
executive proposed to its membership that the organisation
should cease its public existence and invest all resources
into the SA, where it would form an internal tendency. This
has triggered a wide-ranging discussion throughout the
Socialist Alliance that puts the level of political debate
in the SA (England) to shame (contributions to this debate
can be read at

Credit for this step forward largely goes to the DSP - the
biggest of the groupings in the alliance. A former fragment
of the Mandelite 'Fourth International', the DSP has had the
courage to attempt 'do a Scotland', whereas the SWP in
Britain remains coy about, if not downright hostile to, the
idea of acting as a catalyst for the SA to become a
political party.

The International Socialist Organisation - the SWP's clone
in Australia - seems to have been thrown off guard by the
DSP's bold proposal - which effectively aimed to put the SA
at the centre of a party project for the entire left.
Regarded as slightly odd even by leading members of the SWP
in London, the ISO tends to reflect in an extreme form the
anarcho-bureaucratism of its British parent - albeit as
parody. In fact, the ISO seemed split over the very question
of involvement in the SA to begin with, with one wing
effectively instituting a boycott.

Some inside observers have argued that the DSP is making a
play for hegemony over the rest of the left - particularly
the ISO which is somewhat directionless. But what is wrong
with the advanced element seeking to lead the backward? In
fact that is just what is needed and it is in the interests
of the entire left to unite as long as that unity is coupled
with thorough-going democracy and open debate in front of
the class.

The ISO eventually replied to the DSP initiative by claiming
that the time is not right for taking unity to a higher
plane. Worse, the ISO goes on to say that if the DSP went
ahead with its plans to transform itself into an internal SA
tendency, it would leave the alliance. The DSP proposals
must be rejected because they amount to a platform of
revolutionary intent. This aim, says the ISO, "is one that
the ISO shares - but it one that we think is totally
inappropriate for the Socialist Alliance to adopt. Your
intention is that such a platform should be adopted in May"
(ISO, 'We will terminate our affiliation to the alliance',
November 3).

The ISO's formula has a familiar ring to it for readers in
Britain - it is claimed that the Socialist Alliance is a
united front which is supposed to put under one roof hordes
of defectors from Labourism and a putative revolutionary
minority. That the SAs actually unite revolutionaries is
seen as an unfortunate accident, a blip, which will soon be
corrected, once reality catches up with the leadership's
latest perspectives documents.

Anyway the ISO continues: "We think that you are confusing
two quite different processes - revolutionary regroupment
and the building of a large, multi-tendency socialist
party." For some reason, regroupment of the revolutionary
left and the formation of a multi-tendency party are
mutually exclusive and separate processes. But of course at
the heart of this perspective is the desire to maintain sect
purity and the unfounded belief that in all workers' DNA is
the need to find a home in yet another reformist party.

After this ultimatum from the ISO - stay apart or we quit -
the DSP has responded in a mature and measured fashion:

"That, given the stance of the ISO national executive, the
DSP political committee will withdraw its recommendation to
the DSP's 20th Congress that the DSP cease to operate as a
public organisation before the May 2003 Socialist Alliance
national conference.

"That the DSP political committee will propose to the
congress that it authorise the incoming DSP national
committee to decide on the timing of the implementation of
the proposal that the DSP cease to function as a public

"The DSP political committee has adopted this stance in
order to allow more discussion in the alliance without the
threat of ultimatums and a breakdown in relations. For us
the Socialist Alliance represents too valuable a political
gain with too large a potential to risk such a breakdown"
(DSP, 'Socialist Alliance too valuable to risk such a
breakdown', November 11).

It is more than a shame that the ISO - along with its parent
organisation in Britain - is constituting itself as the main
obstacle to the partyist logic of the Socialist Alliance
project. In Britain, as the largest faction, it is doing
this by cynically moulding the SA into yet another of its
united front transmission belts for recruitment into "the
party". It is the same in Australia, except that the ISO is
behaving like the Socialist Party in England and Wales: in
other words as the petulant junior partner.

Either way, the International Socialist Tendency is working
according to the discredited spirit of sectarianism, not
looking to forge unity at the highest level objective
circumstances allow.

Martin Blum

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