Socialist Alliance &n artificial constructs

Peter Boyle peterb at dsp.org.au
Tue Dec 17 23:16:26 MST 2002


Thanks for your explanation about what you mean describing
the Socialist Alliance as an artificial construct, Tom.

But here is a little story about another articifial
construct of the radical left:

5.30 am, September 11, 2000, Melbourne: I stepped off the
tram from Coburg -- together with acouple of blurry-eyed
activist types -- into a cold and rainy morning on the
shores of the murky Yarra River. A few hundred left
activists scurrying about in the dark, setting up for
strange political event, the blockade of the World Economic
Forum Asia-Pacific summit held in a gharish-glitzy casino.
The far left had worked for months (together -- and that in
itself was amazing!) on pulling together this blockade,
hoping to "bring Seattle to Australia", but would this
"artificial construct" come off?

The police looked amused at that stage but over the next
three days some 20,000 people participate in this event,
braving rapidly escalating police violence and media
hysteria. There were lots of young people but also lots of
activists who were veterans of many movements, among them
former members of left groups. Then there were a few
thousand trade unionists mobilised in conjuction with but
not as part of the blockade. This was not an accident or a
"normal" act of solidarity from the trade union movement.
It was an expression of an important left break in the trade
union movement -- chiefly, but not only, in Melbourne. And
hard work had been put into keeping alive the links between
these militants and the far-left led S11 Alliance. I don't
know whether Tom has a sense of this aspect of S11 but I had
followed the day by day developments on this front for
months and have an email record that will be great material
for some serious research one day.

We'd seen this militant minority in the trade union movement
in  action in 1998 when the Maritime Union of Australia came
under attack from the bosses and their state. The militants
in Melbourne, Geelong and Perth/Fremantle stood out. This
process began throwing up some very left-wing natural
leaders of the working class. Just a couple, some might
scoff but a couple of these are worth a lot more than scores
of paper revolutionary manifestos.

S11-2000 added to the potency of the new militant trade
union minority by revitalising large layers of social
movement and left activists. Maybe this pales against the
earlier militant minority movement in Australia, which Tom
has studied in detail, but its the break we have today and
one that challenges the far left in this country to shed
more of its semi-sectarian heritage.

In the DSP we recognised this as a major new development
that the organised revolutionary left had to relate to. So
with our modest forces we tried our best to build links with
the union militants - as probably did comrades in other
socialist groups.  We had some success and this contributed
to the role that the left unions played not just at S11,
2000 but also at May 1 2001 & 2002 in Melbourne and to a
lesser extent in Perth. The militant trade union minority
was working with the revolutionary left much more than they
had for many years. Comrades in other revolutionary groups
played a role in breaking down prejudices against "the
Trots", though sometimes the temptation by one group or
another to prove their revolutionary superiority through
militant stunts worked against this process.

While the comrades in the ISO were trying to address the
post-S11-2000 opening through an organisational turn to
local branches and an attempt to enter a poorly defined
"anti-capitalist milieux" we in the DSP saw the opening more
in terms of a revitalised left constituency, with a future
that was tied up with the development of the militant
minority in the trade unions. Direct work with the latter in
industrial work had to be combined with political
initiatives that brought together these two wings of the new
left constituency.

We think the Socialist Alliance can play a very important
role here. It is true that only a few of those militant
unionists are part of the Alliance, probably a couple of
dozen at the most but quite a few of these are some (and a
minority) of the leaders in this militant minority.  They
count for a lot. Perhaps this is a "delusion" but we are
willing to take that bet - indeed you might say the DSP has
"put money on it".

The Socialist Alliance began, of course, as a loose
agreement between a few small socialist groups - inspired as
Tom O'Lincoln says  by developments in England and Scotland
- but already has more structured regular activity than many
of its constituent parts. We think it can become even more
solid if the affiliated groups but a bit more resources into
it. The DSP is prepared to go the "whole hog" (and it has
been said that our "party building" tradition is more
"bricks and mortar" than that of the rest of the far left in
Australia) but the ISO threatens to leave the Alliance if we
do. So where does this leave the Alliance?

To try and keep the ISO in the DSP has agreed to hold back
while there is a broad discussion about perspectives in the
Socialist Alliance in the lead up to May. We will have the
discussions and then make some decisions and proposals to
the Socialist Alliance. A lot of what we do after May
depends on what the others in the Socialist Alliance want.

I have a very different estimate to both Tom and the ISO
leadership (it seems) of what the non-affiliate members
amount to or are worth politically. I think they are worth
quite a bit and we in the DSP are willing to risk quite a
lot on this. We think they overwhelmingly support left
regroupment through the Socialist Alliance and we hope they
will convince the ISO that this is the right thing to do,
even if the process has to spread over time to take as many
people along as possible.

Peter Boyle
peterb at dsp.org.au

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