Peter Boyle’s hare

Peter Boyle peterb at dsp.org.au
Tue Jul 2 01:39:48 MDT 2002


Steve Painter wrote:

>>By the mid-1980s the DSP recognised that space had opened up on the
left
>with the crisis of Stalinism and Social Democracy, and we did out
damndest
>to move into that space. We couldn't do it, and it wasn't because of
lack of
>resources, small size, wrong objective conditions or any of the other
>excuses we hear from the DSP.
>>By that time the DSP had plenty of resources. It owned buildings, had
>several hundred well-trained cadres (respectably large in the
Australian
>context), had a well-established and widely recognised weekly newspaper
and
>had an impressive publishing program as well. It was as well-placed as
it
>ever will be to become a much larger organisation with a lot more
political
>influence, and the political space was there, waiting to be occupied.
>The DSP didn't take that opportunity, and not only didn't, but
couldn't. It
>failed the test of practice, and the Greens emerged to fill the space.


It is true today that the Greens fill most of the electoral space to the
left of the ALP. No socialist organisation or alliance managed to fill
that space and it was not just a matter of “resources” but of failure to
win enough people to its politics. The CPA dissolved into the thin air
and the DSP couldn’t do it either. Can we agree on this, Steve?

But what’s the main reason for this? Our allegedly “Zinovievist”
fixation on organisational form? Our correct programmism? I don’t think
so. It was fundamentally our lack of political weight and influence
(following significant social movement retreat)  and the mass cynicism
about socialism after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern
Europe.

Today’s Greens party formed in Australia not as some radical political
project but as pragmatic electoral vehicle for a relatively small group
of people whose politics ranged from socialist to right-wing
conservationists.  That was our assessment at the beginning from the
1990s when the DSP decided not to dissolve and enter the Greens (the
only real option given the right’s proscription campaign).

Our assessment in January 1992 was that the Greens would not become “a
big force in anything except a sort of left Social Democratic way”.

Was that moment when we blew our big chance?

We obviously disagree on this one but let’s agree that the final word on
this question cannot be said at this point in history.

I think we made the right choice because to dissolve and enter the
Greens individually would have been too much of a concession to the
political retreat of the time. It would have meant that eight years
later when the new anti-corporate globalisation movement began the left
in this country would have been in a much weaker state. Nearly a decade
would have passed without the systematic education of activists in
Marxism, there would not be a radical weekly newspaper like Green Left
Weekly (which, whatever its shortcomings, plays a valuable role), the
re-emerging revolutionary left in Asia would not be as well-networked.
And we wouldn’t have the even more cadre and resources that we have now.

And despite what Steve says/imagines we are not that isolated. We are
not isolated from the modest layers that have radicalised in the trade
union and other movements over the last decade. We were not isolated
from the activists in all the major social struggles, including the
anti-Pauline Hanson racism campaign, the East Timorese independence
struggle, the militant union breaks in Victoria, the 3-day S11 blockade
of World Economic Forum and the campaign against the racist refugee
laws.

We are not even isolated from the left in the Greens. Several Green
activists in the state leaderships in NSW and Victoria have told us over
the last year how glad they are that we are still here. Other Greens
with a left background hate our guts and stab us in the back when they
can but even some of them have been the beneificiaries of our
non-sectarian “united front” approach. There are countless rally and
public meeting platforms where the Greens have been represented because
some DSP comrade put their name forward (and sometimes had to fight ALP
sectarianism to do this) in the organising committee where there was
often not one Greens activist.

We did run as socialists in elections throughout the 1990s usually
scoring less than 2% of the vote but it kept a red flag flying and
thanks to the preference system we delivered thousands of votes to
Greens candidates. The Greens never had to struggle for the votes of the
DSP and its modest but not insignificant periphery (most held around
Green Left Weekly) what it had to fight for was the votes of the ALP
“lefts”. But last year’s shameful bi-partisan campaign for racism and
war seems to have done the latter job for the Greens (though the ALP has
done some damage control since).

So why did we initiate the Socialist Alliance last year? Well, I can
tell you it wasn’t because we sensed a big electoral opening for
explicitly socialist candidates. But what we did read was a new opening
for regroupment of the anti-capitalist left. There is a new radicalising
constituency which is loosely identified with the global movement around
Seattle-Barcelona. This is why we have managed to pull together, and
kept together for a year, nearly 2000 people who are now members of the
Socialist Alliance. We have succeeded in getting registered under the
now highly restrictive electoral laws (no thanks to the Lee Rhiannon of
the NSW Greens who helped the Carr ALP government lock out smaller
parties).

What sort of votes is the Alliance going to get in future elections?
Well Steve and Stick-with-ALP-the-Workers’-Party Bob Gould (he’s an
interesting and colourful witness to call!) might like to think it's
going to be “close to zero as you can get” and take heart from one poll
result but those more interested in the facts should look at all the
early (and pre-electoral registration) votes that the Alliance has got
(see www.socialist-alliance.org). These include federal election results
which were consistent with those obtained by DSP candidates in the 1990s
but also some more significant ones in the Victorian (1.7% - 4.5%) and
NT (2.2%) local government elections.

This month, the Socialist Alliance will run the first ever election
campaign in the state of Tasmania with candidates identified as
socialists on the ballot paper and next March the Alliance will contest
the NSW elections as the only registered left “party”. It will be
interesting to see what votes we get.

But as I said the main reason we initiated the Socialist Alliance was
not immediate electoral advance but because we saw an opening for
regroupment of socialists. It has been a very interesting experiment in
non-correct programism, if you like. The agreement was not to engage in
some word war to the death but to agree on a simple common platform,
work together around elections and then see if we can reach a greater
political consensus later. And so far it has held remarkably well. And
the majority of the Alliance’s members who do not belong to one of the
groups that formed the Alliance respect us for this. They want to see
real left unity and we are trying our best to deliver it.

So what of the future? I’d predict an interesting new stage in our
relationship with the Greens but let’s just wait and see.

I don’t have the time to get to answering Steve’s question about the
hare of “revolutionary factionalism” that I am supposed to have diverted
the hounds after, because I have to go and do some “boring” stuff like
getting out a paper, selling it, raising money for it, etc. But I’ll
answer in another post.

Peter Boyle
peterb at dsp.org.au





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