Re fresh developments in Australian 'unity' debates

NIBS nibs at nibs.org.au
Wed Nov 6 19:48:15 MST 2002


Peter Boyle wrote:
In response to the ISO's ultimatum -- gloatingly presented to this list by
Jeff Sparrow (whose Socialist Alternative has unfortunately opposed left
regroupment through the Socialist Alliance) -- the DSP has asked an urgent
meeting with the ISO.

------------------
Jeff writes:
It's not a question of gloating. Actually, I think this is all turning into
another tragedy for the left.

When the Alliance formed, we in SA expressed our concern that an electoral
bloc in conditions where the far left was unlikely to do well would prove a
wholesale distraction from the main game of activism. The boosters for the
project pooh-poohed the objection, arguing that workers breaking from the
ALP would in fact vote in substantial numbers for the Alliance, thus
providing a substantial platform for activists.

What happened? The Alliance vote remained consistently tiny, a problem
which the various left leaders first tried to explain with spin (most
memorably, through a distinction between the proletarian and the bourgeois
polling booths of the Aston by-election) and then later declared to be
entirely irrelevant (because, you see, the project was <not> after all
about elections but rather a question of left unity).

As for our original concern about activism, the DSP now proclaims (in its
internal discussions) that:

"We must make a turn on the organisation front Turning involves temporarily
prioritising certain things over others. It means, to use, the jargon,
"bending the stick". In this turn we will have to put building the core
party building committees of the DST first Building movement fractions,
movement committees all will have to be put second to this while we execute
the turn.
This is not to say we pull out of movement work completely for the next few
months. But it tips our priorities one way because our tendency has to
prepare to make the turn into SA and if it does not do this properly we
won't be in a position to do effective movement work next year. We should
lean on our allies and collaborators in the movement to take a bit more of
the load and try to have key committees and coalitions (such as the
anti-war and refugee campaigns) in place."

In other words, with war looming, the biggest group on the Australian left
is 'bending the stick' away from activism to engage in manoeuvres with an
alphabet soup of tiny Trotskyist groups. Frankly, I don't see much to gloat
about in that.

Furthermore, since no-one can give a serious explanation of what's changed
on the left (other than the rightward drift of the ISO) to enable 'unity'
to take place now (rather than, say, 1989 or 1975 or during the Timor
intervention 1999), the proponents of the idea resort instead to the
timeless notion that the various groups should 'get on better'. So what
happens? Everyone sagely nods and promises to behave (after all, who could
be against 'getting on'?)  and then, because none of the underlying issues
have been resolved, they just as quickly begin knifing each other in the back.

In any case, insofar as 'left unity' in Australia generates a response, it
is usually along the lines expressed on the list. Within Australia, there
is a layer of (generally older) people who have been thru the various
sects, and now find themselves attracted by the idea of a broader, looser
formation, free from harsh argument or onerous membership requirements.
Does anyone really think such folk are going to function happily inside an
organisation of the kind sketched in the leaked DSP article, where the DST
operates in an 'even more centralised' fashion, whilst (funnily enough)
retaining the ownership of the Alliance paper?

We've seen the kind of bitter mess that ensues when these 'unity' campaigns
fall apart (remember the PLP?). No, it's nothing to gloat about.

Jeff Sparrow




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