Dialoging with Ben and David
g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Thu Nov 7 19:36:29 MST 2002
David Murray wrote:
"And yes, I was a member of the PLP for a while. I had illusions that a
'left-unity' at all costs approach was neccessary. But i was asking the
wrong questions, I should have been asking how can socialism be built? and
what kind of left needs to be built? I concluded that therefore you need to
build a left before there can be left unity."
"...unity is appealing on the left "
Let me start with Ben's comment first. I actually disagree with this
observation quite strongly. A quarter of a century on the Left has taught
me that the Left cling onto their little differences like they were
something truly precious. For it is these differences which give them
The push for unity IMHO always comes from outside the organised
Left. Nicaragua is a classic instance. There divisions vanished because
the people demanded unity. The professional revolutionaries responded (with
reluctance I suspect).
In Australia, unfortunately there is no radical mass to force such a unity.
that to an extent dooms us to the very unsatisfactory process of unity from
above. But unsatisfactory as it is we cannot wait until a radicalised
working class emerges here. We have to substitute ourselves for the missing
The Socialist Alliance is a major experiment in Left Unity. The first such
that I have encountered since 1975 where there was a forced marriage
between the Mandelite communist League and the SWP (DSP). This was a
marriage brokered by Mandel and Barnes. Of course this was no real
marriage. Rather it was the removal of a rival (Communist League) on the
Left. But that is an old memory and honestly who cares now? I think I was
the very last one to bear a grudge about the fate of the Communist League,
and it was just Irish silliness on my part. I am reminded here about the
old bloke who got up at Ted Grant's book launch recently and attacked him
over some fission or fusion of the late 1940s. There we have it - a hatred
nourished and cherished for over 50 years. We on the Left do that sort of
thing very well. It is probably a contributing factor to our isolation.
Now let me try and comment on David's post. The last two sentences are, if
I may be permitted to say so, extremely undialectical. By that I mean that
David has gone from having a position of left unity at all costs to asking
the "right" questions. His answer now appears to be 'build socialism
before unity" or "build unity through building socialism". But David can
they be separated like that?
One of the real material barriers to the Left at the moment is that it does
not have the institutional weight to act as a pole of attraction and to
organise opposition. the DSP is throwing its institutional clout behind the
Socialist alliance. Todate that has not had a great deal of success and
more could have been achieved if those who dominate the sects could have
seen the necessity for creating something of a Left counter force.
At the moment the greens are filling the vacuum created by the Left. They
will do well in the Victoria elections because they have institutional
clout. Size matters. Of course theoretical clarity, activism etc are all
vital. But the Left has to grow, and the Socialist Alliance is the only
proposal that I have seen to kick start that process.
I am not starry eyed about the Socialist Alliance. The thought of being in
the same room, never mind organisation, as Ian Rintoul of the ISO makes me
physically ill. But something has to be done or we will be doomed to a long
period of trying to keep the Greens honest, just as the Left used to try
and keep the Labor Party honest.
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