The warring caucuses of the left

Peter Boyle peterb at
Mon Nov 18 21:59:17 MST 2002

I agree with Steve Painter that we could see the various
socialist groups that exist in Australia today as different
caucuses of the left. They are a bit more than that, and the
resources their members have built up should not be
dismissed. Even Painter implicitly concedes as much, in a
recent post, when he uses his and Bob Gould's lack of
resources to excuse the selective reprinting of documents on
the Socialist Alliance his Ozleft site.

And the contributions of David Murray (Socialist Party) and
Jeff Sparrow (Socialist Alternative) prove what everyone on
this list probably knows only too well - that these
"caucuses" battle it out against each other for recruits
(especially on the campuses).

One only needs eyes to see this is the case. There really is
no need to prove it further with a monster flame war between
caucuses, though that may be the desire of some people on
this list. The real question is what can and should be done
about this situation. The following, IMO, seem to be the
practical options for the socialist left in Australia today.

1. Accept and embrace the status quo of a totally divided
and competing radical left (with or without a big
"clarification" debate/discussion about who has the better
politics or better position on this or that historical qtn,
what is shibboleth and what is principle, etc).

2. Dismiss the far left as a bunch of iretrievably sectarian
losers (and perhaps choose to start again -- maybe in the
Greens -- with others who have "had it" with the far left).
But if one chose this path one shouldn't be obsessively
looking over one's shoulder and preaching at the
"irrelevant" socialists unless you want to develop stomach

3. Try and work together in the Socialist Alliance, which
has over 20 months of practical collaboration, shown that it
is possible for the far left to collectively address the
major issues of the day. There room for Socialist
Alternative, the Socialist Party, and even the newest small
caucus of the left, the Gould-Painter
league-to-expose-the-DSP (note Bob/Steve, this is a friendly
joke, and you don't need to write the DSP is Ultra-Cannonist
and not to be trusted 1000x in response, though that is your

The DSP is pushing -- a bit too hard, some complain - for
option 3 because we think (and there is a strong, *healthy*,
consensus on this in the DSP) that regroupment is possible
through collective activism. We also think that this can win
a wider layer of people, including some influential union
militants, to a united socialist organisation. Indeed they
have been urging the far left in this direction. This
requires prioritising common work over immediate political
"clarification" but it also offers a new forum for
constructive and democratic discussion.

The Socialist Alliance is *already* a multi-tendency
organisation with *total* freedom of all affiliates and
individual members to organise, propagate their political
views and perspectives, and the freedom to act separately
when agreement on action is not possible. From here the
Socialist Alliance can only *impose restrictions* on these

For this project to work, the DSP (the largest of the small
caucuses of the revolutionary socialist left), has had to
make certain concessions, including conscious
under-representation on Alliance leadership bodies,
deferment of contentious issues, and a preparedness to carry
a certain amount of debt for Alliance activities. It was
prepare, unilaterally and without conditions, to make
*further* concessions at its congress in Dec-Jan -
specifically, to cease to recruit to itself in favour of the
Alliance and to offer greater access to its material and
organisational assets to the Alliance - but it has been
forced to defer this because the ISO (the second largest of
the small caucuses of the revolutionary socialist left)
threatened to leave the Alliance if this was done.

So the DSP has put back the timing of those proposals (which
were totally transparent and involves decisions that concern
the organisation of its own members alone) to allow a
constructive discussion about regroupment to continue within
the Alliance, without being subject to an ultimatum. We hope
that the unaffiliated members of the Alliance - who we know
are overwhelmingly in favour of a more united and activist,
multi-tendency Socialist Alliance - will use this space to
speak out.

In the meantime the DSP will continue to argue for left
regroupment through practical political collaboration within
the Socialist Alliance. We will also formulate, at our
Dec-Jan congress, specific offers of material and
organisational resources to be put to the May 2003 Socialist
Alliance conference. We will listen to all constructive
suggestions and take them into account.

Keeping the "caucuses of the left" divided with
point-scoring, gossip, slander and provocations is *much
easier* than trying to regroup and unite them. That is
pretty obvious to any one who has been on the left for a
while. Bryan Sketchley, a member of Brisbane Socialist
Alliance and Workers Liberty, said to me a few weeks ago,
that it would be a great shame for the Australian left to
pass up on this opportunity for left regroupment. Bill Tully
from Melbourne West Socialist Alliance and Socialist
Democracy warned against squandering the "the best chance
for left wing unity in a whole generation". IMO, they are
both dead right on this.

Peter Boyle
peterb at

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