DSP and Socialist Alliance

Ben Courtice benj at connexus.net.au
Wed Sep 11 21:33:49 MDT 2002

Bob Gould wrote:
> He [John Percy] goes on to say "the Socialist Alliance has to one degree or
another drawn around itself a large part of those who view themselves as
socialists and left-wingers in Australia". This second statement is self-
delusion of a very high order. Australia is a highly urbanised country with
19.5 million people. There are nearly three million people in trade unions.
There are around 2000 people who are either full-time union officials or work
full-time for unions. There are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 trade
union job delegates or lay committee members. There are probably between 5000
and 10,000 leftist students spread over nearly 100 campuses. There are about
400 Labor politicians, state and federal, who on average would have four or
five staffers, making about 2500 people occupationally located in the
political wing of the Labor Party. There are between 30,000 and 40,000
members of the Labor Party across Australia. There are more than 5000 members
of the Green Party across Australia. There are 15 Greens politicians, and
these Greens politicians would have on average five staffers each, making
about 100 full-timers in the Greens political apparatus. If you add together
the ALP members, ALP politicians and staff, active trade unionists, left-wing
students and the 5000 people in the Greens structure, you get a total of
70,000 or 80,000 people. At least 20,000 of them, and probably more, would
have to be reasonably classified as identifying themselves as socialists and

> If the 2000 Socialist Alliance adherents that John claims are a large part
of the socialist left in Australia we'd be in a sad state indeed. But happily
the real world of the Australian workers movement is different to John
Percy's self-serving version of it.

It's nice of Bob to provide us with all these demographics. But what do they
mean politically?

First: I think that if there is in the order of 20 000 leftist politicos in
the country, then the fact that we have around 10% of them in the Socialist
Alliance is not to be sneezed at. An active and politically coherent minority
of that magnitude can have a huge impact as a "lever" on the larger force.

Second: A lot of the categories that Bob mentions - parliamentarian's
staffers, union officials, even many union delegates - are very much part of
the Laborist/liberal-bourgeois labour aristocracy and labour bureaucracy (or
their modern equivalents). that's not to discount them, but insofar as they
remain part of this group politically they are of limited use to the
socialist movement, their subjective politics notwithstanding.
In "Imperialism and the Split in Socialism" Lenin points out that the "pivot
of Marxist tactics" is "to go down deeper to the real masses" away from the
privileged, class-collaborationist layers at the top of the labour movement.
[quotes approximate, sorry, I'm writing this away from home and the Lenin
Collected Works].

Now, I don't interpret that lone comment as to mean that Marxists should
immerse themselves in the most oppressed layers of the proletariat
necessarily, or ignore the "labour aristocracy" or progressive liberal
intelligentsia. But it means that we should direct our work towards breaking
the latter from their current political opportunism, i.e. convincing them to
take the line of march which represents the interest of the working class as
a whole.

So for example when the Textiles union (TCFUA) in Victoria, under a militant
left leadership, takes up the rights of outworkers/homeworkers, who are
mostly immigrant women on paltry piece rates, we should be orienting to that.
In fact, two of the main activists in that TCFUA campaign joined the
Socialist Alliance and the Greens respectively. The secretary of the
Victorian TCFUA (Michele O'Neil) is very friendly to the Socialist Alliance,
although at this stage (I think) still an ALP member. In other words, Bob,
where this broader left is moving into struggle, we are engaging with it, and
frequently discussing these matters (for example, Michele O'Neil is now sick
of appearing on socialists' platforms to discuss 'unions and the ALP' topics
because it's happened so often).

To paraphrase Bob: If the 20 000 or so lefties organised (very loosely if at
all) in the left wing of bourgeois liberalism were the alpha and omega of the
socialist left in Australia we'd be in a sad state indeed. But happily there
real world of the Australian workers movement is different to his self-
serving version of it...

I do agree with Bob that it's useful to have dialogue with the Greens and
Labor and union activists who are genuinely left. The problem is that if that
was all we did, we would tend towards their back-room wheeling and dealing
methods (even if on more principled matters than usual). We want to engage
these people, but as a starting point by drawing them into the refugee
solidarity movement, the militant left unions etc.

and lastly...
> The comrade who is currently the DSP's national student organiser outlines
all this in enormous detail in her recent report to the National Committee of
the DSP.
Damn! we're leaking again! How can this be?! Time for a purge!!!
(just joking)
Ben Courtice

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