Gould, the ALP & Socialist Alliance

Peter Boyle peterb at dsp.org.au
Wed Sep 25 21:39:10 MDT 2002

Bob Gould wrote:

>The general point I would make about all of this is the importance of a
>strategic united front towards these people on the left of the ALP-trade
>union continuum, who regard themselves as in some way as socialists or
>radicals, rather than giving them pompous and ineffective lectures on how
>they should immediately tear up their ALP tickets.

You will find some people who *call themselves socialists* in the ALP -- though a lot fewer than we would have found 20 years ago -- but take a closer look and in most cases they are the sort of socialists who put their progress in a current or hoped-for trade union or parliamentary career first. *Socialist* often indicates a tribal affiliation to ALP factions show have less and less resemblance to the historic left/right divide they take their names from (according to the ALP's own surveys). Then there are some who are breaking away from ALP (and these are the ones we should relate to first I think). And of course you have a few Trotskyists either paying lip service to a fossilised and degraded entryist tactic or possibly doing something useful that has yet to be revealed. That's our general take and Bob obviously has a more optimistic view of the socialists in the ALP. But we'd be happy to be proved wrong.

In this environment, a revolutionary socialist in the ALP ends up doing little more than preaching socialists. As far as I can see Bob Gould's entire political intervention is mainly preaching and giving advice (solicited or not). Fine, its his democratic right. He enjoys it. But how good is his advice?

Meanwhile the modest forces hopefully regrouping in the Socialist Alliance do, on a daily basis, a lot more than preach. Such as trying to initiate anti-war coalitions, coalitions for refugee rights, solidarity committees for militant unionists, persecuted activists in the Third World, etc. Sure our numbers are modest and our effect likewise but a lot less would happen in terms of street actions against war, etc, without this work going on. But if we can collect a couple of thousand together and get half of that active to some degree then the socialist left will have made progress.

Of course we have our own weaknesses, among them (to a greater lesser extent) some sectarian or dogmatic political heritage. But the kind of cooperation built around the Socialist Alliance can and is doing wonders to *begin* to overcome these problems. At this (early) stage of the development of the surviving revolutionary left doing what we are doing in the Socialist Alliance (and soon we hope a little more) can only be a good thing.

But this is not an easy process. Even to get agreement within the Socialist Alliance about the nature of this process requires a lot of discussion and even some political struggle. This discussion has been with the Alliance since its first conference and is happening now and will happen for some time to come. Even seeing the Socialist Alliance as a *process* takes some convincing because a common (and we think mistaken) approach of many on the far left today is to start by abstractly defining themselves (or their organisation) as holding the "correct" political program and therefore truly "revolutionary" . Then, it is reasoned, anyone or organisation in the Alliance that doesn't support all of this program is by definition centrist, reformist or worse. The DSP's approach is that at least all the organised political tendencies that set up the Alliance hold a revolutionary perspective.

Of course we don't have to have fully "clarified" this matter in the Socialist Alliance to move on but some progress would be good.

So this job of dealing with a certain sectarian and dogmatic heritage in the revolutionary left is pressing task for us in the Socialist Alliance today. To press for elevating abstract debate above the modest but real collaboraton around elections and some movement work (which is one of Bob's suggestions buried in his long open letter to the DSP see <http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Ozleft.html>) is actually a recipe to setback the struggle to break from sectarianism and dogmatism in the Socialist Alliance.

To press for an even broader debate in the name of totally hypothetical unity project involving those who in the ALP who call themselves socialists, the Greens, Socialist Alliance and the groups and individuals on the left who up to this point have turned down the invitation to join the Alliance, also looks to me like a suggestion to smash up what modest progress has been made.

Of course some discussion between elements of these broader left forces will take place, including on this list and undoubtedly in a more complete manner at others times and places.

Which brings me to Bob's "strategic united front towards these people on the left of the ALP-trade union continuum". First Bob should be clear about what he means by a united front. If he means it in the popular sense of working with these people on points of agreement fine. Socialist Alliance has been working very hard together with people "on the left of the ALP-trade union continuum" who are under attack in Victoria in the AMWU and CFMEU. The comrades in Socialist Alliance have worked *with* these militants, joining the picket lines and rallies, helping build the meetings and fundraisers. There has been precious little advice-giving and preaching, as much as Bob insinuates otherwise.

But Socialist Alliance cooperation with ALP lefts hasn't stopped there. Just in Bob's locality, Newtown, the Marrickville Socialist Alliance is organising a rally against the war for October 18 and is inviting the ALP parliamentarian for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek, to address it along with the Greens' Sylvia Hale. And I can give you a long list of similar and bigger platforms that Socialist Alliance members have organised for other ALP speakers over this year.

That's not a problem. But by the same token the classic united front tactic (as described by Trotsky in his 1922 Comintern speech "On The United Front") is not available to the left because the revolutionary left is too small in relation to the ALP and the ALP as an organisation (i.e. its leadership) these days shares with the Liberal-Nationals a bi-partisan reactionary policy on most of the main issues that are mobilising resistance.

So if we are just talking about united front in the sense of working together then what precisely is Bob's beef about what the Socialist Alliance is doing? Unless he thinks that the kind of left collaboration that Socialist Alliance has begun could and should have been done within the ALP. I don't think that's real.

Peter Boyle
peterb at dsp.org.au

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