Echoes down under -- the Australian Socialist Alliance

dhell at dhell at
Thu May 1 18:22:07 MDT 2003

[All the documents relevant to this article can be accessed at It was originally written at the request of the Weekly Worker (UK).]

Australian Socialist Alliance

By Dave Riley

The Socialist Alliance in Australia was launched in February, 2001, by the Democratic Socialist Party and the International Socialist Organisation (sister party to the British SWP), and formed by eight left groups and parties soon afterwards. While primarily chartered as an electoral bloc, in the subsequent two years the nature of the Alliance has qualitatively changed. Other campaigns besides elections were pursued as it became increasingly obvious that the package was more successful than at first thought. Now, as the Alliance approaches its second conference in May the core debate centres on what to do next.

The first group to note these dynamic changes in the Alliance and respond to them was the DSP who proposed in November 2002 that it cease to function as an independent entity and integrate itself into the Alliance –thereby making its resources available to the project. The ISO who advocates that the Alliance should remain primarily an electoral united front -- albeit "of a special kind" -- vigorously opposed the regroupment moves implicit in the DSP’s offer. The ISO insisted that this would lead to a DSP takeover of the Alliance , and thus rebadged, would scare away all the independents.

So adamant was the ISO that this should not happen, that it threatened to leave the project if the DSP moved to integrate itself. The DSP withdrew its schedule of reforming as a tendency in the Alliance but remained committed to integration at some stage in the future.

Since this toe to toe exchange, none of the affiliates have been willing to interpret the SA project the way the DSP has done. In the main, they remain committed to their own party building projects separate from that of the Alliance. Indeed, despite all the rhetoric about unity, none will unconditionally commit to a regroupment process under the umbrella of Socialist Alliance. Basically, most of them want to maintain the political status quo. 

Aside from each outfit’s narrow schemas which hampers their thinking and flexibility, the DSP is itself handicapped because it is two to three times bigger than any of its affiliate partners. However, what was not taken into account was the large number of non-affiliates who are members of the Alliance. At the present time this is more than half the membership. 

When the dispute settled in between the Affiliates about what the Alliance was or could become, the non aligned independents basically sat on their hands. Some even left and joined the Greens, others became inactive. As the arguments ran their course, a thick paralysis settled over the project. 

But in March there was a break through – the Non Aligned began to independently organize.

This significant initiative has changed the whole nature of the debate and altered the Alliance’s immediate prospects. Instead of a circuitous theoretical debate between competing affiliates about political differences, the discussion has once again returned to the question of formally regrouping the socialist left inside the Alliance.

In March an open statement was circulated nationally seeking endorsees. This stated:

"Non-aligned members are not persuaded by affiliate concerns of the Alliance being dominated by any one particular tendency. For affiliates to abandon the terrain of debate for socialist regroupment on the basis of caution, or worse, on the basis of historical circumstances long past, will be to realise precisely a de facto single tendency domination. As long as the Alliance retains its current character as a democratic organisation, where a consensus building activist culture and the force of the better argument prevails, the case for retaining separate party organisational structures by affiliates rings hollow

Contrary to the views advocated by most of the founding groups and parties, the non aligned statement aggressively called for affiliates to present their case to the coming conference and negotiate their terms for retaining the organisational and programmatic integrity of their tendency as part of the socialist party the Alliance would become. 

This changed the debate absolutely. As the statement was circulated the momentum picked up so that now in the space of less than a month more than 100 non aligned members have signed the call for a multi tendency socialist party. Endorsees include key trade union activists such as Chris Cain and Craig Johnston, indigenous community leaders like Sam Watson, and renowned Marxist academic Humphrey McQueen. All around the country, non aligned members are enthusiastically responding to the prospect of creating a party that regroups the socialist left –aligned and non aligned -- and does much more than run in elections and occasional other odd jobs.

In a country the size of Australia and within the confines of a still organisationally weak Alliance branch structure, this resonance is extraordinary. The Non Aligned members has established a caucus around a seven point resolution which will be put to the May conference. This states:

1.We want the Alliance to become a single, multi-tendency socialist party. 

2.We want to progress this move right now, starting with this conference. 

3.A commitment from affiliates to building the Socialist Alliance through integration needs to be demonstrated, in word and in deed. 

4.Our multi-tendency socialist party should be as broad as possible. 

5.We accept and welcome a strong revolutionary socialist stream as an integral part of our vision of a broad Socialist party. 

6.We need strong democratic structures to accommodate diversity. 

7.We need a common socialist voice: in our platform, in a national paper, and in our campaigns. 


As an adjunct to these seven points, the Caucus has won support for an enlarged national leadership body formally comprising 50 percent of non aligned members rather than persevere with a default situation where affiliates dominated the national executive. 

In the meantime, the ISO has not changed its original position. Still committed to an electoral coalition with variations, at its recent national committee meeting –and to the surprise of many --the International Socialist Organisation decided to stay in and fight for its particular view of the Alliance. This decision has been viewed by the Non Aligned Caucus as a major victory given the ISO’s unwillingness to budge from its original scheme for what the SA should be and its registered hostility to any group integrating itself into the Alliance.

So on the weekend of May 9-11, the socialist movement here will be presented with a unique opportunity to remake itself and enter a qualitatively new stage. There will be a lot riding on our deliberations. Keep watching down under.


Dave Riley is a member of the Socialist Alliance Non Aligned Caucus. He can be contacted on dhell at

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