[Marxism] Australian Socialist Alliance lurches dramatically to the Right

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Sun Mar 21 20:46:43 MST 2004

Australian Socialist Alliance lurches dramatically to the Right
By Bob Gould

The non-class, populist politics practiced in Australia by both the
leaderships of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and Democratic
Socialist Platform (DSP), has produced quite a major and unprincipled shift
to the right by the Socialist Alliance in municipal elections in the City of

Here is some background. The right wing ALP machine and the right wing ALP
government in New South Wales, recently amalgamated two council areas - the
City of Sydney, covering the central business district, and South Sydney
City Council, covering a partly traditional working class area, and partly a
gentrified area. This amalgamation took place with little notice, and rather
bureaucratically. It wasn't very carefully designed, in terms of creating a
viable municipal area, and it also included having a plebiscite vote for
Mayor, and an all in vote for 9 councillors. For more information, readers
of this document might consult a submission that I made as an individual to
the recent government inquiry into municipal boundaries and organisation. In
it I outlined and gave reasons for a much better scheme than the one hastily
adopted by the state government

Despite the fact that the amalgamation took place bureaucratically, and wasn
't in the better form that I proposed, it has one potentially useful aspect,
from a socialist point of view. If the new council area were to elect some
kind of Labor-Green progressive majority, who found some basis for working
together, it would be possible for such an administration to use the high
rate revenue from the central business district to fund council services, in
particular in working class and deprived areas. A kind of Sydney 'Poplarism'
. To some extent, this role was played in the past by a Labor-led greater
Sydney council, which existed in roughly the same area from about 1948 to
1968, before it was carved up by a conservative government.


One feature of NSW politics in the last fifteen years has been the emergence
of independents, who have beaten the main political machines in certain
areas. During the period of the conservative Liberal government of Nick
Greiner, three independents were elected in NSW, who held the balance of
power. These independents chose to keep the Liberal Greiner Government in
power, because it had a majority of one in the lower house, and they argued
that its majority of one was a sufficient reason for them using their three
votes to keep the Tory Greiner in power and implement his policies. The
policies of the Greiner Government included, among other reactionary
legislation, a raft of industrial and other legislation attacking the rights
of unions and workers. These three independents voted for this legislation
too, on the grounds that the Greiner Government was entitled to implement
its legislative program, 'in the interests of democracy'. The most high
profile of these independents is Clover Moore.

Clover Moore is the Independent MP for Bligh, which takes in the once
proletarian, but now classically upper-end gentrified suburbs of Paddington,
Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. Clover Moore is a classical practitioner of
the new politics, based on 'civic sense' and home ownership, and pitching at
the interests of rather affluent people, as residents. This politics has
some progressive aspects, but it also has some deeply reactionary aspects.
For instance, homeless people are often regarded as a pest, the sex industry
tends to be hated, etc, etc. The nitty-gritty of the contradictions inherent
in this new politics relates to the question of rates. Many young urban
professionals respond vigorously to an appeal for a reduction of rates by
way of outsourcing council services, i.e. getting rid of permanent employees
and engaging contractors, which it is claimed, reduces costs (this claim is
often false).

In municipal politics, particularly in the City of Sydney, these are very
visceral issues. The Greens, who are pretty leftist on some questions, are
often contradictory and ambiguous on this class question of outsourcing and
contractors. Independent practitioners of the new politics like Clover Moore
are usually unambiguously in favor of contractors and outsourcing. In
municipal politics, however, such questions are right at the heart of
political life, and the non-class appeal to rate-payers as rate-payers often
has deeply reactionary implications.

The battle for representation on the Labor side, was a bit complex. The
mayoral candidate, Michael Lee, was imposed by the right wing, ALP head
office. A local pre-selection ballot was held for three of the councillors
positions and the three were won by local leftists (I had a vote in the
pre-selection ballot, and in general voted for the winning candidates,
though I voted for another left winger for the third pre-selected position).
The ALP ticket for councillors ended up being Michael Lee, the mayoral
candidate, number 1, the three left wingers, 2, 3, and 4, a right winger, 5,
and the rest don't matter because Labor is unlikely to get more than 4

About a third of Clover Moore's electorate is in the City of Sydney, and she
announced that she was running for mayor, with a team of candidates. She
does not actually live in the City of Sydney. The Labor candidate for mayor
and his team, have announced their firm support for council direct
employment and that all outsourced contracts from the old City of Sydney
area will be terminated as they fall due (there was no outsourcing, to speak
of, in the old South Sydney area, where two of the left wingers have been
councillors for some time). Lucy Turnbull (wife of the newly selected Tory
candidate for the seat of Wentworth), who is former Lord Mayor of the City
of Sydney, is supporting Clover Moore.

The political line up in the election is now as follows. The Laborites are
now well and truly the underdogs. Both factions of the Sydney bourgeois
press are supporting Clover Moore, with both the Murdoch Press and the
Fairfax newspapers vigorously supporting her. The Greens, who are probably a
10% force in the area, are directing their preferences to Moore, the
conservative Liberal opposition are directing their preferences to Moore,
and some of the minor candidates are either supporting Moore, or exhausting
their preferences. The hard core Labor vote in the area, which is based
primarily in the blue-collar areas of South Sydney, is somewhere between
30-40%, probably closer to the upper figure. However Labor is in a
'stand-alone' situation.


Comparatively late in the piece, the Socialist Alliance decided to field a
candidate for Lord Mayor. The candidate for mayor is Susan Price, a DSP
member, who is also running in the ungrouped spot for city council. For the
first couple of weeks after the candidature in the City of Sydney was
announced, the leaders of the ISO and the DSP, the two main groups in the
Socialist Alliance, have been coy about the question of preferences. They
have said that it was a matter for the rank-and-file of the Socialist
Alliance in the City of Sydney (in which, however, the overwhelming majority
of members are either in the ISO or the DSP). It has now been announced that
the Socialist Alliance is passing preferences to the Greens, and then to
Clover Moore. The DSP leaders are busily blaming the ISO leaders, who they
assert took a hard line in favor of preferences to Clover Moore.

Preferences to the Greens from a socialist group, if followed by preferences
to Labor, would not be an unreasonable position. Giving an effective
preference to Clover Moore, however, is a cynical, reactionary and
completely indefensible position to be taken by any socialist group, or even
individual socialist. Today's SMH has a complicated and almost
unintelligible map of the City of Sydney, with particular spots nominated
(By Clover Moore) to be the focus for non-car transport. Its difficult, from
the map and the associated rhetoric, to quite work out what this proposal
from the Moore camp actually means, but it will no doubt be presented by the
opportunist leaders of the ISO and DSP as some evidence of Clover Moore's
progressive credentials. Compared to the issue of her public support for
outsourcing, and her past support for the Greiner Government's reactionary
industrial legislation, rhetoric about traffic in the city is a tenth-rate


The leaders of the DSP and ISO justify all sorts of things on the basis of
what they call 'the trajectory of movement'. In practice, they capitulate to
a kind of ignorant populism, which for them, in this case, replaces any kind
of class analysis. As a guide to practical political decision making, from a
Marxist point of view, this approach is poisonous. On the one hand, we have
candidates of the chaotic, mass organisation known as the ALP. A core
feature of the ALP is the presence within it of most trade union structures.
In this instance, the Labor organisation in the City of Sydney also includes
a majority of left wingers, and also the trade union representing council
workers, the Municipal Employees Union, plays a big role defending the
interests of council workers within this structure. On the other hand, we
have the conservative populist, Clover Moore. Not being able to distinguish
between these two forces underlines how far the practical politics of the
DSP and ISO leaderships have traveled from even the most primitive
conceptions of Marxism and class.

In this particular situation, even conservative right wingers in the ALP,
like Lee, (the mayoral candidate), is locked in, because of the ALP set up,
to opposing outsourcing. The ALP in NSW, despite its domination by the
right, has succeeded in government in removing the overwhelming majority of
the worst features of the Greiner industrial legislation, which Clover Moore
helped push through the parliament, way back then.

This unprincipled opportunism in the Socialist Alliance is causing a
considerable upheaval in that organisation, as we speak. A number of the
smaller affiliates are, quite rightly, demanding a call to order on this
question and it will be interesting to see how the argument proceeds about
preferencing conservative populist Clover Moore and her team over the

In this situation, the DSP leadership, who claim that they initially opposed
this preference flow, are blaming alternately, the ISO leadership, and/or,
the rank-and-file of the Socialist Alliance. This line of argument is
completely precious. The DSP has sufficient weight in the Socialist Alliance
to achieve anything it seriously wants, and this has been demonstrated on a
number of occasions.

The domination of what I call the 'ALP-Trade-Union continuum' by the
conservative ALP bureaucracy over a very long period has produced a
substantial alienation of many people, particularly from the 'new social
layers' from the ALP machine. There are a number of leftist aspects to this
alienation, but unfortunately there are also a number of deeply conservative
aspects. Marxists, obviously, have a fairly complex path to tread through
this situation. But nevertheless, it is a necessary part of the training of
any Marxist cadre in this period to learn how to disentangle the complex
class forces which proceed, often, in contradiction to each other in modern
conditions. A bland capitulation to conservative electoral populism is a
terrible miseducation of the potential Marxist cadres. Many of these young
socialists know very little about the Labor movement, and therefore this
capitulation simply panders to a backwardness on these questions.

Another feature of this decision is that it tends to reinforce a jagged and
unproductive split between anyone active in the broader labor movement, and
socialists operating among the 'new social layers' and the Greens. This is
particularly dangerous in the current situation leading up to the coming
Federal Elections, where the critical question in removing the reactionary
Howard Government, is the question of the united front.

For all these reasons, all socialists should lend their support to the call
of a number of the smaller Socialist Alliance affiliates for the speedy
reversal of this reactionary decision.

Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW
Ph: 9519-8947
Fax: 9550-5924
Email: bob at gouldsbooks.com.au
Web: www.gouldsbooks.com.au

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