[Marxism] Bob Marley on party building ( was: Australian Socialist Alliance: Through the looking class)

Nick Fredman sra at scu.edu.au
Fri May 7 01:12:22 MDT 2004

Ian Rintoul, late of the International Socialist Organisation (Aust.) 
and Socialist Alliance:

>As Trotsky argued better a small sharp, sharp axe than a
>  large blunt one. John Rees from the SWP (GB) makes the same point
>  in rebutting Murray Smith's arguments in favour of the Scottish
>  Socialist Party as a model for socialist regroupment (ISJ 97 and ISJ 100).

Comrade Bob Marley's metaphor for the class struggle of course went:

So if you are the big tree
We are the small axe
Ready to cut you down (well sharp)
To cut you down

("Small Axe", from the Wailers very militant 1973 "Burnin'" album).

Bob well knew, that the little people, the workers and oppressed, 
need a sharp instrument to cut down the big tree of capitalism. But 
how to get there? Ian Rintoul does not help us very much. He seems to 
be unsure whether Socialist Alliance was doomed from the start, or 
whether if it followed the ISO paradigm of a "united front of 
revolutionaries and reformists", focused mainly on elections, it 
would have done better.

But the main problem with his contribution is his dubious use of 
"evidence" to back his arguments - his main evidential framework 
being that the UK SWP has got everything right, and is indeed the 
fount of all Marxist knowledge. But an objective look at the UK 
situation does not bear this out. Ian claims that the SWP should be 
seen as astute for swiftly "discarding" their Socialist Alliance when 
it seemed not up to the job. However doesn't this beg the question - 
wasn't it the SWP's perspective, that SA should be an electoral 
united front, demarcated from other areas of work, and shouldn't 
develop into anything like a party, that utterly failed? Wasn't it 
obvious that the SWP's decision to hide SA away during the anti-war 
upsurge in order to build themselves would lead to the death of SA - 
i.e. didn't they blithely squander the chance to make it work?

Further, on Scotland: Ian sees the SWP as being again clever and 
flexible by joining the Scottish Socialist Party, the key difference 
from Australia being that the SSP was "established"? But didn't the 
SWP only join the SSP after their sectarian abstention from the 
Scottish Socialist Alliance (1996-98) and the first 3 years of the 
SSP (1998-2001) was proven utterly wrong?

It is worth deconstructing Ian's use of the term "established". Ian 
seems to be implying it is some venerable institution. But the SSP 
only became "established" through struggle, led by one key tendency, 
which dragged the other tendencies along with, and transferred its 
own newspaper and resources into the new party.

Ian sees only what's "established" not the struggle to get there. 
Like his view of the French IST group joining the LCR (it's worth 
joining now as they're got thousands of young new members to "relate" 
too), it's a sectarian view of regroupment as a raiding party into 
something that others have got going, to build one's own tendency, 
despite his wise words on the need for convergence etc.

There seems no space in his world view for leadership and initiative 
in launching new organisations, for transitional forms, for creative 
ways of bringing class struggle currents and activists into more 
substantial joint activity than single issue campaigns and dreary 
neo-social democratic election campaigns, for revolutionary 
organisations with a broader range of views than the Thoughts of Tony 

One could answer some of the more specific distortions of Ian's about 
the activities and state of the Australian Socialist Alliance, but 
his whole framework and his reliance on the UK SWP as the touchstone 
of politics is wrong. One thing worth noting is that while Ian thinks 
there's been no real discussion or convergence in SA at all, the 
positions of the ISO and DSP on for example the ALP and the unions 
are a lot closer than there were 10 years ago, evidenced by various 
agreed upon SA policies, statements, leaflets etc, at least a couple 
of recent comment articles by ISO members relating to the ALP sitting 
happily in Green Left, and a new more substantial trade union policy 
going to the SA conference this weekend that the DSP and ISO agree on.

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