[Marxism] Re Australian Socialist Alliance

Peter Boyle peterb at greenleft.org.au
Thu Jan 19 19:53:09 MST 2006

Tom O'Lincoln wrote:

>I do, however, think like Jose that we need to draw some kind of balance of
>the whole experience. To that end I would be grateful if someone from the
>DSP would address two questions from their perspective:
>a. do you agree that the Alliance is largely dead (apart from maybe Perth
>and Geelong), as many people say (and a former leader of the Independents'
>caucus said so to me so just the other day)?
>b. and if so, what lessons arise.

If I agreed that the Alliance is dead then I would be arguing that it 
should close down. But it is not. If the interested non-Aussies get 
their atlases out and locate Australia, I'll rattle off the cities in 
which Socialist Alliance branches have been operating continuously since 
they were formed (mostly on a fortnightly cycle of meetings or forums). 
Starting from the west coast, 2 out of 3 SA branches have been 
functioning in Perth (the most active and broadest in composition being 
Perth Hills whihc is furtherst from the mainly inner-city base of the 
organised left) In Adelaide, there is a branch which has been operating 
continously and is planning to contest an election in Adelaid Ports 
soon. In Victoria, 3 out of 5 branches have continued to operate in 
Melbourne, one in Ballarat, one in Geelong (where the Socialist Alliance 
is widely recognised as leading the trades halll, where Comrade Tim 
Gooden is secretary 
<http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=440> and Comrade Craig 
Johnston is a leading delegate), in Tasmania there are branches in 
Hobart and Launceston (composed entirely of people who don't belong to 
any of the founding afiliate groups), in Canberra the branch continues 
to operate pretty much as it always has, perhaps a little more 
informally. In NSW, SA branches operate in Wollongong, Newcastle, 
Lismore and Armidale (another active branch entirely composed of 
comrades who don't belong to any of the founding affiliates) and there 
is a lively proto-branch in the Blue Mountains. In Sydney, SA branches 
still operate in the inner-city, in the eastern suburbs, in 
Auburn-Parramatta and in Bankstown. In Queensland there are two branches 
functioning in Brisbane, there is a lively branch on the Gold Coast 
(again led and composed entirely of comrades not in any founding 
affiliate) and there is a proto-branch with similar non-affiliate 
composition on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane. The SA branch in 
Darwin has been less active since the middle of last year but it has a 
loyal membership.

In addition, there are a couple of hundred loyal SA members outside 
these cities. The financial membership of SA is still more than 1000.

Then there are special interest SA networks organised around a number of 
nationa-wide e-lists. These include:

Join the Socialist Alliance campaign e-groups

All members of the Socialist Alliance are invited to join any of the 
national campaign e-groups. These are email groups through which members 
from anywhere in the country can exchange information and ideas about 
their campaigning activities.

* Civil liberties & democratic rights campaign
* Refugee rights campaign
* Women's rights campaign
* Justice for Indigenous people
* Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights
* Anti-war campaigning
* Socialist Alliance Green Left Weekly copy group
* Social Justice Charter Group

There is a functioning national trade union committee (which has been 
the source of significant initiatives in the current fight against new 
anti-union laws) and Socialist Alliance trade unionists organise 
caucuses in most cities from time to time. In adition there are a number 
of ongoing union-specific caucuses in the National Tertiary Education 
Union, Teachers/education workers, the Community & Public Sector Union 
(where it supported and led a rank and file election team, Members 
First, last year which scored a decent minority vote). SA caucuses are 
being formed in other unions too. See 

Then there are bodies of SA members involved in the Seeing Red 
<http://www.seeing-red.org/> editorial board  and the Socialist 
Alliance-Green Left Weekly editorial board. The majority of members of 
both these boards do not belong to any of the founding affiliates.

This is just a rough organisational sketch and I do not want to 
exaggerate the activity level or degreee of political development of any 
of them. But, in extent, this is more than most of the organised far 
left in Australia today (outside the DSP) has . Has it reached beyond 
what the DSP has been able to or could organise independently? Well this 
is one of the questions which DSP members have been debating*.  Another 
debated question is whether SA gives the left a broader political reach. 
I think it has unquestionably. Through SA, the radical left has a 
broader political influence in the trade union movement than ever 
before, and I'd say the same applies in the other social movements. 
There are a quite few leaders in the militant unions who have joined or 
are happy to be seen as close allies of the Socialist Alliance. This  is 
based  on  respect won in  a  few struggles in the last  few years, 
notable  trade union fights (including the defence of Craig Johnston 
when he was jailed), leadership in the anti-war movement (especially 
when some of the more conservative sections retreated after the  Iraq 

This significant political capital accumulated by this modest (and far 
from unproblematic) start at a left regroupment through Socialist 
Alliance is still there. Hence, I'd say there is a reluctance on the 
part of most of the founding affiliates to leave it (apart from the FI 
section Socialist Democracy which has dissolved/or ceased to organise I 
don't think there has been a disaffiliation).

All the internal struggles in the Socialist Alliance over the last 
couple of years have actually had relatively little impact on its 
broader appeal so far, in my judgement. People keep joining and among 
them are a few surprises, including a former ALP Whitlam government 
minister, Clyde Cameron, who joined and paid up his membership fee late 
last year. Socialist Alliance movement leaders like Craig Johnston and 
indigenous activist Sam Watson command a wider respect than any 
individual member of the founding affiliates. 

This respect won by the Socialist Alliance took place in conditions wear 
the main electoral space to the left of the Australian Labor Party was 
taken up by the Greens (though the success of the CWI's Stephen Jolly in 
a local council election in inner-city Melbourne last year indicates 
that the Greens' dominance in he electoral sphere is not automatic or 
for ever. See 

There is a cautionary tale for the still largely isolated far left in 
the imperialist countries (and I include the DSP in this). Broader 
political authority is only won in real and patient struggle. It is 
easier to blow than to accumulate.

A big queston for the Socialist Alliance is whether in the next period 
it should be prepared to give way or merge with future new broader 
regroupment projects. The DSP thinks so.We can see other real leaders of 
working class struggles we would like to be part of a broad 
class-struggle regroupment. Last year the Socialist Alliance initiated a 
broader network of trade union militants called the Fightback Network 
(see <http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=430> ). It will 
probably have a second national conference later this year.

Peter Boyle

* The biggest debate in the DSP (and it is a question for other 
socialists) is whether it is possible (and desirable) for the small 
numbers who have our revolutionary politics to work effectively in a 
broader and looser (and no-instant-road-to-mega-success) Socialist 
Alliance-type new party project without  liquidating  our politics 
today. The large majority in the recent DSP congress decided the answer 
is yes.

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