[Marxism] What conditions are required for a more united socialist party in Australia

Shane Hopkinson chen9692000 at yahoo.com
Sat Jan 21 04:21:52 MST 2006

Dear Louise

Thanks for the considered comments.

>I disagree with both Shane, *and* with the DSP/ISO original reference to >'objective conditions in Australia' as a sound basis for starting a united left >project like the Alliance. 

I don't buy into 'scientific' objectivist rhetoric much either but I don't see how socialists can proceed collectively without having a clear picture of the conditions they face which I call “objective”.  In the original plans for SA (I was in DSP at the time) a series of events was cited that was seen as the basis for a change of circumstances which warranted a change of direction. These events were seen as enough to a. re-group the socialist left and b. launch a new party. I thought (a) might be possible and (b) was far too optimistic. After a number of years we are now in a position to make some assessment. I would say there are 2 possibilities:

1. It was objectively not possible – that is the conditions that would make people forget their differences and work together for the greater good were not present or

2. It was objectively possible but the affiliates make some errors – is the problem was a 'subjective' one – maybe people didn't work hard enough or whatever [I am NOT proposing that just giving a example of what I think of as 'subjective' and 'objective'. 

>The big question for the left in Australia is the fight for greater unity in >resisting constant neo-liberal attacks. 

Yes, this is the question facing the working class – it should unite all socialists but at present most of the groups are not willing to forget their differences and work together.

>I think that the various far-left propaganda groups have had as their central >aim the building of an explicitly revolutionary party.

Yes but I think at present these far-left groups see themselves as revolutionary parties in embryo – they want to be the revolutionary party and in present conditions have insufficient incentive to give up their raison d étre.

>That is certainly very different from starting with the aim of rebuilding the >socialist movement in this country. I think we need to rebuild the socialist >movement before we can expect to have any serious influence on the class >struggle, and I think that it is within a much healthier broad socialist >
>movement that revolutionary politics could flourish.

Yes but there's a limit to what the few hundred revolutionaries can do – there are objective limits. I think though that you have got the right question – and your use of 'propaganda groups' is a useful one because, I think, it reflects an objective assessment of what these groups are. Usually when I have said this on the Green Left list I have been taken as 'putting down' the comrades involved when such was not my intention. One you know the objective circumstances and your place in them then the tasks you have to do * next * are clearer.

>I have had a friend in Socialist Alternative try to tell me on several >occasions over the last 4 years that socialists in Australia CAN'T rebuild the >socialist movement. 

Well that's partly true – a few hundred socialists can only do a certain amount.  Taking developments elsewhere as a model as SA wants to do with Scottish Socialist party is fine but what provided the impetus for that was the massive poll tax campaign which provided new 'objective' conditions to try a new party formation. Unfortunately there's not much we can do to create those kinds of conditions.

>I don't know if this is a widespread notion in SAlt, but my reasoning is: if >you can't achieve that relatively modest aim, 

I'm not sure what you mean by describing rebuilding the socialist movement as a 'modest' aim. 

>how on earth do you think you can build a *revolutionary* workers party? But >he's got that covered too: we have to wait until 'the upturn in class >struggle', and in the meantime all we can do is 'preserve revolutionary >socialist ideas'. Many of his comrades in SAlt probably wouldn't agree
>with him, and they can speak for themselves on this list. 

I hope they do. I was quite impressed with the Salt founding documents (I'm not sure tho about their political practice on the ground as I am in Mackay and have no direct experience.

>Of course, the aim of building a particular brand of revolutionary politics is >more widely presented as the basis for such organisations, and in itself it is >supposed to be sufficient grounds for being in a separate organisation. 

I think establishing A brand of revolutionary socialism might be a useful aim. Looking at the early Lenin – he was faced with a broad socialist movement with lots of groups with different politics and geographically isolated part of the logic of setting up a newspaper was to debate out the differences and establish a revolutionary current.  He also did a deep study of Russian history (so as to better understand objective conditions) and tried to educate workers in basic marxism. Thats what we need to do and in that sense the US ISO running classes on campus using Callinicos' book on Marx is good – but here most members of different groups feel its more important to continue in their own organisation with their own history and 'marxism' than to re-build the movement. 

Of course I know comrades will take me to task over this since for the most part their documents say all the right things but their political practice is carried out differently (I realise that that is argument can't be refuted by quotes on an email list but I can only draw on my experience of working in the far-left as evidence and that evidence is, of course, subject to a different understanding by other comrades). 

>Surely, if attempts at left unity in Socialist Alliance have proved difficult >over the last five years (and the Alliance has very serious problems indeed), >what does that say about attempts to build revolutionary socialist politics?

Good question – what does it tell you? Either socialists in Australia are doing something wrong (in the subjective sense) or the conditions are just not their that will make people forget their differences and work together (or a combination of both). 

>As far as I'm concerned the only 'conditions' that are required for 'a united >socialist party' to be the formation/model we all try to work with are 1) >capitalist social relations with a bourgeois democracy, and 2) some socialists >willing to have a go at being organisationally united. 

But (2) is not an objective condition – it requires a subjective change in which groups feel there is more to gain by (re)building the socialist movement than their own organisation. Some socialists WERE (and other's were not) so we haven't got as far as (2) really. 

>The main socialist groups in Australia have no significant differences between >them on the important domestic political questions of the day. Whatever joint >organisational formation they should be in, they should not be in separate >organisations. It just isn't warranted. 

I am inclined to agree. I wouldn't say there were no significant differences but I think those differences do not warrant *organisations*. I have differences with Bob Gould, John Percy, Peter Boyle and Tom O'Lincoln but while we are have differences they are relatively minor compared to what we have in common especially in relation to the question of the end of capitalism. 

>How do we achieve organisational unity with political diversity to more >effectively fight the greatest attack against the Australian working class in our lives? 
This is the key question but what the SA experience has shown is that for most of the far-left historical differences and identities based thereon are still more important.



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