Due to popular demand, I thought it was about time I updated Trot Guide — “an overview of the current state-of-play on the Australian far left” — for the year 2012.
In truth, there’s not a great deal to add to the record since I last formally updated the Guide (December 21, 2009); few if any new groupuscules have emerged in the interim. Indeed, it will be my sad and solemn duty to remove a large number of Cheap, Proletarian, Wholesale-Prices-Straight-from-the-Lock-Up Mini-Vanguards from the redlist. On the other hand, I also have the opportunity to survey the wreckage that is the far left in Aotearoa/New Zealand, as well as link to a small range of historical dox which make for great spotterly reading.
First, the losers.
Gone… But Not Forgotten
“Your role is finished and you may go where you belong — to the garbage pit of history!” ~ Trotsky (attrib.)
1. Committee for a Revolutionary Communist Party in Australia
2. Communist Left Discussion Circle
3. Communist Party Advocate(s)
4. Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP)
5. Direct Action (DA)
6. International Socialist Organisation (ISO)
7. Leninist Party Faction (LPF)
8. Marxist Initiative
9. Marxist Solidarity Network (MSN)
10. National Preparatory Committee of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Australia
11. New Era Communist Party of Australia
12. October Seventh Socialist Movement
13. Revo Australia (Revo)
14. Socialist Action Group (SAG)
15. Socialist Appeal
16. Socialist Democracy (SD)
17. Socialist Labor Party of Australia (SLP)
18. Workers’ League (WL)
19. Workers’ Power (WP)
1. Internationalist Communist Affiliate Network (ICAN)
“Over the weekend of July 10-11  the Internationalist Communist Affiliate Network (ICAN) held its first round of formal discussions. Six comrades attended the meeting held at Black Rose Anarchist Library and Bookshop in Newtown, Sydney.” AND THEN THEY DISAPPEARED.
2. World Socialist Party of Australia
The WSPA continues to maintain a PO Box in Richmond; I continue to fail to remember to write it asking for confirmation of its continued existence.
Alive and Kicking!
1. (Alliance For) Workers’ Liberty (AWL)
The AWL, like most of the other groups listed below, is part of an international or in this case bi-national (Australia + UK) network. A Trotskyist organisation, the AWL in Australia’s tiny membership seems largely confined to Sydney.
2. Communist League (CL)
I used to think that the CL was either a myth or simply the name the indefatigable Ron Poulsen liked to travel under when contesting his local election. But then I spotted several CL members in Sydney late last year and The Militant subscription renewal drive of February 11–March 18, 2012 attracted no less than 15 supporters, thus confirming the CL’s continuing historical mission.
3. Communist Party of Australia (CPA)
The CPA is The Stalinist Party Formerly Known As The Socialist Party of Australia (b.1971), having assumed the name of the CPA (1920–1991) back in 1996. Peter Symon was General Secretary from 1971 until his death in 2008; whether or not his replacement Hannah Middleton will last as long as Peter did is obviously unknown at this stage. The CPA recently formed The Communists (previously, The Communist Alliance) in order to contest elections, regularly participates in the ‘International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties’ and publishes the weekly The Guardian in addition to the journal Australian Marxist Review.
4. Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) (CPA-ML)
A 1964 split from the CPA and a product of the fractious Sino-Soviet relationship, the CPA-ML continues to produce a monthly newspaper titled Vanguard. The party is inclined to look favourably upon China and its Chairman, and once exercised some real influence in a select few unions, but this seems to have collapsed completely since the 1980s. See ‘Anti-Revisionism in Australia’ for more on origins.
Both the CPA and the CPA-ML are responsible for producing a good number of tiny splinter groups, all of which seem to have joined Stalin and Mao in permanent retirement from worldly affairs.
5. Freedom Socialist Party (FSP)
Feminism + Trotskyism = Freedom Socialist Party. The FSP is based in Melbourne and maintains a shopfront called Solidarity Salon on Sydney Road, Brunswick.
6. Progressive Labour Party (PLP)
Formed in November, 1996, the PLP preceded the Socialist Alliance by some five years (and succeeded the Rainbow Alliance by a similar margin). Sadly, it seems to have enjoyed only a brief moment in the sunshine, and to have been largely eclipsed by it when SA formed in 2001. Further, while the PLP has a website, it hasn’t been updated in some years, and I can detect few other signs of life. Nonetheless, the Party held a ‘National Conference’ in 2007, and also issued a newsletter in February 2010, so I reckon it’s in.
Nominally independent yoof wing of SA.
8. Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP)
The young, angrier and much smaller kid sister to SA, the RSP formed as a split from the DSP shortly before it liquidated into SA, and brought together the ‘Leninist Party Faction’ (expelled from the DSP in May 2008) with the tiny, Melbourne-based grouplet variously known as the ‘Marxist Solidarity Network’ (from July 2006 after its initial expulsion from the DSP) then the ‘Marxist Study Network’, ‘Direct Action’ and (briefly) the electoral platform ‘Community & Workers’ First’. The RSP publishes a monthly magazine named Direct Action, which was the name of the DSP newspaper prior to it becoming Green Left Weekly (now the weekly newspaper of SA) and is also the title of the IWW’s irregular publication.
9. Socialist Alliance (SA)
SA formed in 2001, as a loose coalition of a number of Leninist parties, in order to take advantage of a seeming upswing in ‘progressive’ political sentiment, with the DSP and ISO being the major sponsors. In the intervening period the ISO and most other coalition partners have left SA, generally complaining of the undue influence of the DSP upon its direction and activity (see also : Raiders of the Left Ark). So it was to nobody’s great surprise that, in January 2010, the DSP elected to liquidate itself into SA. (At the end of 2003, the DSP, formerly the Democratic Socialist Party, described itself as a “Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance”.)
SA has contested a number of elections in the last decade to no great effect, the single exception being elevating Sam Wainwright to local council in Fremantle. Recently, SA has formally subscribed to ‘eco-socialism’ (tho’ with some minor opposition). Ironically, former DSP member Paul Howes (now Secretary of Australia’s Worst Union) has been insisting that The Greens are the real watermelons. Finally, while the DSP was known for singing the praises of Castro’s Cuba, SA has established a strong relationship with the Chavez regime in Venezuela.
10. Socialist Alternative (SAlt)
Formed in 1995 as a split from the International Socialist Organisation, over the last 15 years or so SAlt has built itself into the largest party on the student left, and now claims to be the largest far-left group in Australia full stop. As well as publishing a monthly, in 2010, SAlt launched a journal, Marxist Left Review.
11. Socialist Equality Party (SEP)
The SEP exists largely as an electoral vehicle for the local branch of the ‘International Committee of the Fourth International’, publishers of the World Socialist Web Site. The SEP regularly receives extremely low voting tallies and — rather oddly — held its ‘founding conference’ well over a decade after it emerged from the womb of the ICFI.
12. Socialist Party (SP)
The Committee for (A) Workers’ International (CWI), of which SP is the Australian expression, is strongest in Melbourne, where the SP has begun the long, slow, painful process of transforming the Yarra Council into the Yarra Soviet. (In January 2011 Steve Jolly (2004-) was joined by Anthony Main on the council benches.) The Socialist is the SP’s monthly newspaper.
The Official IST franchise Down Under, Solidarity formed in February 2008 via the amalgamation of the ISO, SAG and Solidarity (also the title of its monthly zine). Recent months have witnessed a bitter battle with erstwhile comrades SAlt for the hearts and minds of unimelb students. Tom O’Lincoln’s ‘Marching Down Marx Street: The International Socialists in Australia, 1972-92’ provides a neat history of the Cliffite Tendency in Australia.
14. Spartacist League of Australia
Experts agree that The Sparts are The Best. Wanna Know Moar? Spartacist Class Series / Why China is Not Capitalist / Saturday 30 April, 3pm / New International Bookshop, Basement / Trades Hall, corner Victoria and Lygon Sts / Carlton / Information and readings: (03) 9654 4315 / [email protected]/.
15. Trotskyist Platform (TP)
TP formed in mid-2005 when the former editor of Australasian Spartacist split. Based in Sydney and unlikely yet to have reached a double-figure membership, TP is given big ups by unaligned travelling communist ‘Paul Justo’.
The North Island of New Zealand combines natural beauty with city style in a mild climate; the South Island of New Zealand is full of some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. The beauty and splendor of New Zealand was certainly exposed to the world in the Lord of the Rings series, and from the famous Milford Sound to the bubbling thermal springs, New Zealand is still forming beneath our feet.
But what of its far-left?
1. Communist League
The Communist League of New Zealand closely resembles the Communist League of Australia, both in terms of being a satellite of the SWP (US), obscurity (it has no independent web presence) but also persistence. Thus it ran two candidates in the 2011 general election and received 80 votes. Otherwise, the Permanent Revolution Group (New Zealand Section of the International Bolshevik Tendency), wrote in The Bolshevik (No 1, April 1993): “In New Zealand the SWP has an affiliate called the “Communist League” (CL)—known until 1989 as the Socialist Action League (SAL)—which shares its politics in every respect.”
2. Communist Workers’ Group of Aotearoa/New Zealand
The CWG is “committed to building a new communist international to lead workers to the revolutionary overthrow of global capitalism. Until March 2010 a member of the Internationalist Leninist/Trotskyist Fraction (FLTI). Now in a Liaison Committee with the Humanist Workers for Socialist Revolution (US).” Publish the bi-monthly Class Struggle.
3. International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT)
Derived in large part from the Spartacists, the IBT formed in 1991 as the fusion of several tiny Trotskyist satellites, including the ‘Permanent Revolution Group’ of NZ. The IBT modestly notes that it “is conscious of its responsibility as a bearer of the historic lessons of the workers movement, codified in the early years of the Communist International and the subsequent struggle of the Left Opposition under Trotsky, to preserve and carry forward the Bolshevik tradition”. In this context, a bloke called Bill Logan is either a Hero or a Villain.
4. International Socialist Organisation (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
The ISO closely resembles SAlt in Australia; it derives from but is not formally a part of the Cliffite tradition. Based in Dunedin, the ISO publishes Socialist Review.
5. Socialist Aotearoa (SA)
Socialist Aotearoa was founded on May 1, 2008 by former members of Socialist Worker after the latter decided that RAM was a Good idea. (Turned out it wasn’t.) The decision to form SA prompted the WPNZ to write a letter. Each month SA publishes Anticapitalist. And ah, yeah.
6. Socialist Appeal
Oddly, followers of Ted Grant–as The Marxist Voice of Labour & Youth–have better luck in Aotearoa/New Zealand than they do Australia.
7. Socialist Worker (Aotearoa)
Socialist Worker, like Socialist Alliance in Australia, recently plumped for eco-socialism, a formal decision taken at its January 2012 conference. As a result SW has passed on, is no more, has ceased to be; the party has expired and gone to meet its maker. A stiff, bereft of life, it rests in peace. Long live the Eco-Socialist Network!
8. Workers’ Party of New Zealand (WPNZ)
“The Workers Party of New Zealand is a socialist political party active in campaigns nationwide.”
Reforging the Communist Party of Australia
No.135, March 21, 1996
Marcus Larsen of the Communist Party Advocates reports on its conference in Australia
Over the weekend of March 9-10 a meeting was held in the Australian industrial city of Wollongong. The meeting resolved to form an organisation, Communist Party Advocates, with, as our founding principles state, “the central aim of reforging a Communist Party in Australia.”
The formation of CPA is important in that it is a beginning to the long and arduous process of reforging a revolutionary party in Australia after the Communist Party of Australia succumbed to its long, inexorable process of liquidation in 1990. The meeting was attended by people from Sydney, Melbourne, Wollongong and Perth which is giving us an important national identity in our embryonic stages. People attending came from a variety of backgrounds, with Party and non-Party histories and experience in the trade union movement, the unemployed workers’ movement, the women’s movement and the student movement.
Importantly, the CPA is struggling to provide a nexus, an organisation and theoretical focus which is not based on any particular sectarian world outlook. As our basic principle states: “CPA aims for the unity of communists at the highest possible level and struggles against all forms of sectarianism and opportunism in the revolutionary and workers’ movement. Our goal is to unite all pro-Party forces into the one organisation.”
The meeting heard a political report from comrades from Wollongong on the process of liquidation of the old CPA, as well as a history of the unemployed movement in that city.
This was followed by a theoretical opening on the Communist Party, and the first day concluded with discussion on an opening on capitalism and class composition in Australia.
Day two discussed an opening on debates around the materialist conception of history and concluded with discussion and debate on our strategic perspectives, our structures and the content of our basic principles.
The major organisational question we are now facing is that of centralisation versus federation. The founding meeting agreed to allow the existence of ‘autonomous’ cells to operate under the guidelines, not of a central leadership, but of our basic principles. This creates a definite tension amongst people in the organisation as to whether we move immediately to a centralised form of organisation (my preference) or whether we continue along a federalist line.
In my opinion, the best way to form a centralised leadership would be to take one of the local cells to become a national leadership, for it is essential that our new organisation adopts a national identity. If we move along in a ‘federalist’ manner, or in the manner of the ‘Marxist circle’, we are in constant danger of slipping back into the marsh of liquidation. Our other debates – on rules, our mass work, our immediate strategic objectives – are in my opinion linked, but are secondary to this question.
However, we have learnt the first lesson – that it is impossible to be an individual communist. We are slowly moving to an understanding of what it means to be a pro-Party formation in a period of liquidation.
As well as our organisational questions we will embark on developing mass work.
Initially, we are working towards the formation of a united front defence of the Maritime Union. This union, with a militant history on the waterfront and in shipping, is in the front line against the new conservative Liberal government. The Liberals’ attack on the Maritime Union is as strategically important to the ruling class in Australia as was the attack on the NUM for the British ruling class. We are proposing that localities form Maritime Union defence committees which are based on rank and file support for the wharfies and seamen in the upcoming confrontation on the waterfront.
As a pro-Party grouping in formation, we welcome contact with the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB. In the pages of our forthcoming journal, The Communist Advocate, and in the pages of the Weekly Worker, we hope to maintain healthy debate and polemic that is in both our interests and in the interests of reforging the world communist movement.