Trot Guide 2012

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)

Undead… Undead?

1. Internationalist Communist Affiliate Network (ICAN)
“Over the weekend of July 10-11 [2010] 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.

7. Resistance
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.

13. Solidarity
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’.

Aotearoa/New Zealand

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
Weekly Worker
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.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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40 Responses to Trot Guide 2012

  1. Dr Paul says:

    I notice that the Matgamna group — Workers Liberty — is still on the go. I recall Steven Corbishley, who nearly recruited me to the group in Britain (then trading under a different name, Workers Action) some 30 years back when we were both in the same civil service trade union (I subsequently joined a rival conglomerate). He later went to Australia to help build the group there, but something strange must have happened as he reverted to the Roman Catholic Church. He was subsequently referred to in Britain as ‘Monsignor Corbishley’; but his former comrades tend not to utter even a whisper of his name to this day.

  2. Wombo says:

    I continue to be amused by the willful inability of the far left to count accurately. I can’t (ironically enough) count how many times I’ve been at rallies or meetings where the official “count” and the actual number of people (actually counted, sometimes several times) are two very different things.

    In this vein, I’d just like to call “bullshit” on SAlt’s claim to being the biggest group on the left. They’re certainly the biggest on campus/in Melbourne, and they’re probably the biggest group most of their members will be allowed to talk to, hell – they may even have the largest “active membership”, but, well, unless they’ve doubled or trebled their size in the past six months, the Socialist Alliance is still easily the biggest.

    I had an amusing discussion about this on (SAlt member) John Passant’s blog just the other day, where he explained – more or less – that SAlt are the biggest:
    1) because they say so,
    2) because they have a conference,
    3) because they use bigger words, and
    4) because the Socialist Alliance are even less left-wing than the ALP “Left”, or possibly even Hitler.

    An interesting definition, but I’m not quite convinced. Yet.

    Also, probably worth a mention that the SP doubled their representation on Yarra Council.

  3. @ndy says:

    @Dr Paul: Stimulating narrative, comrade. Also: (Dr) Terry Eagleton?

    @Wombo: Yeah I dunno. I’m doing life in Melbourne, so my perspective is slightly skewed. That said, I don’t know any group that is entirely accurate in its estimates. I mean, I considered adding rough guesses of my own, but then thought I’d leave that up to others. And yeah: a distinction should probably be drawn between active membership and membership as a whole. Thus, both the Communist Alliance and the Socialist Alliance are Federally-registered parties, each therefore having at least 500 members. But are they equally ‘active’? (The Australian Protectionist Party is also registered, but holds very few rallies and these are almost always tiny, consisting of just a handful of people.) The other question of course is influence…

    Frank Cain, The Wobblies At War (Spectrum, 1993, pp.289–290):

    Measuring the influence of a left radical organisation by numbers alone is difficult and often misleading. Radical ideas cast an influence far beyond the immediate circle of the group itself and while creating a negative reaction among the majority of people often strike a sympathetic response in the minds of many others. Using membership figures alone can also be misleading: they can often vary widely and reflect more the interest of the people compiling them.

    Those, for example, who wished to suggest that the IWW posed a serious threat clearly over-estimated the membership numbers. The Sydney Morning Herald, always a firm opponent of the IWW, sought to exaggerate its influence by stating that it had 20,000 to 30,000 ‘constant followers in Sydney alone’. Bill Beattie, a former IWW member, remembering those times 40 years later in a type of rosy glow, claimed that it had 55,000 members. NSW Premier Holman, under pressure from the opposition to curb the ‘go slow’ tactics and the alleged disloyalty of the IWW, had enquiries conducted by the police and in reporting back to parliament he claimed that there were about 1000 IWW members throughout Australia–500 of these in NSW and another 200 in Broken Hill. The opposition maintained its attack on the IWW and Holman, for some unexplained reason, increased this estimate two weeks later to more than 1000 within NSW. Political opportunism and calculated exaggeration aside, we do know that in its early years the number of the ‘Direct Actionists’ was low. At the end of 1913 total membership amounted to 199 and by the middle of 1915 it had increased to 250. With the IWW emerging as the leader of the anti-war forces its numbers expanded and its claim, made in September 1916 at the time of the arrest of the Sydney Twelve, that ‘There are still 2000 members left and about half a million sympathisers’ could have been correct.

    Finally: yeah, I’ll throw up the bit about Anthony; I was thinking of compiling a list of (far) left blogs…

  4. lumpnboy says:

    Re: Bonus!

    In retrospect I guess Marcus may have been just a touch optimistic in his projections of the future of the Advocates, and may have somewhat overstated the degree of ideological orientation to positions congenial to the CPGB amongst those involved, and while one could come up with definitions of ‘mass work’ that don’t make absurd the invocation of such a concept in relation to the activity of the Advocates back in those heady days, it might just be the case, with the advantage of hindsight etcetera… You see where I’m going with this.

  5. @ndy says:

    @lumnpboy: The ALP?

    Oh, and checking John Passant’s blog, I discover that Larvatus Prodeo is calling it quits.

    I think LP played a significant role in stimulating political debate over the course of its life, and acted as something of a catalyst for a lot of good things in the spaces of new media and public discourse.

    To large degree, though, the caravan has moved on.

    There’s no longer the same need for a hub for political discussion, as lively debate has migrated to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and as the space for opinion and analysis around the shop has widened. The fact that the ‘blogosphere’ in Australia is no longer a term that makes much sense is an indicator of that change…

    In the meantime, when I have the impulse to write, I’ll be updating my personal blog, Sed Probates Spiritus, and other LP bloggers who start up new projects may update this post while comments are open. If you’re looking for other places for independent Australian political commentary, you can’t go past John Quiggin and Club Troppo (where my own blogging trajectory began) and Crikey and New Matilda. And of course, there’s the excellent Hoyden About Town.

  6. Wombo says:

    Not wanting to get into counting angels on pinheads or Trotskyists on footpaths, but I think you’ve hit something there @ndy – the visibility of, familiarity with, and the influence of various left groups. All hard to quantify, and – of course – guaranteed to start a brawl in a henhouse.

    SAlt are considerably bigger than everyone else in Melbourne, a fact which would probably reinforce their world-view as the One True Propaganda Group. The Socialist Alliance, on the other hand, has (often quite large and active) branches in places like Cairns, Geelong, Wollongong, Armidale, etc, which don’t really register on the inner-city-campus-left-ghetto radar.

    Then there’s the electoral registration thing (federally and in a couple of states). I’m not sure that’s a useful measure either, but it does throw up some spotty easter eggs.

    The old (now defunct) CPA apparently used to have a branch in Albury, and the Socialist Alliance got 70-odd votes in the one booth there (Lavington East, I promise I won’t name names) in the 2007 state election. That vote subsided in last year’s election, so maybe those people passed on/joined The Communists. Or voted Green – who knows? Who knows how many commies there are in them thar cane fields and wheat paddocks? I mean, for all we know, Bob Katter could be a Hoxhaite stalking horse…

    Finally, on the “Communist Party Advocates” – a couple of years ago as I was clearing out my stuff from my office in A Previous Job Which I Done Lost, I found a whole folder somebody had left there full of founding docs, letterheads, meeting minutes, etc from this little effort. Nothing exciting, but an interesting discovery nonetheless. Striking in its humility.

  7. One more anon says:

    Thanks for updating the Trot Guide @ndy!

    Are there sufficient anarchist organisations/splits in Australia to make writing a guide on anarchist groups worthwhile?

    I know that in the UK, groups (however small) seem to come and go quite frequently. Solfed seems to be the most active atm.

  8. @ndy says:

    There’s a rough guide here. The last real survey I done was in June 2008.

    The only explicitly anarchist groups in Australia that I’m aware of (outside of the infoshops: Black Rose and Jura in Sydney and Barricade in Melbourne) are the Anarchist Media Institute (based in Melbourne), Melbourne Anarchist Club, Melbourne Anarchist-Communist Group, and Mutiny in Sydney. Organise! in Adelaide may or may not still be kicking but word on the virtual street is that it’s decamped for the IWW. Re the IWW, while a majority of its membership consists of self-identified anarchists, it explicitly rejects the anarchist label, and the term ‘anti-political sect’ is often understood to refer to anarchism:

    IWW General Bylaws, ARTICLE IV, Political Alliances Prohibited – To the end of promoting industrial unity and of securing necessary discipline within the organisation, the IWW refuses all alliances, direct or indirect, with any political parties or anti-political sects, and disclaims responsibility for any individual opinion or act which may be at variance with the purposes herein expressed.

    Otherwise, the ASF and ASN might be considered in the same league, although here again definitional problems emerge. I suppose if the Trot Guide refers to the ‘authoritarian’ or ‘statist’ or ‘Leninist’ or ‘Marxist’-derived left, then a ‘libertarian left’ might include all of the above and possibly more (Brisbane Solidarity Network et al).

  9. Berlusconi Youth says:

    @ndy, despite the resignation of half the Red Eureka Tendency (either because “The new classes on Marxism” are, objectively, “fantastic”, or as a further troubling example of the tendency towards “unintentional liberalism” within SA) I think the dude deserves a guernsey as the littlest groupuscule – or “tendency, or current” but not a “faction” – in the Australian left.

    To underplay the importance of SA developing a position of “critical solidarity” with the DPRK so close to the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung (PBUH) seems disrespectful.

  10. The old (now defunct) CPA apparently used to have a branch in Albury.

    I’ve met him. Nice guy. Still doing great work in the local union movement.

    I know a handful of people locally who would probably vote for Socialist Alliance. Most are people who would probably vote Green directly, but are disillusioned with its mainstreaming.

    both the Communist Alliance and the Socialist Alliance are Federally-registered parties, each therefore having at least 500 members.

    To be a member of a party for the purposes of AEC registration simply means having your phone number on a list and saying “yes I am a member” if/when the AEC audit that list.

    Membership in groups like Alternative is apparently very demanding; groups that establish a less demanding participation standard inevitably have larger memberships.

    I have it from a reasonably reliable source that SAlt has ~250 dues paying members, and maybe 160 people attend a branch meeting in any given week. There is also (if the shit Solidarity has posted on their website from SAlt circa 2004 is believable) a massive rate of churn.

    If 250 is accurate, it’s much down on the ~500 I had been led to exist in SAlt circa 2005.

    This year’s Marxism2012 conference sold 925 tickets, an impressive achievement for a far left group of 250. However there was far more interest in the “rock star” guests than the wider conference, maybe only 400-500 were consistently participating in the wider sessions.

    That is still a significant achievement given the actual size of the far left in Australia. I doubt there are more than 1000 people seriously engaged in far left politics in Australia at the moment.

    I’ve gotta agree with Andy that influence is the far more interesting question.

  11. lumpnboy says:

    @ndy, yes, one of the Advocates (as I appear to be calling them) has joined the ALP. If others have I’ve not heard of it, but I suppose it could have happened. But no, that wasn’t where I was going with that…or with anything…

    @Wombo – really? Do you still have this folder? I’m curious as to the contents. Does it contain any evidence of the moment when someone suggest calling the group Communist Sprinkle (“towards hundreds and thousands of communists”)?

  12. Wombs says:

    Lumpnboy: I’m not sure. I may have chucked it when I moved house, or I might have donated it to the Socialist Alliance library. They moved about a year ago and junked a lot of stuff, so I really don’t know if it’s still extant. I’ll check my messy archives…

    Kieran: the Socialist Alliance currently has upwards of 600 up-to-date financial (as opposed to the at-least 1250 electoral) members, almost all of whom are active in one way or another. SAlt’s membership demands appear to be very much in line with classic “cadre” organisation behaviour, but how effective that really is remains open to question.

    I guess I disagree pretty strongly with your estimate of 1000 active leftists- I reckon it’s at least three times that, with most not being in a group at all.

    Also, I think SAlt have grown a fair bit over the past couple of years (churn and bullshit aside), so I’d estimate their membership in the 300s. Their conference is certainly an achievement but given it’s their main focus all year, it’s hardly surprising. The old DSP used to pull off a couple of conferences a year with several hundred people. Whether you think one conference is better than two is an open question, I s’pose…

    Re the old commie- what’s his name? Does he admit to multiple voting? 😛

  13. Wombo says:

    FWIW, having quickly checked a document I recently received, the Socialist Alliance appears to have just under 700 financial members, and about 150 more who they think are likely to shortly renew.

  14. LeftInternationalist says:

    The Socialist Alliance has a library? That sounds pretty cool. Where’s it located? I’ve always thought it a good idea that left organisations have something like a library, with members and non-members able to easily draw upon free/cheap literature, with lots of books/posters/etc from left history. Anarchists especially need to do so, because it’s unlikely that corporate/state libraries are going to hold onto historical anarchist literature/paraphernalia. I prob can’t comment on membership numbers or how many people are active on the far left (whether attached to an organisation or not) but I’m pretty sure SAlt has over 400 members nationally. When you say their membership is in the 300s, are you saying nationally, or just in Melbourne? I’d like to find out.

  15. LeftInternationalist says:

    Hey @ndy, ever thought about perhaps assessing the left groups in Aust on the basis of their libertarian-democratic credentials, i.e. their ideas/policies/agitation? That would be an interesting analysis. Also, looking at how effective they actually are. Cause one wants to be effective, while being as consistently libertarian and democratic as possible, without becoming unnecessarily sectarian.

  16. Ian Curr says:

    by Humphrey McQueen

    The Socialist Alternative is committed to the self-emancipation of the working class. Its 2012 Marxism conference shows why that will be necessary. On the basis of the topics to be discussed our class cannot expect much help from the Socialist Alternative hierarchs.

    Out of more than seventy sessions, eighteen connect with Australia. Of those, twelve are historical. One is a Radical History tour – not of worksites or communities – but of Melbourne University, aptly to be conducted in the dark. The study of our past is devalued if not integrated with on-going resistance.

    Read more …

  17. @ndy says:


    “Anarchists especially need to do so, because it’s unlikely that corporate/state libraries are going to hold onto historical anarchist literature/paraphernalia.”

    This is actually one of the things anarchists tend to pay particular attention to. Thus in Melbourne both Barricade (I think — Loophole does anyways) and MAC have libraries, as do Black Rose and Jura in Sydney. There’s a Rad Library in Perth and many infoshops throughout the world. (In fact, some argue that infoshops are to anarchists what political parties are to Marxists.) In any case, I’ve twice elected not to allow Pandora perpetual rights over my blog, tho’ I might change my mind, and state libraries can sometimes do a pretty neat job of collecting and preserving alt.pol.literature, as do Universities (sometimes). (See, for example, the Reason in Revolt site.)

    Re assessing political groups on some democratic or libertarian axis… I dunno. For the moment, I’m content with writing stuff like the above, engaging in some public disco and debate, and letting others make up their own minds. But what might be of interest in this context is Tim Briedis’ thesis on libertarian socialist organising in Brisbane during the 1970s…

    @Ian Curr: Cool.

  18. Wombo says:

    @LeftInternationalist – you may well be correct that SAlt have a membership in the 400s. They have grown a bit in the recent period, and there don’t appear to have been *too* many expulsions of late (just a few, to keep their members on their toes).
    It’s also hard to know what their “churn” rate is, but, yes they are particularly large in Melbourne (considerably less so elsewhere though). And they tend to look bigger at rallies than they really are because they hand out their flags to almost anybody. Looks pretty, but it’s not a reliable measure of size.
    Re the Socialist Alliance library – they downsized it considerably when they moved last year, but I agree, it’s a useful kind of resource to have, or have access to.

  19. LeftInternationalist says:

    I do like pretty red flags. And black flags too, for that matter. And red on black flags! I need to get me some of that. I know AK press sells the red on black anarchist flag. Interesting what you say about how big they look at rallies Wombo. I do think it’s a good sign though that red flags are well received at the rallies, if people happily take them from SAlt members. It does seem to show a receptivity to socialist hopes and aspirations for a more humane, democratic, libertarian and cooperative society. I’ve always thought a ‘red bloc’, if you want to call it that, of people carrying red flags, is a good thing to do, both because of how visible it is and as a show of collective strength. As long as it’s not done obnoxiously. What most concerns me about SAlt is that it only seems to operate in the cities. I suppose this is true of almost all socialist/left organisations, though I know the Socialist Alliance has a few branches in small cities/big towns. Given how much of the Australian population lives in these areas (including myself) and the almost and (in some places) total absence of organised socialists, I feel as is it’s much harder to gain a wider following, or interest people in these ideas as a practical reality for people. It’s not from socialists I met, but books and the internet that I have learned what I know about history/left politics in Australia and internationally, and the issues which face humanity. That should be worrying, I think- real people to meet and discuss and organise with are absolutely essential to helping one understand the issues, let alone taste success. After all, the Labor Party, even the Communist Party in its heyday, had considerable influence in big cities/small towns, and even with farmers. So it’s certainly possible. We just needs groups and organisations that have much better politics and principles than the Labor Party and the now long gone Communist Party.

  20. @Ian Curr

    The fact Humphrey McQueen’s review was published BEFORE the event he was reviewing kind of hurts its credibility.

    @Left Internationalist and Wombo

    Re the figure I quote on 250, context was the Marxism 2012 conference, a session on Tony Cliff, there was discussion about the need to be realistic. A SAlt member who would know was berating the triumphalism of some who had been claiming “we’re the largest group on the far left” saying, “yeah, but we still only have 250 members”.

    I’d previously thought they were closer to 500.

    With regards to their rate of churn, this is from 2004, interesting, hard to assess the extent to which it is still relevant though:

    @Left Internationalist

    Buy a red and black flag? Making your own is half the fun 😛

  21. Wombo says:

    Well, if they really are only 250-strong then they’re much smaller than I thought. It would make them about a third the size of the Socialist Alliance, and blows their claim to have the most “active members” out of the water too.
    Bombast and bullshit might win over new members for a while, but at the end of the day it’s fundamentally counterproductive.
    Regarding Humphrey’s article – I think its approach is a bit sectarian, although there are nuggets of truth in there.

  22. Paul Justo says:

    Meanwhile in the mundane world of issues of concern to low paid workers and the unemployed the Trotskyist Platform have called a rally for May 7th to demand an increase in public housing.

    Many of us are looking for a place to rent.

    But there is little available that we can afford!

    And when any of us find something affordable, there are dozens of others of us applying to lease the same dwelling.

    We’re sick of greedy developers mainly building homes for millionaires … when most people are not millionaires!

    But grumbling won’t change things. It’s time to get organised, united and active!

    Let’s Rally to Demand:

    Stop Housing Being built only for the rich!

    PROVIDE public housing for the Working Class!

    China Is Doing That in A Huge Way – We Demand The Same Here!

    And let’s demand too that those who do get public housing in Australia start to get treated with dignity – instead of being refused repairs or hit up with water charges.

    Rally 5:30pm, Monday May 7

    Parramatta’s Church Street Mall
    (Railway Station end – corner with Darcy Street)

    Supported by: Social Justice Network, Trotskyist Platform

    Several greedy property developers have become billionaires. They have done that by building lots of expensive homes for the rich. The rich for their part often buy several homes, many of which are vacant for most of the year. However, because most of the resources are going to satisfy the wishes of the wealthy, working class people are not being provided with housing that they can afford. The latest available figures show that there are nearly half a million less rental dwellings available and affordable to people on lower incomes than what is needed.

    One of the many effects of this shortage is that women suffering in violent or abusive relationships with male breadwinners are presented with the agonising choice of either risking homelessness or remaining in the oppressive relationship. Another effect is that landlords know they can get away with putting up rents even further. The median rent in Sydney is now $480 a week. That is only $100 a week less than the official minimum wage (before tax) of a full-time worker! So imagine that: you toil away full-time and at the end of the week you have to pay out more than four out of every five dollars that you earn as rent!

    So what is the solution? Clearly, private sector developers, driven only by profit, are not going to build affordable accommodation for the masses when they can get more profits building expensive homes for the rich. That is why governments must step in and massively increase the amount of low-rent public housing available. However, what governments in Australia of all persuasions have been doing is the exact opposite. They have been selling off public housing.

    In the meantime, capitalist politicians are disgustingly trying to blame the most vulnerable for the lack of affordable housing. They are blaming immigration and refugees for the crisis. The truth is, however, that there is not enough affordable accommodation because so much of this country’s available resources are owned and controlled by a super-wealthy few. Last financial year, Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer, James Packer, Andrew Forrest and the rest of the 200 richest people in Australia increased their total wealth by over $31 billion! Just that increased wealth alone is enough to purchase public housing units to accommodate another 350,000 people. That’s more people than there are on the official public housing waiting list!

    To see what is possible when resources are actually utilised for the benefit of working class people we should look at what Australia’s biggest trading partner – the People’s Republic of China – is doing. Last year, China started building (or took over from private housing) well over ten million public housing dwellings – mostly ultra-low rent units. This year, the program has intensified further. As a result, by the end of the year, China’s biggest city, Chongqing, will enable about one out of every three of its residents to live in public housing. Yet here in Australia, just one out every 25 people get access to public housing. Furthermore, while public housing tenants here have to pay at least 25% of their income on rent (plus water charges), in China they typically only pay between 5% and 17% of their income on rent.

    What the Chinese state is also doing is stopping housing from being built mainly for the rich. It’s achieving that by simply banning families in most urban areas from buying more than two homes and making it hard for affluent families to even buy a second home. It’s about time that we have such restrictions on the rich here too, instead of restriction after restriction on the poor. And it is about time we get a massive increase in the amount of public housing! And that’s not only through construction of new public housing but also through the takeover of existing private dwellings. In Sydney alone, over 122,000 dwellings are unoccupied – many owned by wealthy investors seeking tax benefits.

    However, we are not going to get all this through the good graces of the current parliamentary parties. They are all, in the end, beholden to the wealthy ruling class. If we want there to be low-rent public housing for the masses then we are going to have to fight for it. So let’s get organised, let’s get united and let’s work hard to build the May 7 rally to demand a massive increase in public housing now.

  23. @ndy says:

    Has TP taken a reformist turn?

    Where’s the call to UNLEASH UNION POWER!?

    Is this yet another example of Opportunism in Action?

    To put it another way:

    “Rejecting the struggle to build a revolutionary Trotskyist party, TP’s rally serves as a centrist obstacle to mobilising the proletariat for militant defence of public housing. TP exists as a left adviser to the social-chauvinist reformists, who in turn seek to pressure the capitalist rulers to adopt a more humane housing policy.”

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  25. abstractblack says:

    Rumour is SAlt & RSP to merge, or rather SAlt to eat RSP whole.

  26. @ndy says:

    Yeah I saw that. Direct Action (the RSP’s zine) has declined in regularity too: launched as a monthly in June 2008, 11 issues were produced in 2009, 10 in 2010, 8 in 2011 and just 3 thus far in 2012. With the departure of JJ also, presumably, goes CLASS (or what’s left of it). Curiously, the RSP has launched a new social centre in Coburg… so there would appear to be life in the old girl yet.

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  29. ites says:

    Trots are pretty easy targets. We need a Trot Guide for the non-Leninist ghetto, that would be far more interesting. I’ll get it started:

    Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation – Despite what the name suggests a single anarcho-syndicalist grouplet in Melbourne with a scattering of members elsewhere. Like many Trot groups tends to experience a high turnover of membership; has far more ex-members than current ones, and precious few old-timers. In fact only one member from the original formation remains, which coupled with the high turnover mentioned above suggests something about its internal culture. Published ‘Organise’ briefly during the late 1990s but otherwise seems to have developed an organisational complex about anarcho-syndicalist papers and tends not to attempt to educate the working class through print media. Organised an international day of action for pizza delivery drivers in Brisbane during 2011, though no statements were released from said drivers themselves. The path pursued by the ASF got the case bogged down in Unfair Work Australia and the only pizza delivery driver from Brisbane known to your humble writer had not been working in that capacity for some time as of January 2013.

    Anarcho-Syndicalist Network – The other half of the early 1990s ASF split. Tried to pass itself off as the ‘real’ ASF despite obvious violations of the ASF statues. Has continued to jump the shark for much of the two decades since in the form of publishing ‘Rebel Worker’ and ‘Sparks’ despite widespread understanding that the sole active member is impossible to work with and seems to hate everyone.

    Industrial Workers of the World – Experienced a brief resurgence during 2012 with 4-5 new branches being established and the national newspaper ‘Direct Action’ relaunched. Late in the year an organisational spat in the Melbourne branch saw the former Melbourne branch delegate and editor of Direct Action expelled by a minority within the branch who abandoned it before the ink on the expulsion was even dry. Perhaps needless to say Direct Action has not appeared since and the Melbourne branch remains very quiet, as does the IWW as a whole.

    Melbourne Anarchist Club – Appears to spend a lot of time storing books, both in the library and in its shopfront on St Georges Road. Advertised as a bookshop, it appears to functions much of the time as a public storage space for Anarres given the grey rollerdoor that hangs over the shopfront during many of the hours that one would expect people to be out buying books. Run by a collective that spends most of its time trying to maintain the building and its revolutionary purity simultaneously, which tends to deprive it of person power.

    Etc. You get the idea. No surprises then that the anarchist ghetto manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by remaining completely marginal despite widespread nay historical levels of dissatisfaction with the neoliberal status quo.

  30. @ndy says:

    I done one way back in June 2008.

    I may update it.


  31. Anonymous says:

    That should read a trot guide for groups BD has been expelled from.

  32. Lumpen says:


    Melbourne Anarchist Club – Appears to spend a lot of time storing books, both in the library and in its shopfront on St Georges Road. …Run by a collective that spends most of its time trying to maintain the building…[etc etc]

    As a member, I can speak to this with some authority. The group is working as advertised.

    …it appears to functions [sic] much of the time as a public storage space for Anarres given the grey [sic] rollerdoor that hangs over the shopfront during many of the hours that one would expect people to be out buying books.

    Anarres Books and MAC merged some time ago. Responding to developments in how ideas are circulated (i.e. the Internet), a reduction of –and greater adherence to –opening hours was instituted, within the variable of volunteers available. This has increased distribution of literature (i.e. sales) and decreased costs. Your expectations on opening hours does not have any knowledgeable basis.

    …and its revolutionary purity simultaneously, which tends to deprive it of person power.

    MAC has membership requirements, including ongoing good conduct. This is a necessary condition for free association. Any resulting decrease in membership is not considered a loss. My experience has been new possibilities realised because of this requirement, due to long-term working relationships.

    MAC has the potential and desire to expand, but not at the expense of free participation or dilution of ideas. The wisdom and utility of this is up for debate. It therefore meets and discusses it regularly.

    It would be more accurate to say that MAC has purposefully limited functions, associates within a circumscribed anarchism and avoids the demand to be a totalising organisation in favour of advocating free federation. Unsurprisingly, splits and quits have revolved around the functions, activity and scope of the group. It is a small, constituent part of revolutionary struggle and no less valuable for being so. Characterisations outside of this understanding lead to confused statements and disappointment.

    Low-hanging fruit is delicious. I personally find the current Trot Guide to be enjoyable and useful.

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  34. Anton says:

    Industrial Workers of the World – Experienced a brief resurgence during 2012 with 4-5 new branches being established and the national newspaper ‘Direct Action’ relaunched. Late in the year an organisational spat in the Melbourne branch saw the former Melbourne branch delegate and editor of Direct Action expelled by a minority within the branch who abandoned it before the ink on the expulsion was even dry. Perhaps needless to say Direct Action has not appeared since and the Melbourne branch remains very quiet, as does the IWW as a whole.

    Looks like someone is trying to flatter themselves.

  35. Lugius says:

    Ites’ comments are economical with the truth and self-serving. What he describes as an ‘organisational spat’ was in fact serious charges of harrassment brought against him by the Melbourne IWW. A thorough process took place that found that he should be expelled and rightly so.

    Ites has demonstrated for that, for well over a decade, he is singularly unable to work co-operatively or collectively with others in a group. Yet he presumes to sit in judgement of groups whose crime, in his eyes, is a failure to acknowledge his right to privileged treatment!

    While Ites may have some knowledge of the IWW having only just recently been expelled, he knows nothing about any of the other groups he mentions as he has had nothing to do with any of them for well over a decade. He passes his opinions off as facts – a classic affliction of those who think themselves born to rule.

    [quote]Organised an international day of action for pizza delivery drivers in Brisbane during 2011, though no statements were released from said drivers themselves.[/quote]

    Here he demonstrates a sloppy approach to the facts; the international day of action occurred on 15 September 2012 when protest actions took place outside Domino’s Pizza outlets in 51 cities in 15 countries on four continents. A statement by a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver member of an ASF affiliate was handed out as a leaflet as well as appearing on numerous FB pages and websites based around the world.

    Ites’ problem with MAC would appear to be related to the rejection by MAC of Ites’ application to join MAC early last year. Ites was rejected by MAC because of his long-standing reputation for harrassing women which he not only does not deny but is also not prepared to make any attempt to deal with meaningfully and the consequences of which he is not prepared to amend. MAC has demonstrated by action that it will not tolerate the harrassment of not only women but anybody.

    That Ites imagines he can post his rubbish on any site that will have him probably says more about the internet than it does about the willingness of some to consider Ites part of the ‘community’ despite his abominable record of conduct.

  36. Lumpen says:

    Ites’ problem with MAC would appear to be related to the rejection by MAC of Ites’ application to join MAC early last year. Ites was rejected by MAC because of his long-standing reputation [etc]

    Comrade Lugius, I dispute this account.

    I can not recall a single outright rejection of an application to join MAC. That said, some potential applicants have been made aware of what anarchism means to us in a very pointed manner, and this has lead to an abandonment of interest!

    Details of applications should not be discussed publicly, IMHO, unless it is a statement from the whole group, or a matter of public record.

    Generally speaking, anyone with a verified history of conflict or antisocial behaviour (as opposed to reputed) wishing to associate with an anarchist group should be provided with a reasonable opportunity to account for themselves, if that is a precondition of joining. MAC’s conduct has been consistent with this for some time.

    Anyone who finds these conditions of accountability unacceptable will only suffer if the process is demonstrably fair.

    Others might discover that an anarchist group is not the space to work out their particular problems. Most anarchist groups are not equipped to deal with all levels of conflict or the problems of every individual – pretending otherwise can cause great harm. They justifiably limit their association accordingly. For example, by rejecting an applicant who quit another group to avoid accounting for their actions. This reinforces the need for a federation that is capable of dealing with such problems.

    …I’ve still been sucked into the vortex, damnit.

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