What’s up with the Socialist Alliance?

…is the question on everyone’s lips. Below is a “no-bullshit assessment” I found on sydney.indymedia. The text has been edited slightly (for reasons of clarity), but I’ll be returning to it later to add even more clarity (and possibly even some caustic commentary). In the meantime, here ’tis…

What’s up with the Socialist Alliance?
by Mark Lockett
January 2, 2006

A no-bullshit assessment of the Socialist Alliance. Includes the DSP’s four big[gest?] lies of 2005.

[This article was submitted to Alliance Voices on Jan 1, 2006 — latest issue here]

Crisis, what crisis?

Receiving an email is a funny way to find out that the Socialist Alliance [SA] is dead, but that’s the way it happened.

It surprised me. My branch [Perth] seemed to be going quite well. At our last branch meeting we had 13 members in attendance: 5 members of the DSP; 1 member of the ISO and 7 who weren’t members of any affiliate. The non-aligned are a mixed bunch, comprising: a former member of the Greens and refugee rights activist [Mark]; a former member of the CPA and former trade union militant; a former member of the ALP and former trade union militant; a supporter of the Fourth International; a former member of the British WRP; and two self-described ‘greenies’.

The branch decided to hold 4 public meetings in the first three months of 2006: hardly [evidence of] a political party that has collapsed and is being propped up by the DSP. Indeed, our WA state membership is currently at record high levels.

Of course, while the Perth branch is not the only branch of the SA that’s still operational, the sad reality is that a large number of branches — particularly in the major East Coast capitals — appear to have simply stopped operating.

Demoralisation, what demoralisation?

The DSP attempts to blame the current problems of the SA on demoralisation caused by the defeat of Latham in the 2004 federal election. (This is despite the fact that the DSP was the loudest in proclaiming that the re-election of Howard ‘made no difference’.) While I have no doubt that some [SA members] were demoralised by Howard’s victory in 2004, a lot of us were prepared for just that [eventuality]. After all, Howard had won what had seemed an unwinnable election only three [years] prior, in 2001. Some [SA members] — and activists outside it — were demoralised by this previous loss as well. Some people were [also] demoralised by the fact that the SA polled so poorly, and that the DSP [which tends to dominate internal discussion], did not wish to discuss this issue. Eventually, the federal election campaign committee did address the issue, but [by then] it was [a case of] too little, too late…

In the [last] federal election, the SA was able to run the biggest Socialist election campaign in decades, and to run campaigns in regional and outer suburban areas that had never previously been within the reach of the left [sic] (at least, not within living memory). The problem was that Green Left Weekly played a very minor role in this campaign. In fact, far from Green Left Weekly being the ‘scaffolding’ around which the SA was formed, it was the practical task of running an election campaign that formed the ‘scaffolding’ of the Alliance.

After the election, the DSP turned back towards its usual modus operandi: orientation towards ‘movement activism’ and prioritising Green Left Weekly sales and distribution. Simply put, the DSP tried to lead and hoped that others might follow; that is, they attempted to simply ‘progress’ Green Left Weekly to ‘the next level’, and make distribution of [GLW] an Alliance task. They also sought to simply remove anyone who disagreed with this line from the [GLW?] editorial board. The non-aligned majority on the [SA’s] National Executive baulked at this manouevre, and voted down the DSP’s extremely sectarian proposal, although only by a majority of one. [“The new national executive elected [at the last SA conference] comprises: Alex Miller, Alison Thorne, Craig Johnston, Dave Riley, David Glanz, Dick Nichols, Kieran Latty, Lisa Macdonald, Mark Lockett, Melanie Sjoberg, Peter Boyle, Pip Hinman, Sam Watson, Sue Bolton and Tim Gooden” (names in bold = DSP).]

The DSP then generalised its assault on the ‘non-aligned’ leaders of the Alliance, getting rid of them in factional manouervering of the type we commonly see from ALP hacks. And once the conference was over, the DSP simply ‘switched off’ the Alliance. [As a result] a large number of branches, probably a majority, have simply not met since then. Instead, the DSP has concentrated its energies on distributing and fundraising for Green Left Weekly, and sending 20% of their members on a trip to Venezuela. It’s demoralising when there are people around who want a new workers’ party, and the people who are supposed to help build it are off doing other things.

Web of Lies

The DSP told four big lies in 2005:

1) that the DSP did not have a majority at the 2005 national conference of the Alliance;
2) that the DSP did not produce and distribute a how-to-vote card for that conference;
3) that Alex Miller and Dave Riley were actually non-aligned members of the Alliance and;
4) as stated in the DSP NE recommendation to the DSP conference: “…national executive… includes prominent trade union and social movement leaders such as Craig Johnston, Sam Watson and Tim Gooden. The challenge is to try to develop this into an effective leadership” (The Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance: Draft resolution for the DSP congress, point 11).

The first three need no comment: the [deceit] of the DSP has been exposed and admitted to. In the case of the fourth: Johnston and Watson simply do not come to meetings of the Socialist Alliance National Executive, [while] Gooden has been a member of the DSP for many years. The actual attendees at National Executive meetings are the DSP, the [Non-Aligned Caucus?] independents and the Freedom Socialist Party’s Alison Thorne.

The problem when you start spinning a web of lies is you [can eventually] get caught up in it. Even the lie about Johnston and Watson is [in reality only a] cover for the disastrous restructure of the Alliance National Executive at the last conference, and the accompanying attack on the Non-aligned National Convenors and their supporters. Nor are the above four items the only things in the web; there are many more, actually. These four are simply the only ones ‘well known’ nationally[?]. [Such deceit and political manipulation] is another source of demoralisation: the Alliance should be a step towards a “new workers’ party”, but here we have the leading faction [the DSP] behaving like the worst elements of the “old workers’ party” [that is, the ALP].

The 2004 Election and the Greens

Firstly, the Alliance put in a very poor performance in the 2004 election — no question about it. For our most well known candidate, the (then) Assistant Secretary of Geelong Trades Hall, to have gotten much less than one percent was [a] very poor [result].

But the results represented something of an aberration[?]. [For example] in the run-up to the election, the Alliance scored some much better results. Coral Wynter got 1.6% for the seat of Brisbane in the Queensland state election and 3.5% in the Brisbane council election, but [could] only manage a paltry 0.39% for the federal seat of Brisbane. Lynda Hansen got 3.0% for the South Brisbane state seat but saw that collapse to 0.72% [at a federal level]. The Alliance got 3.1% in the seat of Inala (outpolling the Greens at two polling booths) but in the federal poll Mike Myles (in Oxley) got hammered, getting only 0.45%. In the Tasmanian upper house by-election for Elwick, Kamala Emmuanel scored a respectable 5.4%, but in the federal poll got only 0.85%.

After the [federal] election, things picked up again. [In] the local government elections in Victoria[?], held 7 weeks after the federal poll, the Alliance got between 4% and 13% over 5 different wards[?]. Even in the much maligned Marrickville by-election, the Alliance was able to improve on its [previous] vote in Grayndler, and in fact got a higher vote than in 25 out of 26 electorates in the federal election[?].

That’s not to say all of our other election campaigns got good votes; our vote in the WA state election was pretty ordinary, but then again we deliberately engaged in a strategy that would allow us to best use the resources (that is, people) at our disposal, rather than maximise our percentage vote[?!?].

The 2004 election was also a poor performance for the Greens. Before the election there was much talk that the Greens would win seats in the federal lower house. As it turned out, they didn’t come close: in fact, they couldn’t even muster a second place. All this in spite of having a sitting MP! [In] the WA state election, it only got worse. Sitting state upper house member Jim Scott tried to move to the lower house; not only did he not win, not only did he not come second, he actually suffered a swing against of approximately 1.0%.

The WA Greens’ woes were not limited to Jim Scott: they suffered an overall decline in their upper house vote, a tiny increase in their lower house vote (only brought about by them standing in more seats than in the previous election) and the loss of three of their five seats in the upper house. This was very embarrassing for them, especially in an election where their main third party competitors — the Democrats and One Nation — had collapsed. In Marrickville, the Greens once again failed to take a single seat, [just when one] seemed to be [within their] reach.

One thing can be said from all of this: the Greens have not increased their hold on the electoral space to the left of the ALP over the last two years; if anything they have [reduced it].

Left Reactionaries

Australia’s worst reactionaries are [on?] the left. Something happens, and the left reacts. There’s a race riot in Cronulla, and Dave Riley creates the ‘Racism No‘ blog. Did it ever occur to him to create it six or twelve months beforehand? The racism of John Howard has been apparent for a long time now. Of course the Racism No blog has hardly any comments on it, and as a consequence we can say hardly anyone reads it. (It seemed to die out after about two weeks anyway.) I don’t wish to unfairly single out Dave over this, he was simply doing the same thing that the rest of the left do: something happens, [we] react. [Nor do I mean to suggest that we shouldn’t react; we simply need to do more than that.] For example, the refugee rights movement held a very successful protest at the Baxter Immigration Detention centre in March this year; we were even able to win real improvements in the conditions of asylum seekers: refugees were not a big issue in the news when organisation for that protest began.

The Alliance has the ability to overcome the [reactionary nature] of the left and to be a… progressive force for social change. Our 2004 federal election campaign was just such a [force]. Pre-selection was conducted early (in most places) and campaigns were well-prepared. Despite the fact that we scored a poor result, we were able to mobilise more people than had been mobilised for a Socialist election campaign in Australia for a very long time. This is in stark contrast to the election campaigns run by the DSP before the founding of the Alliance. These campaigns were typically slapped together at the last minute, poorly run, few people outside the DSP were ever involved, and the actual result was without exception ignored.

The Alliance could have done a lot better though. For an organisation that is nearly five years old, it is to our shame that we have no meaningful policy and no program. The 2003 conference voted to authorise the production of a book about socialism: it was never mentioned again. To this day, should someone ask the question ‘What does the Socialist Alliance do or stand for?’, we can only point them to a shambolic collection of motions passed at various conferences.

The Future for the Socialist Alliance

The above may seem pretty bleak, but it’s rather easy to [solve] the problems of the Alliance. We only need do two major things:

1) Develop decent policy and a decent understanding of the role we play in the class struggle. This shouldn’t take up the majority of our time, but a determined effort [to] make sure it takes up [no] more time [than necessary] will ensure it gets done.

2) Vigorously contest the upcoming state elections in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, as well as vigorously contest the 2007 federal election. Elections are what the Alliance was created to do and over our five year history they are what we have done the best. This should not be seen as a ‘timeless’ solution to the Alliance’s current problems: it’s simply a way of jolting the Alliance out of its current slumber. [The fact is] the Alliance is the only party that takes working class issues seriously.

Growing the Alliance requires not just bringing in new members but developing a new leadership. Despite the fact that [this] was not its intention, the previous policy of reserving 50% of all seats on the National Executive [for the NAC?!?] was able to develop exactly this [leadership]. Therefore, in order to further develop the Alliance, we should return to a structure more closely resembling the former structure, and end the current situation where all meaningful decisions are made by DSP full-timers.

The above [argument] is in stark contradiction to the [current] DSP position, which is that the Alliance should be transformed into a trade union caucus. This position is best summed up in their document: “[SA] remains the best available political vehicle to win over more militant trade union leaders and work more closely with a wider layer of working-class militants in the current political conditions” (The Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance: Draft resolution for the DSP congress, point 18). The unfortunate reality is otherwise. In the two and a half years that Chris Cain has been state secretary of the MUA, no members of that union have become active in the Alliance who weren’t active before his election. That’s not to say that the MUA Rank and File Group and the Alliance aren’t allies, they are. [But] the Alliance has mostly grown by recruiting old lefties.

The Socialist Alliance should play to its strengths and not to its weaknesses. We won’t overthrow the old order in the immediate future, but modest progress is possible.

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 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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