Friday, 28 September 2007

Steve Jolly, socialist electioneering, and sectarianism

Over at the very interesting group blog project LeftWrites, Socialist Party councilor for Yarra Council, Steve Jolly, has posted his "Balance sheet of Council work", giving his impressions of both successes and challenges that the role has entailed.

One interesting point from Jolly's arsenal is this:

"The approach we have taken as a party in using the Councillor position as a powerful auxiliary in the fight to build support for socialism has been to hit the ALP and the Greens at their weakest point."

Jolly goes on to show to some extent the degree to which the Greens have exposed themselves once in power as frequently little more than the left-reformist and opportunist cover for capitalist interests (both small and large). While admittedly the membership of the Greens is quite diverse - including many self-identifying socialists in their ranks; as well as those at the other end of the spectrum entirely - the politics which they are compelled into by their focus on electoral success over all other is one which exposes this strategy for what it is: opportunism.

Regardless of the subjective political views of the people involved, this is generally how the scenario finishes up. So the Greens were initially reticent to get involved in the APEC protests, because of their fear of a negative backlash in an election year. The wombats have heard accounts of Socialist Alliance members suffering the complaint of Greens members at polling booths that every Socialist vote that gave its preference to the Greens lost the Greens a much needed 50 cents per vote, and that they weren't getting enough of our preferences anyway. One such incident even included Kerry Nettle herself lodging said complaint (and in close proximity to an ALP campaigning pack of Garrett, Burgmann and Tebutt). Not to mention the general on-again-off-again approach of the Greens to movements in general - including even the environmental movement - as they gradually dissociate themselves from the "radical treehugging ratbags" image during the quest to pick up disaffected Liberal and "centre" (ie. "neither right nor left") votes.

It has, if you like, been one of the greatest successes of the Socialist Party's project in Yarra - to show that socialists can get elected, and can successfully use that position to expose the bankruptcy of the other parties - not just the blatant corruption and nepotism of the ALP and Liberals, but also the soft-opportunism of the Greens when in power. As points of interest, Jolly's vote in non-council elections subsequent to his election to council has increased, and there is no doubt that, utilised properly, positions like his can build real, lasting, non-ephemeral, support for socialism within communities and workplaces.

But we are still left with a problem - or a few, but they are related, and they diminish greatly the effect of having a socialist on council, unless they are overcome.

The Socialist Party has been campaigning in the one area solidly for years (decades even), and their membership (next to non-existent outside the area) is still relatively small even within Yarra, and Melbourne in general. It has a threadbare existence elsewhere, in numbers probably measurable on one or two hands.

This brings us to the crux. As the wombats raised recently, the Socialist Party has sent a letter to the International Socialist Organisation in response to the latter's call for a vote for the Greens in the Federal election, a position now also held by Socialist Alternative. The Socialist Party appeal - that socialists ought to support socialists candidates (even of different stripes) - is an eminently rational one. While we are less than confident that the call will be taken up, it is one that must be made, and made regularly.

This election will pose the socialist left in Australia with a curious situation (but unfortunately, none too rare). The Socialist Alliance (by far the largest of the socialist organisations, with hundreds of members in branches and at large across the country) has recently regained Federal registration, and will run across the country (not just in Melbourne). The Socialist Equality Party have also gained Federal registration (the first time since 1998), and will similarly be running. And the Socialist Party will be running as well, although in a more limited sphere. To add to the fracas, the Communist Party is trying to get registered (but will almost certainly fail).

All of which raises the very serious question: why can't these groups work together? This was indeed the aim of setting up the Socialist Alliance (although the three organisations just mentioned refused point-blank to join), but such an approach at this juncture need not mean the immediate formal alliance of the groups (although it would be preferable).

As pointed out in the previous post, the Socialist Alliance does not run in seats where other socialist organisations traditionally run (an exception might be in Marrickville, where the SEP also runs, but far less successfully, and as this is a core base for Socialist Alliance operations, and as the SEP only ever turn up around elections, the Socialist Alliance should have a genuine right, if not obligation, to run there). Furthermore, they also publicise the existence of the other candidates through Green Left Weekly.

It requires no great leap of the imagination that, having parallel campaigns, and almost entirely consanguineous politics, the different groups could work together. (To be honest, the wombats hold no great hope that the SEP will ever enter into this degree of civility with the rest of the left, but it remains to be hoped). THIS, and not merely the existence of the Socialist Party campaign, or it alongside the Socialist Alliance campaign, is the basis whereon the other groups of the left may be drawn back into taking a healthy position vis-a-vis who to call for a vote for. (It should be noted, however, that drawing organisations like Socialist Alternative into an actual organisation of left unity would be an immensely larger and more difficult task).

But it makes no sense - and indeed smacks of sectarianism - for socialist groups to outright ignore the existence of other socialist groups in an election and instead call for a Green vote. The higher the vote for socialism, the better an indicator we have (on one graph, at least) of the success of our work.

But we wish to post a qualifier. It is no good calling the ISO out for their sectarianism in ignoring a socialist campaign, and then ignoring a larger one yourself. So the wombats would like to finish on an imploratory note, to Steve Jolly and the Socialist Party in particular, and to the rest of the socialist left in general, to consider long and hard the benefits and logic of building left unity. A broader, more effective, socialist alliance, of one kind or another, is the only rational, genuine, and truly revolutionary, way forward. Our understanding is that the Socialist Alliance is open to negotiations and bona fide suggestions.

As we said only a week ago:

The wombats appeal to all the groups on the socialist left (and individuals, at that) to get over your petty differences (you have more in common than not), and unite in a single socialist alliance that will be worthy of the name, and can take socialism back from the fringe into the mainstream, into the unions, into the parliaments and streets, and into the 21st Century and beyond. As a wise old bearded German once said: "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains."

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