Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Socialists, the Greens and building a working class alternative

With the Federal Election just around the corner (will it be 6 weeks, or 16?), the usual speculation, horse-trading and hand-wringing has begun to hot up, with psephologists often found perspiring in a dazed or manic state in bus shelters, inner-city bars and going through the garbage outside polling companies to quadruple check last weeks pollings on Howard vs Howard-lite.

Unfortunately, coming off the back of the very successful anti-Bush protests at APEC, some of the far-left has started playing little games of recrimination, trying to prove who's the most R-R-Revolutionary (the Russian revolutionary VI Lenin once wrote a lovely little pamphlet about the infantilism of trying too hard to do exciting little things with few people to make up for not doing less exciting big things with more people). The wombats are un-impressed. The protest was successful because it focussed on Bush, and then on the right to protest, and because it was resolutely peaceful in the face of government, police and media hype. A large part of the discussion can be found here.

Unfortunately, on top of this, the irrational behaviour of some left groups is finding new ways to express itself. In the face of an existing socialist organisation with national reach, some groups, particularly the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt), have migrated to the land of the blind, and are calling for a vote for the Greens, while others have been living there for some time.

In traditional sectarian fashion SAlt appear simply to ignore the existence of the rest of the left, and call for a vote for the Greens in order to send a message to Labor over IR and other issues. This , it must be admitted, is in itself an improvement for SAlt, for as far as the wombats are aware, they have previously clung to calling for a vote to the ALP.

The ISO, more ambivalently, appear from their newspaper coverage, as well as discussions and interventions made by ISO members, to be advocating a Green vote, also (understandably) in order to hold Labor to account on a number of issues, not least WorkChoices. In doing so however, the ISO continue on the path they took earlier this year when they formalised their exit from the Socialist Alliance (although they had been inactive for a couple of years before that, and some members had already been handing out for the Greens at polling booths).

The Socialist Party (who are more or less limited to Melbourne with a small handful of members in Newcastle and Sydney) has written a letter to the ISO, calling for them to support an explicitly socialist project (particularly, the Socialist Party) in the elections, rather than calling for a vote directly to the Greens, and challenging them to a debate on "How should socialists relate to the Greens?". The arguments are plain enough, even without reading the SP letter, and much the same argument has been made by the Socialist Alliance. A further trump in the SP hand is that they have, unlike the rest of the far left, had some success in elections, getting Stephen Jolley elected to Yarra Council.

It is obvious that the left in Australia needs to work out how to relate to the Greens, who are rapidly emerging as the electoral third force around the country, and to develop a coherent approach and critique. Even the ALP, and what remains of the left in that party, is taking up the issue. For socialists, this is particularly important, as the Greens take up most of the electoral space, and a lot of the political space, on the left, making it harder, in many circumstances, to get a hearing for a socialist perspective. Socialist Alliance, like the Socialist Party, directs its preferences to the Greens before Labor, but there still remains the need for an explicitly socialist alternative to all the major parties (Greens included) to be posed - both at election time, and in-between.

This all raises another, more important, point. Despite the SP's piece of electoral success, they have a limited scope of activity - mostly Melbourne. Neither the ISO nor SAlt (nor the other, smaller groups outside the Alliance) run in elections, and their membership is limited to a smal number of capital cities.

By contrast, the Socialist Alliance has multiple branches in capital cities across the country, as well as branches in places like Newcastle, Geelong, Wollongong, Armidale, Cairns, Lismore, Taree, and so on (as well as at-large members dotted across the country-side where there are no branches - yet), giving it the broadest reach of any of the socialist organisations, and the greatest opportunity to profile alternative politics.

Nor is it an homogenous organisation, with a set-in-stone program, despite the inactivity of many affiliates, and the leading role played by the Democratic Socialist Perspective. It remains open to individual socialists and activists (who make up a majority of its membership) and other socialist organisations to join and play a role in organising and building the a united socialist voice. And these factors in turn have brought Socialist Alliance more notoriety in the media and elsewhere. Lesson? The more united we are, the more people listen.

Both the SP and SAlt were initially invited to join the Socialist Alliance, but declined and continue to organise in parallel, despite the advantages that socialist unity might bring. Furthermore, like SAlt and the ISO above, the SP also neglects in its paper to mention that there is any other socialist organisation running in the elections. By contrast, the Socialist Alliance has traditionally avoided running in the same seats as other socialist candidates in order to create good will (and avoid confrontation) pursuant of building a larger socialist alliance, and Green Left Weekly makes a point of profiling all socialist candidates running, not only those in the Socialist Alliance.

The Socialist Alliance remains as the only socialist organisation with national scope, and, in contradistinction to the aforementioned groups, is indeed an "alliance" of people and groups, which all of those above are invited to join, and play a part in building a united, effective socialist voice in this country as an alternative to all the capitalist dross and terra-cide of the major parties and the political ambivalence of the Greens.

Workers in Australia need a party of their own, not a dozen toy revolutionary outfits, all with the perfect program. Despite
it's relative electoral weakness compared to the Greens, the Socialist Alliance is at least trying to lay the foundations for such a party.

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."

* In addendum, we understand that the organisation Solidarity, a composite of splits from the ISO and SAlt, as well as some newer student activists, is calling simply for a vote for the ALP, while in a wonderful piece of sheltered hypocrisy, the Communist Party is trying to set up a new "Communist Alliance" for the elections - as if there were no socialist options open already...


Anonymous said...

Sorry to reveal it buddy - but the Socialist Alliance is an irrelevance. The DSP and a few suckhole independents does not make it any less sectarian than the independent socialist groups. It has no democracy and its "discussion" only amounts to DSP standover tactics. The only way you are going to get left unity is for the DSP to end its standover tactics and for the Socialist Alliance to have genuine democracy. However seeing as the SA is tainted by DSP gangsterism, a new formation all-together would be the wisest option for left unity.

Anonymous said...

What about eco-socialism?
Why can't we be cool like overseas and all unite under the banner of eco-socialism?
That could unite 'climate change' activists, socialists, greens, the unions.
It could be fantastic!

Red Wombat said...

Re Eco-socialism
It's an idea that's definately out there.
For example: http://leftclickblog.blogspot.com/2008/01/climate-capitalism-socialism-class.html

It's also a matter not too far from the work of Green Left Weekly, who are organising the Climate Change, Social Change conference on April 11-13.

As for the other anonymous' drivel above about "DSP standover tactics" and "DSP gangsterism", well, you're free to post sectarian garbage here if you want, but for those of us actually involved in the Socialist Alliance, we can only imagine that you lissed your medicine...