Monday, 4 February 2008

Socialist unity in Oz? Two steps forward...?

Well, it's been a while in coming, but the bad running joke of the Australian Left - the existence of not just two, or even three, but FOUR Cliffite groups (that is, groups with politics originating in the International Socialist Tendency) - is over. There's only two now.

On February 2-3, the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), Solidarity, and the Brisbane-based Socialist Action Group (SAG) held a unity conference in Sydney and decided that maybe being in different organisations was a tad silly. After all, they have the same politics (not least a fondness for the nonsense which is State Capitalism), and have been working together (including pre-caucusing before movement meetings) in various campaigns for a while now. This collaboration has been accompanied by a series of joint internal discussion bulletins which, if a wee bit light on the theory, were are least genuinely oriented towards some kind of unity.

The final outcome is a new organisation under the name of "Solidarity", which reflects, if anything, the relative strength of that organisation compared to the other two, particularly in movement work. SAG members apparently argued for a name including the word "socialist", but clearly didn't win. There is likely to be a monthly newspaper, and while the Wombats haven't heard the new paper's name yet, we hope that one of the options floated, "Liberty", gets quickly stymied. Sounds thoroughly daft, in our opinion.

The background to the various splits in the Australian IST would be too formidable a task to go into, except to say that Solidarity left the ISO when it was in the Socialist Alliance, while SAG managed to extricate themselves from the pretty undemocratic propagandist sect-ism of Socialist Alternative (the fourth member of the Cliffite menagerie in Oz). A small group of SAlt members in Sydney left around the same time, joining Solidarity (although two of them soon decided to join the Greens).

The Solidarity split, led by Ian Rintoul, was fiercely anti-Socialist Alliance, so when the ISO finally gave the formal imprimatur to their withdrawal from the Socialist Alliance (a left-unity project, mind you, and one which is ongoing), the biggest barrier to "unity" was overcome. One of the other key features of the new organisation is it's decision to support the Greens in elections, rather than calling for a socialist vote where possible.

This is so despite the nation-wide presence of the Socialist Alliance, and the presence in Melbourne of the Socialist Party, both of which compete in elections; and despite the fact that the internal joint discussion highlighted the inability of the three united groups to have little, if any, impact on the Greens or Greens members during the election campaign. As the Wombats have pointed out here and here, both the Socialist Alliance and the SP approached the ISO last year asking for socialist solidarity around the elections, to no avail.

Socialists do indeed have to work out the best way to work with the Greens, especially those in the amorphous 'left' of the Greens, and there are no "perfect" formulae that are especially better than any others. So the basic idea of Solidarity is hardly flawed in that respect. But ignoring the existence of the rest of the left won't help much when it comes to winning over people caught up in the biggest left-of-Labor political party in history. We need the most unified and vibrant approach possible, and, while the step towards unity is to be welcomed, if it - as seems likely - aims to become yet another competing force on the left, it's unlikely to assist that process.

[One interesting way forward on the Greens question is the ecosocialist reading circle that has been set up in Adelaide, containing members of the Greens, as well as Socialist Alliance, DSP, Communist Party, and others. Dave Riley is preparing an educational series on Climate and Capitalism which could well be used by this group, or by any others for that matter, in conjunction with various forms of socialist/ Green collaboration.]

So, while Bob Gould might think this unification is the best thing since sliced bread, it is still fundamentally limited by what is - if past practice is anything to go by - likely to end up with a certain amount of tail-ending of the Greens, and a sectarianism towards the rest of the organised left - especially the Socialist Alliance. It is perhaps telling that one of the sole voices in the ISO to point out that they might have made mistakes themselves in the early period of the Socialist Alliance (as opposed to blaming everything on the DSP) is in an extreme minority.

The recent unification is still a largely healthy development, however, and we will chart it's development over time.

As if this wasn't enough for one weekend, the Melbourne-based Socialist Party (of the Committee for a Workers' International), has put up on it's website a pamphlet it produced two years ago calling for a "New Workers' Party", and then attempting again to explain why it's simultaneously not actually trying to build one. It's a bit of a read, but for a small group operating only out of Melbourne (even if they do have the country's only elected socialist in Steve Jolley on Yarra council), the tone is all a bit rich, really.

It will be interesting to see, however, whether and how the question of left unity can find new ways forward under the new right-wing Rudd Labor government. There are already plenty of opportunities opening up. The test is, as always, whether we can muster the subjective resources necessary to make use of them. The energy privatisation campaign would be a particularly good one to start with, one would think.


Leftwing Criminologist said...

Are any of the mentioned groups actually related to the IST?

Also on the SP pamphlet - i think they've been putting up old pamphlets generally over the last month or so rather than publishing the specifically (although the one on indonesia nicely co-incided with the death of suharto)

But as for a new workers party, read the stuff they're doing around yarra council and trying to encourage resdients associations etc. to stand in the elections - i think that is a step towards a new party.

Red Wombat said...

The ISO was the local IST franchise holder, until this weekend. SAlt split from them in the mid-nineties, and are not in the IST (they collaborate more with the US ISO). The two subsequent splits - Solidarity (from ISO) and SAG (from SAlt) were not in the IST either. This new organisation, however, will be the local IST grouping.

As to the SP pamphlets, I know they are gradually putting them up, and that's always a welcome development. I wasn't suggesting a link - more the interesting coincidence.

The problem - to my mind - remains the SP's steadfast opposition to actually *building* the most basic framework for a new party, in place of continually (and simply) calling for one.

It reminds me of something that happened at the Socialist Alliance-initiated Trade Union Fightback Conference a few years back, Steve Jolley got up and made a call for a new workers' party.

Craig Johnston, former militant Victorian AMWU State Secretary (who was sent to jail for nine months with the help of the ALP "left" for doing his job) got up and said (essentially): "I want a new workers' party too - that's why I joined the Socialist Alliance". It kind of shows my point in aces - it is never enough to just "call" for a new party. We have to start building it too, and that means talking (and listening) to people other than yourself.

So while they are doing some decent stuff around Yarra - things that the Socialist Alliance should probably look closely at too - that's pretty much where it stops. They haven't got more than a handful of members anywhere else in the country, and they aren't seriously interested in collaborating with the Socialist Alliance (although I should point out the cooperation around last year's election).

So a step, sure, but a very small one indeed.

Anonymous said...

What is the approximate strength of the new organization, and how does this compare with other far left groups in Australia?

Red Wombat said...

According to one member, they have around 100-120 members (80 of whom were at their founding conference). Of course, they probably have a periphery on top of that, but it's a fairly small outfit these days, compared to the size of the ISO several years ago.

By contrast, the Socialist Party has between 20-50 members, the Sparts about 10-15, the SEP about 20, the CPA around 100-200 members (most of whom are reaching retirement age, or are well passed it), and Socialist Alternative has 150-200 members, almost all on campus, and with a high turnover due to their sect-building approach (which manages to turn a lot of people off socialism).

The Democratic Socialist Perspective has 250-300 members, but they are also part of the Socialist Alliance, which currently has over 700 members in total, and will soon surpass 100 again, as it keeps rebuilding.

The Greens, which are "left" in a broader sense, more "left liberal' than 'left' (although some of their members are socialists) have around 10,000. Unfortunately, they forbid other organisations (eg. socialists) from organising as a tendency within the party.

Hope that generally answers your question...

Anonymous said...

Hey wombat - you have obviously been keeping your head the ground. Middle class wankers in the Socialist Alliance are no way to build a new workers party. Just look at their sectarian tactics in the unions. In 2001 Craig Johnstone was one of the most powerful left union leaders in the country. After the advise actions and failed legal defence campaign waged on his behalf by the Socialist Alliance he is now a janitor in the CFMEU.
You call for CPA members to retire. Similarly the generation of '68 should retire. Haven't they done enough dammage already to the left.

Red Wombat said...

I didn't cal on the CPA to retire - there's not really any need...

You, on the other hand, should do so. You have no idea what you are talking about, and are exhibiting the kind of sectarian trash that has held the left back for decades (well before the generation of '68).

As for "Middle class wankers", if you can point 'em out, en masse, maybe I'll listen. As it is, it just sounds like you're talking out your arse.

So unless you have anything useful to say, go jump.

Red Wombat said...

There is a more involved, and broader, discussion around this issue currently opening up on the Socialist Unity blog:

Anonymous said...

Wombie Wombie Wombie. Of course I can point them out en masse. Not naming any names though, otherwise I could be accused of McCarthyism.
So Wombie, which one of your young hip Resistance people didn't go to elite private schools? I certainly can't fine one. Wombie, the leader of the DSP "Leninist" faction, does he or does he not own a million dollar house (not to mention all dsp property under the Bronstein Society).
Those in full time work who are DSP members, are they not predominately academics and middle ranking public servants?
Wombie Wombie Wombie, I'll start jumping when you stop spinning.

Anonymous said...

mister poo your name says it all you are full of shit. I am a membr of Soidarity but personally know most of the memebers of Brisbane resistance. Very few of those attended private schools. So take your right wing crap masquerading as workerism and go jump.

Red Wombat said...

Marcus Strom, of the Labor Tribune website, has produced his own account (if a little belatedly) of the IST/ Solidarity merger which has been published in that serious paper of of the left par excellence - the "Weekly Worker".

The style is Marcus' (and the WW's) usual vituperous style, but it's more or less on the money in many ways.