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5295Australian Socialist Alliance lurches dramatically to the Right

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  • Gould's Book Arcade
    Mar 21, 2004
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      Australian Socialist Alliance lurches dramatically to the Right
      By Bob Gould

      The non-class, populist politics practiced in Australia by both the
      leaderships of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and Democratic
      Socialist Platform (DSP), has produced quite a major and unprincipled shift
      to the right by the Socialist Alliance in municipal elections in the City of
      Sydney.

      Here is some background. The right wing ALP machine and the right wing ALP
      government in New South Wales, recently amalgamated two council areas - the
      City of Sydney, covering the central business district, and South Sydney
      City Council, covering a partly traditional working class area, and partly a
      gentrified area. This amalgamation took place with little notice, and rather
      bureaucratically. It wasn't very carefully designed, in terms of creating a
      viable municipal area, and it also included having a plebiscite vote for
      Mayor, and an all in vote for 9 councillors. For more information, readers
      of this document might consult a submission that I made as an individual to
      the recent government inquiry into municipal boundaries and organisation. In
      it I outlined and gave reasons for a much better scheme than the one hastily
      adopted by the state government
      (http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Municipal.html).

      Despite the fact that the amalgamation took place bureaucratically, and wasn
      't in the better form that I proposed, it has one potentially useful aspect,
      from a socialist point of view. If the new council area were to elect some
      kind of Labor-Green progressive majority, who found some basis for working
      together, it would be possible for such an administration to use the high
      rate revenue from the central business district to fund council services, in
      particular in working class and deprived areas. A kind of Sydney 'Poplarism'
      . To some extent, this role was played in the past by a Labor-led greater
      Sydney council, which existed in roughly the same area from about 1948 to
      1968, before it was carved up by a conservative government.

      THE RAPID DEVELOPMENT OF URBAN GENTRIFICATION, AND THE NEW POLITICS OF HOME
      OWNERSHIP, EXPRESSED IN ELECTORAL POLITICS

      One feature of NSW politics in the last fifteen years has been the emergence
      of independents, who have beaten the main political machines in certain
      areas. During the period of the conservative Liberal government of Nick
      Greiner, three independents were elected in NSW, who held the balance of
      power. These independents chose to keep the Liberal Greiner Government in
      power, because it had a majority of one in the lower house, and they argued
      that its majority of one was a sufficient reason for them using their three
      votes to keep the Tory Greiner in power and implement his policies. The
      policies of the Greiner Government included, among other reactionary
      legislation, a raft of industrial and other legislation attacking the rights
      of unions and workers. These three independents voted for this legislation
      too, on the grounds that the Greiner Government was entitled to implement
      its legislative program, 'in the interests of democracy'. The most high
      profile of these independents is Clover Moore.

      Clover Moore is the Independent MP for Bligh, which takes in the once
      proletarian, but now classically upper-end gentrified suburbs of Paddington,
      Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. Clover Moore is a classical practitioner of
      the new politics, based on 'civic sense' and home ownership, and pitching at
      the interests of rather affluent people, as residents. This politics has
      some progressive aspects, but it also has some deeply reactionary aspects.
      For instance, homeless people are often regarded as a pest, the sex industry
      tends to be hated, etc, etc. The nitty-gritty of the contradictions inherent
      in this new politics relates to the question of rates. Many young urban
      professionals respond vigorously to an appeal for a reduction of rates by
      way of outsourcing council services, i.e. getting rid of permanent employees
      and engaging contractors, which it is claimed, reduces costs (this claim is
      often false).

      In municipal politics, particularly in the City of Sydney, these are very
      visceral issues. The Greens, who are pretty leftist on some questions, are
      often contradictory and ambiguous on this class question of outsourcing and
      contractors. Independent practitioners of the new politics like Clover Moore
      are usually unambiguously in favor of contractors and outsourcing. In
      municipal politics, however, such questions are right at the heart of
      political life, and the non-class appeal to rate-payers as rate-payers often
      has deeply reactionary implications.

      The battle for representation on the Labor side, was a bit complex. The
      mayoral candidate, Michael Lee, was imposed by the right wing, ALP head
      office. A local pre-selection ballot was held for three of the councillors
      positions and the three were won by local leftists (I had a vote in the
      pre-selection ballot, and in general voted for the winning candidates,
      though I voted for another left winger for the third pre-selected position).
      The ALP ticket for councillors ended up being Michael Lee, the mayoral
      candidate, number 1, the three left wingers, 2, 3, and 4, a right winger, 5,
      and the rest don't matter because Labor is unlikely to get more than 4
      councillors.

      About a third of Clover Moore's electorate is in the City of Sydney, and she
      announced that she was running for mayor, with a team of candidates. She
      does not actually live in the City of Sydney. The Labor candidate for mayor
      and his team, have announced their firm support for council direct
      employment and that all outsourced contracts from the old City of Sydney
      area will be terminated as they fall due (there was no outsourcing, to speak
      of, in the old South Sydney area, where two of the left wingers have been
      councillors for some time). Lucy Turnbull (wife of the newly selected Tory
      candidate for the seat of Wentworth), who is former Lord Mayor of the City
      of Sydney, is supporting Clover Moore.

      The political line up in the election is now as follows. The Laborites are
      now well and truly the underdogs. Both factions of the Sydney bourgeois
      press are supporting Clover Moore, with both the Murdoch Press and the
      Fairfax newspapers vigorously supporting her. The Greens, who are probably a
      10% force in the area, are directing their preferences to Moore, the
      conservative Liberal opposition are directing their preferences to Moore,
      and some of the minor candidates are either supporting Moore, or exhausting
      their preferences. The hard core Labor vote in the area, which is based
      primarily in the blue-collar areas of South Sydney, is somewhere between
      30-40%, probably closer to the upper figure. However Labor is in a
      'stand-alone' situation.

      ENTER THE SOCIALIST ALLIANCE

      Comparatively late in the piece, the Socialist Alliance decided to field a
      candidate for Lord Mayor. The candidate for mayor is Susan Price, a DSP
      member, who is also running in the ungrouped spot for city council. For the
      first couple of weeks after the candidature in the City of Sydney was
      announced, the leaders of the ISO and the DSP, the two main groups in the
      Socialist Alliance, have been coy about the question of preferences. They
      have said that it was a matter for the rank-and-file of the Socialist
      Alliance in the City of Sydney (in which, however, the overwhelming majority
      of members are either in the ISO or the DSP). It has now been announced that
      the Socialist Alliance is passing preferences to the Greens, and then to
      Clover Moore. The DSP leaders are busily blaming the ISO leaders, who they
      assert took a hard line in favor of preferences to Clover Moore.

      Preferences to the Greens from a socialist group, if followed by preferences
      to Labor, would not be an unreasonable position. Giving an effective
      preference to Clover Moore, however, is a cynical, reactionary and
      completely indefensible position to be taken by any socialist group, or even
      individual socialist. Today's SMH has a complicated and almost
      unintelligible map of the City of Sydney, with particular spots nominated
      (By Clover Moore) to be the focus for non-car transport. Its difficult, from
      the map and the associated rhetoric, to quite work out what this proposal
      from the Moore camp actually means, but it will no doubt be presented by the
      opportunist leaders of the ISO and DSP as some evidence of Clover Moore's
      progressive credentials. Compared to the issue of her public support for
      outsourcing, and her past support for the Greiner Government's reactionary
      industrial legislation, rhetoric about traffic in the city is a tenth-rate
      issue.

      THE DSP AND ISO LEADERSHIPS CAPITULATE TO NON-CLASS, NEW POLITICS

      The leaders of the DSP and ISO justify all sorts of things on the basis of
      what they call 'the trajectory of movement'. In practice, they capitulate to
      a kind of ignorant populism, which for them, in this case, replaces any kind
      of class analysis. As a guide to practical political decision making, from a
      Marxist point of view, this approach is poisonous. On the one hand, we have
      candidates of the chaotic, mass organisation known as the ALP. A core
      feature of the ALP is the presence within it of most trade union structures.
      In this instance, the Labor organisation in the City of Sydney also includes
      a majority of left wingers, and also the trade union representing council
      workers, the Municipal Employees Union, plays a big role defending the
      interests of council workers within this structure. On the other hand, we
      have the conservative populist, Clover Moore. Not being able to distinguish
      between these two forces underlines how far the practical politics of the
      DSP and ISO leaderships have traveled from even the most primitive
      conceptions of Marxism and class.

      In this particular situation, even conservative right wingers in the ALP,
      like Lee, (the mayoral candidate), is locked in, because of the ALP set up,
      to opposing outsourcing. The ALP in NSW, despite its domination by the
      right, has succeeded in government in removing the overwhelming majority of
      the worst features of the Greiner industrial legislation, which Clover Moore
      helped push through the parliament, way back then.

      This unprincipled opportunism in the Socialist Alliance is causing a
      considerable upheaval in that organisation, as we speak. A number of the
      smaller affiliates are, quite rightly, demanding a call to order on this
      question and it will be interesting to see how the argument proceeds about
      preferencing conservative populist Clover Moore and her team over the
      Laborites.

      In this situation, the DSP leadership, who claim that they initially opposed
      this preference flow, are blaming alternately, the ISO leadership, and/or,
      the rank-and-file of the Socialist Alliance. This line of argument is
      completely precious. The DSP has sufficient weight in the Socialist Alliance
      to achieve anything it seriously wants, and this has been demonstrated on a
      number of occasions.

      The domination of what I call the 'ALP-Trade-Union continuum' by the
      conservative ALP bureaucracy over a very long period has produced a
      substantial alienation of many people, particularly from the 'new social
      layers' from the ALP machine. There are a number of leftist aspects to this
      alienation, but unfortunately there are also a number of deeply conservative
      aspects. Marxists, obviously, have a fairly complex path to tread through
      this situation. But nevertheless, it is a necessary part of the training of
      any Marxist cadre in this period to learn how to disentangle the complex
      class forces which proceed, often, in contradiction to each other in modern
      conditions. A bland capitulation to conservative electoral populism is a
      terrible miseducation of the potential Marxist cadres. Many of these young
      socialists know very little about the Labor movement, and therefore this
      capitulation simply panders to a backwardness on these questions.

      Another feature of this decision is that it tends to reinforce a jagged and
      unproductive split between anyone active in the broader labor movement, and
      socialists operating among the 'new social layers' and the Greens. This is
      particularly dangerous in the current situation leading up to the coming
      Federal Elections, where the critical question in removing the reactionary
      Howard Government, is the question of the united front.

      For all these reasons, all socialists should lend their support to the call
      of a number of the smaller Socialist Alliance affiliates for the speedy
      reversal of this reactionary decision.

      Gould's Book Arcade
      32 King St, Newtown, NSW
      Ph: 9519-8947
      Fax: 9550-5924
      Email: bob@...
      Web: www.gouldsbooks.com.au
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