- Comrades may be suprised to know that the CPGB article (weekly
Worker) by Marcus "Larsen" hs provoked quite some controversy in
Britain on the UK left Letwork (UKLN) list.
Here is a reply I sent to Dave Murray, (and his original post below):
Subject: Re: cpgb/australia
I have no wish to get into a dispute about facts. However, I would
say that there are two separate things at play here:
i) the facts particularly as others argue exactly the opposite
ii) the narrative that we construct around those facts.
As I have said before the Marxist method requires that we study the
question of party and class as a differentiated unity, not as
discrete categories. (In deference to a political collaborator of
mine who has disputed the value of "Marxism", let us call this
method, materialist Hegelianism.)
The totality of the situation must include a discussion of the fact
that Australia is a prosperous stable country, where the far left are
marginal. It must include the fact that the far left has experienced
the end of the Soviet Union as a major disorientation or defeat; and
that the embracing of neo-liberalism by the historically social-
democratic parties is also a political and organisational defeat.
What is more, in the specifically Australian context there is the
fact that the Green party is the natural recipient of the anti-
establishment vote. From my long distance observation, Australia is
also a more socially conservative country than Britain. I personally
would add the factor a world-wide crisis of the toy-town Bolshevik
organisations, like the SWP, (SP) CWI and WRP traditions.
The reason I raise the question of looking at Party and Class as a
differentiated unity, is because we must look at working class
politics as a whole, and look at where we are coming from, where we
are, and where we are going.
You see, I have a political difference with the CWI in that I do not
think it necessary or desirable for "revolutionaries" to be
organisationally separate from "reformists". The dividing issue in
the movement today is not the attitude of comrades to revolution, but
rather their attitude to class struggle. In which case, much of that
which historically divides us is historical baggage.
As I have said before, if you look at different socialist
organisations as static categories, then the SA may indeed have many
of the problems that you identify. However, I would remind people
that the SP in Britain decided that the Socialist Alliance in England
was a doomed project as far back as 2001, In fact at its height of
success. The reasons quoted were the same concerns that you express
now, but substitute SWP for DSP.
The SP's approach was to propose a federal structure for the SA that
would have allowed the SP to veto decisions of the majority knowing
that this would be unacceptable, and then orchestrated a walk out
when it was inevitably rejected. Putting its own brand as more
important than the overall class interest.
Had the SP remained involved then the whole dynamic of the subsequent
history of the SA would have been different, not least in that where
the SA was successful it undermined the sectarian mindset of many SWP
activists. The same process has occurred in Scotland, where some of
the most cooperative and committed comrades to the unity project were
incorrigible sectarians during the poll tax.
In the same way the fact that the DSP are moving towards working in a
broad party is something to be encouraged, even if it is a difficult
process, Whereas your approach is to rubbish the SA on the basis of
its weakness, but starting from the current situation in Australia
then surely any organisation is going to start off weak? The
narrative of failure that you present is even more applicable to the
Socialist Party, which in Britain has disastrously declined over the
last 15 years. Given the fact that all of the "Leninist"
organisations have faced this catastrophic decline in membership and
influence, then if you are right that any attempts to break out of
that cycle are doomed, then we face the bleak prospect of a myriad
competing sects with no plan for advance.
A further myth perpetrated by the CWI, is that the Scottish Socialist
Party was predicated upon the implantation of the Scottish Militant
Labour. Now, no one would take away from the SML the good work that
they did, but these accounts of their past implantation are
exaggerated. What is more the real growth of the SSP has been since
it became a broad party. Indeed if we look at the historical
evolution of the SSP's vote, it has grown dramatically since the SSP
was launched, having started no better than the SA vote in England.
the advantage for the CWI of this myth is that it ring fences the SSP
experience as historically contingent on unique circumstances, while
at the same time claiming the credit for creating those circumstances
themselves, Yeah right.
The path of socialist unity is a hard one, as our experience in
England shows. What is more, it cannot be achieved by good intentions
or debate, but only by practical collaborative work in the class
struggle. The 80 20 principle of the English SA was a useful one
while it was respected. Let us work together on the 80% we agree on,
and put to one side the 20% the divides us, unless it has practical
impact on the day to day tasks.
--- In UK_Left_Network@yahoogroups.com, "SIMPLY RED" <dmurray@s...>
> > Dear Andyin
> I don't know you but I think it is time to comment on this. I was
> once involved in the DSP (mainly its youth organisation Resistance
> the late 1990s) afterwards I briefly joined the PLP and then in2001
> the Socialist Party (CWI), which I'm still a member. In myexperience
> and in the collective experience of the left, the DSP has rarelybeen
> honest. They form opportunist alliances (once even with theUstashe),
> they spread lies about their opponents and behave in anundemocratic
> manner in activist coalitions. Apart from that they have progressedto
> towards Stalinism since 1985, even recently defending East Germany
> and of course Vietnam, LAos and even Cambodian PM Hun Sen.
> From what I can see this debate started with a brainless piece of
> evangelism started on your website from Dave Rily. Dave Riley is
> known widely as a political desperado and will say and do anything
> promote the DSP to a wide layer of people who have been through itin
> the past 30 odd years (around 10,000 people which includes him,now.
> myself, sections of the Greens Party and a NSW Labor minister). The
> decline of the Socialist Alliance has been going for a long time
> Their active membership is only 300-400 (and falling rapidly).Their
> claim of 1200 is based on the number of members it takes to getbeing
> electoral registration here in Australia (ie. getting the Socialist
> Alliance tag on the ballot paper) which ranges between 500, in
> Queensland and Victoria to 750 in NSW. Their results have been
> disasterous, not only because of the large Green vote. But because
> they don't campaign beyone street stalls. Their crap selection of
> candidates and the overstretching of their resources.
> In a big blow to them the Socialist Party won a councillor (even
> though we were supposed to have died from sectarianism and not
> in the Alliance). Socialist Alternative can often mobilise more tomovememnt.
> its meetings and has a much bigger presence in the student
> And the CPA have more TU influence than the SA.
> So its not a mass party like Dave Rily claims. When Marcus Strom
> exposes some of the truth of the SA it is often very hard to figure
> out who to believe, especially when you read and believe a piece of
> crap like Dave Rileys article.
> Hope this sets a few things straight.
> Dave Murray
- For what it's worth, Dave Murray has a track record of bizarre anti-
He seems to willing to believe anything bad about them, regardless of
its factual content or logical plausibility. I'm not entirely sure
what his problem is, but he seems to have picked up a very extreme
case of sectarianism.
I'm quite willing to criticise the DSP for this and that, but I try
to keep my criticism within the limits of, well, reality.
- --- In GreenLeft_discussion@yahoogroups.com, "swindon_socialists"
> You see, I have a political difference with the CWI in that I do notThe ISO comrades in Australia are also stuck on this. They oppose left
> think it necessary or desirable for "revolutionaries" to be
> organisationally separate from "reformists". The dividing issue in
> the movement today is not the attitude of comrades to revolution, but
> rather their attitude to class struggle. In which case, much of that
> which historically divides us is historical baggage.
regroupment through the Socialist Alliance because they want to keep
the supposedly "real revolutionaries" in the ISO box and have the
Socialist Alliance serve as "a united front of a special type" with
Further, they argue that as the mass of workers breaking from the
Labor Party still have "reformist consciousness" , then this "united
front of a special type" must keep its platform reformist.
It is an ideological trap that makes them miss the real opening for
left regroupment around a developing class-struggle program (not a
finished revolutionary program, if there can be such a thing in the
very modest situation of socialists in a country like this).
In September 2003 I participated in a workshop at the ISO's Marxism
conference in Sydney and made the following appeal to them. It sums up
the DSP's approach to the Socialist Alliance as.
Obviously, we have not persuaded the ISO, nor most of the smaller far
left affiliates of this argument. They all hang on to the sad illusion
that they are the keepers of the true revolutionary program! They also
try and convince their members of the equally absurd proposition that
they can do better work in the social movements without working
collectively with other Alliance members.
We can argue till he cows come home about the theroetical validity of
these propositions but the interesting thing is that the ISO
leadership has been too scared to encourage its members even to try
working in this broader collectivity in their main areas of
intervention. Are they scared that their members might just discover
that working with the Socialist Alliance's 100 or so members in the
militant blue collar unions, its at least equal numbers in the main
public service union might prove something to them?
Of course, the Alliance is still weak in the labour movement but it is
way stronger than the ISO on this score. Furthermore, these unionists
work very actively in united fronts with broader layers of militants.
There is nothing Potemkin-like about this, despite what that bitter
gasbag Bob Gould repeats. This sad fellow loves to talk about united
front but the denies the united fronts that actually exist.
In desperation, the ISO leaders might be tempted to seize on Gould's
bullshit arguments and anti-DSP slanders. If they do so they will only
deepen their political isolation in SA.
So the main question in Socialist Alliance today is this: should this
ideologically blinkered anti-regroupment minority of Socialist
Alliance's 1200 or so members (and these are actual dues paying
members with varying levels of political activity within the Alliance
framework), mostly concentrated in a handful of branches, hold back
the majority or destroy what has been built so far? Should this
minority be allowed to dictate the character of the Socialist
Alliance? Can they get away with it?
All I can predict with absolute certainty is: not without a fight.
* * *
The broad party, revolutionary party and the united front
By Peter Boyle, Marxism Sydney September 5, 2003
This is part of an important discussion among Marxists in several
countries about how to take the socialist movement forward in this
time of imperialist war and ruthless, global capitalist exploitation.
Contributions to this discussion have been covered in the IST
discussion bulletins, in Frontline (the magazine produced by the ISM
platform in the SSP) and in Links magazine.
This discussion is taking place in the form of a written debate and
so, inevitably there is a certain amount of polemical dust that slowly
gets cleared away so that the real contending ideas can be seen for
what they are. For instance, as the debate between John Rees (IST) and
Murray Smith (ISM) has proceeded it has become clear that is not a
debate about whether or not to build a mass revolutionary party bit
HOW to do so in today's conditions.
All the protagonists in this debate between Marxists can surely agree
on the need for a revolutionary party arising out of the nature of
capitalism, the state and working class consciousness.
We can probably agree on the following lessons of the Bolshevik
* the importance of a revolutionary program for leading the class
struggle to a revolutionary socialist conclusion;
* on the importance of building a party of those who support such a
program and who agree and are trained to work collectively to advance
that program; and
* on the need for a mass revolutionary party which has won, through
its political activity, a real leadership role in the working class.
The question is how to get there.
I am sure we can all also agree with Lenin that there is no getting
there in a straight line.
The Bolsheviks didn't build their party in a straight line and neither
will the socialist movement in this country be built simply by any of
the existing small socialist propaganda groups, like the ISO and the
DSP incrementally building up their membership. That road will be
conditioned by specific conditions and political developments here,
including the political choices socialists in this country make.
Further, the international discussion about how to build a mass
revolutionary party is more than a theoretical debate. Conflicting
party building perspectives are being tested out in practice by the
protagonists in this debate and by others, in various left regroupment
processes or alliances, in Italy, Portugal, Denmark, France, Brazil,
Scotland, England, Wales and here in Australia in the Socialist Alliance.
Of course there are very different circumstances in each of these
countries. In Italy and Brazil, for instance, the PRC and the PT are
mass parties with substantial bases in the working class. The SSP, for
instance while having made big strides forward in the electoral
sphere, in building up a community base is just beginning to win
substantial support in the trade unions. And we, in the Socialist
Alliance in Australia are further behind in development.
But we have made a start on the basis of general agreement of all the
founding affiliate groups that there was a special opening for
socialists today, arising out of the concerted capitalist neo-liberal
offensive, the growing dissent to that offensive and the resulting
mass disillusionment in the ALP.
Our two organisations certainly agreed on that. That's why the ISO and
DSP collaborated in initiating the Alliance two and a half years ago.
Of course, we agree that such a project is not enough: we also need to
build united fronts to campaign against specific attacks and around
But today we have significant differences on what should be the way
forward for the Socialist Alliance project.
The ISO sees the Socialist Alliance as a "united front of a special
type" -- a united front of revolutionaries and reformists to contest
elections, as well as campaign in other ways around a basically
reformist program. The revolutionaries participate in this united
front and seek to win others to its revolutionary perspectives and
recruit them to their own revolutionary organisation. The Alliance is
the united front and the ISO is the revolutionary party or embryo of a
revolutionary party and you don't think it is good to mix up these two
The DSP sees the Socialist Alliance project to bring socialists --
revolutionary, reformist/evolutionary, not-sure-what-sort-of-socialist
together in a united socialist party. We argue that the affiliate
groups in the Socialist Alliance should pool their resources and
experience and build this as the new multi-tendency party.
The opening for the building of such a party is very concrete. We are
at the beginning of a new cycle of struggle following two decades of
working class retreat.
We welcomed the new militancy demonstrated in the 1998 MUA struggle,
the S11 blockade as the beginning of a new wave of resistance and we
recognised that some sort of left unity project, like the Socialist
Alliance, was essential if socialists were to get a broader hearing
from the working class in these circumstances.
Two and a half years after the Socialist Alliance was formed it is now
an incontestable fact that the greater left unity this represented has
given us a broader hearing in the working class. The comrades who were
at the May national conference remember the participation of Craig
Johnston, Martin Kingham and the grand reception put on by the Workers
First at the Comrades Bar. And we have the subsequent victories of
Comrade Chris Cain in the WA MUA elections, and Comrade Tim Gooden who
was recently elected deputy secretary of the Geelong TLC.
The conservative wing to the trade union movement certainly has taken
notice. They warn their bureaucratic hacks of the growing threat of
the Socialist Alliance-influenced militants and we saw their paranoia
about Socialist Alliance in their recent splitting of the Sydney
anti-war coalition. They are worried because their party, the ALP, is
in a deepening crisis.
Having led the working class into retreat and having championed (and
in when government organised) the neo-liberal offensive against the
social gains of previous working class struggles, the Labor party is
facing a serious political crisis. Labor's ever more explicit shift to
the right -- whether in government or in opposition -- opens up a
space to its left that all serious socialists know we have to contend
for. A growing section of the working class and other oppressed layers
are looking for a political alternative to the major parties.
The Greens have a growing hearing from these layers. But some in these
layers are attracted to a more explicitly working class alternative.
The Greens attract support partly because of their vague reformist
program but also because they have a parliamentary presence. However,
the Greens face an internal right-ward pressure from a consolidated
and dominant narrowly parliamentarist wing within its own leadership,
so we can expect the Greens not to fill all of that left space.
We all know from our experience that winning the working class away
from its traditional Labor misleadership requires a lot more than
exposing their betrayals. Indeed these days socialists are
hard-pressed to keep up with the ALP politician's relentless
self-exposure! If disillusioned-in-Labor workers are to rise above
despair, cynicism, and apathy they have to see a viable alternative
political vehicle, or at least one in construction.
This is where the discussion about the politics of the workers
breaking from Labor -- and how to relate to it -- has to get a little
more sophisticated than "are they still reformist or not". The
consciousness of these layers varied. It extends all the way from
attraction to Hansonite racist populism to revolutionary consciousness.
But what did Lenin and the Bolsheviks teach us about how to deal with
the different levels of consciousness in the working class? Use the
What I mean by this, in our context, is not that we get up and start
yelling: "We're your leaders, come to us". That won't work. Rather
our challenge is to unite with the actual political leaders of the
left-ward moving detachments of the working class so that we can win
over more of their ranks to the socialist movement.
So our priority in SA is to unite with the militant trade unionists.
And also with the leaders of the working class outside the trade
unions, in the other social movements because the working class
movement today, we know, is no longer only politically organised
through the trade unions. Beyond that we have to work more closely
with other militant trade union leaders who are still in the ALP, the
Martin Kinghams, Michelle O'Neils, Dean Mighells, etc. However, there
is no doubt that we will work closer with this wider layer of working
class militants, and win more of their respect and confidence if we
are organised as a united socialist party.
Building a united socialist party with as much of the socialist
working class vanguard as possible is a greater priority today than
resolving the relatively theoretical differences that divide the
revolutionary socialist affiliates of the Socialist Alliance. Most of
the militant working class leaders stated time and time again that the
revolutionary left should work together. I think it is very
unfortunate that Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party and the
Communist Party have yet to take up our many invitations to join the
Alliance but I am pretty sure they will as the Socialist Alliance
makes more progress.
But what about sorting out the theoretical differences between the
various revolutionary socialist groups? And what about the differences
between those socialists who call themselves revolutionary and those
socialists who are not sure if they do, or, perhaps are even
First, we should recognise that many of these differences are only
going to be resolved with a certain test in practice. And SA can be a
vehicle for this. Secondly, it can also be a vehicle for comradely and
democratic debate. It is this already -- to a degree -- and we can
make it more so, as long as it is within a framework that does not get
in the way of the important job of linking up with the new socialist
working class vanguard and working out a common living socialist
program with them.
The DSP also sees building a united, multi-tendency socialist party as
an important stage in the struggle for a mass revolutionary party in
Others in the Socialist Alliance do not have to agree with this, but
that is our perspective as revolutionary socialists. And we are
totally open about this revolutionary perspective. There is no reason
to hide it and really any attempt to hide our revolutionary
perspective would be futile. The people we work with -- and the many
more who will join us in the future in the Socialist Alliance and in
the movements know where we are coming from. We don't have to trick
them into working with us by hiding our revolutionary perspective.
Just about every delegate at the May conference who did not belong to
a revolutionary socialist organisation voted to "accept and welcome a
strong revolutionary socialist stream as an integral part of our
vision of a broad Socialist party". These delegates also voted to
"progress towards a single, multi-tendency socialist party".
So, revolutionary socialists don't have to hide their politics in the
Socialist Alliance. But more than that revolutionaries comprise the
majority of the leadership at all levels of the Alliance. And those in
the Socialist Alliance who may not describe themselves as
revolutionaries (though many of these wouldn't describe themselves as
reformists either) accept this situation. This is a characteristic the
Socialist Alliance shares with the SSP.
This is why we are confident that while the Socialist Alliance begins
with a limited class struggle program and a broad socialist objective
(and does not have an explicitly revolutionary program), in the course
of united struggle it will steadily and freely develop its program in
an explicitly revolutionary direction. With clear rights to organise
around our political ideas within a multi-tendency, socialist party,
we Marxists should be confident that we can win others in such a party
to the revolutionary perspective.
The socialist movement in this country is at a relatively early stage
of development but we have before us in the Socialist Alliance an
opportunity to take a significant step forward. Some pretty
significant leaders of the most militant detachments of the working
class are now working closer with us than ever before in the
expectation that the organised socialist left will continue to work
together. Comrades, let's not squander this priceless opening.
- ---Dave Murray was reputed to have written on the UK left list:
> The decline of the Socialist Alliance has been going for a longtime now.
> > Their active membership is only 300-400 (and falling rapidly).Many of us should know by now that Dave Murray can't help himself so
> > claim of 1200 is based on the number of members it takes to get
> > electoral registration here in Australia.
we tend to be indulgent with his rages. So lets' put aside all the
personal abuse stuff he thows at me.
But within this vociferous rant he does struggle to make at least
one polemical point: that the SA isn't really as big as I claimed it
I in fact clearly referred to the SA's paid up membership and
proffered an estimate as it isn't always a straightforward task to
quantify what the actual membership is at any one time . At no time
did I equate that figure with the status of a mass party (as Murray
seems to think I did). The SA is presently a small political
But I did discuss the Alliance's moderate attainments relative to
the size and influence of the small far left groups by themselves
competing with one another as is their historical want.I also
referenced that achievement along the political time line of my own
experience going back 35 years.
However since the Alliance has only been going four years it is
difficult to locate the long term decline he insists the SA is
suffering from even though we are supposed to have an active
membership of "300-400(and falling rapidly)."
I raise this point as this was the very same charge, leveled in
another forum, in protest against my interview with the Socialist
Unity Network. I am amazed at Dave Murray's acumen because I doubt
that there are many (if indeed any)people in the SA who can
confidently arrive at such a figure. I don't claim to be one of
The Socialist Alliance is a disparate grouping which does not comply
to the same rules of cohesion that appy to the various small
Marxian caucuses. That's one of the many advantages it has other
the standalone partyish model. People co-exist at different levels
within the SA. Some are committed Marxists, others are totally new
to politics. Some attend branch meetings/some don't. A section of
the membership may be regular demonstrators attending any number of
rallies and marches each year; others prefer to work in their trade
union or give financially to the project and limit their input to
handing out on polling day. In fact, the Alliance pretty much
reflects what it currently is: a political formation in transition
from electoral coalition to multi tendency socialist party. And if
you read your Green Left Weekly or Alliance Voices you'll note that
the nature and pace of that transition is precisely the issue in
dispute within the SA.
The Alliance is a very complex political phenomenon which is
difficult to get a handle on. Even collecting statistics from its
far flung branches is quite a challenge. You can kiss all your crude
schemata good bye, because the SA proceeds at an uneven pace and
seems to hold to its own trajectory formatted between the electoral
weight of the Greens and the continuing decline in ALP support. To
make matters more difficult to comprehend, the nature of the
Alliance varies from locality to locality even varying significantly
within the one broad metropolitan area.
In the current Green Left Weekly David Glantz will tell you that his
inner Melbourne branch of Wills has 98 members and these 98 members
do this and that. But he doesn't tell you that around 30 of those
are members of SA affiliates who are concentrated there. This ratio
is not replicated elsewhere in the country...fortunately.
Of the 17 at my branch meeting tonight -- one of three branches in
inner Brisbane -- 4 were members of affiliates and the rest were
variously active in different aspects of the SA's work here.Two had
joint membership with the Qld Greens and one had travelled 90
minutes by car from the Sunshine Coast to attend. My branch's
membership is about 30 -- give or take a few --I think. So 17 of
them turn up to a branch meeting -- I think that makes for a pretty
good return for a Wednesday night call out.
We have a problem in the SA that out initial growth in branch
numbers has relied on the branch building inputs of member
affiliates -- primarily the DSP but also the ISO in a few places --
and now we are beginning to rely on people without that political
experience to charter and create branches in areas where we have a
few members but no formal branch. Something like 20% of SA members,
I understand, are resident OUTSIDE branch areas in regional centres.
This problem is so significant that last year we had to publish a
branch building DIY manual for use in these far flung localities. So
that now we are looking toward new branches being established at
some stage soon maybe on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane and
the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. This last year branches were
chartered on the Gold Coast and in the rural Victorian centre of
Centres like these have no history of organised socialist activity
either never or since the halcyon days of the CPA(which may be the
case in the Blue Mtns).
At our national hookup last weekend we endorsed changes to reduce
the administrative burden that branches have to fulfil under the
various electoral acts that govern us. As we free branches up more
so that they can better network with their members, we also hope to
establish more district wide caucuses so we can more effectively
organise our movement interventions.
What we are doing --part by intention and part by default -- is
create various forums members can employ to relate to the Alliance
At stake, no doubt, is how many of our members are activated to do
political work. On that point I totally agree with Dave Murray. But
we are not here talking about his Socialist Party but a very
different formation with a lot more going for itself. Not only are
we much bigger in real terms, but we do indeed have more activists
and can boast of a reasonable cross union implantation. And it is
still early days -- that's the most amazing aspect of the Alliance
existence so far. We have been going only four years and just two
years navigating toward a multi tendency socialist party. And we are
doing that within the confines of the factional circumstances I
outlined in the interview.
- Lies, damned lies and statistics. More on the Boyle-Riley Potemkin village
By Bob Gould
The vitriolic committeeman Peter Boyle, in his latest post, pours out
his usual bile against Bob Gould and extends it to a sweeping assault
on the ISO, which he asserts belligerently will be steam-rolled in a
big fight if it uses any of Gould's argument or even if it persists in
opposing the DSP's proposals.
He blurts out some half statistics, as does Dave Riley in his recent
post. These statistics are ambiguously presented, but nevertheless
let's take them as a starting point.
Boyle says the Socialist Alliance has 1200 paid-up members, or
thereabouts (a big drop from the 2000 that used to be claimed in the
early days of the alliance).
Accepting Boyle's fitures and extrapolating from the relative
populations of Australian cities and regions and from what is publicly
known about the Socialist Alliance in various states, the shape of the
alliance may look as follows: 50 in Brisbane, 15 in rural Queensland,
15 in the NT, 50 in Perth, 10 in rural WA, 30 in Adelaide, 10 in rural
SA, 30 in Tasmania, 50 in the ACT, 30 in Newcastle, 10 in Wollongong,
20 in rural NSW, 10 in Geelong, 20 in rural Victoria, which means
there have to be about 500 in Sydney and about 400 in Melbourne to
reach Boyle's putative total of 1200.
Sydney is the area where I live. There are ostensibly, or have been,
the following Alliance branches in this city: Eastern Suburbs, Sydney
Central, Marrickville, Bankstown, Parramatta (now Auburn), Blue
Mountains and Northern Suburbs.
The Blue Mountains and Northern Suburbs branches have closed, the
Auburn and Bankstown branches get attendances at meetings of 15-20 and
the other three branches have had very small attendances since
Christmas, partly because the DSP members have been throwing their
energies into the coming Asia-Pacific conference and next Sunday's
antiwar demonstration, and the ISO members have been concentrating on
the antiwar demonstration and several local peace groups.
I have attended two or three Sydney-wide Socialist Alliance meetings
for interesting overseas speakers held in Sydney's Gaelic Club, and
all the meetings I have attended had about 75 people at them, mostly
DSP and Resistance members, although Green Left Weekly, with its 30
per cent inflation principle for such meetings, has always claimed
attendances of 100.
In my experience, the DSP always inflates claims of attendance at its
own events. Even if you accept the DSP claims, and factor in that not
all members attend meetings, it's hard to see how the Socialist
Alliance could have 400-500 members in Sydney.
I don't doubt that such members may exist somewhere, probably as
signatures on a form, who have been signed up to get the alliance
registered with the Electoral Commission. That kind of political
cultivation of a periphery by socialists is a legitimate form of
The DSP, in particular, has always done that fairly systematically. In
the early 1990s it used sign up former members and Green Left
subscribers as Green Left supporters, etc, etc.
The Potemkin village aspect arises, however, when Boyle and Riley
present these figures as evidence that the Socialist Alliance is a
powerful political current in the labour movement and a serious mass
competitor to Labor (the "second party of capitalism" as the DSP calls
it), and the Greens.
Such crazy rhetoric is meant to persuade DSP-Socialist Alliance
supporters that they are still relevant despite the political
isolation that flows from their false perspective and to present
themselves to friends overseas as a much more influential political
current in Australia than they really are.
Riley's self-serving piece is only one side of the story about
Brisbane. I'm informed that the activists in the Inala branch have
sent out letters saying that unless others start attending the
meetings they'll fold the branch, and so it goes.
There's nothing wrong with socialists working their hardest at
political outreach agitation. The political problems arise when this
activity is conducted around an ultraleft, Third Period political
perspective that is ultimately self-defeating.
It's also crazy to present an energetic socialist outreach agitation
as an existing serious mass alternative to Labor and the Greens.
The bombastic, chronically politically insulting committeeman Peter
Boyle is now extending to the ISO the habitual abuse with which he
treats me when I argue the point with the DSP, and I wonder with some
interest what this portends.
- I now have little time and less interest in repeatedly correctly Bob
Gould's dishonesty with information that is empirically verifiable,
but I'll throw this in:
>Accepting Boyle's fitures and extrapolating from the relative"Publicly known" seems to mean to Bob what he hears in gossip in his
>populations of Australian cities and regions and from what is publicly
>known about the Socialist Alliance in various states, the shape of the
>alliance may look as follows: 50 in Brisbane, 15 in rural Queensland,
>15 in the NT, 50 in Perth, 10 in rural WA, 30 in Adelaide, 10 in rural
>SA, 30 in Tasmania, 50 in the ACT, 30 in Newcastle, 10 in Wollongong,
>20 in rural NSW ...
perch in his Newtown shop, or whatever he surmises will be useful for
his arguments. The Northern Rivers branch of SA has 35 paid up
members. Not all hard-core Bolshevik activists true, but people who
identify with and have some level of involvement in SA. There's a
branch in Taree, which I recall seeing somewhere had 7 members.
There's a couple of paid-up members in Grafton and at least one in
Armidale (an activist in the NTEU at UNE and in the town's anti-war
and refugee rights campaigns). There's apparently some in other
towns. Whether it's "publicly known" or not, there's at least 45-50
SA members in rural NSW. I would guess Bob's other "publicly known"
figures are similarly inaccurate.
- As Nick Friedman points out bookshop gossip is hardly a substantive
source when you want to punch up SA numbers. Especially when the
actual figures are so hard to ascertain.
Maybe soon we will have an up to date figure for total SA membership
when we collate branch returns. This reflects the fact that the SA
is fairly loose organisationally at present and relies on an
extremely hard pressed and understaffed national office to do the
I do suggest that subscibers to this forum monitor the debate in
Alliance Voices as I'm sure there will be many branch profiles
shared there in the months ahead. In the latest AV there is an
interesting --and I would say inspiring -- profile of our Perth
But the question of activity is an interesting topic and needs to be
considered as that too goes to the heart of the current debate.
Those who want the SA to revert to a electoralist coalition object
to any general attempt to consistently involve the SA membership in
activity outside election related events. Of course, they get caught
up in their own contradictions in this regard and will concede say,
on indigenous issues or on a trade union campaign -- but these
coincidental, obligatory and almost moral add ons are not their
preferred option. That kind of activity is supposed to be the
monopoly of their own closed caucuses working with others under
their own copyrighted brand name. The SA sign is supposed to be
switched on only for special occasions. It's a costume you keep in
Of course the problem is that the MORE active the SA is outside
election mode, and the MORE the SA exists as a standalone formation
in its own right, the MORE it poses a threat to the continuing
existence of the present culture of closed Marxian caucuses
competing with one another for recruits and influence.
Inherent in this closed caucus mindset is the assumption that these
outfits can survive and prosper. That is definitely not my view. If
trends over the past ten years persist, the survival of the far left
organisationally through the second decade of the 21st century is
questionable. The toy cominternism that sustains so many of these
outfits --as Andy Newman points out -- is under duress.
If the laws of evolution are relevant I can't help but note a
trend. What we are experiencing is a convergence between a new
situation (following on from the 'fall of communism' which cannot be
separated from the 'crisis in social democracy'), a new opportunity
actually, and the course the sixties New Left has run which has
forced a re-assessment by many of the stakeholders involved as their
various party building formats have failed to move far from the
To pretend that it still can be "business as usual" is to take up
the POV of the Dodo.
Any cursory reading of the events in England confirms how hard this
process can be BUT ALSO it affirms how relentless it is. Despite the
terrible early setbacks, the banner of left regroupment remains --
to steal a phrase -- a 'material force' on the British left.
So a key element in this exchange is being able to realistically
assess how far the Alliance project has come in the space of its
four short years. And in that regard the question of SA activity --
of activism -- is relevant. I pointed out before that it is a
mistake to equate activity in the SA with the internal culture of
its various affiliates.
But I do offer what I think is a relevant analogy: the activism of
the Socialist Alliance compared to that of the Greens-- DESPITE THE
FACT that the Greens have many times more members than the Alliance.
The Greens are reputed to have 7,000 members nationally.
Here in Brisbane the comparison is straighforward and the SA wins
hands down even when it comes to electioneering although obviously
they can stretch beyond us when it comes to staffing polling booths
on election day. I can't speak for other centres interstate.
The comparable analogy of measuring the SA against the various
standalone left groups is much harder to qualify or quantify. Within
the zoo of campus politics it is hard to see the wood for the
trees. But elswhere --say in the anti war movement, within the
womens movement, around migrant issues, in indigenous campaigns,
within certain trade unions, etc -- the reach and impressive
activity of the Alliance is salient, albeit uneven nationally.
That doesn't mean that the Alliance is an "activist organisation".
What it does mean is that it is beginning -- this is still early
days -- to harnass its resources. And part of our problem is that we
don't know fully what all those resources are. Such a problem is
structural and what you'll note, as this debate proceeds, is that
organisational questions are imbedded in this exchange.