The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) has voted over the break to dissolve itself as a party and reemerge as the DSP – the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a faction within the Socialist Alliance. In effect this makes the Socialist Alliance more than ever a DSP front.
The idea that SA could ever be an alliance leading to a mass workers’ party when it didn’t include unions, community groups, significant sections of workers etc was always a dream. In fact it merely became an alliance of some of the far left parties. Ironically those who stayed out (Socialist Party and Socialist Alternative) have fared better than those who joined.
The SA was set up as a vehicle by the DSP to entrap their opponents on the left, which they succeeded in doing with the International Socialist Organisation (ISO).
By joining an alliance or mass party, a revolutionary party has to lower its own independent banner somewhat, as we did in the social democratic/Labor Parties of the world until the early 1990s. It’s worth it if it allows Marxists greater access to workers and youth.
With SA in Australia, however, the ISO lowered their banner for no real return.
The crisis in SA is mirrored in Britain where the Socialist Workers Party (linked to the ISO in Australia) has taken over SA and repelled all genuine types inside the party. Even the hitherto compliant Workers Power sect has left SA in Britain, complaining of SWP dominance. The same process is/will occur in Australia in relation to the DSP dominance of SA.
This reality is that the failure of Socialist Alliance has made the gathering of support amongst advanced workers and youth for a genuine new mass workers’ party all the more difficult, especially when the Progressive Labour Party flop of the 1990s is included. In both cases, moves to create a mass workers party/alliance were preemptive, done before the support was ready amongst ordinary people.
We know the Greens have stepped into the space to the Left of Labor. However, amongst thinking workers who are wary of the Greens, the current mood is ‘lets see if Mark Latham will shake things up inside Labor’. This pragmatic (electoral) turn to Labor is reflected in Victorian ETU State Secretary Dean Mighell leaving the Greens (he joined them two years ago after leaving Labor and briefly flirting with the idea of establishing a new workers’ party) and applying to rejoin Labor this week.
While we know that a Latham government will not change anything, while we know the limitations of the Greens, and while we continue to patiently argue inside the movement for a new workers’ party – we understand that this is not going to happen in the short term. The experience of Socialist Alliance has made the job harder not easier.
We must fight for a defeat of the Howard government and thereby get the ear of workers and youth. We must patiently deconstruct for workers the capitalist policies of Latham, well hidden behind his larikan image. We must make it clear that Labor is a bosses’ party in terms of its policies and leadership – but on the other hand understand that a Labor victory would boost the confidence of workers and slow down in the short term the attacks on the CFMEU, Medicare etc. By being active in the fight to get rid of Howard we get the ear of the best of workers and will go through with them the experience of a right-wing Latham Labor government.
In this way we can the ear of workers for a new mass party as disillusion with Labor sets in.
We will maintain our friendly criticism side-by-side with our unofficial electoral pact with the Greens.
By Stephen Jolly
Read below our original reasons for not joining SA and our perspectives for it, written in 2001 and proven correct today.
Socialist Party open letter on the Socialist Alliance, May 2001
We support a united front or coalition of left parties and individuals – not a centralised party dominated by the ISO and DSP
The Socialist Party (formerly Militant), a party that received the highest votes for socialists in the last WA and Victorian state elections, has decided to take observer status only within the Socialist Alliance. This statement explains why.
Vacuum exists for the Left
The WA and Queensland State elections showed the search for an alternative by an increasingly angry working class and rural poor. Up to 30% of people voted for minor parties or independents. The electoral successes of the Greens, especially amongst young voters, gave socialists a taste of what is possible. On the other hand the recovery of One Nation is a warning that if we don’t fill the electoral vacuum, the far right will.
The Socialist Party (SP) calls for the creation of a new mass workers’ party in Australia to break the electoral hold of the ALP on the working class. The ALP no longer represents the interests of the working class. It is disgraceful that trade unions continue to donate resources to this party.
The coming together of left trade unions, community groups, direct action activists, anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist youth, and the existing left wing groups into a new party would be a great breakthrough for the working class. The SP would join such a party and build it, while at the same time fighting for it to take on socialist policies and a campaigning stance.
Election results product of campaigning work
The Socialist Party has the best election results of the socialist left in recent elections. In WA we received a 1.24% in Maylands, the best result for the Left. At the last Victorian state election, we received over 12% in the seat of Richmond (4,213 first preferences), the highest vote for a socialist since the 1950s. In suburbs such as Collingwood and Fitzroy the vote reached close to 17%. This is laying the basis for socialists to capture a seat for the first time in Australia for decades.
The reason for these good votes is years of campaigning work in the community; there are no short cuts. In Richmond most of our vote was due to our work on the heroin crisis, education cuts, industrial issues and more. A minority of voters also voted for clear socialist policies that linked the everyday problems facing the electorate to the need to change society.
We want to work together with the ISO and DSP on the electoral arena. We welcome the change in political direction from the ISO. In the past they criticised socialists standing in elections, now as part of an international change they are standing in elections.
We want to work with all left groups in elections and have done so in all the elections we have stood in. The question is how is it to be done. Our preference is for us to come together in a united front way, that is a coalition of parties and individuals coming together around an agreed programme for the upcoming election.
We have made criticisms of the interim programme of the Socialist Alliance which amongst other things makes no reference to the working class.
Coalition not domination
We don’t believe the existing left wing parties alone provide a sufficient basis for a new party, however they definitely can work together in elections on a united front basis. In fact we want to expand election cooperation to the Greens, independent activists, trade unions etc.
Unfortunately the current plan for the organisation of the Socialist Alliance is too centralised and therefore under the domination of the ISO and DSP.
We are not willing to hand over our election campaign to these parties, who are bigger in size but get less votes (in fact the ISO have never stood in elections in Australia). If other real forces were involved in the Socialist Alliance such as community groups, trade unions, significant numbers of youth etc it would be a different matter.
But at the moment the SA is dominated by two parties. The National Committee has an ISO/DSP built in majority, a product of a private meeting these two parties held prior to the first SA meeting in Sydney in February. The party has a centralised structure that guarantees power to the ISO and DSP.
The SA cites the London Socialist Alliance has a guide for us in Australia. However our experience in the Socialist Alliances in Britain makes us wary. There, the ISO has used its numbers to dominate the organisation despite the fact that in England and Wales and Ireland we are the only socialist party with elected representatives – 6 councilors (and an MP and three councilors in Ireland).
We believe SA should be organised in the same coalition of forces framework that S11 was organised. A centralised approach at this early stage could put off fresh forces from working with us. An alliance organised as a federal, coalition will find it easier to work with the Greens, trade unionists and others outside SA.
We believe a better way to work together is to copy the united front/coalition approach of S11. Such an alliance could still have a common name and an agreed minimum programme, but with each party and individual maintaining their right to put forward their ideas.
SA as it is currently constituted places important barriers to SP and others getting involved. We have won a certain electoral base, especially in Melbourne. Under the call for “left unity”, we are being asked to hand over this to forces we do not have confidence in.
The “self-denying” restrictions on paper sales must be opposed. This is exactly the type of restrictions that the labor and union bureaucrats tried to implement in the past. We will not allow the numerically bigger, but electorally weaker ISO and DSP decide if we can stand in the elections or not.
Others involved in SA have raised similar concerns to us.
We call on SA to move from a centralised format to united front, coalition format. We believe this SA structure will allow the widest possible involvement of those on the left and moving into the political arena. The move to centralise SA is preemptive when it is still largely made up of currently existing left parties. A move to a centralised, democratic party would be a huge step forward if it had union, community group and mass working class support. At the moment such a move is wrong.
The Socialist Party – despite its concerns – has taken an observer status in SA, and will ask for a non-aggression pact with it.
We will ask SA to endorse our candidates. In Victoria we plan on standing Denise Dudley or Stephen Jolly in the federal seat of Melbourne. In the last state election over 6,000 people voted for socialist candidates in the two seats that together make up the federal seat of Melbourne. This is unequalled anywhere in Australia. We have already met with the Greens and are close to an agreement to swap preferences.
We are confident we can make good ground for the left in this seat and ask you to participate in the campaign. Already we have started letter boxing the electorate.
Extract from SP letter to Socialist Alliance, February 2001
“No such forces exist as a basis for this proposed allliance. It would be a fundamental error to be under the illusion that a new viable party will be created by the gathering together of the already-existing small left parties and a very thin layer of non-aligned individuals. This layer, in addition to being small, is also overwhelmingly made up of long-standing activists, rather than of fresh layers just moving into struggle.
“We are in favour of a new mass party for the working class. This will not develop immediately but over a period and this process cannot be viewed in isolation from the class struggle and the situation in the workers’ movement. Any attempt to declare a new party of the working class before the forces necessary to make such a formation real have congregated, will end up the same way as the PLP.”