Regular readers of Solidarity will remember our coverage of the regroupment talk on the Australian left. Socialist Alternative, a group which used to be widely reviled as sectarian, has gained ground, is planning merger with the smaller Revolutionary Socialist Party, and has talks set with the Socialist Alliance.
On 11 October I talked on the phone with Mick Armstrong, a longstanding leader of Socialist Alternative (S Alt).
He said that SAlt has been “able to broaden its activities”; “but that’s been going on over a period of years”. Contrary to what some say, it is not a “rapid change or major break”.
“On an international level, there’s been a shift in outlook... We’ve had more outreach to other forces which don’t come from our ideological tradition”. S Alt subscribes to the same ideological tradition as the SWP in Britain, but comes from a group expelled in 1995 from the “official” SWP-linked group in Australia, which is now called Solidarity.
“But for people like myself who go back to the ‘70s — we’ve been involved in situations before where we’ve attempted to regroup or work with people from other backgrounds”.
We talked about the history of the SWP-linked current in Australia, which was originally Draperite rather than Cliffite, and about the political evolutions of the SWP even since 1995,, which S Alt has shared. such as on Islamism.
S Alt’s statement says the RSP merger can be done because both groups have resisted the shift to the right by “much of the left”. Does “much of the left” mean Socialist Alliance and Solidarity?
“We don’t just mean that. It’s a much broader thing...”
The S Alt constitution permits factions outside pre-conference periods — unlike the IS/SWP since the early 1970s — but says that factions must dissolve after a conference decides.
“We are in the process of rewriting our constitution. I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, but I’ll say that clause will go”. Public expression of dissent is not prohibited by S Alt; but, I said, it is not S Alt custom and practice. S Alt’s monthly magazine is not like the AWL’s press, or that of the old LCR in France, where serious disagreements are routinely debated in public.
“Yes and no. It’s not the norm [to have disagreements in the public press], but it’s not ruled out.” Over East Timor in 1999, some members publicly disagreed.
But not in the press? “No. But at public meetings, which to us mattered more. Compared to other groups, we put less emphasis on the printed press.
“We could put out a fortnightly publication if we wanted to, but we’re much more interested in doing public meetings, campus meetings, meetings after demonstrations, that sort of thing”.
I concluded by saying that we appreciated S Alt’s work in support of the QCH dispute and want to work with S Alt on a defence campaign for Bob Carnegie against the contempt of court charges he faces. Mick said he thought S Alt would be up for that.