From Solidarity 3/21, 11 January 2003
Meeting in conference over the New Year weekend, the Democratic Socialist Party, largest of the groups within the Australian Socialist Alliance, reaffirmed its view that "the transformation of the Alliance into a united organisation (with right of tendency for all participating forces) remains necessary and possible".
It noted that: "Indeed, the possibility of reaching a higher form of unity, along the lines achieved in the Scottish Socialist Party, has already been advocated by another Alliance affiliate (Workers' Liberty)".
The DSP conference felt that it had to "endorse the decisions of the DSP [leadership] to withdraw the proposal [which they had made back in August 2002] to convert the DSP into a tendency within the Socialist Alliance... The ultimatum of the ISO to abandon the Alliance if the DSP voted to transform itself into a tendency within the Alliance left the party with no option but to withdraw that proposal-the very future of the Alliance was at stake". The DSP still, however, agrees with the idea of upgrading the Alliance into a multi-tendency party-type organisation, and resolved to pursue it as best can be done with a sufficient level of consensus, up to and through the forthcoming Socialist Alliance conference in May.
The Australian Socialist Alliance was formed in mid-2001, and includes the DSP (Castroites), ISO (Australian offshoot of the British SWP), Workers' Liberty Australia, and a range of other groups and independents.
It has had some of the same problems as the Socialist Alliance in England. Its election scores have been low. (Workers' Liberty argues that a major factor there is the Alliance presenting a political platform which is a scattershot collection of "good causes", distinguishable only in degree from the Greens, instead of developing a clear message of working-class political representation). On one of the major issues for the Australian left in the last year, campaigning for refugee rights, the Alliance as such has been left looking on while the DSP and ISO each pursue their own ventures (though on that it must be said that the DSP should bear most of the blame for disunity, and the ISO, essentially, none).
But the Australian Socialist Alliance has had a better political life than the English - discussion bulletins, a very useful series of trade union seminars, a good speaking tour by Pakistani socialist Farooq Tariq. Its Brisbane branch, following a well-attended Saturday-afternoon school to open a wide debate on socialist strategy, has agreed a series of educational seminars. The day-to-day work of the Alliance is organised through a group of three convenors, one DSP, one ISO, one Workers' Liberty, who generally have been able to work together smoothly.
At its own conference on 7-8 December 2002, however, the ISO came close to voting to withdraw from the Alliance. ISO leaders say that that a vote on withdrawal would have been very close, lacking authority whichever way it went, so they decided to continue debate and postpone a decision until after the New South Wales state elections in March.
ISO withdrawal was first put on the agenda by their alarm at the DSP's proposal to transform itself from a "party" into a "tendency" inside the Alliance, which the ISO saw as an attempt to "squeeze" the ISO by trapping it in a tighter Alliance. There are, however, more fundamental background factors.
In the closer political interaction between DSP and ISO since the Alliance was founded, the DSP - though only modestly larger than the ISO - has run rings around the ISO, politically. The ISO has declined in numbers and morale. That is not only, or even mainly, because of the ISO's participation in the Alliance, which in some areas is now minimal, but rather because of its general turn, following the SWP, into what it calls "united front" work.
A lot of its members have disappeared into building various broad fronts - Refugee Action Committee, Stop The War, Social Forum - and often without much political profile. The run-up to a Stop The War demonstration in Brisbane saw the ISO arguing vehemently against having any socialist speaker at the event, and then, when they were outvoted on having such a speaker, refusing the slot themselves and leaving it to a Workers' Liberty activist.
Meanwhile, an "unofficial", splinter SWP offshoot in Australia - Socialist Alternative, which has links with the excommunicated-by-the-SWP ISO-USA - has cleaned up, recruiting fast and outstripping the ISO in numbers, by an "old-ISO-style" tactic of focusing on showy fake-ultra-left recruitment gimmicks and participating in broader campaigns only as and when it sees immediate recruitment opportunities. Socialist Alternative has stayed out of the Socialist Alliance.
A united multi-tendency left remains the way forward. The way towards it is through thorough and broad discussion of basic socialist questions across the left, and through unity in action on issues like refugee rights.
From Solidarity 3/21, 11 January 2003