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John Passant

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A new kind of left unity

The following is the editorial from the latest issue of Socialist Alternative magazine. Over the coming months there will be further statements and discussions. For more on steps toward revolutionary regroupment visit the “Towards unity on the left” section of our website.

This is an unusual edition of Socialist Alternative magazine. In most issues, our front page and lead article address some pressing issue of Australian or international politics from a socialist point of view: defending refugee rights, championing trade union struggles or attacking the capitalist system as a whole.

But we do not publish this magazine just to draw attention to the injustices of the world, or provide a Marxist explanation for why society is the way it is. We want to contribute to building sustained resistance to the system, a fightback that can eventually become a revolutionary challenge to the existing order.

We share with many others on the socialist left the conviction that a crucial component of any effective challenge to capitalism will be the construction of revolutionary socialist organisations in every country that can challenge reformist forces like the Labor Party for leadership of the workers’ movement, and organise militant workers and students into a force that can lead a sustained assault on the institutions of capitalist rule.

We don’t deny we are a very long way from such an ambitious goal today. But even the most perfunctory look at the dire future facing the planet, and the crisis of world capitalism that is savaging working class living standards across the globe, indicates the urgency of building a challenge not just to aspects of capitalism, but to the system as a whole.

Over recent months, Socialist Alternative has embarked on a project that we hope will be an important step on the long road to building a serious revolutionary socialist force in Australian politics.

We have been in discussions with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) about uniting our organisations, discussions which we are confident will lead to a successful merger early next year. The RSP comes from a different political tradition to us, and we have differences on important questions. But we agree about the key issues facing socialists in Australia, and on the basics of what a socialist organisation in Australia needs to stand for, as is outlined in the statements by both organisations that we publish here.

The discussions with the RSP, and the fact that several long term socialist activists from different political traditions to Socialist Alternative have joined us in the last few months, has led us to think more generally about how the socialist left in Australia can build.

The elements of the far left that exist in most Western countries today are for the most part derived from currents that trace their heritage back to the struggle of Trotsky and the Left Opposition against Stalin in the 1920s. But for much of the subsequent history – particularly following WWII – these currents have been divided and sub-divided, often with great acrimony. Disputes about the class nature of the USSR and other “socialist” states combined with arguments about tactical and strategic questions, leading to a far left that was deeply divided, sometimes to the point of parody.

We do not want to downplay the importance of these historic disputes, or pretend that we are renouncing our historic positions. We do not count ourselves among those who think citing The Life Of Brian is an incredibly witty and original response to anyone who makes an argument against another current on the left. Nor do we want to adopt a “don’t mention the war” approach to the issues of today that still divide us.

But the reality is not only that the far left agrees on much more than it disagrees, but also that historic positions are no necessary guide to contemporary political positions. For example the “state capitalist” tradition that Socialist Alternative comes from (which characterises the USSR and other “socialist” countries as a statised version of capitalism, rather than socialist or “workers states”) has been divided over the two central debates on the international left in 2012 – the Syrian Revolution and the rise of SYRIZA in Greece. These questions have also divided the other tendencies of Trotskyism internationally.

So what are we proposing? In simple terms: a regroupment of the revolutionary socialist left in Australia. In the period since the great struggles of the 1960s and 70s a great number of socialists have gone through the varied far-left organisations. Many of these organisations have come and gone, and when they went many revolutionaries went with them, not feeling there was another group they could join.

What we want to create is an organisation that does not start with the historic differences that divide the far left, but a socialist program for Australia today: for revolution; for a Marxist party; against imperialism; against all oppression; against the capitalist state; for workers’ power.

We are not proposing a “broad party” that tries to involve all kinds of non-socialist forces. We want a Marxist party, with a clear program and principles. We want a political organisation that operates on the basis of majority decisions, but where minorities have the right to their opinions. We don’t want “unity” for its own sake, but unity of the forces who want to fight for revolutionary change.

Members of Socialist Alternative who come from the International Socialist tradition are not about to abandon our views. But neither do we demand or expect that people from other traditions will abandon theirs. When and if these different traditions lead us to disagree on issues of practical policy, we will debate them out in a democratic manner, including in our publications.

We do not subscribe to the view that “Leninism” demands a party publication that only puts the view of majorities. This caricature has nothing to do with anything Lenin or the Bolsheviks ever did or said. That is not to say that our magazine will become some broad left publication in which revolutionary and reformist views are both tolerated. But debates between revolutionaries? – absolutely.

We think this is a relatively new initiative on the left, not just in Australia, but internationally. There have, of course, been innumerable left unity projects since the fall of the USSR, but almost all have been about abandoning a clear Marxist line or watering down political positions.

In certain countries – Greece is the most obvious – there is a serious space for revolutionaries to contribute to the construction of mass workers’ parties that can cohere the working class as a whole, or at least serious sections of the class. In those situations, it would be mad for revolutionaries to counterpose their own organisations to the mass of radicalising workers.

But this is not the situation we face in most countries, least of all Australia. Here we are laying the basis for the future. Confronting contemporary capitalism is not just a matter of building campaigns and movements, but of constructing a systematic ideological alternative, a counter to the hegemony of capitalist ideas. We want to build a clearly Marxist, revolutionary organisation, uncompromising in its struggle against reformism, determined to pursue a class struggle line in word and deed.

We are very encouraged by the response we have received so far to our statements and approaches.

We are realists: there are inevitably some sectarian elements of the left with whom it would be impossible to genuinely unite, as if they did join our ranks it would only be with the purpose of creating discord and rancour.

But for anyone who is serious about building a revolutionary socialist organisation in Australia: we want to be a group you can make your own. The revolutionary left has been too small, too divided, and too sidelined for too long. We have a world to win. Let’s make a start



Comment from Ewen
Time November 2, 2012 at 10:50 pm

This is great news John, I hope it works out as a positive for us all, however it pans out. I believe the Australian people are starting to wake up to the fact the current governments are nothing but thieves, liars, and cheats and if there is a strong Left force then they will run with it. It is up to us to get our heads around the differences that we have with each other and charge forward.
Steve Jolly (Socialist Party) maintains his council seat in the Yarra council, and Sue Bolton (Socialist Alliance) came from 4th in early polling to 1st in the North-east ward of Moreland, in the Victorian council elections. Sue won out of 24 candidates! Though, the runners up are at the moment scrutinising the informals.

Comment from John
Time November 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

Thanks Ewen. I mention the election results for Steve and Sue on another post, and Nick Fredman pointed out Sue Bull won about 10,000 votes running for mayor of Geelong. I made the point it was good to see Sue Bolton at the refugee picket at Maribyrnong, (not surprising by the way), but it also got me thinking. I wonder how many people who voted for Steve or Sue or Sue could be mobilised around that issue, or indeed more bread and butter issues. I guess we will know soon enough from Sue, and Steve has been getting large numbers involved in local campaigns from memory.