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John Passant

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December 2012



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In Australia Socialist Alternative’s Conference votes for unity with the Revolutionary Socialist Party

On the first day of Socialist Alternative’s 2012 National Conference in Melbourne, delegates have overwhelmingly voted in favour of continuing and deepening the process of uniting the revolutionary left in Australia write the editors of Socialist Alternative.

By a margin of 81 for to 2 against, delegates endorsed the National Executive’s proposal to fuse with the Revolutionary Socialist Party. The motion to endorse the fusion read:

“Conference supports merging with the RSP and empowers the NE to carry through the merger.

“The basis for unity is agreement on a socialist program for Australia today: for revolution; for a Marxist party; against imperialism; against all forms of oppression; against the capitalist state and for workers’ power.”

The merger will not actually take place until around the time of the Marxism 2013 Conference next year, when the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) will hold a congress to vote on ratifying the fusion. But we anticipate that the collaboration between the two groups that has begun in recent months will deepen as we move towards uniting in a single organisation.

This weekend’s conference was the culmination of several months of lively discussion and debate within Socialist Alternative about the prospect and terms of uniting with the RSP.  A considerable number of documents were submitted to our pre-conference discussion bulletin putting various points of view, and branches around the country had numerous meetings debating out the issues, culminating in the election of delegates to conference.

Some members had expressed concern about fusing with a group from a different political tradition to the International Socialist current in which Socialist Alternative has its origins. But by the time of conference there was an overwhelming majority in favour of the process of attempting to unite with other revolutionaries on the basis of a straightforward revolutionary Marxist program dealing with the challenges of fighting for socialism in Australia today.

The conference also voted to endorse a new Constitution and statement of General Principles, which will shortly be available on our website.

Our previous constitution was written when the group was formed in 1995, immediately after we had been expelled from the International Socialist Organisation. At that time we were a much smaller and more loosely organised group – the rewrite of the Constitution was in order to bring it up to date to reflect the real practice and nature of the organisation today. The Constitution was adopted, incorporating a considerable number of amendments from delegates.

The new General Principles, along with the “Aims and Objectives” section of the Constitution, are designed to help define the core politics of the organisation. They put forward an unambiguously Marxist point of view, without being narrowly the outlook of one particular Marxist tradition.

In the session on unity with the RSP there was a lengthy debate on whether to vote on a motion “That Socialist Alternative reaffirms its analysis of all countries in the world today as capitalist. Their relations of production are characterised by greater or lesser degrees of private and state capitalism.” Conference voted overwhelmingly (78 for, 3 against) to support a motion from the floor that a vote on this question not be taken, as it could only be read as a signal that the organisation was hostile to people joining who did not agree with us on these questions.

After this vote, an amendment to the statement of General Principles that proposed to define the Stalinist regime in Russia as “state capitalist” was withdrawn.

Delegates also voted on a proposal to expand and upgrade the National Committee – which is the highest decision making body of the organisation between conferences. Delegates endorsed a proposal that a number of former RSP members be co-opted onto the National Committee as soon as the merger process is complete.

Aside from fusion with the RSP, the Conference also discussed the broader process of attempting to reach out to and regroup with revolutionaries in Australia. Reports from branches across the country indicate that a sizable number of people are now in closer touch with the organisation as a result of this process. Across the country several hundred people who are not members of Socialist Alternative attended our end of year events, and are to various degrees involved in discussions about the project of left unity.

Conference also had a substantial discussion about the unity talks taking place between Socialist Alternative and the Socialist Alliance. Delegates voted unanimously to support a motion that:

“Our approach to the Socialist Alliance is necessarily quite different to our approach to unity with the RSP. The RSP is a self-declared Marxist organisation with which we are seeking unity on a revolutionary basis. In contrast the Socialist Alliance does not have a Marxist program and you don’t have to be a revolutionary to join it.

“Nevertheless it is worthwhile engaging with the Socialist Alliance in order to clarify whether unity is possible. Conference empowers the NE to continue with the discussions we have begun with the Socialist Alliance.”

Socialist Alternative will send a leadership delegation to the Socialist Alliance Congress in Geelong in January, and we anticipate being able to work more closely with them and move towards a greater common understanding, which we hope can end in a united organisation.

It was also reported to Conference that Socialist Alternative and the Socialist Alliance have just reached an agreement whereby Socialist Alliance will be involved in the Marxism 2013 conference. A joint statement on this will be available on our website soon.

The Socialist Alternative Conference will continue for the next two days in Melbourne.


I was a delegate but could not attend because of health problems. I intended to vote against merger if the new principles did not mention socialism from below and state capitalism. As the report makes clear, they don’t. I may have voted against the merger in any event.



Comment from Dr_Tad
Time December 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm

John, you say at the end, “I may have voted against the merger in any event.” Did you reservations run deeper than just the issues you mention?

Comment from John
Time December 18, 2012 at 10:47 am

For starters I am trying to work out what has changed in the external environment or even our analysis of the nature of tasks for revolutionaries today (as a propaganda group for example) to make the merger something supportable now compared to a year ago.

Comment from Dr_Tad
Time December 18, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Is this kind of stuff not made clear in the internal documents from your leadership team?

Comment from John
Time December 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Not to me.

Comment from Shane H
Time December 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm

So the People’s Font of Judea has agreed to proceed with the merger with Judean People’s front – but still look askance as the Popular Front. ‘Splitters’.

Comment from John
Time December 19, 2012 at 7:41 am

Shane, I think the situation is more complex than that, as this joint statement from Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative makes clear.

Comment from Dr_Tad
Time December 19, 2012 at 9:43 pm

This, I still contend, is a very weird call for Marxists to be making in 2012, with the benefit of hindsight:

“The political character of the regime established by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia most closely resembled that placed in power in capitalist countries by victorious fascist movements — an atomised population ruled over by a ruthless bureaucratic dictatorship masquerading behind social demagogy.”

Comment from John
Time December 20, 2012 at 7:03 am

I wrote about this in an internal bulletin.

Comment from David Lockwood
Time December 20, 2012 at 11:29 am

With regard to the current unity push on the Australian far left, mainly coming from Socialist Alternative, three points:

1. If Socialist Alternative merges with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (and perhaps, further down the track, with the Socialist alliance), there will emerge an organisation which will contain within it considerable differences. The easiest of these to deal with will be those over big political questions: what’s going on in Venezuela; the nature of Soviet-type economies; whether China is capitalist etc. Much more difficult will be those over questions of strategy: what are we here for and what do we do next? It is on those questions that the IS tendency in Australia has fairly regularly torn itself to pieces over the last 35 years or so. The tendency’s history indicates that it has never been able to tolerate internal differences on strategic questions without a major faction fight or a split or both. What makes things different this time around?

2. An earlier attempt at uniting the far left groups was made in 2001 and resulted in the formation of the Socialist Alliance – with very much the same breathless excitement now being espoused by Socialist Alternative. At the time, the Socialist Alternative leadership was very critical and the organisation removed itself from the Alliance in fairly short order. Again one has to ask: what’s changed?

3. Socialist Alternative’s statement. ‘A New Kind of Unity’, states that differences should be debated ‘in a democratic manner, including in our publications’. ‘Debates between revolutionaries?’ it continues: ‘Absolutely.’ Despite paying lip service to this notion over the years (mainly because versions of it appeared in some late-1960s musings of Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas), this kind of open discussion has never been the practice of the International Socialists/Socialist Alternative from their beginnings in 1975. Why the change? It’s an especially important question because the enforced invisibility of internal debate wasn’t just a nasty idea of the leadership. It was always justified with reference to history and/or political tradition and/or the current state of the group and/or the Nature of the Period. Now, either the policy has been wrong all that time and is now being put right, or something has changed. Which?

But you will not find answers to the above questions in Socialist Alternative’s public documents. Instead, the impression is given that nothing has changed. We’ve always been for left unity; we’ve always encouraged debate; we’ve always been open about our differences.

Perhaps the Socialist Alternative leadership has had a collective change of heart. But as Marxists, they should be able to tell us why.

David Lockwood

Comment from John
Time December 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

David, you say ‘this kind of open discussion has never been the practice of the International Socialists/Socialist Alternative from their beginnings in 1975’. I just don’t think that is right. Indeed I think the faction fight in the early 80s shows dissent did occur. on the other hand the question fo handling dissent in the long term is one that the split in 84/85 shows may not have been resolved then but certainly the idea of having different socialist currents in the organisation poses that question starkly, as I wrote in an Internal Bulletin. The recently adopted constitution says … members have the right to publicly express disagreement with decisions and policies of the Organisation.

I think that encompasses the RSP minority position on a number of matters including for example arguments about Reclaim the Night. It also allows other comrades to disagree. Of course the formalism of constitutions doesn’t necessarily translate into practice, so let’s see.

As to point 2, I agree with your question. I also think the breathless excitement will wear off into a reality of hard work and cooperation but we shall see. Let’s suck it and see. One point is that the merger opens up the possibility of attracting non-aligned socialists to the group, something which has been happening to a limited extent.

I think the characterisation in point 1 of a merged organisation with considerable differences is true and I made that point in an Internal Bulletin, and so too did others. The merger raises the question for example of what is a revolutionary organisation and who are revolutionaries. As t the faction fights and splits over internal differences, I think that is probably true fo the past. is it now? I don’t know but I do think merging with the RSP will see if difference is manageable. Like you I think the different backgrounds will lead to different strategies on important concrete questions being proposed. But it won’t be black and white. The first test I would think would be around Reclaim the Night.

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