Socialist Alliance: black is white

by

Green Left Weekly discussion list, March 2, 2005

The discussion between Nigel Irritible, from the Irish Socialist Party, and Peter Boyle and Dave Riley about the dissolution of the British Socialist Alliance has been surreal on the Boyle-Riley side.

The British SWP, recognising political reality and having a new venture to promote, the electoral formation Respect, has wrapped up the British Socialist Alliance and mobilised sufficient votes to do so. That was possible because the SWP was by far the dominant force in the British Socialist Alliance.

Nigel Irritable, a factional opponent of the British SWP but a very careful commentator, has given an account of the developments from his group’s point of view and very cautiously drawn inferences about the Australian DSP and the Australian Socialist Alliance.

This has generated a furious response from Riley, the essence of which is that the British SWP and the British Socialist Party are terrible sects but his own outfit, the DSP-cum-Socialist-Alliance, is impeccably non-sectarian and no parallel at all can be drawn between the DSP and the British SWP.

In Riley’s latest contribution, today, he heaps abuse on Nigel Irritible for his view that initiatives for socialist regroupment ought to depend on an estimate of the current conjuncture. Riley makes the completely voluntarist assertion that the vital thing is to continue with a venture like the Socialist Alliance independently of the conjuncture.

That assertion encapsulates the current political strategy of the DSP-Socialist Alliance.

It’s a rather unfortunate moment for the DSP to be arguing that point with Nigel Irritible. The small Socialist Party in Melbourne, led by Steve Jolly, managed to get about half a quota of about 7 per cent in an election in Melbourne, and get a councillor elected by a judicious preference swap with Labor.

Jolly and the Socialist Party at least take their independent electoral activity seriously and campaign intensely. The far larger DSP conducts a routine electoral campaign in WA, obviously without actually doing much at all, and gets a vote that is statistically negligible. That in a state where the DSP-Socialist Alliance is the only significant far left group.

Boyle’s contribution to the discussion can be reasonably described as the Potemkin Village approach. He baldly makes assertions about the DSP-Socialist Alliance influence, a number of which are unproven and some of which verge on the delusional.

The reality of the Socialist Alliance at the moment is that there is intense tension between the DSP machine control and all the other affiliates. It’s also a fact that many of the independents have departed from the Socialist Alliance, discontented with the DSP’s mechanical control of the formation.

There’s also a bit of dispute going on between the ISO and the DSP leadership about Green Left Weekly. This dispute arises from the way the DSP has rammed organisational support for GLW down the throats of the other affiliates and many independents.

The DSP is fighting very hard for GLW to become the paper of the Socialist Alliance while retaining DSP leadership control of GLW.

The ISO, which reluctantly had to acquiesce in GLW being the de facto paper of the Alliance, is quite properly agitated about the way the DSP’s eclectic political line is belted out in GLW, and it quite properly takes issue with Dick Nichols’ sectarian article about Labor (Nichols’ reply to me on that article, which he promised, has not appeared five weeks later). The ISO also objects to the DSP’s views on Che Guevara being published in the Common Cause section of GLW, which is supposed to be reserved for the views of the Socialist Alliance.

The parallels between DSP conduct in the Australian Socialist Alliance and British SWP conduct in the British Socialist Alliance are quite striking. It takes Boyle and Riley, who belt out anything that suits them to try to divert attention from this problem.

Boyle makes bald assertions about the powerful influence of the DSP and the Socialist Alliance and their organic alliance with militant unionists in Victoria and WA.

He presents as evidence for this great influence of the DSP on militant union officials the fact that some union officials take a bundle of GLW, which they leave on their office counter. How many unions would that be? Three or maybe five? Courtesy bundles of left papers is an old, and in a way quite a good, tradition, but many more unions used to do that with the papers of the old CPA and the paper of the Maoists, Vanguard.

To present that as political influence is, to anyone who knows anything about the dynamics of the labour movement, verging on the delusional.

The really pernicious thing about GLW at the present juncture is the automatic presumption of Labor and trade union betrayal over the Howard conservatives’ attack on the unions, and the struggle against those attacks.

GLW validly points to the dangerous implications of a defeatist statement by ACTU leader Greg Combey, but it ignores the more combative statements of people like AWU leader Bill Shorten, and it completely ignores the meeting of the six state and two territory Labor ministers, which decided unanimously to totally reject and resist in every legal way, attempts to transfer state industrial relations powers to the federal government.

That’s one of the issues at the heart of the current crisis.

The coverage of this crisis in GLW has a defeatist undertone and avoids the political necessity of mobilising the maximum labour movement united front, including the state Labor governments, against the Liberal assault.

The political reason for this is obvious. The only dimension the DSP can allow is things like mass delegates’ meetings. A broad united front approach would require marching separately but uniting with Labor, and that can’t be tolerated in the DSP’s increasingly dangerous alternative universe.

When will reality penetrate the self-satisified world of Boyle and Riley, who routinely substitute the interests of their sect for the broader needs of the labour movement?

In addition to that, why would anyone in the Socialist Alliance, or anywhere else on the left, other than DSP and its non-party Bolsheviks such as Riley, have the slightest interest in promoting GLW, with its current deadly ultraleft political line in the labour movement?

Once again, people should read Jack Lang’s account of the crisis of the industrial relations crisis of the conservative Bruce Page government in the 1920s.

I hear on the grapevine that Humphrey McQueen is quite interested in having a discussion on electoral and other questions facing the Socialist Alliance at the planned Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference. For my part, I repeat my suggestion to the DSP: why not have serious tactical discussion at that conference?

Discussion

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