Resignation from the Socialist Alliance

by

Resignation from the Socialist Alliance
The convenor
Socialist Alliance
Adelaide

Dear comrade,

I hope this finds you well. I have been having a serious think about politics more or less since the election – not that the election result had much effect on this. I have decided not to renew my membership of the Alliance and I thought that I should write and tell you why.

As you probably know (since I never tire of telling people), I joined the International Socialists in 1976. For the next 25 years or so (through the IS, Socialist Action, the ISO and then Socialist Alternative), I pursued the conviction that the main task for Marxists was to build a cadre group around a particular interpretation of the texts (Soviet state capitalism being our particular favourite); that this group would gradually become larger (outshining all others in the process); and then it would somehow connect with militant workers and become a mass revolutionary party.

In the last few years, I have ceased to believe that this is a plausible process. Historically, it has never worked – and I include in that generalisation the Bolsheviks, who for most of their existence were the extreme left of a much larger mass party. A mass party will not emerge out of the organic growth of the grouplets, no matter how correct (and who is to judge?) their politics. In downturns in the class struggle, they turn sectish (the predominant pattern over the last 20-30 years); in upturns they are swept to the sidelines (this was my overwhelming impression during the Maritime Union of Australia dispute in Melbourne).

When the Socialist Alliance was formed, I felt it was basically a Good Thing. This was from a left unity point of view, as I considered (and still do) the differences between the grouplets to be arcane, not to say fairly stupid. However, I never believed that the Alliance project was being pushed along by an upsurge in political opposition – from “anti-capitalism”, the antiwar movement or whatever (this of course was the position of both the DSP and the ISO). Quite the contrary. Despite those brief movements, it seems to me that the left remains in a dreadful state. For me, the Alliance was always an exercise in uniting those who could be united and saving what could be saved, rather than one of aggressive forward movement.

I think we would all acknowledge that the DSP and the ISO came to the Alliance table with different meals in mind. The former looked forward to unity, hopefully under their own hegemony, while the latter saw it as an electoral pact and not much more. I suspect that both groups sat down to eat, fired by their congential overoptimism (another aspect of the grouplet mentality) – this time in the anti-capitalist and antiwar movements. Perhaps they each hoped to eclipse the other in the process. Whether or not that was the case, those movements are long gone now – and if there were any doubt about that, the last federal election result came along to remind us of it.

The Alliance, therefore, is in rather an invidious position. The upsurge of political opposition, on which the two major grouplets based their strategy, either never existed or has come and gone. Further progress towards unity within the Alliance (which in present circumstances could only mean DSP hegemony) is blocked by the non-DSP grouplets. The electoral challenge has been a total failure. Relations with the rest of the left are, in my view, somewhat poisoned by the DSP’s appalling attitude towards the Labor Party (“put it out of its misery” etc, etc). And the division between the two main grouplets’ views of the Alliance has broken out into the open once again.

But, given my change of position on the cadre-group-to-party process over the last few years, I have to ask myself: if left unity actually was achieved between the tiny grouplets that constitute the Alliance, would it make any difference? In place of the grouplets that did exist there would be one, slightly larger one – but presumably still pursuing the old strategy of growth into the mass revolutionary party … Which I now think is impossible.

Mass parties emerge from the class struggle of the working class (I do realise this is all rather obvious) and are likely to be based on the organisations of the working class, ie the trade unions. The most that revolutionary socialists can hope for is to be the extreme left of such a mass party – and, if they are very lucky, to have some connection with left rank and file movements in the trade unions.

There is no such mass party today and it cannot be constructed artifically. The Socialist Alliance is not going to be it any more than the other grouplets are. So what to do?

On the one hand, the only political organisation with anything like an organic relationship to the trade unions is the Labor Party (and I realise that that relationship is being weakened). But because of that relationship, perhaps that is where socialist propaganda could be carried out which had some connection with working class organisation. This might seem a rather daunting prospect. On the other hand, the political organisation with some mass appeal and better politics is the Greens. And so that might be a fruitful area of activity as well. Beyond that, I think it would be a good idea to heed the advice that Hal Draper gave American socialists in the early 1970s: to try to establish a “political centre” (ie not a cadre or membership group), probably around a publication, which might blossom into a discussion group, concentrating on the spread of socialist ideas more than anything else. Perhaps the discussion group might come first, hopefully involving socialists from the ALP, the Greens, the Alliance, and others. Anyway, one of those avenues is what I intend to pursue. So one way or another, I’ll be in touch. Please feel free to show this to whoever.

Best regards,

David Lockwood
April 2005

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