DSP front well to the back

by

Greg Adler

The Socialist Alliance was set up in Australia as an attempt to develop left unity for campaigns and electoral work. I understand how that is working out is a matter of interest for some on this list.

The Democratic Socialist Party/Perspective and the International Socialist Organisation were the major groups in the SA, along with a number of smaller left gtoups and ungrouped leftists/socialists.

When I say that SA was set up as an attempt at left unity, that was certainly what I understood. I also accepted that all the groups and individuals who were involved had that view and wanted to do their best to implement it while still being aware of the great difficulties involved in that.

The reality was, however, that the DSP had a different view all along. As its recently discarded 40 year leader, John Percy, wrote last October in the DSP’s internal discussion, a large part of the DSP’s motivation for getting involved in the SA was as a means of delivering a blow to the ISO, and that tactic worked, he boasted.

But the reality of the DSP’s approach to the SA was clear well before that. It worked to make the SA in effect a front for the DSP, pushing through its politically bizarre position of transforming the SA into a multi-tendency socialist party (MTSP) and effectively establishing its newspaper, Green Left Weekly, as the organ of the SA.

This went along with the DSP positioning the SA more and more to reflect its own sectarian position on the rest of the left and the labour movement, coupled with increasingly grandiose claims of SA influence in the broader movement, divorced from all reality.

In recent times the leading DSP figures who triumphed in the internal
struggle and who want to maintain the SA as ongoing working front for the DSP rather than a mothballed one brought out for special reasons, have been talking up the claimed strength of the SA.

An example of this is a contribution by leading DSPer Lisa MacDonald in the most recent of the SA’s internal discussion bulletin, Alliance Voices vol 6 no.1. The title of this piece gives its flavour: “A moribund Socialist Alliance? Let the facts speak.” She writes of various campaign, activities and particularly the work planned in a number of SA branches.

These are the facts that are to be taken to speak of the non-moribund nature of the SA. She gives as a particular example the following:

“Perth branch has just launched an ambitious campaign in the Victoria Park by-election standing unaffiliated Socialist Alliance member and union activist John Tattersal as our candidate.”

In the same volume of the AV Chris Latham on behalf of the SA Perth branch announces that the decision to stand in the by-election had been made on February 6 The by-election was held on Saturday March 11. The announcement by the Perth branch set out an impressive program of work and campaigning leading up to election day.

I have no idea whether this work was actually carried out in the way that was planned. I, however, have no reason to believe that the SA members in Perth did other than their best to run the campaign as planned. I don’t know John Tattersal, but as a union activist and unaffiliated member of the SA he seems to have been a good candidate.

The by-election took place in the midst of a frenzy of news stories about internal factional wars in the Labor Party nationally. As well, a leading member of the federal Liberal government was revealed to have called for even stronger anti-trade-union laws and attacks on workers’ conditions.

At a by-election the WA Labor government could not be defeated. As a swing of more than 16 per cent was required to defeat the Labor candidate there was no real prospect of Labor losing the seat, and of course under the preferential system of voting a vote for the SA candidate could pass on to the Labor candidate if a voter wanted to do so.

All of this meant that there was a very favourable situation for the SA to get a reasonable vote if it was any position to attract support.

Now it’s time to let the facts speak. In a field of 11 the SA came in ninth, with 0.81 per cent of the vote. It was beaten by a variety of right-wing candidates from minor parties, and independents.

Labor won almost 50 per cent of the primary vote.The Greens got just over 8 per cent.The Daylight Saving Party (a different DSP) got 1.04 per cent. Even informal, ie those who either couldn’t, or couldn’t be bothered, to vote validly came in at more than four times the SA vote.

I am not electorally obsessed. In fact, one of my last acts in the SA was to oppose the move by the DSP to stand in a local NSW by-election. But these are facts.

Plainly, the claims of well-functioning branches with significant support among those disaffected with Labor and looking for leadership in their coming struggles is completely dissonant with this pathetic electoral result.

The reality, or the the fact that speaks out loud — in fact it screams from the roof tops — is that the SA is on the nose. Its sectarianism dictated by the DSP and its clear operation as a front for the DSP defeats whatever good intentions and efforts some who remain in it may have and carry out.

I do concede to Lisa MacDonald that the SA is still alive and will remain so as long as the DSP thinks some use can be squeezed from it.

The unionists and Labor supporters and others who want to join in a campaign against attacks on workers’ rights, anti-union legislation, continued maltreatment of indigenous people, the Australian role on the war in Iraq and many other issues showed clearly in their boycott of the SA in Victoria Park that they have no confidence whatsoever in the SA to provide leadership in such a campaign.

The facts have spoken.

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