It is with regret that we write on behalf of the International Socialist Organisation to inform you that the recent ISO national conference voted to disaffiliate from the Socialist Alliance.
The ISO participated in the launch of the Alliance in early 2001 in response to the rising anti-capitalist movement, signified by the success of the Melbourne S11 demonstration in 2000. This movement created the possibility of exploiting the growing divisions between the expectations of Labor’s working class supporters and what Labor was prepared to offer. From our perspective, the Alliance was a worthwhile exercise in left unity with the specific aim of providing a space for disaffected Labor supporters who were both inspired by the emergence of anti-capitalist protest and looking for a new political home.
Of course, Labor’s commitment to running capitalism has meant that the party always disappoints its supporters when in government. But this tension has become even sharper due to its wholesale acceptance of neo-liberal economic policies since the 1980s. The anti-capitalist protests at S11 and M1 (2001) further exposed this tension.
As we know, the expected Labor victory at the 2001 federal election never eventuated. The political situation was radically altered by the arrival of the MV Tampa, followed by the events of 9/11. Labor’s subsequent capitulation to imperialist warmongering and racism handed Howard another term in government and established a new, more challenging environment for the left.
Despite the real difficulties we encountered during the period immediately following 9/11, the Alliance continued to offer a glimpse of how a united radical left alternative could attract new faces and start to grow. Many on the left were pleasantly surprised and encouraged by an initial willingness among Alliance members and affiliates to work together in a way that emphasised agreement, rather than disagreement. The initial growth in membership, the size and enthusiasm of the launch rallies, the emergence of small regional branches, the strengthening of some union networks and the publication of
Seeing Red all indicated the potential.
Despite the rise of the Greens as an electoral force, it was clear that there was still a space for a left electoral alternative with more explicitly working class politics. With time Socialist Alliance might have begun to make ground, as Steve Jolly’s Socialist Party did in Yarra – a council where Green control had seen a continuation of neo-liberal priorities.
Despite generally poor election results, there were some examples of how it was possible to build a more credible electoral support base. Of particular note was the result in Victorian council elections in late 2004, with the Alliance winning 3809 votes for Moreland Council in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. In the strongest (and most working class) ward, the Socialist Alliance vote was 11 per cent, similar to the figure that saw Steve Jolly of the Socialist Party win a seat on Yarra Council.
But the Socialist Alliance was doomed by subjective, not objective, factors. The Democratic Socialist Perspective
used its organisational weight to impose a series of disastrous decisions that debilitated and demoralised many members and affiliates. These included declaring the SA a multi-tendency socialist party; insisting that Green Left Weekly be the “paper of the Socialist Alliance”; and taking 100 per cent of membership fees from local branches and effectively crippling local work.
Alongside this, the DSP continued to use its long-established organising methods within the Alliance, with its members generating a pace of activity suited to a revolutionary organisation, not a broad left party. As a result the Alliance is now little more than a re-badged DSP.
The Alliance’s electoral work has been reduced to a propagandist effort to raise the socialist banner. There is no real attempt to engage in either the systematic electioneering or campaigning around local issues necessary to build a larger support base. The Alliance is not only failing to build itself as a credible electoral alternative that could be a home for those disillusioned with Labor, it is not even trying.
However, the ISO continues to believe that the construction of a united party of the radical left is an important goal. Based on the experience since 2000, there are two important lessons that must be heeded in this regard.
Firstly, there is a clear link between the growth and vibrancy of grassroots social movements and the emergence of genuine radical left formations. The Alliance itself could not have been conceived without the success of S11. We also believe that this lesson is confirmed by the international experience; for example, the rise of the Linkspartei and WASG in Germany following mass protests against government attempts to dismantle the welfare state, or the emergence of the Respect coalition out of
the UK’s successful anti-war movement.
It is for this reason that we believe the current task of socialists is to focus energies on re-building grassroots movement activism, with a special focus on the anti-war movement. Doing so requires that the left grasp the opportunities created by the crisis of US imperialism, and also builds the movement as broadly and inclusively as possible.
Secondly, there is absolutely no role for sectarianism towards working people who have broken with Labor, considering making the break, or simply unhappy with the party’s direction. Formations that establish unnecessary conditions on the participation of such individuals will remain on the margins of politics. In this regard, the development of the Alliance into an organization that routinely treats the ALP as if it were simply “Another Liberal Party” is inexcusable. This is especially so in the context of Labor’s resurgence under Kevin Rudd. Labor’s challenge to Howard raises a number of difficult questions
that socialists have a duty to relate to, such as the US alliance or the privatisation debate, to name two of the most important examples. But the starting point must be what we have in common with Labor supporters, and an effort on our part to create the possibility of united action. There is no longer any doubt that the internal climate created by the DSP has established insurmountable barriers to the Alliance’s ability to attract any significant number of former or current Labor supporters.
Although in practice we withdrew from active membership of the Alliance over a year ago, the time has come to formally disaffiliate. While we do so with a sense of regret, we remain optimistic about the possibility for left renewal in the future. That future starts in the here and now, in the struggle to drive the Howard government from power.
ISO National Executive
Discussion: Marxmail, Green Left