What do you
consider to be the major gains of the Socialist Alliance project so far?
The outstanding gain has been to demonstrate
that the left can unite around a common project and begin to build a
meaningful alternative to a Labor Party that is increasingly moving to the
The alliance works
when the founding groups and the many individuals who have joined since 2001
focus on what we hold in common - opposition to Howard's war on workers, the
poor and the oppressed, and to his war on Iraq. We need to continue with
that spirit of unity, at the same time maintaining a tolerant and
pluralistic alliance culture where the differences that do exist are
means we have been able to be stronger than the sum of our parts when it
comes to playing a role in the anti-war movement, in defending our unions,
in defending Indigenous rights or abortion rights.
There is a thirst
among tens of thousands of people around the country for a principled and
positive alternative to neoliberalism, not least at election time. In such a
situation, the non-Labor left must take itself seriously. We haven't become
that alternative yet, but we've at least begun the process and gained some
two-and-a-half years of moving in a 'partyish' direction the Socialist
Alliance seems to have reached a watershed in its development. Do you agree
that that is the case?
Alliance project has stalled. That doesn't mean there aren't some important
achievements, like the work of our union members, the upcoming union
fight-back conference, which the alliance initiated, our role in the
Indigenous community in south-east Queensland, our council election results
in Melbourne, and new branches in regional Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
But the alliance
has not broken through. There are some reasons for this outside of our
control, principally Labor's defeat in the federal election and the
electoral credibility of the Greens. But the ISO believes that there are
also factors of the alliance's own making.
There is a clear
division within the alliance, with the ISO on one side and the Democratic
Socialist Perspective (DSP) on the other, over what kind of alliance we
estimation what are the major problems confronting the SA at this time?
I think the biggest problem is the drive to turn the alliance, which is
still a smallish organisation dominated by activists from revolutionary
affiliates, into an activist and centralised party similar in many ways to
the existing hard left.
In the ISO's
opinion, the core audience for the alliance is not the existing hard left,
either groups or individuals, but those thousands of workers, students and
claimants who have traditionally looked to Labor for representation but who
feel betrayed by Labor's charge to the right. After all, Kim Beazley is now
deliberately to the right of some Liberal MPs on the question of refugees!
To win over and
organise even a fraction of that audience, the alliance has to:
elections seriously (because disaffected Labor supporters do -
that's "real" politics to most people);
local issues and put down roots in the community (which includes
taking up the big issues of war and union-bashing and linking them
to local organising); and
relaxed and informal atmosphere, which is welcoming to people new to
organised politics and who have family, work or study commitments.
Instead, the DSP
perspective has led to the opposite: a frantic branch life; an emphasis on
members supporting the Green
Left Weekly; a downgrading of
electoral work, especially at the valuable lower-house or council level; an
over-the-top focus on events in Venezuela; and a shift towards an apparatus
which is out of step with the alliance's real stage of development and which
can be sustained only through a constant round of branch fund-raising,
tiring members even more.
Is it any wonder
that an increasing number of alliance members have voted with their feet and
many branches are going backwards?
DSP's perspective for the alliance has been sold by pointing to the
achievements (which are real) of the Scottish Socialist Party and
denigrating the strategy of Respect in England for being too electoralist. I
think the election of George Galloway for Respect, which has had a global
impact given his trouncing of the US senate, puts that debate in a different
Are the problems
Of course, but at the coming conference we need a certain humility and
willingness to look reality in the face. It is also vital that we reject any
notion of "winner takes all". Unity within the Alliance has to be built by
common struggles and experiences; it cannot be imposed. I think the
conference has to reconsider a few important things.
We must junk the
current one-sided hostility to Labor, which is cutting us off from many
disaffected Labor types - we need a united front with those people, not a
We need to dump the
trial relationship with Green
Left Weekly (which I'm confident will continue
to support the alliance in any case) and commit to producing publications
(leaflets, broadsheets, charters, Seeing Red,
etc.), which grow organically from the alliance's work and which can be
supported from current funding.
We need to ensure
that our branches are funded to do the local work and election campaigning
that will grow the alliance.
In other words, we
need to learn something from the methodology of Respect's success in
England. We can't replicate such an organisation here, but we can adopt and
adapt its approach to united front work with Muslims and disenchanted Labor
supporters, and its organic growth out of real campaigns, principally but
not exclusively against the war in Iraq.
What are your
views on the idea that the Socialist Alliance should transform itself into a
"multi-tendency socialist party"?
The alliance is a
party and it has multiple tendencies. What's the fuss? Those who repeat the
initials MTSP in the alliance like a mantra have to answer the question:
what do we do? I think we build the alliance as a broad, pluralistic party
that fights elections, that campaigns in between, and that builds links with
those in and around both the Greens and Labor.
Out of that might
come a really valuable regroupment of the broadest left, which would shift
the Australian political landscape and give real hope to those who see only
a world of greed, poverty, environmental disaster and war.