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Another Generation Lost? Doubts About the Socialist Alliance

There can be no doubt it was an enthusiastic evening. On April 10, some two
hundred people attended a meeting at Brunswick Town Hall launching an
electoral alliance of the radical left calling itself "Socialist Alliance".
Consisting of the Democratic Socialist Party, the International Socialist
Organisation, Socialist Alternative, Workers Power, Workers Liberty, Workers
League, the Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Democracy, and the
Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (in exile), the alliance is being heralded as
having "enormous potential", "huge opportunities" and so forth.

Notably absent from this Alliance are major radical left parties such as the
Communist Party of Australia, the Socialist Party, and the Socialist
Equality Party, along with at least a dozen minor - and probably forgotten -
organisations. It seems that even to this day, only a tentative alliance
with significant exclusions can be formed among the alphabet soup of the far
left of Australian politics, who continue to form separate political
organisations on differences concerning an uprising in a Slavic kingdom some
eighty years ago. And as much members of these organisations laugh at the
tiny sect known as the Sparticists, they seem oblivious to the fact that the
joke's on them. The Sparticists are merely a microcosmic parody of far left
parties as a whole - sectarian, ineffectual and irrelevant.

It is not as if the confused miasma of the Australian far left hasn't
experimented with unification in the past. In the mid-1980s far larger
alliances that the current circumstances were cooked up between the
Communist Party of Australia, the Socialist Workers' Party, the Socialist
Party of Australia, the Association for Communist Unity, the BLF and a
multitude of left independents (Bob Gould, Frank Hardy, Ken McLeod). The
local and international circumstances were better as well. The Australian
Labor Party was at the time as right-wing as it ever had been and hopefully
ever will be. At the same time positive developments in the Soviet Union
through 'glasnost' and 'perestroika', as well as a genuine commitment to
nuclear disarmament made socialism a viable and credible local and
international alternative.

Eventually of course, these discussions all fell apart. The CPA dissolved,
with a section going into the ALP. The SPA re-named itself as the CPA and
the SWP renamed itself the DSP. Meanwhile, Gorbachev's attempt to reform
communism collapsed and the conservative Coalition gained national
government in this country. The momentum for the much-heralded "new left
party" was taken up by the Greens, a body and ideology which defies the
chief theoreticians of the fringe parties and which continues to grow.

The radical left parties in Australia, then and now, are too fragmented, too
centered around tiny sects with cultic leaderships, utterly paranoid of
others encroaching on their territory, virulent in their defense of obscure
interpretations of their version of history and Marxist (and only Marxist)
orthodoxy. As part of his excellent far-sightedness it is little wonder that
Marx himself once remarked Je ne suis pas un 'Marxist'.

But it doesn't stop there. The platform of Socialist Alliance is, to say the
least, undeveloped and for that matter, nor particularly socialist. There is
no mention of public ownership of infrastructure industries. There is no
mention of democratic control over the means of production, let alone even
partial industrial democracy. There is no mention of community control of
their local environment and decentralised essential industries. There is no
mention of automatic union membership. There is no mention of Constitutional
or electoral reform.

Indeed, on a whole slate of issues - personal and civil rights, the
environment, international relations, and natural monopolies the Socialist
Alliance is actually far more right wing than say, the Greens, or for that
matter, the A.L.P's Pledge Unions - Labor Left group. The platform of
Socialist Alliance exposes them as merely liberals in substance with a
radical vocabulary. Either that or their practical perspective is so
moribund that their leadership is more interested in enticing slogans rather
than the possibility of making policy reality.

Actually the latter is most probable. Because the simple fact of the matter
is that Socialist Alliance will have next to zero effect on Australian
politics. Since 1984, there have been forty-seven candidates for the House
of Representatives from the radical left, including the Socialist Workers'
Party, the Democratic Socialist Party (same leopard, different spots), the
Communist Party of Australia, the Socialist Party of Australia and the
Socialist Equality Party. The highest vote that any of them has received was
3.0%, which was R. Daniell of the SWP for Fraser in 1984. Even then that
vote was less than half of what the informal vote was.

In fact, since 1984 radical left parties have received an average vote of
less than 1.0%. In the past decade, the highest vote received in 1.5%.
Informal votes are typically between four and ten times greater than their
primaries. They've never even had a single trade union affiliate to them.
Rather than displaying leadership, intrusions into community actions and
mass movements have been notoriously destructive.

Under such circumstances, one would imagine that at some point that these
organisations might actually consider that there is something fundamentally
wrong with their ideological perspective in Australian conditions. Instead,
the same hackneyed apologies are repeated over and over. Sometimes the mass
media is at fault for being opposed to the socialist agenda. Sometimes it's
the fault of electors, who ignorantly cast their vote apparently against
their own interests. Sometimes parliamentary democracy is to blame.

These apologies simply don't hold up to the cold light of day. The
capitalist media certainly have some capacity to temporarily distort
people's opinions, but they cannot control their ideas and reasoning in the
long term. Yet the people consistently vote against these organisations but
have voted for the Greens, who are certainly equally disliked by the
capitalist powers. As for the complaints about alleged elector ignorance or
the parliamentary system, one wonders whether these people have ever
considered the possibility that people - and not through any alleged
ignorance - do not actually want the abolition of a democratic system but
rather an expansion of it to the economic sphere?

Despite this litany of cultic sectarianism, an irrelevant, ungrounded
platform and a history of mass movement, union and electoral indifference,
the organisations that make up Socialist Alliance manage to attract a number
of young activists each year, who - with starry-eyed idealism - believe they
have discovered the true shining path. True, many have joined simply for
drinking partners or for the opportunity to belong to an organisation where
every day is like Scavenger Hunt. For this and the reasons outlined the
numbers of these organisations only vary slightly over the years. But a
number are genuinely interested in politics in a serious manner - and these
people I feel particular sorrow for, as they are potentially a lost
generation.

For what use it to spend youthful political motivation in an alliance that
will collapse within a few years, through a combination of internecine
warfare and electoral indifference? Just as deconstruction is always easier
than reconstruction and criticism always easier than critique it is perhaps
understandable that inexperienced political activists seek solace in the
bizarre subculture of far left orthodoxy with no prospect of actually
implementing social change.

But at some stage - and hopefully earlier rather than later - the dual
desires of universal justice and personal freedom will demand political
maturity from the most serious of the individuals involved in these
organisations that are doomed to the trashcan of history. When that bolt of
enlightenment strikes these individuals then perhaps they will be able, with
sober senses, to direct their energies in the institutions of real political
power with the practical intent of exposing the political and economic
system to conspicuous tests. For it is only in this fashion - as
unfashionable as it may be - that one can make an effective stand for the
"old fashioned" values of individual freedom, social democracy and most of
all, that most anachronistic of values - human dignity.

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on June 16, 2001.

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