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The Socialist Alliance (and basically why it sucks now)

Since its inception in 2001, the Socialist Alliance has unfortunately been seriously derailed by a group called the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP).

The Socialist Alliance (SA) was originally set up as an electoral alliance project by nine Australian socialist groups, including the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) and the DSP. The DSP continually white-anted the SA project by denying at every opportunity that SA was a specific project of the Australian Left, instead insisting that it was a vehicle for regroupment of the Left. This suited the DSP with its agenda, but not the other groups and not the individual members. Nonetheless, the Alliance did some good work and campaigned in several elections.

Cartoon of the DSP monster with SA in its grasp However, in the lead-up to the Socialist Alliance's second national conference the DSP decided that it would no longer let the Alliance continue to pursue its agreed project. The DSP decided that it was time to implement the next stage in its strategy: to make the Socialist Alliance formally a shell for ‘Left regroupment’.

Originally the DSP pursued an honest and fairly transparent action plan. The DSP’s John Percy gave notice to Alliance branches that it would put a proposal to its members at its December congress that it would cease to operate as a public organisation. The idea was that, in the new year, members would recruit to the Alliance rather than the DSP, and DSP meetings would be called ‘tendency meetings’ instead of ‘party meetings’.

Notice of the motion was given on 2 September. At first it appeared that there was plenty of time for discussion by Alliance members before the DSP decided to go ahead. However, the reality soon struck that this was a decision that had already been taken by the DSP national leadership and that Alliance members who were not in the DSP were to have no say about whether the DSP call itself a tendency or a party. Even DSP members would have no say: their centrist leadership had decided.

The DSP considered the strategic step of ‘ceasing to operate as a public organisation’ to be essential. They hadn’t operated as a public organisation for some time: they had Resistance. Resistance did their recruiting. They were keeping Resistance. Resistance wasn’t changing. The Alliance must be forced to adopt the ‘Left regroupment’ project as its number one goal. Almost all of the other affiliate groups of the Alliance, most notably the ISO and the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), wanted the DSP to continue to operate as the DSP and not wreck the Alliance. The ISO said it would withdraw from the Alliance if the DSP decided to formally become a tendency. The ISO’s statement kept the Alliance alive for an extra five months.

The lumbering pachyderm that is the DSP leadership is not easily dissuaded to alter its strategy. Since its plan for the Alliance to become a vehicle for ‘Left regroupment’ was opposed by the other affiliates, it fetishised the Alliance’s unaligned members. It was quite successful at this. I was swept into a tide of beaten-up enthusiasm floating with the fetishist's accessories: whips, fishnet stockings, leather masks. I commented repeatedly that it would be great to have more people from outside the affiliate groups assuming the leadership and doing the work of the Alliance. People resigned from the DSP and became ‘unaligned’ members of the Alliance. They didn’t bother to make their political background known. Other Alliance members noticed that there were a few, apparently new, capable-seeming people popping up in Alliance branches, talking some sense. Many of these ex-DSPers acquired good reputations in their branches. In Brisbane, one old comrade told me of one of these blow-ins: ‘He’s in the DSP isn’t he? He’s a bit of a nut, isn’t he?’ ‘Surely not!’ I replied. ‘He’s some sort of experienced activist and has been very active in his local area for ages.’

Eventually, it obtained the numbers it needed through an artificial ‘non-DSP’ formation: the ‘Non-aligned Caucus’. Ironically named—it was a group actually centred around the prominent former members of the DSP and at least one former member of the ISO—it provided the numbers at the conference for the DSP to push through a resolution that the Socialist Alliance be internally organised as a ‘multi-tendency party’. Simultaneously, motions that affirmed the SA project’s electoral focus were defeated, the NE was given a blank slate on producing a publication, etc., and the conference organising committee thwarted attempts to make significant time in the conference schedule to discuss the Alliance’s work in the real world. The full story of the conference has not yet been reported: I was a delegate to the conference and may write it if time allows. If you read its detailed proceedings and note which amendments were defeated and which successful you will get a taste, but you will miss out on such gems as Humphrey McQueen introducing the speech he’d been asked to give to convince delegates to vote for the seven point plan for a multi-tendency party with the words ‘I don’t want to be doing this, but …’

A good (brief) article by Alison Thorne of the FSP is available: Electoral alliance hijacked by Democratic Socialist Party. The ISO, on the other hand, seems unwilling to face the fact that the SA project is over, as it was unwilling to save the project, and remains largely silent on SA since the May conference.

I’m thinking of voting Green.

July 2003