Socialist Alliance - towards a multi-tendency socialist party

Submitted by Janet on 30 April, 2003 - 10:59

Contribution to the discussion in the Australian Socialist Alliance, April 2003
Workers' Liberty's top concerns are that we should not squander the current opportunities to overcome problems that have been dogging the left for decades. We repeat our initial welcoming of the DSP's proposals to work towards a more unified SA. We also welcome the statement by non-aligned members of the Alliance, asking the affiliates to make their proposals for the Alliance as a regroupment project, and the comments by Kiraz Janicke from Perth in DB 3/2. We hope those comrades will find that WL is addressing the main points that they have raised.

The anti-war movement and the thousands of new activists it is generating make the need all the more urgent for the socialist left to take regroupment seriously. WL particularly appeals to the ISO to stay with the Socialist Alliance project, not to retreat into sectarian self-isolation and to put forward its ideas for how the SA can progress. (See our Open letter to the ISO)

Workers' Liberty's concerns for how the Socialist Alliance can develop differ from the DSP's. The DSP's proposals so far place a much higher premium on stronger, more efficient organisation structures, whereas Workers' Liberty is concerned with political agreement and democratic rights to express differences.

In summary we are for making sure that progress towards a unified party is the result of political discussion that resolves differences where possible, and clarifies the basis of remaining disagreements.

This is fundamental. Socialists first and foremost are distinguished by ideas. Our organisational divisions reflect differences of ideas, and our weak influence in the political life of our countries reflects a combination of factors, including lack of influence of our ideas, especially within the organised working class. If the SA does not as an organisation share a clear and conscious understanding of where we agree and disagree, our unity will be fragile.

The development of the Socialist Alliance towards a multi-tendency unified socialist party will depend most of all on the conduct of political discussion within the Alliance. Activism will continue, leaflets will be produced, rallies called, street stalls held, campaigns organised etc. But without these activities being based on informed commitment, they will remain predominantly the domain of the majority tendency, the DSP, and they will not expand the participation of non-affiliated members or the other affiliates.

Outstanding political issues

WL proposes specifically that a number of political issues require much deeper discussion. We will be seeking to support or initiate policy proposals to the May conference on some of these topics, although the scope is too broad to be completely debated at the conference.

What socialism is, and what we can learn about it from history.
We disagree with the DSP on the nature of Cuba, Vietnam, and the former Soviet Union. WL says that the former Stalinist regimes have nothing in common with socialism. The DSP says that state owned property is the foundation of socialism. We say that the self-organisation of the working class is the foundation. Our ideas are much closer to the ISO's on these questions, but the ISO has deflected discussion of them in the SA. The DSP is proposing that the SA needs to publish a book on an introduction to socialism. Such a publication is essential for a socialist party, but the SA has so far not discussed what socialism is, a pre-condition to publishing a book on the topic.

Imperialism and capitalism.
How do we campaign for the overthrow of capitalism internationally? The DSP emphasises imperialism, implying that big capital and powerful regimes are the enemy, but not smaller, weaker capitals and smaller repressive regimes, if they come up against big imperialism. For example the DSP has taken with alacrity to using the phrase that there are "two super-powers in the world today" - the USA launching war on Iraq, and the people of the world who are opposed. This is as if the anti-war movement in Australia should not be concerned about working class, democratic, secular or socialist forces in the Middle East, who are fighting their own repressive regimes (such as Saddam's) and whose enemy is not just the USA, but is also very much at home. WL rejects the 2 camp view held by the most of the left, including the ISO and the DSP, which says that we must be on one side or the other. Workers' Liberty is with the Labour Party of Pakistan, and the Workers Communist Parties of Iran and Iraq, who do not support one side simply on the basis of opposition to imperialism. These ideas are in contradiction to the draft platform proposed by Dick Nicholls. Dick's draft is so imbued with the assumptions of the DSP, that we have found it very difficult to amend. We would like to work with others in the SA to identify the underlying issues dividing us on this topic, and to collate a manageable reading/discussion program that would help us reach agreement.

Imperialism and national independence.
Workers' Liberty sees national independence as political independence distinct from economic independence, which is a reactionary concept. We are for the rights of all nations to self-determination as a democratic demand, and a principled basis for working class unity that will remove national antagonisms that distract from class solidarity. We are for independence for example of the Indonesian minority nationalities, West Papua, the Kurds, the Palestinians, and the Israelis. We reject the subjugation of nationalities, even those whose governments may have performed terrible deeds, by any other, as retrograde. (This topic is related to the previous one, in terms of needs for discussion).

The labour movement and the ALP.
WL's position has always been that we cannot win the majority of the working class to support a socialist organisation and socialist ideas without putting a priority on working within the existing labour movement. We seek to challenge the ideas of trade union and ALP leaders on their own territory, and to struggle to earn leadership of working class struggles. This is quite a different emphasis than the DSP has, where unions seem to be only one front, more or less equal to any other campaign, and often a lesser front because of the conservatism of the unions. The draft document for conference, prepared by Riki Lane, shows that some progress has been made on this issue. But it will need following up with discussion of concrete union issues, and measuring against SA experiences (such as the differences over the NSW workers' compensation dispute) to see if it can be applied with commitment by all tendencies in the Alliance. Further, a trade union education program would be an important supplement to induct new and especially younger comrades, into socialist union work.

Class and government
We are explicitly for a working class government, class is the force for change for socialists in politics as in economic struggle. Concretising this requires much closer attention by the SA to specific issues that affect the lives of working class people and oppressed groups in Australian society, and also an in principle commitment to this central point. It also implies a far greater attention to grass roots democracy in our policies and method, aimed at developing a counter-position of the collective will of working class people struggling for their rights, as against governmenst and capital.

Radical campaigns and movements
We relate to the radical campaigns by trying to connect them with the organised working class, not just to claim a sociologically working class composition, but to relate consciously as workers. We have advocated this for the SA in dealings with the Greens, from the founding conference of the SA. We think the rise of the Greens since then has vindicated our earlier concerns that the SA has failed to provide a clear enough reason to vote SA rather than Green.

These are central political issues that WL proposes that the SA should set about systemtically discussing. Progress towards agreement and clarification on these issues is one of 3 factors that would lead Workers' Liberty to consider reducing the extent to which we organise separately.

The organisation of the Socialist Alliance

The other 2 related factors are about: strengthening internal democracy and a regular publication, open to all viewpoints in the Alliance.
We make these proposals because we believe that they are essential to having a conscious and committed membership in a multi-tendency working class party, not only because as a minority tendency we seek to guarantee our own political rights. We consider that it is a role of the leadership of any socialist party to make sure that all viewpoints are heard and considered. It is a responsibility of members to formulate and explain their disagreements, so that their ideas can be considered. These conditions help to ensure an educated membership, that is conscious of the basis on which decisions are made, and which is committed to the decision-making process. Members in a minority can therefore accept decisions even if not agreeing with them. Workers' Liberty is submitting specific constitutional amendments to the May Conference of the Alliance.

We also propose a regular (monthly initially) publication with an editorial policy of representing all points of view in the Alliance, and with minority viewpoint representation on the editorial board.

The editorial board should be charged with ensuring that:
- different points of view are represented on significant issues,
- that editorial lines are clear, not compromise statements with a form of words to conceal actual differences.
- that regular news stories are solicited from members from a range of tendencies, and are published with their political nuances in tact, not edited "for reasons of space" to match the outlook of the editorial majority.

If all tendencies can have their points of view expressed in Alliance publications it will reduce their need to publish separately.