Socialist Alliance - Towards a class struggle party?

Submitted by AWL on 9 April, 2004 - 9:51

By Riki Lane SA national co-convenor

The second National Conference of the Socialist Alliance in May voted to move towards a united multi-tendency socialist party. Most SA members expected a different situation and a different tempo for Socialist Alliance as a result. In fact, there has been more continuity than dramatic change in the two months since the Conference.

Union work prospects

The most significant development at the Conference was the adoption of a policy for serious trade union work. Since then a prominent SA member, Chris Caine, has been elected as WA MUA State Secretary. In Victoria, AMWU and ETU branches endorsed a recent SA fundraiser for picketers and SA branches have been actively visiting picket lines. Further activities in support of the Skilled 6 and unions under attack are planned. Union militants are taking SA increasingly seriously.

This solidarity work is vital, but SA has to get its direct union work organised. The NTEU SA caucus is most advanced and are planning to produce a bulletin "Red Pen". In the NSW PSA, SA members are central to an emerging revitalisation of the left. In other unions, email networks exist, but are mostly not really functioning.

A national SA TU committee has met and begun implementing plans for union pamphlets and a militant unionists' training program.

Getting these structures working and producing publications oriented to unionists are essential to have an impact in the labour movement. This can transform SA into a voice for working class struggle, integrating industrial and political campaigns, and being able to show the practical meaning of working class politics and working class independence.

If Socialist Alliance can become the political organisation for militant unionists, the left can break out of its isolation from the class struggle.

SA leadership

A new National Convenors and Executive group has been finding its feet, and working out proposals to implement conference decisions on union work, fundraising, publications etc. These are taking time to develop given the resources available and the need for decision-making processes to be accepted.

Some comrades want streamlined processes to ensure that things happen quickly, but in a democratic and broad organisation, consultation takes time. Covering over differences or reaching for lowest common denominator politics will not establish a secure political basis for unity.

Workers' Liberty (WL) will keep arguing for broad consultation and discussion in policy development and particularly about the proposed "Book on Socialism". This book is to be a useful introduction for those new to socialist politics. Inevitably, it will have to find a way to answer "What about Russia?", to take a position (not in staid old formulas) on socialism from below versus state socialism and to address the diversity of views in the Alliance.

This could be a very positive process - drawing in many socialists not yet in SA


One of the biggest questions is: what sort of publications is SA to have? This will define in practice the sort of organisation we are. A monthly newsletter "Socialist Campaigner" is a good first step for organising the Alliance. A bimonthly magazine, "Common Cause", focussed on politics, theory, research, history and culture is proposed. Quarterly (currently) broadsheets and the discussion bulletin, "Socialist Voices", are to continue.

A discussion is starting on SA producing its own national newspaper. The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) would like Green Left Weekly to become the SA paper- preferably in a merger with the International Socialist Organisation's (ISO) Socialist Worker. The ISO won't abandon their paper unless SA really takes off.

WL argues for the Alliance to produce a monthly paper as something that it can sustain under its own resources, not by merging with the DSP's apparatus.


There are tensions and difficulties about the project. The Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) have written a destructive and distorted report of the conference: "DSP Hijacks SA". There is an element of truth - the DSP has got most of what it wanted and has a history of manoeuvres.

However, it is patronising to imply that Non-Affiliated Caucus members are DSP stooges. The report does not even mention that the DSP has only two of twenty-one NE delegates.

The FSP has much to contribute to the socialist movement through their concentration on integrating the struggles of all the oppressed and on seeing the working class as more than just white blue-collar men.

This sort of attack appears to be a retreat to maintaining the "one true faith" as against a broader conception of how socialists can organise. The political motivation must be to harden up their supporters against the idea of a united socialist party.

The ISO, while continuing to argue for limiting the SA to "an electoral united front" and to build their own events, have refrained from these sorts of attacks and seem to be genuinely committed to building the Alliance. This may be helped by the recent departure from their ranks of many of those who opposed continuing in the Alliance. (Those who left made many criticisms of the ISO's politics with which WL agrees. We hope they will continue to be positively engaged in SA.)

Affiliated groups have every right to maintain their own politics, profile and activities. The SA conference rightly rejected any move to force affiliates to dissolve. However, we need to see the project of developing a class struggle workers party as central.

There are difficult questions here. There is a danger of SA being swamped by weight of the DSP's apparatus - whatever their intentions. WL, like most other affiliates, has members who are not, and do not want to be, SA members. Real progress in building the Alliance as a party that organises in the working class, combined with vigorous and open discussion of political differences where they exist, is the only way to overcome these potential problems.

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