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Australian Socialist Alliance takes a new step for left unity

By Peter Boyle and Sue Bolton

Peter Boyle is a member of the incoming Socialist Alliance national executive and a member of the DSP national executive. Sue Bolton is a member of the national trade union committee of the Socialist Alliance and a member of the DSP national executive. Conference documents are available from <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.

CONTENTS

Reviving militant unionism

Perspectives debate

United front approach to ALP, Greens

Developing socialist policy

Tendency rights protected

Prospects for the Socialist Alliance

The rise of the Greens and tensions in the ALP

Notes

The Socialist Alliance in Australia was formed in February 2001 by eight left organisations: the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), International Socialist Organisation (ISO), Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Workers League, Workers Power, Workers Liberty, Worker-Communist Party of Iraq (WCPI)—Australian branch and Socialist Democracy. Since then, the Socialist Alliance has attracted hundreds of new members, among them many militant unionists and leaders of other social movements. Currently a clear majority of its approximately 2000 members do not belong to any of the socialist organisations which originally set up the Alliance.

On May 10-11, 2003, delegates to the second national conference of the Socialist Alliance, held in Melbourne, decided by a 75 per cent majority vote to move the Alliance toward becoming a united, multi-tendency socialist party.

The conference adopted a motion declaring:

1. We want the Alliance to become a single, multi-tendency socialist party.

2. We want to progress this move right now, starting with this conference.

3. A commitment from affiliates to building the Socialist Alliance through increasing integration needs to be demonstrated, in word and in deed.

4. Our multi-tendency socialist party should be as broad as possible.

5. We accept and welcome a strong revolutionary socialist stream as an integral part of our vision of a broad Socialist party.

6. We need strong democratic structures to accommodate diversity.

7. We need a common socialist voice: in our platform, in a national paper, and in our campaigns.

8. We welcome other individuals and groups who support our broad aims and objectives.

9. The Alliance recognises the organisational and programmatic integrity of its affiliate organisations and welcomes their continued existence as tendencies within the Alliance.

 

This decision was the culmination of months of debate in the Socialist Alliance. In September 2002, the Alliance's largest affiliate, the DSP, offered to cease operating as a public organisation and transfer its organisational and political resources to the Alliance. The second largest affiliate, the ISO, then threatened to leave the Alliance if the DSP proceeded to do this. The DSP consequently deferred its offer to allow more time for discussion.

Several other smaller affiliates, including the FSP, the Workers League and Socialist Democracy (a group that sympathises with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) also opposed the DSP proposal.

However, in the weeks leading up to the second national conference, a group of Socialist Alliance members who do not belong to any of the affiliate groups began to organise around a call for the Alliance to become a multi-tendency socialist organisation. This call had been signed by 157 other "non-aligned" Alliance members by the time of the conference.1

The initiative by this group, which called itself the Non-Aligned Caucus, sparked new interest in the Socialist Alliance. Many members who had been dismayed by the stalled socialist regroupment process swung back into activity. This was not surprising, since most of the people who had joined the Alliance, but who were not members of affiliate groups, did so on the expectation of greater unity between the affiliated socialist groups. The non-affiliate members are now a majority of Alliance members.

Forty-three of the 121 conference delegates, representing twenty-four branches across Australia, were not members of affiliated groups. The great majority of these delegates supported the call for a united, multi-tendency socialist party. One hundred and fifty people who were not delegates also attended .

The case for the Non-Aligned Caucus was presented by Australia's best-known Marxist historian, Humphrey McQueen. He argued for a voluntary, inclusive, "step-by-step" process of socialist regroupment.

"We have to acknowledge that we don't have all the answers. We still have to discover some of the questions", he said. However, McQueen added, we can "learn by doing".

In the conference discussion, the Non-Aligned Caucus proposal was supported by the DSP and Workers Liberty but opposed by the ISO and the FSP. The latter two groups argued that the Alliance should be kept as a "united front". Another affiliate, Workers Power, proposed a campaign for a "new workers party" instead.

Several militant unionists spoke passionately for the Non-Aligned Caucus proposal. They included the former Victorian state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Craig Johnston, who is a leader of the militant AMWU grouping Workers First, a National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) militant, Louise Walker, Maritime Union militant Chris Cain, Health and Community Sector Union organiser Linda Seaborne and Workers First militant Simon Millar.

Non-Aligned Caucus organisers John van der Velden and Michael Morphett also spoke forcefully for the unity motion.

All the affiliate groups that argued against the Non-Aligned Caucus motion indicated in debate that they would continue to participate in the Socialist Alliance regardless of the outcome of this vote. They also welcomed the greater role of the non-aligned members and supported a plan to elect a new 21-member national executive, with a majority of comrades who do not belong to the affiliate groups.2

The conference received greetings in person from a range of parties, activist groups and militant unions. Martin Kingham, the Victorian state secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), delivered greetings, as did Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth, local Victorian Greens councillor Gurm Sekhon, FSP (USA) National Secretary Henry Noble and Jakob Rumbiak from the Free Papua Movement.

Greetings were also received from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), the People's Democratic Party of Indonesia, the Labour Party Pakistan, Power of the Working Class of South Korea, the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist)—Liberation, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and the Anti-Privatisation Forum of South Africa.

The SSP greetings were particularly welcomed, as many delegates saw that party, which evolved out of a socialist alliance that came together eight years ago, as a powerful example of what is possible. The recent election of six SSP comrades to the Scottish parliament was greeted as "our victory too" and a "huge inspiration for the socialist movement around the world".

Reviving militant unionism

Delegates at the conference included a high proportion of trade unionists and some of the best known militants in the Australian trade union movement today. These included Craig Johnston, Chris Cain (who has since been elected WA secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia) and WA CFMEU journal editor Ian Bolas. Other delegates included activists from the NTEU, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Transport Workers Union, the Australian Education Union and the Health Services Union of Australia.

Conference delegates debated and overwhelmingly voted for a trade union resolution that will be produced as a short pamphlet. This resolution explained that "active, organised and militant trade unions are important in giving workers a sense of their own power when they are organised collectively".

The resolution outlined the principles of the Socialist Alliance's approach to unionism: solidarity, democracy, unity in action, independence from the state and the bosses, militancy, preparedness to break the law when necessary, internationalism and adoption of a working-class position on all political issues.

The conference also discussed unions disaffiliating from the Labor Party (ALP), deciding it would "argue for rank and file debate and conscious, democratic choice by the union membership instead of intra-bureaucratic factional manoeuvring" around such questions. It also decided to encourage individual unionists, including militant union officials, to join the Alliance.

The Socialist Alliance also decided that it would attempt to: provide serious leadership on day-to-day workplace issues; propose campaigns such as for a shorter working week, for the repeal of the Workplace Relations Act and against the Medicare cuts; promote solidarity with unions and unionists who are under attack; propose that unions adopt pattern bargaining (seeking common wages and conditions throughout an industry); consistently take an internationalist, working-class approach to issues such as racism and refugees; and help its members in non-militant unions develop as workplace delegates.

In order to achieve this, the conference decided to: establish local, state and national cross-union committees, such as the Victorian Trade Union Solidarity Committee; establish Socialist Alliance networks in individual unions; consider printing workplace and/or union-wide bulletins; set up a subcommittee to construct a trade unionists' education program; and consider a national conference of union militants.

Conference delegates overwhelmingly rejected an alternative resolution presented by Workers Power. This resolution said that the Socialist Alliance should argue against unions disaffiliating from the Labor Party and against unions giving any support to the Greens. It advocated that the Socialist Alliance argue for a "new workers party" as an alternative to Labor.

During the conference, very warm greetings were received from Victorian CFMEU secretary Martin Kingham, the first unionist charged as a result of a royal commission into the building industry. Kingham congratulated the Alliance on its strong practical support for the CFMEU. The huge applause that greeted him was indicative of the respect Alliance members have for the militancy and solidarity of the wa and Victorian CFMEU branches.

The conference also decided to run a strong campaign in defence of the construction unions, and in defence of Johnston and the other unionists targeted in a criminal prosecution. The campaign includes producing a free broadsheet exposing the federal government's anti-union campaign, broad-based public meetings in each city, and a lobby of the congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions congress.

At the end of the first day of the conference, the AMWU faction Workers First hosted a fundraising welcome for conference delegates at Melbourne's well-known Comrades Bar. The militant unionists put on a feast and a night of noisy celebration that capped a historic day for left unity. Workers First then showed its appreciation for the Alliance by donating $500 to it.

Perspectives debate

A key debate at the conference was whether the Alliance was a socialist regroupment or a "mainly electoral united front" based on the "values of old Labor".

The argument for the united front perspective was summed up by David Glanz of the ISO in a resolution seconded by Peter Murray of the FSP:

The continuing crisis in social democracy means hundreds of thousands of Labor supporters are prepared to vote to the left in defence of the values they support but [Labor leaders] Crean and Beazley have abandoned.

The Greens have been the major beneficiary of this process to date. But the Greens' weakness on questions relating to class means there remains even now an important minority open to a socialist, pro-working class alternative.

This is what makes the Socialist Alliance project of continuing importance.

The Alliance is most likely to succeed in involving erstwhile Labor supporters if it operates as a united front—a place where the existing revolutionary left and reformists can work together around common aims and objectives.

The same argument resurfaced later in the conference in a motion on "Socialist Alliance and the ALP" and a motion on elections, moved and seconded by ISO members.

Delegates opposing this perspective argued that people breaking from Labor had very different political understandings—the Socialist Alliance would need to stand for much more than "old Labor values" to win their allegiance.

Many delegates argued that the Socialist Alliance needed to articulate a confident socialist vision.

Union activist Linda Seaborn, a delegate from Hobart, explained that she was "one of those people who have broken from the ALP". She said that she had initially joined the Greens, before leaving to join the Socialist Alliance. She said she was not looking for a party of "old Labor values".

Craig Johnston said that while many workers were not sure about socialism, they could be attracted by its ideas. He said that, like many other workers, he was "ashamed" to have once been part of Labor.

The united front around the "old Labor values" perspective is a misunderstanding of what sort of regroupment is possible and desirable in the Socialist Alliance today. Like the comrades from the Non-Aligned Caucus, the DSP supported a process of socialist regroupment through the Socialist Alliance even while we, like the comrades in the ISO and other affiliated groups, remain convinced of a revolutionary perspective. As the Non-Aligned Caucus draft statement stated, the multi-tendency socialist party should be as broad as possible:

All who consider themselves socialist, of whatever stripe, should be welcome in our ranks. But it has to be a distinctly socialist party. We are not simply an anti-capitalist opposition party. We are for the replacement of capitalism with socialism. This gives our Alliance an intrinsic transformational dynamic. It clearly separates us from other parties, particularly the Greens. It also provides us with the solid foundation to build united fronts and coalitions within the working class and anti-capitalist movement, and win new layers to our side.3

The political program of such a project is in development, and this very process of development can attract and win more people to socialism. Further, this process of programmatic development is necessary to rescue socialism from the heritage of dogmatism and sectarianism that has plagued the revolutionary left for many years. This is the reverse side of the much bigger problem for the socialist movement represented in the betrayals by social democracy and various failed bureaucratic socialist regimes.

In Australia, the capitulation of the ALP to capitalist neo-liberalism has meant that that party has abandoned even the most token commitment to socialism. However, the ALP retains its hegemonic position in the trade union movement, and so the socialist message has been confined to the political margins of the working class. To re-win working class support for socialism, the Socialist Alliance needs to popularise its socialist message and vision, without sacrificing principle. This is also a challenge that can, and must, be taken up in the very process of programmatic development of the Socialist Alliance.

United front approach to ALP, Greens

The argument that the Socialist Alliance had to be kept a united front around "reformist" politics resurfaced in the debate around a motion on relations with the ALP.

The conference voted for an amended motion which made it clear that "socialists want to channel this dissatisfaction with Labor in an anti-capitalist, pro-working-class and explicitly socialist direction." The motion noted:

This cannot be done simply by denouncing Labor; we also need to find ways to work alongside those still in Labor's orbit, including many union activists, community leaders and even those who voted against Labor at recent elections. The Socialist Alliance needs to demonstrate, both in electoral terms and in practice through campaigns, that it can offer a genuine alternative to Labor.

Socialist Alliance will therefore seek to work with Labor leaders and members over issues which affect the lives of working-class people. Concretely, this will typically mean inviting dissident and/or left-wing ALP members to share platforms on questions of common concern, like opposing the war budget or defending the CFMEU.

A strong conference majority also decided to apply this united front approach to the Greens, voting that the Alliance:

1. Welcomes the rise in the vote for the Greens both federally and in state and territory elections as a reflection of the growing mass rejection of the policies of economic rationalism and war;

2. Congratulates the Green parliamentarians on their opposition to the criminal war on Iraq and their role in the mass movement against this war;

3. Calls on all Socialist Alliance organisations to pursue close collaboration with Green organisations in community, social and environment campaigns;

4. Affirms that Alliance organisations will always be prepared to negotiate joint election campaigns with local Green organisations where there is agreement on the key issues of the election and that the Alliance is prepared to withdraw its own candidates in those specific cases where withdrawal would further the cause of left and progressive unity;

5. Affirms the need for ongoing serious discussion between the Greens and the Alliance on how to advance towards a society based on the principles of grass-roots democracy, environmental sustainability, social justice and peace.

Unsuccessful amendments were moved by comrades from the ISO and Workers Power, which would have deleted part or all of the fourth point in this motion, respectively.

Developing socialist policy

Comrades from some affiliate groups were concerned that there was not enough programmatic clarity in the platform of the Socialist Alliance, which was adopted by the founding conference in 2001. In the course of policy discussions, large sections of a comprehensive policy statement drafted by the Freedom Socialist Party were adopted.

These included policy sections on corporate globalisation, defence of workers' rights, education, welfare, health care and housing. Other sections were referred as drafts for more detailed consideration through a policy development process.

The outgoing national conveners had expressed concern that this comprehensive policy draft had not been debated in the branches, because it was submitted right at the end of the pre-conference discussion. The conference debate, however, revealed substantial agreement about socialist policy in the Alliance. The delegates also were confident that there was enough political agreement to authorise the writing of an introductory booklet on socialism.

The argument that the political differences between affiliates are too wide for the Alliance to become a single, multi-tendency socialist party was tested in discussion around international solidarity. Two areas shaped up as contentious: policy on the Middle East and on solidarity with Cuba.

For instance, a policy motion from Workers Liberty titled "Against Australia's imperialist foreign policy" included two contentious sections: solidarity with struggles against repressive regimes and reactionary forces, including political Islam; for the right of nations to self-determination, including, in the Middle East, the Palestinians, the Israeli Jews and the Kurds.

After some sharp discussion about "political Islam" and Zionism, the conference voted to delete the references to the former and to specific nationalities mentioned in the latter part of the motion.

Later, there was some debate about an attempt to amend an otherwise uncontroversial motion opposing the imperialist invasion and occupation of Iraq. Comrades from the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq moved to insert:

1. Immediate withdrawal of the USA troops and substitute them with UN forces for a provisional period.

2. At the end of this provisional period an election must be held.

3. A referendum on self-determination must be held in Iraqi Kurdistan

The third point was accepted but, concerned that the US, British and Australian governments were seeking to get retrospective UN endorsement for the invasion and occupation, most delegates opposed the call for UN occupation.

Comrades from Workers Liberty supported the WCPI amendment because they argued that a reactionary Shia clerical regime, like that in Iran, might otherwise gain an upper hand in Iraq.

There was also some debate over a resolution in response to rising threats from the US government against Cuba. Karen Fletcher (DSP) and Alejandro Rodriguez (NAC) moved that the Socialist Alliance:

1. Supports the solidarity call with Cuba made in a recent statement by Nobel Laureates and other prominent intellectuals for "policy makers to uphold the universal principles of national sovereignty, respect of territorial integrity and self-determination, essential to just and peaceful co-existence among nations";

2. Calls upon the United States to cease all operations towards Cuba that encourage and fund the overthrow of the Cuban government;

3. Demands that the United States immediately lift its economic and tourism blockade of Cuba;

4. Calls on the left and progressive movement in Australia to show its opposition to the renewed attacks by the United States towards Cuba and support solidarity actions that oppose US imperialism's attacks on Cuba.

An addendum accepted by the movers added that the Alliance: "Calls upon the USA to recognize the complete integrity of Cuba, a Cuba that includes Guantanamo Bay, and hereby calls upon the USA to close their base there."

This resolution was strongly supported by the comrades from the ISO even though they made it clear they did not agree with the DSP's recognition of the Cuban government as revolutionary. However, Workers Liberty comrades moved to add: "Calls upon the Cuban government to recognise and respect the right of the Cuban working class to dissent."

The Workers Liberty amendment was supported by delegates from Socialist Democracy and others. It was defeated.

Tendency rights protected

The conference recognised "the organisational and programmatic integrity of its affiliate organisations" and welcomed "their continued existence as tendencies within the Alliance".

A constitutional amendment gave the Alliance's national executive the duty to "canvass the broadest possible consensus within the Alliance and to initiate and lead political discussion throughout the Alliance to clarify and resolve differences on all important matters, whilst continuing to take decisions on behalf of the Alliance on immediate decisions consistent with the platform and decisions of the National Conference".

Another new section of the constitution stipulates that "caucuses, groups or affiliates within the Alliance have the right to produce and circulate literature publicly".

A recognition of the diversity of political opinion within the Socialist Alliance was also reflected in the stalls policy adopted by the conference:

That all Socialist Alliance stalls shall be clearly demarcated by the use of Socialist Alliance placards, profile posters, flags and any other relevant paraphernalia;

That Socialist Alliance stalls can and should carry the literature of all affiliates and members;

That where the literature of affiliates and members is carried on a Socialist Alliance stall, the Alliance's own material and the material of affiliates and members should be clearly demarcated; and

That all affiliates are urged to carry Socialist Alliance material on their own stalls.

There was some debate on this resolution. Members of the ISO moved three unsuccessful amendments. The first was to delete points two and three, which allowed for the literature of affiliates to be carried on Socialist Alliance stalls. The second was to add "during election campaigns only Alliance material [is] to appear on stalls". And the third was that "these points and protocols lapse as soon as a regular Alliance publication [is] launched".

The ISO was concerned to put up a wall between Socialist Alliance stalls, which in their opinion should reflect "old Labor values", and the clearly revolutionary socialist stalls run by most of the affiliate groups.

Several delegates argued that the Alliance did not need to, or want to, hide the different views of its affiliates, since one of the major attractions of the Alliance is the willingness of the different affiliated socialist groups to work together. They also argued that they would like the various affiliates to combine their stalls where possible and present a united but multi-tendency front to the broader movements.

Raul Bassi, a non-aligned delegate from Bankstown branch in Sydney's west, said that he hoped for a more united approach than was seen at the large anti-war protests in February and March, where hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters confronted numerous competing socialist campaign stalls. A commitment to work more effectively together was supported by unanimous vote of the delegates on the following resolution:

That the Alliance strives wherever possible to intervene in a united way in the various movements (anti-war, refugee rights, women's liberation, environment, gay, lesbian and transsexual rights, Aboriginal rights, Asia-Pacific and Latin American solidarity);

Where necessary, special Alliance meetings be organised to work out political agreement;

To set up national working groups in these areas. All members are eligible to join these groups which shall communicate via a moderated email group;

That the moderator(s) of the email groups shall be the comrades nominated by the various workshops on these movements held at this conference (or, where no workshop is held, by the incoming National Executive); and

To urge state and regional Alliance organisations to adopt a parallel approach to that outlined here.

It is early days yet in this experiment with a multi-tendency socialist organisation, but the conference laid down some significant guidelines for greater unity.

Prospects for the Socialist Alliance

Since its founding in February 2001, the Socialist Alliance has clearly strengthened the socialist presence in Australian politics. We are regularly being surprised by how widely the Alliance is known. Sometimes we even get more political credit than we have earned. For instance, during the March 2003 New South Wales state elections, we were often greeted by voters at elections booths with the comment, "Ah, you are the people behind the anti-war movement". While Socialist Alliance members were an important part of the leadership of the anti-war movement, we couldn't take all the credit. However, the political lead provided by Socialist Alliance helped ensure that the movement adopted a clear focus, summed up in the demands: "Stop the war! Bring the troops home!"

There are potentially thousands of Australians who want to belong to a socialist organisation—provided it is big and active enough, democratically and professionally run. The Alliance affiliates—operating apart and in competition—would have drawn only a small fraction of this precious resource into socialist politics. The left unity realised in the Alliance has greatly increased the potential for growing the socialist cause in Australia, just as it has in other countries.

Two years of "living together" have also shown that left unity works: when the left acts together the political impact is many times what it can achieve divided. That's because the Alliance has been able to respond to the big issues of politics over the past two years with a clear, unambiguous line—adopted unanimously or by a large majority. At the same time, the Alliance has set in place a healthy, democratic culture and method of work, despite inevitable differences and tensions.

The election results achieved by the Alliance in the last two years confirm that there is a "bedrock" vote for socialism in Australia at election time of between one and two per cent. This result, which was not bettered by any other socialist candidate, is certainly not to be despised. In the context of a "greenslide" which has attracted all the broadly anti-neo-liberal vote, hundreds of voters in average working-class electorates have affirmed an identity with socialism. In the most working-class and migrant electorates, this percentage rises, just as the Green vote proportionately drops.

Where the vote for Alliance candidates has been higher (as in the Northern Territory) it is usually because the Greens have been weak or the Alliance has enjoyed an unusual level of mainstream publicity (certainly not the case in the latest nsw and Victorian polls).

To date the Alliance has not achieved any presence in institutions (parliaments, municipalities etc).

But while the Socialist Alliance's electoral impact has been modest so far, it has a powerful intervention in the anti-war movement. Further, since the second national conference, a number of Socialist Alliance leaders have won leadership positions in trade unions. The most significant of these was the election of Socialist Alliance national executive member Chris Cain as WA secretary of the Maritime Union. As Workers First leader Craig Johnston noted, this was a "warning to all union officials who feel comfortable in ignoring the building anger in their ranks". He continued:

This victory tonight for Chris Cain, who is a member of the Socialist Alliance like myself, will have all of the time-serving union officials who are just waiting their turn to jump into parliament worried.4

However, the Socialist Alliance is still far from realising its potential. It is just beginning to organise its members' work in the unions, social movements, migrant communities, among young people and in scores of suburban, regional and rural centres.

The rise of the Greens and tensions in the ALP

Over the last year, the Australian Labor Party has lost hundreds of thousands of voters to the Greens. While this trend is partially masked by the shift of sections of former Coalition supporters to Labor, the ALP has overwhelmingly lost appeal to the rising generation that wants to act for progressive change in Australian society.

Former Socialist Alliance national co-convener and DSP leader Dick Nichols explained in a contribution to the pre-conference discussion:

The underlying reason for the desertion of Labor is clear enough. The policy possibilities for an alternative "party of government" in today's world of intense global and inter-imperialist competition are very restricted—old reformism can offer fewer and fewer reforms. Typical here are the ALP's "alternatives" in refugee and education policy.

Massive anti-war demonstrations and organising have finally pushed Simon Crean to oppose a war on Iraq without un backing. This may help partially revive the party's lost support, but will be seen by many as half-hearted and opportunist.

The shift to the Greens comes on top of the continuing erosion of support for Labor among working people and unionists, symbolised in New South Wales by Bob Carr's "finger" to the unionists—many of them ALP members—protesting his government's cuts to workers' compensation outside nsw Parliament House.

Labor's decades of betrayals in government, coupled with the general inaction or connivance of ALP-led or influenced unions, have left hundreds of thousands of working people disenchanted, angry and apathetic towards their traditional political home. It has created a political vacuum. That poses the need to rebuild working-class organisation and representation from the bottom up, in the unions and in party politics.

This imperative lies at the heart of the Socialist Alliance project. We work to renew the labour movement, by helping rebuild democratic, militant unionism and by helping to create a mass party of working people with socialist politics.5

The rise of the Greens has followed naturally and inevitably from Labor's betrayals. While the Greens have been gradually accumulating support for a couple of decades, they received a huge boost from Labor's attempt to match the federal Coalition government's racist and xenophobic refugee policy. As Nichols explained:

The Greens are now seen as "viable" in conventional political terms and this has resulted in their consolidating a significant political base. Twenty-five per cent of inner-city Melbourne and Sydney and 60 per cent of tertiary educated people under the age of 26 now vote Green.

For Socialist Alliance this turn to the Greens marks a big step forward in Australian politics. It deepens a left and dissident mood in society and helps provide more fertile ground for the socialist message.

The rise of the Greens potentially draws tens of thousands of people into the unavoidable discussion about alternatives to economic rationalism. How can the Greens' four principles (peace and non-violence, sustainability, social justice and democracy) actually become real organising principles for social life?

The rise of the Greens also helps to legitimise social protest. The Greens are overwhelmingly seen as a party that acts outside parliament, beginning with Bob Brown's leading role in the movement to save the Franklin River.

Moreover, while many Greens are conservative (as revealed by their position on population limits, immigration and a general "small is beautiful" outlook), these form only one current and do not set the general tone within the party. To date and despite receiving considerable support from disaffected Liberal voters, the Green advance has been marked by the general predominance of a left wing, especially in the New South Wales. nsw Green parliamentarians have made a point of taking a clear pro-worker and pro-public sector stand on industrial and welfare issues.

At the same time, the Green expansion reflects the fact that the present social radicalisation is still in an early phase. Inevitably, the vast majority of people entering the Green camp from Labor still see political change as coming through a vote for "good people" with "good policy". This impression is reinforced by Green successes in forcing concessions from Labor governments…

However, as the social radicalisation develops it will also intensify the contradictions within Green policy and practice—among the "red-greens", "green-greens" and "blue-greens", between its reformists and radicals and between its parliamentary and activist wings, all of whom can presently live together without too many problems. Who will win these impending political battles is not predetermined, and the stronger Socialist Alliance becomes, the better the chances of left forces within the Greens.6

* * *

The second national conference came in the midst of the biggest political radicalisation since the 1970s. This radicalisation, which peaked in the extraordinarily massive movement against the impending war on Iraq, is producing a broad leftward shift in big sections of society. A new wave of anti-war mobilisations looks likely as the imperialist occupation of Irq sours with the public in the US and other occupying imperialist nations, further deepening the radicalisation.

Will the newly radicalising people and older leftists—people looking for a way to be active in the struggle avainst war and economic rationalism—turn to the Alliance? Or will the turn to the Greens as a more "realistic" alternative? How many will be drawn to those left organisations which, so far, have turned their back on the Alliance? How many will shun party political activity altogether and confine their effort to the movements? The answers to these questions will shape the future of the Socialist Alliance.

Notes

1. "Developing the common socialist voice—an open letter to Socialist Alliance members and affiliates", Socialist Alliance Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 3, Number 3, p.3. (All issues available from <http://www.socialist-alliance.org>.)

2. For a list of, and internet links to, articles by Socialist Alliance affiliates on the conference outcome, see <www.dsp.org.au>.

3. "Preamble to draft statement and resolution from Non-Aligned Caucus to Socialist Alliance National Conference"; Socialist Alliance Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 3, Number 5, p. 12.

4. Ian Jamieson, "MUA election: huge win for rank and file", Green Left Weekly, June 25, 2003.

5. "Putting socialism on the Australian political map", Socialist Alliance Discussion Bulletin, Vol. 3, Number 2, p. 4.

6. Ibid., p. 5.

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