Australia: New era of left unity as DSP votes to merge with the Socialist Alliance

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[The following speech, to the opening rally of the seventh national conference of the Socialist Alliance on January 2, 2010, was delivered by Peter Boyle, former national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective.]


My job tonight is to make the unusual – if not unexpected – announcement that the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) decided today at its 24th congress to effectively dissolve into the Socialist Alliance and to transfer all that it has built up, over some four decades of its existence, to the Socialist Alliance.

Sadly, it is an unusual and rare thing for socialist groups, like the DSP, to break from the idea that they are the “true” party of socialism, with the sole correct political program, and seriously embrace left unity.

I say this not to boast but more by way of an apology and excuse for the DSP taking so long to take this step. After all, the Socialist Alliance was launched in 2001 and now it is 2010! I want to thank Comrades Bea Bleile, Dave Kerin, Sam Watson, Pat Eatock, and our many other partners in the Socialist Alliance for their patience and encouragement.

We may have taken a long time to take this step, but at least we can say that when the decision was taken by the DSP today, it had overwhelming support from the DSP members. And this support was also so enthusiastic that we can anticipate that this enthusiasm will be felt in the seventh national conference of the Socialist Alliance over the next three days.


There's a lot of energy unleashed by this historic decision of the DSP – energy that will give the Socialist Alliance a big boost in the year ahead.

This was the right thing for the DSP to do.

The Socialist Alliance presents an historic opening for the left in Australia because it is an opportunity to unite in a new socialist party socialists from different political traditions, some from pre-existing socialist groups and others who are not members of those groups. And, among those proud members of the Socialist Alliance are some important leaders of the working class and other oppressed groups: people like Comrade Craig Johnston, who went to jail for fighting for workers' rights; and veteran Indigenous activists like Comrade Sam Watson and Pat Eatock ...

Indeed, in the Socialist Alliance today, thanks to our Indigenous comrades, we have an historic opportunity to restore the powerful collaboration between the socialist and the Aboriginal movement, a collaboration that made its mark on the history of Australia, through epic struggles like the Pilbara Aboriginal stock workers strike in the 1940s and the Gurindji walk-offs in the 1960s.

Campaign to link up with working-class leaders

If socialism is not just to be a good idea then it has to become a movement of the working class and other oppressed groups. And it flows from this that to build the socialist movement we have to wage a permanent campaign to link up with the activists and leaders of the working class and oppressed groups who are fighting capitalist oppression.

Of course socialist groups can and do link up with other activists in movement campaigns, in various “united fronts” around specific issues, such as the campaigns against “Work Choices” or Work Choices Lite, or for Aboriginal people's rights. But when the activists and leaders of such movements want to join us in the broader and ongoing struggle against the capitalist system itself then what is our duty? Surely it is to unite with them in a party to wage such a struggle, a socialist party.

To build such a socialist party we must be prepared to look for agreement before disagreement. That's just commonsense. And if we find – as we have in the Socialist Alliance – that we have 80-90% political agreement, then, it is a “no-brainer”: we need to be in a common political party!

But what about those outstanding differences among socialists? What about the 10% (or perhaps even less) that we don't agree on? Surely, the sensible thing is to not let this stand in the way of us working in a common party for real change. Surely, we have a better chance of resolving the differences that need to be resolved after we have gone through a period of collective struggle to advance what we agree on. Surely, in the process of that struggle we'll draw some lessons collectively that will deepen our political unity.

Blind Freddy can see that there is still a lot of work ahead of us before we unite the notoriously fractious left. If you roll up to any protest action in any major city, you will still be confronted with a smorgasbord of socialist groups, each harbouring the illusion that it is the true party of socialism with the correct socialist political program. What a sad sight!

DSP decision to merge

However, we've made a start in uniting more of the left in the Socialist Alliance. And today, another significant step towards unifying the left has been made with the decision of the DSP to merge into the Socialist Alliance.

In the wake of this decision, we can anticipate that more more people will join the Socialist Alliance or step up their commitment to the project. As Comrade Dave Kerin said tonight, the DSP's decision opens the way for others like him to take a further step in commitment to the Socialist Alliance.

Earlier today, the members of the DSP ended a stage in our political organisation and embarked on a new stage. This was both a break from our past as well as a change that grew out of our collective political experience. We said good bye to a party to which we have devoted a tremendous amount of loyalty, energy, sacrifice and indeed the life-long commitment of many comrades over many years. However, we are not mourning this end. Rather we are celebrating. We are celebrating our transfer of that same commitment and energy to the Socialist Alliance.

In his greetings to the DSP congress, Comrade Abelardo Curbelo Padron, the ambassador of revolutionary Cuba to Australia, summed up the broad political situation today in one poetic sentence: “Today the capitalists cannot sleep and they cannot dream ...” But we, he added, have a dream of a radically different world.

We embrace that profound reality. We have a dream of a radically different world, a world based on solidarity and sustainability. And at this seventh national conference of the Socialist Alliance, we have greater means to plan and organise the struggle to advance the transformation of that dream into a reality.

Long live the Socialist Alliance! Long live left unity! Long live the power of the people!

I enjoyed reading this. : ) I have supported left unity ever since I saw Monty Python's Life of Brian, with that parody of tiny leftwing parties in conflict with each other. ; )

United we stand, divided we fall! The capitalist class would prefer that the working class remain divided and this includes the more politically conscious working class people - e.g. socialist parties). Let's unite, like the supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela have done! : )

Congratulations to the DSP and Socialist Alliance, on this great news! : )

Ever onward, to victory! : )

Capitalism is legalised robbery!

Socialism is when we, the people, take control of our world's capital (farmland, factories, etc), & manage it democratically, ensuring human rights for everyone - including food, health care & clean water.

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 01/08/2010 - 09:18


From [BCC: green socialist]

Karl Marx famously said that the past weighs like a nightmare on the minds of the living. This is how one fellow ex-member explained to me why he was so happy the DSP (Democratic Socialist Perspective) was winding up its organisation in favour of the Socialist Alliance of which it was a founder.

After 17 years of DSP membership I share the sentiment. I don’t regret having been a member, but nor do I regret no longer being one. If there’s one thing I do regret, the DSP didn’t fully merge its activity into the Socialist Alliance much earlier, a direction I have been arguing for some time.

The conference of the Alliance that I just attended was a positive, politically charged event. There were inspiring guests such as Robert Downs (pictured speaking, photo by Alex Bainbridge), representing the Ampilatwatja walk-off. But the debate on the conference resolutions was directly engaging in the sense that it brought to our attention the multitude of struggles that are occurring. What appeared to be motions over policy and campaign directions in fact reflected the  membership who are battling to advance progressive ideas and campaigns, and the potential for the Alliance to grow as a part of these campaigns.

Continued at

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Fri, 01/08/2010 - 16:19


From Left Unity in Australia: two steps forward...

After several years of a tentative fox-trot with other affiliates who opposed any such move, the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) has formally dissolved/ merged itself into the Socialist Alliance.

Now, to many on the "left" (by which we mean to include all those self-described "vanguards" of circa three people, as well as the more genuine outfits and individuals), this is either:

1) irrelevant, because the DSP already controls the Socialist Alliance;

2) irrelevant, because the DSP had already dissolved into the Socialist Alliance;

3) irrelevant, because both groups are counter-revolutionary/ Pabloite/ class-collaborationist/ Stalinist/ reformist/ {insert random unsubstantiable insult here}/ etc;

4) irrelevant, because the best vehicle for achieving socialist change is via the Greens/ ALP;

5) irrelevant because {insert name of your grouplet here} is the one true revolutionary organisation.

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. None of the above is, of course, true. These views largely serve the sole purpose of quarantining existing groups from engaging with the reality of the Socialist Alliance, the class struggle in Australia, and the need for a new, broad, socialist working class party.

Negative views (and very genuine imperfections) aside, the decision on the weekend could actually be a (another) very interesting and beneficial development, both for the Socialist Alliance, and for the left in Australia more generally. Amongst other things, it removes the DSP from the picture, handing over that group's assets to the larger Socialist Alliance and providing more human resources by removing the need for DSP members to build a parallel organisation.

While individual DSP members will no doubt maintain their political views, and put them forward in the Alliance, in can also be hoped that the death of the DSP may encourage those with paranoiac ideas of a "DSP takeover strategy" to (re)affiliate to the Socialist Alliance. A more successful Socialist Alliance, which welcomes the affiliation of other left groups and individuals, can only strengthen the socialist left in Australia, providing a unified-yet-pluralist and coherent alternative to the disaster which is capitalism.

Of course, there are those who will decry this move by DSP members a retreat from the "leninist" model of party-building, and even from Marxism. I disagree, and perhaps in a further post, I'll return to that claim in order to refute it. But suffice to say that the "Leninist Party" model being constructed by most little left groups today has extraordinarily little to do with what Lenin did in Russia (whatever your views on his successes and flaws).

One of the many (somewhere well over 200) members and delegates who attended the energetic and exciting conference, Ben Courtice, has put together a couple of (somewhat contrarian) analyses of the changes (here and here), not all glowing of course, but interesting reading nonetheless.

The new, improved, Socialist Alliance now has the opportunity to revivify the fragmented left. In one sense, the ball is firmly in the court of other left groups to meet the challenge of creating a genuine socialist alternative in Australia. If Solidarity, Socialist Alternative, the Socialist Party, or anyone else, wants to affiliate, the door remains open, and we will welcome them.

However the Socialist Alliance is not going to be held hostage to the nightmare of the past - a viable, non-sectarian and pluralist socialist alternative must be built, regardless of the involvement of historical divisions. The potential for socialists to present that alternative is greater - and more important - now that ever.

As Olivier Besancenot, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste's "Red Postie", pointed out recently: "It’s in these times of economic crisis that we will have to show just how useful we really are."

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Thu, 01/14/2010 - 10:04


Maybe it seems strange that when one conference closes another one opens.  But that's what happened  on January 2nd this year. The Democratic Socialist Perspective which was formed  38 years ago  (its founding conference was in January 1972 ) formally closed up shop and merged with the Socialist Alliance.

The merger was a foregone conclusion as no one, as far as I'm aware,  either in the DSP or the Socialist Alliance,  opposed the the merger from the day it was first raised -- some time after  April 2009.

 I won't go into the discussion that preceded this decision as the main markers are logged on the DSP website. Nonetheless, as Peter Boyle told the opening public meeting for the Alliance conference:
Sadly,it is an unusual and rare thing for socialist groups, like the DSP, to break from the idea that they are the “true” party of socialism, with the sole correct political program, and seriously embrace left unity.I say this not to boast but more by way of an apology and excuse for the DSP taking so long to take this step. After all, the Socialist Alliance was launched in 2001 and now it is 2010!
But then what may seem self evident in hindsight may not always be   that way  as the delay in merging -- first flagged in 2003 -- was checked by a succession of  "issues" that  obscured  the DSP's perspective and  the vigor of the  its orientation towards the SA.

The experience , first of the DSP conference, then engaging with the Alliance one,was  a liberating  journey all in the space of four very intense days.  While the DSP never caucused  its work in the Socialist Alliance or pre-empted participation by its membership, it was still a collective with its own cultural attributes, loyalties and  esprit de corps ethos separate from the rest of the SA membership.

"Putting the DSP down" (so to speak) and moving on politically was an essential first step  toward broadening the collaboration and opening  up  to a deepening  of the  partnerships that sustain the SA.

I'm not saying that for the sake of justification but rather I'm reporting on what began to happen as these January days ticked over. The ex-DSP membership -- now no longer made up of DSP members --  seemed, to me anyway, to embrace the SA conference as bona fide political activists without the personal complication of a previously composed agenda. The niggling secondary loyalty that decreed a certain hesitancy of engagement -- and even a reluctance   in  political confidence -- was sidelined by a direct and absolute focus on the politics to hand.

So what ensued was a level of  enthusiasm I have not experienced in any decision making conference I have attended in the past (and that's going back 40 years). Consequently, the SA conference became an exceptional political event because this fostered a certain  galvanizing of 100% attention and focus that really took off in the workshops where it was all in -- with  DSP exers and  the rest alike jumping in to share their two bob's worth of POV.

We had so much discussion that on some matters we decided we did not have enough of it and held over deciding  so that we could canvas more broadly in the Alliance by extending our exchanges. As long time Indigenous activist Pat Eatock said of the conference:
It's been such a comfortable conference – energising, inspiring, but most of all it's one big family, it's an extended family and Kooris can really relate to that....This is the only organisation ... it took me a long time to become a member. I became a member last February and I'd been sort of hanging around with this mob for over a year before I made that decision. But that decision was based on the fact that the processes I see are so good. I don't really know how they have dispute resolution because there doesn’t seem to be any dispute!
Of course disputes do occur but I guess what the conference confirmed once again -- this is in fact a SA habit -- is that the SA does strive for consensus -- although it is not brutally ruled by it.There is indeed  so much unity in the Alliance because we get the priority right and strive to work together in action rather than allow ourselves to be bogged down in disputation over political differences where we may disagree with one another -- at least for now. It is indeed a very grand unity of (socialist) purpose rather than one contained by a boutique ideology

The SA is not so much a red wedge but a political envelope that moves forward  despite the fact that  members are not all  in step with one another. And the way the conference unfolded was a great example of that process in action.

But then you have to be part of it to get my meaning...

As Dave Kerin reminds us:
It's a tremendously creative period of change that's now going to enable people like myself of the historic left who have been, if you like, almost unattached, to have a home now that provides us with support in our work. We've never ceased doing the work as socialists, but when you're doing that work alone you feel more worn out...I'm a year and a half off 60 and, to see that goal, for my remaining life on the planet I'll be fully engaged in that along with Socialist Alliance.
Photographs: This post and related pests: Alex Bainbridge