‘Socialism of the 21st century’ and left unity

By the Socialist Alliance, Australia

[The following is the text of a leaflet being distributed by the Socialist Alliance in Melbourne.]

April 2, 2010 -- The triumphalism spouted by capitalist apologists in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union has long gone. Today the problems are so obvious: global warming and the world economic slump are shaking the capitalist world and casting a growing shadow over the future.

“Capitalism is the road to hell”, as Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez said at the Copenhagen climate conference. The revolutionary process in Venezuela and the bold stand taken by its leader have resurrected the idea of socialism in the consciousness of millions. His call for a “socialism of the 21st century” has inspired people around the world. And now Chavez has called for a new international socialist organisation which would unite parties and movements that want to fight imperialism and neoliberalism.

But important as solidarity with Venezuela is and much as we may admire Chavez, our fundamental task is to fight for social change right here.

Survival of humanity is at stake

The crisis of climate change is the most terrible in human history and it is real and immediate. It is no longer simply a question of fighting for a more just society — that remains but the question now is whether human society itself can survive. Increasingly all the other problems — imperialist war, mass poverty, intensifying exploitation of working people, racism and discrimination, state repression and so on — will unfold in this framework.

Socialists in the developed capitalist countries have a special responsibility. We live in the belly of the beast whose rapacious and unquenchable thirst for profit is threatening humanity with utter catastrophe.

Far left divided and disunited

Yet the “far left” — those activists who are committed to struggling against capitalism and who see the need to replace it with an ecologically sustainable, people-centred socialist society — remains, despite great efforts, small and marginalised. There are many reasons for this but the key one — and one that we can actually do something about — is that it is deeply divided and disunited.

At any major protest demonstration an interested independent participant would possibly see about six socialist groups with their stalls, all trying to convince him or her why they should join their particular organisation.

All the far left groups — without exception — have their share of talented, capable leaders and committed members. But the general approach is completely unrealistic, that is, one-by-one recruitment to the point where they grow and eclipse their left rivals and come to dominate the radical movement. This is a scenario which is highly unlikely to happen.

Until we take some serious steps to overcoming this situation the socialist left will not be able to provide the level of leadership required to build really big campaigns that can win victories and draw significant numbers of people into the struggle.

Independent leftists repelled by division

In Australia there is widespread discontent over the various things neoliberal capitalism is doing to our society. There is a lot of disillusionment with the mainstream political parties and a lot of people are looking for alternatives.

Most progressive, left-wing people do not belong to any organisation or are members or supporters of the Greens or the Australian Labor Party. While some individuals may join a socialist organisation, the organised left is too small to attract them on a broad scale. Those who do come closer are most likely to be confused and repelled by the obvious division and disunity.

To convince large numbers of such alienated and disaffected people of the need for fundamental system change or to attract them into a socialist organisation requires a real, sustained move towards genuine left cooperation and unity — including a serious exploration of the possibilities of uniting in a single organisation.

Unity enthuses and inspires

It is a simple fact that serious steps toward left unity inspire and enthuse people whereas needless discord and division discourages people from a closer engagement with the socialist left.

For example, when the global financial crisis first erupted, the various left-wing organisations all held their own forums, all saying much the same thing. The lack of a united approach weakened the overall impact of the socialist position and prevented us from being able to significantly influence the trade unions and workers shaken by the crisis.

Differences are no excuse

But what about the differences between the various groups? Aren’t they a fundamental obstacle to greater unity? The short and commonsense answer? No, they are not — or, to put it more precisely: No, they shouldn’t be.

We all largely agree in our critique of neoliberal capitalism and the need to fight the manifest injustices it creates. We agree on the need to replace dog-eat-dog capitalist society with socialism. This was in fact the experience when a number of the far left groups worked together in Socialist Alliance in previous years. It was relatively easy to get agreement on policy; the problems were elsewhere.

In our opinion the differences which do exist can be contained within a single organisation — provided there is goodwill and a genuine desire to achieve unity and to make it work. Old differences may still recur but hopefully they will express themselves in a new form around the real issues we confront in the struggle rather than in an abstract way (Stalinism versus Trotskyism, “revolution from below”, and so on).

Left unity by itself will not automatically solve all political problems; it is still necessary to work out a correct policy. But unity does create the best framework for doing this.

Socialist Alliance

The Socialist Alliance is attempting to demonstrate this approach. As its name suggests, it is a coalition of socialists from a range of political backgrounds and traditions. In January 2010, the Democratic Socialist Perspective, previously the largest affiliate, dissolved itself and merged all its political and material resources into the Socialist Alliance.

The Socialist Alliance is an unambiguously anti-capitalist organisation. It is continually developing its policy positions but it is not an “ideological” grouping. It is focuses on relating to the issues which confront us today.

It is worth noting that in a number of other countries sections of the far left have adopted a broadly similar approach.

In France the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, which originated in the May-June 1968 upheaval, dissolved itself at the start of last year into the New Anti-Capitalist Party which brings together forces from the far left, the radical ecology movement, immigrant groups and so on. In Portugal some years ago, former Trotskyists and Maoists formed the anti-neoliberal Left Bloc; it attracted over half a million votes in the 2009 elections. There are many other examples.

The challenge facing us all

Socialism is at a low ebb in Australia. If we remain disunited and continue to squander so much energy competing with each other we won’t be able to fundamentally change this situation. Every real step towards greater left cooperation and unity will make the socialist movement that much stronger and put us in a better position to win a much larger following behind a program of serious social and economic change.

All left-wing groups and currents will be judged by how we contribute to promoting greater left unity and building socialist leadership on the scale required by the crisis facing us.

Some basic steps forward

Building the struggle is key

In our work in the various movements, the primary goal must be to construct genuine broad-based coalitions. These are the best vehicles for drawing in larger numbers of people and really advancing the struggle. Recruitment to one’s own group is legitimate but it can’t be the fundamental objective.

Support all socialist candidates

In Victoria this year we will most likely have both federal and state elections. It would be a real step forward if all socialist groups publicly supported the candidates of other socialist organisations (Socialist Alliance, Socialist Party, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Communist Party of Australia) and advocated a first-preference vote for them.

We should try to avoid situations where we run against one another. Where problems are likely to arise we should sit down and talk them through.

The Socialist Alliance has always adopted this approach. We have always supported other socialist candidates and will continue to do so.

Comradely relations

The different socialist organisations should be able to relate to each other in a comradely way and discuss any differences calmly and objectively. Abusing members of another organisation by calling them “Stalinists” is unworthy of serious socialists and should be dropped.

[Visit the Socialist Alliance web site at http://www.socialist-alliance.org.]


Congratulations to the companeras and companeros who produced this. It should be required reading by anyone claiming to be a socialist and revolutionist. The need for revolutionary unity has never been greater because the opportunities for the revolutionary left have never been greater.

I have one small issue with the leaflet, and that is the juxtaposition of solidarity work with the making of revolutions on the home field. It is not a case of one versus another. The two are complimentary, and indeed solidarity work can produce the subjective conditions to enhance the other. The work of the American SWP in its healthy days in building a mass movement opposing the war against the Vietnamese revolution is a good example of this.

This issue is on the front burner today for revolutionaries in North America. The building of a mass movement against American and Canadian imperialist intervention in Nuestra America against the revolutionary processes there is the number one task for those who claim to be revolutionaries. Building links in concrete ways between the mass struggles of the South and the Northern working masses, finding ways to limit imperialism's margin of manoeuver will create the conditions for the emergence of a new internationalist vanguard of working class militants able to be imperialism's protagonists within its own living room.

It is in this sense that solidarity work and the construction of a revolutionary socialist alternative are combined tasks, not counter posed ones.

Central America


It is strange to say today that socialism was good, is good, especially when we have a look at countries where it is still in power. Here in Poland we do not talk about it much at schools, hardly anybody dares to say it out loud that it truly is good. The rules, the whole vision of unity and equality are nothing short of a pure beauty.


Here is a relevant Direct Action article by Revolutionary Socialist Party member Allen Myers (one of the ex-DSP minority who were expelled by the DSPerspective/now SA leadership), that comments on the reasons for there being various socialist groups in Australia: http://directaction.org.au/issue22/why_are_there_so_many_socialist_groups

I am going to intervene in this thread though I may well come to regret it. Basically I think this is not good enough. Myers comes out with the same patronising self-satisfied line that I was fed nearly 40 years ago when I first made contact with the Left. Then as now the divisions were supposed to represent "ideas" or god help us principles. Those who deplored the disunity were thought of as naive, lacking in revolutionary fervour and uneducated in the vital protocols for building a mass revolutionary party.

So each little sect clung to its particular piece of territory and swept it daily to keep it pure. The "method" for doing this was to rear everyone on a diet of internal bulletins.

Nothing has ever come of this. Nothing. Decade after decade the Left go through the ritual imitations of what they believe the Bolsheviks practised. For instance I was assured in the seventies that Canon knew how to build a revolutionary party and we would one day have just that in Australia.

In my time in the International Socialists I was fed the same line. Though this time Cliff was the guru in chief. We followed all his formulae and went through split after split. I have actually lost count, but when I last looked there were three separate Cliffite groups in Brisbane. Each supposedly representing an important idea or principle.

Now the recent split in the SWP tendency has been nothing short of disastrous. Here I will declare my hand. I belong to the Socialist Alliance. I joined them because I think they are genuinely seeking for an alternative to the clapped out "Leninist" formulae that were supposed one day to deliver us the Revolutionary Party.

In the mean time the capitalist offensive goes on. Indeed it is going to become truly brutal and all we can offer to the working class is the spectacle of our mutual bitterness and sectarian divisions. Long ago the Monty Python team satirised all this in the Life of Brian:

Reg Right, you're in. Listen, the only people we hate more than the Romans, are the fucking Judean People's Front.

All in PFJ except Brian Yeah!

Judith Splitters!

Rogers And the Judean Popular People's Front!

All in PFJ except Brian Yeah! Splitters!

Loretta And the People's Front of Judea!

All in PFJ except Brian Yeah! Splitters!

Reg What?

Loretta The People's Front of Judea. Splitters!

Reg We are the People's Front of Judea!

Loretta Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.

Reg People's Front! God...

Rogers Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?

Reg He's over there.

All in PFJ except Brian Splitter!

All that is funny in a cruel way. But it is also true in a cruel way. I can recall during the final meeting when the faction, which I was part of in IS, were purged that one of the charges brought against us was that "we were the kind of people who read Marxist poetry".

Nick Clegg of Westminster School and David Osborne of Eton are now going to put the UK working class to the sword. The union bureaucracy and what remains of New Labour will do nothing to stop them. In that context it is nothing less than a disgrace to continue to defend divisions on the Left in any way.

We in Australia for the moment do not face the kind of onslaught that the UK working class are up against. But our turn will come. Will we then still be going on about how important our divisions are as they represent such crucial ideas? I hope not,




Allen Myers says: “The fundamental reason that there are many socialist organisations is that there are many different ideas about how to achieve socialism. “

That is a one-sided view. Certainly there are political differences amongst left groups. But there are also a lot of ideas they have in common.

Competition amongst left groups (for recruits, paper sales etc) often causes them to exaggerate the differences.

Allen says: “And there has been another, much more extensive, test of the idea that the kind of unity advocated by the SA [Socialist Alliance] can overcome the marginalisation of the left. That test is the SA itself. It was established by eight socialist groups in 2001 to run united socialist election campaigns. While it stuck with that objective, it won a greater hearing for socialist ideas, although it certainly did not achieve a mass following. However, even these limited gains were destroyed when the Democratic Socialist Party (later Democratic Socialist Perspective) in late 2003 decided to push the SA into becoming a single multi-tendency party. There was not sufficient agreement among the affiliated groups to make a united party realistic, and the result was not growth but the shrinking of the SA into the DSP and a few people it influenced. After nine years, the SA involves fewer active socialists than were in the DSP alone when the SA was established.”

But it was not just the DSP that wanted Socialist Alliance to become a multi-tendency socialist party. SA had hundreds of non-aligned members (those not in any of the 8 affiliated groups). And most of the non-aligned members wanted SA to move from being a coalition of groups to being a single party (with the right of tendencies to exist within it).

Votes were taken on this issue at a series of Socialist Alliance conferences. There were motions on the goal of a multi-tendency party, and on specific measures intended to take SA in this direction. In all these votes, the majority of non-aligned SA members voted in favour, as did the DSP, while the other affiliates voted against.

After the 2005 conference, the other affiliates ceased to participate in SA. They eventually formally disaffiliated. This naturally had an impact on non-aligned members. Some concluded that this experiment in left unity had failed, and let their SA membership lapse. Others expressed their support for the idea of left unity by renewing their membership.

Since them, SA has continued to attract people from a range of political backgrounds and traditions, including supporters of the Sudanese Communist Party (who help produce Green Left’s Arabic supplement), Latin American leftists (who help produce the Spanish supplement), and indigenous activists.

Nevertheless, the loss of most of the original affiliates was a serious setback. We need to make renewed efforts to unite the left groups. I do not expect rapid progress in the short term, but there is no harm in propagandising for the idea.

Allen says: “According to the Victorian leaflet, the SA believes that ‘the differences which do exist [among socialist groups] can be contained within a single organisation’. This ignores reality. For example, the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) group while formally opposed to US threats against Cuba, considers Cuba to be a capitalist state and advocates a mass armed uprising to overthrow the Cuban government. The SA has policy of solidarity with Cuba against US threats, but it hasn’t adopted a position on supporting Cuba’s socialist revolution. Perhaps, therefore, the SA could co-exist with SAlt in a united organisation in regard to its policy toward Cuba. But how could the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), which regards the Cuban Revolution as an inspiring example to the working people of the world of socialist politics in action, get along in the same party with socialists who advocate the overthrow of the Cuban government?”

As Allen says, Socialist Alliance has “a policy of solidarity with Cuba against US threats”. Such a policy was first adopted while groups such as the International Socialist Organisation, which regarded Cuba as state-capitalist, were still affiliated to SA. A more comprehensive policy on solidarity with Latin America has since been adopted, but it has been written in such a way that groups with a “state capitalist” analysis of Cuba could, we hope, live with it.

Socialist Alternative is currently the main left group in Australia with such views. SAlt is currently not at all interested in left unity. But we should not rule out the possibility that this could change in the future, as a result of new developments in Australian or international politics.

Meanwhile Socialist Alliance continues to educate people about Cuba, through Green Left, pamphlets and forums. For example a forum will be held in Melbourne on May 26.

Chris Slee


If there is to be any success it will because a mass worker's party based on Marxist or socialist principles is best able to adapt themselves to the working class in Australia today.

How much do new activists coming into the anti-capitalist struggle know about the history of the Revolutionary Left? That was a retorical question. If you didn't answer 'nothing,' then you have know idea about the Australian working class today. They don't really care about having an official policy on Cuba. I remember long drawn out Socialist Alliance conferences, that have put off so many potential activists because of two different groups arguing about Cuba. Situations occured when people felt empowered and politically angry at the rotten system. So what did they witness. Arguements that they could not possibly relate to, being a first time activist.

The Australian working class deserve and need a party that will provide a political vehicle for those coming into the struggle. It will be able to provide practical solutions for them and give them a life-line in the struggle. We know of no other solution. This is the most commonly agreed principle amongst all socialists and Marxists. Any successful mass worker's party will be based on the current struggles of the Australian working class. (Yes people will join the struggle based on solidarity with international causes or in relation to another nation's struggle. This depends on their level of class conciousness) It is wrong to judge harshly the struggles of a undeveloped/poor nation. That should be another principal agreed on by all socialist organisations.

If a party can't relate to the conditions of the Australian worker, then it has no chance of success. Many organisations put their causes before the people. This will also lead to failure. Thinking that one or two particular struggles of the working class will lead to the growth of a mass worker's party is very naive. Struggles like anti-war and environment are two of the crucial ones at the moment, and have historically shown that they draw in many new activists. But these particular stuggles do have their times when people will withdraw from political struggle.

The bourgeoisie have clear understanding on the importance of capital to be the first priority. We have seen that over history. It can come in the guise of political parties who are monarchist, liberal, social-democrat or even totalitarian regimes. Capitalism and the state will strive to prevail by any means necessary. They differ in their analysis in history as do socialist groups, but that does not divide them on the need to bring about repression or concessions using the state apparatus as needed. What we agree on makes us stronger and more exciting because we are testing out new methods that relate to the current class struggles in Australia. We can learn from older stuggles. But you don't learn if you are focused on an idea such as, 'Cuba is state-capitalist.' How does that encourage new people? If you think that such questions are important then you really have lost the plot in relation to socialism.

To sum up united we stand and divided the capitalists win!

Coming in quite late in this discussion, my opinion is that the problem is in the practical.

Many organisations, including "Stalinists" (yes, some are still around), claim to be "socialists". And when you have a situation where a range of people ranging from anarchists libertarians to the elite of North Korea all give themselves this title things can become pretty confusing for an observer.

Politics shouldn't be about titles; it should be about the practical changes to people's lives, real changes not symbolic appellations.

If the Socialist Alliance concentrates on real changes (and grounded for the theory nerds), then people will be attracted to the programme and the practise. Here are some basic ideas:

1. Personal Liberty. Self-ownership, full and exclusive right and responsibility over oneself for adults of adult-reasoning, and by extension, consensus in participation. This even includes "destructive" rights (e.g., voluntary euthanasia).

2. Political Emancipation and Equality. Liberty in the private sphere of life is matched by equality in the public sphere; political emancipation means that all ideally all are treated equally and all citizens are treated equality.

3. Social Commonwealth. Economic land rents as the sole source for public income.

4. Free and Open Source Public Information. Open government and a free exchange of information. ...

The point being is to concentrate on making objective changes to society, rather than sloganeering. Those more attached to the latter aren't really that useful anyway.

Good luck.


"Abusing members of another organisation by calling them “Stalinists” is unworthy of serious socialists and should be dropped."

I have a problem with this: What about actual Stalinists? Are we to ignore their existence, or pretend that they are good comrades?

The only thing worse than using the word 'Stalinist' to shut down other socialists is to pretend that every time someone uses the word 'Stalinist', it is a politically motivated attack on other socialists. I see a similar trend to this happening with the word 'racist' in bourgeois political dialogue; people have convinced themselves that the word 'racist' is a way to shoot down your opponents (even though it is usually used by people who genuinely believe the person they are accusing is being racist), to the point that people ignore outright racism and accuse people who call racists out on their crap of trying to shut down discussion. If someone is advocating Stalinist ideas, we should not be silent about it. Nor should we be silent in our criticism and condemnation of Stalin. Not every time someone calls someone else a Stalinist, is it a politically motivated attack. Sometimes (usually!), they are genuinely concerned that the person is advocating Stalinist ideas, and are rightfully concerned; Stalinism was not a good thing, and we should not pretend that it was.

Obviously, you shouldn't call someone who isn't a Stalinist a Stalinist- doing so is a politically motivated attack meant to shut down discussion. In fact, you might want to not call people Stalinists at all and instead just point out that this idea or that is Stalinistic, or even just that this idea or that is authoritarian and abusive. But let's not go soft on Stalinists by refusing to call them out for what they are. Let's not pretend that Stalinism was a good thing, or that Stalin handled things the right way, or that Stalin's ideas deserve to be seriously considered by anyone who advocates democracy, equality, worker's self-management. Solidarity between socialists is one thing. Solidarity with a group that advocates something that cannot be honestly called socialism is another thing entirely.


Stalinism is for all intents and purposes a historical question. To decide what we need to do today it is an irrelevant divide. If you want to be stuck within a 'river-of-blood' scenario then you are allowing yourself to be ruled by old debates and prejudices. It is similarly a mistake to get too caught up in the papacy of Trotskyism as a ongoing and rigid identity (of which there are so many separate and competing patents!). Better to deal with the real world in front of you and make the best political use of it.

Sorry folks -- Marxism isn't a grab bag of certainties fostering secthood and dogma but a tool useful only through struggle and effort to change the world.

Relying on shibboleths -- eg; I am NOT a Stalinist/YOU ARE! -- is a distraction and cop out engineered either to suppress debate or to thwart unity while fostering separatism.

Here in Australia various Trotskyist outfits call each other "Stalinist'. This is absurd (and non materialist) as Stalinism -- even according to Trotsky -- was a concrete material entity that developed in a certain political context. Not a handy epithet. I also think that after the events of 1933 the shrill ruling that ALL Communist Parties world wide affiliated to the Comintern were thoroughly reactionary was not only unjustified but fostered a level of arrogance which helped to sentence "Trotskyism' to the margins and its followers to sectdom.

Trotskyism was born with the politics-as-difference template -- a level of separation and smugness that was primarily ideological rather than rooted in the everyday class struggle.So it survived as a body of ideas -- a holy writ program -- that was embellished with a strong sense of its own purity.

Such 'revolutionary continuity' does have its advantages IF you are only engineering propaganda -- but if you want to step into the real world of struggle of messing it with other currents and honing the best weapon possible from resources to hand you need to bow before a level of complexity not covered in the Transitional Program.

'Revolutionary continuity' does have its advantages IF you are trying to survive a Cold War with your existence challenged by an aggressive capitalist ideology exploiting the in your face reality of the USSR....

But that was yesterday. Today, if your check your class notes -- for Fourth International 101 -- today should be the age of Trotskyism. But it aint. Why not?

So consider the quote for today-- quote de jour:

"Well then, if you do agree to follow this road, make an effort to proceed along it independently; don’t make it necessary to drag you; don’t let the ‘unusual’ appearance of this road frighten you, don’t be put out by the fact that in many places you will find no beaten track at all, and that you will have to crawl along the edges of precipices, break your way through thickets, and leap across chasms. Don’t complain of the poor road: these complaints will be futile whining, for you should have known in advance that you would be moving, not along a highway that has been graded and levelled by all the forces of social progress, but along paths through out-of-the-way places and back-alleys which do have a way out, but from which you, we or anyone else will never find a direct, simple, and easy way out." Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 6, pp. 126-7.


Comrade Dave Riley's comments miss the mark completely in this discussion of Stalinism and its relevance or irrelevance. It is precisely the question of what we do or don't do today where we bump up against the political ideology and historical legacy of Stalinism.

Stalinism is the ideology of a bureacratic cast which, having risen above the workers' movement and its state, has garnered unto itself a monopoly of power by which it grants itself priviledges at the expense of the rest of society. In order to politically defend itself, it developed an ideology with readily identifiable components. From the Stalinist ideology have arisen the incorrect theories of:

1. The notion of "socialism in one country" and the consequent subordination of the international interests of the world revolution to the narrow diplomatic interests of the bureacratic national cast;

2. The theory of the bloc of four classes, of the "democratic national" bourgeoise and the consequent theory of the two stage revolution- a national democratic revolution and a socialist revolution sometime far off in the future;

3. A "third period" variant which declares the other organisations of the workers movement 'social fascist' and therefore further divides the working class;

4. The total distortion of Leninism and the Leninist theory of organisation with the consequent horrors of "the leading role of the Party", substituting workers democracy with a single polity directorship.

There are other components of Stalinist political ideology but suffice it to say, these are probably the best known. And these are the foundations of organisations and currents active today throughout the world, which keep putting forward these incorrect ideas to the workers' movement.

We only have to look at China and the "Chinese road to building socialism", or to Cuba and the "nobody has a model to build socialism" to see the modern versions of the socialism in one country argument.

We only have to look today to see the "national democratic revolution"arguments put forward by the FMNLF in El Salvador,where workers' struggles have been repressed by the Funes government; or the arguments and analysis peddled by the Tunisian and Egyptian versions of the Stalinists where the revolution must be contained within a "national democratic" framework; or the destruction of the once mighty Italian and French CPs as they squirmed and wiggled their way to oblivion looking for "national democratic" forces with which to align.

We only have to look no further than Greece and the actions of the KKE and to Portugal and those of the PCP to see the sectarianism of "third period" Stalinism in vivid colour and action.

We have only to look at every Communist Party, whether of the Russian or Maoist derivation, to see the lack of democracy within each, the prohibition against tendencies, the mechanisms of expulsions and purges used against those with different viewpoint and analysis: a case in point is the purge of those in Cuba who dare to point out corruption in the state apparatus and to actually name names.

I have no idea to which outfit Dave Riley belongs, but I detect a bit of a whiff of defensiveness on this issue. His obvious loathing for the Trotskyists in the above and other postings on this site perhaps is just a cover for his love of Comrade Joe and the political positions derived from the social caste he represented and which, unfortunately for the world revolution, survive today.