Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cynical Unity Mongering

(If you were bigger, we would enter you)

I have been in favour of greater left unity for a long time. But occasionally one sees a side of the left that one would rather not see. I ask myself: could I seriously join in a common political organisation with someone who can use the phrase “cynical unity mongering” with a straight face?

I have no sensible answer to that question! A Socialist Alternative member recently commented on a blog that Socialist Alliance “is probably the clearest single example internationally of the utterly destructive impact that cynical unity mongering can have on the left.”

The Socialist Alliance is the outcome of three decades (give or take a bit) of the former Democratic Socialist Party’s left unity attempts. I joined the DSP in the early 1990s when there were no such left unity attempts being made, despite several very serious projects during the 1980s.

In fact, in the 1990s, I think the DSP’s approach to left unity was quite rhetorical and defensive. The left unity experiments of the 1980s had all ended badly (as had the party’s mistaken support for Gorbachev, and as had the Nicaraguan revolution that the DSP had been a strong supporter of). “Cynical” – probably not, not most of the members at any rate. But the history of the left’s battles in 1990s Victoria (where I was involved for some of the time) provides a few lessons in failing to take unity seriously enough.

1992 saw state elections in which Liberal party egomaniac (and neoliberal stormtrooper) Jeff Kennett was elected premier, and immediately set about the full neoliberal program of privatising and cutting to the bone state services. Australia had experienced milder (slower moving) neoliberal ALP government during the 1980s, but Kennett was the first (and maybe worst) of the unrestrained privatisers.

Resistance sprang up in various ways. Trades Hall organised a massive rally of over a hundred thousand against the vicious stripping of workers’ rights, but Trades Hall was a creature of the ALP and not used to fighting; the protests soon fizzled out.

A coalition of community groups called Public First mobilised many communities against privatisation, but by the time I moved to Melbourne in 1997 they appeared little more than a front for the dwindling Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist).

A wave of school closures was met by protests and, in some cases, occupations. In particular, the inner-city Richmond Secondary College was a centre of resistance. Much of the left participated in supporting the occupation and picket lines, including when the notorious police riot squad violently broke up the picket, beating people over the head from behind.

Most prominent was the small group Militant – internationally linked with the group of the same name in the UK, they had just left the Labor Party (following the lead of their UK cothinkers). Militant leader Steve Jolly traded on his role in this battle for years to come. The group grew somewhat after the experience.

“If you were bigger, we would enter you”
 I first came across Militant in 1995 at a socialist educational conference put on by the DSP in Melbourne. Steve Jolly was invited to speak on a panel. I mainly remember him saying that the other left were too obsessed with selling their papers to be useful to community struggles. The DSP speaker, as I recall, pointed out that Militant had a very similar assessment of the broad political situation and the tasks of the left compared with our own, and should think about unity.

A few Militant members came along to the session as well, and I remember a DSP member asked one Militant member why they wouldn’t join the (much much larger) DSP since our politics seemed to be converging. The terse response was “If you were bigger, we’d enter you!”

But when I arrived in Melbourne in 1997, we were at the stage of having some more serious discussions with Militant over the possibility of unity. For the DSP, the sticking point was “democratic centralism” – of the DSP. Militant were affiliated with, and loyal to, the Committee for a Workers’ International, based in London; we wanted them to be clearly loyal to the DSP, and not part of any faction or tendency with outside loyalties.

“If you were bigger, we would negotiate”
I am not impressed by groups that join narrow ideological internationals. At the time, the DSP leadership’s conditions seemed reasonable: Militant could join up, Jolly would get a seat on the National Council, but otherwise they would simply be joining up as any other DSP member. If they had been bigger, the reasoning went, maybe there might be a more two-sided merger. But they only had one or two dozen members in Melbourne, and the DSP had almost 300 spread over nearly all the major cities in the country.

In my view, the DSP’s insistence on simply gobbling up the rather proud, new Militant group was a big mistake. It’s only hindsight that tells me that, but most lessons are learned that way of course.

It’s true that we didn’t know whether Militant were simply aiming for an “entry” operation to raid us for a few extra recruits. But they were small – only really existing in one city. We were somewhat less small, but the mutual gains could have been very large.

Subsequently, abandoning talks with the DSP, Militant merged for a while with two other (even) smaller Trotskyist groups. The DSP was fairly dismissive of this unity of small sects. However, the three groups merging created something of a buzz among at least some on the left. While the groups’ combined membership cannot have been more than 30, they were soon claiming membership of 100 in Melbourne. This included some experienced community and union activists, and even a few ex-members of the DSP.

At this point, the DSP’s Melbourne membership was about 70-80, although many were relatively inactive. Branch meetings tended to have 25-35 in attendance I recall. But I went to observe at one meeting organised by the new (post-merger) Militant group, which had well over 50 people present.

Subsequently, the alliance of the three Trotskyist groups broke up acrimoniously and I don’t think any of the three groups retained many of the new members – most went into the new left regroupment party, the Progressive Labour Party (PLP). But the growth they experienced at first should have alerted the DSP to the potential benefits of left unity. After all, we had a history of being involved in left regroupment attempts.

At this time we were starting to find out about the growth of the Scottish Militant Labour, who were bringing together the Scottish Socialist Alliance to work with other left groups. Subsequently they became the Scottish Socialist Party and were, for a time, very successful. Perhaps they illustrate a possible alternative path the left could have followed here if a bit more trust (or imagination) had been excercised.

A broad left forms
The DSP was banned from participating in the PLP (even though this was opposed by the PLP Melbourne branch). Many of that party’s leaders were hostile to the DSP for a variety of historical and political reasons. I don’t think the DSP could have gotten around this, but the 1999 Victorian state election showed the potential for a broader left, in some form of alliance at least.

The 1999 state elections in Victoria were the elections at which Jeff Kennett’s government was kicked out of office. Steve Bracks (later known as “Jeff Bracks”) was the Labor premier that replaced him. But also interesting in this election was the results for the left.

I can remember four clearly left, socialist candidates that ran. The PLP ran two, Militant ran one, and the DSP ran one. After the election, we joked that we at least had our election demands met (“Kick out Kennett”). But we also got a relatively high vote: in the city seat of Melbourne, Jorge Jorquera won 5.73% of the vote (1986 votes). Steve Jolly, still known from the Richmond Secondary College days, won an impressive 12.02% (4213 votes) in Richmond. PLP candidate Susanna Duffy won 7.93% (2480 votes) in Northcote.

These were high votes for socialist candidates in Australia: the DSP had been running a candidate or two in every election for years, but rarely won many votes. It is worth noting that this election had few minor parties. The Greens only ran in a handful of seats, their Victorian branch being one of their smallest. Their votes were also in the same range as the left’s, although they contested more seats (but not in the inner city, where they do so well now).

It should be noted that the left candidates were listed on the ballot without party affiliation – running as independents – because the electoral laws make it very hard for a party to achieve electoral registration in Australia, particularly at state level. The votes may not have been directly for “socialism” - whatever that means to the average voter - although the DSP leaflet, at least, was headlined “vote socialist”.

While the three campaigns were separate from each other, we did not run against each other. I think the lack of Greens candidates in these seats was only due to their small size at that time, but this certainly contributed to our success. The PLP candidate in Geelong, Luke Grose, only won 2.07% (641 votes) – but he competed with two other independents; the other three left candidates were facing only the two major parties’ candidates in their electorates.

Despite this promising start, the next state election in 2002 shows a complete turnaround. The Greens ran in most seats, and won results usually in the range of 7-12%, with a bunch of inner city candidates winning 18-28% of the vote. The left, on the other hand, was lucky to get over 2% this time. Most of the left candidates this time were Socialist Alliance, now a registered party with the party name listed on the ballot. Militant, now called Socialist Party, remained outside the Alliance. Steve Jolly only scored 1.99% (629 votes) this time. The Greens, on the other hand, went from not running at all in Richmond in 1999, to 28.64% (9055 votes) in 2002.

Of course, the left don’t measure success only in electoral terms, and there were many positive things in 2002 that had enabled the Alliance to unite many of the left organisations and achieve electoral registration. But I think the changed electoral terrain reveals some of the important missed opportunities that were squandered by all the groups: first and foremost, the DSP and Militant both bloody-mindedly refusing to work together, despite much good will from many members on both sides.

The inability to work together in the 1999 election (other than on an informally agreed non-agression pact) also cost us a valuable opportunity. By the next election (if not before) the Greens had well and truly captured the progressive public’s attention (and vote) and the left was back to its tiny votes and empty bucket campaigns.

Another comment on the same blog thread that I started on seemed to hit the nail on the head. “It never ceases to amaze me that the various socialist groups in Australia, all of whom are tiny and rather irrelevant, can not sit down, agree on a minimum programme and get to work representing the interests of working people in this country, both in elections and on day to day issues. We have a war on,the economy is stuffed, unemployment never moves and the endless drive towards privatization never ceases.”

What happened to the left between 1999 and 2002? This will be the subject of another post soon; and I will explain why this Victorian-centric history is of relevance to all Australia. I also plan later to write a brief commentary of the fall and rise (again) of the Greens from the 1990s to now.


  1. I didn't realize that Myer's absurd article was taken up by Proyect and company (the blog thread you refer to). But it was an absurdist piece that doesn't do Alan Myers proud at all.

    However, your potted Vic history doesn't tell us much other than share anecdotes.

    I only rejoined active socialist politicking at the beginning of 2003 and I'm in Qld so I can't rule on your local history telling -- and there's no SP here.

    However, you do not log the tactical changes that were being explored by Miltant/SP in the UK after its exit from the British Labour Party. That period closed more or less with the formation of the SSP in Scotland and the exit from the CWI of the Labour Party of Pakistan. We're more or less talking late nineties.

    Thereafter the CWI began to turn inward.

    That period of reach out and open-ness embraced by the CWI was one of the truly great opportunities on the left for regroupment in decades. The CWI handicap was that it suffered from all the hesistancies that plagued the DSP for a long period of working through its own regroupment agenda, and in effect the CWI got cold feet when the DSP has remained resolute in that quest.

    That the DSP was own-party centric for that period I think is clearly the case, but as we know through those experiences there's been a collective learning and a level of comprehension that the rest of the left outside the SA partnerships cannot, for now, fathom.

    Hindsight has the burden of being after the fact and these past few years have been a collective learning experience for those who are open to the shared exposure.

    Our problem unfortunately, is that the far left orgs are resolutely myopic on the core question (or unity in struggle) and until something happens to change that POV, a sort of waring groupuscule status quo will prevail.

    All that could change if one outfit broke ranks.All it needs is one. Thats' the tragedy. but the consensus in favour of disunity seems genetically embedded.

  2. WE need all the 'unity mongering' we can muster.
    Afer all, what hope is there of calling for the workers of the world to unite when many on the left woud rather be untied than be united?

    Pip is the perfect example of a dedicated selfless comrade who is absolutely committed to empowerering people within the movement. At first, I cared about the issue of refugees and opposition to a potential war against Afghanistan. Now I know that what in the end that is needed is a total sweepout of the old decayed capitalist system, to be replaced by a truly democratic socialist movement that is both revolutionary and internationalist in outlook.

  3. I think that the ex DSP needs to have a little more humility if they want anyone to take their claim to want left unity seriously.

    I cringe when I read headlines proclaiming a huge step forward for left unity when the DSP dissolved. I agreed that the DSP should dissolve but to act like SA represents any left unity at the moment is ridiculous.

    I actually agree with many of the decisions that they have made re SA in the abstract... But in reality unity is all about compromise and when all the other groups in an alliance are so unhappy with the decisions made (no matter how right they are) that they leave, then what's the point? If the DSP wants any chance at future unity they may have to admit that some things that happened in SA were a mistake for that reason.

    And Dave, always pointing the finger at others and never admitting mistakes is a trait that the DSP still needs to ditch if it really wants unity.

  4. I joined around 1990 too and the focus then was on ‘rethinking’ in the light of the collapse of the USSR. There was great things like GLW which was a step in right direction away from party-line papers, from a democratic centralist international, but overall each group (and I mean globally) seemed to come away from the collapse of the USSR arguing that it confirmed what they thought all along. What this shows is the impact of such events takes a long time to really leave a mark. So yes when we joined the re-groupments had petered out but don’t forget prior to that there had also been a period of entry work in the ALP (as was Trotskyist orthodoxy for decades before that).

    Remember too that the Alliance got started when ISO changed its position on elections (on orders from London) and before it was debated at ISO conference the DSP announced they wanted to form an electoral alliance (which they couldn’t really refuse). I was in Rockhampton Branch at the time and it was put to me that this was a great opportunity to “put the skids under the ISO”. Now I mention this because I think what lies at the heart of all these debates about sectarianism is an understanding of what politics is about.

    For people in the far left – politics is the politics of competition with those in other small revolutionary groups who are marginally different. So all the discussion while there might be a international report/national report/ etc it’s all about what our particular group is doing. Of course everyone supports unity but they understand that to be unity under them. I don’t mean it at the level of being malevolent or cynical, its just to the far-left that’s what politics is all about. I don’t think members of the DSP or whoever are insincere in wanting unity and trying to get it, it’s just that what they understand politics to be about is winning control of the movement.

    It’s not about building a movement for socialism it about the market share of the brand. They can’t agree a minimum program because they think it matters which brand gets up in the end. By thinking of themselves as ‘parties’ they think they are competing for political power in some way, when they are not, and this distorts how they interact with each other and with their potential audience.

    You can see it in Dave’s contri – the problem is that while the DSP has remained ‘resolute’ in its search for unity - others prefer disunity – because they just can’t grasp the “collective learning” that the DSP has been through – and which they are willing to share to those who are “open” to it. As Anon comments it ridiculous to see the dissolution of the DSP as a step forward for left unity but putting like that is a symptom of the same disease, what I or my group does is at the centre of ‘politics’ so if dissolve into our own unity project then that is progress. The real tragedy is that it cost them 1/3 of their own members, who retreated to the old “Leninist” model once again.

    Look forward to your comments on the rise of the Greens. Hopefully it will look at the forces that gave rise to the Greens and how they have organised to take advantage of those forces (unlike the socialist sects who managed NOT to grow during this time) rather than in terms of how nasty the Greens were excluding the socialists. That's real politics and if socialists can't win a hearing amoung progressive minded people around the Greens then they need to ask what they did wrong.

  5. Shane

    Could you please fill us in on what successes socialists working inside the Greens have had in winning the party to a more socialist perspective and away from the sort of politics exhibited in Tasmania where Green ministers are now prettifying a pro-development ALP government?


  6. Well you guys are in the midst of the revolution down there you tell me?

    Aside from never responding to the argument Anon's response is typical he treats the Greens who are a real social force as if they are a sect with a 'line' and throws the 'problem' back at me as if I should have the solution. The fact is that the Greens represent a real force, predominantly white collar workers, who are opposed to neoliberalism but are not anti-capitalist (just like the millions of other people in Australia). This is the place where socialists should expect to get an audience but, on the whole, we don't. Thats the problem, Anon, and its not *my* problem, its the socialist movements problem. The Greens grew from nothing to become a social force while the far-left persisted with the Leninist strategy and got nowhere. So whats your solution?

    If socialists can't find a way to get a hearing for their ideas in the Greens or the ALP where 'lefty types', who you might think would be sympathetic to our ideas, gather then thats the problem isn't it? The politics of the Greens is a reflection of real social forces - it represents how most progressive minded people think. Its woolly headed, electoralist, anti-neoliberal, anti-war and pro-refugees but thats how things really are outside of the few hundred 'revolutionaries' who would rather argue with each other about ideas about which most people have no idea.

  7. Green Left Weekly does have a hearing among Greens members & supporters.

    You wrote over 600 words slamming the Leninists groups *and* the Socialist Alliance but did not seem to offer any alternative — the nearest I could find to anything positive was a vague suggestion of orienting to the Greens. So I asked a genuine question. You seem to be full of advice as to what socialists should *not* do, but do you have any better ideas?

    If all you're going to is smugly pontificate about what everyone else is doing wrong, then you may as well be a Spart.

  8. So, Shane, how much influence do you have in the Greens?

  9. Well having served 10 years in the far left I figured I am entitled to my views on the matter. The point, Anon, is the NO ONE has the "answer" to how to rebuild the socialist movement so asking me to give you the "answer" is stupid. What's needed is a new way to define the problem.

    Alan - you should know better too. Why is it about me as a individual? I am talking about social forces. I have very little influence of course. Many of my Green comrades have socialist views but we need to put forward concrete proposals and I don't get those from Green Left.

  10. Honestly I don't understand why the vicious response to Shane. I really don't know if I agree with him re how to respond to the rise of the Greens. I would back away from getting involved in them because I've seen some of the same problems in them as in many of the far Left groups (tho obviously very different too). But I don't think his post was that insulting. You are looking at a political comment so defensively about your own organisations that you can't even understand what the writer is saying.

    I think we do need a new way to look at the problem because for all that we get right or wrong, the movement is not making progress anywhere near fast enough to prevent global destruction through climate change. It seems to me that the Left is willing to re-examine these issues and change but at such a snails pace and only within a very narrow framework. I think now is a good time to re-examine everything and consider some big changes because otherwise we have no hope at all.

  11. How's this for a concrete proposal.....withdraw your power from the State, from the corporations & multinationals, by making most of your own stuff, refusing to work for companies or services linked to environmental degradation in any way, shape or form, join with others of like mind in your community and start the socialist revolution. Literally. If we build strong and sustainable new/old systems of living in harmony with nature, which sustain people & the environment, then others will surely follow, wanting to be part of a saner, happier life choice (as opposed to the insanity & sickness of profit/capitalist culture).
    Every dollar you currently spend each day is a vote on what kind of world you support, so choose & buy carefully. If we collectively withdraw our money, those corporations/multinationals shrink & disappear.
    The State won't pull out it's guns....they'll relax and eventually join in, relieved that a new & better world is being built by the visionaries together with masses of ordinary people who know in their heart of hearts that this is what being alive is all about.
    In my view, there's no point nationalising industries that are polluting and not Earth-sustaining. Sure, have renewable technology factories that belong to the community, where the stuff made goes directly to the people, or start small-scale with one turbine to each family. The maker could trade these for other goods made from the community (produce from the community garden, for eg). Hence the eventual phase-out of money altogether.
    How possible is it to live completely local? For example, I would love a soy bean crop to be within 5 km of my house which makes tofu on site for vegetarian needs....(sigh)
    And a site where fibre is grown to make clothes from...
    Key things in life: Food, Shelter, People, Culture/Arts/Spirituality (not in any order).
    Food: Produce locally, organically. Need - Land
    (Concrete can always be ripped up as a last resort) (need....a jackhammer!)
    Hopefully new technologies will be coming online soon to help us with essential we won't be living a 16th Century life again.

    I have also tried to encourage the socialist groups to "all work together", and have officially given up, yet am inspired that a "climate revolution" is taking place, with quite active groups really going for it. The message seems to be 'love where you live', 'get to know your community' and 'start the revolution here, in your neighbourhood'. With permaculture, sustainability, earth & people-friendly activities. As well as getting to know the local MP.
    Can't get much more political or revolutionary than that. Oh, and vote for someone good & genuine at election time...preferably a socialist!

  12. I agree with you Kel. I think that is the closest anyone has got to a solution so far.

  13. I see. So 20 years of unity attempts by the DSP and the solution all along was to create unity with.... yourselves!
    SAlt is now bigger and more influential than the ex-DSP. That is why they never did and never will join SA. All your fake earnest posturing can't obscure this fact. That is what you are really upset about.

    You have spent years engaging in silly manoeuvres with the effect of discrediting yourselves on the left and allowing another group to overtake you in terms of size and influence.

    This is the tragedy of the SA farce.

  14. I agree with Anonymous against Anonymous. That is, I think the response to Shane was a bit vicious. Shane has said similar things in many forums for some time but that doesn't invalidate them. Play the ball, not the man I say!

    As to the most recent Anonymous - "SAlt is now bigger and more influential than the ex-DSP" is a wild fantasy (or nightmare, depending on which groups you support!). Calling a big educational conference is great but hardly the yardstick of success. However, I do have some comments about the years of silly manoevres. But that will have to wait - I'm still writing an article on this.

  15. "As to the most recent Anonymous - "SAlt is now bigger and more influential than the ex-DSP" is a wild fantasy (or nightmare, depending on which groups you support!)."

    Not as bigger fantasy as that the SA is a serious unity initiative. Wake up Ben. The fact that SAlt are sectarian does not mean that they can't have more active members than the ex-DSP.

  16. Having spent a long time in the far-left dismissing ideas like Kell's I have come around somewhat. Maybe not to the way its formulated but to the idea that if one's current practice doesn't reflect 'something' prefigurative ie that unless you are doing something (not everything) different in the here and now then your arguments are less and less convincing.

    I don't need a lecture on life-stylism I'm well versed in it given I have used the arguments myself many times. But I think movements like transition towns are important measures.

    I think we need to present our ideas in a much less 'Russian' fashion. We need to be seeing ourselves not as bringing something to our society from the outside but as holding it to the best traditions of its own. As Wallerstein says, if the Left wins, then the future society will be more democratic and equalitarian - that we are not against bourgeois rights but for their implementation and so on.

    What are the big issues facing working people and how do we fight alongside them to increase the audience for socialist ideas. Surely this resource rent tax debate is a real line in the sand. The ALP has gifted socialists the chance for a debate which blind Freddy can see puts self interested Mining Companies and their spokespeople on one side and everyone else on the other. Of course its not what we really want - but from what I have seen the far-left seems opposed to the tax - attacking the ALP from the left while the mining companies attack it from the right.

  17. Well I know one damn thing that isn't going to win the working class to socialism and that's prancing around telling people "my vanguard is bigger than your vanguard". SAlt may be the biggest "vanguard" at the moment but in the scheme of things it's like comparing grains of sand. It won't be anything real until we make some qualitative changes... And by "qualitative" I don't mean doing what we were doing before but slightly more efficiently.

  18. And re "lifestyle-ism".. I am not a life-stylist - I don't think that people should be excluded from the movement for being non-perfect individuals (I know I'm not), nor do I think that being personally righteous should be the goal of the movement ... But I do think that how we conduct ourselves is important. I remember a comrade from the Lebanese community party telling me that he became a communist because the communists where he lived were the best, most honest, trustworthy and committed people. I also think that the whole "ends justifies the means" thing is ridiculously un-materialist and un-dialectical. If social being determines social consciousness then how can means and ends be removed like that? Ok everyone is gonna stop listening when I say this... but if socialist groups gave a little more to the community they might get a bigger audience, eg. community gardens, soup kitchens etc.

  19. Or to put this another way..

    SAlt - 400 members - 0.000018% of the population
    DSP - 300 members - 0.000013% of the population
    SA - 600 members - 0.000027% of the population
    RSP - 80 members - 0.000004% of the population

  20. "Well I know one damn thing that isn't going to win the working class to socialism and that's prancing around telling people "my vanguard is bigger than your vanguard"

    That ain't the point though is it? And even the numbers cited above are exaggerations.

    Get real:
    1. No matter how much posturing on the need for ‘unity’ by the ex-DSP, SAlt (or anyone else on the far left) are not going agree to join SA. They have nothing to gain from it.
    2. The political conditions that forced the original unity impetus for SA (the turn by the UK SWP and momentum of the anti-globalisation movement) do not exist and not likely to for some time.
    3. Any future unity initiatives are likely to come outside the framework of the existing SA. Right or wrong there is too much ‘bad blood’ between the rest of the left and SA.
    4. The ongoing existence of the SA Рconsisting of the ex-DSP, a handful of independent activists and a few émigré leftists - only serves as an impediment to further unity attempts as no one else is going to join.

    For good or ill, the main outcome of all the ‘unity’ manoeuvres has been the further fragmentation of the far left and consolidation of an ultra-left sectarian outfit as the strongest group with the biggest following amongst the youth.

    In the absence of conditions that can promote unity it IS cynical and unrealistic to portray what are essentially (misdirected) manoeuvres as serious proposals.

    Like it or not we are faced with a period where there will be competition between sects and semi-sects (not withstanding one man entry operations in the Greens by wooly-headed drongoes) for small numbers of radicalising youth and others on the basis of programs and ideas.

  21. "Like it or not we are faced with a period where there will be competition between sects and semi-sects (not withstanding one man entry operations in the Greens by wooly-headed drongoes) for small numbers of radicalising youth and others on the basis of programs and ideas."

    That is exactly the point I WASN'T making. What I was saying that tiny competing sects (or groups of sects) will never be anything but a hindrance to working class power. If you want to be part of the solution you'd be better off abandoning whatever stupid little cult you are in (RSP I'd guess by the tone) and getting on with some real revolutionary work. Or retire... in the case of most RSP members I think they are too cynical, bitter and twisted to do anything more useful.

  22. Funny. On the one hand the realist left is "too cynical, bitter and twisted to do anything more useful."

    This is staight after you say the existing left 'will never be anything but a hindrance to working class power'!

    Who is 'cynical, bitter and twisted'?

  23. I'm talking about the existing left *sects*. Not the genuine activists or broader groups. And I don't see how that's any more a cynical thing to say than that I think the ALP is a hindrance.

  24. And calling your delusions of grandeur and inability to work with anyone else "realist" is just funny.

  25. Dear anonymice, why don't you adopt pen names? It's starting to get confusing trying to work out which anaonymous comment is from which Anonymous!

  26. It's more fun this way!

  27. Like Shane, I'm a member of the Greens. Unlike Shane, I haven't drunk the Kool-Aid.

    The Greens aren't the way forward.

    Of course, socialists in the Greens can have an impact. The reason I taunted Shane was precisely that he has made no attempt to do so. Neither have I, of course, but I don't go around bagging the left and singing the praises of an outfit in which I am essentially an inactive paper member.

    The Greens are a maze of cliques. That has both positive and negative aspects. It does mean that a socialist clique could exist, but it also means that other cliques would be seeking to knife them. Such infighting would become more intense the more influential the socialists became.

    Socialist could never win a majority in the Greens without causing a split. That means that Reds In The Greens are condemned to play the role of a loyal opposition to woolly-headed liberals.

    Shane, it appears, finds that role congenial. I don't.

  28. So why are you a member of the Greens then?

  29. Geographical isolation.

  30. "The Greens are a maze of cliques. That has both positive and negative aspects. It does mean that a socialist clique could exist, but it also means that other cliques would be seeking to knife them."

    Hmmm... substitute the word "socialist" instead of "Greens" and "unity" instead of "socialist"...

  31. Better yet substitute 'ex-DSP' for the Greens and 'revolutionary' for socialist and you get a truer picture yet.

  32. Maze of cliques is right for both. But at least the Greens can work together in a single group.

  33. I think you are radically underestimating the amount of infighting, dummy spitting, walking out and expulsions that go on in the Greens.

    Granted, none of this has led to the formation of a rival group, but the people that have left probably outnumber those who have stayed in.

    Frankly if the way the Greens operate is "work(ing) together in a single group", maybe there's something to be said for disunity.

    Which raises the question of how the ALP functions...

  34. Still everything you say, including that there are more former members that current member, could be magnified by 10 to fit the Socialist Left. Maybe fondness grows with distance.

  35. OK, it's time to join the ALP. Or to kiss my backside. Your choice.

  36. The question is not whether the Greens are the way forward or that me or any group should do a 'entry operation' on them. All thats the same sectarian thinking. If the entry of 'revolutionary' socialists would only lead to a split (and their continued isolation) this shows the depths of the problem.

    The question is about social forces. Where can socialists win an audience for their ideas and how? Not in competing sects? or some sort of Alliance of sects in which they compete for dominance.

    I work with (not in) the Local Greens because that puts me in touch with progressive people and allows me to talk to people and to learn to be concrete about socialism. I also work as volunteer president of local NGO for the same reason. What is presented as the inadequacy of my decision is simply a denial of the reality we all face.

  37. Seriously, the socialist left is more filled with cliques. It's just that some of them call themselves Parties or other titles and pretend to have principled differences (not just power hungry) with each other. A big part of the reason the Greens attract so many more people is that they are one group not 50 warring sects. I don't they are the way forward but that is because of their liberal politics NOT because of the way they organise. The ALP from everything I have heard organise in an even worse way than the socialist left or the Greens but then they aren't even left wing anymore so why bring them up at all?

  38. Why argue about political parties anymore anyway? That's giving too much power to a parliamentary process...what about local active climate change groups, what about all the massive campaigns over the years which have mobilised millions? What about the LIVE EARTH concerts, Make Poverty History campaign, and so on (so many others) - all the effort & hope & action over the years - just think of all the mobilisations....there have been so many!
    Point is, people do HAVE power without governments! If the people move, governments FOLLOW. They have no choice! How was the Franklin won? What about the indigenous people of countries like South America who had to fight multinationals & governments directly to get back their land & water supplies?
    "If we build strong and sustainable new/old systems of living in harmony with nature, which sustain people & the environment, then others will surely follow".
    It's not worth waiting & worrying (debating endlessly) about elections/the governmental process. Vote well, vote good, but get on with the work of rebuilding the community from the these are the times to do it! Then good people can get into power because there is the groundswell behind them to do so.
    People will come forward to fund such activities (as in, the rebuilding).People who have been waiting a long time for this to happen. But we have to take the first steps.

    My point is, the parliamentary two-party system is inherently flawed & dualistic, and will hopefully be dissolved in due time into a healthier more problem-solving circular model than the current competitive nightmarish parading bullshit. No wonder Julia Gillard (apparently) ate in parliament....what an energy-draining environment to be in! (I've been there & witnessed Brumby & others speak, and felt sick for hours afterwards as a result).
    The "way forward" is grassroots. It's where the people are. It's the local shops & businesses, the schools, the "mums", the "dads", the bloody RSL, the sports clubs, pubs, the local councils. Yes, they are the furtherest extension of 'the government', but even they are influenced by, and required to work with, the local community!
    And it's the media which is used as a tool to influence the mass consciousness. For example, the vacuous 'MX' paper or whatever it's called, that's distributed freely every day to Melbourne commuters. Imagine if they read socialist ideas in there! Imagine if the paper printed such things, including the Herald Sun! It's great to try & get into mainstream media, as long as what you're doing can't be deliberately miscontrued by the reporters. Standing there with a banner cannot be misinterpreted - journos have a duty to report the main message, which then gets out to the mass consciousness. Gives people hope, wakes them up a bit.
    A larger unity movement is happening now, and has been happening for quite some time, under the title of 'Climate Change'. It's about saving ourselves and the planet, and you can't get more relevant than that. Who knows if the new world we're building will fit to the visions of early socialists? Who cares? The main thing is, we start caring about this earth & all of life, & reverse & stop all the damage being done every day. Whatdoyasay?

  39. Kell, I agree with you re a new movement of unity in the climate change movement. Unity is built through practical struggle, not abstract ideas, even if they are ostensibly about unity. This is what the next post in this series will focus on - the struggles that built the unity that launched the Socialist Alliance in 2001. It will be done in the next couple of days...

    in the meantime, everybody, feel free to flog the dead horse of unity debate as much as you want! It is occasionally very illuminating and I've enjoyed reading all of it.

  40. Hi Ben i just saw this post that was inspired by a term I used on Proyect's blog several months ago. Devastated to hear my words shook your faith in the ability of the left to all get together. Possibly you would not like to hear what Engels (that well know sectarian wrecker) had to say on the question of unity either. (this is courtesy of John Percy, btw, whose politics i have little time for, but when you find a good quote...)

    “One must not allow oneself to be misled by the cry for ‘unity.’ Those who have this word most often on their lips are those who sow the most dissension, just as at present the Jura Bakuninists in Switzerland, who have provoked all the splits, scream for nothing so much as for unity. Those unity fanatics are either the people of limited intelligence who want to stir everything up together into one nondescript brew, which, the moment it is left to settle, throws up the differences again in much more acute opposition because they are now all together in one pot … For this reason the greatest sectarians and the biggest brawlers and rogues are at certain moments the loudest shouters for unity. Nobody in our lifetime has given us more trouble and been more treacherous than the unity shouters.”

    Now that is cynical...


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