Left regroupment — is it possible?

There’s a current here in Australia that thinks it is and for the past 5 years under the banner of the Socialist Alliance we’ve been trying hard to do just that.

But it’s not an easy task at all. Many of us know the Monty Python Life of Brian skit about the penchant for division on the far left:

REG: Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front….
FRANCIS:Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
REG:He’s over there

This caricature produces a smirk, of course, primarily because the joke is so real: the left is indeed fractured into competing caucuses. But it isn’t such a simple business to change that penchant for separation and division around. Good vibes and happy thoughts will only go so far in the quest for left unity.

So in a very real sense the Alliance’s primary boast is that it has survived and still functions as an example of regroupment politics in practice. It’s modest achievements have bought together activists who had previously been isolated individuals –and unlike any other new left project than grew out of the radicalisation of the sixties, the Alliance has served as a pole of attraction for trade union militants seeking an alternative to the servile politics of the Australian Labor Party (the Australin version of the US Democrats but with more formal links to organised labour).

For Dick Nichols, newly elected Socialist Alliance national coordinator, “Socialist Alliance remains at the heart of any serious discussion about building a working-class alternative to the Labor Party”. Nichols added that Alliance activists are central to a range of campaigns, notably the campaign against Work Choices, and that the Alliance’s focus on activism is critical.[Read full article]

The recent national conference of the Alliance on the October 28/29th weekend was held in regional Geelong. It sought to engage members in a very concrete exchange about what needs to be done. This assembly was linked to a national trade union workshop which served as a forum to consider the fight back options facing organised labor in the face of the federal government’s draconian new labour laws — called Work Choices.

Geelong Trades Hall Council organiser Tim Gooden explained that although â┚¬Å“Socialist Alliance initiated the workshop, it was open to anyone who wanted to participate regardless of whether they were members of the Labor Party, the Greens, Socialist Alliance or not in any party.â┚¬Â
He said that the workshop was organised because many trade union activists are frustrated with the strategy being used by the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions) to fight WorkChoices.
â┚¬Å“Everyone knows that we need to get rid of the Howard government and of course a Labor government would be a step forward from the Howard government but that’s not the end of the story,â┚¬Â said Gooden.
â┚¬Å“The problem is that the ACTU has no Plan B for if the Howard government is re-elected or if the Labor Party is elected and then betrays the movement. There’s also the problem that the ACTU has only ever had an electoral strategy for fighting Howard’s anti-worker laws. They haven’t had an industrial strategy.[Read full article]

But the spirit and enthusiasm that was generated among participants at both events at least guarantees that a sector of the population, small as it is, has an active commitment to engineering a break from such a myopic and limited strategy. But the Alliance is also active across a wide spectrum of campaigns such as that against the Iraqi invasion, for indigenous rights, civil liberties, etc. And while that approach isn’t unique, the SA seeks to harness the accumulated skills and experience of the organised far left to construct a party that is nonetheless owned by a broader layer of activists. This is the essential challenge that confronts such a project: how to relate to those moving left and incorporate them into a broad and committed team which deals with issues as they arise through a process marked by open and inclusive debate without being hamstrung by the baggage of the past.

This is the politics of seeking ways to work together rather than the quest for shibboleths to divide us. That doesn’t mean that the Alliance has to be frightened about differences. Of course they exist — but the key dynamic is that on the main challenges we face, people who identify as socialists today have more points of agreement and very few differences that will matter day to day. So this isn’t a process of manufacturing a false consensus but a careful exercise in mutual respect (with some humility)as we seek to work together for the broad aims we all share. So debate belongs where it should: over issues primarily of tactics.

While the discussion was rich, with a variety of organising experiences and networking openings being relayed, attendees were conscious that the Socialist Alliance was still in its early stages of building a political alternative to Labor. The conference resolution summed it up: “Socialist Alliance reaffirms its core objective of promoting left unity and regroupment. However we recognise that the Socialist Alliance will have to go through a more extended period of united campaigning and political convergence with the broader forces generated by a new upturn of resistance before it can develop the social base and harness the leadership resources needed to take a significant step towards creating a new mass socialist party.”