With the founding of the new Socialist Alliance, Australians will have the option of voting for genuinely radical, pro-workingclass candidates in the upcoming Federal election, due by January 2002, and in local and state races around the country. And not a moment too soon!
As this story is being written, more than 400 desperate refugees, mainly Afghani, are marooned on a Norwegian container ship off the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island. They were rescued from a sinking vessel only to be denied entry into Australia by the conservative Coalition government of Prime Minister John Howard.
This racist, potentially murderous action is just one example of the government’s adoption of the far-right’s agenda. And Howard’s stand is fully supported by the Australian Labor Party — in theory, the opposition.
Australia’s established parties representing the interests of big business are marching ever rightward, at horrible human cost. The time was never more ripe for socialism to be put back on the political agenda.
Huge leap forward for the Left. Socialist Alliance (SA) was born on the initiative of the Democratic Socialist Party and the International Socialist Organisation. Early this year, the two groups came together to issue a call for the creation of an electoral alliance modelled on a similar effort in Britain.
The Freedom Socialist Party in Australia quickly came aboard at an exploratory meeting in February. Six other groups also signed on: Socialist Alternative, Socialist Democracy, Workers Communist Party of Iraq, Workers League, Workers Liberty, and Workers Power.
On August 4-5 at the Trades Hall in Melbourne, SA held its official founding conference and adopted a constitution and a dynamic, wide-ranging platform — one of “total opposition to the profit-driven economic rationalist agenda of social austerity, privatisation and deregulation.” (See www.socialist-alliance.org.)
More than 30 groups and individuals sent greetings to the conference, among them the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Scottish Socialist Party, and Working Women Organisation of Pakistan.
One theme from well-wishers came across unmistakably: the powerful inspiration that SA can provide by successfully overcoming past sectarianism on the Left in order to provide a united electoral alternative.
Wrote revolutionary Hanif Loyand, “In Afghanistan, our Left movement is suffering from splits and multiplicity of formations and this has weakened them, especially against their joint enemy. Taliban’s fascist regime has made Afghanistan a hell and prison. Dear friends, your struggle in Australia inspires us here and can be a valuable lesson to other Leftists around the world.”
A commitment to ballot box and picket lines. One of the conference debates centred on the nature of SA.
Some organisations within the alliance thought that SA should become a revolutionary party, starting now. The Freedom Socialist Party and the majority of SA (which now includes hundreds of individuals around the country in addition to the nine original groups) disagreed. For its part, FSP believes that only through working together over time will SA participants find out if serious, formal left regroupment is a possible direction for the alliance.
But that does not mean that SA’s platform should be limited only to modest, already popular reforms, a different minority position put forward by the International Socialist Organisation. On the contrary: in order to attract working people to the idea of socialism, it’s necessary to clearly show that capitalism cannot satisfy their needs, and this means advancing a bold program.
FSP also stressed at the conference the belief that an orientation to the working class in all its diversity is crucial to the alliance’s success.
Socialists in Australia, as elsewhere, have tended to orient narrowly to trade unions with primarily white, male memberships. A focus on the unions is crucial; at the same time, however, many workers are not organised. If there’s a typical Australian worker, she is probably a temporary, poorly paid cleaner from Southern Europe or Southeast Asia, with English as a second language. Socialist Alliance must speak to her!
Although alliance partners have their differences, there is strong agreement that electoral efforts are just one part of the fight for socialism. SA is already active in on-the-ground campaigns against the unfair new Goods and Services Tax; in defence of jobs, refugee rights, and public transportation; and many more.
Ready to rumble. The alliance ran its first three candidates for seats at the state level in August. SA made an impressive debut in the Northern Territory, organising successful protests against the Coalition government’s repressive “Public Order and Anti-Social Conduct Act” and polling around four percent of the vote.
With a Federal election to take place within the next few months, ambitious plans are being laid for races across Australia. As of this writing, prospects look bright for a possible run by Melbourne FSP Organiser Alison Thorne for a Senate seat. (SA in the state of Victoria will choose its candidates at a meeting on the weekend that this issue of the FS goes to press.)
Over the past few years, the world movement against globalised corporate brutality has put the word “capitalism” on the TV news. Now it’s time for socialism to become a part of everyone’s vocabulary, and Socialist Alliance has rolled up its sleeves to make this happen.