Steps towards unity on the Australian revolutionary left

Socialist Alternative — October 10, 2012

In a very positive development for the revolutionary left in Australia, Socialist Alternative is engaged in unity discussions with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). The initial discussions have been highly productive and have been conducted in a comradely and constructive manner.

The Socialist Alternative National Committee which met on 7-8 October resolved: “That the National Committee views favourably the moves towards unity with the RSP and authorises the National Executive to take further steps to facilitate the process.” If all goes well we hope to complete the unity process around the time of next Easter’s Marxism 2013 conference, which both organisations will be building.

Unity is possible between our two organisations because we agree on the fundamental question of the necessity of building a clear cut revolutionary organisation in the here and now. We can’t wait for some dramatic upsurge in the class struggle to begin to lay the basis for a revolutionary party that can challenge the rule of the capitalist class in Australia and of the mainstream political parties that serve their interests.

Both our organisations have resisted the drift to the right away from class struggle politics of so much of the left over the last two decades. We share a similar assessment of the political situation in Australia and see the need to construct a revolutionary alternative to all the mainstream parties – the Liberals, Labor and the Greens. We both see the need for rebuilding the union movement on a fighting class struggle basis that challenges the stultifying reformism of the ACTU leadership. We both share hostility to Australian imperialism and nationalism.

The RSP and Socialist Alternative have very similar views on the type of organisation we need to build today. We also broadly agree on the tasks. We are for an organisation of activists involved in the struggles of the day arguing for socialist politics, not a party of passive paper members oriented on parliamentary elections. Without an active, committed membership a socialist organisation cannot even aspire to be genuinely democratic. We are for an organisation that strives to educate its members in Marxism and aims to train a cadre that can intervene creatively in political debates, controversies and struggles to defend socialist politics and strengthen working class organisation. We are for building an organisation with a lively and democratic internal life where serious political debates can be conducted in a comradely spirit.

Neither organisation claims to have got everything right or to have all the answers as to the way forward for the socialist movement. However both organisations have a series of committed longstanding members who have learned important lessons from the mistakes and successes of the socialist movement in Australia over the last 30 or more years. That experience combined with a whole layer of younger, enthusiastic members is a promising basis on which to go forward.

Socialist Alternative and the RSP come from different ideological traditions. We have significantly different assessments of the class nature of the Stalinist regime in the old USSR and of countries like Cuba and Vietnam today. Our differences on these questions are not immaterial and unity between our two organisations is not based on comrades from either group disavowing their opinions on these questions – or – on any other question for that matter. However in a democratic, open and serious revolutionary organisation we believe it is possible to discuss these and other important political issues as they arise in a constructive manner that strengthens and raises the political level of the membership as a whole. Far from weakening the organisation we believe that an atmosphere of comradely debate can strengthen the unity of the organisation. The organisation will decide its policies and orientation collectively and democratically but all members will have the right to publicly express their individual opinions.

Socialist Alternative has grown considerably over the last decade and has gained valuable political experience in a series of campaigns and struggles. We have built a base on a number of university campuses and have established a layer of worker members active in more than a dozen different unions. But we remain a small organisation and in terms of the tasks we have set ourselves of helping to lay the basis for a mass revolutionary workers party we have a very long way to go.

In terms of what we can hope to achieve today, uniting the existing revolutionary socialist forces in Australia in one organisation around a commonly agreed revolutionary programme would be a real advance. A successful merger between Socialist Alternative and the RSP would be a not insignificant step on that road. It would show that revolutionaries with different heritages and traditions can come together to collectively build a serious and determined organisation. We strongly encourage other revolutionaries, both young people new to the class struggle and older comrades who have not given up the fight against the horrors of capitalism, to seriously consider involving themselves in this vital project.

Capitalism as a world system is increasingly wracked by economic and social crisis, especially in its European and North American heartlands. In Greece, Spain, Portugal and a series of other European countries workers face depression-like conditions which have provoked a wave of general strikes and mass upheavals. The Arab world has been swept by revolution. American capitalism is in a long drawn out recession which has placed a terrible burden on working class people.

By comparison Australian capitalism remains highly stable. But this situation cannot last indefinitely. Gina Reinhart has made her billions but the mining boom has delivered little or nothing for the mass of the population and there are indications that the peak has passed. State Liberal governments in Queensland, NSW and Victoria have launched significant attacks on the working class. The Gillard government, which is at the beck and call of big business interests, talks increasingly of austerity measures and we face the prospect of an Abbott government emboldened to go further on the attack on our rights and living standards.

We can’t foretell how the class struggle will develop in Australia in the coming years, what will be the scale of resistance and radicalisation, whether we will face victories or defeats. Nor is the revolutionary left in Australia currently strong enough to play a decisive role in the major struggles that do develop.

But what we do know is that as long as there has been capitalism and class oppression workers and the oppressed have not meekly accepted their lot. Eventually they have stood up and fought back and that is bound to happen again. Struggle and resistance is inevitable. After long years of passivity and setbacks workers regain their hope, confidence and fighting spirit and begin to challenge their masters and oppressors.

For any upsurge of struggle to be sustained and victorious, let alone to lead to a socialist transformation of society, a revolutionary leadership that can offer an alternative to the betrayals of the ALP and trade union leaders is vital. That revolutionary leadership cannot be constructed overnight at the height of battle. It will be a long process and will demand clear politics, determination and serious effort.

To seize the opportunities that are bound to open up we need to commit ourselves now. We can’t afford to wait for “better” times. The best time is right now. We call on everyone who endorses Karl Marx’s famous slogan: “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves” to join us in that project.