Unity and organisation on the left

For more than a year, Socialist Alternative has been involved in discussions, including with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Socialist Alliance, to advance unity on the socialist left. One positive outcome of those discussions is the unity achieved between Socialist Alternative and the RSP.

The success of the unity process between the RSP and Socialist Alternative shows that it is possible to transcend many of the differences that have divided the revolutionary left for decades.

We spelt out our approach to unity in December 2012:

“We are for unity around a clear cut revolutionary program – a socialist program for Australia today. Such a revolutionary program would not rehash all the theoretical disputes of the past. It would not demand that the organisations involved in the unity process disown their heritage or political traditions.

“But it would be an unambiguously Marxist program that stood for workers’ power and the overthrow of capitalism. It would be a program for a fighting party of committed activists that took up the immediate fight today against the bosses and their governments and intervened in those struggles to win workers and students to understanding the need to totally transform society.”

Clear Marxist politics are essential if socialists are to intervene effectively in struggles both to win immediate reforms and to mount the greatest possible challenge to the system as a whole and win as many as possible of those active in the struggle to a socialist world view.

It is not just in struggles that clear revolutionary politics are relevant. Most of what socialists do is talk to people, discuss and debate. We seek to win workers and students to an understanding of why the working class is the force with the power to transform society, why people need to get organised if they want to change the world.

The RSP and Socialist Alternative had important political differences. But we agreed about the key issues facing socialists and on the basics of what a socialist organisation needs to stand for.

Agreement on these core issues lays the foundation for building a broader united revolutionary organisation which on the basis of democratic, comradely debate and collective experience can sort out its disagreements on all sorts of tactical issues in a fruitful manner.

As well as the successful unity with the RSP, we also seriously explored the possibility of unity with Socialist Alliance. However as we wrote to Socialist Alliance on 8 November:

“After more than a year of leadership discussions … and various joint activities it has become apparent that unity … is not a viable prospect … The overall political projects of both organisations are not sufficiently similar to carry through a sustained and productive unity …

“The differences in approach were clearly illustrated in the article “Revolutionary unity to meet the capitalist crisis” in Marxist Left Review No 6 by leading Socialist Alliance members … The differences were developed further in the article by leading Socialist Alliance member Dave Holmes, “Australia: How should a united socialist party work” Both articles stress the need for a so-called transitional method, place a very strong emphasis on … electoral work and argue against the classic Marxist position that a mass insurrection is necessary to overthrow capitalism.

“… [T]he ‘transitional method’ advocated by Socialist Alliance just leads to a watering down of socialist politics, resulting in an inability to attract and educate as socialist cadres those workers and students that are moving to the left … This was reflected in our differing approaches to the lively protests that erupted … against Labor’s racist refugee bashing. This difference in approach as to how to relate to a radicalising audience is particularly important in the light of the new challenges and opportunities opened up for socialists following the election of the Abbott government.

“Socialist Alternative remains committed to revolutionary unity. However, we want to see a unity that lasts, not something that tears itself apart two years down the track … We don’t believe that is currently possible with Socialist Alliance.

“We fully agree with the statement … from Susan Price and Peter Boyle, the National Co-Conveners of Socialist Alliance:

“‘If we cannot reach agreement on how to proceed with negotiations for a united organisation at this stage, then at least we should act in a way that leaves open the prospect for best taking on that challenge again in the future.’”

Consequently the Socialist Alternative National Committee unanimously resolved:

“The unity process has led to more collaboration and joint activities between us and the Alliance and this has been a step forward. We don’t want the unity discussions to end in pointless acrimony. The situation may change at some point in the future and greater possibilities for revolutionary unity may open up …

“We want the collaboration between ourselves and the Alliance to continue wherever possible in union, student and campaign work.”