1. Dave Riley on Marxmail, November 25, 2002. Here in Brisbane over the weekend Socialist Alliance sponsored a meeting with the topic: Which Way Forward for the Left. With three speakers delivering future models it drew a good crowd.
As a left gathering it was very representative of the seventies/eighties left — even the local Greens were present. Except for the predictable screeching of one attendee it was a comradely discussion.
Present were Socialist Alternative, the ISO, the DSP, the (old Moscow-aligned) CPA, a diehard Maoist, the Greens, Workers Liberty, reps from the local Labour History Association, the remnant of the local Left Press collective, a swag of ex-ISers ( such as Carole Ferrier), some ex-DSP members, nonaligned Socialist Alliance members and other (to employ a euphemism) ’independents’. The meeting was held in the local home for the ALP socialist left, the Paddington Workers Club ( a project primarily engineered by ex-ALP senator George Georges and Hughey Williams from the Transport Workers Union). For the moment the SA’s home in Brisbane is the Paddo Workers Club.
Unfortunately a local union organiser, scheduled to speak from the platform, couldn't attend. Aside from the DSP and ISO speakers, the third speaker from the platform was Dan O'Neill — a long-time left independent and academic (and, I think, not a member of the Socialist Alliance)
Primarily, folk were there to scrutinize what momentum there may be in and with the Socialist Alliance for a regrouped party.
Unfortunately, Dan O'Neill advocated the same project and analysis he has been talking about , in my memory, for about twenty years and his dismissal out of hand of any organisational remaking of the Left wasn't at all helpful. Dan’s was a “wrong way, go back” position. Indeed in terms of analysis and offering a “way forward for the left” it’s only the DSP proposition that pretends to go forward. In terms of rhetoric, most of what passes as discussion, it seems to me, is either nostalgic or a romantic vision, short on practical detail, of “going to the working class, comrade”.
The ISO argument has changed over the last few weeks and basically now advocates a rollback of the Socialist Alliance while fending off pressure to move the SA forward with arguments against this as being a recipe for “reformism”. Instead the ISO advocates a totally dishonest (primarily electoralist) coalition — set up and run by revolutionary socialist organizations but built around a minimalist platform. So minimalist and conservative that I doubt any other left formation would agree to the package. In contrast, Socialist Alternative — who intervened then left after they’d said what they came to say — are snapping at the heels of the ISO from the left. It’s like the ISO of the past reincarnated to haunt its present existence.
What was also evident from some of the old-guard attendees was the belief that the left failed these last so many years because the Marxist organizations of the left, primarily the ISO and the DSP, “failed to grow”, thus letting the side down. Of course, these party formations are supposed to grow (like performing seals) independent of their critics and without recourse to any references to conditions outside of themselves. The corollary of this argument was that it was up to the left organizations to initiate and organise any number of caucuses in the trade unions but really, “regroupment” wasn't anything we’d be interested in individually right now. How anyone could think a purely “electoral coalition”: can help them do that I don't know. So for them, I guess the ISO package didn’t have much to offer.
While I sympathise with these outlooks and hesitancies that come from folk whose activist credentials deserve respect, the only projections on the day that were in any way upbeat and affirmative were coming from the DSP and, almost by default, from Socialist Alternative as it drove home its perceived advantage against the ISO.
The speakers’ talks to the gathering will be uploaded on to the Socialist Alliance web page.