Bob Gould, 2008

Taking the measure of Socialist Alliance
A strange set of statistics

Source: Green Left Weekly discussion list, January 3, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

I’ve just seen a very strange document, which has been sent out in the past week or so to all members of the Socialist Alliance. A friendly SA member gave me a copy because they think it’s so weird.

It’s 17 pages of statistical charts about the Socialist Alliance. In the world of eccentric documents this has to be one of the strangest I’ve seen in a long political life. It’s clearly meant to buttress the claims of the Boyle leadership of the DSP that the activities of the Socialist Alliance are relatively successful, but on careful examination it does the opposite.

It reminds me a bit of the fake statistics that used to be produced in Stalinist Russia about macroeconomic planning. It’s a bit hard to follow, some of it is obviously spectacular puffery to the point of being false. The person who passed it on to me made the observation that, in the area they are familiar with, the activity, membership, etc, bear no relation to what’s claimed in the document.

Nevertheless, the document is revealing, albeit with the caveats that must be placed on that kind of thing, as for the alleged statistics of Stalinist macroeconomic planning. In what is called the Socialist Alliance membership summary, curious categories are adopted: members and sympathisers, financial members, playing leading role, actively participating, mainly inactive, average branch meeting, frequency of branch executive, average public event, and main problems holding back branch growth.

As an example, the first entry is for the ACT and Canberra, which is a reasonably representative part of the whole document. There are a claimed 35 members and sympathisers, of whom 20 are claimed as financial members, five are claimed as playing a leading role, 15 actively participating, 10 mainly inactive, five attend the average branch (presumably the same five who play a leading role), frequency of branch executive meetings is zero, 15 attend the average public event (the frequency of which isn’t indicated), and the main problem holding back branch growth is said to be leadership resources.

Going further into the section of the document about the election campaign, taking the ACT as an example, 50 people are said to have worked on polling booths in 2004 and only 25 did so in 2007 (the puffery involved in these alleged figures is revealed partly by the way some of them are suspiciously rounded: 50 and 25, not 48 or 51 and 18 or 24, etc).

In the figures for the number of people said to have worked on election day, it’s not spelled out how many hours they put in. Usually in DSP documents I’ve seen from time to time, the number of hours spent by members selling Green Left Weekly is meticulously documented. Nevertheless, the number of hours, even as an average, spent working on the booths isn’t tabulated.

Leaving aside the regions, when you go to the macro figures the totals are rather interesting. Members and sympathisers taken together are nominated as 1503, financial members are nominated as 741, members playing a leading role are nominated as 114, actively participating are nominated as 274, and mainly inactive are nominated as 234.

When you get to the pattern for election day, the high point of the election process, the macro figures are nominated as 585 booth workers in 2007, compared with 842 in 2004, a rather large drop. The number of potential new members out of all this activity, from all sources, is nominated as 101 in 2007, compared with 204 in 2004.

At one point in the document, 98 non-members of the alliance are nominated as having worked on election day. If you subtract that number from the 585 said to have worked (without the number of hours nominated), that leaves 487 alliance members working on election day of a total financial membership claimed to be 741. When you take into account that the DSP claims 260-odd members, it seems not many non-DSP alliance members worked for the Socialist Alliance on election day.

In the comments about problems facing each branch and area, there is a litany of complaints which, summed up, advance the proposition that what’s really needed is more activism to overcome the many organisational problems. In sum, the alliance is claimed to be an organisation with 740-odd members, and of the people who worked on election day about 60 per cent appear to have been DSP members.

Insofar as it’s possible to believe these eccentric statistics, the basic proposition of the DSP minority is proved in spades. The alliance is about half as active as it was three years ago, the level of activity is lower, and the organisation is quite isolated in society at large.

Attempted statistics compiled by people who have a bit of an axe to grind are brutal things. Also in the document, the Boyleites who compiled it analyse in rather caustic terms, similar to the terms I sometimes use about them, the electoral activity of the Socialist Equality Party.

The tragic thing is that despite the essential features of the Socialist Alliance revealed in this document, the Boyleite perspectives will be rammed through by the majority at the current convention, which only goes to demonstrate Trotsky’s point that if you get people in a small room, manipulate their emotions and stir them up, there’s a chance they’ll vote for anything.