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Controversy in Australian SA

Andy Newman


The Weekly Worker has recently published a disgraceful article by Marcus Strom about the Australian Socialist Alliance, that seems calculated to exaggerate factional differences in the SA, and provoke a split and the disarticulation of the Australian left:

There is indeed a debate in the SA at the moment, particularly relating to the nature of the branches and the role of the affiliated organisations; that has recently been expressed in "Alliance Voices, Socialist Alliance Discussion Bulletin - Vol 5 No 1, March 2005".  I will discuss this debate in a later article. However Marcus makes the grave error of assuming that poor election results in Western Australia, and a resulting debate, will inevitably mean the dissolution of the SA, despite the continued commitment to the project of the largest affiliate, the Democratic Socialist Perspective group who number around 300, and also several hundred committed non-aligned members.

Marcus quotes a private letter from David Glanz, a leading member of the SWP's sister organisation in Australia, the ISO, complaining about certain articles that have appeared in Green Left Weekly. I had been aware of this debate, but as Marcus said the correspondence was private. However, as the Weekly Worker have already broken that confidence and put the letter into the public domain I feel I can comment

The more substantive article of two complained about by David Glanz was one written by leading DSP member, Dick Nichols, about the Australian Labor Party. Many people in Britain may be unaware that the New Labour project of Tony Blair was copied from the ALP, and the defeat for the left has been more thorough in the ALP than even in the British Labour party. Dave Nichols concludes:

"The vital lesson to be drawn from Labor's dark shambles is that any possibility of its revival as a parliamentary opposition depends most of all on the strength of the extra-parliamentary opposition that all of us who hate Howard [the Liberal prime minister] can build out in the "real world". Worrying about the state of the ALP is simply a distraction from this urgent job. However, consolidating a real alternative to Howard can't stop there. Building social resistance must go with pushing forward the construction of the political alternative to Labor. This not only means pressing ahead with the building of the Socialist Alliance, it also means seeking out all opportunities for Green-socialist collaboration. And it means asking ever more pointedly within the unions why workers' money continues to be wasted on a party that has shown itself completely incapable of representing their interests."

Glanz argues that this breaks Socialist Alliance 2004 national conference policy, which stated: "The task for the alliance is to work alongside all those who want an end to Howard while putting forward our own positive, socialist alternative on the questions of the day. Further on, the resolution noted the need to take part in joint platforms with the Greens and Labor, building on the 2002 national conference decision, which recognised that building the beginnings of an alternative to the ALP "cannot be done simply by denouncing Labor".  It is hard to agree with Glanz here, the tenor and wording of the article by Nichols seems to follow the guidelines to the letter.

However at the heart of this is a disagreement over the nature of the ALP. David Glanz has obviously not been following the lead from London closely enough. The article by Dick Nichols is resonant of much that is written in the British Socialist Worker about Tony Blair's New Labour. There was indeed a strikingly similar article written by leading SWP theoretician John Rees, in 2003:

"This whole debacle means that the 'reclaim the Labour Party' argument looks very hollow indeed. But there is a real danger here. The longer the government continues to alienate and disappoint its supporters, while the 'reclaim Labour' awkward squad defend staying in the party without making any gains, the more they delay the birth of a real alternative to New Labour. And the more they delay the birth of this alternative, the more other political forces, like the Liberal Democrats and the BNP, will fill the vacuum."   .. ... In the RMT and the PCS we already have leaderships who have broken with Labour. There are many Muslims who have been politicised by the war. The victory of Socialist Alliance candidate Michael Lavalette in the Preston council elections shows how willing many of them are to work with the left. George Galloway's expulsion from the Labour Party will mean that many activists will conclude that New Labour is irreformable. And George Galloway himself has said that if the Labour Party cannot be reclaimed, then it is time to start building a united left alternative to New Labour. Many other important figures on the left, like George Monbiot and Ken Loach, have been actively campaigning for such an alternative to be formed."

David Glanz also objects to an article by James Vassilopoulos about Che Guevara. ( The article is admittedly rather gushing, for example: "The image of Che's face - of indignation, of determination, of strength yet intelligence and purity, with piercing eyes - is the most reproduced image of the 20th century. Millions wear it on T-shirts; capitalism ironically uses it to sell lip balm and vodka. Argentine soccer star Maradona has it tattooed on his arm. Che flags flutter in Palestine and when I went to Athens I bought a Che scarf. Che is unique. He was a symbol of the radicalisation of the 1960s and also of the 21st century." The objection by Glanz is that this article appeared in a column in GLW called "Our Common Cause".  As Glanz says: "In December, the alliance national executive approved new protocols for the 'Our common cause' column. In part they read: "The column is a vehicle for building and displaying broad left unity, the same focus as SA, thus representing what SA stands for as a multi-tendency party within a socialist framework. Overall, the column is meant to be an illustration of what we commonly agree on, who we are. The column is also intended as a 'soapbox' for SA, advancing SA, acting as an 'advertorial' for SA."

However, the article about Che in GLW was really bland in terms of its political content, merely praising Che as an inspiration for radical change. It is hard to see how the ISO could take such strong objection to it. The GLW editorial board would assume it would be uncontroversial, especially if they had read the following article by leading member of the SWP, Mike Gonzales:

"a lot of young people see Guevara as embodying something of the spirit that they have, of the feelings that they have about the world, the yearning that the world should be a better place. We all know that another world is possible. Che represents the conviction that the world can be changed, and above all changed by the movement itself. The life of Guevara is a historical lesson for us that starts with the presumption that revolution can be made, should be made, and the world needs to be changed. So given that, the question is 'How?' The answer is not in manuals, not from handbooks, but from history, from experience. And the life of this great and committed fighter for social transformation should become part of the education of a new generation of revolutionaries." Indeed during 2003, the SWP in Britain had a national campaign of pubic meetings (Marxist Forums), using the iconic Che image on the posters, with the title "Che Guevara, Icon or Revolutionary?"

There are clearly political differences between the views of the ISO and the current trajectory of the Australian SA majority towards a multi-tendency broad Socialist Party. However it is very important for the healthy development of the left - whatever the outcome of that debate - that the political issues are elaborated clearly, and that the ISO argues its position in political terms, rather than sniping about breaches of editorial protocol, or arguing about whether branches meet fortnightly or monthly. I would also say that the nature of the intervention by the Weekly Worker in this debate is ill-timed, mischievous and self-serving.


March 2005


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism