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The Australian SA is in a sorry state

Marcus Strom and Greg Adler

Damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. The Socialist Alliance in Australia has again received a small vote in its latest electoral outing. Standing in the inner-Sydney seat of Marrickville in a by-election to the New South Wales state parliament, the SA managed just 1.54% of the primary vote.

Had the SA not stood, people would have rightly argued the project was a dead duck. But having stood and received only 493 votes from what is arguably the most left-leaning electorate in New South Wales, the alliance has publicly declared its mortality.

The SA has effectively become the public face of the Democratic Socialist Perspective (formerly Democratic Socialist Party). That leading members of the International Socialist Organisation, the second-largest SA affiliate, were seen handing out ‘how to votes’ for the Greens speaks volumes.

The state opposition conservative Liberal Party did not stand in the election, leaving the field open for the Greens, who got their best ever first-preference vote of 39.49%. This, however, was not enough to upset the Labor Party candidate, state education minister Carmel Tebbut, in her move from the NSW upper to lower house.

A breakdown of the voting booths shows that the more middle class areas around the University of Sydney and trendy Newtown voted Green; the working class and ethnically diverse areas of Marrickville and Dulwich Hill voted Labor. The SA vote mirrored the class profile of the Greens, albeit on a much smaller scale.

When an article appeared in this paper earlier this year about the terminal decline of the Australian SA (Weekly Worker March 10), there was a hue and cry from Andy Newman of the Socialist Unity Network in the UK and from Nick Fredman of the DSP in Australia. Events have now spoken for themselves.

Below is a report on the by-election from SA Marrickville branch member Greg Adler. Comrade Adler, a former Healyite, was a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive up to the June annual conference. He paints a sorry picture of the SA project.

Fredman fantasy

The Socialist Alliance in Australia received another minuscule vote at the Marrickville by-election on September 17 2005.

The alliance now operates, with the possible exception of some areas in Melbourne, as a virtual subsidiary of the Democratic Socialist Perspective. That fact was underlined by the way in which the decision to contest the by-election was taken.

At a specially convened meeting of the Marrickville branch of the SA an unusually large number of DSP members fronted up to firstly steamroller through a vote that the branch should indeed run a candidate and then to decide that the most tempting of candidates for the good voters of Marrickville would be a full-time functionary of the DSP rather than a teacher, even though the Labor candidate was education minister.

The voters proved able to resist this temptation in their tens of thousands and in fact almost twice as many voted informal as voted SA. So far little has been offered from the DSP by way of analysis of the experience.

Super-loyal DSPer Nick Fredman has contributed a piece to the Green Left discussion list (, prompted by a somewhat cheeky observation by Marcus Ström that the SA’s vote of 1.54% from possibly the most left electorate in the state was “interesting”.

It is worth reading this piece to get the authentic voice of the DSP and its abiding contempt of those who once thought that the SA offered a real opportunity to build unity among the left and find a way to connect with the working class through that.

In what would be a totally bizarre refusal to recognise reality (unless you realise that this is the way the DSP deals with that inconvenience), Fredman attributes the perspective of “an independent electoral front” to “a small minority in Socialist Alliance comprised mostly of ISO members”. To give him his due Fredman, who resides far from Marrickville, may not have been aware of the DSP branch stack that led to the standing of a candidate, but the identity of that candidate was a pretty good clue that it was not the ISO pushing the electoral wheelbarrow this time around.

The bulk of Fredman’s piece, when he is not shooting gratuitous barbs at non-DSPers, is spent justifying the running of candidates as a way for the SA to gain support and respect in the union, anti-war and gay and lesbian movements. This is an extended fantasy that is common to the ears of those of us who have been in the SA with the DSP. We are constantly told what a leading force the SA (or at least the DSP part of it) is in all sorts of struggles.

This sort of stuff is undoubtedly believed by Fredman and his DSP comrades, otherwise as he says, to continue getting tiny votes would be depressing.

I am quite sympathetic to Fredman on this. I well remember many years ago when I was a super-loyal member of the Socialist Labour League, I had the rather difficult experience of explaining to a group of dour leading Ba’ath Party members in Baghdad why Vanessa Redgrave had recently suffered an embarrassingly small vote standing for the Workers Revolutionary Party. If memory serves me well, it was something like 120 votes.

It was pretty obvious from the general tenor of the conversation I was having with the Ba’athists that they had been led to believe that the WRP would perform at a considerably higher level than that. I did the best I could in the face of the concrete evidence of the lack of political strength of the WRP.

What I said to the incredulous group was - to the best of my memory: “Yes, it was a low vote but you have to remember that they were very class-conscious votes.” So I can understand how Nick and other loyal DSPers are able to convince themselves that all these unionists, anti-war people and gay and lesbian folk full of respect for the SA only amount to around 500 or so in the Marrickville electorate.

What I cannot understand, be sympathetic towards or forgive is that the DSP has undermined any possibility of the SA developing as a real independent political force in favour of carrying out its increasingly sect-like activities, such as this most recent electoral adventure, thus diminishing any real respect or support for socialism among unionists or progressive forces.

That is something that the non-DSPers within the SA will have to come to grips with in the near future and determine how to now proceed on a different path.



November 2005


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