Left Unity in confusion

Part one in a three part series reviewing Marxism 2013: ‘Opening Night’[i]

Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2013 is easily the most hyped conference of the far left in Australia, its ‘Opening night’ fires up participants, and sets the political tone for the rest of the conference. The mantra for this conference is ‘left unity’.[ii]

The political discussion commenced after the rip-snorter guest speakers[iii] from Australia and overseas had inspired the crowd of 350 into good humour, shaking fists, and collective chanting.

Louise O’Shea, author of the widely discredited article on Reclaim the Night, acted as the MC, introduced the speakers and outlined the ‘left unity’ line. The groups to speak, Socialist Alliance and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, have in the past heavily criticised the O’Shea article, along with most of the far-left.[iv]

Both Peter Boyle from Socialist Alliance and Kim Bullimore from the RSP expressed their dumbfoundment that they were speaking at Marxism 2013, saying this was unimaginable at the same time last year. Peter Boyle emphasised the doctrine of his organisation that all socialist groups could be united into one organisation.

He also announced a series of practical steps the leadership of both Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative had committed to, including a public meeting on left unity, and working on a detailed program and discussion of commonalities and differences that went beyond the usual caricatures of each other.

Kim Bullimore reported that at the last conference of the RSP, earlier that day, they had voted unanimously to merge with Socialist Alternative, and quickly flashed her new Socialist Alternative membership card. She ended with a quote from Che Guevara, underlying the RSP’s proclamation that Cuba and Venezuela are revolutionary governments of sorts.[v]

I felt that this session was aimed at Socialist Alternative members rather than ungrouped independents (or anarchist dissidents), it feels as though Socialist Alternative’s leadership are still trying to sell the idea of “unity” to the membership, who were until recently taught to call the likes of RSP “Stalinist”.[vi]

Socialist Alternative is keen to emphasise a common political project of “revolutionary marxism”, but even in an “opening night” on the line of left unity, the political fault lines were on display.

Bob Carnegie identified with Trotskyism rather than the ‘Marxism’ branding,[vii]Peter Boyle identified with socialism not Marxism, and Kim Bullimore identified with a revolutionary Marxism that includes the likes of Cuba and Venezuela.

As an anarchist, there was much to agree with in the vague sentiments—the need for working class revolution and revolutionary organisation.

Notably, there were a couple of politically awkward moments for the organisers.

The Socialist Alternative dominated audience where less keen to give Peter Boyle the obligatory standing ovation that these events demand, lethargically rising to their feet. And facial expressions were tense as Brian Jones in his analysis of the United States highlighted rape culture and the rise of young women challenging sexism as an inspiration.

Overall, I can’t help but feel like ‘left unity’ is really a mere façade that will soon lead to a Shakespearean tragedy.

The 2001 Socialist Alliance ‘broad left’ electoral project, effectively one of complete ‘left unity’, which the majority of big socialist groups joined, was an utter failure. The main group that quickly left this front, Socialist Alternative, grew accordingly.

The crucial difference now according to proponents of this ‘new kind of left unity’, is unity of Marxist revolutionaries. A proper look at the founding of Socialist Alliance will find almost all the groups involved were Marxists of one or another, the outstanding difference now being a lack of electoral project.

Despite very positive platitudes from Peter Boyle, his emphasis on somehow uniting the theoretical, strategic and tactical differences would at face value seem at odds with Socialist Alternative’s erstwhile strategy.

The ageing and stagnant RSP would seem to be the big winner, now part of the far bigger Socialist Alternative, who have conceded to it formerly dear principles, including a state-capitalist analysis of Russia and socialism from below. More concretely, RSP viewpoints now are to appear as a minority perspective in Socialist Alternative’s magazine and in its National Executive.

The decorations are pretty, and like the vacuous and ubiquitous Marxism 2013 poster, Socialist Alternative can reinforce to its membership that it is non-sectarian and growing—like a good marketing ad, it is the biggest, best and brightest in town. Buy it now!

I left walking into the night’s cold, puzzling over how working class struggle has been broken down into a mosaic of propagandism, platitudes and parties.


[i] Brian Jones (2013), ‘The hypocrisy of US capitalism today’, Green Left TV, https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=AbDu3Ww3HvY; Peter Boyle (2013), ‘Long live left unity’, Green Left TV, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfmTjg5yA4g ; Kim Bullimore (2013), ‘Marxism 2013 opening night presentation’, http://sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7702%3Amarxism-2013-opening-night-presentation&Itemid=393; Editors (2013), ‘Marxism 2013 conference the biggest to date’, http://sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7699%3Amarxism-2013-conference-the-biggest-to-date&Itemid=393.

[ii] Socialist Alternative have dedicated an entire section on their website to ‘left unity’, entitled ‘towards unity on the left’, starting with the failed unity discussions with Solidarity in 2010, and picking up in 2012 with discussions with the RSP and SAll, and pronouncements from new recruits. http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=itemlist&task=category&id=27:documents-statements&Itemid=546.

[iii] Brian Jones from the International Socialist Organisation in the US, Gerry Rivera from the Philippines, revolutionary and President of the PALEA union in an airline dispute, and Bob Carnegie, Trotskyist unionist, currently chased by the courts. https://www.marxismconference.org/.

[iv] @ndy (2012), ‘Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night, the political right and Socialist Alternative’, http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=33085; Fox Smoulder (2012), ‘To Socialist Alternative, a letter, a call out.’, https://www.facebook.com/notes/fox-smoulder/to-socialist-alternative-a-letter-a-call-out/10152315952395271; Reclaim the Night Fremantle 2012 Organising Group (2012), ‘Letter to Socialist Alternative prior to Reclaim the Night’, http://juzzamumma.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/letter-to-socialist-alternative-prior-to-reclaim-the-night/; Kim Bullimore (2012), ‘What role for socialists in the fight against sexist violence?’, Direct Action, http://directaction.org.au/2012/what_role_for_socialists_in_the_fight_against_sexist_violence; John Passant (2012), ‘Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and sectarianism’, http://enpassant.com.au/2012/11/23/jill-meagher-reclaim-the-night-and-sectarianism/; Kamala Emanuel, ‘Violence against women is systemic’, Green Left Weekly, 948, http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52964; Martin Thomas (2013), ‘Where will SWP opposition go?’, Solidarity, 271, http://www.workersliberty.org/iso; AS (2012) ‘ALP Government: Enemy of Workers and Oppressed’, Australasian Spartacist, 218, http://www.icl-fi.org/english/asp/. Further, the political line was later ratified at SAlt’s 2012 National Conference, summing up Reclaim the Night as a ‘ruling class mobilisaton’.  Editors (2012), ‘SA National Conference concludes’, http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=7612:sa-national-conference-concludes&Itemid=546.

[v] RSP, ‘Support the Cuban & Venezuelan revolutions!’, http://rsp.org.au/node/1.

[vi] Josh Lees (2009), ‘Is Vietnam socialist?’, Socialist Alternative, August, 144, http://www.sa.org.au/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=5923:is-vietnam-socialist?&tmpl=component&print=1. Allen Myers (2009), ‘Vietnam: How ‘state capitalism’ misleads Australian socialists’, Direct Action, September, 15, http://directaction.org.au/issue15/vietnam_how_state_capitalism_misleads_australian_socialists.

[vii] Bob Carnegie is from the Trotskyist group Workers Liberty. http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/06/22/carnegie-defeated-two-votes

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