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Who we are, where we stand, how we work

Draft principles and perspectives of the Socialist Alliance

A proposal by Dick Nichols

1. Introduction

The Socialist Alliance was born in February 2001 when eight Australian socialist organisations agreed to present a united platform in elections.

In August 2001 the Alliance held its Founding Conference. There it adopted its platform, constitution and special resolutions on trade union work, preference policy towards other parties and other issues.

The founding of the Alliance has coincided with the growth and increasing unity of the socialist movement internationally. This is reflected in the emergence of the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Portuguese Left Bloc and the Danish Red-Green Alliance as well as in the strength of Italy´s Party of Communist Refoundation and the ten per cent vote for the French far left in the 2002 residential elections.

Since its founding the Socialist Alliance has grown rapidly and achieved electoral registration federally as well as in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The Alliance has already stood candidates in state, federal and municipal elections.

The Alliance is a membership organisation. Although founded by socialist organisations all members participate as individuals on an equal basis.

Within the ranks of the Alliance are to be found many of Australia's most respected trade union, environmental, democratic rights and community activists as well as some of the country's best-known left intellectuals.

The Alliance represents an important step forward for the entire left in Australia. It shows that different left organisations can collaborate towards a common goal. It is helping build more powerful campaigns for workers rights, against war, against all forms of discrimination and for a liveable and sustainable environment. It is putting the socialist alternative on the country's political map.

What, then, are the main features of the Socialist Alliance?

It is:

  • Working-class - looking to defend and extend the interests of working people, the majority in Australian society;
  • Ecological - fighting the plunder and desecration of our environment by the big corporations;
  • A fighter for human and democratic rights - struggling against racism, sexism, homophobia and religious discrimination;
  • Internationalist - striving to strengthen solidarity between Australian working people and all those fighting injustice around the world;
  • Radical - challenging the view that capitalism is here for ever and fighting for the socialist transformation of Australian society;
  • Democratic - run by its rank-and-file members instead of an elite hierarchy;
  • Pluralist - giving all those who agree with its basic aims freedom to organise and present their specific points of view;
  • Inclusive - encouraging the full participation of women, Aboriginal people, migrants, refugees, elderly people, young people below voting age, and gays, lesbians and transsexuals;
  • Campaigning and activist - presenting socialist policies at election time but always building the movements for a better world.

    2. The world we live in

    The politics of the Socialist Alliance arise from how we view the world we live in.

    For the Alliance the basic reality about today's world is that humanity´s knowledge and knowhow have grown to the point where there is simply no valid reason for the continuing existence of the major evils afflicting global society - famine, disease, poverty, inequality, environmental destruction and injustices of all sorts.

    If we could mobilise against these evils the skills, culture and creativity of billions of human beings, the immense potential of science and technology and the trillions of dollars in presently unused or wasted resources then they would rapidly become a fading bad dream.

    Yet progress towards wiping out backwardness and underdevelopment is not the scene before us today. The nightmarish prospect haunting planet Earth includes more and more terrible wars, increased epidemics of old and new diseases, rising poverty and inequality within and between nations, environmental collapse and the erosion and even destruction of people's hard-won democratic rights.

    Economic progress and growth certainly continue, but progress and growth from which billions of people and an entire continent - Africa - are locked out. Global inequality has never been so great. And even in a rich country like Australia maintaining our living standards means having to work longer and endure rising stress and insecurity.

    For the Socialist Alliance there is only one explanation for this obscene and crazy contradiction between what is and what could and should be - the private profit system of capitalism.

    Production under the capitalist system is determined not by human need but by the interaction between the giant corporations' monopoly of technology and the shockingly unequal distribution of world wealth and income.

    These are what create the "market" - which apologists for capitalism never tire of calling the most efficient motor of production ever conceived.

    But who can deny that under capitalism those who win the biggest profits are the best exploiters of working people and the environment, that the productive potential of economies is rarely used to the full (even at the peak of the boom-bust cycle), that there is colossal waste on war and the luxuries of the rich and that rivalry for markets and resources generates trade wars - and real wars?

    This reality makes the masters of the global capitalist system - the transnational corporations and the governments who do their bidding - the main enemies of human progress. Their power system - imperialism - is dominated by the United States, and includes allies (but also rivals) like the European Union and Japan, as well as smaller hangers-on like Australia.

    Since it replaced free-market capitalism at the beginning of the twentieth century, imperialism has made the economic, social and cultural development of the vast majority of the planet's nations and peoples hostage to the interests of the dominant powers.

    It has entrenched underdevelopment and misery in most of the Third World and in many parts of the richer nations as well. Its financial and economic policing arm is the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation and its military guardians are the armed forces of the United States and its allies in pacts like NATO and ANZUS.

    Sometimes, especially after World War Two, the system has experienced high growth rates and could be made to deliver reforms. However, since the collapse of the post-war boom in 1974 imperialism's lords and masters have been on the warpath to restore their economic and political supremacy -against the former Soviet bloc (a battle won), against the Third World (an ongoing assault that continues to provoke fierce resistance) and against working people in the advanced industrial countries themselves (where resistance is beginning to rise).

    Imperialism's recipe for entrenching capitalism as the "end of history" goes under the name of neoliberalism (in Australia, economic rationalism). This set of commandments aims to remove all blockages to private profit-making and to equip economies to win the wars of intensified global competition.

    As a result, over the past two decades peoples everywhere have been force-fed the same policy diet - privatisation of public assets, the "marketisation" of services like health and education, the dismantling of social security systems and attacks without end on union rights.

    For the Third World countries there are crippling debt repayments, for any workers, producers or countries that dare to resist relentless hostility and economic and political subversion.

    The imperialist assault jumped to a new stage with the launching, after the attacks of September 11, 2001, of the United States "war on terrorism". This is the most open-ended war ever declared and perfect cover for the US to use its military power to pursue its goals of global economic and political domination.

    However, the offensive of the rich and powerful is stirring up resistance. It comes from working people, who increasingly despair of their traditional parties embrace of neoliberal policies, from the new worldwide movement against corporate globalisation and from masses of ordinary citizens who simply see no reason to allow innocent blood to be spilt to boost the profits of the US oil giants.

    Tens of millions proclaim that "another world is possible" - and more urgently needed than ever.

    The Socialist Alliance agrees. But we know that the "other world" millions of human beings aspire to can only be - socialism.

    3. The socialist alternative - what it is and getting there

    For the Socialist Alliance socialism involves three aspects at once - a set of principles and values, a specific goal and a political method for achieving progress towards that goal.

    a. Our principles

    The principles of socialism are simply stated - they are the opposite of those of capitalism.

    To capitalism's law of dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest socialism opposes human solidarity and cooperation.

    To capitalism's drive to concentrate ever greater wealth in ever fewer hands socialism opposes the need to place the society's wealth and its major means of production under the control of society itself.

    To capitalism's exploitation and destruction of the environment socialism opposes harmonious and sustainable relations between society and the precious ecosystems that underpin it.

    To capitalism's push to increase inequality socialism opposes full equality of rights and opportunities.

    To capitalism's tendency to mould us all into isolated acquisitive individuals maximising consumption, socialism opposes the strengthening of human solidarity and community and the all-round development of the human personality, based on universal access to the fruits of science and culture.

    To capitalism's compulsion to have us all believe that working people have more in common with the rulers of the Australian nation than we do with our sisters and brothers in other lands, socialism opposes the community and solidarity of all working people, irrespective of language, religion and national culture.

    To capitalism's tendency to covert democracy into an empty shell socialism opposes the radical expansion of democratic and human rights.

    To capitalism's restriction of real power and capacity to govern to the corporate elites and the uppermost echelons of government socialism fights to put maximum power into the hands of working people.

    b. Our political method

    From these principles it follows that socialism can only come into existence as a different sort of society, a different sort of economy and a different sort of state and government. What is the road to that goal? What is our political method?

    Our starting point is the actual struggles of working people today -resistance to the policies of economic rationalism and to the threat of war.

    The Socialist Alliance is committed to building all struggles of resistance - for our working and living conditions, for the rights of such oppressed minorities as refugees, for the environment and for peace and international cooperation.

    We fight to strengthen and democratise the organisations with which working people pursue their struggles. In particular we fight for accountable, democratic trade unions controlled by the rank and file membership.

    The Alliance likewise promotes democratically run campaigns of mass mobilisation as a model of struggle for the various movements of resistance. Such campaigns not only have the best chance of winning any particular fight, but show in practice that working and oppressed people have enormous power - if only they get organised.

    We particularly support the independent movements of the most outcast, oppressed and alienated - Aboriginal peoples, refugees, some migrant communities, many women (especially working class women), gays, lesbians and bisexuals and handicapped people.

    However, for Socialist Alliance building movements of resistance - while essential - is never complete without a parallel effort to create a party that can stand and fight for the interests of working people and all victims of injustice and discrimination.

    All classes and specific interest groups have their political party (or parties). The socialist alternative too will always gain from having elected representatives championing the rights of working people in state and federal parliament and in local councils.

    A working people's party also performs the vital role of helping preserve the memory and lessons of past working class and popular struggles, especially when the ruling elites have every interest in having us forget our own history. It means that there is no need to "reinvent the wheel" each time a struggle arises.

    The foundation of the Socialist Alliance response to economic rationalism is its platform of demands, adopted at its Founding Conference. This platform is at once a summary of policy and a program for action on the Australian political battlefield. The two main principles that underpin it are: people before profits and let the rich pay.

    These principles simply say that the devastation wreaked by economic rationalist governments can be reversed and the practical policies to achieve this goal can be afforded.

    Our policies aim to redistribute wealth and income, defend and extend public services, reconstruct the public sector, create jobs and defend union rights, expand democracy, end discrimination and reverse environmental decline. However, their main aim is to strengthen popular resistance, without which there will be no reversal of economic rationalism.

    If successful and people's struggles become more powerful and the socialist message more popular, hints and anticipations of the socialist future - that "other possible world" - will increasingly emerge. They will come about through the practical collaboration of millions in the process of mass struggle. They will also take the form of specific projects and experiences that expand the power of the mass of the people at the expense of corporate elites and unaccountable government bureaucracies.

    The plans for alternative, socially useful production developed by the workers at the UK defence contractor Lucas Aerospace and the "participatory budget" of the Brazilian city Porto Alegre - where spending priorities are decided by direct vote of the mass of citizens - are just two examples of this expansion of working people's rights and powers above and beyond "the normal".

    As popular struggles intensify and socialist ideas become more influential, the struggle for and against socialism will move to the centre of national politics. At this point of rising class polarisation the need for a radically different sort of government - one that puts the needs of working people first - will become unavoidable.

    This is the sort of government Socialist Alliance is fighting for: a socialist republic, based on democratic common ownership and control of the key sectors of the economy and supported by working class organisations and the mass movements. It will come into being as a result of the rising struggle and self-organisation of the mass of working people.

    Under such a government working people would rapidly expand their power to make the big economic and social decisions that are presently the property of corporations and government bureaucracies.

    The question would then be posed: if the present "rights" of capital -to sack, to send money out of the country, to decide if and what to produce - were seriously challenged, would corporate Australia resign itself to the loss of its powers?

    The Alliance would prefer to achieve its socialist goal by means of peaceful mass struggle and the use and expansion of democracy. However, all history suggests that the corporate minority would resist the loss of its economic and political power with all the resources at its command.

    That would mean that working people too would have to be prepared to defend their rights and gains and defeat the resistance of the capitalist elites.

    c. Our socialist goal

    With power consolidated in the hand of the majority society would be free to make giant strides forward in the implementation of the socialist program.

    In this phase of transition towards socialism the shape of social and economic life would be determined by the mass of working people, through their elected representatives and democratic institutions. The stunted democratic rights that we have today (including the right to elect an unaccountable parliamentary representative every three to four years) would give way to a radical expansion of democracy and self-government.

    This would particularly be the case in a rich, developed country like Australia. Australia has an abundance of resources including vast expanses of uninhabited land, immense reserves of energy and raw materials, a highly skilled and educated workforce and a talented and original professional, intellectual and artistic community.

    These conditions, unlike those in many underdeveloped countries, would allow the working week to be rapidly reduced and people freed to devote more and more time to determining the best path of economic, social, environmental and cultural development for the country. In this way, society would finally be free to uproot the madness and injustice of the "market" and replace it with democratic planning to meet social need.

    Social and community life would increasingly be transformed into a process and school of self-government.

    Clearly the struggle for socialism sketched here would not unfold without great impact on international politics. Indeed, more than ever in this age of transnational capital and global communications the battle for socialism cannot be confined within the borders of a single country.

    The Socialist Alliance understands that any gain for the socialist cause within Australia would arouse the resistance not only of Australian capitalism and its governments, but of all their friends and allies abroad. Our struggle here, like all struggles for socialism, would have no choice but to exchange solidarity with similar struggles in all other countries.

    The context would be one of increasing mutual support and collaboration among peoples in the long-term perspective of replacing global capitalism with global socialism - a worldwide confederation of socialist states, working together to eliminate the poverty, starvation, inequality and environmental destruction that global capitalism generates.

    4. The Socialist Alliance in Australian politics

    Whether by standing in elections or through building the movements the Socialist Alliance fights against all governments - Coalition or Labor -which implement pro-capitalist policies in opposition to the interests of the vast majority of the Australian people. By contrast it seeks to adopt and consistently fight for a working-class stance on all issues of national and international politics.

    In particular, the Alliance always points out that Australia is a minor but still important link in the global imperialist chain, with a role of guaranteeing capitalist stability in the Asia-Pacific region by opposing the struggles of workers, peasants, students and oppressed nationalities.

    The Alliance thus always works to develop the understanding that Australian working people have interests opposed to those of the Australian corporate elite, and to build solidarity with the working people and poor of the region.

    The Alliance always seeks to strengthen the socialist pole as an independent force in Australian politics. It calls on all socialist organisations which are not yet members of the Alliance to join it to order to strengthen the socialist alternative.

    At the same time the Alliance recognises that there are still many socialists outside its ranks - in the Greens, the Australian Labor Party or without any party affiliation.

    The ALP remains what it has always been - a pillar of Australian capitalism that has often been called to office when the directly conservative parties have failed to control the class struggle. At the same time, however, important battles in Australian political life continue to open up divisions within the party - between those who directly embrace the economic rationalist credo and those who continue to defend trade union and worker rights and are sensitive to the aspirations of the movements of resistance.

    The Greens in Australia have generally stood to the left of many of their counterparts abroad. With the exception of a brief participation in one Tasmanian government the Greens have pitched their tent on the field of resistance to economic rationalism, war and the ravaging of the environment. Where they have achieved political representation the Greens have almost always carried the demands of the movements into parliament, including demands against the restriction of trade union rights.

    What the Greens lack, however, is a clear strategic view of how the demands of popular and worker resistance can be won. Indeed, on this vital issue a number of conflicting positions are to be found within Green ranks, ranging from positions close to socialism through to those of "green capitalism".

    On the basis of this analysis the Socialist Alliance always looks to collaborate with any party (or trend within parties) with which it agrees on concrete issues of policy and movement-building.

    On the basis of its platform it calls on other parties to join it in all struggles in defence of living standards, against war and in defence of the environment and human and democratic rights.

    At the same time the Alliance also looks to strengthen ongoing collaboration with socialist-minded and progressive people in parties like the Greens and the Australian Labor Party. We want to consolidate a stronger anti-capitalist "red-green" alliance with which to better fight the ongoing neoliberal offensive.

    5. How the Socialist Alliance works

    The full rules governing the way the Alliance works are set out in its Constitution. Here the basic political culture of the Alliance is explained.

    The Socialist Alliance is a membership organisation. This means that although it was founded by eight socialist organisations all members, whether or not they belong to organisations, participate on an equal basis.

    The Alliance is not a party for political careerists. All candidates elected on the Alliance platform are obliged to implement Alliance policy. The Alliance does not allow a "conscience vote". Any elected Alliance representative must live on the wage of an average skilled worker.

    The Alliance, unlike nearly every other Australian political party is non-exclusionary - members of other parties who agree with its platform are free to join.

    The Alliance is participatory. It strives to provide the widest possible range of forums and activities to stimulate the commitment and creativity of its members - not only branch meetings, but public seminars, working groups in the trade unions and movements, policy development groups as well as its internal discussion bulletin (also on the Alliance web page).

    The Alliance is democratic. Any individual (or any oppressed group) has the right to form a caucus to try to influence Alliance policy and practice.

    Decision-making power in the Alliance is decentralised. It is up to the local branches to organise political discussion, carry out campaigns in their area and run election campaigns.

    Where statewide and national decision-making is needed, it is done by state and national conferences, which also elect state and national executives and officeholders.

    6. Conclusion

    What conclusion is to be drawn from the principles, goals, political method and culture of the Socialist Alliance?

    That working people in Australia have the ability and the potential power to rid this country of the evils that afflict it.

    That what working people in Australia still lack is a powerful political voice of their own.

    That the Alliance is an important and valuable step towards creating that voice.

    That the Alliance is therefore the natural political home for anyone in Australia who wants to fight for social justice, peace, environmental sustainability and the expansion of democracy.

    That all who reject capitalism and want a world worthy of humanity belong in its ranks.

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    Created on December 4, 2002