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Resignation from the Socialist Alliance

By Michael Schembri

To National Executive
Socialist Alliance

For publication in Alliance Voices

I have been sitting on my resignation from the Socialist Alliance for many months. With knowledge of the DSP discussion bulletins that Greg Adler quoted from, I can no longer justify even my now nominal membership of the SA.

I anticipate the typical vilification that will be thrown at me from the DSP cadres. Therefore I need to explain a bit of my history:
  • I was a leader of the Young Communist League in Malta.
  • I was twice elected Faculty of Education student representative at the University of Malta.
  • After coming to Australia I have been active in anti-racist, antiwar work, Palestine solidarity, lesbian/gay liberation and as a union activist for almost 17 years, and an elected union rep for 10 years  in Australia Post.
  • I am a supporter of the Fourth International, which has actively pursued regroupment projects (eg Sri Lanka, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Quebec, USA, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, UK, Scotland, Brazil, Portugal, Philippines).
  • I participated in a tiny regroupment exercise many years ago.
  • I joined the Socialist Party (then called Militant) at a time of another bold regroupment attempt by sectors of the far left.
  • I left the SP primarily because that group refused to join the Socialist Alliance, a refusal which I thought highly sectarian and non-Marxist.
  • I served for a time on the Alliance national executive, representing the affiliate group Socialist Democracy.
  • I was one of the mainstays of the weekly Gaywaves program on the Sydney radio station 2SER FM for 15 years, and regularly promoted SA, socialist policies and anti-capitalist campaigns on air.
  • Currently I work as a union organiser.
Despite DSP attempts at denigrating the smaller affiliates, my experience as a member of the affiliate Socialist Democracy, was quite to the contrary. We did not prioritise our political life as a group above engagement with the SA nor did we attempt to work or caucus as a grouplet to the detriment of the SA. We had publicly rejected the idea that small groups, self-proclaiming as Leninist vanguards or nuclei, had any future. We supported the SA politically and financially, and contributed to discussions on policy areas such as Palestine. We recruited not to SD but to SA, as a broad, pluralist and inclusive alliance of the left. Inside the SA we always argued and voted, not for our own interests, but for what we thought was the best path to a broader, more effective socialist alliance.

In contrast, while pretending to become a "tendency" inside the Alliance, the DSP tightened its "Leninist" political, financial and organisational discipline, and caucused to advance its own interests against the independents and other groups in the Alliance, supposedly as we step-by-step increased mutual respect and trust among comrades. It controlled the staffing of the Alliance, where we met, which campaigns we engaged in, what education was allowed, what was and wasn’t published. The agreed plans for a book never bore fruition, and hopes evaporated for a vibrant Seeing Red or a new Socialist Alliance monthly. Even an independent internet discussion was forbidden. Only the DSP’s Green Left Weekly was mandated for all Alliance stalls and the conference majority voted over and over to extend the failing "trial" to make GLW "our paper".

In Sydney my comrade Ken Davis and I were instrumental in organising the SA entry in the Mardi Gras parade in 2003. Despite heavy rain, and support form very few in DSP, we had a great response from the hundreds of thousands of onlookers for our antiwar message and had great coverage in the Sydney Star Observer (a free gay weekly paper.)

I emphasise all this because DSP apologists typically don the mantle of anti-sectarianism and accuse the smaller affiliates of working against the SA.

We had high hopes for the SA, which we thought was an opportunity for socialists to break out of our increasing organisational and political isolation. After the Coalition got into government in 1996 there was a big change within the far left. Far left groups, and individuals within them, started talking to each other. More, they actually co-operated with each other. The SA seemed to be a logical next step, not just here, but also in many comparable countries..

The project itself was initially designed to be an electoral alliance. However the DSP soon wanted to force the pace towards a regroupment towards a “united socialist party” with some sort of guaranteed leadership role for themselves, as the only real revolutionary Marxist-Leninists, and indeed as the only ones capable of organising activism. No one else supposedly had much role to play, other than financial support for the possibly unsustainable and increasingly narrow GLW. Not only was it not fair to demonise the ISO for insisting on the SA remaining what they had agreed to, but it was to be done the way the DSP (in alliance with the so-called Non-Aligned Caucus – or rather succeeding versions of it, most of whose leaders have subsequently been alienated from the Alliance) wanted it. This unholy alliance gave the DSP the numbers it needed; those who disagreed were vilified. In the last two conferences – in which the DSP consciously tried to limit participation – the DSP had a majority of delegates in its own right, even though it was a minority overall in the Alliance membership. Socialist Democracy opposed this forced pace because we maintained that there were issues to be sorted out first, primarily the way the DSP operated.

The DSP insisted that only “those who do the work” should take part in decision-making, or even write for the Alliance Voices, but the DSP defined valid socialist political work as only that (in terms of unions, campaigns, selling GLW, fundraising) which was perceived as important by its own apparatus, the survival of which is paramount.

The DSP flouted the unanimously agreed "united front" position of the Alliance in the lead up to the federal elections, and hyped its sectarian stance of the main enemy being the ALP and the factionally left unions. Claims were made, despite our minimalist electoral results, that the Greens were getting scared of us. The sectarianism of the DSP’s stewardship of the Alliance makes it worse than irrelevant to me and my comrades in my union, struggling against the employer/Howard offensive.

They attack those independents and affiliates who are leaving the moribund Alliance as if we are abandoning the fight against Howard’s new anti-working-class legislation, but where has the DSP been, apart form selling a few GLWs at the mobilisations? The DSP has shut down most Alliance operations since the June conference to send their cadre to Venezuela and concentrate on a secret and bitter debate about whether they are a Party or a Perspective, or whether they will mothball the Alliance, a debate that seems to have no bearing on analysing the relationship of class forces in Australia or internationally, or developing a strategy for the struggle of the Australian working class.

The revelations from the DSP discussion bulletins not only vindicate our reservations about the process the DSP forced through. Unfortunately it is now evident that they envisioned the SA project as an attempt at hegemony and the destruction of other affiliates and traditions in the left right from the start.

The DSP now stands accused of dealing a severe blow to the project of left co-operation and revitalisation.

However, as Greg Adler has already pointed out, I am glad that the world does not start and end with the SA-DSP. For those with the dedication, time and energy there is a lot of useful and urgent work to be done, particularly in the struggle for our rights at work.
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