When I was very little there was a TV character called Hector the Road Safety Cat. His job was to teach kids to look both to the left and the right before crossing the street. And while building a socialist organisation in Australia may not be quite as perilous as crossing the road without looking, a failure to look both to our left and our right before proceeding may be just as dangerous.
Socialist Alternative's decision to drop its principled opposition to unity with socialist organisations that do not adhere to the “state capitalist” characterisation of all post-capitalist states is a crucial development for the left in Australia.
Crucially too, Socialist Alliance has responded to this initiative positively and open-handedly. There are still many issues to work though, as comrades on both sides have argued, but the process of seeking greater cooperation and unity among socialist forces in Australia is a very positive one. I would expect that delegates to the forthcoming Socialist Alliance national conference will dedicate a considerable amount of time to discussing the merits of this process.
However “Socialist Unity” is not the only game in town for Socialist Alliance this year. 2013 will be a federal election year; already prospective Liberal candidates are campaigning in South Western Sydney (Werriwa in fact - Gough Whitlam and Mark Latham's old seat), testament to the fact that they feel they have the wood on Labor, including in traditionally “safe” working-class electorates.
The Australian Green Party is also well aware that 2013 is a federal election year. According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald over the break, the party federally moved quickly at the end of 2012 to “mainstream” their program (see Greens go mainstream with policy rework and Greens soften policy stand). According to the SMH, the Greens have replaced many of their progressive policies with “aims and principles” giving elected Greens parliamentarians “greater flexibility” in implementing policy.
Just as it is crucial for Socialist Alliance to relate to a potential opening to greater unity with Socialist Alternative (looking to our left), it is also crucial that Socialist Alliance take account of the possible machinations of the Australian Greens (looking to our right).
As comrade Nick Fredman convincingly argued earlier in this discussion, the Greens are the political home of reformist politics in Australia, as once the left of the ALP may have been. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of political people, many of whom consider themselves to be left/progressive - even socialist - relate to the Greens as their party. Socialist Alliance must relate to this layer — many of whom may not be impressed with the “greater flexibility” of some Greens MPs.
Socialist Alliance should offer this layer a principled, progressive, socialist politics that they can relate to — even to the point of joining, depending on how far the Greens' “mainstreaming” develops (and let's not forget the history of the German Greens among others on this score).
Socialist Alliance delegates might also take note of the fact that many of the activists that we work with in the movements - particularly the broadly defined environment movement — could be described as being to our right. When considering changes to the structure or policy of Socialist Alliance at the conference, it's important that delegates consider this important part of our constituency and not act precipitously, in a way that would unnecessarily alienate these activists from our organisation.
In the Sydney West branch, we have had some useful experiences in building greater links with broader “environmentalist” forces in 2012. We built a local Climate Change | Social Change at Parramatta Town Hall in June for instance, which attracted around 60 people including a number of Greens' candidates, environmental activists and climate campaigners, and helped develop Green Left's network in western Sydney. As a follow up we organised a public forum on public transport, which likewise attracted a number of people outside our ranks to have a very useful discussion on alternative transport development.
At the public transport event, one participant asked a Socialist Alliance comrade staffing the door, “'Green Left' - is that the Trots, or something different?”. By the end of the meeting, this man had taken out a subscription to Green Left Weekly.
Anecdotally, I understand that a number of branches have had positive party building experiences by looking to our right. Perhaps other comrades might find some time to elaborate them?
Unquestionably Socialist Alliance must relate to the opening provided by Socialist Alternative's reassessment. Delegates should carefully assess proposed changes to Socialist Alliance policy and organisation that may, at least in part, progress this process; but in doing so, they should consider the fact that most roads are two-way.
A realignment of the left is important, but let's not forget the potential of much larger movement to our right either.