SA and liberalism: 20 points to consider

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Incredulous comrades ask, where is the evidence that SA is becoming a liberal organisation? Where are the signs that SA has adopted a social-democratic outlook? To be sure, there are no statements from SA declaring its aim is to win seats in parliament. There are no SA positions which expressly state opposition to the working class taking state power. There are no educational classes taking place on the theory of liberalism. A party which claims to be socialist, however, would always deny that it was adopting liberal positions. It would always swear blind that they forever remain socialist. Paraphrasing Marx though, just as we can't judge an individual by what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge the Socialist Alliance by what it claims to be. We have to examine the practice of the party, largely by its written and practical activity.

Below I present a list of examples of SA's written and practical activity in the last couple of years. It is not a comprehensive list, but one that will hopefully demonstrate some of what the RET refers to when it declares that its main objective is to counteract and eventually defeat liberalism within SA.

  1. Ecosocialism. The defacto adoption of ecosocialism is in our opinion a strong indicator of the influence of liberalism within SA. Ecosocialists claim that there are many “ecosocialisms”, and not all of them agree on what ecosocialism is. Therefore they claim they have yet to establish their view on whether a Marxist vanguard party is needed, or whether a party is needed at all. Some ecosocialists claim that they are yet to definitively establish whether ecosocialism as a whole supports the concept of the workers taking state power.We understand that there may be many strands of thought within ecosocialism, but none of these strands can make the claim that any branch of ecosocialism supports the working class taking state power in a revolutionary situation. Given this, we are left to assume that ecosocialism is a purely liberal concept.
  2. The war on Libya. I won't repeat the whole debate here, but suffice to say that liberalism played a huge role in the support that SA displayed for what clearly seemed to be a right wing uprising. We can debate about the exact content of the forces that opposed the former Libyan government of Colonel Gaddafi, but there was enough evidence to make a judgement that it was largely led by pro-imperialist, monarchist, ex-CIA and Islamic fundamentalists. It is not that SA wanted to support these elements. It did so rather because it felt compelled to go along with the “Gaddafi was a tyrant” line. This line was promoted by all Western governments, as well as Fox News. SA could not pull away from this line, as it operates from a liberal baseline, even if liberals only make up a small proportion of its membership.
  3. The downgrading of theory. Theory cannot afford to be a priority while building SA as a coalition. SA is trying to bring people on board while dismissing theory, in order to build SA as broad as possible. Hence, any political theory is allowed within SA, and members are not permitted to argue for any particular theory, Marxism especially. SA members are implored to learn from other political theories besides Marxism, so their good points have to be emphasised. There are good points in most political theories, even anarchism. Rebellion against authority could be regarded as a political asset in certain circumstances. Anarchism as a whole, however, it certainly not helpful for the struggle for socialism. Likewise for liberalism, libertarianism, anarcho-syndicalism and autonomism. The disregard for theory is a liberal trait, which concentrates its efforts on practical efforts within the status quo - capitalist class society.
  4. There is a heavy emphasis in SA on electoralism. It is important for Marxists to run in bourgeois elections when the conditions are correct for doing so. Yet, it must be recognised that there is a danger of liberalism during every attempt at running in bourgeois elections. SA now has a tendency to regard the electoral boundaries as they have been established by the bourgeois state as legitimate and just. Hence it promotes its members who have run in bourgeois electoral contests in such seats. We have to remember socialists only run in bourgeois elections while the proletariat remains unable to break from parliamentarism. Once it has broken, there is no longer the need to run in such elections.
  5. There is a distorted overemphasis on movement building within SA. The politics of social movements are inherently liberal, as they attempt to stop only one aspect of capitalist oppression. Socialists must get involved in these social movements to help them to succeed, but at the same time, we must recognise the limitations of the politics of these movements. Due to the emphasis on practice at the expense of theory, SA tends to artificially elevate the politics of social movements into something they do not possess, which in turn justifies adaptation. Involvement in the movement becomes an end in itself. Ironically, sometimes this involvement on its own is claimed as “Marxist” activity.
  6. A lack of political criticism of both the ALP and the Greens. It is true, there is some political criticism by SA, but the content of it does not attempt to explain the fundamental nature of these two parties as parties which defend capitalism. This may be because SA expects that it will have to work with these parties, if political developments lead to SA winning a handful of seats in parliament. It also may be because it justifies a defacto alliance with the Greens, as the Greens are mistakenly seen to be an arm of the environmental movement itself.
  7. As a related effect of building a broad coalition, which is not exclusively socialist or Marxist, non-socialist and non-Marxist spokespersons are promoted by SA, and their work is highlighted. SA attempts to induce its members to study non-Marxist political ideas, perhaps in the attempt to justify forming coalitions and alliances with non-socialist political forces. Non-Marxists are featured in a similar way in which Marxists would be featured in an exclusively Marxist party.
  8. Repeated and out of context political condemnations of the former Soviet Union. The criticism is not made in the manner of constructive criticism, but is made in a hostile and blanket form. It gives the impression that the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc was a historical error, which was not even worth attempting. In this form, the criticism becomes indistinguishable from common right wing opposition to the former Communist Bloc.
  9. There is a distorted overemphasis on the environmental movement. In this vein, a red-green alliance is seen as a vital necessity. This overlooks the fact that the politics of the environmental movement as a whole is just as liberal as every other social movement. The environmental movement is very important, but the limitations of its politics must be considered before declaring a joining of it and the socialist movement.
  10. As SA does not claim to be a Marxist party, the educational classes on Marxism it holds then become a purely academic exercise. Even if SA members learn some of the basics of Marxism, they are not permitted to put them into practice. Studying Marxism in isolation from practising Marxism leads to a situation similar to a regular bourgeois University, which studies some aspects of Marxism in a vain attempt to understand it, but never considers implementing or carrying out its ideas. As such, SA's Marxist education classes remain exercises in liberalism.
  11. The newspaper Green Left Weekly, in a situation where the main party behind it is not Marxist, steadily declines in its radicalism. The newspaper becomes almost entirely a newspaper of information, rather than of education. It provides information for those who wish to comment on society's political affairs, rather than actively intervene to change them. It becomes a newspaper contained of neither propaganda nor agitation which the working class can use to change its living conditions, but one rather suited to those who wish to comment from the sidelines. It promotes the kind of broad politics that the SA also wishes to further to advance its coalition building.
  12. From a position of one time critical solidarity with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea), SA now openly criticises North Korea in a hostile fashion, using similar methods as conservative and right wing critics. Hence, there are references to the “dictatorship” in the DPRK, allegations that the DPRK commits human rights abuses against its people, and a lack of comprehension of the context in which the DPRK has to operate. In focusing on elements such as the “leadership cult”, SA demonstrates that it is using the same approach as all liberal political forces. A study of the objective circumstances that the DPRK continues to attempt to deal with are not considered.
  13. The embrace of pluralism. Pluralism is a liberal concept, which is historically used by the emerging bourgeoisie in its struggle against monarchism and absolutism. Pluralism allows for all shades of opinion - provided these remain within the context of defending the capitalist status quo. SA today applies pluralism incorrectly to the struggle to unite socialists - a case of applying a law outside the sphere of its operation. Building the broad party should not be a case of embracing pluralism - only socialists should be uniting. Socialists uniting with non-socialists can only have the effect of diluting socialism and embracing liberalism.
  14. The junking of historical continuity of the international Marxist movement. When the former DSP dissolved into SA at the January 2010 National Conference, a chain was broken. SA could no longer claim a line of continuity back to the founding of the modern movement for scientific socialism. This is marked from the issuing of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. Now, SA openly states that it is not a Marxist organisation, yet it claims to be socialist. It is logically impossible to separate socialism from Marxism, but this is what SA maintains. If SA is a left wing organisation which openly states it is not Marxist (which in reality means it is not socialist), we have to assume that SA as a whole is a left liberal organisation.
  15. There is a tendency to welcome right wing elements taking part in social movements. For example, Alan Jones and Bob Katter, as well as real estate agents joining the movement against Coal Seam Gas. All three of these elements have their own reasons for temporarily supporting the anti-Coal Seam Gas movement, none of which can be applauded as being progressive. Just as SA welcomes a broad party which is so broad it includes non-socialists, so does SA welcome right wing elements into social movements so the movement can then be described as “broad”.
  16. There is a perversion of the function of policy within SA. As SA has no program, policy has effectively stepped into the void. SA policy is the main thing members can point to to ascertain SA's positions, with the slight exception of some resolutions. This is precisely the approach of mainstream capitalist parties - they have no program, as they don't seek to change the world. They only have policies which they put before the working class during parliamentary elections. If SA's policies are the main form of dialogue it has with the working class, we have to assume that it also only seeks to be elected to parliamentary office.
  17. The ignoring of Leninism. Leninism is probably the most important contribution to Marxist theory. But as its central ideas are contrary to the practice of SA, Leninism must be downplayed to such a degree that it is barely mentioned, if ever. Leninist party building tactics are almost the complete opposite of SA's party building tactics, so any discussion of Leninist theory has to be studiously avoided. Leninism is on the same continuum as socialism, the one can't be discussed without the other. The avoidance of Leninism must be taken as evidence that SA intends to remain in the liberal playing field.
  18. The dropping of feminism. As SA contains elements which cannot agree with Marxist feminism, the whole concept of feminism has to be put in the back drawer, almost for historical reference. It is only Resistance who can openly campaign for feminism, and even then, its campaigns for feminism are influenced by the less than radical politics of SA, as Resistance remains an affiliate of SA. Hence, Resistance cannot advocate that feminists join a Marxist vanguard party in order to change the world. It can only advocate joining movements - which cannot change the world on their own.
  19. There is a misshapen orientation to the Australian Greens. While socialists must relate in some fashion to those attracted to Green politics, this does not mean that we should throw everything at allying ourselves to the Greens. The politics of the Greens as a whole must be considered as paramount, not the wishes and desires of some members who join the Greens. Allying ourselves to the Greens inevitably results in SA overplaying the progressive moves the Greens make, and downplaying the regressive moves of the Greens. One result is the bolstering of support amongst the working class for the Greens, a party which again cannot change the world, and is not interested in fundamental change to the world.
  20. Miseducation amongst members on what leadership in a socialist party actually is. The leadership of a socialist party should be concerned with the ideological, theoretical and political development of all its members, to the highest degree possible. It should not just be concerned with the degree to which members are involved in social movements. Building social movements alone is not building socialism, for this the development of Marxist cadre is required. Unfortunately, SA openly declares it is not a Marxist party.