Left unity now more urgent than before

The abortive leadership spill in the Labor party on March 22 was yet another demonstration of its total political bankruptcy.

Kevin Rudd's leadership ambitions may now be in the dustbin of history but Prime Minister Julia Gillard has won a pyrrhic victory.

The public watched this gross display of principle-free power play in disgust. It seemed to make a government led by Liberal leader Tony Abbott a virtual certainty.

If Labor had changed its leadership, perhaps it would have enjoyed a bounce in the polls. But nothing would have really changed. Australia would still have a Labor government with the same conservative, neoliberal, pro-imperialist, pro-war, racist and sole parent-bashing policies.

Even with an electron microscope, you would be hard pressed to find a sliver of political difference between the Gillard and Rudd camps.

The only ruling political "principle" in the Labor party is self-interest, as the NSW Labor Right's Eddie Obeid coolly admitted in the ongoing corruption inquiry into his family’s dodgy dealings.

In the trade unions the dominant mood is fear. Most trade unions remain shackled by years of Labor hegemony of the most corrupt and bureaucratic kind. These bureaucrats sold out the demands of hundreds of thousands of trade union members and supporters who took to the streets against the former Coalition government's Work Choices anti-worker laws. The trade union bureaucrats settled for a Work Choices “lite” by another name: Fair Work Australia.

Now the labour movement faces the prospect of a renewed attack under a Labor-delivered regime of fines and jail terms for defending workers' interests.

An Abbott government would build on the racial hatred and scapegoating promoted by Labor.

The looming Abbott victory and the ruling class offensive that would follow underlines the urgency and importance of the left uniting to the strongest degree possible to present a real alternative to Lib-Lab pro-big business politics.

A more united and stronger socialist left could attract and inspire militant forces in the labour and other social movements to put up a stronger resistance to this offensive.

The Socialist Alliance believes that most of the political groups that call themselves "socialist” in Australia today could unite in a single political organisation, despite differences on some tactical questions, organisational style and form, and detailed political assessments.

The political differences that divide the socialist left are not huge. Democratic structures can be used to work through tactical differences.

The people who accept capitalist rule — and only want to reform it — no longer describe themselves as "socialists". They recoil in horror at the "s-word".

However, through experience, the Socialist Alliance has learnt that socialist unity requires more than political agreement around the need to replace capital with a new system based on real and participatory power of the majority, a system based on collective ownership, social justice and ecological sustainability. It also requires the political will to work together.

Too often small socialist groups just won't work together because each believes it is the only one with the correct political program. This is a sectarian delusion. But it is a persistent idea that expresses itself in a tendency to exaggerate political differences and an unwillingness to pursue and persevere with left unity.

But a new hope for left unity in Australia has been kindled over the past few months, especially as the two biggest socialist groups in Australia, the Socialist Alternative and the Socialist Alliance, began to discuss the prospects for greater collaboration and unity.

A Socialist Alternative delegation took part in this year’s Socialist Alliance national conference. The Alliance has endorsed and taken part in the Marxism 2013 conference organised by Socialist Alternative.

Another unity process between Socialist Alternative and the Revolutionary Socialist Party is set to culminate this month in a merger.

On March 17, the third formal leadership meeting between Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance discussed prospects for further collaboration and unity. It was a comradely, constructive and productive meeting.

Several collaborations, including united "Fightback" contingents and celebrations around May Day and joint public meetings on left unity, have been initiated by both sides. The organisations will be proceeding to a structured discussion on what common political program the two groups can agree on following Marxism 2013.

While much has yet to be worked through, the leaderships of these two parties seem to share a serious commitment to pursuing unity. This raises the hope that we can progress to a more united, more powerful socialist movement in this country.

The ongoing global capitalist crisis, continuing wars of imperial occupation, the irresponsible refusal of all capitalist governments to seriously confront the climate change crisis, and the prospect of an intensification of the class war — from the side of the billionaires who rule and the parties that serve them — means that the left has a duty not to squander this new chance to unite.

[Peter Boyle is the national co-convener of the Socialist Alliance.]