While I've been waylaid by a bout of ill health for the past 2 years and consequently disengaged from the political coal face, I'm still a Socialist Alliance groupie.
I mean that because I'm very supportive of the project since I was dragged into its factional furore in 2003. when the various far left affiliates were determined to prevent the 'alliance' moving forward and developing into a 'multi tendency socialist party'.
When I say factional furore I do mean it was heated stuff, the worst of it unbeknown to the bulk of observers on the left and SA members. Then in dribs and drabs these affiliates who failed to win over the vast majority of the Alliance membership to their position , despite an open and extensive democratic debate, quietly licked their wounds and withdrew.
So in the period between its formation in 2001 and the split in the Democratic Socialist Perspective in 2008, the SA has been cause for much discord on the far left.
Not bad for a purported 'unity' project.
But then when you consider the history of similar unity projects elsewhere with the same international partners -- such as in England and Scotland -- a similar factional and divisive story emerges in the experience of Respect, the English Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party.
The Socialist Alliance success is that it has survived all this and still remains a viable enterprise.
I'll get back to that point later : how viable is the SA?
The SA can still argue for a left unity when the various tendencies on the far left have proven and stated often enough that are not the least bit interested in organisational unity for the foreseeable future. Consequently, these same elements have dismissed the Alliance as a failed exercise.
So how viable is the Alliance as a unity project when the far left orgs won't have a bar of it?
What these naysayers don't recognise is that the SA continues to unite socialists around a program of shared political activity. It continues its quest for left regroupment. It is open and accessible in a way that other far left orgs are not.
It is a step out of the far left ghetto because it has tried to develop an organisation that does not make a fetish over a boutique program or one that is ruled by its own 'circle spirit'. What unites the SA membership is a unity of shared activity not a coming together premised on a specific world view laid out in chapter and verse or shibboleth specific...
This means that in matters of platform and party program the SA develops slowly, even cautiously, as it tries to advance by dint of as much consensual agreement as possible.
It isn't line ruled.
It isn't line ruled.
This may, does and should have its handicaps but the Alliance nonetheless has survived a few sharp divisions within its ranks without the membership falling out among themselves. If you are trying to create 'a multi tendency socialist party' you are going to have divisions and differences. It will be par for the course.
At stake is how you resolve those disputes without alienating layers within the party while sustaining their commitment and allegiance.
At the same time you cannot simply ignore contemporary politics by allowing yourself the cop out the Greens employ and simply default to no position (and 'no' position so often means the relapsing to inaction).
Ultimately, this has to come down to a democratic challenge: how much real democracy there is.
Perhaps you could have a truly rooly democratic party but what's the point of it if it doesn't prosper?
And it's true that the Alliance has neither grown sharply over the last few years nor prospered at the ballot box. It has won one local government position -- Sam Wainwright in Fremantle -- but while the Greens may be seen as the main left alternative more general support for the Alliance at election time will have to wait.
Nonetheless, the Alliance is increasingly recognized as the socialists on offer come each polling day.
This handicap has not undermined what the SA gets up to the other 364 days of each year. This activity -- of being seen to always come out fighting in many and various campaigns while also standing in elections -- has drawn a mixture of people to its ranks: indigenous activists, people leaving the ALP, those disenchanted with the Greens, various ethnic community activists...and people who are located 'at large' where no significant socialist history exists, such as in rural and regional Australia.
This makes the Alliance a mixed bag of adherents -- a membership that is not readily summarized nor characterised -- of a nature that is not easily organised especially in the way far left Leninist type outfits tend to be. It is of no special type. While the SA continues to explore various organisational forms and norms it still is a party in waiting, for now more on a promise than at this moment on delivering the broad socialist party it set out to become.
It has occupied the green left niche in Australian politics and keenly advocated a sharp anti-capitalist agenda in response to Climate Change. In that way it is a major ideological challenge to the pragmatism and pro capitalism of The Greens and its platform is consistently judged the most radical but environmentally sustainable on offer at election time.
Similarly, its trade union perspectives both day-to-day on the job and its campaigning advocacy, are absolutely pro worker. While the SA has the broadest trade union implantation on the Australian far left , some unions will donate to the Alliance, but none, thus far, will formally and publicly support it.
That's in part due to its shallow electoral success (esp in comparison to The Greens) and the still strong rule Laborism has over the trade union movement here.
But I think where the Alliance has born the best results has been where it has forged broad alliances in a series of important campaigns and strived to sustain and build on those links.
The Alliance therefore exists on two levels: within itself in the form of a party associating and bringing different socialists together; and more broadly as an exercise in forging and consolidating broader campaigning alliances.
With its 7th National Conference coming up in January 2012, the world is still the SA's oyster.