Left Unity?! Socialist Alternative and Revolutionary Socialist Party

Honestly, when I saw this on Slackbastard back in September, I thought it was a joke. A merger between Socialist Alternative and Revolutionary Socialist Party… What the f-ck?!

But then there was this, this, this, and this. If this is a joke, then it’s a pretty elaborate one.

In the past I’d argued that :

The society that existed in Russia after Stalin’s rise to power was not socialist. Nor are those in China, Cuba or Vietnam. Such regimes, which are merely a statised version of capitalism, are essentially no different from the West. Just as here, a small minority benefits from the labour of the majority. Whether that minority control is exercised through the state, private corporations, or a combination of the two, makes no difference to the fundamental dynamic of the system. – Socialist Alternative, General Principles

The contrast with Revolutionary Socialist Party seems clear:

According to the Victorian leaflet, the SA [Socialist Alliance – kb] believes that “the differences which do exist [among socialist groups] can be contained within a single organisation”. This ignores reality. For example, the Socialist Alternative (SAlt) group while formally opposed to US threats against Cuba, considers Cuba to be a capitalist state and advocates a mass armed uprising to overthrow the Cuban government. The SA has policy of solidarity with Cuba against US threats, but it hasn’t adopted a position on supporting Cuba’s socialist revolution. Perhaps, therefore, the SA could co-exist with SAlt in a united organisation in regard to its policy toward Cuba. But how could the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), which regards the Cuban Revolution as an inspiring example to the working people of the world of socialist politics in action, get along in the same party with socialists who advocate the overthrow of the Cuban government? –
Allen Myers in Direct Action, May 2010, ‘‘


It’s two and half years later and they’re a merging. Socialist Alternative is stepping back from ‘state capitalism’. RSP members are selling Socialist Alternative magazine alongside their Direct Action. There’s a joint Christmas party.

And no one mention the war?

Members of both organisations have told me that in the present situation, the political differences don’t matter, it’s a shared tactical position that brings the two groups together. They both want to build cadre style Lenninist parties with disciplined Marxist politics, rather than broad electoral alliances.

Anarchists always love a bit of Trot-spotting, but the merger of RSP and SAlt is worth considering for other reasons.

We continue to exist on the far left. The challenge for anarchists in Australia today is to begin the task of advancing anarchist ideas to people looking for an anti-capitalist alternative. As we do this we have to contend with the ideas being put forward by other groups. At the moment, Socialist Alternative remains the dominant grouping in our small pond.

And history matters.

Vietnam and Cuba matter for precisely the reason RSP said they matter in 2010. If you think Cuba is an inspiring example to follow, then what the hell is socialism? Socialist Alternative state their goal is “socialism from below”, yet they are making ready to accommodate apologists for dictatorship.

Any growth in far left politics has to be welcome news to an anti-capitalist. But the merger of SAlt and RSP poses a challenge for anarchists. When the pace of class struggle heightens in Australia, and more people look for an anti-capitalist alternative, we must make sure that authoritarian ideas are not the only ideas on offer.


  1. “the dominant grouping in our small pond”?

    I’ve raised this before, but SAlt really aren’t very big, and are mostly confined to Melbourne (and to a lesser degree Sydney). The Socialist Alliance is three times their size and active across the country in a wider range of struggles and in places many SAlt members haven’t even heard of. Some perspective, please…

    • Socialist Alternative don’t have a branch in the Illawarra!

      As I’ve said before, there’s more to assessing the far left than names on a piece of paper.

      When I’m arguing with fellow anti-capitalists about the merits of anarchist analysis, it’s not the ideas of Socialist Alliance that I am butting up against.

      There is a reason I try to assess this.

      The default position of anarchists seems to be to dismiss all Lenninist groups as irrelevant. The attitude is they can be ignored and bypassed. But this simply isn’t true. The fact is that anarchism in Australia has no capacity to take it’s ideas directly “to the masses”.

      At the moment we have to build capacity and expand the reach of our ideas by reaching out to individuals, and debating the merits of our position. The people who are prepared to listen are already to some extent anti-capitalists. And the other ideas they have encountered, against which they test our ideas, are much more likely to be those of Socialist Alternative than any other left group.

      On the other hand, when someone mentions Socialist Alliance, it’s usually enough to point out the failed electoral strategy, and the love affair with all things Cuba and Venezuala.

  2. Oh, clever response Kieran, except that:

    1. There is no “love affair with all things Cuba and Venezuala”. The Socialist Alliance positions on Cuba and Venezuela – should you care to actually read them, instead of assuming something which doesn’t exist – can be found here http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=215; and here http://www.socialist-alliance.org/page.php?page=214.

    2. Socialist Alliance membership is not just names on paper – it is hundreds of activists around the country, active in leading a wide variety of campaigns. If you wanted to count “paper” members, then the Socialist Alliance’s membership is in the *thousands*, not the hundreds.

    3. The “failed failed electoral strategy” is neither the key strategy, nor is it “failed. The Socialist Alliance just won its second council position, over ten thousand votes for mayor of Geelong and increased its votes everywhere it stood.

    4. “Socialist Alternative don’t have a branch in the Illawarra!” No. Nor in Armidale, Townsvile, Cairns, Geelong, Fremantle, Newcastle, Lismore, Darwin, Ballarat, or Hobart. Their branch in Adelaide is tiny, and their Perth branch is also quite small. And their Sydney presence doesn’t extend to western Sydney, nor to the Blue Mountains. All of which places Socialist Alliance exists, and plays an important role in campaigns (not just elections).

    5. If you are more likely to be encountering SAlt politics as the main challenge to anarchist ideas, that’s probably because of where you’re talking to people, not because SAlt is dominant nationally.

    It’s also worth pointing out that the Socialist Alliance has a small number of anarchist members (and had considerably more when it was formed).

    It is also not as hostile to anarchism as SAlt, and – not being a “leninist” organisation – is more interested in winning people to a broader anti-capitalist perspective, and to socialism and the need for political organising generally, and then encouraging them to get active, rather than forcing them to swallow whole one particular, fully-(mal)formed programmatic worldview.

  3. LeftInternationalistDecember 6, 2012 at 6:30 am

    One reason I always greatly prefered SAlt to RSP and other groups on the Left was that they did not look romantically at Vietnam, Cuba, etc, their committment to a politics of socialism from below, and that they did not automatically equate the nationalisation of the means of production- as countless social democrats and Stalinists do- as the be all and end all of socialism, freedom, and emancipation. The great Marxist Paul Lafargue described this as an idea which only those “ignorant of social conditions and steeped in bourgeois prejudices, could offer the nationalisation of public services as the Socialist ideal.” http://www.marxists.org/archive/lafargue/1882/06/socnat.htm

    As Engels put it so well, if state control and state production are to be defined as socialist, then Napoleon and Bismark were exemplarary socialists. It also plays into the hands of conservatives, who now seem to view any kind of state intervention, whether carried out by liberals, social democrats, conservatives, dictatorships, as ‘socialism’ in and of itself, which is, of course, nonsense.

    I don’t think its quite accurate to regard SAlt as a ‘Leninist’ formation as such, given most Leninists would regard them as heretics and far too unorthodox for that. Their views on organisation are not just narrowly culled from Lenin, but also from Trotsky, Luxemburg, Marx, Engels, and others. More accurately, I think they can be described as post-trotskyists, revolutionary democratic socialists, international socialists, influnced by people like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Trotsky, Gramsci, Tony Cliff, Hal Draper, CLR James, and many, many others. Regarding Lenin, they tend to agree with the view of him put forward by the historian Lars T. Lih in his biography and writings on Lenin (which they reviewed and highly recommended) who offers a substaintially different view of the man and his politics than the traditional liberal, conservative, anarchist, social democratic, Leninist, and (orthodox) Trotskyist view of Lenin.

    I would have liked to see the RSP commit to ‘socialism from below’ and reject the dictatorships in Vietnam and Cuba as examples of ‘socialism’ before merging with SAlt. I would much prefer SAlt working more with or merging with other groups that consider themselves libertarian socialists, and which are equally and sincerely committed to ‘socialism from below’.


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