From Class Struggle 50 May-June 2003

The Labour government has moved right as part of a popular front government that is openly attacking workers in Afghanistan, Iraq and here at home. The Greens and Alliance are committed to the dead end parliamentary road to reform capitalism. We need to build a new working class alliance that can fight for socialism in the unions and on the streets. Is a Socialist Alliance the next step? We think that it is provided that it is a democratic united front that can draw workers into action and is not a bureaucratic exercise dominated by tiny left groups.

Time to build an alternative to Labour

After the last election we wrote in Class Struggle that what we need in NZ is a Socialist Alliance. This was clear from Labour’s move to the right during its first term 1999-2002. We went into the election with the view that Labour was still marginally a bourgeois-workers party (with an obvious bourgeois program, but with the support of significant sections of the union movement- weak as it is). For that reason, while thousands of ordinary workers in big unions like the Engineers, PSA and Service and Food, had illusions in Labour as ‘their’ party, it was tactically necessary to get Labour re-elected to rid these workers of any remaining illusions that Labour acted for the working class.

As we expected the re-election of Labour saw a further shift to the right and a retreat from any pretence of a pro-workers program towards an open accommodation with the US war aims and international finance capital (free trade agreements, GATS etc). Labour was now divorced from the Alliance (which after the split with Anderton and the Alliance Council broke over Labour’s pro-war position on Bush’s ‘war on terror’) and shacked up with a fly by night Peter Dunne’s ‘United Future’ Party. Perhaps the time was ripe for workers to strike out and form a new workers party that did put the interests of workers centre stage.

Nearly a year later we think that we were right. Not only is Labour now part of a popular front government (i.e. Dunne’s‘United Future’ is a petty-bourgeois democratic party) but its rightward trajectory is now confirmed with the hardening of its pro-imperialist stance advocating the UN cover for Bush’s war on Iraq(including new anti-terror legislation directed at NZers). Many NZ workers now see Labour as engaged in an attack on workers in Afghanistan, Iraq and in NZ. If there were an election tomorrow we would stand worker candidates based in the rank and file of the unions.

But standing on what platform? We don’t want workers to vote for the Greens or Alliance. They are reformist parties that compromise with the bosses and offer only the dead end of the parliamentary road. Nor do we want to create a new Labour Party to repeat the history of old Labour’s betrayals. We want workers’ candidates opposed to imperialist war, but also opposed to the causes of war –capitalism and imperialism. That means standing on a working class platform to end capitalism and replace it with socialism. A platform that starts with immediate demands for what workers need now, such as cheap power and jobs for all, and going on to raise the demands that will be necessary to get them, such as the social ownership of the means of production and a Workers Government to plan for a socialist economy.

Socialist Alliance in Britain and Australia

The British and Australian Socialist Alliances offer some lessons on how not to build a Socialist Alliance. The whole point of an alliance of socialists is to unite the revolutionary left into a high level United Front as the basis for building a mass revolutionary workers party.

However, for this to happen there has to be inclusiveness of the revolutionary left around an anti-capitalist program; democracy in the organisation where all groups have a voice in proportion to their size; and discipline in doing united front work.Such a UF would then force the divided left to democratically organise around common struggles and to openly and honestly debate their differences. This is the best way to ensure that those with the best method and program win mass worker support and defeat opportunist and sectarian currents in the workers movement.

In England there are problems with inclusiveness, democracy and discipline. The English SA began as a purely electoral alliance and is heavily dominated by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) as its own ‘front’. The SWP uses its size to pick and choose what issues the SA will campaign on making it little more than an ‘open branch’ of the SWP. The withdrawal of the Socialist Party (SP), the only other large left tendency, from the English SA has consolidated SWP control. Ironically, in Scotland, the SP has been influential in forming the Scottish Socialist Party and forcing the SWP to dissolve itself and form a faction inside it. The SP should return the favour in England.

But the result, in England and Scotland, is not genuine United Fronts. They are electoral fronts in which two dominant parties call the shots and prevent or limit the mobilisation of workers around important industrial struggles. This means that because strong united front actions are bureaucratically manipulated, the parties that run the SAs do not get their bad programs exposed.

In Australia the Democratic Socialist Party, which numerically dominates the Australian Socialist Alliance, has decided to liquidate itself into the ASA. Its points to the SSP as the example it wants to follow. This demonstrates that the DSP is confident of its size and program and does not need to use its party organisation to control the SA. The DSP would then become a tendency(like the SWP in the SSP) among others in a single organisation.

This move was opposed by the ISO (linked to the British SWP but much smaller proportionately then its British ‘mother’) and the Freedom Socialists, who want the SA to remain a ‘United Front’, and by Workers Power which wants SA to campaign to build a mass revolutionary workers’ party.At a recent meeting the DSP won its position and the Australian SA is now officially a ‘multi-tendency’ party. Formally, each ‘tendency’ is free to continue as an independent party with its own program, but in practice, the majority in the ASA will tend to be dominated by the DSP and independents who want to create a ‘left’ reformist party on a minimum program.

Socialist Alliance as a United Front

The question is: given the mixed experiences in Britain and Australia, how can an Alliance of left parties be built as the basis of a future mass revolutionary workers’ party in NZ? The answer is to build it as a United Front and not as a single party. People who call themselves ‘socialist’ differ greatly in what they mean by it and how to get it. They need to be convinced to become consistent revolutionaries by the testing of their ideas in practical actions. A NZSA should be based on united campaigns to advance the interests of workers –such as rebuilding the unions under rank and file control, anti-war action, defence of migrants, opposition to police state etc.

While unity on such campaigns is essential, at the same time there has to be complete freedom of criticism and action by all the groups that belong – that is the right to form ‘factions’ in the SA. This would allow all left groups to join – inclusiveness – the SA as a United Front where common actions, such as elections, strikes, anti-war action etc can be made – discipline – but at the same time be free to fight for their own political program –workers’ democracy.

Where groups differ in principle on basic questions, they should have the right to independent political action. For example, CWG is part of a regroupment process with revolutionary Trotskyists on two continents in an effort to unite ‘principled’ Trotskyists around a revolutionary program and in a Leninist/Trotskyist international.Our program has many points that would not be agreed to by the other revolutionary lefts currents in NZ. Our differences have been well aired in Class Struggle over the years.

An important difference today would be our position of ‘Victory for Iraq’ in the war against imperialism. Others in a NZSA would not necessarily agree to the slogan ‘arms to Iraq’. On this question we would insist on our right to act independently of SA.A healthy Socialist Alliance that worked as a United Front on this basis would create some of the conditions necessary for the formation of a mass revolutionary workers party.

We have argued that there is a need to form a SA-like United Front in NZ that will create a forum in which the revolutionary left can combine on common actions but remain free to debate their differences in the workers movement. We should start by calling on the other revolutionary left groups to discuss a principled basis for a Socialist Alliance.

To facilitate this CWG puts forward some basic foundation principles for discussion:

Capitalism as an exploitative social system cannot be reformed by parliament.

Our goal is socialism –the social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

Socialism will only come from the self-organisation of the working class.

An alliance of socialists should be based on the method of the United Front and of workers’ democracy.

Workers Democracy means complete freedom to debate and discuss and hold minority positions, but unity of action once majority decisions are taken.

Where fundamental political differences exist, members will be free to act independently (that is, in their own name) of Socialist Alliance without losing their membership rights.

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