Splits and coalitions

Josh Fontes reports about the Australian left

George Bush’s whirlwind visit to congratulate John Howard for being on the ‘right’ side over Iraq presented the Australian left with the first major opportunity since the massive demonstrations earlier this year to push the democratic envelope.

Once again, it was left unopened.

Instead, the left split. The Walk Against the War Coalition (comprising all the significant left groups, several community organisations and sections of the trade union bureaucracy) that had formed the backbone of the anti-war movement in Australia this year, fractured along familiar lines.

Following a heated meeting at the Trades Hall in Sydney, two separate anti-war alliances were formed: the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition (comprising the old-school Stalinists of the Communist Party, the trade union bureaucracy, anti-imperialists stuck in the cold war and the usual array of social-pacifists); and the Stop The War Coalition (mirroring the UK STWC, with the Democratic Socialist Party as the dominant force). Sectarian history triumphed over the need to democratically unite.

And, as Bush flew in, the working class in Sydney was presented with the ridiculous situation of separate demonstrations within days of each other. The two groups built separately and somehow they studiously ignored each other along the way. In particular, the SPJC almost denies the existence of the STWC.

When asked whether the fact there had been two separate rallies had contributed to the poor turnout at the SPJC event  (only 1,000 people showed up on a glorious Sunday in Sydney), Bruce Lindsay, ex-Labor senator and SPJC convenor, said: “No, I don’t think so. We represent a broad cross-section of people. We’re happy doing what we’re doing” (my emphasis). Sorry, Bruce, but the working class needs more than sectarian navel-gazing.

Three days after the SPJC rally the STWC had their turn. If a diverse list of speakers and sponsoring organisations represents “a broad cross-section of people”, then the STWC put paid to Lindsay’s underhanded implication that only the SPJC could claim leadership of the anti-war movement because of diverse support. While there was a solid turnout of 5,000 at the STWC demo, this can only be considered disappointing in light of the hundreds of thousands that had swamped the streets earlier in the year.

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) put it down to the disillusionment people experienced after the inability to stop Australia’s participation in the war: “The optimism before March was that we could stop the war. We now need to convince people that we can bring about an independent Iraq,” said Nick Everett, from the STWC, DSP and Socialist Alliance.

True enough. But then the left never really capitalised on the possibility offered by the democratic undercurrent of the anti-war protests that could have built the foundations to achieve this.

The Socialist Alliance was sidelined right from the start of the anti-war push and it was never at the forefront of the recent anti-Bush rallies. It seems that for the DSP the SA is not yet in the position to be the leading organisation. No doubt they will tell us when they think it is. And, for the rest of the left, the SA either remains an electoral project or something to avoid acknowledging at all costs.