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Socialist Alternative (Australia)

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Socialist Alternative
AbbreviationSA, SAlt[1]
Founded1995; 29 years ago (1995)[2]
Split fromInternational Socialist Organisation
HeadquartersMelbourne, Victoria
NewspaperRed Flag
Revolutionary socialism
Political positionLeft-wing[3] to far-left

Socialist Alternative (SA or SAlt) is a Trotskyist organisation in Australia. Its members have organised numerous campaigns and protests around LGBT rights, climate change, racism, refugee rights and more. The organisation also intervenes in the trade union and student union movements. It has branches and student clubs in most major Australian cities and publishes the fortnightly newspaper Red Flag.[4]

Socialist Alternative organises the annual Marxism Conference in Melbourne, a public event featuring discussions on radical history, revolutionary theory, and anti-capitalist politics.[5]

In 2018, Socialist Alternative helped to establish the Victorian Socialists, an electoral project to win federal, state, and local council positions for socialist candidates in the state of Victoria.


Socialist Alternative was established in 1995[2] by ex-members of the former International Socialist Organisation (ISO) in Melbourne.[6] Following debates over the orientation of the ISO to the Australian political situation, the members were expelled for arguing that the ISO held "overblown" expectations of the 1990s combined with "a super-inflated estimation" of its capabilities.[7] This was part of the debate internationally within the International Socialist Tendency over the nature of the contemporary political situation and how socialists should respond, with the leading organisation in the Tendency, the British Socialist Workers Party arguing, the 1990s were like "the 1930s in slow motion".[8] Like in Australia, splits occurred within the IST in other countries, including New Zealand, Greece, Germany, Canada, South Africa and France. In addition to splits, the International Socialist Organization in the United States were expelled from the IST.[9]

Socialist Alternative has links with several other groups previously part of the IST, such as the ISO in America, the Internationalist Workers' Left in Greece, Socialisme International in France, and Socialist Aotearoa and the International Socialist Organisation in New Zealand. Since 2013, Socialist Alternative has maintained permanent observer status within the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, a worldwide organisation of revolutionary Marxists.

Until 2003, Socialist Alternative was based primarily in Melbourne, when the organisation began establishing branches in other Australian cities following a surge of growth out of the S11 protests against the 2000 World Economic Forum meeting in Melbourne.

Socialist Alternative was invited to join the Socialist Alliance in 2001. The Alliance grouped the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP), the ISO, and other Australian far-left groups and individuals. Socialist Alternative eventually declined to join due to the Socialist Alliance's strong emphasis on running in parliamentary elections.[citation needed] Socialist Alternative saw this parliamentary emphasis in the flat political climate as a restriction to building activism on the ground and representing a turn towards reformist politics. Socialist Alternative entered into unity discussions with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), which had been expelled from the DSP in 2008.[10] This merger proposal prompted the Socialist Alliance to reopen unity discussions with Socialist Alternative.[11] On 28 March 2013, the RSP the RSP voted unanimously to merge with Socialist Alternative.[12]


Socialist Alternative maintains that parliamentary elections are not the key to social change. However, it does not reject voting in elections outright and sees elections reflecting the state of mass political consciousness. Therefore, the organisation promotes whom it votes for and whom it believes the left should support during election periods, for example, calling for the left to unite around SYRIZA in the 2012 Greek legislative election.

From 2018 onwards, Socialist Alternative has been engaged in Victorian Socialists. Victorian Socialists started as an electoral alliance with Socialist Alliance and some independent socialists, but in 2020 Socialist Alliance withdrew.[13]


As a participant in the Refugee Action Collective, Socialist Alternative took part in the 2002 protest at the Woomera Detention Centre in which several refugees, with the aid of demonstrators outside, tore down the facility's fences and broke out.

Socialist Alternative has been involved in organising within anti-war campaign groups such as the Stop the War Coalition and has participated in demonstrations across the country, including the protests against the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the 2008–2009 war on Gaza, the 2007 APEC Conference, the 2006 G20 Summit, the 2006 war on Lebanon, the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and have been involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign[14] and solidarity actions with the Arab Spring.

Since 2004, the Socialist Alternative has participated in the Equal Love campaign – the main campaign group that advocates marriage equality in the country. Many Socialist Alternative members have been elected as National Union of Students Queer Officers and have used this position to promote Equal Love and attack the Rudd-Gillard Government for not repealing John Howard's ban on same-sex marriage. Several Socialist Alternative members are notable for their same-sex marriage activism. Member Roz Ward co-founded the Safe Schools Coalition Australia, the organisation that organised the Safe Schools Program.[15]

Since early 2009, Socialist Alternative has been involved in building Students for Palestine, and campus activity,[16] including the protests against the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid and helping fundraise for the Viva Palestina 5. In 2011, Socialist Alternative members were among 19 arrested in a Melbourne demonstration targeting Israeli-owned chocolate chain Max Brenner for its donations to the Israeli Defence Forces, as part of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign supporting Palestinians against the state of Israel.[17] SA has been called anti-Semitic by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students and other organisations which claim that support for Palestinians is a form of anti-Semitism.[18] Socialist Alternative maintains that Israel does not represent Jews but only claims to do so, and argues that their group takes "a firm stand against all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism".[19]

Socialist Alternative has been involved in the campaign for refugee rights, building campaigns to mobilise opposition to the policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing.[citation needed] In 2002 they built the protests against detention centre at Woomera, which led to a mass break-out of refugees.[20] Since the election of the Rudd-Gillard Labor government in 2007, they have continued to organise and campaign around the issue.

Membership routine[edit]

Socialist Alternative has branches in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Adelaide and Wollongong – branch members attend weekly meetings.[21] In Melbourne, the group has been based at Victorian Trades Hall. SA advertises public meetings through leafleting on street stalls, campuses, at demonstrations, and through bill posters.[22]

The group also hosts the annual Marxism Conference, a public event featuring discussions on radical history, revolutionary theory and anti-capitalist politics.[5] It is the largest event of its kind in Australia.[23]

Student activism[edit]

Members of Socialist Alternative assisted in the construction of this effigy of former Prime Minister John Howard, made by the Victorian College of the Arts Student Union. The building in the background is RMIT University, occupied during a demonstration against education cuts in 2005.

Socialist Alternative maintains student clubs at many universities around Australia, and their political work often emphasises student-based campaigns. The group is involved in organising student protest actions around several issues which often draw national attention, such as a stunt during a 2014 episode of Q&A demonstrating opposition to government plans for increased higher education fees,[24] the large nationwide protests in response to the 2019–20 Australian bushfire crisis,[25][26] or a protest against former Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.[27]

According to National Executive member Mick Armstrong, Socialist Alternative's focus on student work is part of a perspective that the organisation has adopted for the political period due to what they see as their limited size and influence in the working class movement and the lack of any substantial radicalisation in society. Socialist Alternative's political orientation to students mirrors the development of the British Socialist Workers Party during the 1980s.[citation needed]

Socialist Alternative participates in campus student union elections and the National Union of Students as a faction and claims to be the largest to the left of the National Labor Students. As revolutionary socialists, the group opposes both the Liberal [28] and Labor parties.[29] It has come under attack from a range of factions in student politics, including Liberal students,[19] both Left[citation needed] and Right Labor students[30][31] and claims to have been slandered by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students for its strong support for the Palestinian liberation struggle and consequent opposition to the state of Israel.[19]

Socialist Alternative was deregistered as an official club by the Monash Student Association in September 2014, cutting them off from student union funding.[32] The student association deregistered Socialist Alternative because of accusations that it had discriminated against Jews at one of its campus meetings.[33] Socialist Alternative said Jews were welcome at the pro-Palestinian meeting and the event's main speaker was Jewish. It said a particular group of students were denied entry after they refused to sign a petition calling for an end to Israel's economic blockade of Gaza, and had attempted to disrupt the meeting.[34][35] This occurred in the aftermath of a campus meeting held by SA in support of Palestinians struggling against the Israeli military's Operation Protective Edge. Socialist Alternative argued that similar meetings took place at other campuses in Australia, at a time when several Australian student unions were passing motions "condemning Israeli war crimes and occupation" and large demonstrations were being held in support of Palestine.[34] Academics around Australia signed an open letter opposing the deregistration of the Monash club as "the most serious attack yet in a nationwide campaign to stifle free speech on university campuses".[36]

Trade unionism[edit]

Members of Socialist Alternative who are employed are politically active within the trade union appropriate for their industry. Socialist Alternative's members are active in trade unions, including the National Tertiary Education Union, in which lecturer and Socialist Alternative member Liam Ward was elected to the RMIT University Branch Committee as part of a left-wing oppositional ticket that replaced the previously established union leadership in 2010.[37]

Socialist Alternative rejects the practice of forming separate 'red unions', arguing that such projects isolate socialists from the organised working class and are premised on a top-down method of artificially substituting a radical union leadership for the rank and file, instead arguing for activists to rebuild rank and file organisation within existing unions irrespective of their conservative leadership. In 2010, Socialist Alternative member and Queensland Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association delegate Duncan Hart organised supporters of same-sex marriage within the union in a rank-and-file challenge against the socially conservative SDA leader Joe de Bruyn.[38][39]


Though one of Socialist Alternative's stated aims is to contribute towards building a revolutionary party that can intervene in – and lead – mass working-class struggles, they do not consider themselves a political party at their current size and influence. Originating in the political tradition of the International Socialist Tendency, Socialist Alternative defend the position that a socialist revolution can only come about through "workers taking control of their workplaces, dismantling existing state institutions (parliaments, courts, the armed forces and police) and replacing them with an entirely new state based on genuinely democratic control by the working class". Describing itself as a "propaganda group" at its current size, Socialist Alternative attempts to relate to its audience primarily on the level of ideas, rather than seeing itself as a party that can be capable of leading mass struggles. While Socialist Alternative supports existing trade unions as essential components of workers' struggles, it believes that capitalism can only be successfully overthrown if a revolutionary party is built to challenge the hold of the ALP and the trade union bureaucracy over the working class, in conjunction with similar parties internationally.

In 2012, the Police Federation of Australia demanded that the Victorian Trades Hall Council cancel a Socialist Alternative public forum on "police racism and violence", as Trades Hall was where the meeting was to take place.[40] The Council complied with the Police Federation's request; however, the meeting went ahead after several people turned up for the meeting and occupied the Trades Hall foyer, causing the Police Federation to split from the Council.[41]

Socialist Alternative sees Russia's October 1917 Bolshevik revolution as a genuine socialist revolution. However, it asserts that the following "imperialist" attack on the country and the failure of the revolution to spread to Western Europe led to its ultimate defeat by Stalin's "counter-revolution".[42]

Australian parties[edit]

Socialist Alternative's red bloc contingent at an anti-WorkChoices demonstration in Melbourne, shortly before the federal election in 2007

SA is hostile to the conservative Liberal Party and is highly critical of the Labor Party (ALP) for its perceived rightward shift and acceptance of neo-liberalism. SA classifies the ALP as a "capitalist workers' party" – seeing it as qualitatively different from the Liberal Party due to its organisational relationship with the trade union bureaucracy – that still governs in the interests of the capitalist class. Socialist Alternative is critical of the ALP's Fair Work Australia, which it sees as a similar version of the Liberal's WorkChoices, alongside its maintenance of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Socialist Alternative describes the Greens as a middle-class party equally committed to maintaining Australian capitalism as the two major parties and accuses them of "populist left nationalism".[43] Socialist Alternative rejects reformism outright and defends Rosa Luxemburg's position in her work Social Reform or Revolution that reformism is "not the realisation of socialism, but the reform of capitalism".[citation needed]


From 2009 to 2011, members of the organisation edited the annual online theoretical journal Marxist Interventions (MI).[44] The overall aim of MI was to make Australian Marxist writings more readily accessible to audiences.[citation needed]

In 2010, the organisation launched a biannual theoretical journal, Marxist Left Review, edited by Sandra Bloodworth.[45] The journal aims to "engage with theoretical and political debates on the Australian and international left".[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Worth their SAlt: why the Socialist Alternative wants YOU". Crikey. 23 June 2014. Archived from the original on 14 March 2021. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  2. ^ a b "Socialist Alternative". Reason in Revolt Project. 5 February 2007. Archived from the original on 5 May 2023. Retrieved 10 June 2007.
  3. ^ Bainbridge, Alex (23 April 2016). "Socialist Alternative splits rally with misguided tactics for "fighting Fascism"". Green Left. Archived from the original on 16 January 2023. Retrieved 16 January 2023.
  4. ^ "About Red Flag and Socialist Alternative". Red Flag. Archived from the original on 1 November 2020. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
  5. ^ a b Phillips, Ken (9 April 2023). "Reporting from the Marxist front line". The Spectator Australia. Archived from the original on 11 April 2023. Retrieved 11 April 2023.
  6. ^ "What's left of the left soldiers on". The Age. 1 May 2002. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  7. ^ "Marxist Left Review Issue No.26". Marxist Left Review. 5 July 2022. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  8. ^ Socialist Workers Party Central Committee (11 May 2005). "Statement on Relations Between the SWP (GB) and the ISO (US)". whatnextjournal.co.uk. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  9. ^ "Listing of International Trotskyist Tendencies". Marxists Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 10 November 2016. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  10. ^ "Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) launched". Revolutionary Socialist Party. 9 April 2011. Archived from the original on 4 March 2011. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
  11. ^ Boyle, Peter (6 November 2012). "Australia's biggest socialist groups begin unity talks". Green Left. Archived from the original on 19 November 2012. Retrieved 15 March 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  12. ^ "Revolutionary Socialist Party". Revolutionary Socialist Party. Archived from the original on 30 July 2013. Retrieved 28 July 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. ^ "Socialist Alliance withdraws from Victorian Socialists". Socialist Alliance. 14 May 2020. Archived from the original on 8 August 2023. Retrieved 8 August 2023.
  14. ^ Hurst, Daniel (26 August 2011). "Protesters target Max Brenner cafe". Brisbane Times. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  15. ^ Tomazin, Farrah (16 December 2016). "Safe Schools program to be overhauled and founder Roz Ward removed". The Age. Archived from the original on 19 October 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Pay docked over Palestinian support". The Age. 1 April 2009. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  17. ^ 19 arrested at anti-Israel protest Herald Sun, 3 July 2011. Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  18. ^ Zwartz, Barney; Morton, Adam (4 September 2006). "Jews in fear of hardline uni groups". The Age. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  19. ^ a b c Zwartz, Barney; Morton, Adam (4 September 2006). "An unholy alliance". The Age. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  20. ^ "Woomera protesters claim they're protecting escapee". ABC News (Australia). 29 March 2002. Retrieved 2 March 2010.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "About Red Flag and Socialist Alternative". Red Flag. 15 October 2020. Archived from the original on 21 November 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  22. ^ Leaflet – Explaining the History of a Racist Nation, Socialist Alternative, Aug 2002 Archived 21 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine Museum Victoria. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
  23. ^ "Britain: We should feel bankers' pain". Green Left. 23 January 2011. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  24. ^ Ireland, Judith; Browne, Rachel (5 May 2014). "Q&A hijacked by protesters, Anna Burke praises Christopher Pyne". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 6 December 2023. Retrieved 10 June 2020.
  25. ^ "Bushfire emergency leads thousands to protest against PM and climate change policies". ABC News. 10 January 2020. Archived from the original on 10 September 2021. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  26. ^ "Australia: Thousands protest government inaction on bushfires and climate change". World Socialist Web Site. 22 January 2020. Archived from the original on 29 January 2023. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  27. ^ "Protesters Derail Former Australian Prime Minister's Appearance at Sydney University". The Australian. 1 September 2022. Archived from the original on 11 July 2023. Retrieved 11 July 2023.
  28. ^ "25/09/2003: Liz Walsh". ABC News. 23 August 2014. Archived from the original on 11 June 2015. Retrieved 14 December 2008.
  29. ^ Crook, Andrew (15 September 2009). "Young Liberals find their campus saviours: the ALP". Crikey. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  30. ^ "Outlaw flag burning, Anderson urges". The Age. 5 November 2002. Archived from the original on 25 April 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  31. ^ "Reckoning for a divided union". The Age. 26 July 2003. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  32. ^ Jacks, Timna (5 September 2014). "Socialist Alternative student club deregistered". The Age. Archived from the original on 26 July 2023. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  33. ^ Levi, Joshua (8 September 2014). "Uni deregisters Socialist Alternative". The Australian Jewish News. Archived from the original on 27 July 2023. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  34. ^ a b Taylor, Daniel. "Accusations of anti-Semitism against socialist students are lies". Red Flag. Archived from the original on 26 July 2023. Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  35. ^ "Political witch-hunt against Socialist Alternative on Australian campuses". World Socialist Web Site. 13 September 2014. Archived from the original on 26 July 2023. Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  36. ^ Narunsky, Gareth (28 September 2014). "Socialist Alternative row rumbles on". The Australian Jewish News. Archived from the original on 26 July 2023. Retrieved 26 July 2023.
  37. ^ "RMIT Branch Committee". RMIT University. 27 July 2011. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  38. ^ Schechner, Sam; Grand, Chip Le; Hannan, Ewin (7 June 2014). "Union revolt on same-sex marriage ban". The Australian. Archived from the original on 7 June 2014. Retrieved 11 June 2024.
  39. ^ Hart, Duncan (18 September 2016). "The System Has Failed Retail And Fast Food Workers, Says Coles Fair Work Winner". New Matilda. Archived from the original on 1 March 2020. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  40. ^ Oakes, Dan (4 July 2012). "Brutal treatment: union split after speakers 'put the boot' into police". The Age. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  41. ^ Oakes, Dan (4 July 2012). "Trades Hall ties cut by police association". The Age. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  42. ^ Bloodworth, Sandra (2008). How Workers Took Power. ISBN 0-9579527-2-4.
  43. ^ "Marxist Left Review Issue No.26". Marxist Left Review. 4 October 2022. Archived from the original on 11 November 2023. Retrieved 11 November 2023.
  44. ^ "Marxist Interventions". Socialist Alternative. 28 April 2017. Archived from the original on 3 January 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  45. ^ a b "About". Marxist Left Review. 14 April 2019. Archived from the original on 20 December 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2020.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]