Socialist Alliance (Australia)

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Socialist Alliance
Co-Convenors Susan Price
Alex Bainbridge
Founded 2001
Headquarters 22–36 Mountain St
Ultimo, NSW 2007
Newspaper Green Left Weekly
Youth wing Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance
Membership Increase1,870+[a]
Ideology Socialism
Political position Left-wing
Colours      Red
Local government (Victoria)
Local government

Socialist Alliance is a socialist Australian political party. With branches in all states and territories[1], it claims to be the largest group on the Australian left.[2]

Engaging in a combination of grassroots activism and electoral politics, the Socialist Alliance currently has two elected officeholders across Australia, both of whom serve on the local government level. They are Sue Bolton, a member of the Moreland City Council and Sam Wainwright, a City of Fremantle councillor.

Socialist Alliance’s stated aim is to “replace the capitalist system with one in which the fundamental elements of the economy are socially owned and controlled and democratic systems of popular power established” through a “sustained mass campaign of total opposition to capitalism”.[3]

The party is involved with the trade union, climate change and education movements in Australia. It takes strong left-wing stances on numerous issues, including refugee rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, anti-racism and public ownership. Socialist Alliance also proposes nationalising the banking, energy and mining sectors, raising the minimum wage and reducing the working week to 30 hours. It opposes the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC), the building of new coalmines in Queensland and also any attempts to privatise public services such as Medicare.[4]

The party also places a large emphasis on international socialist solidarity. It is actively involved in supporting many left-wing movements around the world, such as those relating to Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America[5], Palestinian independence, Kurdish self-determination in North Syria, as well as social-justice and pro-democracy ones in South-East Asia, particularly in West Papua.[6]

The Socialist Alliance also opposed U.S. and Australian military interventions such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, and played a leading role in founding the Stop the War Coalition in a number of cities.


Formation and growth[edit]

The Socialist Alliance was founded in 2001 as a loose alliance of socialist organisations and individuals. The project was initiated by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and the International Socialist Organisation along with 6 other founding socialist organisations, to create greater left unity in the aftermath of the protest of the World Economic Forum in Melbourne on 11–13 September 2000.

Many non-aligned socialists were attracted by the idea of left unity, and soon after its formation the Socialist Alliance grew to a point where a majority of its members were not members of any of the affiliate organisations.[7]

Debate on form[edit]

In response to this growth, the Democratic Socialist Perspective and many non-aligned members won a majority at successive national conferences for measures that would move the Socialist Alliance in the direction of becoming a united socialist party, rather than simply an alliance of groups and individuals.

Most of the affiliate organisations, however, in particular the International Socialist Organisation, preferred to keep the Socialist Alliance as a broad left-wing electoral front for socialist organisations and individuals.

In late 2003, the Democratic Socialist Party resolved to become "a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance", renaming itself the "Democratic Socialist Perspective" as a step towards turning the Socialist Alliance into a "Multi-Tendency Socialist Party". This move was supported by some 75% of conference delegates at the Socialist Alliance's national conference that year,[8] although other affiliates remained opposed.

The 2005 National Conference saw the emergence of a number of particularly sharp political differences. These centred on: the extent to which the Socialist Alliance should criticise the Australian Labor Party; whether the organisation should have a formal relationship with the newspaper associated with the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Green Left Weekly, as a step towards Socialist Alliance itself having its own newspaper; and whether non-aligned members should have an automatic majority on the organisation's national executive.

Withdrawals and merger[edit]

Following this conference three of the leading members of a "Non-Aligned Caucus" and most of the active affiliate organisations gradually withdrew from the Socialist Alliance. The "Non Aligned Caucus" was an ad hoc grouping of members who weren't aligned to any affiliated organisation which formed[9] in the lead up to the 2003 national conference.

In January 2010, the Democratic Socialist Perspective voted to merge into the Socialist Alliance, in effect ceasing to exist as an affiliate organisation.[10]

2012-13 discussions with Socialist Alternative[edit]

In September 2012 the Socialist Alliance initiated unity discussions with Socialist Alternative, the other main group on the Australian far-left.[11][12] At the time, Socialist Alternative were in unity discussions with the Revolutionary Socialist Party (Australia) which led to a merger in early 2013.

After approximately a year of leadership discussions, joint forums and participation by Socialist Alliance at Socialist Alternative's Marxism conference, the Socialist Alternative leadership publicly announced that they were pulling out unity discussions in November 2013, but remained open to ongoing collaboration.[13] Socialist Alternative claimed the Socialist Alliance's approach to a Transitional Program and electoral politics was "not sufficiently similar to carry through a sustained and productive unity."[14]

While the Socialist Alliance welcomed the opportunity for ongoing collaboration,[15] it was critical of Socialist Alternative's reasons for withdrawal.[16] Leading Socialist Alliance member Dave Holmes accused the Socialist Alternative of "sticking with its very narrow, propagandist view of socialist politics" rather than seeking to unite to appeal to socialists more broadly.[17] The Socialist Alliance published the full correspondence on the unity discussions in its discussion bulletin, Alliance Voices.[14]

Merger with Resistance[edit]

At its national conference in 2014, the socialist youth organisation Resistance voted to merge with the Socialist Alliance and become its official youth organisation.[18] The new organisation renamed itself Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance.[19]

Resistance elects its own leadership body to coordinate the party's youth work and organise its youth conference, Radical Ideas.

Branches and membership numbers[edit]

In addition to having branches in major capital cities Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, and Hobart, the Socialist Alliance also maintains branches in and around a number of regional centres, including in Newcastle, Armidale, Darwin, Fremantle, and Geelong.[20] The Socialist Alliance also has individual members spread across rural and regional Australia.[21]

The Socialist Alliance is a registered political party at a federal level,[22] and annually maintains[23] electoral registration in New South Wales[24] and in Victoria.[25]

Federal registration requires 500 members,[26] Victorian registration also requires 500 members in Victoria,[25] and 750 members are needed for NSW registration.[27]

These figures reflect electorally registered members, however, and may not be an accurate measure of active or financial membership. A Socialist Alliance Perspectives resolution published in Alliance Voices in February 2012, suggests a membership figure of approximately 600,[28] making it the largest organisation on the Australian far-left - approximately twice the size of the next-largest group, Socialist Alternative.[29]

Socialist Alliance members are generally organised in branches of at least 7 financial members, however the party Constitution allows for “at large” members living in areas with no nearby branch structure to join.[3]



The Socialist Alliance website carries all of the organisation’s press releases, public statements and articles by members, as well as the Constitution and a detailed set of policy documents. Socialist Alliance local councillors Sam Wainwright and Sue Bolton also maintain the individual websites (Sam’s Freo Report and Sue’s Moreland Report).

Draft program[edit]

In addition to material published on the party website, in 2012 the Socialist Alliance produced a draft programmatic document called "Towards a Socialist Australia", which was made available both online and in print form.

"Towards a Socialist Australia" was not intended to be a final document, but rather as a means of starting “a broad discussion about socialism we will advance and further unite the socialist movement in Australia.”[30]

Discussion bulletin[edit]

The Socialist Alliance internal discussion bulletin Alliance Voices is published online and is publicly available as a downloadable file on an ad hoc basis.

Newspapers and journals[edit]

The newspaper Green Left Weekly – which is politically associated with the Socialist Alliance – runs a weekly Socialist Alliance column called "Our Common Cause". The Socialist Alliance also has a close working relationship with Links – International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

For around one year the Socialist Alliance published a quarterly journal, Seeing Red, the final issue of which came out in March 2006.

The Brisbane local newspaper The Westender[31] has also run a column written by the Socialist Alliance, and its members have been published on sites such as ABC's The Drum and Online Opinion.

Books and pamphlets[edit]

The Socialist Alliance and its members have published a large number of pamphlets and books, primarily through Resistance Books, on a range of historical, political and social justice issues.

In 2013, Resistance Books published Conflict in the Unions by Douglas Jordan, a systematic examination of the political (rather than industrial) activity of the Communist Party of Australia in the trade union movement between 1945 and 1960, in particular trade union support for the peace movement, attitudes towards the post-war mass immigration program, and the emerging Aboriginal civil rights movement.

In 2009, Terry Townsend wrote The Aboriginal Struggle and the Left, which examines the role of the Communist Party, militant unions and socialist activists in supporting the Indigenous movement through a decades-long ‘black-red alliance’.

Also through Resistance Books, in 2000 Michael Karadjis published Bosnia, Kosova and the West – The Yugoslav Tragedy: A Marxist View, providing a Marxist analysis of the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, and arguing that the West’s concern over human rights was designed to mask the pursuit geopolitical interests in the region.

In 2013, Zed Books published Latin America's Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism by Roger Burbach, Michael Fox and Socialist Alliance member Federico Fuentes, which examines the origins and underpinnings of the new kind of socialism emerging from the social movements and radical left governments in the region. Fuentes has also co-authored three books in Spanish with Chilean political scientist Marta Harnecker on the new left in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Paraguay.

In 2011, former Green Left Weekly editor, Simon Butler published Too Many People? Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis with Ian Angus, the editor of the journal Climate and Capitalism, through Haymarket Books. The book seeks to refute the idea that “overpopulation”, rather than the capitalist system of production, is a major cause of environmental destruction, and argues that focusing on population not only misunderstands the crisis, but weakens responses to it.

Socialist Alliance member and Aboriginal activist, Sam Watson, is a playwright and author of several works, including Oodgeroo - Bloodline to Country and The Kadaitcha Sung.

Election results[edit]

While the Socialist Alliance participates in elections, standing candidates at a range of levels, it does not see electoral politics as the most important vehicle for building socialism. Rather, it sees its participation in elections not as a way “to "represent" people's movements, but as a way to strengthen them and help them win their demands.”[32] Socialist Alliance candidates also pledge to take only an average wage if elected, donating the remainder into the social movements.

The Socialist Alliance first campaigned in the 2001 federal election, however candidates were listed as independents on the ballot as its application for electoral registration was suspended when the election was called early.

The Socialist Alliance has continued to run candidates in federal, state and council elections.


At the 2004 federal election the Socialist Alliance received 0.12% (14,155 votes) in the House of Representatives,[33] and 0.11% (13,305 votes) in the Senate,[34] failing to reach 2% of the vote in individual seats.

In the 2007 federal election the party's vote declined to the background level of "independent" candidates, with only 9,525 votes in the Senate,[35] the Australian federal election, 2010 saw the Socialist Alliance receive 32,580 (0.26%) Senate votes,[36] while remaining steady on 0.08% of votes cast for the House of Representatives.[37] [38]

In the 2016 federal election the Socialist Alliance fielded senate candidates in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, and House of Representatives candidates in four seats across those states.[39]

Federal parliament[edit]

House of Representatives
Election year # of
overall votes
 % of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Government
2004 14,155 0.12(#11/26)
0 / 150
Increase 0
2007 9,973 0.08 (#12/19)
0 / 150
Decrease 0
2010 9,348 0.08(#12/20)
0 / 150
Decrease 0
2013 5,032 0.04 (#16/32)
0 / 150
Decrease 0
2016 3,653 0.03 (#31/47)
0 / 150
Decrease 0
Election year # of
overall votes
 % of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
# of
overall seats
+/– Notes
2004 13,305 0.11(#20/29)
0 / 40
0 / 76
Increase 0
2007 9,525 0.08(#18/24)
0 / 40
0 / 76
Decrease 0
2010 32,580 0.26 (#14/24)
0 / 40
0 / 76
Increase 0
2013 2,728 0.02 (#45/49)
0 / 40
0 / 76
Decrease 0
2016 9,968 0.07 (#40/50)
0 / 76
0 / 76
Increase 0


New South Wales[edit]

The Socialist Alliance first ran in the New South Wales state election, 2003, where it won 5,428 votes in the Legislative Council.[40] In the 2007 election, the Socialist Alliance received 15,142 votes (0.4% of the primary) in the Legislative Council[41] and 1,257 votes in the Legislative Assembly, almost triple what it received in 2003.[42] In the 2011 election the Alliance's result declined to 9,770 votes in the Legislative Council[43] and increased to 3,180 in the Legislative Assembly.[44] The result further declined to 8,489 votes in the Council and 1,295 votes in the Assembly in the 2015 elections.[45][46]


The Socialist Alliance first ran in the Victorian state election, 2002, securing 3274 votes or 0.11% of the vote.[47] In 2006, the party's vote dropped to 1102 or 0.04%.[48] In 2010 the party won 1787 votes, or 0.06%.[49] The results were stable for the next election in 2014 at 1728 votes, 0.05% of the vote.[50]


In the 2004 Victorian local government elections, Socialist Alliance did relatively well in two councils in Melbourne. In the Moreland City Council elections, two candidates exceeded 4%.[51][52] In the election in the Boroondara City Council, a Socialist Alliance candidate won over 12% of the vote (in the absence of an Australian Labor Party-endorsed candidate) in Cotham ward.[53][54]

The 2008 Victorian local government election results were also positive. The Socialist Alliance polled almost 19% in the Stoney Creek ward of the Melbourne municipality of Maribyrnong[55] and polled over 10% in all wards bar one that it contested across the state.[56]

In October 2009 the Socialist Alliance won its first election when Sam Wainwright was elected for the Hilton Ward of the Fremantle City Council.[57][58] In October 2013, Sam Wainwright was re-elected to Fremantle's Hilton Ward with an outright majority of 58.33%.edit

In October 2012 the Socialist won its second election when Sue Bolton was elected to Moreland City Council in Melbourne's northern suburbs.[59]

Bolton and Wainwright, along with the Socialist Party’s Stephen Jolley on Yarra Council, are currently the only politicians in Australia elected on an explicitly socialist platform.

Grass root campaigning[edit]

While the Socialist Alliance, its affiliates and non-aligned members continue to put forward and argue for socialist politics in the electoral arena, the organisation places a stronger emphasis on building successful grassroots campaigns as a way of promoting socialist politics.[60] In the recent unity discussions with Socialist Alternative,[17] the Socialist Alliance re-emphasised its support for this “transitional method” towards campaigns, arguing that campaign work is key to leading people to understanding the need to transform the whole capitalist system.

The Socialist Alliance has been involved in a broad range of campaigns since its formation, reflecting both its own developing political orientation, as well as the activities and politics of its affiliates. These include in trade union movement, education, and climate change movements, as well as numerous other grass roots campaigns including refugee rights, same-sex marriage rights, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, climate change, and international solidarity with movements such as the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination, the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America,[5] and social-justice and pro-democracy movements in South East Asia.


The Socialist Alliance places great importance on strengthening the union movement, with members active in a range of unions including, amongst others, the Australian Services Union, the Australian Education Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Nursing Federation, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Finance Sector Union, the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Workers, the New South Wales Teachers Federation, the Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union, the Transport Workers Union and United Voice.

In line with its criticism that the ALP is holding back and bureaucratising the union movement, the Socialist Alliance encourages workers and unions to break with Labor, to strengthen democracy in the unions and to set up a "new workers' party", however it also works alongside rank-and-file union members on industrial campaigns, regardless of political affiliation.

In 2005 and 2006, the Socialist Alliance initiated and helped organise trade union "fight-back" conferences,[61][62][63] in response to the Federal Government's "WorkChoices" legislation, attracting hundreds of union militants and members of other socialist groups.[64] The Socialist Alliance was involved in the Your Rights at Work campaign against WorkChoices that followed, as well as the campaign to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).[65][66]

The Socialist Alliance has been highly critical of the Australian Labour Party's industrial policy for not returning enough rights to workers and for retaining the ABCC, describing the Rudd government’s Fair Work Australia as little more than "WorkChoices-lite".[67]

Notable Socialist Alliance trade union leaders have included Chris Cain, Western Australian State Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia; Tim Gooden, secretary of the Geelong Trades and Labour Council; and Craig Johnston, former Victorian State Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union,[68] who was jailed for 9 months in 2004 after an industrial dispute at Johnson Tiles in 2001.[69]

Anti-war and civil liberties[edit]

The Socialist Alliance is opposed to US and Australian military interventions such as the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Socialist Alliance, its affiliates and members played a central role in the campaigns against these wars in 2001 and 2013. The Socialist Alliance also played a leading role in founding the Stop the War Coalition in a number of cities, and organising protests in the years that followed.[70]

Socialist Alliance members are also active in promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.[71]

The Socialist Alliance opposes the "war on terror", claiming that it leads to increased racism against the Arab and Muslim communities, and to government policies that threaten civil liberties.[72][73] Socialist Alliance members were central to organising the protests in Sydney against APEC in 2007,[74][75] and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, in the face of increased police powers that were heavily criticised for violating civil liberties.[76][77]

The Socialist Alliance conducts this work alongside other groups and individual activists in local community peace groups and in broader coalitions like the Stop the War Coalition,[78][79] and the Gaza Defence Committee.[80]

The environment[edit]

The Socialist Alliance is involved in a variety of campaigns around environmental issues, most notably climate change, helping to organise the 2006 Walk Against Warming rallies in some cities,[81][82] and producing detailed policies[83] on combating climate change which have been created through an open wiki process[84] with broad membership input. Since the 2007 Federal Election, the environmental website VoteClimate[85] has rated Socialist Alliance environmental policy number 1 (ahead of the Greens).[86]

Socialist Alliance members also helped to organise the[87] Climate Action Summit[88] in Canberra on 31 January – 1 February 2009, and is involved in building the new national Climate Action Network[89] that grew out of that summit.

The Socialist Alliance argues that no solution to the crisis caused by global warming is possible without overthrowing capitalism, and criticises market mechanisms such as carbon trading as being unworkable, profit-driven and reinforcing the capitalist relations that it alleges caused the pollution to begin with.

Indigenous rights[edit]

The Socialist Alliance has played a role in recent campaigns for justice for indigenous Australia, particularly around the inquiries into the deaths-in-custody of TJ Hickey in Redfern[90] and Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island. In the case of Mulrunji, leading indigenous activist, academic and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson played a key role in organising the protests that led to the re-opening of the inquiry.[91]

The Socialist Alliance also opposes the Federal Government's Northern Territory intervention, and helped to organise the 12 February 2008 protests outside Parliament House in Canberra.[92]

Anti-racism and immigrants rights[edit]

The Socialist Alliance has been able to build growing support among some ethnic community sectors in urban Australia such as among Somali youth,[93][94] the Tamil community[95][96] and from within the Latin American community.[97][98][99] In the latter case, the Socialist Alliance has been an active supporter of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and is affiliated to the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network.[100]

Socialist Alliance members have also been involved in the struggle for refugee rights, opposing mandatory detention of illegal immigrants, and calling for Australia to pursue a more humane policy on refugees.[101]

Public services[edit]

The Socialist Alliance advocate quality public services, calling for increased funding in public education, healthcare, housing and transport. They also advocate expanding the public sector with nationalisation of large multinational corporations. Furthermore, they call for capitalist enterprises that have received taxpayer-subsidies to either repay their subsidies back to the taxpayers in full or be nationalised without compensation. The Socialist Alliance is involved in campaigns against privatisation like those planned by the New South Wales Government (for example electricity[102] and prisons[103]), alongside the Greens, unions, ALP members and community groups. They maintain that all privatisations must be reversed with nationalisation.

Social justice[edit]

The Socialist Alliance is also active in a number of other social justice campaigns, including LGBTI rights,[104][105][106] women's liberation,[107][108][109] welfare rights,[110][111] and prison reform,[112][113] as well as around local issues.[114][115][116][117] After an editorial by OUTinPerth accusing socialists of taking over the movement for equal marriage rights,[118] prominent LQBTIQ campaigner and Socialist Alliance member Farida Iqbal issued a reply arguing that the Socialist Alliance and others had played a prominent role in the Australian movement for marriage equality since it began in 2004.[119]

International solidarity[edit]

The Socialist Alliance also actively campaigns in solidarity with international pro-democracy movements as far ranging as Latin America,[120] the Middle East,[121][122] Western Sahara,[123] Zimbabwe,[124] South East Asia,[125][126][127][128] and elsewhere.


Other political organisations on the Australian far left have criticised the Socialist Alliance project. Socialist Alternative, for example, contest that a sustained mass radicalisation had been born out of the anti-capitalist movement or that a significant layer of disillusioned ALP voters are willing to join a socialist electoral program.[129] Socialist Alternative also criticises the Socialist Alliance for what it perceives to be an over-emphasis on electoral work.

Upon its resignation from the Alliance, the former International Socialist Organisation accused the Democratic Socialist Perspective of what it deemed "disastrous decisions" such as declaring the Alliance a multi-tendency socialist party and adopting Green Left Weekly as the official paper, which the ISO saw as alienating other Alliance members and affiliates.[130]

The Revolutionary Socialist Party (who formed in 2008 as a split from the DSP over debates about the Socialist Alliance) accused the Alliance project of remaining "heavily dependent on the DSP’s political and organising efforts and fundraising." The RSP also (incorrectly) claimed that only the DSP remained an affiliate of the Alliance by 2008.[131]

Due to the similarity of their names and initials, the Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative are frequently confused in the media and amongst critics of the social movements that they are involved in.


Active affiliate organisations[edit]

  • Sudanese-Australian Human Rights Association (affiliated in 2008)[133]

Inactive affiliate organisations, and organisations which have not formally disaffiliated[edit]

Former affiliates[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taking into account registration requirements for NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia, where the party is registered, as well as branch membership requirements in other states, which mandate for at least 7 members for a branch to be constituted.


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  4. ^
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