Socialist Party (Australia)
|Founded||1985 (as Militant)|
|Headquarters||Victorian Trades Hall, Melbourne|
|Political position||Left-wing to Far-left|
|International affiliation||Committee for a Workers' International|
The Socialist Party (SP) is a Trotskyist political party in Australia affiliated with the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI). The SP currently has two branches in Melbourne. It publishes a monthly magazine called The Socialist which contains a socialist perspective on news and current issues.
The Socialist Party (Australia) traces its influences through the British Trotyskyist Militant group which organized within the UK Labour Party. It began in 1985 as a small faction within the Australian Labor Party (ALP), when members who had lived in Britain and become members of British Militant returned to Australia to help build an Australian section of the organisation.
The group was originally known as Militant. At that time the ALP was seen by Militant as having "maintained its internal democracy and its active working class membership base", and so they participated politically within that party. They organised primarily within the New South Wales trade union movement and Young Labor (the youth wing of the ALP). At one point, Militant had control of three Young Labor branches.
During the early 1990s when the ALP and most social democratic parties internationally moved to the right, and after other Marxist groups (including their sister party British Militant) were expelled by Labour parties overseas, Militant left the ALP. They wrote that by that stage it had "played a key role in the introduction of neo-liberal policies and no longer has democratic structures that ensure workers interests are represented".
After leaving the ALP, the group became known as the Militant Socialist Organisation before becoming the Socialist Party in line with its counterpart in the UK (in 1996 the unrelated group that used to be called the "Socialist Party of Australia" from 1971 changed its name). The name of the organisation's monthly newspaper was changed from The Voice to The Socialist, and in May 2012 the 8-page broadsheet format was changed to a longer magazine format.
Socialist Party has one branch in Victoria and individual members across the country. It actively campaigns on a range of issues, and holds regular branch meetings open to the public. It argues for revolutionary socialist politics, while also participating in election campaigns, and has had two local councilors elected from its Melbourne branches, in the City of Yarra. It continues to argue for the establishment of a new 'mass worker's party' to replace the ALP, based on trade unionism, community participation and a democratic membership.
On 22 February 2016, 10 members of the SP, including City of Yarra councillor Stephen Jolly, announced their resignation from the group, accusing the organisation of covering up abuse against a woman. The party denied all allegations and detailed the comprehensive investigation that was undertaken by an independent international commission.
The Socialist Party has been involved in a range of campaigns. In 1996, members of Militant were heavily involved in a year-long occupation of Richmond Secondary College in an attempt to prevent the school from being closed. This campaign was partially successful, as the schoolgrounds have been maintained as Melbourne Girls College. Militant played a prominent role in campaigns against right-leaning state governments in Victoria and New South Wales during this period.
It has also been involved in the campaign for the rights of refugees, including participation in the Woomera Detention Centre protests, and was involved in the anti-globalisation and anti-war movements. Along with a range of other left groups, they also had a presence at the Occupy Melbourne protests. Members often participate in larger protests, including events such as Melbourne's annual St Kilda Gay Pride March and May Day rallies. SP has played a role helping to organise left-wing and youth movements against far-right organisations, including the One Nation political party. In Perth, the party has helped to launch the West Australians Against Racism campaign (WAAR).
In 2003 SP initiated a campaign for young casual workers' rights called Unite, which subsequently became established as Unite Union. In 2012 they initiated a broad campaign over cost-of-living issues in Australia, known as "Fightback!". The campaign has focused on issues such as free public transport, opposition to TAFE funding cuts, and opposition to cuts on university campuses.
Since 2004 they have played a prominent role in local council politics in the Yarra area of Melbourne (see below). SP has been influential on council housing estates in Yarra, encouraging the formation of resident's organisations. In 2011, they initiated a campaign with public housing tenants to oppose the sale of land allocated for public housing in Yarra, a campaign which they have maintained into 2013.
On Christmas Eve 2012, the Victorian State Government announced plans to privatise parts of the public housing developments in Fitzroy, Richmond and Prahran, aiming to provide an equal mix of public and private housing by building private developments on parkland used by public housing residents. The SP initiated the "Hands Off Melbourne's Estates" (HOME) campaign with public housing residents, organising a rally on 24 March 2013 and meeting with the Trades Hall Building Industry Group to secure union support for the campaign. Shortly before the rally, the State Government announced its intention to back down from development on the Fitzroy and Richmond estates, where the campaign was most organised. They have yet to back down on plans for the Petty Horace estate in Prahran.
The Socialist Party has a history of involvement in the opposition to the East-West Tunnel, a proposed infrastructure project in Melbourne's north that involves building a road tunnel ostensibly to ease congestion. The project has come under substantial criticism from many sources since its inception, and the government has been slow in releasing information on the full nature of the project. The Socialist Party holds the position that the tunnel 'is not about making the lives of ordinary people easier' but is 'about serving the needs of the big transport companies', and they contend that it will not substantially ease traffic congestion, but will divert funds from public transport as well as causing damage to the areas through which the tunnel will be built. They instead support the expansion and improvement of public transport to improve service to Melbourne's outer suburbs and to reduce congestion.
In early 2013 the Socialist Party initiated a pledge campaign to canvass support for community action against the construction of the tunnel, and a series of pickets were initiated in the Yarra area and Melbourne's CBD. These were aimed at delaying and preventing test drilling for the tunnel project and at picketing the offices of Leighton Holdings subsidiaries John Holland (one of the reported contenders for the tunnel construction contract) and the Victorian Government's Linking Melbourne Authority (LMA). This led to the LMA abandoning work on the final drill sites in October 2013, only to make another series of attempts from the 16th December. Further community pickets successfully blocked work on the drill sites in subsequent days and the drilling was abandoned a second time. In March 2014, test drilling was restarted and abandoned a third time, leaving nine planned drill holes yet to be completed, 4 months behind the initial intended deadline. The picket campaign has received substantial media attention in Melbourne, with media outlets accused of demonising and misrepresenting the protestors.
Pressure from the tunnel's opposition led to the ALP publicly reversing their position on the tunnel project ahead of the 2014 state elections, and the opposition to the tunnel was credited as a key factor in the November 2014 electoral defeat of the incumbent Liberal state government.
In early 2015, the Socialist Party initiated the No Room For Racism campaign. In Melbourne, they organised large counter-demonstrations of 3-4 thousand people against the newly formed right-wing group Reclaim Australia in April and July 2015. Following the dissolution of Reclaim Australia into separate organisations, the Richmond Town Hall became the target of an anti-Islamic rally held by the United Patriots Front due to the SP having an elected local councilor in Yarra, although the town hall building was empty during this rally and the party was holding a forum to develop the No Room For Racism campaign in the CBD at the time.
SP periodically raises money for various international CWI fundraising appeals, in 2010 providing assistance after the Pakistan floods, in early 2012 providing assistance to Campaign Kazakhstan and in 2013 providing support towards the formation of the Workers and Socialist Party in South Africa.
SP campaigns for democratic socialism, opposing the bureaucratic 'communist' dictatorships of countries such as China, North Korea, and Cuba. It is closely affiliated with the CWI sections in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China which stand in opposition to the Chinese Communist Party. It follows in the Trotskyist tradition of internationalism, and attempts to produce a Marxist analysis of current events to inform its various campaigns. It approaches collaboration with other left groups from a 'united front' perspective, working alongside other groups while maintaining independent political views.
SP publishes a list of policy positions on the back page of each edition of its monthly magazine. SP has a democratic internal structure, in which all members vote on resolutions at an annual National Conference, which elects a National Committee to oversee the party between conferences. At branch meetings and national conferences, all members have full democratic rights of discussion, debate, and voting rights. SP operates on the organising principle of democratic centralism, interpreted as: "the right of all members to discuss programme, policies, strategies and tactics inside the party, while agreeing to a united approach outside around the majority decision." SP keeps the majority of its branch meetings open to the public.
Attitude toward BDS campaign
Unlike much of the Australian far-left, the SP does not currently endorse the tactic of a "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" campaign against Israel as they argue it is "unlikely to have a significant economic impact, not least because it will attract only partial participation... (and it would) alienate Israeli workers, who are the only force capable of removing the brutal Israeli regime".
Instead, they support a revolutionary socialist solution in the conflict, writing: "A single state solution will be fought against to the death by the Israeli state, backed by their own working class. A capitalist two-state solution, as pushed by the likes of US and the EU, will be a Jewish dominated state with second-class rights and standards of living for the Palestinian masses. By far the best solution for working people and the poor in the region is a socialist two-state solution."
This is similar to the class-based opposition to the Israeli regime pursued by Ma'avak Sotzialisti ("Socialist Struggle"), the CWI section in Israel.
Election of Socialist Party councillors
In the past SP has had two local councillors in the City of Yarra. On November 2004 an SP member, Stephen Jolly, was elected to the City of Yarra. Jolly was elected to the Langridge Ward at the 2004 council elections with a first preference count of 12.34%. He was re-elected to Yarra council in 2008 with a first preference count of 29.18%, out-polling the Greens candidate in his ward (who received 26.29%) and the ALP (who received 16.12% in 2008, down from 28.14% in 2004). After the 2010 Victorian State election, the Melbourne Leader reported that the SP was likely to pick up a second seat from retiring ALP Mayor Jane Garrett who had been elected to the seat of Brunswick. The vacancy was filled by Anthony Main, secretary of Unite Union, who was elected into that seat on 23 January 2011.
In October 2012 the SP ran five candidates in three wards for the nine-seat council election. Stephen Jolly again outpolled all other candidates in his ward and across Yarra. As in 2008, he was re-elected on first preferences alone. The party increased his first preference vote to 34.34%. Anthony Main received 11.75% running in Melba ward, quintupling the Socialist Party's vote in that ward and becoming the third highest first preference individual candidate there. He failed to win a seat after preferences were allocated. The Socialist Party received 36.56% (up from 29%) in Langridge Ward, 11.75% (up from 2%) in Melba Ward and 10.71% (up from 5%) in Nicholls ward for all their candidates. Their total vote across Yarra was 18.96% (up from 12.16%).
Socialist Party has opposed each annual budget in the city of Yarra, being the only councillors to consistently vote against rate rises and neoliberal budget policies. In addition, they have raised resolutions to make council activities more transparent, and publish regular reports on Yarra Council meetings.
They oppose unpopular developments and have campaigned to block developers from holding secret meetings with councillors or attending secret 'Councillor Briefing' sessions inaccessible to the public. They oppose the use of parking waivers in areas with limited street parking available, and have lobbied for a new indoor sports centre and the use of unused council buildings as hubs for local artists. Their polices include reversing the privatisation of rubbish collection, providing more childcare facilities, and the expansion and improvement of public housing. They intend to use council positions to oppose the sell-off of public housing land by the state government, and to bring the maintenance of public housing estates back under council control. They are known for providing representation for the residents of public housing estates in council chambers, including bringing media attention to issues such as inadequate maintenance and cockroach infestations, and they work with residents to lobby council for improvements to sporting facilities at Atherton Gardens. Despite having an absolute minority on council (and being the only dissident votes on many issues), they have managed to achieve some changes by mobilising ordinary residents outside of council chambers, such as securing funding for a public transport advocacy group, helping to revive the Brunswick Street Festival and saving the Loughnan Hall and Tudor Street community centres in Richmond.
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