Means and Ends: Anarchist vs Marxist praxis

“The very revolutionaries who claim that they are against the state, and for eliminating the state…see as their central task after a revolution to build up a state that is more solid, more centralized and more all-embracing than the old one.” – Ron Taber, 1988 (1).


By Mitch

The remarkably common attitude among revolutionaries of all stripes is that “the means justify the ends”. We’re told it is acceptable to embrace authoritarian organisational practices because these practices are necessary to achieve an anti-capitalist revolution. As Anarchists we argue that the theory and organisational practice of revolutionary groups must be consistent with the principles upon which we want a future society to be based. We believe that the praxis of groups which seek communism should point them toward communism, and not toward statism, authoritarianism, hierarchy, and centralism. This is not mere idealism, the cold hard fact is that “ends” do not justify “means”, rather “means create ends”. Revolutionaries that embrace “means” that are in contradiction with the kind of society they wish to create will consistently fail to create that society.

Amongst Marxist-Leninist political tendencies the contradiction between means and ends starts with the idea of the vanguard party as the vehicle for social change. The vanguard party is supposed to be comprised of the most enlightened and class-conscious members of the working class. In practice, the vanguard party begins as a self-selecting minority. It seeks to draw in the most militant elements of the working class, but its structure remains centralised and authoritarian. This minority occupies centralised leadership positions and directs the political activity, strategy and tactics of the party. Whether or not there is real democratic accountability within the vanguard party on some intermittent basis, the vanguard party is a command structure in which decisions are made by a minority, and the majority is expected to put the plans and desires of the leadership into action.

The end goal of the vanguard party is to prosecute a revolution and achieve control of a ‘workers’ state’. During a transitional period between capitalism and communism called, ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’, the vanguard would utilise this authoritarian, hierarchical, and centralised state, in order to coordinate the running of society.

The structure of the vanguard party prefigures the structure of the workers’ state after the revolution, but it does not achieve the directly democratic communist society it claims to aspire toward. As a centralised minority, the party would have gained control over all the working class in a society. The same working class that historically and necessarily did the grunt-work to bring the revolution to that point.

Vladimir Lenin himself said, “a party is the vanguard of a class, and its duty is to lead the masses and not merely to reflect the average political level of the masses” (2).

According to Leninists, the vanguard party is necessitated by the idea that the working class is too burdened by ‘the muck of ages’ to emancipate itself, for itself. This means that the ruling ideas of capitalism plague people’s ability to be satisfactorily class conscious. These ruling ideas include sexism, racism, homophobia, and nationalism.

This is the historically-selective and pessimistic base on which the enlightened vanguardists decide that their party is necessary.

Yet the vanguard, who set out on a convoluted road which is ‘diametrically opposed to communism’ are plagued by some muck of their own (3). The latent authoritarian and hierarchical nature of the capitalist state remain as unchecked cornerstones of the workers’ state.

As Murray Bookchin argued in ‘Listen, Marxist’, ‘…the deep-rooted conservatism of [so called] “revolutionaries” is almost painfully evident; the authoritarian leader and hierarchy replace the patriarch and the school bureaucracy; the discipline of the Movement replaces the discipline of bourgeois society; the authoritarian code of political obedience replaces the state; the credo of “proletarian morality” replaces the mores of puritanism and the work ethic. The old substance of exploitative society reappears in new forms, draped in a red flag, etc…’ (4).

Classical Marxist and Leninist analyses of the state fail to acknowledge the way that assuming state power changes any ‘workers’ who do so. Contrary to what Marx argued, workers cease being workers when they take control of a state. They become self-appointed managers of workers, and so they cement themselves as a new managerial class, entirely distinct from the working class.

Mikhail Bakunin was correct when he argued that the ‘workers state’, “will consist of ex-workers. And from the heights of the State they begin to look down upon the whole common world of the workers. From that time on they represent not the people but themselves” (5).

It’s a perversion and a contradiction of the politics that originate these theories that workers should die in droves to overthrow thousands of bosses and replace them all with one boss — the state. Especially when this boss conceals its class status; cloaks itself in the guise of a fellow worker, of a comrade. It deviously calls itself a worker and not a manager of workers to justify its authority.

Leon Trotsky was right when he complained of Stalinism that, “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat” (6). It is ironic that he saw no contradiction in this state of affairs when he was so intimately involved in constructing Russia’s one party state.

It seems the over-worked proletariat is destined to remain the over-worked proletariat but a few enlightened workers graduate to a privileged position where they coordinate what work will be done, by whom, and by when. The creativity, initiative, and the ideas the emancipated working class have for the new society are apparently disposable in the eyes of Marxists. At least, they’re not worth as much as the ideas of the vanguardists who make the familiar and misguided claim that they know what’s right for people better than people do themselves.

It is evident that the praxis of vanguardists doesn’t prefigure anything beyond their own ascent to power. After they have gained power, the so-called ‘withering away’ of the workers’ state is a barely developed and meaningless sentiment based on the false idea that no classes would exist after workers (read: ex-workers turned administrators of workers) take power. This means that the fixed state institutions; its armies; its centralised networks of production; its education and media facilities that fill the society with the state’s own ideas, would magically disappear with the abolition of class.

The workers’ state won’t and can’t wither away. All ruling minorities have an interest in maintaining their position as such. A newly installed ruling minority will use its power and authority to further justify and entrench its own power and authority. It will have under its thumb a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence in a society, which has historically been used to give the workers’ state the authority to eliminate the state’s non-reactionary dissenters. Instead of encouraging the expression of ideas for the betterment of society from all who make up that society, the workers’ state creates itself with its own elitism and belief in the superiority of the ideas of the ruling vanguard. This is a fundamental part of the praxis leading to it. In order to maintain its rule, the so-called workers’ state will actively combat any opposing ideas with propaganda through the centralised control of media outlets and educational facilities, if not with direct force.

Fabbri notes that the state has ‘bureaucratic, military and economic foundations…’ and that ‘…in a short space of time what one would have would not be the state abolished, but a state stronger and more energetic than its predecessor and which would come to exercise those functions proper to it – the ones Marx recognised as being such – “keeping the great majority of producers under the yoke of a numerically small exploiting minority”’ (3).

Anarchists argue that while a revolutionary force is being built to smash the capitalist state, we must also be building the kinds of prefigurative institutions that will make libertarian socialism possible. Our task is to argue for and build a practice of neighbourhood, community, and workers councils. The alternative to a vanguard party is the creation of federations of participatory democratic bodies, outside the control of this or that political faction. To the greatest extent possible, before, during, but most importantly, after a revolution, these directly democratic, horizontal, and decentralised institutions must replace the centralised, state-run equivalents. In this way, anarchists seek to build the embryo of communism within the capitalist system, with the aim of both providing for the people where the state can’t, and of building the new world in the shell of the old.

When the capitalist state is smashed by the popular uprising, these decentralised institutions and councils can continue functioning, and any remaining useful functions of the state become coordinated by further federated councils of workers and regular people. If we have built the practice of participatory democracy, a centralised workers’ state is never required.

Of course, there would be the need to defend the revolution, and to this end anarchists argue for a people’s militia ‘rooted in workplaces and communities… and directed overall by the federation of councils [would] enforce its will against armed counterrevolution or foreign invasion,’ according to Wayne Price (7).

If we are opposed to the domination of a ruling class, clique or party, we must build a libertarian socialism that involves the participation of the mass of society in the process of decision making, economic coordination, and military defence.

The partisans of the ‘workers’ state’ and the vanguard party have a revolutionary program committed to anything but communism. Given they propose a society where power and initiative are both necessarily centralised features belonging only to the state and not to every person equally, they are not creating the necessary basis for communism, but rather totalitarianism.

Anarchists wish to create a society where no one person can exploit another for their own gain, and so the stepladder to power that is the state must be knocked over so that it can’t be reassembled — Not left to stand, and certainly not used to govern with a pessimistic fear that the people necessary to the revolution’s success are incapable of creating a new society through their own organising efforts.

Further reading:

(1) Taking a Critical Look at Leninism by Ron Taber.

(2) Speech on the Agrarian Question November 14 by Vladimir Lenin

(3) The Poverty of Statism: Anarchism vs Marxism.

(4) Listen, Marxist! by Murray Bookchin

(5) Marxism, Freedom and the State by Mikhail Bakunin.

(6) The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky

(7) Confronting the Question of Power by Wayne Price

Soundbites and furious unity

Part three in a five part series reviewing Marxism 2013, ‘Sessions other than Anarchism vs Marxism’

The constant tension between debate and recruitment ultimately hindered the extent of discussion that occurred within sessions at Marxism 2013, making the conference into a tedious defence Socialist Alternative.[i]

One of the most topical issues on the far-left is that of 457 Visas.[ii]

Rival International Socialist Tendency group Solidarity leafleted the main stairs entrance in the break before the 457 Visa session, emphasising their differences with Socialist Alternative: up-front working with 457 Visa workers and organising them, challenging racism in the unions.

In the session, Socialist Alternative focused on the racism of the Labor government and distanced themselves from strident critiques of the union movement in propelling Labor’s ‘457 rorts’ campaign, putting to the forefront the explicit rejection of the 457 Visas ‘guest labour’ scheme as undermining working conditions, but organising 457 Visa workers when in Australia.

The session was the debate that was not, which I felt was a real disappointment. Of the hour and half , only about 2 minutes was spent with an opposing argument to the line of Socialist Alternative, also supported by members of Socialist Alliance.

Of the 13 speakers—forgetting about the presentation and conclusion both made by Socialist Alternative— two purportedly were from Solidarity, but one picked was not an active Solidarity member.[iii]

In the Introduction to Marxism stream there seemed to be an unspoken rule to not call rival tendencies, including Socialist Alliance, avoiding discussing political differences. These sessions are the wombs that develop contacts into Socialist Alternative babies.

A session ‘Women, work and family in the neoliberal age’ displayed the worst of the ‘left unity’ process. The Socialist Alternative presentation was firmly backed up by Socialist Alliance speakers.

In the entire discussion, feminism was mentioned twice, patriarchy completely absent.

‘Left unity’ has become a recipe for public lowest common denominator politics, where the most rudimentary point of agreement is elevated to the heavens of dogma for organisations in ‘unity’ discussions. Here it was the necessity to abolish capitalism through a working class revolution.

The conference was crying out for a real discussion and debate on the most controversial position Socialist Alternative took last year.

One speaker threw mid-sentence that the elephant in the room was ‘sexual violence’, a veiled reference to the striking disagreement between Socialist Alternative and Socialist Alliance on Reclaim the Night.[iv]

That said the presenter did not reduce women’s oppression down just to material conditions but also discussed its ideological basis. Some of the discussion from contributors was fruitful in prioritising the practical ways, for example, partners can challenge sexism, such as through equal childcare.

Despite the conference being organised by one organisation with a clear platform, the marketing onus to invite drawcard speakers fleetingly broke the monotony—allowing ambiguity and different politics.

In presenting his distinctive Gumbainggir take on Aboriginal resistance in Australia, Gary Foley’s good-humoured talk was the only session where an anarchist presented.

In the biggest session of the conference, radical journalist John Pilger emphasised the dangers of reliance on social media; its atomisation of people and centralisation of power into United States corporations; the internet losing its decentralised promises.

Pilger was at pains to place gay marriage as a low priority, because it has been readily co-opted by ruling elites in the United Kingdom, with the reactionary Tory government introducing gay marriage to soften its image and distract people from the underlying economic crisis and poverty.

Equal Love is Socialist Alternative’s main nationally co-ordinated campaign, raising serious contradictions in their passionate marriage to this campaign while having Pilger speak.[v]


John Pilger session – the biggest at Marxism 2013

The assimilation of former Revolutionary Socialist Party members into Socialist Alternative provoked some of the brief moments of contention.

In the ‘free Palestine’ session, former RSP member Kim Bullimore explained the tactical mistakes engaged in by Students for Palestine (SfP) in the Max Brenner campaign as part of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign of Israel. Bullimore argued SfP never had clear aims for the Max Brenner campaign, as the campaign was reduced to reactive soundbites in the media.

The two patriarchs of formerly rival Trotskyist political tendencies, John Percy (previously Democratic Socialist Party) and Mick Armstrong, made a joint presentation in the track record of the broad left party session.

Percy used his analysis of the broad party to condemn the Socialist Alliance project he was part of as a failure. Later, Socialist Alliance members were indignant that he bring up this bitterness and said this was undermining the ‘left unity’ spirit of the conference, among them, Peter Boyle, co-convenor of the Alliance.

Percy responded that it was bitter to have been expelled from the Alliance.[vi]

Armstrong wedged his analysis between unconditional support and abstention, drawing on the Syriza party project in Greece. Rather than the façade of balance he constructed, such a Leninist and Trotskyist orientation to enter a reformist party to build a revolutionary one is a tactic that maintains illusions in bourgeois parliamentary democracy and the State.[vii]

Much of the session revolved around Armstrong’s analysis of Greece, where he condemned the ‘anti-party’ sentiment in Greece, waxing lyrical into a polemic on anarchism:

“The main force that is growing…that’s the anarchists and that’s a disaster—given the politics of the anarchists in Greece.”

The fact that the working class in Greece is attune to the historical failures of both reformist and revolutionary parties in becoming the new ruling class state power is a positive development.

The Syriza project distracts thousands of militants in Greece from practical questions of how to achieve power through direct-action in their communities and workplaces. Like all political parties, it was premised on the false idea that capturing the state electorally will put its reactionary forces (the army, police, and more benign agencies) under the left’s control.

However, there is a diversity of anarchist politics in Greece and anarchists need to be organised in specific anarchist organisations to combat the State and continue to lead the revolutionary struggle. Trotskyists cannot imagine an organised revolutionary force that does not aim to use the existing state infrastructure to construct socialism.

Finally, it is important for anarchists to develop their knowledge of Greece and increase solidarity—especially anti-fascist activities in light of Golden Dawn’s entry into Melbourne.[viii]


[i] In a conference as massive as Marxism 2013, it could be the sessions I attended and discussed in some detail with others were the worst ones. I have heard the ‘organising workers’ stream produced healthy discussion of building rank and file strength in unions. At best, this leaves the conference as a mixed affair.

[ii] Ben Hillier (2012), ‘457 visas an attack on all workers’, Socialist Alternative,

Tom Bramble  (2012), ‘457 visas – bosses’ dream, workers’ nightmare’, Socialist Alternative,

Jerome Small (2012), ‘Fight against 457 visas and fight for migrants’ rights’, Socialist Alternative,


Solidarity (2012), ‘Rinehart migration deal: To fight for jobs, we have to fight together’, 30 May,

James Supple and Ian Rintoul (2012), ‘‘Local workers first’ campaign is no way to fight for jobs’, Solidarity, July,

Jasmine Ali (2012), ‘Racism, White Australia and the union movement’, Solidarity, August,

Solidarity (2012), ‘Open letter to the left – welcome 457 visa workers’, Solidarity, August,

Solidarity (2012), ‘The facts: understanding 457s and temporary work visas’, Solidarity, August,

James Supple (2012), ‘Immigration is not to blame for cuts to jobs and wages ‘, Solidarity, August,

Solidarity (2012), ‘Sign-on statement: welcome 457 visa holders into the unions’, 9 August,

Solidarity (2013), ‘Gillard steps up scapegoating of 457s and foreign workers’, Solidarity, March,

James Supple and Amy Thomas (2013), ‘Anti-457 campaign is an attack on foreign workers’, Solidarity, March,

Amy Thomas (2013), ‘Facts tell the real story: 457 workers are not taking jobs’, Solidarity, March,

James Supple (2013), ‘Canberra 457 workers’ dispute shows how to fight for rights’, Solidarity, April,


Simon Millar (2012), ‘Organise, don’t demonise migrant workers’,

Socialist Party (2013), ‘Reject Labor’s divisive ‘Aussie jobs’ campaign’,


[iii] Perhaps there should be alternating organisations/independents speaking during discussions, with affiliations more open. For example at the Anarchism vs Marxism sessions, there was efforts by the Chairs to include anarchists by asking them first to put their hand up, so that they could be identified.

[iv] See Part 1 of the series, ‘Left Unity in confusion’.

[v] If recent examples of legalisation by the conservative government in New Zealand are to go by, an Abbott government might introduce gay marriage during an austerity drive. Recent indications suggest Abbott post-election party room could clear the way for a conscience vote: Dan Harrison (2013), ‘Hopes rise for same-sex unions’, The Age, 20th April,

[vi] See @ndy (2008), ‘Leninist Party Faction vs. Democratic Socialist Party Perspective Alliance’,

[vii] Wayne Price (2009), ‘Response to a Trotskyist (ISO) Criticism of Anarchism’,; Ron Taber (1988), ‘A Look At Leninism’, Aspect Foundation: New York,, p. 61; François Sabado (2013), ‘International anti-capitalist meeting in Athens’,; Andrew Flood (2012), ‘Notes on the non election of Syriza and the retreat from anti-capitalism by the left’,

[viii] @ndy (2013), ‘Golden Gaytime not Golden Dawn!’,

The secret policing

Part two in a five part series reviewing Marxism 2013 – ‘The recruitment, disciplinary and propaganda techniques of Socialist Alternative’

Socialist Alternative is a seriously tough, disciplined organisation, channelling their inner-Bolshevik in the footsteps of Lenin, proud and defensive over their conference.[i]

Many Socialist Alternative members rose early for their conference, with caucuses starting from 8AM. Some caucuses assigned contacts to members, who they then persuaded into going to particular sessions, preparing those contacts for recruitment.[ii]

Tailored contact assignments effectively had the intimacy of bodyguards, as members devoted the day to their contact, shepherding them from corrupting influences, keeping them entertained.[iii]

Leaders of branches carried around in the hands, close to their chests, paper, on which they ticked off who in their branch was here, recording their activity, as well as co-ordinating contacts.

Stern warnings disciplined rogue members who did not follow the script and were taken aside and admonished.

In keeping with the importance of Socialist Alternative, the cafeteria behind the main stairs confined the stall space, away from the main entrance, which exclusively held the Socialist Alternative stalls.

Stallholders all had to pay $50, even if they were a campaign group Socialist Alternative were heavily involved in.[iv]

One opportunistic anarchist insurrectionist decided to set up a stall in the stall space, without payment. Socialist Alternative members bombarded the anarchist, initially resorting to direct action such as taking leaflets, and removing the table and chair.

The anarchist resisted and Socialist Alternative members called security.

Unfortunately for Socialist Alternative, the security guard sided with the anarchist, saying their requests reminded them of Stalinism.

Immediately after, the anarchist-friendly IOPS kindly offered to share half of their table, remedying the issue for the remaining days.

The insurrectionary anarchist’s stall.

Socialist Alternative policed price and marketing tactically. Some attendants bought full tickets, having come on the third day, for $45, and then were told in their first session they could upgrade for $5 from a one day of $25 ticket.

This clever marketing ploy was met with resistance as the attendants asked for a refund at reception, who referred the matter to their ‘supervisors’. The hierarchy from above refused to back down and there was no refund.

Leaders policed the smooth co-ordination of sessions. At times, this bordered on the comical, as leading members made sure that troublemakers did not interrupt sessions they would rather were a gentle introduction to Socialist Alternative.

One example was the ‘Everything you ever wanted to know about Socialist Alternative’ session. Here key Socialist Alternative leaders scouted for known rival leftists who planned to attend, to prepare for dissidence.

Subsequently, the workshop split into effectively ‘newbies’ wanting to know more about Socialist Alternative, who had to walk out into another area and ‘oldies’, who had been around the scene for a while and wanted to discuss the new ‘left unity’ politics of Socialist Alternative.

Unfortunately, this tactic failed to keep out dissidents, some of whom continued onto the newbies session regardless.[v]

After lots of work was conducted, in breaks, and at the end or start of the day, there was time for some reflection, and discussion about the ‘numbers’: how contacts were responding to recruitment, how many magazines you’d sold, how many new contacts you have.

Of course, there was always detritus floating around, those who they’ve given up on, which is the category I fall into, along with a few stragglers I found. These rogue elements become invisible, not a contact anymore.


[i] ‘One  of  the  most  salient  aspects  of  the  ethos  of  the  Bolshevik tendency  is  what  might  be  called  the  cult  of  the  “hards.” The Bolsheviks prided themselves on their toughness. They even referred  to themselves  as  “the  hards.” This  was  in  contrast  to  what  they  derided  as  the  “ softness”   of  the  Mensheviks. As  the  Bolsheviks  saw it,  they  were strong,  tough  and  unvacillating;  the  Mensheviks  weak, soft and  indecisive. The  Bolsheviks  prided  themselves  on  their  skill in  functioning  “underground”  and  on  their  willingness  to  endure the  hardships  this  entailed. They  considered  the  Mensheviks  as  less capable  of  working  under  conditions  of  clandestinity  and  too  anxious  to  function  legally,  no  matter  what  restrictions  this  entailed. The  Bolsheviks  also  saw  themselves  as  more  proletarian  than  the Mensheviks,  whom  they  considered  more  middle  class  (even  when this  was  not  strictly  true).’—Ron Taber (1988), ‘A Look At Leninism’, Aspect Foundation: New York,, p. 37. Also see the following for a summation: adamfreedom (2013), ‘From Theory to Practice, Taking a Critical Look at Leninism’,

[ii] Members facilitate contacts through centrally held online databases containing descriptions of their politics. Recruitment priorities tend towards young students, coordinated by the emerging young leaders at local campuses.

[iii] This is nothing new in the praxis of Socialist Alternative, internal documents since released, due to a split in 2004, have argued against isolationism and shepherding, see: Marc Newman (2004), ‘Cadre, Growth and Political Practice in Socialist Alternative’,

[iv] Students for Palestine, Equal Love and the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria).

[v] Here at the newbies session the anarchist insurrectionist asked if they could ask a question on Socialist Alternative’s position on censorship, which was answered by leading members saying this was no place for such a question.

Left Unity in confusion


Part one in a five part series reviewing Marxism 2013: ‘Opening Night’[i]

Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2013 is easily the most hyped conference of the far left in Australia, its ‘Opening night’ fires up participants, and sets the political tone for the rest of the conference. The mantra for this conference is ‘left unity’.[ii]

The political discussion commenced after the rip-snorter guest speakers[iii] from Australia and overseas had inspired the crowd of 350 into good humour, shaking fists, and collective chanting.

Louise O’Shea, author of the widely discredited article on Reclaim the Night, acted as the MC, introduced the speakers and outlined the ‘left unity’ line. The groups to speak, Socialist Alliance and the Revolutionary Socialist Party, have in the past heavily criticised the O’Shea article, along with most of the far-left.[iv]

Both Peter Boyle from Socialist Alliance and Kim Bullimore from the RSP expressed their dumbfoundment that they were speaking at Marxism 2013, saying this was unimaginable at the same time last year. Peter Boyle emphasised the doctrine of his organisation that all socialist groups could be united into one organisation.

He also announced a series of practical steps the leadership of both Socialist Alliance and Socialist Alternative had committed to, including a public meeting on left unity, and working on a detailed program and discussion of commonalities and differences that went beyond the usual caricatures of each other.

Kim Bullimore reported that at the last conference of the RSP, earlier that day, they had voted unanimously to merge with Socialist Alternative, and quickly flashed her new Socialist Alternative membership card. She ended with a quote from Che Guevara, underlying the RSP’s proclamation that Cuba and Venezuela are revolutionary governments of sorts.[v]

I felt that this session was aimed at Socialist Alternative members rather than ungrouped independents (or anarchist dissidents), it feels as though Socialist Alternative’s leadership are still trying to sell the idea of “unity” to the membership, who were until recently taught to call the likes of RSP “Stalinist”.[vi]

Socialist Alternative is keen to emphasise a common political project of “revolutionary marxism”, but even in an “opening night” on the line of left unity, the political fault lines were on display.

Bob Carnegie identified with Trotskyism rather than the ‘Marxism’ branding,[vii] Peter Boyle identified with socialism not Marxism, and Kim Bullimore identified with a revolutionary Marxism that includes the likes of Cuba and Venezuela.

As an anarchist, there was much to agree with in the vague sentiments—the need for working class revolution and revolutionary organisation.

Notably, there were a couple of politically awkward moments for the organisers.

The Socialist Alternative dominated audience where less keen to give Peter Boyle the obligatory standing ovation that these events demand, lethargically rising to their feet. And facial expressions were tense as Brian Jones in his analysis of the United States highlighted rape culture and the rise of young women challenging sexism as an inspiration.

Overall, I can’t help but feel like ‘left unity’ is really a mere façade that will soon lead to a Shakespearean tragedy.

The 2001 Socialist Alliance ‘broad left’ electoral project, effectively one of complete ‘left unity’, which the majority of big socialist groups joined, was an utter failure. The main group that quickly left this front, Socialist Alternative, grew accordingly.

The crucial difference now according to proponents of this ‘new kind of left unity’, is unity of Marxist revolutionaries. A proper look at the founding of Socialist Alliance will find almost all the groups involved were Marxists of one or another, the outstanding difference now being a lack of electoral project.

Despite very positive platitudes from Peter Boyle, his emphasis on somehow uniting the theoretical, strategic and tactical differences would at face value seem at odds with Socialist Alternative’s erstwhile strategy.

The ageing and stagnant RSP would seem to be the big winner, now part of the far bigger Socialist Alternative, who have conceded to it formerly dear principles, including a state-capitalist analysis of Russia and socialism from below. More concretely, RSP viewpoints now are to appear as a minority perspective in Socialist Alternative’s magazine and in its National Executive.

The decorations are pretty, and like the vacuous and ubiquitous Marxism 2013 poster, Socialist Alternative can reinforce to its membership that it is non-sectarian and growing—like a good marketing ad, it is the biggest, best and brightest in town. Buy it now!

I left walking into the night’s cold, puzzling over how working class struggle has been broken down into a mosaic of propagandism, platitudes and parties.


[i] Brian Jones (2013), ‘The hypocrisy of US capitalism today’, Green Left TV,; Peter Boyle (2013), ‘Long live left unity’, Green Left TV, ; Kim Bullimore (2013), ‘Marxism 2013 opening night presentation’,; Editors (2013), ‘Marxism 2013 conference the biggest to date’,

[ii] Socialist Alternative have dedicated an entire section on their website to ‘left unity’, entitled ‘towards unity on the left’, starting with the failed unity discussions with Solidarity in 2010, and picking up in 2012 with discussions with the RSP and SAll, and pronouncements from new recruits.

[iii] Brian Jones from the International Socialist Organisation in the US, Gerry Rivera from the Philippines, revolutionary and President of the PALEA union in an airline dispute, and Bob Carnegie, Trotskyist unionist, currently chased by the courts.

[iv] @ndy (2012), ‘Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night, the political right and Socialist Alternative’,; Fox Smoulder (2012), ‘To Socialist Alternative, a letter, a call out.’,; Reclaim the Night Fremantle 2012 Organising Group (2012), ‘Letter to Socialist Alternative prior to Reclaim the Night’,; Kim Bullimore (2012), ‘What role for socialists in the fight against sexist violence?’, Direct Action,; John Passant (2012), ‘Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and sectarianism’,; Kamala Emanuel, ‘Violence against women is systemic’, Green Left Weekly, 948,; Martin Thomas (2013), ‘Where will SWP opposition go?’, Solidarity, 271,; AS (2012) ‘ALP Government: Enemy of Workers and Oppressed’, Australasian Spartacist, 218, Further, the political line was later ratified at SAlt’s 2012 National Conference, summing up Reclaim the Night as a ‘ruling class mobilisaton’.  Editors (2012), ‘SA National Conference concludes’,

[v] RSP, ‘Support the Cuban & Venezuelan revolutions!’,

[vi] Josh Lees (2009), ‘Is Vietnam socialist?’, Socialist Alternative, August, 144, Allen Myers (2009), ‘Vietnam: How ‘state capitalism’ misleads Australian socialists’, Direct Action, September, 15,

[vii] Bob Carnegie is from the Trotskyist group Workers Liberty.