Sunday, April 24, 2016
Left wing group Socialist Alternative led a split in the Perth rally to defend the Safe Schools Coalition on April 23. Their split was a reaction to the provocation by the far right groups Reclaim Australia and United Patriots Front. The latter organised a small counter demonstration against the Safe Schools rally.
Socialist Alternative's split disrupted the Safe Schools rally more dramatically than the far right would have done by themselves. It was also poor tactics in the fight against fascism in Australia.
The Socialist Alternative split was actively prepared before the Safe Schools rally even began. They used their leadership positions in the campaign group Equal Love WA to: change the Facebook event time and details; remove the Save Safe Schools WA group as an event host; and remove the one Equal Love WA admin who is not a member of Socialist Alternative (without the authority of an Equal Love meeting to do so). Further, they refused to answer phone calls from Save Safe Schools WA activists to discuss their actions.
These things would have been bad enough on their own, but the fact that they played virtually no role in organising the rally beyond attending one meeting and setting up the initial Facebook event makes these actions reprehensible.
Even though it was carried out in the name of Equal Love WA, on the day the split rally began right next to the Socialist Alternative stall (there was no Equal Love stall) with exclusively Socialist Alternative members speaking. Plenty of people had begun milling around, but virtually nobody joined their rally (pictured).
In a context where the main rally was not yet due to begin, people began to drift over to listen to the Socialist Alternative speakers. This would have peaked at around 50 people, but even at this "high point" it was clear that most people there were not in favour of joining in the split tactics.
The Reclaim/UPF counter demonstrators didn't even show up until just before the main Safe Schools rally was due to begin.
As the far right moved in, police immediately moved to form a line between the two groups. Socialist Alternative members led a move to confront the far right group. The main rally organisers called for people to maintain their focus on the Safe Schools issue and began to start the rally.
At 1pm when the rally was due to begin, there were approximately 20 far right counter demonstrators, about 35 at the Socialist Alternative-led split and 135 at the main rally. (The latter grew to around 225-250 before the end including when the two rallies had reunited.)
The chants and signs in the split indicate what the political character of the rally would have been if organisers had followed Socialist Alternative's lead. The main signs they carried read "Fascists off our streets", "Neo Nazi" with a cross through it and "Re-Gay Australia". They were chanting "Nazi scum: off our streets".
One Socialist Alternative member is reported to have said that fighting fascism is more important than defending Safe Schools. They certainly acted on the day as if they could not care less about the fate of the Safe Schools campaign.
It must be acknowledged that the Reclaim/UPF threat needs to be taken seriously. The fact of their counter demonstration is further proof (yet again) that they are not "merely" an Islamophobic outfit hell-bent on denying Muslims their democratic rights. This movement is an attack on the entire progressive movement, including the trade unions and even queer youth at risk of bullying.
This is proven in a United Patriots Front (UPF) video that threatens right wing counter demonstrations "every time they rally". ("They" in this case referring to any progressive campaign.)
However, Socialist Alternative's split was not an example of an effective response to this threat. In fact, the counter demonstration by the far right was a trap for the left and Socialist Alternative fell for it hook, line and sinker.
It would have been far better to follow the tactical lead of the rally organisers in maintaining the main focus of the rally on defending Safe Schools and mounting a political critique of the antics of Reclaim/UPF.
This is not an argument that we should "ignore them and they'll go away" but that we should choose our tactics in the fight against the far right to match the circumstances.
And certainly it is the case that unilateral, bureaucratic manoeuvres (which is a perfect characterisation of Socialist Alternative's method of advancing their preferred tactics in this case) will not help us build the united movement we need against the far right.
[This article by Socialist Alliance member Alex Bainbridge first appeared in Green Left online on April 24.]