Bob Gould, 2006
Source: Ozleft, January 15-23, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
Green Left discussion list, January 15, 2007
A day or so is an awfully long time in cyberspace, and the past day or so on the GLW list verged on being barking mad, in the sense that the new DSP leadership seemed to have unleashed its most volatile and half-delusional supporters and geed them up to say the weirdest things.
I note that the list moderator and Norm Dixon have now drawn back from this a bit, and have suggested some quite sensible guidelines for discussion, but what I write here is a response to the previous 24 hours before the apparent change of tack. As I was the butt of a lot of the abuse in that time, I feel I am entitled to one response. In subsequent posts I’ll be more polite. In passing, it’s worth making the point that Norm, who has been one of the most reckless posters, tries to blame it all on Ed Lewis, who apparently so enrages Norm that he can’t resist the urge to go verbally berserk in response. I find that difficult to believe, given Norm’s long political experience.
The new DSP leadership is obviously a bit off balance because its internal opposition has doggedly refused to fold its tent and go away, and there has been some careful comment on the DSP’s internal crisis on Ozleft and in the Weekly Worker. It’s worth noting that the first print issue of GLW has been postponed from January 18 to January 25, which seems to be calculated to allow time to sort things out a bit more in the DSP.
In the interim, the new Boylite leadership has responded to critical comment in the only way it seems to know how, by encouraging its supporters to hype up the extravagance of their comments on the Green Left list. I exempt Nick Fredman and Mike Karadjis from these observations as, although their responses have been sharp in defence of their corner (I obviously disagree with some of their observations), their tone is still within reasonable bounds of political comment, which is important.
In ascending order of bizarreness, it’s useful to take a hard and careful look at what Norm Dixon had to say a day or so ago. He defended his indefensible rhetoric about scabs like a bourgeois lawyer or a casuistic Catholic theologian, presenting a tortuous argument that it’s reasonable to carry on at length, again and again and again, about assorted Labor leaders being scabs because, he says, the notion of scabbery can be extended to anyone who crosses his, or the DSP leadership’s, arbitrarily defined class line.
What a distorted and unscientific view of politics that is. It’s not all that far from saying that anyone who doesn’t agree with the current DSP leadership is a scab. Dixon slides over the question of the traditional way of dealing with real scabs who break strikes in the labour movement, and lets hang in the air the possibility that the category of people he defines as scabs might even be treated in the traditional way. This is a very dangerous line of argument.
A DSP old hand who seems to have rallied to the Boyle side in the DSP’s crisis, Reihana Mohideen, is roped in on Riley’s podcast, or whatever form of technology is his current hobby, to make a demagogic and clearly poorly thought out remark about comment on the DSP’s conference being “black propaganda”. When it is pointed out that loose talk about black propaganda is routinely used by the Sisson group in the Philippines before they launch physical attacks on left critics and opponents, Mohideen sees the point, up to a point, and backs off a bit, reducing her attack on Marcus Strom to a question of his supposedly shoddy journalism.
Norm Dixon should carefully consider where he is going with his strange and frenzied talk about scabs, applied to the existing leaders of working-class organisations. He tries to make some awkward distinction that not all Labor Party members are scabs, just the main leaders of the Labor Party, and by clear association many trade union leaders (he probably exempts Victoria from this proposition).
This rhetoric is ill-considered and dangerous. Dixon tries to make some kind of half-arsed distinction that of course he wouldn’t barrel up to Labor rank and filers and say that their leaders were scabs, as that wouldn’t be sensible politically. Yet he uses the medium of the World Wide Web, which as he knows more than most is infinitely more powerful than the human voice, to broadcast like a whirling dervish with his little foghorn, his indiscriminate rhetoric about scabs to anyone who will listen among the 800 or so people registered on the list and the probably much larger number who look at it occasionally or stumble on it in Google searches.
It’s reasonable to assume that Dixon is not really directing his rhetoric at the sprinkling of Labor Party members who look at the GLW list. They’re only likely to be amused, bemused, or offended. One Labor Party member, Barney Katz, who I’ve never heard of before, has bobbed up on the list anyway, talking a great deal of sense, and giving as good as he gets in the face of the inevitable abuse.
There are two issues involved in Dixon’s reckless use of rhetoric about scabs. The first is that it is dangerous in itself and leaves open the possibility of legal action by some of the people called scabs. The second profound political objection is the one that came up constantly at the second, third and fourth conresses of the Comintern, during which Lenin a number of times made his point about “scolding scoundrels”.
The real issue for serious socialists is not a brainlessly repetitive story about the betrayals of various leaderships. The real issue is what strategic measures socialists can adopt to get a base in the labour movement and the working class. “Scolding scoundrels” is usually an alternative to a real perspective for intervention. This is the reason I constantly confront the DSP leadership about its encouragement of this kind of political nonsense.
Fredman, who as I’ve said is saner than some others, says he hasn’t found Labor Party members on his patch too offended by the abusive tone of Green Left. I suspect, without direct evidence, that they’re possibly amused and a bit diplomatic with Nick, who they may consider is not such a bad bloke personally.
Then we get to Dave Riley, who becomes almost incoherent in his denunciation of all critics of the DSP. (One curious feature of the comments by Boyle faction supporters on the list is that they make some essentially right-wing attacks on all their critics and opponents, parrotting the attacks of right-wing journalists against the whole of the left and the Greens, that they’re only inner-city trendies in an alleged left ghetto. This curious line of attack from people who live in middle-class Katoomba, tree-change Lismore and inner-city Brisbane, is a Boylite DSP leadership triumph of hope over experience. Of all the political formations on the far left, the DSP is possibly the one most located in inner city areas. Presumably the proletarian credentials of the Boyle faction leadership must come from their imperishable ideology, rather than their actual social composition or physical location. What demagogic bullshit this line of argument is, particularly coming from supporters of the new DSP leadership.)
Riley waxes lyrical about the successes of the Socialist Alliance. One has only to ask the obvious question, what successes (as the Percy faction has painfully and painstakingly asked inside the DSP) for the question to answer itself.
The Socialist Alliance has now been on ice for about six months while the two factions of the DSP have been fighting it out. Most of the branches haven’t met during this period, as been pointed out at length in the DSP internal discussion by the Percy supporters.
The scattering ranks of independents involved in the Socialist Alliance have thinned noticeably in this time, aside from the odd DSP “non-party Bolshevik”. It’s problematic whether the alliance can be revived in these circumstances, but Ratbag Radio Riley prattles on in his incorrigible way as if the alliance was a powerful force.
He accuses myself and Ed Lewis of being daleks. Blimey, if he wants to see some real daleks, he should stand back and look carefully at some of his mates and associates. That brings me to John Tognolini and his contributions to discussion on the GLW list.
Tognolini seems to feel obliged to reinforce his claim to be a member of the human race by constantly repeating his self-adopted nickname, Togs/Tognolini, apparently so we remember who he is. He also reinforces his loud voice by the use of very large, bold type in his email contributions, again so that we should take notice of him. Well, he needn’t worry about being ignored. Those who have known him over many years know who he is. How could one forget him?
Tognolini makes a bit of a show of erudition in talking about the Socialisation Units in the Labor Party and their crushing by Jock Garden and Jack Lang in 1933. He neglects to mention that the other factor in their smashing was the invasion of the Socialisation Units by Third Period Stalinists, not unlike the Boyle faction, who set as a condition that the units should launch a headlong exposure jamboree against Labor leader Jack Lang, precisely at the time when the enormous Langite mass movement was the very symbol of mass opposition to the Australian ruling class during the Great Depression.
Tognolini shamelessly, in effect, adopts the Stalinist Third Period in relation to the Socialisation Units as good coin. He and the new DSP leadership should carefully read Bob Cooksey’s little book on the Socialisation Units.
In his curious verbal attack on me, he also says something that is the crux of the unscientific Boyleite perspective: “Why do you believe so much in the ALP when most workers along with a lot of other people, see it as nothing more that an alternative Liberal Party?”
If Tognolini’s bold, unverifiable and wrong assertion were correct, why would the overwhelming majority of the organised working class, recent migrants and other sections of the oppressed such as Aboriginal people, vote for the Labor Party, as they stubbornly continue to do?
Even the conservatives of the Monash Institute of Population have recently published studies of the Labor vote that underline its plebian character. In a completely idealist way, Tognolini presents his opinions, and those of the Boyle faction of the DSP, as if they were social reality.
That kind of metaphysics is at the heart of the Boyle faction perspective, which is why the Boyle supporters unleash the Dixons, Rileys and Tognolinis to bay at the moon in the way they do. This outburst of political stupidity on the Green Left discussion list gives us a bit of a taste of what we can expect from the new leadership of the DSP.
It would be kind of funny if it wasn’t fairly serious. A permanent Third Period strategy by a significant socialist sect is a very dangerous and damaging approach in the current defensive circumstances facing the Australian working class and labour movement. If the last couple of days’ comment on the GLW discussion list is anything to go by, the internal crisis in the DSP seems set to deepen rapidly. I hope that even at this late stage the saner elements in the Boyle camp can step back a little bit, consider where they are going and call a halt to some of this politically dangerous nonsense.
PS. Most of this was written before the post by the moderator and some kind of attempted correction by Norm. Perhaps the process of stepping back a little may even have begun. Some of the propositions that Norm has put up for discussion in his new, calmer language, are a sensible basis for discussion and in due course I will respond to some of them.
Green Left Weekly discussion list, January 19, 2006
I take Mike Karadjis’s point about the tone of this discussion. It seemed reasonable to me to make my points fairly sharply given the extravagant rhetoric of DSP supporters in the past week or so, but I’ve got it out of my system a bit in the past day or so, and I’ll try to respond to the new, calmer tone that seems to be emerging.
I don’t think, however, that it is unreasonable to use the term Third Period to describe the DSP leadership’s strategy in the labour movement.
As Mike says, the classical Stalinist Third Period did involve characterising the Social Democrats as social fascists and the analogy therefore isn’t exact. Actually, from the point of view of Marxist philosophy, as we both know, analogies are never exact, but they are often useful nevertheless and are frequently used in all Marxist literature. But Mike is right, when using analogies one should state that it is an analogy and allow for differences.
The DSP leadership doesn’t call the Labor Party leaders fascist. They do, however, with their theory adopted in 1985, treat the existing labour movement, in all its contradictions, and in its political expression through the Labor Party, as essentially the same as the Liberal Party.
They do place an equals sign between Labor and Liberal. The fact that they give electoral preferences to Labor over the Liberals is contradicts their basic theory about the two equal capitalist parties. On several occasions they in fact gave preferences to the capitalist Democrats ahead of Labor.
One aspect of the Stalinist Third Period that the DSP certainly does repeat in spades is constant verbal abuse of socialists who choose to work in the Labor Party, and even anyone at all who is in the Labor Party, for being in a “rotten capitalist party”, with the subsidiary proposition that the only honourable thing they could do was join the CPA, or in the case of the DSP, join the DSP.
Eventually the Stalinists drew the lesson, when the Stalinist Comintern allowed them to do so in 1935, that verbal exposure of that sort rarely works. Unfortunately, the DSP has yet to learn that lesson after about 20 years of that sort of verbal exposure propaganda.
This theory about the equivalence of Liberal and Labor lays the basis for a certain opportunism to creep in. For instance, when the DSP leadership manufactures the artificial construct of a homogeneous militant trade union current in Victoria and WA, they skate over the contradictions in this current, a couple of whose inhabitants are quite active at the political level in manoeuvres in the ALP that, objectively speaking, help to shift the Labor Party to the right.
If you say the Labor Party is just another capitalist party, of course none of that matters much, and the Marxist leadership, the DSP, can make any arrangements that suit its short-term interests. These arrangements are often made on the basis of the diplomatic behaviour of union officials towards the DSP. If they take a bundle of Green Left to put on the counter in the union office, they are apparently exempt from even gentle criticism of their internal alignment with the right in the Labor Party, and so it goes. Extreme left talk is often associated with a certain opportunism.
On the other hand, when it comes to the Labor Party ranks as a whole, other than a select group who may be diplomatic towards the DSP, they constantly have to prove their credentials as leftists, in the way that has been farcically expressed in the discussion over the past couple of days on this list of who is or is not a leftist. Dale Mills expresses this kind of attitude, which seems to me the fundamental attitude of the DSP leadership, in his rambling discussion of who is or is not a leftist, which he buttresses with his personal credentials and the obligatory sideswipe at me because I run a bookshop. C'est la vie. (Mills also says I’ve said three inaccurate things about him, but when I ask him what they are he resolutely refuses to tell me. How can I correct mistakes, or even decided whether they are mistakes, when he won’t tell me what they are?
The way Norm Dixon and Dale Mills pose the question just repeats the aspect of this approach that I object to most: the implicit, and frequently explicit, assumption that all other left-wingers, other than those who are diplomatic towards the DSP, have to establish their left-wing credentials in terms of the DSP’s maximum program, and that’s obvious nonsense.
Norm Dixon singles out Ed Lewis in particular for cross-questioning about what he does as a socialist in the Greens, and broadens that to the general question of what socialists should do in the Greens. A couple of days ago Alan Bradley, in passing, made a point that incorporates the ABC of what Marxists should do anywhere: organise a study group to raise the Marxist political level of any contacts that one makes. Bradley is clearly right.
He is also right about something else, which he has repeated a number of times. He is a bit cautious about getting involved in faction fights of one kind or another that erupt in the Greens. It seems to me obvious that socialist0s in the Greens, when political arguments erupt, should support the most left-wing positions that emerge and give critical support to the more left-wing currents that emerge. As Alan Bradley has pointed out in the past, it’s not always clear who is the more left wing in some disputes in the Greens.
One thing, however, I’m absolutely certain about, is that socialists in the Greens should avoid tactically the sad historical experience of the DSP in both the Nuclear Disarmament Party and the Green, in the early stages of both those organisations in several states. Socialists in the Greens, in my view, would be extremely unwise to set themselves up as a more or less public faction bidding for hegemony and power in the organisation, with a great clamour about democracy, as the DSP did in the NDP and the Greens in their early stages.
I’ll discuss the strategic tasks facing socialists in the Labor Party, drawing on my experience in that area, in another post, in a while.
Another aspect of what I would describe as Third Periodism in the DSP’s attitude to the Labor Party concerns the Howard government’s reactionary industrial relations laws.
The state Labor governments, despite all their other features, have taken the extremely progressive step of challenging these reactionary laws in the High Court. Even the reactionary High Court can be an arena of struggle. A defeat for Howard’s laws in the High Court would be an enormous blow against the Howard government.
This seems to me a very obvious case where a united front approach, even towards state Labor governments, would be of great value. The DSP leadership tends to underestimate the importance of the High Court challenge, and concentrate their fire on the idea that the state Labor governments are reactionary institutions.
They overlook the fact that the trade union leaderships, which are pressing hard for the state Labor governments to take the case to the High Court, are staring down the barrel of the potential destruction of the trade unions, and they will fight very hard to avoid that. The DSP wiseacres should carefully study Trotsky’s writings on the struggle against fascism in Germany in 1932. Once again this analogy has certain limits, as all analogies do.
Nevertheless, when the Stalinists railed against unity with the Social Democrats who had connived at the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht, Trotsky replied by pointing out that despite the crimes of the right wing of German Social Democracy, the victory of fascism would wipe out the entire labour movement, including the Stalinists.
With some prescience he pointed out that even the Social Democratic police chief in Berlin, who had been involved in the murder of Luxemburg and Leibknecht, was likely to end up in a Nazi jail, which in due course is exactly what happened.
Trotsky made this point to underline the need for a united front between the Communists and Social Democrats against fascism. While allowing that this analogy obviously has its limits, it’s quite clear there’s an objective material basis for a united front between socialists, Marxists, bureaucratic union leaders and even state Labor governments, against Howard’s new laws, the objective of which is to put the trade unions out of business.
January 23, 2006
A number of people on the Green Left list object when I make the analogy between the DSP leadership’s line on the Labor Party, and the Stalinist Third Period. A few posts in the past couple of days have demonstrated the usefulness of this analogy.
Vic Savoulian asserts that in a sense the Labor Party is worse than the Liberals because in his view it constantly deceives the working class. That kind of approach is well and truly from the arsenal of the Third Period.
Riley, in his recent imitation of Sam Kekovich in full flight, asserts that the working class is coming to hate the Labor Party, or at least will in the future.
What fantastic metaphysics a sectarian approach leads to. All electoral analysis shows that the overwhelming majority of the organised working class and recently arrived migrant groups, and Aboriginal communities, generally vote for and support Labor.
This kind of material evidence is of no value at all to Riley-Kekovich. He says that’s because there is no alternative. Well, of course, there are alternatives. The Greens get a respectable 8-11 per cent mostly left vote, and the Socialist Alliance gets almost nothing. The overwhelming majority of the left side of society still votes for and supports the Labor Party even when electoral alternatives are available.
Riley just relies on gratuitously insulting myself and others such as Alan Bradley and ignores all the sociological evidence.
He’s none too scrupulous in the way he argues. A while ago the badly ill-informed Tognolini said that Steve Dargavel was a member of the Socialist Alliance, when he’s a member of the Labor Party.
Riley, in an inane way takes up Tognolini’s assertion as some sort of good coin in his Sam Kekovich approach to pumping out his rhetoric and riding roughshod over rational objections. Alan Bradley points out that on his patch in Toowoomba there are heaps of Labor Party members who are at the centre of left activity, and that’s the situation all over Australia, which I also point out.
Riley responds to this by insisting that we name them all — the tens of thousands of them. That demand is pretty surreal. What will he do, send them a letter saying they’re class traitors and they should join the Socialist Alliance?
Riley ends on the note that what is required is regroupment. I would refer him to a far more careful piece posted by his fellow DSP member, Ben Courtice, which sensibly recognises the pitfalls of any regroupment process between party-building sects, each of which thinks it has the perfect answer.
Some kind of regroupment process is obviously necessary, but it needs to be preceded by an open, honest and rational political discussion of outstanding tactical and political questions. What Riley means by regroupment is clearly that all other socialists have to roll over for the Boylite DSP’s tiny steamroller, and that’s clearly not going to happen.
There’s no socialist current in the country that’s keen on regrouping with the little Boylite steamroller in its unreconstructed authoritarian form and with its fantastic Potemkin Village story about the importance of the Socialist Alliance project, run by the DSP, which now barely exists.
Last Friday, there was a hastily organised demonstration in support of the Papuan asylum seekers in north Queensland. It was organised mainly by email and between 50 and 100 people turned up. The main initiative came from the smallish Solidarity group, operating through the Refugee Action Coalition, and it was taken up energetically by the Greens. A large number of the people at the protest were Greens, and pretty well the whole membership of Solidarity.
There were two DSP representatives, one journalist and one paper seller (maybe there were others who my informant didn’t recognise). The Potemkin Village nature of Riley’s attack on the Greens as not being activists, unlike the activism he claims for the DSP, is just bizarre organisational self-importance.
Vic Savoulien’s several posts about the Labor Party are a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the views in and around the DSP and the Socialist Alliance on that party.
Savoulien treats Laborism, from its moment of development, as a super entity embodying an initial, and then continuing, conspiracy against the working class. This approach is totally un-Marxist and un-Leninist in the sense in which both those terms are useful.
While polemecising against right-wing forces in the labour movement, Marx and Lenin treated these forces sociologically and constantly analysed contradictory elements in all working-class mass movements as they developed.
A conspiracy theory in which a pure entity, described as the Labor Party, perpetrating crimes from the moment that it appears on the scene, is a bit like the holy ghost or Satan in Christian theology. It is alien to Marxism.
This primitive approach allows for no strategy and tactics involving contradictory working-class formations, and the life works of Marx and Lenin consisted of working out strategy and tactics involving these contradictory mass movements.
This kind of approach has its parallel in the method we all fall into from time to time, and should stamp out of our thinking, when we talk about the ruling class as a super-historical entity.
What we should do is constantly try to comprehend and make reference to contradictory forces, factions and fractions within national ruling classes and the ruling class of the world.
Vic Savoulien’s diatribe may satisfy him as an expression of anger and rage, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the method of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.