March 23, 2004
The responses to my post on the Sydney council elections are cynical, a bit surreal and rather dishonest by way of omission and by way of complete failure to indicate where any of these people stand on the preference question, other than by inference.
Peter Boyle and Dr Reid shelter behind quoting from The Guardian, the organ of the Stalinist group that helped evict us all, the DSP and myself included, from the broad antiwar committee that formed against the Iraq war. Even more significant, politically, is that The Guardian is the organ of an unrepentant Stalinist organisation that routinely lies about historical questions such as the Moscow Trials.
A few months ago The Guardian published a lengthy article defending the witchcraft trials in Moscow in the 1930s. This article caused me to send an an open letter about the Moscow trials demanding a debate, which they ignored.
If the CPA Stalinists continue to defend the exploded lies about the Moscow Trials in the year 2003, it’s a comparatively small thing for them to lie about the role of Clover Moore, which they do by omission in the article Peter Boyle and Dr Reid have posted.
The Guardian mentions progressive things supported by Moore and the other independents, but it omits the fact that they kept the Greiner Liberal government in office and to the end voted for its reactionary, anti-union, industrial legislation. Some progressives!
The Guardian article also doesn’t address the vexed, immediate question of contracting out council workers’ jobs, against which, as recently as last night at the debate in Sydney Town Hall, Clover Moore was not willing to commit herself. Again, some progressive!
In matters of truth and the interests of the working class, internationally or in Australia, the Stalinists of The Guardian are a very tainted source to rely on for arguments.
The really cynical aspect of this matter is the failure of anyone from the DSP leadership to express their point of view on this question of preferences to Clover Moore.
Boyle accuses me of being a disrupter because I assert that a number of DSP leaders are saying they disagree with the decision, but that it was the rank and file in the Sydney branch and the ISO leadership who pressed for the preferences to Clover Moore.
At last Sunday’s antiwar demonstration I spoke to about six people in the DSP, including a number of leaders, and about half of them, including some leaders, said they disagreed with preferencing Moore before Labor.
I actually had a conversation with Boyle in which he said he had initially disagreed with the decision, but it might be necessary to look again at questions of the trajectory of movement, etc.
I’m now accused of attacking the Socialist Alliance unreasonably for trying to bring the question of preferences into one arena where it’s possible to debate it publicly, the Green Left Weekly discussion site. If it can’t be discussed frankly on this site, where can it be discussed?
The explosion of innuendo from Peter Boyle, Dr Reid, Nobby Tobby and Karen F underlines the political problem of the structure that is the DSP. Obviously some kind of decision has been taken at leadership level in the DSP not to have a frank, public discussion of the issues involved in preferencing Clover Moore.
This is demonstrated by the failure of the members of the DSP and its leadership who disagree with the decision to preference Moore, to express their point of view publicly. They obviously feel bound by some notion of DSP discipline not to express their view publicly, even on the GLW discussion site.
It was possible in the Bolshevik Party, as I point out in my article, Reclaim Lenin from “Leninists” and “Leninism”, for Bolsheviks to disagree publicly about questions such as Lenin’s April Theses in 1917, but it doesn’t seem possible in the DSP to have a public discussion on a question such as preferences in a local government election.
It’s also striking that none of the four people from the DSP who’ve posted on this question actually take up my arguments. They just ignore my arguments and abuse me and/or the Laborites.
I’ve lived a long time, politically, and I have the benefit or perhaps the curse, of a long memory, and I’ll just repeat a little anecdote. The issue that blasted me out of the orbit of the old Stalinist Communist Party in 1956 was the lies and dishonesty of the CPA leadership about Khrushchev’s secret speech.
I was present at a packed meeting of CPA activists in East Sydney, chaired by Bernie Rosen, who is now a member of the Socialist Alliance and can confirm the authenticity of this story.
The CPA leadership, in Tribune, had denied the authenticity of Khrushchev’s report (as published in the New York Times) and said it was a CIA fabrication. A number of oppositionists in the Wolloomooloo branch of the CPA, with whom I was associated, knew it was a genuine document, and that this had been reported to the CPA Political Committee by Harold Silverstone, a leading member of the New Zealand CP, who had heard the speech read out at the British CP congress, which he had attended on behalf of his party, with a watching brief from the CPA.
Silverstone had met one of the members of the Wolloomooloo branch in Sydney on his way back to New Zealand, and said the CPA leadership was lying because he had reported to them on the authenticity of the document, but he swore the CPA branch member to secrecy about having told him, for reasons of party discipline.
The cadre meeting on the crisis was addressed by the very accomplished Stalinist demagogue, Jack (JR) Hughes. The man from the Wolloomooloo branch bravely asked Hughes at the meeting whether the report was genuine and the party leadership was lying, but he was hamstrung by not being able to name his informant.
Hughes, who was one of the great Stalinist orators, didn’t answer the question directly. He just went on for about 20 minutes about the “filthy New York Times, which lies about the workers all the time, how can you believe anything it says” etc, etc, at great length.
Eventually, he had about 100 CPA members eating out of his hand and looking at us oppositionists as if we were vermin. That was the last CPA meeting I attended as any kind of supporter of the CP.
Regarding Peter Boyle’s cynical demagogy, I’m in very much the same position as the man from Wollomooloo was concerning Harold Silverstone. Two DSP leaders told me they opposed the decision to preference Moore over Labor, but I’m not going to name them publicly. This situation underlines the similarity of the DSP’s conception of discipline to that of the old Stalinists.
My purpose in raising this question was to initiate a responsible and serious discussion of preference policy. Some people might not agree with my position, but I’ve put forward some substantial arguments. I’d dearly like to see a response to them so we can have something approaching a discussion.
Ben Reid demands to know what my associates on Ozleft think on this question, because the Greens are preferencing Moore. I know a lot of Greens, including my associates on Ozleft, and I know quite a few in the Sydney council area who disagree with the decision to preference Moore, but that doesn’t matter too much in the Greens or among the Ozleft collaborators because it’s possible in both those environments to have public disagreements.
I would imagine that my colleagues at Ozleft will express their point of view in due course if they disagree with me. That’s no big deal.
We should cut through the extraneous issues and try to have a serious discussion on who it’s appropriate for socialists to preference in the Sydney council, and a good way to start would be for anyone who disagrees with my point of view to try to refute my position in detail, rather than with generalities and abuse.
March 24, 2004
I’m not too worried by the offensive tone routinely adopted towards me by DSP leadership supporters. As Alan Bradley points out, I have been around for a long time and I’m used to it. I would point out, however, that I’m pretty sharp with institutions and structures but I’m generally careful not to imply personal ill will or bad faith to individuals.
The tone adopted towards me, however, constantly implies some sort of bad faith on my part, and that, in fact, is the only level of some DSP leadership supporters’ contributions.
That kind of attack on me is par for the course, but I would point out that its constant use in that way is an indication of political bankruptcy on the part of the people who do it. No one, so far, on that side of the argument has even attempted to address the substantial arguments about the weight of structures, etc, and the class issues that are built into the argument about preferences.
All you get is a stupid mantra: “Bob Gould supports the ALP”.
Paul Benedek lets the cat out of the bag by quoting Clover Moore’s website, on which she praises herself for being the only person to vote against the Carr government’s most recent workers’ compensation legislation. It’s clear from this that DSP leadership supporters have combed Moore’s website for anything they can use to pretty her up as essentially a progressive figure.
It speaks volumes that this is all they could find on broader political questions. Where did Moore stand on the Iraq war? Did she speak or march against the war? A big slice of the ALP in NSW did speak and march, including the deputy premier, and the leader of Labor’s parliamentary wing has just announced, in a guarded way, a policy of withdrawing troops from Iraq, and the Liberals are attacking him for daring to do so.
Where was Clover on Iraq?
Two of the aldermanic candidates for the ALP in the City of Sydney, the two women who are in winnable positions, are both relatively active members of Labor for Refugees. Where has Clover been over the past two or three years on the bitter and vexed question of refugees? And so it goes.
It’s not necessary in this situation to try to prettify the shambling, contradictory mass organisation that I describe as the ALP-trade union continuum. Prettifying it wouldn’t work anyway, and it’s not the point.
The point in deciding preferences in this situation is what class forces are in play? Benedek asserts that the Laborites are on the nose with Green Left Weekly readers he meets. Well, that’s a bit of a tautology, knowing Brother Benedek, they’d have difficulty getting a word in edgewise before he had told them how bad the Laborites were, and it would be a bold GLW reader who would disagree with him.
Another way of looking at the class forces at work will emerge when the votes are counted on Sunday. The Labor team is the underdog, and it may well lose, but the social pattern of the voting, which will be relatively easy to unravel, will tell us volumes.
In Sydney, the highest Labor vote will be in booths in the poorer, more blue-collar areas, such as the housing commission flats in Surry Hills and Redfern, and even further out in Beaconsfield, the still-proletarian parts of Alexandria, etc, etc. There will also be a particularly high Labor vote in the Glebe Estate public housing area.
The more affluent other end of Glebe will be a hotspot for Moore and the Liberals. The Potts Point-Kings Cross area will also vote strongly for Moore and the Liberals. The pattern of higher or lower Labor or Moore votes will follow the income divides in the City of Sydney, and it will be quite possible to discern the pattern. It always is for those who have eyes to see.
The different social composition of the votes is a pretty important factor in where one should direct socialist preferences.
In my recent long piece on Leninism and Zinovievism (cited above) I tried to describe in some detail how public disagreement on even minor matters is strangled in Zinovievist political groups. This issue of preferences is a striking example of how that works.
Peter Boyle now concedes that a number of DSP and ISO leaders and/or members opposed the preference decision. That’s well and good, but the striking thing is that not one of them so far has felt sufficiently free to express that point of view even on the Green Left Weekly discussion list, or in the Socialist Alliance internal bulletins.
A member of the ISO who has been vocal on this question told me in conversation that initially he opposed the Clover Moore preference decision, but the ISO caucus met and decided in favour of it, and therefore he changed his position and played a substantial role in persuading the Central branch of the Alliance to preference Clover Moore. Presumably, something analogous took place in the DSP.
At no point in the Socialist Alliance, apparently, has a horizontal discussion taken place outside the framework of the strict discipline of the two major Alliance components. In that kind of circumstance, obviously what happens is a kind of negotiation between the leaders of the two groups.
My overview of how the two groups work might be changed if there was some kind of public discussion of this modest issue, but on form so far that’s unlikely to happen.
It’s all very well for Keiran to say the decision on preferences doesn’t lead to a sectarian attitude towards the ALP, but that’s hopeful rubbish. Taking such a preference decision has the very practical effect of isolating the groups that do it, thoroughly, in the broader labour movement.
Laborites tend to react very viscerally against people who give their preferences to politicians who most Laborites regard as essentially conservative. It’s particularly ironic of Peter Boyle and the DSP leadership to be quite properly pointing to the progressive aspects of federal Labor leader Mark Latham’s public announcement today on withdrawing troops from Iraq at the same time as the Socialist Alliance is deliberately reducing the possibility of influencing Laborites in the city of Sydney by this preference decision.
See also: The Greens and the 2004 NSW local government elections