Bob Gould, 2004

Developing class consciousness
From the ALP to the revolutionary party

Source: Ozleft, Marxmail, Green Left Weekly discussion list, February 12-20, 2004
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Ozleft has made available Michael Thomson’s letter of resignation from the Australian Socialist Alliance and it has generated considerable interest.

In response, Nick Fredman posted on the Green Left list, and on Marxmail, two comments by “independents” in the Socialist Alliance.

In particular, the comment by Austin Whitten dramatically confirms a number of the issues raised in Michael Thomson’s statement.

Much of my contribution here will focus on the nature of Green Left Weekly, but I want to stress that it’s not a personal attack on either the newspaper, or its staff. Over the years, I’ve probably read every issue of Green Left and its predecessor Direct Action, and despite sharp political differences I have the deepest respect for the project of maintaining a weekly socialist newspaper.

For practical purposes, Green Left is the last such newspaper standing in Australia, and that’s no mean achievement. That is what makes it worthwhile, from a socialist point of view, to argue with GLW and those who produce it.

I know a little bit about socialist newspapers. Over a considerable number of years I’ve helped rank-and-file groups of militants in unions produce newspapers and leaflets. For some years people I’m closely associated with put an immense amount of effort, largely unpaid, into the production of Workers News (now deceased).

I’m acquainted with all the staff of GLW, and I don’t underestimate the dedication and constant physical commitment required of them to produce the newspaper.

I’m impressed that such an effective newspaper can be produced on a sustained, weekly basis by such a small staff, even with the improvements in modern technology. I like some of the Green Left staff, with whom I’m slightly acquainted, and don’t like others, but that’s not the point.

All the people who work for it devote their lives to producing a paper week after week, year after year. My differences with GLW are political, not personal. (It’s worth saying that I had a similar attitude to the dedicated staff of the Stalinist weekly paper, Tribune, before its demise. I knew a number of them personally too, and respected them as human beings, although I had fundamental disagreements with their politics).

Austin Whitten, the Socialist Alliance “independent” says:

Michael, as a member of the Socialist Alliance editorial board for Green Left Weekly and someone who is actively involved in the SA-GLW project, I feel compelled to comment on your remarks about same. And as an active NTEU member, I also feel compelled to offer my perspective on the NTEU and the SA. Characterising Green Left as a DSP paper that only supports a “certain set of political positions associated with the Democratic Socialist Party” is not supported by the evidence available on a weekly basis in the pages of the newspaper.

GLW, as any regular reader readily knows, represents a broad left spectrum and is not, nor ever has been a party paper, for two reasons. It was envisioned as a mechanism for reaching out to a broad left audience in order to survive economically, and more practically, it had to be organised as an independent entity, with no assets, to act as protection against litigation.

Well, if you accept that paragraph, you should be easy to convince that black is white, the moon is made of green cheese and the earth is flat.

No one in Australia, or anywhere else for that matter, who reads Green Left Weekly and who accepts the evidence of their senses is likely to believe that. The DSP leadership, loyal DSP members, and loyal supporters, like Austin Whitten, say this everywhere they go in public.

Internally in the DSP, however, particularly at the leadership level, but also among the rank and file, Green Left Weekly is proudly claimed as the DSP’s paper. The DSP is a highly centralised organisation.

At a closed conference of the DSP, and subsequently at a national meeting of Resistance, the DSP’s youth organisation (also ostensibly independent of the party) some oppositionists, based in Resistance, who advocated that Resistance too become a multi-tendency organisation, like the Alliance, were thoroughly quarantined and defeated on the initiative of the DSP leadership, and effectively isolated in the organisation.

In the discussion in Resistance, the young supporters of the DSP leadership frequently quoted John Percy and Doug Lorimer defending homogeneity in the party and the youth organisation, and opposing “pluralism”.

There were also references to the implicitly Cannonist framework of party and youth movement building.

The DSP, as is clear in the DSP perspective document adopted at the conference, decided to make Green Left Weekly the newspaper of the Alliance, but on the strict understanding that the DSP and Resistance retained their totally centralised, Cannonist character.

The clear implication is that the DSP leadership will retain control of Green Left Weekly, particularly of its political line, while however, accommodating some of the organisations in the Alliance a bit.

Austin Whitten asks the readers to generously give him the political benefit of the doubt both ways. He proclaims that in the future he will ensure that none of the affiliates dominate GLW, but he also asserts the opposite, that it has always been a broad left newspaper anyway.

Either Comrade Whitten is unbelievably naive or he is asking us to believe something that contradicts reality. All the full-time staff of GLW are, and have always been, leading members of the DSP.

My understanding is that there are in Sydney six or seven full-timers working on GLW, all leading members of the DSP.

All the significant responsible correspondents interstate have always been members of the DSP. All past and present editors have been members of the DSP leadership. The overwhelming majority of the people who sign articles in GLW are members of the DSP or Resistance. In the internal literature of the DSP, the Party Campaigner, etc, there is a constant detailed account of organisation to sell the paper, the number of sales, the number of people selling, the number of hours devoted to it, etc. There are frequent internal DSP campaigns to maintain this rather impressive effort.

The line articles on current political questions in Australian and international matters are consistent with the current political line of the DSP in almost every detail. Over the years, the odd controversy has been allowed in GLW, or Direct Action, but these controversies are relatively rare, and are usually on more abstract international questions.

Paradoxically, there has been less internal argument in GLW in the period since the Alliance commenced. There has certainly been nothing like the extended argument about the student movement that there was a few years ago, or the argument with Roger Clark in Brisbane about the Labor Party.

The DSP leadership makes some attempt at what they call broadness by publishing from time to time historical and political articles by Phil Shannon, who’s not a member of the DSP, and they’ve even on a couple of occasions printed pieces by myself, for which I’m properly grateful.

With gritted teeth the DSP leadership puts up with a limited amount of serious discussion on the GLW discussion list, although they don’t encourage such discussions to take off or develop too far. I’m conscious of the fact that the Green Left list is their show, and sensibly grateful that they tolerate my contributions there, but it’s worth noting that when it started a year ago, they suggested that from time to time there might be a spread of discussions from the GLW list every month or so into GLW itself. That hasn’t eventuated.

What the DSP leadership means, when it talks about GLW being a broad newspaper of the left is that they, from time to time, publish articles by leftists and liberals that conjuncturally agree with the current political line of the DSP.

They very rarely even note the views of significant leftists and liberals who disagree with them, other than to ridicule them.

By way of contrast, the Communist Party of Australia, before Stalinisation, and to some extent after the decay of Stalinism had set in, had a much greater culture of debate and argument on tactical questions.

The Workers Weekly in the 1920s institutionalised a party-wide debate in the newspaper every year for four or five years before the annual conference and Tribune, in the last 15 years of its existence, before it closed down in the late 1980s, had a culture of public debate. That isn’t the case with GLW.

At the moment, despite the unconvincing rhetoric about GLW being a broad left, non-party, paper, which Austin Whitten unreflectively repeats (despite evidence to the contrary) the whole of the Australian left views GLW as what it really is: a well-produced newspaper relentlessly expressing the political line of the DSP leadership.

A demonstration of this is the coverage of the 2004 Labor Party federal conference, a major political event in Australia. I posted two articles describing the events at the conference, and criticising the GLW coverage for its bias by way of excluding major topics.

GLW responds in part with an equally biased account of the industrial relations debate at the conference, and so far there is silence in GLW, and on the Green Left list, in response to my critique.

The issue of GLW’s coverage of the ALP federal conference is a useful example because it’s a case where the DSP leadership’s curious and biased version of events is at variance with the views of the overwhelming majority of activists in the Australian labour movement, other than those in the DSP.

A modest proposal for Green Left Weekly

For GLW to have any possibility of convincing anyone outside the ranks of the DSP and its supporters in the Socialist Alliance, that it is in any sense a broad left paper, the following proposal might rectify the situation somewhat.

What about a four-page discussion section in every issue with solicited articles from representatives of different and opposed points of view on the left, in the labour movement, the green movement and progressive forces in society?

The first such four-page discussion would obviously have to be a frank discussion across the left and labour movement about perspectives for the coming elections.

A second such discussion might be between different points of view on developments in Iraq and in the antiwar movement.

A third such discussion might range widely over perspectives in the trade union movement in the light of the decisions of the Labor federal conference, the ACTU conference, the recent victory of the train drivers in NSW, and the recent victory of the NTEU in its conflict with recalcitrant university employers.

A fourth such discussion might be about indigenous affairs, with viewpoints solicited across the indigenous movement.

A fifth discussion might be about the future of the Greens.

A sixth might be about the recent reactionary, racist decision of the French government to ban Muslim head-dress in schools, and its possible implications for multiculturalism and race relations in Australia.

It goes without saying that to have a rational discussion of any of these questions, people would have to be involved from the far left, across the spectrum from the Greens to all wings of the labour movement — or as I often put it, the ALP-trade union continuum.

Without such a physical turn in Green Left Weekly, no one outside the DSP and a few of its Alliance supporters is likely to take seriously Comrade Whitten’s proposition that GLW is some kind of broad left newspaper.

A sensible man with an impossible case to argue

February 14, 2004

Nick Fredman, who is a careful controversialist, tries to defend the interests of the DSP leadership against the points made in Michael Thomson’s letter of resignation from the Socialist Alliance, by posting pieces by two Alliance “independents”, without initially making any comments of his own.

I responded on one part of the issues in dispute with a detailed and comprehensive argument against Austin Whitten’s internally contradictory proposition that Green Left Weekly had always been a “broad left” paper, and anyway was going to become one now.

I assembled, chapter and verse, a comprehensive case that GLW had always been the newspaper of the DSP, which is a highly centralised organisation, in which discussion is internal, and even a lot of the time internal to the leadership of the DSP, and that GLW was produced in that framework.

Being a sensible man with an almost impossible case to argue, Nick wisely doesn’t take up the general thrust of my argument, but singles out one small example of the very new regime in which Brian Webb of the ISO had an article in GLW about the Labor Party national conference.

The fact that Nick Fredman quotes such a recent event as evidence underlines my general point that on matters of controversy “line” articles are almost invariably written in the general spirit of the DSP’s current political orientation.

Even the very new phenomenon of an article by Brian Webb in GLW illustrates my basic point. It’s true that the ISO has had a different attitude to developments in the Labor Party than the DSP leadership.

Brian Webb’s article, however, mainly focuses on the major defeat suffered by the left at the ALP conference: the defeat on the refugee question. It takes a pessimistic view of prospects for the left in the ALP and doesn’t address in any detail the important areas in which a militant policy was successful, such as industrial relations.

It’s quite a convenient article for the DSP leadership, and fits into the political orientation of the DSP leadership well enough for its purposes.

There has been no article in GLW that put forthrightly the proposition, which happens to be a truthful one, that there were a number of progressive outcomes at the ALP national conference.

Martin Kingham and Michele O’Neil are grudgingly allowed to say that there were progressive decisions about industrial relations, in an “interview” that downgrades the importance of what they are saying. Their comments about the progressive nature of the industrial relations decisions are contained in an article that’s carefully edited to draw the reader towards the conclusion that the ALP conference was an unmitigated defeat for progressive policies.

In trying to use the one, unconvincing, example of an article by Brian Webb to defend the proposition that GLW is some kind of broad left paper, rather than the political organ of the DSP leadership, Nick Fredman is being too cute by half and presuming a lot about the credulity of his audience.

I notice that neither he nor anyone from the staff of GLW or the DSP leadership have even deigned to comment on my very serious list of six possible topics for discussion, with divergent points of view, in future issues of GLW.

Response to Virginia Brown

February 17, 2004

I note the relatively civil tone of Virginia Brown’s response to my recent post and I’m grateful for it. We seem to be settling down to a reasonably rational style of discussion despite our sharp political difference.

Virginia’s careful tone is important because she’s clearly one of the senior editorial staff of Green Left Weekly.

In response, first of all, I don’t say that GLW should be uncritical of the ALP leadership, far from it. Personally, I’ve been critical of various aspects of the activities of ALP leaderships all my political life.

Recently, I’ve been particularly noisy in opposition to Labor’s refugee policy. Criticism of ALP leaderships is normal, and par for the course for socialists, as long as the criticism is accurate and balanced.

What I do say, is that in the run-up to the federal elections GLW‘s coverage is defective in the respect that it profoundly underestimates the considerable groundswell building up on the left side of Australian society for the removal of the reactionary Howard government and its replacement by a Labor-Green majority and a Labor government led by Mark Latham.

The sectarian attitude of GLW and the DSP leadership towards this phenomenon is aptly expressed in Peter Boyle’s inane headline yesterday to his posting of the recent Morgan Gallup poll, which suggests a 56.5 per cent preferred vote to Labor.

Peter headed that post “false consciousness”. Does he suggest that non-false consciousness will only be achieved when the Morgan poll shows 56.5 per cent for the Socialist Alliance? If that’s the case, he’ll be waiting quite a while.

In current conditions, a 56.5 per cent preferred vote for Labor with a large vote for the Greens would be a considerable leap in consciousness, but that seems to escape Peter Boyle.

In the coming elections, socialists have three choices. A very large number of socialists of one sort or another will work for the ALP because their presence in the ALP involves a compact to work for selected and endorsed Labor candidates. A number of other socialists will work for the Greens, and a much smaller number of socialists will work for the Socialist Alliance.

I have no quarrel with any of these three tactical positions, although as someone who has invested a lot of my life in activities in and around the Labor Party for socialist agitational reasons I am bound, like other socialists in the ALP, to work for ALP candidates, and I will. I have no quarrel with anyone who takes either of the other two positions. What I do say is that the central strategic orientation of all three groups of socialists should be to kick the Howard Liberals out, and a strict exchange of preferences between Labor, the Green and the Socialist Alliance directed at the end of removing the Howard government.

That does not involve any abdication of criticism of the ALP leadership, but it does involve framing such criticism in the context of an understanding of the deep desire of the left-leaning 56.5 per cent of society, if you believe the Morgan poll, to remove the Liberals.

That dimension of mass politics seems to be lost on GLW and the DSP leadership in their unremitting exposure tactics towards Laborism, root and branch, and their more tentative exposure rhetoric towards the Greens.

My criticism of the GLW coverage of the industrial relations victories at the ALP federal conference was not that there was necessary criticism of the limitation of those policies, but that:

1. GLW didn’t seem to notice the industrial relations decisions in its first issue after the conference. That issue of GLW presented the ALP federal conference as an undifferentiated defeat for the left, which it wasn’t.

2. When I brought this defect forcefully to GLW‘s attention, the response was a carefully edited “interview” with Michele O’Neil and Martin Kingham, which drew the conclusion that they were wasting their time in the ALP (despite the fact that the content of their activity at the conference demonstrated the opposite).

Virginia Brown develops a thesis that if there were any progressive decisions on industrial relations at the ALP conference they mainly were a product of mass struggle outside the ALP-trade union continuum.

This proposition is metaphysical left rhetoric. Industrially, in society, the trade unions are still in an extremely defensive situation. Lenin and Trotsky used to stress that in politics it’s extremely important to be able to tell the difference between ebb and flow. Anyone who says there’s a big flow of industrial militancy in the unions right now is having themselves on.

The situation is still overwhelmingly defensive. In this context any industrial victories that take place that dent the Howard-Reith-Abbott assault on trade unions are very important. An example is the recent victory against compulsory individual contracts and some improvements in wages and conditions, achieved in bargaining by the NTEU.

It’s delusional to ascribe the victories on industrial relations at the ALP federal conference mainly to mass struggle of workers in industry, however. The fact that militants such as Michelle O’Neil and Martin Kingham were able to rustle up sufficient support within the ALP-trade union continuum to get these improvements unanimously through an ALP federal conference, despite some of them being rejected at the ACTU conference, is a classic example of the subjective factor of individual agitation and activity being extremely important.

Obviously, lobbying by these militant union leaders, which persuaded even their most conservative union colleagues, involved intelligent use of the proposition that without a dramatic reversal of industrial relations structures in the direction of the more pro-trade-union arrangements of the past, the whole existence of trade unionism is in question.

This included a fairly frank appeal to the self-interest of the trade union bureaucracy in the preservation and development of the trade union organisations, out of which they make their living, combined with a principled appeal to the traditional ideology of trade unionism. In the event this was successful, and what’s wrong with that approach: a defensive approach in the current absence big mass industrial struggles?

Virginia Brown may have noticed today that the employers are beginning to wake up to the dangers to their interests inherent in the ALP conference decisions. Of course, the trade union movement will have to agitate hard for a Labor government to carry out these decisions. This, naturally, first requires the election of a Labor government.

These are all big and serious questions, and I suggest to Virginia Brown, as a responsible member of the GLW editorial board, that GLW consider my proposal for a four-page discussion supplement in GLW on various questions. This discussion should involve people who are active in the three sectors of the progressive side of Australian society.

Firstly, people who are active in the ALP and the trade unions, secondly people who are active in the Greens and thirdly people who are active in far-left groups, about half of whom are members of the Socialist Alliance.

I would add to the six topics I have already suggested, the following three:

1. A frank discussion, pro and con, of the recent victorious industrial struggle of the NTEU. That there was a victory at all has, rather to my surprise, been called into question by some Socialist Alliance comrades in the discussion of Michael Thomson’s recent resignation from the Socialist Alliance, which is available on Ozleft.

2. A second topic might be a frank discussion between the ALP and the Socialist Alliance. Why not get important figures who’ve led recent struggles in the ALP, such as ALP president Carmen Lawrence, Harry Quick (MHRs); Hugh Williams from the Queensland Transport Workers Union; Matt Collins, the convener of Labor for Refugees in Queensland; Nick Martin, the convener of Labor for Refugees in the ACT; Michele O’Neil and Martin Kingham; Meredith Burgmann MLC and Tanya Plibersek HHR to explain why they continue to be active in the ALP from a socialist point of view. Why not counterpose their views to those of people who explain why they wish to be active in the Socialist Alliance, and put it in the form of some form of dialogue and interchange between the two points of view.

3. Why not have a similar four-page spread of interchange between people who choose to be active in the Greens and socialists who choose to be active in the Socialist Alliance, again with some sort of emphasis on interchange.

Wouldn’t this kind of frank discussion between socialists of different orientations be preferable to the unremitting exposure rhetoric that has been the only point of view to come through consistently in GLW? I hope the GLW editorial board will consider my proposals in the civilised socialist spirit in which I put them forward.

Please don’t verbal Michael Thomson

February 18, 2004

Nick Fredman says: “One of Michael’s criticisms being the quite banal one that [Socialist Alliance] didn’t instantly become a mass party”. Well, at the risk of straining the relatively civil exchanges we’ve been having, Nick, you’ve just gratuitously and offensively “verballed” Michael Thomson. In the usual fashion, common on the far left, which has been turned into a form of high art by the DSP leadership, you here take some words of Michael’s, reinterpret them in your own loaded language, and serve it back to us as what Michael said.

Michael Thomson’s formulation about the inability of the Alliance to develop its possible initial potential was far more careful, considered and modulated, than the crude expression of dashed hopes that you put into his mouth.

I’m rather sensitive to that kind of verballing, for the obvious reason that DSP leadership polemicists do it constantly to me. Also, however, the DSP school of journalism tends to do it a bit to the whole of the universe, so to speak. If people who have a different strategic orientation to the DSP are ever quoted, their quotes are carefully edited and usually buried in a pile of other quotes consistent with the current political orientation of the DSP leadership.

Yesterday, and last week, I argued that Green Left Weekly should hold a substantial open forum in its pages where different perspectives on the left about the elections were put forward freely, with proper weight given to the different points of view.

Also, the fairly dramatic swing to Labor in the last few weeks has made it increasingly difficult for GLW to ignore the groundswell against the Howard government. What popped out, however, once again, is a rather exquisitely edited line article by Kerryn Williams, which is presented as if it is some kind of discussion, but is actually a sustained polemic for the Socialist Alliance project, and the Socialist Alliance project alone.

It starts with an elaborately argued version of the dubious DSP leadership proposition that the Australian ruling class is preparing the masses for a Latham government, almost to the point that Williams seems to suggest significant sections of the bourgeoisie regard a Latham government as desirable. This kind of conspiracy theory is usually wrong.

Mostly, in Australian society, the most powerful sections of the bourgeoisie prefer, most of the time, Liberal governments. This is particularly true when the Liberals are in office, because even the process of defeating Liberal governments raises the dangerous spectre, from the point of view of the bourgeoisie, of a certain amount of mass mobilisation. Williams then goes on to quote one Laborite, Harry Quick, and then four or five adherents of the Socialist Alliance, who all say that the real political task is to build the Socialist Alliance, particularly to replace the rotten Laborites.

Norm Dixon, in his usual energetic way, just today drew attention particularly to this article on the Green Left discussion list. Whether the DSP leadership’s analysis of the coming election is valid is not the issue here. The issue is that Kerryn Williams’ carefully crafted and implacably edited line article, presented as some kind of discussion, is not really a discussion. Nick Fredman says that the conference decision that mandated the current changes in GLW read in part:

That the Socialist Alliance should move to produce its own regular publication aimed at:

That part of the resolution appears to allow for the possibility of the kind of open discussion that I have been proposing to GLW. Kerryn Williams’ line article on the elections and Sue Bolton’s line article on the industrial relations issue at the ALP conference are not that kind of discussion, although some attempt is made to suggest that they are. Once again, I commend to GLW the nine subjects for discussion that I’ve raised over the past week or so and suggest four pages of the paper be devoted to such an open discussion. I’d be interested in a serious response from the GLW editorial board to this proposal.

Heating up the political atmosphere

February 18, 2004

The DSP leadership loyalist whose email address identifies him/herself as BR, but who doesn’t provide any other identification, tries to heat up the political atmosphere as much as possible. In an almost occult way, he/she claims acquaintanceship with company chief executives who support Mark Latham and Labor in the coming elections as a useful second party of capitalism.

I don’t move in the same exalted circles as chief executives plugged into the wisdom of the ruling class as BR does, I just have to operate on basis of my general political understanding and observations. It may be true that after an uninspiring diet of Crean and Beazley some working journalists are a bit excited about Latham.

Rather than the views of a couple of chief executives, a better guide to the mood of the bourgeoisie is the editorial line of the major capitalist newspapers. Their general line is that the Liberals had better smarten up their game or Labor might beat them, which is presented generally as a danger.

The Murdoch press and most of its stable of right-wing columnists, such as Piers Ackerman, are mightily hostile to Labor. I repeat what I said earlier: as a general rule, from the viewpoint of most of the bourgeoisie, while they can live with Labor governments from time to time, their general preferred option is the Liberals and Nationals, and most of the ruling class doesn’t like transitions to Labor governments because such governments often unleash aspirations on the part of the masses.

Different estimates of these questions are not, however, the main issue. BR’s extremely violent reaction to my careful critique of the GLW school of “discussion” is at the centre of this argument.

I continue to assert a fairly simple proposition: discussion articles are not carefully edited and angled items such as the Sue Bolton and Kerryn Williams pieces. These two articles are presented as some kind of discussion when they are actually, reasonably clearly, what people who know about Marxist newspapers call line articles.

The quotes of people who have tactical disagreements with the DSP are usually carefully edited and buried under other quotes that express the political point of view of the DSP leadership. Such articles are slightly deceptive, but quite effective, propaganda. The one thing they are not, however, is serious discussion.

Serious discussion requires that people with divergent points of view express and develop their points of view in interaction with each other, and that doesn’t happen when the editorial hand converts interviews into line articles. The fact that these articles are signed by individuals such as Sue Bolton and Kerryn Williams is quite incidental to this point.

Once again, I make this extremely simple proposal to the DSP leadership: for the moment put aside my proposal for nine topics of discussion and just try a pilot project of one such genuine discussion supplement, in which you give five or six representative people on the left of the ALP-trade union continuum the chance to express their point of view as to why they’re in the ALP and what their perspectives are for the coming federal elections and after, and get five or six Socialist Alliance members to express their point of view, in some real interaction between the points of view, with minimal editorial intervention other than, perhaps, asking the original questions and tidying up for coherence and syntax.

What could be clearer than this modest proposal? BR directs a lot of personal abuse of me, but even he might deign to consider my suggestion on its merits, and the GLW editorial board might put aside any views they might have about me and consider this proposal on its merits. What’s wrong with conducting a discussion in such a way in a socialist newspaper that desires to be accepted as a vehicle for broad left discussion?

Stimulating and hosting debate

February 19, 2004

Nick Fredman a couple of days ago drew attention to “the conference decision that mandated the current changes” in Green Left Weekly, which read in part that the Socialist Alliance should move to produce its own regular publication aimed at stimulating and hosting debates in the broadly anticapitalist and anti-neoliberal camp (Greens, left ALP, various movements)”.

Peter Boyle has given us his lengthy opinion as to why socialists should not, as he is given to rather piquantly putting it, “join the conga line of suckholes” campaigning for a Latham Labor-Greens majority government in the next election. This is Peter Boyle’s view, and he’s entitled to hold it.

However, the overwhelming majority of activists, both in the ALP-trade union continuum and the Green movement, have other views, as do probably more than half the far left.

I put it to the GLW editorial board that if you seriously wish to “stimulate and house debates”, etc, you will eventually be forced to find a format where those in the workers and greens movements, the overwhelming majority in fact, who have some level of disagreement with you, are given a reasonable opportunity to develop their point of view in their own words, in GLW.

Unless you find an appropriate framework for that in GLW, you have no hope of achieving the stated aim of the resolution quoted above. Addressing the GLW editorial board, is Peter Boyle’s oblique rejection of my proposition in today’s post, the official position of the GLW editorial board? If it is or isn’t, you should say so either way.

The 2004 elections

February 20, 2004

Elections in Australia, where voting is compulsory, and 95 per cent of the electorate votes, bring political issues and class divisions into fairly sharp focus.

The DSP leadership’s proposition that Labor and the Liberals are equivalent bourgeois parties is an artificial construct and it breaks down in the face of most elections — very strikingly so in the run-up to the 2004 elections.

The traditional Marxist view that the Labor Party is a bourgeois workers’ party is a quite scientific description, and it’s based particularly on the substantial involvement of most of the major trade unions in the Labor Party.

Running up to these elections, the trade unions have been able to commit Mark Latham’s ALP leadership to a fairly radical set of industrial relations proposals, which is important because these matters have a major bearing on the class struggle.

Just this week, for instance, I had a phone call from an old friend in Melbourne who is a delegate of the CFMEU. As it happens, this old acquaintance shares the Boyle-Bradley view of the ALP, but he’s a good observer and in an amused way he reported the atmosphere at the quarterly delegates’ meeting of the CFMEU, attended by 300 delegates, at which he had just been present.

He described Martin Kingham reporting on the decision of the ALP national conference to oppose the building industry Royal Commission and the adoption of the progressive industrial relations policy.

Kingham went on to say the CFMEU would work even more closely with the ALP to ensure the election of a Labor government and it would then use its muscle to ensure that the progressive decisions of the conference were carried out.

My old friend reported wild enthusiasm for Kingham’s proposals in this important industrial institution: the Victorian CFMEU’s quarterly delegates’ meeting. I wonder if Sue Bolton will report this delegates’ meeting in next week’s GLW.

I tell this story to illustrate the substantial groundswell building up in the labour movement for the election of a Latham government.

We should also, however, take into account Luke Fomiati’s salutary note of warning, when he points to the right-wing ideas developed by Ryan Heath in today’s press. As Fomiati realistically points out, Heath isn’t any old student, but an important part of one wing of the Labor left, and he’s deliberately giving comfort to the most conservative economic ideas coming out of Mark Latham’s kitbag of populism, right and left.

Socialists should not give Latham, and Ryan Heath for that matter, any support for their right-wing ideas, but they are faced with the reality that they must fight hard for a Labor government if they want any hearing at all from the masses, and particularly the industrial working class such as the CFMEU delegates, who deeply want to get rid of Howard.

Like any socialist working in the ALP, and like even the DSP when it worked in the ALP, I’ll work vigorously on the booth, etc, for the election of a Labor government and Labor candidates. That’s part of the deal if you choose to work in the ALP.

There are some moments of crisis when even people who work in the ALP sometimes vote for other candidates. Back in the 1950s and 1960s lots of ALP left-wingers used to quietly vote, in the secrecy of the booth, for the Communists Jim Healy or Jack Mundey for the Senate.

In the bitter crisis of the last federal elections, in the face of the craven policy of the ALP leadership on the refugee question, a lot of the left-wingers I know around inner-city Sydney quietly voted for the Greens, although they worked on the booths for the ALP.

That’s not likely to be the situation in the coming elections. The groundswell to remove Howard will draw in the bulk of the labour movement behind the ALP. Nevertheless, all the polls indicate that the Greens will get, for them, a large vote, partly from the collapse of the Democrats and partly from young people for whom Labor-Liberal class politics are not so significant.

Everything suggests the possibility of the election of a majority Labor government, but everything also suggests the great likelihood of the election of five or six Greens in the Senate, who would then, very likely, hold the balance of power.

I would regard such an outcome as very satisfactory, and the tension between the Greens and the ALP over policy matters would be very healthy. Maybe my formulation about a Labor-Greens majority government was a bit imprecise. I doubt that there will be a formal coalition, but it’s worth noting that the Greens in the ACT and the Greens in the upper house in WA support Labor governments and oppose the tories on all questions where the positions of the Greens and the ALP coincide, which seems to be most of the time.

Boyle and Bradley adopt a sectarian attitude towards the deep aspirations of the 56.5 per cent of the electorate who seem likely to vote Labor or Green, and for the removal of Howard.

The more leftist and progressive people among that 56.5 per cent are not indifferent, either, to the political outcome after the elections. Many of them look to the Greens and the Labor left to, in tandem, fight for more progressive outcomes from a Labor government.

The cranky pessimism of Boyle-Bradley about such a possibility gives them no point of entry into the existing consciousness of the left side of society.

Alan Bradley prattles a bit about the Greens and the Queensland elections, but he doesn’t tell us much about either the Greens or the Queensland elections, other than generalities.

My understanding, looking at the electoral map of the results in The Australian on the Monday, was that Labor won all the provincial cities along the coast except Gladstone. It won all the seats in Brisbane, and the only belt of National Party seats was the large-estate pastoral areas in southwest Queensland. In that area, the only Labor seat was one of the two in Toowoomba, where Bradley lives and works.

I’d ask Alan Bradley this sociological question: what’s the difference in social composition between the two Toowoomba seats? Is it the case that the one won by the Nationals goes out into the rural areas and the one won by Labor is the more urban, working-class one?

If that’s the case, doesn’t that tell you something about the sociology of Australian elections?

I’d also be interested if he could give us some breakdown of the preference flow from the Greens in the Toowoomba seats. That’s a genuine question. Even if the preferences weren’t distributed, Greens scrutineers should have collected a good picture for their own future use, and it would be interesting to know.

What I say about the coming elections is this: leftists in the ALP should fight hard to get ALP candidates elected. They should also fight hard for preferences to go to the Greens and the Socialist Alliance. People active in the Greens should fight hard to get Greens elected, and they should fight hard for preferences to the ALP and the Socialist Alliance. Socialist Alliance members should fight hard for their candidates and for preferences to the Greens and the ALP. The over-riding slogan should be kick the Liberals out, which corresponds to the need felt by the overwhelming majority of the left side of Australian society. (In that spirit, isn’t it time for GLW to have a few four-page supplements where representatives of the left of the ALP and the Greens are given the opportunity to put their point of view on the coming elections, rather than being severely edited by GLW journalists.).

Discussion, Discussion, Discussion

See also: Michael Thomson’s resignation from Socialist Alliance