Bob Gould, 2004

Brainless, shameless moralising rubbish
Thoughtless rhetoric about scabs is politically dangerous

Source: Ozleft, Marxmail discussion list, May 24-25, 2004
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left discussion list, May 24, 2004

The Green Left discussion list is getting weirder by the second. For most of last week there was a bizarre argument between Dave Murray and various DSP members.

Murray didn’t achieve anything useful by describing DSP adherents as “pond scum” and DSP adherent Dr Ben Reid responded in kind by accusing Murray’s organisation, the Socialist Party, of being a “scab party” because of a dispute over the settlement of an industrial struggle seven years ago.

I have no brief either for the SP or the bloke accused of being a scab because of his position on that industrial dispute, but it seems to me completely crazy to use words like scab, which have a precise meaning in the labour movement, in that framework.

If the SP genuinely was a “scab party”, which it clearly isn’t, it wouldn’t be appropriate to have any communication with it. Loosely throwing accusations of scabbery is absolutely poisonous, politically, yet no responsible person in the DSP tried to restrain anyone in the DSP orbit in that strange discussion.

Today, this kind of craziness has reached a new level, which is both politically bad and extremely dangerous. A right-wing ideologue, called Nolan, who parades, and is paraded by the Murdoch press, as some sort of Laborite, publishes a virulent article in The Australian attacking Michael Moore. (I’m trying to knock into the 700-word obligatory framework for op-ed pieces a sharp response to this bloke, which I intend to submit to The Australian.)

The interesting thing about this reactionary pundit, Nolan, is that he’s used by the Murdoch press to attack the Labor federal parliamentary leadership and its policy of withdrawal of Australian troops from Iraq. That’s clearly the role this reactionary figure chooses to play, and the role in which he’s cast by The Australian

The appropriate stand for socialists in this situation is to defend both Michael Moore and Mark Latham, and the Labor policy of withdrawing Australian troops from Iraq, against Nolan and The Australian.

GLparamatta, Lord Ludd and the DSP leadership as a whole can’t bring themselves to do that, so they treat this man Nolan as a representative of mainstream Labor opinion, by their heading, “Labor scab attacking Moore”.

I ran a bookstall at the last NSW Labor Party conference, and far and away my best-selling books at that conference were the two Michael Moore titles, which were snapped up by Labor leftists and rightists.

Michael Moore is extremely popular with what one might call mainstream Labor opinion. For DSP pundits to treat this Nolan as some kind of representative of Laborism is the height of sectarian stupidity and plays right into the hands of the editorial writers of The Australian, who want to build up Nolan as some sort of significant alternative to Mark Latham. It seems GLpramatta is unconcerned about lending a hand in this.

It indicates political bankruptcy when members of Marxist groups loosely throw around rhetoric about scabs the way significant people in the DSP have been doing lately.

Wild rhetoric is no substitute for analysis, and it is very dangerous. A few months ago people on the GLW site loosely characterised some union officials as scabs, and they were wise enough to drop off when the unwisdom of that kind of language was pointed out to them, for very practical reasons.

The same practical reasons apply to the reactionary figure, Mr Nolan. His right-wing views should be opposed and combatted energetically, but calling him a scab doesn’t help matters at all. It clouds the political atmosphere. It’s also potentially dangerous for the people using the language.

We’re told this bloke earns his living as an industrial lawyer. I would have thought it would be wise for people involved in a political argument with a right-wing industrial lawyer to avoid loose and possibly libellous characterisations.

I remember a time when my old political friend George Petersen got a large sum of money out of Fred Nile under the libel laws, which pleased George and his friends very much. But George’s success in the courts on that occasion should be a salutory reminder to socialists to be sensibly restrained in their use of language.

This right-winger, Nolan, is clearly a political opponent, but it’s very intemperate and unwise to call him a scab in the public domain. This is over and above the viciously sectarian intention behind calling Nolan a “Labor scab”, which is clearly intended to associate Nolan’s views with those of ordinary ALP members and supporters, and the Labor leadership. In reality the overwhelming majority of ALP members, trade union activists and ALP politicians are vehemently opposed to Nolan’s views on the Iraq war, which is exactly the reason why the Murdoch press tries to promote Nolan as some kind of Laborite.

Serendipitously, the World Socialist Website has scheduled a public meeting at the Tom Mann Theatre next Sunday. The poster they’re putting up around the inner-city advertising the meeting contains a similar slander directed at Laborites in general, asserting that Labor Party members are silent on the atrocities in Iraq. The DSP and the WSWS these days seem to live in the same alternative universe.

Thoughtless rhetoric about scabs

May 25, 2004

Most of the comments on my post of last night are deliberately insulting and show up in bold relief the underlying political outlook of the DSP leadership.

Lordludd deliberately insults me by asserting that I’m trying to get the right-winger, Nolan, to sue him. How stupid can you get? I was simply trying to help Brother Ludd by pointing out the danger, both to himself and the Green Left list, of recklessly throwing around thoughtless rhetoric about scabs, particularly against an industrial lawyer.

In this context, my concern is genuine for the interests of the Green Left list, which from time to time I find a useful platform, and even for the dopey Lordludd.

A leftist of my acquaintance once had to pull up stakes and move states to escape a libel writ from a right-wing union official who he had rather unwisely called a scab. A rank-and-file leftist ironworkers union leader in Newcastle, with whom I was acquainted, had to sell his house when he lost a libel case against a right-wing union official.

In the overheated, politically hysterical, atmosphere generated by the DSP leadership these considerations don’t seem to rate at all. Despite the obvious political disagreements I have with the DSP leadership I’m genuinely shaken by how little attention they seem to pay to these kinds of questions, in pursuit of their mistaken, sectarian political line.

At the very least, the moderator of the list should declare a moratorium on language about scabs, applied to living individuals. I have no intention of drawing Mr Nolan’s attention to this craziness on the GLW list, but if he’s a normal, opinionated pundit, as he seems to be, he’s likely to Google his own name from time to time to see what people say about him.

Lordludd, GLparamatta and others are behaving very recklessly indeed, and my purpose in raising the question is to draw attention to how reckless this rhetoric is to the other 300-odd participants in this list.

All concerned should knock off crazy rhetoric about scabs.

My other purpose, obviously, is to raise very sharply the vicious sectarianism towards the ranks of the labour movement displayed in GLparamatta’s header, and the lack of a sense of proportion and judgment. The attempt is made, and continued by Lordludd and Simon Butler, to associate Laborites in general with the reactionary views of Nolan, in pursuit of the DSP’s bankrupt schema about Labor being one of two capitalist parties, ignoring the social location and social base of the ALP.

GLparamatta’s timing is unfortunate from his point of view. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald polls seems to show a rather substantial electoral swing to Labor, and the pollsters, in trying to explain it, associate the swing with Labor’s opposition to the Iraq war.

The polls show that 88 per cent of Greens and Democrats oppose the war, and 80 per cent of Labor voters are opposed as well. Only a minority of Liberal voters are opposed, although the number of antiwar Liberals has increased.

I’m struck forcibly by the fact that no one on the GLW list has even mentioned today’s poll. DSP leadership supporters are usually very quick to draw attention to polls showing increased opposition to the Iraq war, but it seems this poll, which shows the overwhelming correlation between voting Labor and opposing the war, is to be ignored — because it might sow illusions in Laborism, perhaps.

This poll underlines the class and political division between the Tory right and the Labor-Green left in Australian society.

The DSP leadership can’t cope with this phenomenon because it doesn’t fit their schema, and they’re driven to exactly the same device as the right-wing Murdoch newspapers, of holding up an isolated right-winger, called Nolan, as somehow representative of Laborism, despite all evidence to the contrary, in things like the statements of Labor leaders against the Iraq war and today’s polls.

Duncan Meerding insults the Laborites who bought Moore’s books at the ALP state conference, saying they probably didn’t read them. What a dope this man is! In my experience as a bookseller everybody who buys Michael Moore reads him, including Laborites, because he’s funny and effective.

The ruling classes of the US and Australia are positively apopleptic about Michael Moore, witness PP McGuinness’s similar assault to Nolan’s on him this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald. (McGuinness’s attack doesn’t rate a mention on the Green Left list, but then McGuinness can’t be as easily fitted into Laborism as Nolan. Incidentally, GLW website participants only have The Australian’s word for it about Nolan’s Labor Party membership. Nolan may be trading on past associations, and may not even be a current ALP member, but none of that’s of any interest on the GLW list. Anything goes if you want to kick the Laborites.)

From a socialist point of view, this DSP leadership sectarianism is monumentally stupid. A very substantial polarisation is building in Australian society as the federal election approaches. The hopes of the Labor-Green left side of Australian society are now heavily invested in the prospect of the Labor-Green side defeating the Liberals electorally, with the inevitable prospect of a Green balance of power in the Senate.

The possibility of defeating the Liberals is the central axis of current Australian politics, and even in a secondary way of world politics. The election of a Labor government that withdraws Australian troops from Iraq will be a very major blow to imperialism. Even the dopiest political observers can see this, and that’s driving the reactionary side of Australian politics off its tree. In this situation, all the DSP leadership can think to do is grasp at straws, in this instance Mr Nolan, to try to create an impression that Laborites in general support the Iraq war.

The DSP leadership is the only group of people in Australian society that holds this eccentric view, and the ruthless, reckless and inaccurate way they prosecute this view tends to cut them off from the whole left of Australian society, which has other things on its mind, in particular defeating the Liberals in the elections.

If there’s a material crisis in the DSP, and it is now pretty public that there is, it has everything to do with the DSP leadership’s dead-end sectarian political line towards the workers movement and the coming federal elections.

Discussion, Discussion