Bob Gould, 2004

Socialist discussion and regroupment

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

Green Left discussion list

I’m grateful to Shane Hopkinson for patiently deconstructing the verbal abuse from the DSP leadership in the past week, which he does with good humour and a teaching sociologist’s precision. The verbal abusers, such as Boyle, have no adequate way of dealing with Shane’s patient pedagogy.

In a rather breathtaking piece of effrontery, Boyle this evening made a barefaced threat to those he calls “trolls” to boot them off the list forthwith. This intervention of Peter Boyle is an interesting exercise in DSP leadership methodology because it underlines, as did the methods used to expel LF from the DSP, that the DSP leadership doesn’t seem too concerned to maintain any notion of the separation of powers.

One would have thought that restraints concerning the list might have been exercised by the moderator, rather than Boyle. This intervention is particularly outrageous coming from Boyle, who a couple of days ago accused me of being a liar, quite unspecifically. He didn’t say which of my statements was a lie. Well, I’m not a liar, and if Boyle can think of any specific points that he considers lies, he should point them out and I’ll refute his accusations.

What rattles Boyle is not any alleged lies but the truthful way Ozleft documents developments on the far left, including those in the DSP, and their underlying political causes.

Clearly the verbal abuse from the DSP leadership supporters over the past week relates to documents about the expulsion of LF from the DSP, which underline the authoritarian structure of the DSP, and Boyle’s rather candid report to the DSP leadership of two months ago, which clearly underlines the DSP leaderhip’s function as a kind of carnivorous plant in relation the other affiliates of the Socialist Alliance, particularly the ISO.

These documents aren’t lies, they’re genuine documents. Boyle and his associates are as cranky as hornets when we point to them.

Boyle abusively asserts that no one should take seriously the perspectives I advance, and then a day or so later Norm Dixon provocatively demands that we collectively or individually on Ozleft spell out whatever perspectives we may have, once again.

Norm’s not a fool. He can read, and I’m sure he has read the general perspectives documents that I’ve elaborated over the past two or three years, but nevertheless despite his provocative context, I will spell out yet again, in a summary way, my perspectives.

I am interested in a discussion among serious socialists and people on the left. The ultimate aim of such a discussion is the rebirth of a serious scientific socialist movement.

The socialist movement in Australia, however, is at its lowest ebb for more than 100 years. It is divided into a large number of people of socialist sentiments in the Labor Party, the unions and the Greens, or organisationally inactive. It is also made up, in part, of at most 1000-1500 people in far left or Marxist groups.

An open-ended political discussion among the socialist left is necessary, from my point of view, because it’s not possible to jump over the existence of a few hundred militants on the far left, or the much larger number of socialists in or around the Labor Party, the trade unions and the Greens.

My perspective involves the eventual construction of a socialist formation from some kind of regroupment. It’s not possible to detail a model because it’s necessary to get a discussion going first.

The DSP leadership’s notion of regroupment isn’t useful because the DSP’s internal regime is so brutal and rigid, and I have come to the conclusion that reducing the whole of the Marxist program to some exaggerated version of what tinpot leaderships consider Lenin’s organisational formulas produces nothing but sects. Nevertheless, those sects exist and it’s necessary to have a political discussion with their members whenever possible.

There are, in fact, three spheres: independent socialist activity by sects, including the DSP; the Greens, now a very substantial mass political organisation with more than 10,000 members nationally and heading for 1 million votes in the coming elections; and the ALP-trade union continuum with about 50,000 ALP members nationally, the affiliation of all the blue-collar unions and the durable vote of about 40 per cent of the population on the left, migrant, working-class and progressive middle-class side of society.

As an example of the relationship of forces in the workers movement, there are about the same number of ALP members in the seats of Sydney and Grayndler together, as the whole claimed membership of the Socialist Alliance nationally.

Socialists should work in all three spheres — the ALP, the Greens and the far left — and in popular movements that cut across all three spheres.

One thing socialists should not do is respond to Norm Dixon’s arbitrary, self-interested provocation. Socialists working in the ALP-trade union continuum should look to all possibilities for recruiting to socialist ideas through work and activity in the Labor Party, but they should avoid like the plague the clamourous number-crunching associated in people’s minds with the DSP leadership’s conception of entrism, in any organisation.

In current Australian conditions, the revival in the ALP of a broad left taking up strong positions on broad political questions, not constrained too much by self-interested parliamentarians, is a most immediate necessity.

Ideally, such a development might be led by the some of the trade union militants in Victoria who were so effectively active at the last ALP federal conference.

As a matter of historical personal accident, the ALP has been one of my spheres of activity for all of my political life, and I’ll do my modest bit if opportunities emerge, which I’m sure they will in the short term.

The reason I’m so belligerent towards the DSP about the Labor Party question is that its implacable sectarian tone, directed at Laborism and Laborites in general, is a very major obstacle to discussion between Laborites and the far left, despite Sue Bolton’s Potemkin Village rhetoric about how much influence the DSP has among Victorian trade unionists.

It seems to me that my colleagues and associates, and others I know, who operate as socialists in the Greens do so in a very careful and considered way. The last thing socialists in the Greens need at the moment is to launch some DSP kind of clamour about building a socialist wing in the Greens.

In NSW, the experience of the early DSP factional activity in the Greens, and the inept and clamourous activity of the DSP leadership in the old NDP, lie there as political skeletons for any socialist activist in the Greens to study with a view to avoiding the DSP style of sectarian entry like the plague.

Boyle and Norm are, in fact, cynics in these matters. Boyle accuses me of being a splitter who encourages divisions within the activist left, by which he presumably means the DSP, ISO and Socialist Alternative.

I didn’t create any of the splits and divisions in any of those organisations. They emerged out of the situations existing in those organisations, and their political culture. I just look to the healthier elements to have emerged from those divisions as a possible basis for future regroupments. What’s wrong with that?

If someone wants to study a genuine piece of sectarian cynicism in relation to political allies, they should study Boyle’s report, the publication of which angers the DSP leadership so much. Pots calling kettles black, indeed.

The DSP leadership has an extraordinary history of devoting considerable effort to getting the numbers in any sphere in which they’re active, and attempting to homogenise each sphere to make the sphere resemble the authoritarian, militarised nature of the DSP. Even in the very short-term, these days, this tends to be rather counterproductive.

Boyle’s recent document, in particular, underlines the immense effort of the DSP in the Socialist Alliance to ensure DSP hegemony and to marginalise the other groups.

Several independent caucuses in the Alliance have been organised and reorganised by DSP allies in such a way as to marginalise individuals who were part of the first independent caucus but didn’t entirely go along with the DSP. This was all very public. And so it goes.

I intend to conduct a careful, rational discussion of perspectives for regroupment, and I’ll do that in any forum that’s available. It’s easier to do that when one eliminates verbal abuse.

The necessary widespread political discussion directed at eventual regroupment and the construction of a serious socialist organisation has, by the very nature of Australian society, necessarily to involve some part of the large number of socailists in and around the Labor Party, the large number of socialists in and around the Greens, and the socialists in the far left, including those in and around the Socialist Alliance.

Such a discussion towards regroupment can’t be held hostage to the delusions of grandeur of the DSP leadership. Happily, in the event, the way things have evolved on the far left has substantially reduced the capacity of the DSP leadership to block such a discussion towards regroupment, which is obviously the source of the sound and fury from Boyle and others.