Bob Gould, 2005

Socialist unity with the living dead

Source: Ozleft, February 9, 2005
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 5, 2005

Joaquin Bustelo on Marxmail makes a sweeping attack on all the revolutionary socialist organisations for not immediately going out of business.

I’ve read all the Marx-Engels material that Bustelo refers to, and my understanding of it is quite different.

Marx and Engels, and later Lenin and Trotsky, favoured Marxists building organisations, and spent a lot of their time trying to do so.

They polemicised against the tendency of small socialist groups to turn themselves into sects and to neglect the possibility of building mass workers’ movements or integrating themselves in an organised way in such proletarian movements as began to develop, such as the Henry George movement in the US.

Bustelo presents Marx and Engels as opposed to independent Marxist organisation, which is total rubbish. The problem is not the existence of such groups, but their often quite sectarian behaviour towards each other, and more importantly towards mass proletarian movements and organisations.

Ben Courtice, who reposted Bustelo’s post to the Green Left list, is still a member of the Australian DSP, so I assume he’s either playing a devil’s advocate role or maybe he’s a little more cynical than that, and he’s implying that all the other socialist groups except the DSP should go out of business.

If that’s his line of argument, it’s spurious, given the now rather desperate attempts of the DSP to present a group that it essentially controls, the Socialist Alliance, as some kind of non-sectarian formation despite the fact that in the Socialist Alliance the DSP is at constant war with just about all the other affiliates and perhaps a majority of the independents.

The immediate problem for the revolutionary socialist movement is to start some kind of realistic and non-sectarian political debate and discussion between the members of all the groups and independent individuals on the left of society, rather than Bustelo’s pompous and dopey proposition that they should all go out of business forthwith.

In Bustelo’s case, is he saying that Solidarity in the US should go out of business?

I’ve been engaged for the past couple of years in a sustained critique of what a number of people call Zinovievism (which we now discover from Barry Sheppard is also Dobbsism) but that’s directed at bringing the inhabitants of some of the sects down to earth and trying to initiate, if at all possible, some kind of serious debate on a number of major historical and current questions, across factional boundaries.

It’s pretty arrogant of Comrade Bustelo to demand that they all go out of business because the constructs of the different groups don’t fit his eclectic schemas.

To promote debate, on Ozleft we’ve been trawling through the history and pre-history of the Australian and international Marxist left and putting up a respectable collection of material.

Proclamations about Marxists groups going out of business are quite irrelevant, because such groups aren’t about to go out of business. What’s clearly required is serious political discussion, rather than strutting ultimatums.

I ask both Bustelo and Courtice what they think the activities of socialist organisation should consist of if the existing ones were to go out of business?

These are big questions and should be discussed in a calmer and less arrogant way than Bustelo does.

Incoherent anti-theoretical bullshit

June 6, 2005

Dave Riley this morning on the Green Left list makes a pretty well incomprehensible contribution that takes up Joaquin Bustelo in the inimitible way convenient to the Australian DSP leadership.

Riley expresses some sympathy with Bustelo but qualifies that and asserts that all the groups in Australia that came from the old and new “new left”, which by implication seems to be everyone but the DSP, should go out of business.

Riley echoes a similarly incoherent ramble by Jamie Doughney in Seeing Red. Doughney, who occupies a similar position to Riley as a kind of loyal DSP non-party Bolshevik, asserts that the youth shouldn’t trust anyone over 50 (it’s not entirely clear how this squares with his own age and the over-50 age bracket of much of the DSP leadership).

This is an echo of the kind of anti-theoretical bullshit that the more stupid ultralefts used to blurt out in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a long way from the basic ideas of Lenin and Trotsky on Marxist organisation.

They were constantly concerned with the question of generations in Marxist organisations and believed that organisations needed the capacity of youth to storm heaven and party veterans with the experience and knowledge they had accumulated. Both elements were necessary in the construction of Marxist organisations.

In reality, the Australian DSP leadership are the most tough-minded factionalists of them all and rhetoric from their orbit attacking everyone else but themselves as sects will convince no one, at least in Australia, except themselves.

The DSP leadership’s approach to all political questions is always qualified by a tactical element of what’s in it for the DSP.

This is particularly clear in the DSP’s internal literature. Sermons from Riley and Doughney about all the other groups going out of business and the youth rejecting everyone over 50 are hardly worth the paper they’re written on because no one will take the slightest bit of notice.

The real problem is to crack the hard shell surrounding most of the groups and precipitate a serious cross-factional political discussion.

That’s more and more important because the germ of truth amid Bustelo’s arrogant posturing is the fact that most of the far left is hopelessly isolated because of its sectarianism, including its inablity to conduct a civilised discussion with other leftists across political traditions.

The ironical thing is that this kind of us-perfect, everyone-else-a-sect view has a long history in the revolutionary socialist movement. The old Militant Tendency in Ted Grant’s time used to ignore all the other groups, referring to them as “the sects”. Gerry Healy behaved in much the same way. The US SWP clearly adopts that kind of rhetoric.

Repeated by the allies of the Australian DSP leadership, this view is total farce.

I don’t quite understand the aim of Bustelo’s outburst in the US context. Is he just scoring off all the groups, or does he have some kind of alternative strategy? I don’t mean a complete bluebrint, a few glimmerings will do.