Bob Gould, 2005
Source: Ozleft, September 19, 2005
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
Green Left Weekly discussion list
Many of my associates on the left scratch their heads in amusement, and ask me why I waste so much time arguing with the bloody mad DSP? However, old habits die hard, and the DSP’s increasingly dogmatic and opportunist sectarianism is such an extreme example of how a Marxist sect can evolve that it is worth some discussion.
I am reminded of the great Marxist EP Thompson’s book about William Blake, in which Thompson rediscovered the extraordinary revolutionary dissenting religious sect led by Lodowick Muggleton, which persisted for nearly 300 years and continued arguing the point, via reprints of Muggleton’s pamphlets, with the Quakers with whom they had split 200 years before. Thompson discovered the last Muggletonian in the late 1960s, and eventually deposited the archives of the Muggletonian church in a British library.
I don’t suggest that the argument between me and the DSP sect will last 300 years, but once established, sects can be very persistent little animals. Who knows whether our arguments will be discovered by some latter day Thompson in a couple of hundred years.
First of all I will comment on Sue Bull’s unpleasant and rather mad outburst against Laborism in Green Left Weekly, September 21, 2005. Sue Bull says that she will scream if another union leader tells her that she should vote for the ALP. That cry from the heart is unintentionally revealing. Sue Bull operates in Victoria and the DSP adopts a strikingly uncritical stance towards the militant union leaderships in Victoria.
There’s nothing wrong at all with general support for the militant union leaderships in Victoria. Nevertheless, as is obvious to all, they are thoroughly entrenched in the ALP and labour movement politics in general in Victoria, which is clearly a problem for the DSP, because the militant union leaderships obviously don’t take the slightest bit of notice, practically speaking, of the DSP’s independent electoral project, other than in private diplomatic asides to DSP members. That’s obviously the basis of Sue Bull’s rather insulting general assertion, obviously directed at union left laborites in Victoria that: “The longer we put this project off, the more we drive ordinary people into cynical anti-political isolation and paralysis …”
The implication is pretty clear: unless you join the DSP’s electoral project you are a traitor to the interests of the working class. That’s the psychology of the DSP sect in spades.
Further she says: “Working people didn’t just vote for Howard in the last election because they thought he was a great bloke or they are all selfish.”
Again we have the lunatic world view of the self-righteous, self-interested, metaphysical and idealist Marxist sect. What a bizarre slander on the bulk of the ordinary working class, ethnic communities and the oppressed. In the election she is talking about, the Labor vote after preferences was 48 per cent, and this vote was heavily concentrated in the most blue-collar working-class areas, particularly in areas where recent non-English-speaking-background migrants (who are a large part of the blue-collar working class) are concentrated (this has been extensively documented in research by the Monash Institute for Population Studies). The Labor and Green vote is also concentrated, in a secondary way, in areas where the new social layers of workers with tertiary education live, such as Canberra, the inner-west of Sydney and other places.
The DSP, which was abusing Mark Latham last year when he led a relatively leftist and populist election campaign, has suddenly discovered he has a good side; the good side from their point of view being his narcissistic and self-absorbed literary assault on the trade unions and the whole of the labour movement. All they are really interested in is moralising sectarianism towards the mass labour movement, and Latham’s gratuitous abuse suits them down to the ground.
Sue Bull says something else very revealing: that “a real opposition … and it can’t rise like a phoenix out of the stinking carcass of the ALP”. (Sue Bull tries to establish her proletarian credentials, rather like Mark Latham, by using a mass of what she thinks is demotic abusive language. Well, of course, some of us use slightly colourful language in speech, but to write it down without editing it is the real mark of a literary demagogue. Sue Bull should read Lenin on language and Trotsky on cultured speech!
Putting aside Sue Bull’s bizarre language, the essence of her argument is spectacularly metaphysical and unscientific. Serious electoral alternatives to existing mass reformist parties in stable countries have rarely been built purely by propaganda. The mass reformist parties in, for instance, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Norway are extraordinarily resilient formations. The significant centrist group in Germany that has just emerged to the left of the Social Democrats is partly a split, to use Bull’s colourful language, “from the stinking carcass” of the German Socialist Party, combined with the rump of the equally stinking carcass of East German Stalinism.
At the end of the day, in Norway, New Zealand and Australia, even mass electoral formations such as the German Left Party and the German Greens, the New Zealand Greens and the New Zealand Maori Party, and the Australian Greens are forced by the logic of their situation to form some kind of bloc with the mass labour parties against the reactionary parties of the right.
None of the practitioners of left politics, other than the DSP, can afford the mental luxury of placing as the DSP does, an equals sign between the labour parties and the conservative parties as the “two parties of capitalism”. The DSP’s posture doesn’t work sociologically, politically or strategically and everyone but the DSP can see that, even despite the increasingly hysterical language, taken over partly from Latham, used by the DSP about labourism.
It’s fascinating to note that the DSP’s coverage in Green Left Weekly of the dramatic shift to the right in the tory camp, with the emergence of Opus Dei as a major player, was minimal, and only rated a mention of a couple of lines in another article by Margaret Gleeson overwhelmingly attacking Labor.
I worked for the ALP on election day, for three or four hours at the Newtown booth, where I usually work, and my slogan for the day was “Kick Howard out, vote Labor”. It seemed to me fairly important in all the circumstances for Labor to do well in the three by-elections to strengthen the pressure on the state Labor government to continue and deepen its opposition to Howard’s attacks on the trade unions.
Several acquaintances of mine, one a member of the International Socialist Organisation, and one a member of Solidarity, worked for the Greens on the same booth and their rationale was that a Green vote would put pressure on the state government on issues such as the industrial demands of teachers. I have different electoral view to them, obviously, but we were able to argue the point in a civilised way.
In electoral terms the Socialist Alliance was completely incidental in the Marrickville by-election. Its 1.5 per cent probably included about 1 per cent of conscious votes, and the other .5 per cent were probably accidental, including the bottom-up donkey vote and the hundred or so random votes achieved by completely unknown independents.
In the event, the Labor vote held up surprisingly well, when you consider that there was no Liberal candidate, and almost all the tory voters, who are quite class-conscious in their own reactionary way, went to the Greens. In my view of electoral politics, both the Labor vote and the bulk of the Green vote, ie, minus the Liberals, are a left vote and I favour a tactical united front between Labor and the Greens.
I choose to work in the Labor Party, as do quite a few other Marxists, socialists and left wingers. Some Marxists, socialists and left wingers work in the Greens and I have no quarrel with their tactical decision on that.
For obvious reasons one works hard for the mass electoral formation on the left that one chooses to work in. In ALP circles I argue the case against a virulent anti-Green sectarianism that stems from fierce electoral competition, but I still work hard for the ALP. That’s part of the deal of being in the ALP. Also at a personal level I feel more at home among ALP activists, most of whom these days are on the left. They often seem to me to be a bit more savvy and realistic about political processes than many on the far left, and many in the Greens, but that’s a personal preference, and I have no quarrel with socialists who feel more comfortable in Green circles. At the end of the day the critical question is the united front, particularly in the face of Howard’s assault on the trade unions.
While both the Labor vote and the core Green vote are left votes, they are differently composed sociologically, and the Marrickville results demonstrate this. The pattern of the voting, booth by booth, in Marrickville suggests that the Green vote is a much more affluent tertiary educated and Anglo-Celtic vote. The Greens these days achieve a majority around my shop in North Newtown and Erskineville where the housing is very pleasant and expensive.
As you go down the hill into Marrickville proper, the Green vote is highest in the booth covering the area around Newington College. As you move down into central Marrickville with cheaper housing and a largely ethnic blue collar working class population, the Labor vote soars. If you go to the leafy, expensive, pleasant restored housing in Stanmore, the Green vote soars. If you cross Crystal Street, where the cheaper housing begins, and there are high concentrations of ethnic blue collar workers such as Portuguese people, all the way to Dulwich Hill, the Labor vote soars.
The Marrickville electorate is a fascinating patchwork of communities, ethnicities, social layers and voting patterns, but by and large the Green component of the left vote is much more affluent and the Labor component is much less affluent. The booth by booth electoral results amply demonstrate this. (The Socialist Alliance vote more or less follows the pattern of the Green vote, although on a vastly smaller scale.)
To sum up: Marxists and conscious Socialists are a very small political force in current conditions. Any materialist assessment of the strategic situation facing Marxists in Australia dictates a major strategic orientation towards the Labor-trade union continuum, and a secondary orientation towards the now well established Greens electoral formation. Independent socialist electoral activity is of little value in the face of the need for a serious orientation to the major formations. All recent political developments in Australia underline this general point. Idiot moralising about Laborism of the sort that comes from the DSP sect would make Lenin and Trotsky turn in their graves.
September 21, 2005
In the face of the clear difference in the social layers that variously voted Labor on the one hand and Green or Socialist Alliance on the other in the Marrickville by-election, the DSP leadership has now moved well and truly into Pauline Hanson and Monash Institute of Population Research territory.
In response to the fact that the voting pattern makes it obvious that the ethnic communities in Marrickville, including the largish Muslim ethnic communities, overwhelmingly voted Labor, Pip Hinman advances this ugly piece of “analysis”: “Labor also mobilised a range of ethnic speakers to person (carefully underlining her politically correct credentials) the booths to speak to the Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek and other communities about voting Labor. This was particularly apparent in Marrickville suburb, where the Greens didn’t do as well given Labor’s long-standing community ties (based on a combination of bullying, bribes and long-term loyalties).”
This DSP leadership racism is straight out of the political arsenal of the most reactionary populist sections of the bourgeois press, such as the Sydney Telegraph.
Ethnic communities are treated in this racist, reactionary mythology as passive victims of Labor manoeuvres, easily bribed. This, you see, is what happens when you get multiculturalism, the right-wing populists tell us. The ostensibly left-wing DSP, which is also crooked on multiculturalism, now says the same thing.
If Pip Hinman so easily talks about bribes and intimidation, as the main reason why the overwhelming majority of NESB migrants tend to vote Labor, she has an obligation to be a good deal more specific.
It’s true that some of the more right-wing people in the Greens also make assertions of that kind, but they have enough brains, and probably enough decency, not to put them in print. Those considerations obviously don’t apply to the DSP leadership.
If Hinman claims that ethnic communities are bribed and intimidated on a large scale by Labor, which is also the accusation made by reactionary journalists, Pauline Hanson and others, all of these accusers should be specific about such allegations. Of course they never are because vile, racist slurs will do the job. They remain vile, racist slurs when they emanate from the DSP leadership.
The reality of ethnic politics in Marrickville is quite different to the sinister, racist imputation that Hinman and the DSP leadership make. The various ethnic communities, in my observation, are energetic campaigners in their own interests and rights, and they tend to pursue those interests mainly through Labor because that’s where they get the best response.
There is, in fact, quite a substantial ethnic community membership in Labor branches in the Marrickville area, and the most notable presence is a large group of Alawites, a substantial Muslim community, mainly from Syria, but also to some extent from the southern part of Turkey and parts of Lebanon.
Historically, the Alawites tend to be one of the more left-wing and secular groups in the Arab world, and those in the ALP branches are mainly secular. They have elected one of their leaders, Sam Iskander, as a Labor councillor, and he’s an excellent councillor and significant leftist. The DSP leadership should look carefully where it is going and draw back from this ugly racism, which is dictated, clearly, by their sectarianism towards Labor.
Discussion, More discussion
September 23, 2005
Kim Bullimore and Peter Boyle respond to my analysis of the DSP leadership’s use of racist argument in pursuit of their sectarianism towards Labor with, in the case of Bullimore, straight-out lies, and in the case of Boyle, revealing, bald reiteration of the basically racist DSP construct on multiculturalism.
Committeeman Boyle, who occasionally struts his stuff by abusing me as “whitey” and then claims it’s a joke, presents as evidence of presumably successful Labor Party intimidation of ethnic communities his own, probably rather loaded, recollection of something he claims happened 20 years ago.
I have as much respect for Boyle’s alleged recollections as I have for many of Mark Latham’s alleged recollections, which is no respect at all.
The core of Boyle’s racist argument against the many ethnic communities that support the Labor Party, and the overwhelming majority of blue-collar ethnic voters who support the ALP electorally, is exactly the same political view expressed by right-wing populist opponents of multiculturalism. Boyle writes in a racist way about leaders of ethnic communities, who are in the ALP, as “brokers” of votes. Who needs Piers Ackermann, Pauline Hanson, Andrew Bolt or Miranda Devine when Peter Boyle can tell a similar story?
All this bluster by Hinman, Boyle and Bullimore is an attempt to explain, in a facile way, the overwhelming support for Labor across the country among predominantly blue-collar ethnic communities. Boyle’s view reduces general social trends to a conspiracy of a few community leaders and Labor politicians.
In another context, Boyle has the utter gall to assert that Lenin would support the current line of the DSP. What a political fraud!
All this is directed at trying to inflate the pretensions of the DSP leadership as some kind of major political force.
Kim Bullimore, despite the abusive nature of her attacks on me, introduces a bit more realism with her accounts of experiences on various polling booths. She recounts three instances in different elections in which representatives of ethnic groups have worked hard for the Labor Party. The question arises: were they bribed, intimidated or rounded up by vote brokers?
Unfortunately, Bullimore is a serial liar whenever the DSP is challenged. She baldly asserts that I invented the quotes from Pip Hinman, and when it’s pointed out to her that unfortunately for the DSP I didn’t invent the quote, she passes off her initial lie as a mistake made late at night, poor thing, and then throws in another lie: that I supported Claire Martin’s attack on the Long Grass dwellers in the Northern Territory. I did nothing of the kind.
I said that I sharply disagreed with Martin’s attack on Aboriginal people, but that it was completely mad of the DSP to write off the whole of the NT Labor Party, with its large Aboriginal component, including the first Aboriginal ministers in the NT, as a bunch of racists.
The DSP leadership has little shame when discussing these very big questions. It’s as if their only criterion in politics is exposure of Labor, which is political madness of a very high order.
It’s particularly obscene, and thoroughly racist, of Boyle and the DSP leadership to accuse the ethnic communities in Marrickville who support Labor of being either intimidated or bribed. Pip Hinman in her “analysis” of the Marrickville by-election made that accusation contemporary. There’s no evidence of that.
I can do no more than forcefully repeat my assertion that the DSP leadership and Hinman’s alleged analysis of the voting pattern of ethnic communities in Marrickville is racist through and through and particularly dangerous in the current political climate, in which right-wing populists are using exactly the same type of arguments to attack the labour movement and migrant communities.
Green Left Weekly discussion list, September 26, 2005
The DSP leadership is clearly divided into two caves over what to do next in the face of the stagnation of its sect-building project. I’ve obviously blundered into the middle of a brawl that is going on in the DSP leadership, which has spilled over into the DSP ranks, with my rather careful analysis of the Marrickville by-election. This partly explains the politically obscene “whitey” response to me by Peter (Eldridge Cleaver) Boyle, on which I’ll comment at the end of this piece.
My questioning of the crudely racist construct in Pip Hinman’s report, that the ethnic communities who overwhelmingly voted Labor in the Marrickville by-election were “intimidated” or “bribed” by the ALP, produced a spluttering response from Cleaver Boyle, deepening and extending the DSP leadership’s commitment to the view expressed by Hinman.
Boyle tries to reinforce this view with what he claims is his recollection of an encounter between Laurie Ferguson and a Turkish delegation 25 years ago. He verbals Ferguson, of whom I am no fan on matters of migration and refugees. Ferguson’s removal from the shadow immigration portfolio, after widespread agitation inside the ALP, spearheaded by friends of mine, was an entirely necessary political development.
Nevertheless, when viewed in context, it is pretty clear that what Ferguson probably said to the Turkish people was: “You'd better help us get re-elected or the other mob (the Liberals), will withdraw support from your projects.”
A bit crude perhaps, but hardly a bribe, unless you, as right-wing populists do, regard support for ethnic community projects as some form of bribery.
Cleaver Boyle’s spurious little anecdote underlines the bizarre way the DSP leadership scratches around for anything to reinforce its sectish animosity to Laborism and all Laborites.
What is striking about the DSP leadership’s response, is that it produces not a shred of evidence about any current “intimidation” or “bribery” by the ALP in Marrickville, directed at ethnic communities. All they can produce is a politically clownish story by somebody called Owsky, who has been traumatised over the years by the folksy way Laborites on polling booths in working-class areas successfully appeal to their workmates and neighbours to vote Labor.
Lacking the mass connections that Labor often has locally, this electoral demeanour infuriates the DSPers, and it’s easy to see why. This fury tells you a lot more about the DSP sect than it does about Labor.
In the absence of any evidence of ALP intimidation or bribery of ethnic communities in the Marrickville by-election, Pip Hinman’s alleged analysis is thoroughly racist, and is an argument that owes much to the populist racism of the right-wing bourgeois press of the tabloid genre. Boyle’s phony “whitey” rhetoric is just a crude attempt to distract attention from this obvious fact.
To confuse matters even further, but indirectly to illuminate the increasingly right-wing trajectory of the DSP leadership, Jon Strauss comes in with a theoretical justification for the DSP leadership’s racist arguments concerning ethnic communities in Marrickville.
He extends the notion of the Laborites intimidating and bribing the ethnic communities to the notion that Laborism intimidates and bribes the whole of the working class. He goes back nearly 20 years for an example of intimidation, the pilots’ strike, and he presents an oh so theoretical and rather eccentric extension of the DSP’s labour aristocracy shibboleth.
His version of the world in his little piece is a very long way from the world as it actually is. In reality, most unions that take a political stand of any sort, including white-collar unions, generally support Labor, although a scattering of officials in white-collar unions support the Greens, and a quite a few rank-and-filers in white-collar unions support the Greens.
Strauss constructs his own imaginary universe, in which the white collar unions, which he implies are the labour aristocracy, support the Greens and that somehow this represents a decisive break from Laborism at the political level.
He also suggests that the blue-collar unions represent the more oppressed, and that in some way being more oppressed, they are easy prey for Laborism, which is the ultimate evil from his point of view.
As a concrete description of the real stratification and divisions in the labour movement and the working class, Strauss’s construction is an instrumentalist fantasy, and has nothing to do with accurate observation. Its only function is to provide a figleaf for all the DSP leadership’s political pretensions.
Nevertheless, in the current circumstances, with the trade union movement and the labour political movement fighting for their lives against the Howard government’s assault on the trade unions, this construction is intrinsically right wing, like the business about “intimidation” and “bribes” against ethnic communities in Marrickville.
The ruling class and the Howard government accuse the labour movement and the trade unions of intimidating the working class. The ruling class and the Tories regard all the wages and conditions won over the years, mainly by trade union struggles, as wholesale bribery of the working class forced on employers by the external presence and intervention of trade unions.
The obvious political intention of the Howard government is to eliminate the political necessity of such “bribery” by smashing the labour movement and the trade unions, if at all possible. Talking about and treating the conquests of the working class over 150 years as a product of Laborite and union “intimidation” and “bribery”, plays objectively into the hands of the Howard government.
In addition to this, the political task of defeating the Howard government on industrial relations requires the maximum united front of the whole left side of society: the trade unions, the labour movement, the Greens, the ethnic communities and the more progressive sections of the middle class.
The obsessional exposure of Laborism, which is the political point of convoluted and instrumentalist “theoretical” construction, put forward by Strauss and the DSP leadership, is an obstacle to the necessary united front against the Howard government.
Just as the DSP leadership’s instrumentalist theories about multiculturalism have pushed them into the camp of the populist right on multiculturalism, its crude bribery theory of the historic economic conquests of the working class is thoroughly anti-working-class and counterproductive to the interests of the working-class. Boyle’s obscene “whitey” demogogy is a cynical attempt to confuse these questions.
PS: For readers of the Green Left list who may not understand the reason for the extreme venom engendered by my analysis, and to a lesser extent by Shane Hopkinson’s attempts to argue with some aspects of the DSP leadership’s politics, it’s my understanding, (although I don’t have an entirely clear picture of all of its ramifications) that a very intense struggle is convulsing the DSP leadership, with Boyle and others wanting to persist with the moribund Socialist Alliance project, and Doug Lorimer and John Percy and others, dubbed the conservatives by their opponents, wanting to revert to the former Democratic Socialist Party project.