Bob Gould, 2006

Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad
DSP Green bashing

Source: Ozleft, January 13, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Green Left Weekly discussion list, January 13, 2006

The first obvious product of the new Peter Boyle leadership of the DSP is a totally eccentric outburst of verbal assaults on the Greens by some of the more volatile Boyle supporters, who publish energetically on the Green Left discussion list.

The first thing that must be said is how metaphysical and idealist this approach is. For five or six years I’ve been making the general point that the DSP leadership’s over-the-top verbal “exposure” of Labor has no effect in improving the electoral vote, or the influence, of the DSP-Socialist Alliance on the 35 or 40 per cent of the population who doggedly support Labor through thick and thin.

This 35 or 40 per cent who support Labor includes the organised section of the blue-collar working class, the overwhelming majority of NESB migrants, and a significant section of the tertiary educated new social layers and the middle class.

There has emerged to the left of Labor electorally an opposition formation, the Greens, which now consistently gets between 8 per cent and 11 per cent of the vote. It’s quite clear that the bulk of the Green vote is drawn from tertiary educated people, who in my shorthand are the (largely working class) new social layers, and to some extent youth.

The Greens are consistently to the left of Labor on a broad range of important political issues. I choose to conduct my activities in the Labor Party, an approach that I defend, but many leftists of my acquaintance choose to operate in the Greens, and I have no quarrel with them making that choice.

From my point of view, a critical element now in Australian politics is the necessary united front between Labor and the Greens, which is disrupted from time to time by acts of stupidity by the Labor right wing. The most glaring instance was giving preferences to Family First in Victoria in the last federal election. This necessary united front is currently under challenge in the Labor Party from Martin Ferguson over the Howard government’s business-dominated position on climate change.

A peculiar feature of the Australian electoral system — proportional representation in state and federal upper houses, and individual electorates in lower houses — has produced a kind of equilibrium, with considerable electoral tensions, on the left side of Australian politics.

Partly due to some accidental factors, the Greens have become a stable political formation. The national membership of the Greens is now about 10,000 and the overwhelming majority of Greens are politically quite left-wing.

There is not the slightest hint that the division of the left part of Australian society, both electorally and at the activist level, between Labor and the Greens, is going to change in the foreseeable future.

The Socialist Alliance-DSP can stand on their heads and whistle Dixie if they like, but they’re dreaming if they think that abusive verbal propaganda can change this objective situation. Clearly the perspective imposed by the Boyle forces on the DSP contains a totally voluntarist and politically unachievable proposition that in some way they can replace the Greens or at least win some part of the Green vote, in the short term.

The first product of this perspective is the outburst of verbal rhetoric about the Greens being petty bourgeois and not proletarian, particularly from John Tognolini, who never passes up a chance to parade his own proletarian credentials, and also to some extent from Dave Riley.

Sociologically, what Tognolini says about the Greens not being working class is as nonsensical as what the DSP says sociologically about the Labor Party ranks. In objective social terms, the overwhelming majority of Greens members, and probably of Greens voters (although that is harder to prove) are working class —mainly from the new-social-layer, tertiary educated section of the modern working class.

The proposition that the Greens are not working class is exactly the same kind of view put forward by the right in Australian society —echoed by some sections of the right of the labour movement —who have a vested interest in creating barriers between sections of the new tertiary educated working class and the other, blue-collar, sections of the working class. These right-wingers constantly try to describe these tertiary educated workers as a “new class”. I’ve written at length demolishing the “new class” theorists in a number of articles, which are on Ozleft.

If you stand back and observe coolly, it’s bizarre that the Boyle faction of the DSP leadership should go into spasms about the Greens not being working class. As far as any observer can see, the social composition of the DSP, including its leadership, roughly parallels that of the Greens, except that the social profile of the DSP is rather distorted by the presence of about 35 full-timers in a membership of about 260.

I find it amusing that the Boyle supporters carry on about the Greens not being proletarian. What they really mean is that the Greens don’t have the perfect refinement of proletarian ideology, presumably currently embodied in the Boyle leadership of the DSP. From where I sit, the Greens are in fact rather better prepared for coping with life and the political struggle against capitalism because they don’t suffer from a surfeit of Boyleite ideology.

It’s fascinating that the DSP commentators have seized upon accusations made by a political aspirant in South Australia who calls himself a “True Green” and accuses the Greens of trying to make a deal with Family First. It seems unlikely that Kris Hanna or other Greens would make such a deal, because Labor, which is currently riding high in the polls in SA, would crucify Hanna if he made such a move.

The fact that the Boyle supporters seize on an incident like this to try to build up their fantasy, that they are some sort of electoral alternative to the left of the Greens, is the first practical expression of the unscientific Boyleite perspective for the DSP.

Despite the fantasies of the new Boyle leadership, the medium-term landscape of Australian electoral politics is now set, if not exactly in stone, then in reasonably heavy cement. The left half of society is divided between Labor and the Greens. Socialist sects that think they can overturn that situation by what Upton Sinclair, in another context in relation to religion, called “bootstrap lifting”, are badly miseducating their members and supporters.

It would be far more useful politically for the leadership of the DSP to face up to this objective situation and reorient its members and supporters towards trying to exercise real influence among the ranks and supporters of the ALP, the trade unions and the Greens, rather than persisting with the oddball perspective that the DSP-Socialist Alliance represents, even in the medium term, some sort of mass alternative to Labor and the Greens.

The exposure-based, Socialist Alliance real-mass-alternative perspective of the new DSP leadership is a fantasy. That way political madness lies for a serious political formation in current Australian conditions.