Bob Gould, 2006

Tories thumped in Queensland election
Working class and migrants close ranks around Labor

Source: Green Left Weekly discussion list, September 10-20, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

The Queensland election result represents a rather dramatic closing of ranks by the organised working class, migrants and the progressive section of the intermediate social layers around the Labor Party and to a lesser extent the Greens.

The Green vote increased to about 8 per cent, and the Labor vote held up in the mid-40s despite the multitude of very serious mistakes by the Labor government on matters such as health.

It’s absolutely clear that the dominant issue was the Howard government’s attack on the working class. That’s a political problem for which Howard has no answer.

Alan Bradley on the Green Left Weekly discussion list describes, simply, in an idiomatic way, a practical united front between Labor and the Greens on his patch in Toowoomba and the important point about this is that it was clearly replicated all over Queensland, at a local level. Bradley, at least, is interested in mass politics up to a point, and not just mad Potemkin Village stuff about the Socialist Alliance.

His post stands in stark contrast to other comments on the Green Left discussion site and in Green Left itself, which largely confine themselves to discussing Sam Watson’s campaign, which was backed by the Socialist Alliance, in the seat of Brisbane Central. Watson got 1.8 per cent, roughly the same vote that the DSP got last time it stood.

The Greens in that seat got 19 per cent, Labor 49.8 and the Liberals 28.6. Dave Riley posts a comment on the GLW list that is confined to bagging Labor and the Greens ad nauseam, and touting his own Pinnocchio operation as the centre of proletarian politics.

It gets worse. The call for the hastily convened Socialist Alliance national conference in October sounds as if the DSP-Socialist Alliance and its very small number of allies is the central force in the nationwide agitation against Howard’s attacks on the unions. This is barking mad as an approach to the labour movement.

Politically, the DSP has emerged as even more obsessive, simplistic Third Period sectarians. According to Green Left, Watson and the DSP campaigned on a number of issues, but Howard’s Work Choices attack is not mentioned. Neither is the sweeping Labor election victory.

This narrow focus by a socialist group on its own much-trumpeted modest activity is barking mad, politically. Nowhere in all the agitprop about Watson’s candidacy on the GLW site was there a slogan such as: “Vote for Sam Watson, keep the Liberals out” or anything similar.

I’d be interested to know, from the DSP leadership, whether the DSP’s how-to-vote card even suggested extending a preference after the Greens to Labor. That’s a genuine question based on the bizarre nature of the coverage of the election in GLW. (Anyone going to GLW for serious news about anything anywhere is likely to be disappointed. Alex Miller has an upbeat article about the recent Scottish Socialist Party rally in Glasgow, exaggerating its size a bit, baiting the CWI and the British SWP as run from London, and failing to mention that Sheridan forces had their own rally the next night in the same hall and it was twice the size.)

To summarise, the closing of ranks behind Labor and the Greens in the very far-flung state of Queensland underlines the critical importance of firstly the united front and secondly the need for socialists and Marxists to participate in some way in the broad mass movement that’s developing quite rapidly against the Howard government and its industrial laws.

The politics of abuse, directed by Riley and the DSP at the Labor, trade union and Green components of this practical united front is political madness of the highest order.

Green Left Weekly’s failure to report the result

Green Left Weekly discussion list, September 12, 2006

Rohan Pearce says I’m being a bit tough on the Green Left Weekly staff in pointing to the lack of serious comment about the Queensland elections other than triumphalism about Sam Watson’s vote, and Nick Fredman gets positively weepy about the efforts of the GLW staff.

I have considerable respect for the GLW staff, as I do for all full-time socialist activists. They work very hard for very little financial return, but of course the failure to comment in any serious way isn’t a technical matter but a political one. As it was close to press time, even one paragraph would have sufficed. Some words celebrating the defeat of the Liberals and a few more words ascribing the defeat in part to the obvious hostility of a big part of the working class to the Howard government’s industrial laws. About 100 words would have been sufficient.

Judging by past experience of events in which successful opposition to conservative policies within the Labor Party and the broad labour movement is a key factor, you’re unlikely to get recognition of that from comment in GLW. A striking recent example was the collapse of Howard’s attempt to revive and entrench the “Pacific solution” in migrant and refugee matters.

There was little comment by GLW for a week or so, and when the analysis was finally made, it was a politically quite eccentric article ascribing the defeat of Howard’s policy to Liberal dissidents, the mass movement, etc, and completely ignoring the most glaring aspect of the process, which was that shadow immigration minister Tony Burke and Unions NSW president John Robertson had stiffened up the whole of the Labor caucus, and that provided most of the votes against Howard’s proposals.

The stupid and insulting “analysis” in GLW ignored the Labor role in the whole matter, and didn’t even mention Burke or Robertson by name. The GLW parallel universe might sometimes be extremely funny if it weren’t for the fact that it is dealing with big and serious questions of orientation in the labour movement.

I’m not holding my breath awaiting a rounded analysis of the Queensland elections in GLW. Dave Riley’s woolly meanderings give a bit of a flavour of what any analysis will be like, if it is ever made.

The DSP leadership’s total preoccupation with its own alleged role as the centre of all things progressive is displayed in almost every sphere. For instance, on the Leftwrites blog, on which there have been a number of serious discussions over the past couple of months, DSP leaders such as Norm Dixon and Riley ignore most questions and only come to life to blow their own trumpet in a Potemkin Village sort of way.

They appear to have no other interests. In the Queensland elections, the broader picture is ignored in favour of Potemkin Village skiting. To bring matters down to earth a bit, Paul Benedek, Dave Riley, and now the noisy John Tognolini from NSW, proudly relate that $1000 was raised for Sam Watson’s campaign, it got some endorsements from interstate and overseas, and its supporters managed to letterbox 15,000 leaflets. They say 60 people worked for the Socialist Alliance on election day, and in another place they say the campaign managed to staff nearly all of the booths.

The $1000 amounts to about $20 donation from each of the 60 people, and about 300 leaflets letterboxed, on average, by the same 60 people. Apparently these 60 people weren’t of the same Stakhanovite material as Comrade Tognolini, who proudly proclaimed that he gave out many thousands of leaflets in a few hours at the recent Blacktown trade union rally.

At the last Queensland elections, two years ago, the DSP-Socialist Alliance ran two candidates and the ISO-Socialist Alliance ran one in the outer-suburban working-class area of Inala. The ISO candidate got a far higher vote than either of the two DSP-Socialist Alliance candidates, but in the interim the ISO has declined in membership and has moved away from symbolic electoral contests.

The interesting thing about Sam Watson’s result against Peter Beattie, the Queensland premier, is that despite the fact that Watson is a much more high-profile candidate than Coral Wynter, he still only about received the same percentage result, while the Greens vote increased and Beattie’s vote declined.

If the Brisbane seat is anything like the seats surrounding the CBD in Sydney, and I believe it is, gentrification is probably taking place there, even in the past two years. This is undoubtedly a factor in the rise of the Green vote.

The DSP-Socialist Alliance campaign had an aspect of almost sublime demagogy, the most unprincipled example of which was the appeal for Cuban doctors to solve the problems of the Queensland health system. Did the DSP perhaps consult the Cubans about this? I strongly doubt it. By and large the Cubans offer their doctors to exploited Third World countries and to other countries in Latin American where language is no barrier. The only exception to this I can think of is Cuba’s offer of medical aid to the US during the Katrina hurricane crisis, and there were obvious propaganda points to be made, from the Cuban point of view, in that particular offer.

The idea of draining trained health professionals from Cuba to a relatively affluent capitalist country such as Australia is reactionary nonsense. There is already a substantial brain drain of doctors, nurses and other health professionals into Australia from Third World countries to solve the problems of the Australian health system, any working nurse can tell you that. The solution is not to take more health professionals from the Third World, where they are desperately needed, it’s to train more health professionals here, including permanent migrant health professionals.

The call for Cuban, doctors plucked out of the sky, is eccentric demagogy with a reactionary aspect presented for electoral purposes, which underlines the crudely symbolic character of the DSP-Socialist Alliance electoral campaign.

Another aspect of the DSP leadership’s approach to the Queensland election is its total lack of interest in the general movement of the labour movement and the Greens and its contempt for activists of the labour movement, who are dismissed as reactionary because of their traditional electoral allegiance and activity. The Labor Party contested every seat in Queensland, which meant staffing perhaps 2000 polling booths and mobilising upwards of 10,000 polling booth workers in a very decentralised state.

The Greens, a smallish mass party, contested a very large number of seats and probably mobilised 3000-4000 polling booth workers on the day. The Labor and Greens polling workers are by and large the most politicised and, relative to society at large, the most left-wing section of the population.

Labor won many provincial seats based on large towns and small cities, and most of the seats in what used to be called the Red North, and now might reasonably be described as the Pink North. The trade unions played an important role in the Labor campaign all over the state. There has been a certain low-key shift to the left in the Labor ranks, one expression of which is the disappearance of the Queensland Old Guard faction and the increase in the number of parliamentary seats held by members of the Left faction.

In its often uninformed and internally focussed way, Green Left has reported the rather leftist stance of the Electrical Trades Union in Queensland and implicitly ascribed this shift to the left to the influence of the Socialist Alliance. A more obvious explanation of the ETU’s stance is that it has shifted from the rump of the Old Guard to the recently reunited Left faction.

This aspect of the ETU’s re-emerging militancy has never been mentioned in GLW. It never, ever, gives useful information about shifts in this or that direction in the labour movement, and in that aspect GLW is considerably inferior to the old Stalinist press, which carefully covered such developments.

For Marxists the key question is not some Potemkin Village electoral campaign (a rather inferior one compared with past efforts even by the Socialist Alliance) it’s how to get an audience among the tens of thousands of Labor, trade union and Green activists who mobilised in these elections, in large part driven by the opposition to the Howard government and WorkChoices, expressed electorally through the channel of their traditional allegiance to Labor and the Greens.

The DSP has a scattering of contacts in regional Queensland, who are sometimes mentioned as selling GLW at industrial mobilisations against Work Choices. The DSP leadership seems to have little to say to these people about the electoral mobilisation, and the DSP leadership doesn’t seem to be interested in gathering their experiences in these matters, let alone addressing the Labor and Green activists in any sensible way.

All you get from GLW is animosity to the Labor and trade union activists and aristocratic condescension towards the Green activists.

Paul Benedek’s name appears on a report of the Brisbane election campaign, proudly proclaiming that every time Beattie appeared the Socialist Alliance gave him curry about the stolen wages of Aboriginal people. I remember Benedek from Sydney and it’s very likely to have been par for the course on election day not just to be giving curry to Beattie, but to be giving curry of the same sort to every Labor booth worker. That may be a partly effective way of innoculating your own ranks against Laborism, but it’s a very unlikely way of getting any kind of audience for your ideas in the broader labour movement.

Several of the DSP leadership contributions refer to the 400 votes (1.85 per cent of the Brisbane Central electorate) as conscious votes for socialism. Are the people who write this stuff really mad enough to believe what they write? When you’re dealing with a tiny number of votes like that, a fair percentage are clearly going to be votes for “none of the above”, a stick-a-pin-in-the-list kind of vote, and even among those who deliberately vote for the Socialist Alliance, to call those votes conscious votes for socialism is to live in a very dangerous kind of fantasy land. If there really were 400 conscious votes for socialism in Brisbane Central, the labour movement would be in a very sharp upturn, which it’s clearly not.

That sort of nutty rhetoric was stock in trade for the old Stalinist movement whenever it was in one of its phases of headlong confrontation with Labor. That sort of talk has always been evidence of dramatic miseducation of cadres. I’ve written a fairly description of the ebbs and flows of the labour movement in Queensland in my critique of Jim McIlroy’s pamphlet, The Red North, and those interested in the real history of the Queensland labour movement might wish to have a look at it.

DSP leadership’s despicable political irresponsibility

Green Left Weekly discussion list, September 15, 2006

It’s hard to know what to say about the latest post by Paul Benedek. He just blithely asserts that the Socialist Alliance has dual members in both the Labor Party and the Greens. It’s a matter of fact that the Labor Party rules exclude members of any group that runs election candidates against the Labor Party, and the Greens’ rules seem to preclude membership of any other political group.

Presumably, people who join the Socialist Alliance who are in the Labor Party or the Greens assume a certain discretion and duty of care by the leadership of the Socialist Alliance. What they get, however, is a lunatic proclamation that there are dual members, which is obviously coldly calculated to try to generate a witch hunt in both the ALP and the Greens.

For most of its existence, the old Stalinist CPA was mindful of the political interests of people who came close it in the Labor Party. It was only in ultraleft moments that it put the acid on people to leave the Labor Party. The most famous incident of that was when the CPA smashed up the NSW Socialisation Units during the Lang period.

For most of the rest of its existence the CPA was sensibly discreet in such matters and never went around proclaiming that it had dual members. Putting socialists who are active in the Labor Party or the Greens on the spot in such a way is not just ultraleftism, it’s despicable political provocation.

Dave Riley’s absurdist “analysis”

Green Left Weekly discussion list, September 20, 2006

Dave Riley’s absurdist “analysis” of the Queensland election in the latest Green Left Weekly confirms that the failure to comment in GLW immediately after the election was political rather than technical. Like a bourgeois commentator, Riley treats the massive vote for Labor as politically inexplicable. He can’t even bring himself to mention the dramatic role played by support for Labor based on opposition to Howard’s anti-union laws. He doesn’t even mention the swing to Labor in provincial industrial centres.

For Riley, the only significant points are the Socialist Alliance vote and the 2 per cent swing to the Greens. For the rest, the more class-conscious half of the electorate that voted Labor is treated implicitly as foolish and misguided. Riley still holds out hope that these foolish people may see the light and vote for the Socialist Alliance at some time in the future. Fat chance.

In fact, the 1.8 per cent or so vote for the Socialist Alliance with a high-profile indigenous candidate actually represents a dramatic drop on the previous election because, as Riley himself blurts out in passing, in the previous election an indigenous independent candidate in the same seat got 1.3 per cent of the vote. The indigenous candidate from that election supported Sam Watson in this latest election, so it is likely that the 1.3 per cent indigenous vote in the area transferred to the Socialist Alliance.

Taking away that indigenous vote, it looks like the Socialist Alliance contributed just 0.5 per cent to Watson’s vote.

Anyway, it’s back to business for the DSP leadership. More scolding scoundrel chatter about crimes of the Labor leadership and preparation for a hastily organised Socialist Alliance national conference, the keynote of which is exposing both major political parties in the next round of elections. It’s pretty clear that the Socialist Alliance conference is intended to increase the pressure on the opposition in the DSP, whose reasoned internal critique of the whirling dervish activity of the Boyle leadership seems to be driving the leadership to further bursts of unreality.

I feel a bit sorry for all the inhabitants of the DSP, the internal situation of which is now so tense and hysterical. It’s quite obvious that the hastily convened Socialist Alliance conference doesn’t have much to do with developments in national or international politics, and everything to do with the internal situation in the DSP.

Coolly considered, it’s rather bizarre to drag the members of an ostensibly national organisation to Geelong for a national conference.

Politics is a science of perspective and Riley’s meandering alleged analysis of the Queensland elections, essentially attacking that state’s working class for their lack of understanding in re-electing Labor, and the histrionic tone of the call for the Socialist Alliance conference, both underline the complete lack of realistic political perspectives among the Boyle leadership of the DSP.

On a more personal note, there is a curious cyber-construct on the DSP list called Roger Raven. It looks like he’s not a real person, but one of the cyber-constructs that infest the web. This construct has learned exchanges with Boyleite leaders in which he disagrees a bit with the DSP in a nice way, and praises the DSP leaders for their erudition, etc, etc.

Now and then this construct is wheeled out to throw shit at me, and in the heat of the exchange last week he hurled a Stalinist slander I haven’t heard for 30 years: that Bob Gould is a hardened right-wing provocateur. If this Raven wasn’t a cyber-construct he could easily indicate that he has good reason for concealing his identity and at least the political direction from which he’s coming: whether he’s some sort of socialist, Green, etc.

He never does that, and in the absence of a political indication as to where Raven is coming from, the strong probability is that he’s a cyber-construct, and as with all such constructs, one must ask who benefits.

I’ve also copped a bit of abuse this week, which is hardly new for me, from Tognolini the clown. He whinges that my attacks on him are too harsh. Gee whiz. After all, he has been attacking me since way back when, and I’ve just defended myself. He also confuses himself and the DSP leadership with “the left”, and accuses me of always attacking “the left”.

That’s megalomania of an extreme kind. Tognolini keeps throwing round a quote that he alleges is from the courageous African-American leader Malcolm X: “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.” Tognolini the clown makes his use of this phrase directly personal to me. Well, perhaps all African-Americans look the same to Tognolini. The courageous Malcolm X didn’t say that, but Eldridge Cleaver, who is a quite different kettle of fish.

Cleaver was initially a flamboyant ultraleft who proclaimed that raping white women was a revolutlionary act. Later he made his peace with US imperialism, got evangelical Christian religion and ran for office as a right-wing Republican. At one stage in his curious evolution he made a widely publicised living manufacturing codpieces. Tognolini the clown is so reckless in his verbal torrents that he doesn’t know the difference between Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver.