Bob Gould, 2006
Source: Green Left Weekly discussion list, October 3-6, 2006
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
Last Saturday evening, out of the blue, Dave Riley posted an eccentric, frothing-at-the-mouth attack on me and followed it up with another equally hysterical piece. These attacks on me have a subjective aspect. Riley has probably been brooding over my balance sheet of the Queensland elections, in which I pointed out that in all his idealist and moralistic alleged analysis there was no rational perspective at all, but simply an attack on the masses in Queensland for not having the brains to vote for the Socialist Alliance.
It’s worth noting that Saturday evenings and long weekends are well known to nurses, psychiatric care staff and police as times of psychic implosion and danger for the disturbed. For instance, crime statistics show that a much higher proportion of unpremeditated murders happen during long weekends. The unhappy and disturbed often reach a peak of mania on a long weekend.
Another aspect of Riley’s outburst suggests strongly to me that the internal conflict in the DSP is reaching a very tense point and the mind boggles at what the atmosphere must be like in the Brisbane DSP, where the leaders of the minority are fairly careful, mild-mannered people, and the majority is led by the extravagant Riley and Paul Benedek.
My political antennae suggest to me that Riley’s outburst, while it clearly takes the form of rather raw hostility to me, is probably driven by the internal crisis in his own outfit.
On the matters of substance, Riley is politically bankrupt. He lashes out at Labor Party members in general, at Greens in general, and at Peter Beattie and myself in particular. He introduces a fully fledged Third Period Stalinist amalgam when he clearly implies that Beattie is like Adolf Hitler, and that I’d support Hitler if he was in the Labor Party. That formulation is straight out of the Third Period Stalinist gutter.
In this case it is used for a definite political purpose: to equate all Labor Party members with fascism. Riley has the hide to try to claim the mantle of George Georges, who spent most of his life fighting as a leftist in the Labor Party, had a good go as a leftist independent after being expelled from Labor on a point of principle, and when his independent electoral perspective didn’t work, rejoined Labor, which in the circumstances was a realistic thing to do. Riley has learned nothing from the kind of mass socialist politics practised by George Georges.
Despite Riley suddenly reducing the whole world of politics to the indigenous question, people in the labour movement do things for a wide variety of reasons. Many Labor leftists, including myself, fight hard on behalf of indigenous rights, for instance. Riley might have a look at my two major articles supporting indigenous rights, one rebutting Windschuttle, and the other raising programmatic questions.
It must be pointed out again, and again, and again, that the vast majority of indigenous Australians, 80 per cent or more, vote for the Labor Party, even on Palm Island. Also, importantly, very many active indigenous community leaders are involved in Labor politics. In Queensland, many non-indigenous leftists and unionists are involved in Labor politics, such as the ETU secretary, and Hughie Williams the secretary of the Transport Workers Union.
When Riley pours his exaggerated and bizarre abuse all over me, he has a definite political purpose. His aim is to insulate his very small number of supporters from interaction with the much larger numbers of Labor and Green activists in the workers’ movement and the indigenous movement.
Riley has the hide to accuse me of becoming a latter-day Freneyite. Gee whiz. He wheels out his own personal experience as a Stalinist hack way back when, with the likes of Bernie Taft, Laurie Carmichael, etc. I might point out to Riley that a close personal friend of mine who has been a member of the ALP since the middle 1970s, was the secretary of the NSW nurses’ union, and the only elected union official who voted against the Prices and Incomes Accord at the ACTU special conference that adopted it.
The same person is still active on the left of the Labor Party, still a branch official in her union, and the leader of the opposition so to speak in the nurses’ union, and a very energetic agitator in a number of spheres. She is one of thousands of similar people who hold a Labor Party ticket.
To summarise, the science and art of Marxist politics is to struggle for an independent leadership in the labour movement. In order to do that, however, in any meaningful way, it’s necessary to have a presence in all sections of the labour movement, which in current Australian conditions means the trade union movement, the Labor Party, the Greens, the indigenous movement, and other movements.
Crackpot sectarianism such as Riley’s, which demands that activists in all those movements have to join his sect in more or less total opposition to the mass organisations of the labour and social movements, is a caricature of the kind of perspective that’s required. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxemburg and James Connolly would turn in their graves at the sectarian antics of Riley and the DSP leadership.
October 4, 2006
Norm Dixon works himself up into an artificial frenzy, calls Peter Beattie a scab and claims Beattie is supporting the police officer who was carefully criticised in the coroner’s report on the Palm Island events.
I saw Beattie on television commenting on these matters. He was cautious, but he went out of his way to say that he had confidence in the coroner, who did her job very professionally. He went on to say that the police officer had been removed from active policing and placed in office work. He added that it was up to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide how to proceed, and by implication whether to prosecute the police officer. That’s hardly supporting the police officer, anywhere but in the feverish propaganda of Dixon and Riley.
Bourgeois jurisprudence includes the doctrine of the separation of powers. This doctrine isn’t perfect from a socialist point of view, but it is quite unreal to expect a politician of the careful Bonapartist Labor sort to proceed outside the framework of that doctrine.
After all, when campaigning for proper treatment for David Hicks, socialists take the agitational position, quite properly, of demanding normal legal procedures rather than Bush’s kangaroo court. Socialists should be very careful about demanding summary justice for anyone.
The artificial fury of Riley and Dixon aside, they should consider these questions:
a. An election is about to take place in Victoria. The Labor government has reformed the Victorian upper house, introducing a form of proportional representation, thus democratising a reactionary institution that has been a fetter on the workers of Victoria for 150 years. The ruling class in Victoria is very worried about the awful prospect of Greens being elected in four or five of the upper house seats under the new proportional representation arrangements, and having the balance of power. This is all thanks to democratic reforms introduced by a Labor government, which is no small thing.
b. Even concerning the extremely conservative Labor government in NSW, Blind Freddy can see that virtually the whole of the ruling class is now preoccupied with trying to remove the Iemma government. The reactionary state political correspondent, Imre Salusinsky who has now made the transition from alleged humourist to high politics commentator, spelled it out brutally this morning to Virginia Trioli on the ABC, talking about Howard’s speech at last night’s Quadrant dinner. Salusinszky said that the Tories were putting maximum effort into defeating the Iemma government because the determined stand of the NSW trade unions had stiffened up the Iemma government on Work Choices, and that was a very considerable obstacle to federal government plans to shackle the working class (my words, not Salusinszky’s).
In these situations, real class forces are at work. There are many more issues facing the labour movement than the dopey, ultraleft and increasingly mad preoccupations of Dixon and Riley.
October 4, 2006
Norm Dixon in passing says: “Bob Gould/Ozleft’s ‘support’ for Indigenous rights hidden away on its website isn’t worth tuppance if he cannot see and act on such blatant racism by the Beattie regime in practice.”
Here Dixon displays his usual contemptible tunnel vision: if you don’t conform to his mad ultraleft stereotype, you’re not worth tuppence. Well, he’s wrong about that. A few years ago, when I produced the very detailed refutation of Windschuttle’s reactionary views on indigenous history, Labor Review in Melbourne reprinted it and offered to print an extra 1000 for me as a run-on over the 1000 they printed for themselves. I accepted that offer and over several years I’ve sold about 800 of that 1000 at $5 each: a bit more than tuppence.
That article has been sought out, in my experience, by dozens of indigenous people and many liberal-minded Europeans and has a very substantial word-of-mouth reputation. I still sell five or six copies a week from my shop despite the fact that the article is now available free on the web, where it has more than 3000 hits.
Also, right at the start, I gave away about 700 of a photocopied version, commencing at an event held in my shop, at which Henry Reynolds and myself debated Paddy McGuinness and Keith Windschuttle. Just a bit more than tuppence, Norm.
The way you write betrays a certain abusive, posturing monomania. You should be very careful about loosely throwing around epithets such as scab at people involved in the labour movement whenever it takes your fancy. That’s a very bad practice, right out of the Stalinst gutter, and it’s very bad politics. You should stop doing it for your own mental health.
I’ve had a serious interest in indigenous affairs for about 40 years, and I’ve had good relations with a large number of indigenous activists, quite a few of whom consider me as a friend, personal and political. You might have discovered that if you had attended the section on indigenous affairs at the conference about the 1960s organised a few years ago by the Labour History Society.
I doubt that anything I say will influence your frenetic verbal behaviour, but your papal edicts about me aren’t likely to have too much impact on the large number of indigenous activists with whom I’ve marched and agitated over the years. Since, The Fate and Future of Aboriginal Australians, was put up on Ozleft three years ago it has had more than 7000 hits.
I’d be very interested to read Norm Dixon’s developed political analysis of aboriginal affairs. The only piece I’m aware of is a quite useful analysis of the national question, which develops the thesis that aboriginal Australians are not a separate nationality, a thesis with which I largely agree. That was produced by Dixon in his Red Professor role, to defend the line of the DSP.
I’m not aware of anything else Dixon has written on the subject. If Dixon thinks I’m guilty of heresy, he might actually want to read my two articles and see what he wants to attack. I’d doubt that he’ll do this, however, as he seems totally absorbed in his whirling dervish, abusive, ultraleft polemical activities on the web.
October 5, 2006
On the basis of the evidence presented, I’m not certain whether the Spartacists are telling the truth about an incident in Melbourne. I’m aware over many years of the Spartacists’ capacity to whip up small things into big things, and they themselves use inflammatory language against their opponents, including in this particular case.
I don’t intend to join the Spartacist campaign on this question because I’m not sure what happened, but I would point out that the Spartacists solicited support, and they even mailed me a document to which they attached a statement by an ostensible non-aligned bystander, who signed his name. This person claimed that he didn’t know either of the groups involved before the event, and he saw the male thump the woman.
If it’s true that he’s a mere bystander, that’s strong evidence, but I don’t know enough about the incident, or about who this bloke is, to form a firm conclusion.
Over 50 years of activity I’ve seen a few pieces of marginal violence and I’ve been thumped a couple of times myself by political opponents on the left. I’ve made a bit of a verbal scandal about it, but I’ve never made a public hullabaloo, not wanting to draw the media or the right wing into the affairs of the left. A bit of a fuss and the embarrassment of there being witnesses is usually enough to calm down the people doing the thumping, and that’s the best way to proceed.
I was present at a famous May Day booze-up at which some proletarian Stalinists thumped Denis Freney, and I made myself scarce, not wanting to be the next victim. Some may regard that as cowardice. (I’ve was also roughed up by coppers quite a few times in the Vietnam period.)
I also remember the atmosphere when the Maoists in Melbourne used to thump members of the DSP. Happily that stopped, and some in the DSP and some of those Maoists are now friends, while others of those Maoists have become cheerleaders for Bush’s Iraq war and the ruling class.
I’m a bit irritated, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, that the DSP leadership is willing to only listen to one side in an ugly brawl in the Socialist Party in Scotland, when they can have no direct knowledge of the events. I tend to be more agnostic about that dispute, except to say I’m repelled by people who hand over tapes to the Murdoch press containing alleged comments by Tommy Sheridan.
I just hope there are no outbreaks of that kind of viciousness in Australia. The Spartacists are a minor irritant, but they should never be thumped or otherwise physically responded to, and whatever the DSP member did, it should be made quite clear to him that he shouldn’t do anything like that ever again.
Unfortunately, I’m not convinced that the present leadership of the DSP will give the bloke the necessary serious talking to. In the past few days, Norm Dixon and Dave Riley have thrown about very powerful epithets such as scab against Peter Beattie and by inference anyone who doesn’t take their line on recent events in Queensland. Riley equated Beattie with Adolf Hitler, and then said Gould would support Hitler if he was a member of the Labor Party.
The carefully crafted cyber-entity Roger Raven, who is wheeled out to do the real dirty work, has on two occasions classified Gould as an agent provocateur. Well, we all know the proper approach in the workers movement to scabs, Nazis and agents provocateur. The Dixons and Rileys are creating a climate in which those who hold different opinions are scabs, Nazis and agents provocateur.
It seems to me they’re deliberately creating a very dangerous climate. This must all be seen in the context of the hysteria of the right-wing media and the ruling class, which are lashing out at Laborites, Greens, trade unionists and the alleged “leftist intelligentsia”. On the left we need mad rhetoric of the sort I’ve just described like the proverbial hole in the head.
Although it’s kind of flattering to be the ostensible object of all this craziness, I can’t believe that my modest journalistic agitation is the proximate cause of this hysteria in DSP leadership circles. It seems to me that this hysteria of the DSP leadership is directly related to the buildup of internal tensions in their organisation. On this occasion I hope I’m wrong, but it seems likely the split in the DSP, when it comes, will be a pretty nasty business.
PS. One of the DSP full-timers in Sydney came to light to say she had met this cyber-entity Raven, who lives in Perth and is a former member of the Socialist Alliance. I’m not entirely convinced by this slightly awkward formulation. If the man lives in Perth and is not a cyber-entity (and of course I could be wrong in my speculation) how come he’s so convinced I’m an agent provocateur?
Entity Raven is a nasty, rather clumsy construct. I haven’t been called an agent provocateur for almost 40 years, when it was routine abuse for myself and others who challenged Communist Party hegemony on the left.
October 6, 2006
A certain amount of common sense has broken out, happily, in the discussion of the event surrounding the coroner’s report on the death on Palm Island. Greg Adler’s pretty well-informed lawyer’s angle seems to be reasonable, and even Ratbag Radio Riley has been forced to calm down and discuss the events in more or less, for him, rational political terms, having got the initial crazed abuse of me off his chest.
Riley gives a reasonably rational account of the efforts of Sam Watson and other Brisbane Murris who support the demands of the Palm Island community. I support the demands of the Palm Island community, and if the local Labor member of parliament, who it must be noted, depends on a large vote on Palm Island, wants quicker action by Beattie, I support that too.
Serious readers will note that the Palm Island community, the local Labor MP and Sam Watson don’t appear to be using the DSP’s crazy rhetoric about scabs. They are trying to influence the outcome of the process by presenting demands and agitating, and in general I support that agitation.
Sam Watson, for example, told The World Today that The way in which the coroner “administered the inquest and the courtesy and professionalism that she showed to witnesses and people involved and the findings that she handed down yesterday has absolutely restored the faith and confidence that Aboriginal people had in justice system”.
“Aboriginal people now on Palm Island and across Queensland now really do feel they can take their complaints to the judicial system and they can receive real redress, and at the end of the day, real justice. And that is a massive step forward for reconciliation right across the state and right across the nation.”
Perhaps that’s putting too much faith in the Queensland justice system, but it’s a world away from the Dixon-Riley rhetoric about scabs, and it is an attempt to influence the political process in an entirely sensible way.
On balance I’m convinced by Adler’s general point that, properly handled, removal of the copper probably wouldn’t prejudice the legal case. I do have one misgiving, however, which I don’t lay down as a matter of holy writ, and that concerns the general principle of due process.
Many years ago I was entirely convinced, and I haven’t changed my view, that jury trials were one of the great conquests of the struggle for democracy in English-speaking countries, and that socialists should defend and protect jury trials and due process. The political point is that summary justice by magistrates, judges and politicians tends to enforce the interests of the ruling class of the day, whereas juries of ordinary people, usually end up deciding on the balance of probabilities, and often are influenced by class factors.
A striking current example of the difference between juries and summary justice is the courageous decision of an ordinary Scottish jury in favour of Tommy Sheridan versus News Limited. That jury managed to work out who they thought was telling more of the truth.
Even in the Palm Island case, due process, liberty of the subject, the presumption of innocence and the right to a jury trial are part of the scenario. On balance, it’s in the interests of us all that even a copper in this situation should not have his rights abrogated, despite the fact that, as we know, indigenous people routinely have their rights abrogated in many ways. Summary justice benefits the ruling class, ultimately. Look at Guantanamo Bay and Bush’s vile military tribunals, so-called. Having said all that, this Greg Adler’s summary of the likely legal situation is sufficient for the moment, and I don’t claim anything like his detailed legal knowledge.