Bob Gould, 2006

Entrism, the Labor Party and socialist tactics

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

There’s not enough time in the world to write and comment on all the events that are unfolding so rapidly. I’ve been working on two or three pieces on different questions, which I’ll finish in the next few days, but some of the issues raised by Alan Bradley and Norm Dixon demand an immediate response.

Alan Bradley reels off quite a sensible list of socialist agitators who were entrists at different times, but he leaves me out, which I resent a bit, but my personal irritation isn’t all that significant.

However, the experience of the Vietnam antiwar agitation in Sydney, in which I was a central figure, is of some historical significance. Between 1965 and 1972 we built up a very substantial socialist-led antiwar movement in Sydney, in competition with, but also in a kind of contradictory united front with, all comers: Stalinists, the more conservative Labor Party left, pacifists, etc.

All the revolutionary socialist groups in Sydney came out of the seedbed of that agitation. A strategic presence in the Labor Party was an enormous practical assistance to us in developing that very effective and robust, and very widespread antiwar movement. That experience is just historical fact that no one can wish away because their political orientation later changed. At that moment we were all entrists.

On another question. Norm Dixon repeats his mantra demanding of people like myself and others who defend the strategic united front approach to the Labor Party and the Greens that we should spell out in elaborate detail some schema for work in the Labor Party and the Greens. He attacks us for not supporting his particular independent socialist project.

He also attacks socialist who lie doggo in his project, the Socialist Alliance, and those who develop their own projects, as if they’re in some way splitters because they don’t support his project. This approach to the world is nuts for a small socialist group. It’s the old story that the mountain must come to Mohammed.

The cold, hard reality of the workers movement is that most of the more militant socialist and left-oriented people in the trade unions, such as in Victoria and WA, but also in the other states, quietly go about their business, which includes, for most of them, continuing their activity in the Labor Party and the Greens, and campaigning for the election of the Labor government, because they see that as useful from the trade union point of view.

Most of the trade union militants I’m talking about in Melbourne and Western Australia are courteous to the DSP and Socialist Alliance, but they ignore their lectures and continue with their normal activities, part of which is a political involvement in the Labor Party.

When Norm blasts people me who argue for a strategic united front in a public and written form, he’s actually arguing with most of his trade union allies. In reality, in the current circumstances, it’s not a matter of having a false strategic construct, a largely idealist and metaphysical construct, as advanced by Norm and the DSP leadership, as looking for openings for socialists to engage in effective agitation.

This, for many socialists and left-wingers who are at all active, includes some orientation to the Labor Party and/or the Greens. The problem that Norm faces, is that there is no significant force outside the DSP in the workers movement that is really willing to roll over for the current DSP leadership’s political project, and no amount of lecturing from Norm, Dave Riley or John Tognolini is likely to have the slightest effect on anyone else’s behaviour.

I note that in the document for the coming Socialist Alliance national conference reality has crept in a bit, and the initial formulations about the DSP-Socialist Alliance being central to the mobilisation against Work Choices has been substantially modified. The resolution says “for first time in many years many in the working class look towards Socialist Alliance as a valuable step forward”.

Reality has broken through a bit, but the formulation is still about how the working class is looking to the leadership and initiative coming from the Socialist Alliance. Even this modified formulation is, in my view, wishful thinking.

To answer Norm’s question just a little bit. My view is that we need a sensible and careful discussion about the current strategic questions in the Labor Party, the workers movement and the Greens aimed at elaborating a useful strategy or combination of strategies. It would be wise for all those participating in such a discussion not to rush in waving their particular shibboleths like clubs at everyone else and demanding that everyone else join their project. (The alternative being some kind of implied political damnation.)

Discussion on the left

October 26, 2006

I note Norm Dixon’s appeal to me to stop being abusive, particularly that I should stop referring to the DSP leadership’s alternative universe. That’s a bit rich considering the fact that usually when I lift my head above the parapet you and others like Riley and Tognolini deluge me with abuse.

Apparently Norm wants to change the tone of our exchanges. His past couple of contributions have been almost civil, and I’ll try to respond civilly. However, in the spirit of the vigorous debate you advocate, which I agree can be different to the abuse that’s sometimes exchanged, I’ll persist one more time with my DSP alternate universe analogy.

This week’s Green Left Weekly has just gone up on the web. Unless I’ve missed it, I can’t see any reference at all to the explosive and bitter debate that dominated the federal parliament this week about Iraq, with the Labor Party prosecuting a vigorous attack on the war, proclaiming its opposition to it from day one, and reasserting its pledge to withdraw the Australian troops. On the other side, Howard and the Tories accused Labor of being soft on terrorism, etc.

Whatever you think of the Labor Party, that division in the parliament is central to current Australian politics on the Iraq war. In my view, to go the trouble of producing a quite professional, effective weekly socialist newspaper and not cover that parliamentary battle is unquestionably to live in an alternate universe of your own creation. In this instance, I’m not using hyperbole. I’m just calling a spade a spade.

On the more general questions Norm raises. He attacks myself and others who don’t join in DSP-Socialist Alliance projects, for diverting resources from those projects, which he implies are the central socialist projects.

This argument is metaphysics. All the groups he attacks for not joining his project have their own projects of one sort or another. He’s unlikely to convince any of them with moralising rhetoric, including me.

Norm raises the question of what amounts to other people’s political perspectives, or lack of them as he asserts in my case, and he counterposes to everyone his perspective of building his own modest outfit as the centre party of socialist agitation and propaganda, which he implies can ultimately replace Laborism, etc, and construct a mass socialist party.

His perspective in this respect is flawed. We all engage in socialist and leftist agitation and propaganda in whatever ways are available to us. He chooses the constant open party tactic and a constant exposure of Laborism tactic. The problem is that no mass socialist party in Australia, or any other country for that matter, that has had a previously existing mass workers party, has ever been constructed in that way.

Dixon ridicules myself and all the other groups that he obviously regards as rivals because their own projects aren’t crash-hot at the moment, but his problem is that his own project has almost completely stalled. The Socialist Alliance is now vastly reduced in size and influence from when it began and there is a cold split in his own formation, which arises from the crisis produced by the stalling of the Socialist Alliance project.

Norm also constantly tries to set the parameters of discussion to exclude anyone who doesn’t, as a precondition, accept his project. That approach on the far left, in my view, is eccentric and doomed to preclude real discussion.

I propose a relaxed discussion over a modest period of three to six months of perspectives and possibilities facing serious socialists. Such discussion shouldn’t exclude anyone either on the far left, the Labor Party, the trade union movement or the Greens who considers themselves socialist and who has anything to say on strategic questions.

This could involve both written discussion and a open forums. What do you think of that idea?

PS I must say that I don’t like, at all, the rather nasty tone adopted towards the DSP by some other posters on the Green Left list: the anonymous ones of whose identity nobody is really sure. You know quite well who Ed and myself are. I take responsibility only for what I say, and I’m sure Ed only takes responsibility for what he says.