Bob Gould, 2008

A curious intervention on Marxmail

Source: Ozleft, February 9, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

In the past week or so Max Lane has put on his own longstanding blog at Sydney University, and more recently on Marxmail, one of his periodic accounts of developments on the left in Indonesia. Max is no ordinary observer of Indonesia, but the major translator of the novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer, and an important promoter of Toer’s works in the English-speaking world.

As a young man Max had a brief tenure as a diplomat in Indonesia and his experiences there led him to radical conclusions. He left the diplomatic service and later, in the 1980s, joined the DSP. For a long time he has been an important contact between the Australian left and the Indonesian left, particularly the PRD.

In the course of his work as an academic specialising in Indonesia he has spent long periods in Indonesia and some time in East Timor. To sum up, he’s the Australian left expert on Indonesia.

I don’t profess a great knowledge of Indonesia, but I have considerable interest in it, and over the years Max Lane’s published material has been a major source of information about the development of the Indonesian left. He has been a strong supporter of the PRD, and again he has been the main source of information about that organisation on the Australian left.

Nick Fredman’s canvassing of past sectarian criticisms of the PRD on Marxmail is confusing in the extreme. I was struck by the caution and detail of Max’s account of events, which is characteristic of his writing about Indonesia, and if he sounds a note of warning about the apparent willingness of the PRD to become a minority in a formation with a very right-wing history, I’m willing to take that seriously.

Max’s article was a journalistic account with a word of warning, and hardly an intervention in the affairs of the PRD, which is sensible, as interventions from afar are in my experience often politically destructive.

It’s also well known that Max is a member of the minority in the DSP, which adds another dimension to this question. That Peter Boyle jumps in with a statement on Marxmail to repudiate Max and his note of warning in such a belligerent way seems to be motivated largely by factional considerations.

Boyle is clearly pitching for some sort of support internationally from the PRD majority. From my experience I’d trust Max’s judgment on these matters over Boyle’s. To class Max’s careful journalism as an intervention against the PRD majority seems to be an extravagant view that can only have a factional basis.

It’s also worth noting that in the recent implosion in the Scottish Socialist Party the Boyle grouping, as demonstrated by its coverage in Green Left Weekly, and particularly on Dave Riley’s network of blogs, intervened with all guns blazing, from afar, on the side of the group in Scotland that tried to remove Tommy Sheridan, with such disastrous results for the left in that country.

Boyle and company intervene from afar when it suits them. Concerning the PRD majority in Indonesia, it’s pretty clear Boyle and company will support it through thick and thin, no matter what tactics it adopts, even if they’re very cautious and conservative tactics, which are in stark contradiction with the constant and frenetic left talk of the Boyleites at home in Australia.

Boyle’s sharp intervention against Max Lane suggests to me that any kind of public expression of a point of view that the Boyleites subsequently classify as heresy will be used to precipitate the internal division in Australia that the Boyleites appear to desire.

I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on the left in Indonesia, but in matters about which I don’t know much other than very derived knowledge I’m inclined to trust the judgment of people whose socialist goodwill has been tested over time and whose expertise is clear, which is very much the case with Max Lane. I wouldn’t trust the inexpert factional judgment of the Boyleites on international matters as far as I could throw the Sydney Town Hall.

Incidentally, Max Lane was in my shop a couple of weeks ago to pick up a book he had ordered by Howard Fast, Literature and Reality. As one does, I chatted with him for a minute or two, during which time four or five Indonesian students came into the shop and asked if they could use the shop as a location in a small film about Sydney.

They seemed a bit leftist to me. I usually charge a location fee for commercial firms that use the shop, but for these students I waived the fee and told them they were welcome to use the shop. Max, who didn’t know the students, started chatting to them in Bahasa about developments in Indonesia, and it was fascinating to watch the interaction as they talked for half an hour. After he left, one of the students joked that he was a white Indonesian. That’s one reason I tend to trust Max’s judgment in these matters.

Max Lane’s response to Nick Fredman