Bob Gould, 2008
Source: Ozleft, May 19, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter
One by-product of the factional explosion in the DSP is very healthy. Apart from a bit of rearguard bluster from the DSP majority, almost everyone else who participates in the discussion adopts a rational tone, discussing the political problems of the far left in a more open and concrete way than has been the case in my memory.
It’s also my impression that a lot of people who’ve previously been sheltered from such debates, such as the ranks of Socialist Alternative, are reading this material, although not participating much.
In the spirit of this serious discussion, I want to take up Tom O’Lincoln on a few points he has made on Leftwrites. There’s still a slight tone of superiority in Tom’s response to the DSP minority. He counterposes implicitly the practice of his own organisation and its theoretical underpinning, saying: “what the far left can achieve today is the primitive accumulation of cadres”.
In the context of agreeing with the view of the DSP minority from its own experience that the overblown perspectives of the DSP majority are disastrous, I wish to examine this notion of the primitive accumulation of cadres in light of what I know of Tom’s organisation.
Firstly, the revolving door. I first met Dave Nadel about 44 years ago at a Student Labor Federation conference, at which we finally took back the Australian Student Labor Federation from the industrial Groupers, who had controlled it for 15 years. One very funny feature of that conference, which all present still laugh about, was a real revolving door. As votes were taken, both sides would go through the door on one side of the hall after voting, and come back through the door on the opposite side and vote again.
At its worst, the primitive accumulation of cadres in a mainly student-based organisation is a bit like that. The mainly student comrades join the group, learn a bit about how to talk the talk and in a relatively short time, and then as they learn that the talk doesn’t intersect with reality very much, they slip out through the other door, often innoculated against far left politics.
This tendency is, in my experience, accentuated in defensive periods because the difficulties of real participation in the class struggle in all its forms are greater and the tendency to pure propagandism is reinforced by the objective situation. So you end up with quite fantastic attempts to theorise it and relate it in an entirely literary way to the Leninist and Bolshevik tradition, which isn’t at all reasonable theoretically or historically.
My observations are based on Socialist Alternative in Sydney, where I live, and perhaps these tendencies are more acute there.
In Sydney, Socialist Alternative is extremely insular. It recruits a bit on campuses because of energetic propaganda activity, but then turns insulating its members from the external world into a thoroughly self-reinforcing system, the eccentric outward form of which I’ve described elsewhere.
You almost never see the newer members of the group anywhere without an older member shepherding them. For instance, as the rising tide of rebellion of against electricity privatisation has rolled in, Socialist Alternative has shown a bit of interest. Two Socialist Alternative members have turned up to a couple of the open meetings of the anti-privatisation committee: one of the younger members with the inevitable shepherd.
At one of the meetings an older member from interstate made the inevitable intervention that the rebellion wouldn’t be much use unless there was mass industrial action, which was in my view a timeless proposition that was not based on a serious appraisal of the ebb and flow of the real struggle.
Tom presents the timeless primitive accumulation of cadres as wise advice to the DSP minority, who have a certain history of this themselves, although they may be trying to reappraise their tactical and strategic ideas, if the careful comments by my partial namesake, Bob Goulash, are any guide.
In this talk about primitive accumulation of cadres there is little scope for the exemplary activities of someone like Kim Bullimore, Ian Rintoul or Ian Jamieson, who by their patient and long-standing agitation in particular spheres generate immense respect for revolutionary socialists, laying the basis for recruitment to their particular group.
People attracted to socialist groups by the activities of such people are likely to be more durable and long-term recruits than those who join up on the basis of initial enthusiasm during university orientation week to entirely literary propositions about socialism.
I’ve also developed a certain respect for Solidarity, from the predecessor of which Tom departed some time ago. Solidarity contains quite a few independent-minded older members, mainly from the ISO, who’ve carved out modest but important niches in various agitations, and even in a scattering of unions. One bloke has even committed the capital crime, to propagandists, of getting himself elected to an important union position.
These older ISO members seem to interact quite harmoniously with the younger group, who are mainly students but who have been recruited to socialist politics in various student movements, rather than purely by way of abstract propaganda about rather remote socialist theory.
The younger members of the groups that came together to form Solidarity also seem to be learning a bit and getting involved in such mass movements as they develop in a still difficult and defensive period.
The weakness of the younger ones may be that they’re a bit atheoretical and don’t read as much as the force-fed members of Socialist Alternative, and they’re not as erudite about the works of Marx, Lenin and Mick Armstrong. The hurly burly of the struggle will eventually get these people more interested in theory, in my view.
Independently of this critique, I still have considerable respect for the intellectual achievements of people such Tom, who has written well about Australian labour movement history, and Rick Kuhn, whose recent book about Grossman should be obligatory reading for anyone interested in the history of the Marxist movement.
I don’t think primitive accumulation of cadres in current Australian conditions has anything to do with Leninism.
Talk about primitive accumulation of cadres is a blind alley for a socialist group. I put this forward in the spirit of healthy discussion of such matters, which I hope is just beginning.
Chav, May 12, 2008 “But what it really shows is the danger of misjudging a political situation and then being unwilling to correct the mistake.” (Allen Myers)
Right, that’s it! I can’t read anymore. I’ve seen it before. If the far left could stop lying to itself for once we might actually get somewhere.
Marcus Pabian, May 12, 2008 Chav is right, but they took it further, the DSP majority leadership were unwilling to correct the mistake, the time for the Socialist Alliance had not come, unfortunately, that was one mistake, but then they would not allow a real opposition — that was the death knell. ThatÙs a lesson any healthy party has to remember.
We all could have worked in the DSP if we were allowed to, sometimes mistakes take a while to recognise, but, again, they took it further.
Will, May 12, 2008 The Leninist Party Faction of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist Tendency in the Socialist Alliance. Wow!
Wombo, May 13, 2008 Marcus, with all due respect, if you had wanted to work within the DSP, and thought you had any chance of winning people to your perspective, then deliberately ignoring the direct and clear decision of a branch meeting isn’t a very good way to do it, is it? Leaving aside any question (any question at all) as to who is “right” on the issues of Socialist Alliance or anything else, it’s pretty rich for people who claim to represent the tradition of the DSP and of its “ leninist party building ” method to flaunt any decision of the party because you happen to disagree with it.
Now, if you disagree with the idea of democratic centralism, or the way in which the DSP has always interpreted it, it might have been useful to bring that up at some relevant point. There’s always space for re-thinking organisational methods on the left, not least because organisation follows politics (not less obviously than now) rather than vice-versa. But it seems clear that you simply ignored the decisions of the party, because — as is clear from the various vast screeds the LPF has mocked up — you have nothing but contempt for the non-LPF membership of the DSP (to say nothing of the membership of the Socialist Alliance).
These outfits we build on the left are voluntary and we all agree to go along with the rules — or try to change them. Or leave. The LPF refused to do options one or two and have voluntarily chosen three.
Let ’s indeed be honest about the best way of organising the left, our hopes and opportunities. But let’s be equally honest about our own failings too. Tell it like it is — you misbehaved, broke discipline, thumbed your nose to democracy and walked out, and are now claiming you were “ purged ” . The least you could do is take some responsibility for what took place.
Ah well, another scene from the unfortunate and bloody soap-opera of the left.
The DSP national executive will be putting out a statement later today in response these events, but no doubt the nay-sayers will already be happy to have been “ proved ” right on some or another small point. I’m considerably more interested in continuing to collaborate with any and all of the left who are willing to do so in order to actually change society, not just change initials and bicker.
Marcus Pabian, May 13, 2008 Wombo suggested: “Tell it like it is — you misbehaved, broke discipline, thumbed your nose to democracy and walked out, and are now claiming you were ‘purged’”.
Well the purge is certainly not my imagination.
Here’s the conclusion of the purge report circulated on May 10 by the DSP leadership (two days before the LPF went public about the expulsion):
“The [DSP] investigation committee has on this basis concluded that the continued existence of the LPF is incompatible with the aims and organisational principles of the DSP, and that membership of the LPF is incompatible with membership of the DSP. The investigation committee is therefore recommending that the LPF be expelled … The recommendation is not based on any notion of collective punishment.”
But what about misbehaving?
The very act the charges were brought down for was DSP national policy since 2004. The primary excuse for this expulsion was that five LPF members raised a motion at the Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network annual general meeting on April 5 to build AVSN clubs on campuses to involve students in building solidarity with the Venezuelan revolution — DSP policy since 2004.
This act became the pretext for the DSP leadership to pursue the expulsion enmasse of the minority — the entire membership of the LPF, even those overseas.
The full expulsion report is online along with an analysis by the LPF of this very unfortunate, and sad, political and organisational degeneration of the DSP.
Marcus Pabian, May 14, 2008 The DSP is dressing up the purge as a “ destructive split ”. Classic double-speak.
A good example of what political life was like in the DSP. When things were going bad in the Socialist Alliance: “there’s so much potential”. When someone points it out:“they’re demoralised!”. And finally, when a report orders expulsion: “it’s a split”.
Hopefully some DSP members can disentangle themselves from it all.
Kerry, May 14, 2008 It’s a bit like hanging on to a thread of reality pretending you have the whole coat for the finger waving Wombo, who doesn’t seem to mind that a sizeable chunk of the DSP cadre were purged for flimsiest of excuses. As one of the purged, it has always been about the underlying politics and whether you think SA is anything other than the DSP masquerading as a “broad left party in formation” , even as a “modest step” towards one with a handful of others or not. You really should stop pretending that it is. There is no place for wishful thinking, or there wasn’t in the DSP for a good part of my membership except for the past four or five years. Providing evidence for political decisions as a far as I remember was pretty basic to a Marxist. Even with the best of intentions, the evidence that SA had come to anything other than the DSP putting on an invisible coat and pretending SA was a real party, was just not there. One of the insurmoutable problems in the DSP was the majority’s inability to defend its own illusions — thatÙ s why they refused to analyse the past two years experience and so did not draw the obvious logical conclusions. So now the remainder of the DSP has to wear the results. Tough!
Comment by Margarita May 14, 2008 I would like to encourage people on this list who are interested in the DSP’s position on the split to check the DSP website. It is unfortunate that we were not able to resolve our differences within the DSP and that it has come to an acrimonious parting of ways. We have had close to three years of ongoing internal discussion about our differences, which is highly commendable and not really very common on the left in Australia.
Eighty per cent of delegates at the last DSP congress (January 2008) agreed with the political analysis and perspectives put forward and have a right to implement this decision. LPF comrades disagreed with this fundamental democratic principal and organised as a separate grouping with different political perspectives OUTSIDE the DSP involving non DSP members — even though the LPF was still formally part of the DSP.
Blind Freddy can see that something doesn’t quite add up here and nobody can tell me that any other socialist grouping or as a matter of fact ANY other political party would accept this kind of behaviour.
Ed Lewis, who made the initial post about the split on this list and is a member of the NSW Greens would surely agree with me on this point at least. Imagine Greens members working against Greens decisions and policy in public with other political forces — not a good look, makes a mockery of democracy.
Let’s call a spade for what it is and let’s not dress it up as something it ain’t — like the hysterical claim the LFP has been purged. The DSP National Executive now only formalised a decision the LPF consciously made a while ago — that is to go separate ways.
I wish the LPF comrades well, I have worked closely with many of them for years and am sure that in the course of the class struggle (which won’t stop because of the split) some of us will be working together again.
Marcus Pabian, May 14, 2008 The central issue that led the DSP leadership on a non-stop campaign for over two years to marginalise and then expel the LPF was our opposition to the DSP masquerading as a broad left party — the Socialist Alliance. Socialist Alliance has been a DSP front for a long time.
But this put the DSP leadership in a difficult position: to admit the time had not come for a broad left party implied going back to building a public revolutionary socialist party.
That’s what they no longer agreed with — building a public revolutionary socialist party.
But rather than openly admit it they pretended that SA was actually becoming something more than the DSP and a few active supporters, to avoid going back to being a public revolutionary socialist party.
The opposition of the LPF to this charade was returned with marginalisation of the LPF by the DSP leadership, a campaign of exclusion was conducted for over two years — breaking with a tradition of building inclusive leadership teams.
Almost everything the LPF did was turned into a scandal to feed this campaign of exclusion. Eventually a clear message was drummed into the DSP membership — the LPF are a hostile force.
Yet our central proposal was that we return to building the DSP as we did before we submerged into the Socialist Alliance.
Politically the LPF wasn’t a hostile force to the old DSP but hostile to the liquidation of the DSP, its revolutionary politics and traditions, into an empty broad-left party front.
Linda Waldron, May 15, 2008 Margarita says: “It is unfortunate … it has come to an acrimonious parting of ways”. However, her own role in preparing the ground for the purge belies her crocodile tears.
The ruthless and undemocratic nature of the current leadership of the DSP manifested itself in early 2006. Four majority leaders in Melbourne consisting of Assistant National Secretary Sue Bolton, two National Executive members Margarita Windisch and Dick Nichols and one National Committee member Jody Betzien hacked into my personal email account in order to read the internal discussion of the LPF.
After perusing over 500 of my personal emails they stole from the account any emails they found useful in their factional warfare against the LPF, they forwarded them to National Secretary Peter Boyle. At no point did they inform me of their violation of my personal privacy or ever apologise for the grievous harm they did me. It was only some two months after the incident when Peter Boyle released the stolen emails to the entire National Committee that I was able to force an admission from the four culprits. While admitting to the crime, no admission of any wrongdoing was made by anyone on the DSP leadership. Instead Peter Boyle told the NC the four comrades had acted “responsibly”.
Posted below is a statement on the hacking by the Melbourne LPF at the time. More documents, including responses from the DSP majority have been posted on the Green Left discussion list.
Ironically around the time of this email hacking incident Margarita Windisch was standing as a candidate for SA on a platform of civil liberties and opposition to state espionage.
Melbourne LPF statement on email hacking, May 7, 2006
On May 1, 2006, Comrade Jody Betzien issued a statement to the Melbourne DSP executive confirming the unauthorised accessing of Comrade Linda Waldron’s personal email account. The unauthorised accessing of Comrade Waldron’s account by majority leadership comrades enabled the accessing/downloading of over 520 personal and political emails. Among them were over 100 emails from the National LPF email discussion list, which were forwarded to the National Secretary of the DSP. The statement issued by comrade Betzien was sent to Comrade Waldron by Melbourne DSP Branch Secretary Margie Windisch on May 2, 2006.
The statement issued by Comrade Betzien read:
When Dick Nichols was in Melbourne he opened Outlook Express on one of the computers in the office and discovered lots of LPF list emails in the inbox. This computer is generally not used for email and so no one would normally open Outlook Express on it. He alerted myself, Margie and Sue B to this fact.
Having read the content of some of the emails we considered it important to send them to Peter Boyle. Proof of this is still available on the computer. After one of the emails was forwarded to Margarita and it bounced it became apparent that emails were coming from Linda Waldron’s Hotmail account. Presumably Linda set this up at some time in the past and forgot about it.
At no point was Linda’s email hacked. These emails became available by accident on a computer that is for the use of all DSP members. The content was sufficiently important that it was considered necessary to alert the nation leadership.
Despite claims in this statement, Comrade Waldron is absolutely certain she did not set up or authorise the setting up of the “shadow” Hotmail account in the Outlook Express system on the DSP office computer. This account was set up by someone else without Comrade Linda’s authorisation or knowledge.
The unauthorised “shadow” Hotmail account on Outlook Express allowed for her personal hotmail account to be accessed (ie hacked) without her knowledge from another portal. Therefore her personal email account was “hacked into” and her emails did not just become “available by accident on a computer that is for the use of all DSP members”. They were deliberately accessed without her permission or knowledge (nb: the Macquarie Dictionary defines “hacking into” as “to gain unauthorised access, as to the information stored on an organisation’s computer, or the computer itself, or the organisation itself”).
Comrade Waldron and Melbourne LPF comrades first became aware of the unauthorised hacking of her account and the LPF national email list on February 18, when Comrade Waldron noticed an email she did not send in her account. The email, with the subject line “LPF”, had been sent to Comrade Windisch and ccd to Comrade Waldron and contained an attached file with two LPF emails inside.
On discovery of this, Comrade Waldron changed her password on February 19. On February 21 Comrade Waldron queried Comrade Windisch about the “bounced” email. According to Comrade Windisch, she had only received one email from an unknown source. At the time of the query, neither Comrade Windisch, Betzien, Nichols nor Bolton informed Comrade Waldron that they had access to all of her personal emails, that they were available on the office computer or that they had been forwarded to the National Secretary of the DSP, Peter Boyle. Comrade Waldron only became aware of this after Comrade Betzien’s statement was issued two and half months after the emails were first accessed by comrades Nichols, Betzien, Windisch and Bolton and forwarded to Comrade Boyle.
Unauthorised accessing/hacking of other comrades’ emails
On Thursday, April 27, the National Secretary of the DSP released 130 of the stolen political emails, without formal consultation with the DSP National Secretariat. Melbourne LPF comrades note that the political emails “released” by Comrade Boyle, include emails up to and including March 5. Thus emails after February 18 and up until March 5 were not accessed via the unauthorised shadow Hotmail account on the Outlook Express (as Comrade Waldron had changed her password, thus preventing access from the shadow account). These emails had to have been accessed by other means. This suggests that the majority leadership comrades have access to other comrades email accounts and may still have access.
On May 1, the National LPF Convenor and DSP National President, Comrade John Percy issued a statement on behalf of the LPF to the DSP NE protesting the unauthorised accessing/hacking of Comrade Waldron’s email account, the violation of the LPF’s constitutional rights to internal faction discussion and the theft of the 130 emails. Attached to the National LPF statement is a written account by Comrade Ambrose Andrews (Canberra DSP comrade, LPF member) regarding the attempted hacking of the National LPF list by a National Executive Majority leadership comrade. The NE Majority leadership comrade in question has since admitted to being the hacker.
No right to privacy
DSP comrades in the Melbourne LPF completely reject the arguments made by Majority leaders Comrades Betzien and Dave Holmes that DSP comrades have no right to personal privacy. According to Comrade Betzien (at the May 1 DSP Executive Meeting) DSP members have “no constitutional rights to privacy” and any expectations of privacy were “liberalism”. Similarly, according to Comrade Holmes any expectations of privacy by DSP comrades are “bourgeois liberalism”.
While the constitution does not give comrades a specific right to privacy, comrades do have the right to be treated honestly, in a comradely manner (as per the DSP constitution, Article 4, Paragraph 1, Section H) and to have their personal privacy respected. The Organisational Principles and Methods of the Democratic Socialist Party notes that “ because of its political basis, the party expects its members to act towards one another with honesty and responsibility (pg 66 The Party, the Political and the Personal by Pat Brewer). The Organisational Principles go on to ask, “when you join a party like the DSP [does] every aspect of your life come under the authority of the decisions of the party? The answer is clearly no. The DSP is not a totalitarian party. Its jurisdiction does not encompass everything … there are many areas where the party does not assert a position or exercise its authority” (p68, The Party, the Political and the Personal).
The party does have the right to act “if a comrade’s personal actions affect the political tasks of the party” (p67, The Party, the Political and the Personal). But note that it is a comrade’s actions that the party has the right to act against — not their opinions or views, including the opinions and views expressed within a duly constituted faction. The action normally to be taken in such situations is to “discuss out the problem with the comrade concerned to try to resolve the problem politically with a mutually agreed solution” (p67, The Party, the Political and the Personal). At no time has any member of the leadership approached Comrade Waldron or any member of the LPF for such a discussion. Instead the National Secretary and other majority leadership comrades involved kept secret for two and half months the fact that they had access to Comrade Waldron’s personal and political emails.
It should be noted that disciplinary action can only be taken against a comrade for violating the DSP constitution. Comrades cannot be disciplined for holding views at variance with the majority. The Program of the DSP states “the party must above all be democratic. It must guarantee the right to hold and argue for different policies and proposals for action within the party …” (p65). Under Article 4, Paragraph 1, Section I of the DSP constitution, DSP comrades have the right to form factions for the express aim of “promot[ing] changes in the political line or activity of the DSP and in the composition of the DSP’s leadership bodies”. As a member of a properly declared faction, Comrade Waldron and other DSP comrades who are members of that faction, have the political and constitutional right to be able to have private discussions regarding how to implement and attain the objectives outlined in the faction’s founding declaration and platform, while remaining loyal to the DSP and its program.
Lenin and Cannon on privacy
Comrades Betzien and Holmes assert, however, that DSP comrades don’t have a right to privacy and any expectations that such a right should exist is “bourgeois liberalism”. This assertion radically contradicts the views held on this by Vladamir Illyich Lenin and American Marxist and founder of the US Socialist Workers Party, James P Cannon.
For instance, Lenin prepared a report after the Second Congress of the RSDLP which is recorded on page 19, volume 7 of his Collected Works. His 1903 report, Account of the Second Congress of the RSDLP, took the form of a letter which he mailed to whomever he pleased. Lenin began his report with the following words: “This account intended for personal acquaintances only, and therefore to read it without the consent of the author (Lenin) is tantamount to reading other people’s letters.”
As American Marxist Peter Camejo noted regarding the degeneration of the US Socialist Workers Party under the leadership of Jack Barnes, “Lenin would have been expelled from the SWP for his methods of functioning, undoubtedly charged with anti-Leninism. So would have Cannon, who likewise did many of the things for which members of the SWP are now being brought up on charges of, such as writing private letters on political matters to whomever he pleased” (Peter Camejo, Against Sectarianism: The Evolution of the Socialist Workers Party 1978-1983. Our party reprinted this pamphlet shortly after Camejo published it in the US. See The Making of a Sect by Doug Lorimer for more information on the political/organisational degeneration of the US SWP).
Comrades Betzien and Holmes and other majority leadership comrades, however, are now trying to justify their unprincipled behaviour as being in the tradition of Marxism, Leninism and Cannonism. Comrades in the Melbourne LPF completely reject this assertion.
Majority justification: The ends justify the means (but what ends?)
The Melbourne DSP comrades in the LPF understand that no prior discussion about the stolen emails — how they were obtained, their content, or discussion about their impending release — was discussed formally by comrades on the National DSP secretariat. This is despite Comrade Boyle being in possession of the LPF emails for two and half months prior to releasing them.
If the National Secretary and other majority leadership comrades were as concerned as they now claim to be about the contents of the LPF discussion list then why didn’t they raise the issue two and half months ago when they first obtained these emails? If the content of these emails is so destructive to the DSP as claimed, or violated the Constitution of the DSP, why weren’t disciplinary charges brought against Comrade Waldron and other LPF comrades, allowing us to formally respond to any such charges? We can only conclude then that the theft of these emails and their release was not done in the interest or for the protection of the DSP but as a factional manoeuvre in the interests of the Majority leadership.
However, this factional manoeuvre by the majority leadership which has violated the constitutional and political rights, as well as the individual right to privacy, of LPF comrades is now being justified in grand Marxist terms.
Indeed for Marxist morality the ends do justify the means. But as Leon Trotsky pointed out “ the end in its turn needs to be justified ”. As Trotsky notes in Their Morals and Ours, morals have a class basis. We don’t respect the bourgeoisie, their state agencies, their laws and their fake moral principles. In time of revolution and civil war, the most extreme measures will sometimes become necessary and justified. But within the revolutionary party we do have principles and standards, which include comrades’ right to privacy, and the right of a faction to have internal political discussions.
The unprincipled course of action by the majority leadership only raises a much more important question: if the majority leadership is willing to carry out such a violation and destroy all trust within the membership of the DSP, what could their ends be? It also raises other questions: where will the majority leadership draw the line? When you are set on your objective and willing to carry out such actions as these email hackings, where will it stop? What else are you willing to do and what party rules, norms and traditions would you be willing to distort and destroy in pursuit of your objective?
How does violating comrades personal and political rights, including violating the rights of a properly declared faction to internal discussion address the fundamental political questions which are currently in dispute within the party? How is it in the party’s interest? How does it defend the party?
If the end, however, is to destroy all comradely trust between comrades and within the party, then the actions of the Majority leadership are justified. If the ends are to harass and intimidate one section of the party because they have a political difference with the majority then the hacking is justified. If the ends are to rewrite and violate the Program, Constitution and Organisational Principles of the DSP, then the actions by the Majority leadership are justified.
In Their Morals and Ours, Trotsky notes “ that to a Bolshevik, the party is everything ”. However, he also notes that Marxist and Leninist theory/ideology can be distorted and become degenerated and this degeneration can be hidden “ under the cult of party”. If this happens, Trotsky stated, “actually it destroys and tramples the party in filth”.
For Bolsheviks, notes Trotsky, “there can be no contradiction between personal morality and the interests of the party, since the party embodies in his consciousness the very highest tasks and aims of mankind”. The majority leadership, however, by their unprincipled actions, have created a contradiction which undermines the interests of the party, its membership and its democratic principles. We therefore reject completely the majority leadership arguments that they have acted in defence of the party.
Bob Lewis, Gillian Davy, Jo Williams, Jorge Jorquera, Kim Bullimore, Linda Waldron, Ray Fulcher, Roberto Jorquera, Ron Lynquist, Scott Lewington, Stephen Garvey
Ray Fulcher May 16, 2008 It has only been a few days since the purge so LPF comrades have three years worth of enforced silence to get off our chests. This too will pass.
And rest assured politics will out — most of the posts in fact have taken up the political issues.
Look at the LPF website for our political perspective and fear not, a programmatic way forward for the LPF comrades (and others) is in the pipeline.
Linda Waldron May 16, 2008 I’ve got to take some responsibility for sidelining the debate with the issue of the email hacking. When I was in the DSP, I was not permitted to seek redress for the wrongs done to me, so perhaps I can be forgiven for going public now.
This is not a minor issue. Is it truly a minor issue when the leadership of a revolutionary party by their own admission engage in spying on their membership? Is this the sort of leadership we want to organise the working class to take power and build a post-capitalist society? When my rights are better protected in a bourgeois workplace than in my own party something is going awry.
How can we make the arguments that revolutionary socialism is more democratic than late monopoly capitalism when there is no accountability of the leadership for its own actions?
Remember this crime was kept a secret from the victim (myself) and the rest of the DSP membership. At no time has anyone in the DSP leadership (except the LPF comrades on national and branch leadership bodies) ever acknowledged I have been wronged or ever apologised to me. Instead I have been lied about, blamed for my own actions, and their crimes have been justified using pseudo-Trotskyist rhetoric.
Can we trust a leadership that never admits when it makes a mistake or apologises for the intentional or accidental harm their actions cause?
And is it a minor issue when a revolutionary party uses defence of the party to protect the interests of individuals on leadership bodies?
Party loyalty is about loyalty to the program, Bolshevik traditions and the working-class ’ it is not about loyalty to individuals. Again I ask you is this the sort of organisation we can trust with state power?
I am only human, can anyone understand I am feeling a tad bitter? And now the same hackers have expelled me because five DSP members in Sydney wanted to organise AVSN stalls on campus and they have the gall to accuse me and the other LPFers of “splitting”.
Anyway I’ve had my say (two years too late) and am quite happy to move on.
Tom O’Lincoln, May 18, 2008 Some comments on Allen Myers’document. They’re quite frank.
There’s much to agree with in this document, and much that’s all too familiar. The LPF are to be congratulated on working so systematically through complex issues. Of course I don’t know the detail of what happened inside the DSP, and no doubt the majority will dispute the facts. But some more general issues arise. Before I get called smug, I should also emphasise that in my leadership days, I made mistakes I think were fundamentally similar, though they took different forms.
BTW I was a member of Socialist Alliance as long as I remained in the ISO. I spoke at two of its meetings, went to fund-raisers, handed out how-to-votes and letterboxed. So mine isn’t entirely a critique from outside. Also BTW, these are personal views and not necessarily those of my organisation.
What’s depressingly familiar in Allen’s document is the dire consequences of over-estimating possibilities and launching unrealistic projects — and then refusing to retreat. Getting your analysis wrong is common to everyone. But the danger is that hyping perspectives becomes a way of life. When failures result, we shift the goalposts to simulate success. Critics get blamed. And so on.
In his book on DSP history, John Percy touches on my account of the old International Socialists:
O’Lincoln … concedes that the group’s outstanding weakness was the “politics of impatience”, although he contended it was a fine line between that and what he saw as their best point, their “daring, inspiration and flair”. All young revolutionary groups are impatient, but we would be more forthright in calling the “impatience” of the IS current by its right name — ultraleftism.
Actually impatience isn’t always ultra-left, it can also lead to reformism. Trotsky says somewhere (quoting from memory): “The principle characteristic of opportunism is an inability to wait.”. Anyway, John seemed to imply that his own organisation was free from the problem under discussion, but Allen’s document proves otherwise.
His assessment of the Socialist Alliance experience seems largely sound. The DSP’s enthusiasm for the SA was based on an over-optimistic assessment of the external situation generally. Like the ISO, they thought they saw the “beginning of a new working-class radicalisation” with “new openings to collect a bigger revolutionary vanguard in Australia”. A layer of newly radicalised activists had “re-inspired older activists in a new cycle of protest. These radicalised layers are very interested in real steps towards left regroupment and unity.”
Some of this was understandable in the wake of Seattle. But I think one thing was clearly wrong from the start. The fact that people are mobilising in struggle does not mean they’re interested in a cobbled-together network of tiny far-left groups. They’re much more likely to look to real forces, such as the ALP, the Greens and the unions. What the far left can realistically achieve today is a “primitive accumulation of cadres”. We are not going to regroup wider forces.
It’s true that the Alliance attracted quite a few independents, but this was dangerously misleading. Allen is on the right track here too, though I don’t think he gets it quite right. He says:
Many had signed up and paid dues mainly as support for the idea of left unity, not as a pledge that they themselves would be much involved in SA. DSP members found themselves carrying most of the organisational tasks of SA.
I think a further problem is that many independents were not new blood. In one exchange on Marxmail, a DSPer presented a list of non-aligned members of the Alliance. I recognised rather a lot of them — they were excellent people, but mostly ex-members of various groups. I think they liked the Alliance because it offered a comfortable environment to carry on modest levels of activity.
They’d had enough of the hard yakka of far-left “party-building” (and who could blame them given how mis-directed some party-building is) but here were the DSP and ISO very generously (but artificially) creating a soft option for them. They could be modestly active, the internal atmosphere was (initially) kept warm and fuzzy, everyone applauded their participation in this unity project. They could even become prominent, since the DSP wanted to present them to the world as the “non-aligned face” of the Alliance. But they were not going to work all that hard. Hell, if I was an independent I’d have liked it too. But this situation was bound to lead to DSPers “substituting” their own efforts in order to keep the show on the road.
When that happens you get a vicious circle. A minority is working itself to death. The rest of the members see this and rightly recoil. This makes the overworked minority angry at the “slackers”. I’ll bet this happened in the alliance, because I remember the bitter jibes at the independents from DSPers when the wheels started to come off.
Some other things.
Allen’s critique of the DSP’s self-delusion is too confined to recent times. Of course the LPF were the leadership in the old days, hence it’s not so congenial looking at earlier mistakes, but most political disasters have historical roots. Take international work. The worst case was the infatuation with Gorbachev. I went to the USSR in 1989 and it was soon obvious to me that the Soviet system and the Gorbachev leadership were in serious trouble. Perestroika was deeply disliked, and so was Gorby. I returned to debate a DSP leader member on 3CR radio, who quoted official Soviet statistics (!) to try to deny reality.
Another case was Nicaragua. After a couple of weeks there, I could see that the Sandinistas were wearing out their supporters, as I argued on my return and as the subsequent elections proved. The DSP press continued painting a rosy picture until very late. Yet they had enough people going through Nicaragua who should have been able to see for themselves.
Let me emphasise, I’m not arguing here about our theoretical disagreements (though if you’re interested, my thoughts on Gorby are here). I’m talking about self-delusion about how rosy things are. Another example from my personal experience is the successful fringe meeting the DSP organised at the 1986 Broad Left conference. It was a valuable event. But the resolution put to the meeting spoke of a “fundamental shift” to the left in Australian society, and an atmosphere was created consistent with this, including orchestrated chants. Looking back, this was fantasy. The left is seldom free of it for long.
I think many of these cases involved a certain opportunism. Out of impatience to break through, the DSP looked for shortcuts. (“The principal characteristic of opportunism is an inability to wait.”) Gorby is disliked in Russia, but he’s popular in the west. So put him on your front page and watch sales go up. The superficial optimism expressed in the 1986 meeting creates a non-challenging climate so that a BLF official and Frank Hardy can be attracted to speak on the platform, which in turn makes the DSP look more significant than they really are. It’s very tempting; I’ve played similar games myself.
Or take regroupment. The DSP put aside fundamental differences about the Stalinist regimes in China and the USSR in pursuit of an organisational regroupment with the old SPA (now CPA). As I recall, the Gorbachev fiasco and Tienanmen Square massacre blew that plan out of the water.
A hint of the same opportunist impulse seems to appear in one aspect of Allen’s critique of Socialist Alliance. He writes:
“It is likely that a relatively efficient course for the creation of a such a party will pass through the stage of a broad left party: a formation in which revolutionaries coexist comfortably with socialists who are not yet revolutionaries, because comradely discussion and common experience of struggle are pushing towards revolution.”
Should revolutionaries really “coexist comfortably” in the same party with reformists? It’s true revolutionaries have worked in broader party formations with non-revolutionaries, eg Marx in the First International or James Cannon & Co in the Socialist Party, but they saw these organisations as arenas for political struggle, rather than comfortable co-existence. Even in a climate where “common experience of struggle are pushing towards revolution”, it takes a clash of ideas to win people to revolutionary politics.
Finally, something about Venezuela solidarity work. Again, my comments here are not about assessing Hugo Chavez (that would take us too far afield) they’re about the degree of impact in Australia. I see no evidence that events in Venezuela have such a wide resonance here. And if they don’t, organising heavily around them brings dangers. Again, there is a historical pattern. I’ll give you two examples based on my direct experience.
The first is CISCAC, which did solidarity work around Central America and the Carribean in the eighties. The DSP very generously gave me contacts in Nicaragua and I attended some CISCAC demonstrations. But it was quite obvious to me that Central America wasn’t having a big impact in this country. In one case DSP members put an immense effort into building one of the demonstrations — there were posters everywhere. The demo still only got a token attendance. It must have been a discouraging experience. I suggest this is similar to the “substitutionism” Allen rightly identifies in Socialist Alliance.
The second example is Asiet, which did a good job of putting Indonesian PRD leaders on platforms, but also exaggerated their importance in Indonesia. At the same time the DSP created the illusion that Asiet had some kind of significant following. Yet despite all the effort put into this work, every Asiet Indonesia demo I attended had the same token attendance.
Although other people participated, basically these were DSP “fronts”. Unlike most use of this term, I don’t mean it as a moral criticism — if nobody but the DSP wants to do something valuable, and the DSP does want to make the effort, that’s to their credit. But it brings the danger of self-delusion and substitutionism.
Despite the generall thrust of these comments, I actually think in some ways the LPF is overly gloomy about the current environment. For example, Allen seems to paint the anti-Work-Choices mobilisations as just an electoral lure by the ALP and union leaders. Actually I think it went deeper; the rank and file response in the early stages took the reformist leaders by surprise. Also there is poll data showing a general leftward shift in public opinion. Workers are discontented, and seeing a Labor election victory has made them feel a sense of entitlement. The problem is a lack of confidence to act independently of these leaders.
So despite all our disasters, there are grounds for hope.