Bob Gould, 2008

The DSP leadership’s ugly venture into religious bigotry

Source: Ozleft, July 28, 2008
Proofreading, editing, mark-up: Steve Painter

Anyone who is uneasy with my classification of the DSP political leadership as unprincipled political adventurers should sit back and review the events since the DSP organised the extended exercise in religious bigotry and backwardness known as the NoToPope Coalition, and attempted to pass it off as Marxism.

The discussion of this nasty adventure on Leftwrites, the Green Left site and Ozleft has been revealing in every way. The first thing that has to be said is that the NoToPope adventure flies in the face of the basic attitude to the religious practices of the masses, going back through Trotsky and Lenin to Marx and Engels.

Interested people should read the collection, Lenin On Religion, the Marx and Engels collection on religion, Kautsky’s Origins of Christianity, Engels’s The Peasent War in Germany, Rosa Luxembourg’s Socialism and the Churches, Fidel Castro on religion, Maxim Rodinson’s On Islam, Abram Leon’s On the Jewish Question, Terry Eagleton’s views and James Connolly’s Labour, Nationality and Religion.

There are differences of emphasis among these writers, but what unites them all is their serious attitude towards the persistent grip of religion on the masses in many countries and their insistence that Marxists should not make it any kind of principle that believers give up their beliefs to join a socialist party.

I also put it to Fred Fuentes, who seems to be a supporter of the DSP majority but whose serious attempts to explain events in Latin America I respect (and who lives in Venuzuela now), that when the Pope went to Cuba the Cuban government treated him with great care and respect.

There was not a trace of the nonsense and bigotry peddled by the DSP leadership.

The obvious reason for this, and for the careful attitude of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to religious affairs, is the practical political consideration that the Latin American masses would lynch them if they adopted any other approach, and it also appears that they are unlikely to want to adopt a bigoted stance towards the Catholic masses for cultural reasons.

It’s worth noting also that in the whole of Latin America there is a complex skein of circumstances involving the Catholic Church. Many Latin American leftist started out as Terry Eagleton and I did actually when very young, as leftists in the Catholic Church.

A Colombian pilgrim was telling me the night before last that throughout universities in Colombia there are two ubiquitious posters, Che Guevara, and Camillo Torres, the courageous priest and guerilla military leader against the oligarchy who was killed more than 20 years ago.

The proud, ignorant and stupid religious bigotry of the DSP leadership. How they lie about events even when their own photographs demonstrate their lies

The Potemkin Village megalomania of the DSP leadership has led it to continue increasing the size of the demonstration, eventually claiming 1500. I have learnt through a lot of experience with the DSP leadership that it is wise when looking at the numbers that they claim for demonstrations that they initiate to take the lowest estimate that they give and halve it if you want something like the true figure.

I have consulted some people who I trust who went along to have a look, and they agree that the figure was actually 200-300. The rather demented DSP leadership could only find 300 bigots and crazies prepared to go along and hurl insults and abuse at 300,000 to 400,000 pilgrims.

If you look closely at the odd crowd that the DSP proudly put on their assorted websites, all you can see by way of demonstrators is 200-300 people. When lying in politics it is wise not to peddle lies and then put up pictures that show you’re lying.

The DSP leadership tries to have a bob each way, claiming that their demonstration was not an exercise in religious bigotry, yet they put up pictures, with slogans like “Debaptise yourself” (a Raelian slogan, I gather); “God does not exist ”;“Stop believing, ease your mind”; and a pile of other exotic insults directed at the pilgrims.

The DSP pictures on their websites give very considerable prominence to the exotic Raelians in their ceremonial garb with a series of slogans and images that this worldly pedestrian Marxist, and ex-Catholic couldn’t comprehend at all, but their slogans there were unmistakably attacking Catholics as believers, and the Catholic Church as a social institution.

The DSP leadership also leans heavily on the proposition that they were in a united front with certain secularists and atheist groups and it is certainly true that they show placards purporting to be from such groups, and the placards all insist in one way or another that the believers immediately stop believing.

I have a certain historical respect for the robust, often-proletarian 19th century rationalism. It was often an expression of the revolt of the working class, and particularly working class intellectuals, against the whole corpus of ruling class ideology and religious hypocrisy.

Many of the 19th century rationalists were themselves people who made the transition from evangelical Christianity to rationalism and socialism, although of course there were still many Christian socialists in the 19th century.

In my experience in the 20th century, the rump of organised rationalism has degenerated into middle-class people with a bee in their bonnet about religion, and in my experience if you scratch those people what spurts out of them is hostility to Muslims and Buddhists, and an Anglo-Australian hostility to migration.

A study of the DSP’s photographs of the event are amusing — many of the photographs being so bizarre and instructive politically about the gutter politics involved, masquerading as a protest.

I have more sympathy for the gay people involved in the protest. The gay people have a legitimate and clear reason and right to protest against the Catholic Church, but I’d say even to them, that if you actually want to influence attitudes and behaviour, it’s wise to consider how you conduct your agitation in relation to religious believers and institutions.

A bit like Jonathan Swift I’d like to make a modest proposal to the DSP leadership. Why don’t you join the Raelians up to the Socialist Alliance, or even fuse with them, as you seem to have agreement on so many questions? Then you could all together go up and join the spaceship lurking behind the moon and go off into outer space to get away from the grubby planet earth where a large slice of the population is still religious and a politically significant minority consider themselves Marxists.

That would be good for everone. You could avoid contamination and the rest of us would get you out of our hair!

On a more serious note, I wouldn’t want to be seen dead with a large number of the bigoted organisers of that anti-working-class demonstration aggressively insulting the significant of the section of the working class and the middle class from many countries who adhere to the Catholic Church.

A PS to Ratbag Riley about BA Santamaria, etc. When Bob Santamaria was your mentor in the early 1970s, before you went off to join the Stalinists, I had been fighting the Industrial Groups for 15 years in the broad labour movement. A feature of that very important struggle, which you don’t comment on, was that it was a united front in the workers movement between secular Marxists like myself and other socialists, but it included quite a large number of still practicing Catholics such as Jim Ormonde.

One tactic of Bob Santamaria and his associates was to attack the practicing Catholics who opposed The Movement as insufficiently Catholic. When you and your fellow bigots attempt to organise a tiny pogrom against 400,000 pilgrims (a rather unwise enterprise strategically) you are pissing on all the practicing Catholics on the left currently, and the memory of past practicing Catholics who saw no contradiction between their religious allegiance and socialism, people like James Connolly, Constance Markievicz, Camillo Torres and many, many others.

Apart from the aspect of religious bigotry, I find it deeply offensive as a broadly Marxian socialist for 50 years for the DSP leadership to bustle around in the public arena in their perpetual quest for publicity to make themselves seem relevant, proclaiming that this reactionary bigotry has something to do with socialism or Marxism.

This stuff actually doesn’t harm the Catholic Church at all, but it contributes to making socialists look like cranks and bigots. In these objective conditions socialists need that like a hole in the head.


Liz, July 17, 2008 (From Leftwrites) I must admit, I have enjoyed the anti-Popery precisely because as an ex-Mick, I want someone to pay for the horrible years I spent at Catholic primary school. But I suppose at some stage I should act like a grown-up and get over it.

So I think Bob is probably right in some respects. Not that sure about the oppression of Catholics in today’s Australia (except in the sense that Catholic school teachers have been forced by the viciously anti-union Pell to reorganise the entire school year and provide minimal supervision to what will probably turn out to be an orgy of Roman proportions when they put all the Catholic schoolkids together at Randwick racecourse for a sleepover — in this sense I support the handing out of condoms, as do many of the teachers who don ’t really want to deal with the baby boom or the STDs), but about the potential alliances with lefty Catholics, I agree.

There are plenty of lefty Catholic groups who as Bob has indicated, are also opposed to the festivities because of the disgusting pomp and waste of money (a Catholic school teacher I know who was at the Melbourne Telstra Dome thing was quite impressed by the show they put on last week, aesthetically, but disgusted by it at the same time because of the money spent), and also because Pell represents everything that is wrong with the Catholic right — including his protection of abusive priests and his attacks on the independent teachers union, which he is famous for (didn ’t stop the ACTU having him on a big screen in support of one of the Your Rights at Work rallies — you could hear the Victorian Independent Education Union contingent baying for blood in the back rows — funny that they never invite imams to speak at those things, though there are many who work with local unions and talk about workplace rights at mosques out west in Melbourne).

I think alliances with people who believe in spaceships are not that useful. What could have been useful, as I indicated in an email to organisers, would have been taking up some of the industrial issues for teachers in the way that this thing has been dictated by the priests. Not just the messing around with the school year, but the supervisory issues that are coming up around the event now: for example, I know of one school group being put up at a Catholic school in Sydney, they have meals there in the morning and then the place is shut until 8pm. There is no place for kids who are feeling sick or under the weather to go to except hospital — the teachers and the nuns who are supposed to be supervising 30 other kids are freaking out about how to manage these kinds of issues, as well as the looming proposect of the orgy at Randwick, while Pell and the boys are busy selling Catholic fridge magnets.

I’m not sure I see the value in trying to win allies among the blow-ins, but winning allies among the local pilgrims could be facilitated by taking up some of these things.

I am actually really surprised that the VIEU has said nothing about the way the cardinals have dictated a change to the school year, and the very real pressure that schools and teachers have been placed under to find a certain number of pilgrims from each school and the way their concerns about the safety of the kids whilst in Sydney and supervision have been swept aside.

Alliances could have been built better with some of the sex abuse victims groups and others who think that you can be Catholic and use a condom, as well as queer Catholics. These are real and very large movements of Catholics trying to change the most reactionary elements of the church, which Ratso and Pell represent.

I tend to agree that the focus should be on Iemma and the dodgy anti-police laws too. Also the horrible stuff about homeless people being moved out of Sydney for WYD.

In this respect the victory of Rachel and co in court is really really important.

But I do think that you can and should attack Ratso and Pell without necessarily alienating huge numbers of Catholics — the progressive Catholics do it, and we should support them! The lefty Jesuits, the nuns in rural South Australia who were the backbone of refugee and anti-deportation work — these are definitely people to have alliances with.

The anti-Pell and Ratso forces even within the church are huge. Supporting them would I think be a good start.

Wombo, July 17, 2008 (From Leftwrites) Liz: “I think that alliances could have been built better with some of the sex abuse victims groups and others who think that you can be Catholic and use a condom, as well as queer Catholics. ”

Which is, I believe, exactly what has been, and is being, done. Most of the media focus has been on the usual suspects (atheists) and the extremely unusual suspects (Raelians), but the NoToPope coalition already contains some of the groups you mention (eg gay catholics), and is getting in contact with those others (abuse victims groups, for example).

Understandably, not all of those groups would necessarily want to take part in this Saturday’s action, but we are still trying to work with them on a broader level.

That said, there are plenty of progressive Catholics (and other religions) out there who we could probably all be in greater contact with (and not just around WYD). And I agree, having the Raelians on board Spaceship NoToPope probably isn’t the most useful in some ways, but if they’re willing to contribute constructively, should we discriminate?

Bob’s attacks on the NoToPope are largely of the same vein as his attacks on the DSP — “they couldn’t possibly be in touch with any of these groups because they’re the wacky far-left, not residents of the holy land of the ALP ”. Reality conveniently replaced by faith.

The only holy war here is Bob’s against the DSP — he deliberately ignores the issues around the protest and tries to turn it into some kind of quasi-religious anti-Papist stunt.

Bob appears to be spreading his defence of the ALP to cover the Catholic Church as well.

No one (with the possible exception of Bob’s imagination, and perhaps people like the Christadelphians) is out to start a holy war, however. I had a friendly discussion with five pilgrims on the bus this morning, where I brought up the protest, and the issues being raised.

A couple of them were a bit reluctant to engage, but the others were supportive of the right to protest (although I’m not sure they were in favour of this one), and we had a good debate about condoms and abortion.

We agreed to disagree, but (see, Bob’s not the only one capable of anecdotes) I’m fairly sure we left on amicable terms. Given that the Resistance Centre in Chippendale is all of 100 metres from the registration site for WYD, I’m not sure we’d survive any holy war anyway.

Norm Dixon, July 23, 2008 The Daily Telegraph reported 2000, and several people who counted got around the 1500 mark. So it’s safe to say there were over 1000. The video of the “pilgrim” who got arrested actually gives a good idea of the size of the rally.

Gould’s post is downright embarrassing. Not a mention of the key slogans around the which the protest was organised — ie against the Catholic heirarchy’s bigotry against women, gays and the Third World poor. And this somehow gets turned into religious bigotry against Catholics. Not a word about his authoritarian party’s attempt to ban the protest and the excellent court victory, which will becomes a precedent in the defence of democratic rights in NSW.

Gould’s claim that the protest was awash with Raelians is as bizarre as the RSP’s lies and crazed groupthink on this question, on which he seems to be relying.

Gould thinks anybody in a colourful costume must be a Raelian! It simply displays his (and the RSP’s) deepening conservativism that equates open opposition to church homophobia, mysogny and AIDS denialism as a “religious” attack on Catholics.

Are the Greens religious bigots too, Bob? They spoke at the rally.

Aside from the rather macabre gastronomic appeal of Catholic relics, only one person in NSW Parliament raised the issue of bio-security. Greens MP Sylvia Hale asked whether any precautions had been taken on importing or publicly showing the human remains.

In response, Ian Macdonald — with all the grace one would expect from the Honourable Minister — sarcastically replied “I think I should do the right thing and refer the question immediately to Tony Burke, who is in charge of the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service, which is responsible for bio-security issues — particularly the importation of corpses from Italy”.

The Greens received no serious response, although Hale stressed that they are more concerned with more than $100 million of state funding for an organisation that holds questionable policies on contraception and abortion than the “ Catholic fascination with worshiping corpses and body parts”.

entdinglichung, July 23, 2008 More good books: several by Michael Lwy (eg: “Redemption and Utopia: Jewish Libertarian Thought in Central Europe” and some books on liberation theology, don’t know if they all are translated into English) and Ernst Bloch’s “Atheism in Christianity”. By the way, the Raelians reject democracy and propagate “geniocracy”.

Stuart July 23, 2008 “I also put it to Fred Fuentes, who seems to be a supporter of the DSP majority but whose serious attempts to explain events in Latin America I respect”

Serious attempts to explain Latin America and being a DSP member is apparantly a contradiction.

“I have more sympathy for the gay people involved in the protest. The gay people have a legitimate and clear reason and right to protest against the Catholic Church”

And how is this counterposed to the DSP? One of the key organisers, Rachel Evans, is both a DSP member and leader of Community Action Against Homophobia, which is among the major groups that helped organise and build the protest. Some CAAH activists are DSP members, but most are not.

Again on the demands of the rally: Defend the right to protest; No to homophobia; Support women’s right to choose; and Promotr condom use.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing in that that is anti-Catholic bigotry.

The rally was not organised on any “anti-religion” basis.

It was organised around positions taken by the Pope on material matters.

Gould’s entire post is grossly offensive, and not mainly because of its slanders against the DSP.

Even worse is it is an insult to victims of actually existing examples of anti-Cathoilic bigotry.

I got an email the other day from a friend and comrade living in Belfast that reveals what is actual anti-Catholic bigotry, that puts a peaceful rally against reactionary positions pushed by the current Pope (which is what the rally was organised against).

“Last weekend was insane here, July 12. All the papers here said it was a ‘quiet’12th but about 100 loyalists came into the street next to where I live about midnight on the 11th after their bonfire and took material from a building site to try to smash up homes — about 20 nationalist young guys tried to stop them and four of them ended up in hospital, one of them could have died.

“The local councils give these groups £3000 each for the bonfire ‘celebreations’which burn tricolour flags and effigies of republicans, one of the funded ones I saw in the paper had big Irish flags with ‘KAT’for kill all taigs [offensive terms for Catholics] on it. The mayor of Lisburn, just near Belfast, set fire to the bonfire that had a big picture of a Sinn Fein councillor from his council on it. There was other stuff too, like outside of Belfast a nationalist pub being petrol-bombed, it’s just nuts and you’d barely hear about it even in the Belfast media, let alone Dublin or international media. And everyone was relieved that this year was so quiet!”

That is what anti-Catholic bigorty looks like. It is an insult to victims of real bigotry to imply that the rally organised around the demands of gay and women’s rights is somehow an example of this type of thing.

Norm Dixon, July 23, 2008 “We will say to them: take up the campaign within the Catholic Church to promote condoms. We’re not planning to get into any trouble. We don’t want to condemn Catholic youth for being Catholics. We want to condemn the Pope for being homophobic and anti-condom.”

Ms Evans, 33, who represents Community Action Against Homophobia and whose father was a Uniting Church minister, said the coalition would notify police of its route in the next couple of days but she feared the NSW government “wants to be heavy-handed with protesters”.

She said the Pope’s teachings contributed to 67,000 women dying every year from backyard abortions and a suicide rate among gay youth that is seven times the average.

“He is clearly a bigot … many in the Catholic Church are also raising these issues, condemning the Pope for his hateful ideas.”

“Anti-Catholic” quotes from protest organiser (and DSP member) Rachel Evans, from a Sydney Morning Herald article.

Antigone July 24, 2008 Bob, I thought the photos of demonstrators, slogans and placards, some of which naughtily were competing to be the most “offensive”, and the queer and gay costumes, body decoration and poses, a hoot. Art, even.

And so did everyone I have showed them to, ranging from practicising Catholics to Aborigines raised on Christian missions, to ex-Catholics to people who don’t give a rat’s either way.

I don’t think my uncle who was a Catholic priest or my aunt, a Sister of Mercy, would have approved, but I reckon my sister, who was a Franciscan, would have.

There are a lot of offensive things in this world if we want to dwell on such, which leftists do. Burlesque (which is how AAP described the protest worldwide with absolutely no criticism that I can see) combined with fundamental democratic and — I repeat, feminist and gay demands — are a pretty mild riposte to all the things that much more seriously and materially “offend” us about the role of the Catholic Church hierarchy as represented today by its current Pope.

I find curious the notion that a demonstration, or any street protest, can be deemed to be a display of Marxism in practice.

Finally, I don’t think the works you cite are the last word on the Marxist approach to, and understanding of, religion. Marxism has generally fallen short of understanding its significance and here I would once again cite Joel Kovel’s work (among others).

JS, July 24, 2008 Whatever you think of the organisers, it’s clear quite a portion of the crowd was at the rally on an “anti-religion” basis. For example, among a group of costumed street theatre-types one had a T-shirt that read “Atheists don’t car-bomb religion”. The whole group had caps with the “Question religion” slogan.

Given that, there was clearly going to be a danger of the rally degenerating into an ultra-left anti-Catholic event. And the ridiculous scenes at the end of the rally where demonstrators were chanting and hurling condoms at the “pilgrims” from behind a police line show that this is exactly what happened.

Surely the left has a responsibility to try to argue against this sort of behaviour?

Bill Weller, July 26, 2008 Why would any socialist support Catholicism? Religion enslaves the masses.

In fact, I find it sick that people worship a human as ”God on earth”, a human that is the leader of a church with immense wealth that is also homophobic, racist, sexist and contributes to its worshippers' poverty in Catholic countries.

We have a Pope with links to Nazism. The sickest thing I found as the Green candidate for Kingston was the ”I’m Christian” play by the two major party candidates Rishworth (ALP) and Richardson (Liberal). Rishworth as a Catholic did not like the Assemblies of God churches (being the opposite) yet attended them to round up votes, as did the Liberal candidate.

Would a socialist suck to a nazi to gain votes or support? Why would Bob, the ALP or the Greens support or protect Catholicism, let alone ridicule those who see religion for what it really is?

The ACTU would rather support the religous right wing SDA ALP candidate than a left wing AMWU Green candidate. Sad really.

Vincent Peters, July 28, 2008 Bob, very strange argument for a “marxist” materialist to be defending the religious views or sentiments of the Catholics.

As a former Catholic I think that we have bent the stick too often in the direction of people’s religious sentiments. We are really polite and don’t want to offend them.

However, their views are pure rubbish and sometimes you just need to say so.

Camillo Torres? Gee I doubt if any in the “Sydney Meet” had his commitment to the revolutionary struggle. It was a publicity exercise for the reactionaries in the Catholic Church.

Any fool can see that. I’m with the DSP on that, even though I don’t agree with their politics.

I prefer the slogan of the 270 Million Dalits in India: “There is no god. No god at all.”

Religion is the opiate of the masses. It keeps them submissive and dumb.

A new society must be based on reason, rationality, scientific methods and truth. I thought I had that in common with Marxists. Apparently not with Che Roberto.

Duroyan Fertl, July 30, 2008 Linking the Pope to Nazism really isn’t useful. He was forced to join the Hitler Youth (against his, and his religious family’s wishes), as were, indeed, almost all young men of his age at the time (so an entire generation has “links with the Nazis”).

It’s also worth noting that Ratzinger’s handicapped cousin was killed by the Nazis and he left the Hitler Youth as soon as he could.

Calling the Pope a Nazi misses the point, muddies the water, and gives the fundies an extra stick to beat our arguments with. Which is one — lesser — reason why the recent actions weren’t organised by the ThePopeIsANazi coalition.

His politics and policies are reactionary enough. My family is Bavarian, and comes from just down the road from Maktl-am-Inn, the Ratzinger home town. From experience, there’s more than enough right-wing Catholics with reactionary, dangerous views on the world that have nothing to do with Nazism in Bavaria and elsewhere, we don’t need to invent new enemies.

Michael, October 20, 2008 Bob’s rant is ridiculous at best, and arrogant nonsense.

For example, “I have more sympathy for the gay people involved in the protest. The gay people have a legitimate and clear reason and right to protest against the Catholic Church, but I’d say even to them, if you actually want to influence attitudes and behaviour, it’s wise to consider how you conduct your agitation in relation to religious believers and institutions.”

How gracious of you. Really, it’s nice that you’re willing to grant them permission to express their grievances even though they might not be Marxist. After condemning the “ religious bigotry ” of groups that protested, even though they didn’t, in your view, have adequate scriptural precedent, no less.

Indeed, it’s interesting that protesting against the Pope is religious bigotry. Bob cites as evidence for this proposition signs saying that there is no god, which insult believers. It’s hard to know whether even he takes this seriously. Public expression of Catholicism is religion — which he thinks we ought to respect — but public expresions of atheism insults Catholics? Put that aside.

The pope is reactionary (something that escapes Bob), and is anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-contraception. Bob can’t imagine, say, people in Latin America being unhappy with him, despite his notorious comments about the indigenous population just dying to be exterminated by the white invaders.

However, in Bob’s view, we need permission to protest any of this. Suppose Marxists (which I’m not) should only ever take up causes that are popular in the working class. Does this mean Bob would not advise, say, principled defences of civil liberties?

Did he advise against defending David Hicks? Would he have advised against defending Dreyfus in France 100 years ago?