21908Re: Marrickville by-election
- Sep 19, 2005By-elections in NSW and Mark Latham's book. How the DSP sect views the
By Bob Gould
Many of my associates on the left scratch their heads in amusement,
and ask me why I waste so much time arguing with the bloody mad DSP?
However, old habits die hard, and the DSP's increasingly dogmatic and
opportunist sectarianism is such an extreme example of how a Marxist
sect can evolve that it is worth some discussion.
I am reminded of the great Marxist E P Thompson's book about William
Blake, in which Thompson rediscovered the extraordinary revolutionary
dissenting religious sect led by Lodowick Muggleton, which persisted
for nearly 300 years and continued arguing the point, via reprints of
Muggleton's pamphlets, with the Quakers with whom they had split 200
years before. Thompson discovered the last Muggletonian in the late
1960s, and eventually deposited the archives of the Muggletonian
church in a British Library.
I don't suggest that the argument between me and the DSP sect will
last 300 years but once established, sects can be very persistent
little animals. Who knows whether our arguments will be discovered by
some latter day Thompson in a couple of hundred years.
First of all I will comment on Sue Bull's unpleasant and rather mad
outburst against Laborism in Green Left Weekly, September 21, 2005.
Sue Bull says that she will scream if another union leader tells her
that she should vote for the ALP. That cry from the heart is
unintentionally revealing. Sue Bull operates in Victoria and the DSP
adopts a strikingly uncritical stance towards the militant union
leaderships in Victoria.
There's nothing wrong at all with general support for the militant
union leaderships in Victoria. Nevertheless, as is obvious to all,
they are thoroughly entrenched in the ALP and labour movement politics
in general in Victoria, which is clearly a problem for the DSP,
because the militant union leaderships obviously don't take the
slightest bit of notice, practically speaking, of the DSP's
independent electoral project, other than in private diplomatic asides
to DSP members. That's obviously the basis for Sue Bull's rather
insulting general assertion, obviously directed at union left
laborites in Victoria that: "The longer we put this project off, the
more we drive ordinary people into cynical anti-political isolation
and paralysis "
The implication is pretty clear: unless you join the DSP's electoral
project you are a traitor to the interests of the working class.
That's the psychology of the DSP sect in spades.
Further she says: "Working people didn't just vote for Howard in the
last election because they thought he was a great bloke or they are
Again we have the lunatic world view of the self-righteous,
self-interested, metaphysical and idealist Marxist sect. What a
bizarre slander on the bulk of the ordinary working class, ethnic
communities and the oppressed. In the election she is talking about,
the Labor vote after preferences was 48 per cent, and this vote was
heavily concentrated in the most blue-collar working-class areas,
particularly in areas where recent NESB migrants (who are a large part
of the blue-collar working class) are concentrated (this has been
extensively documented in research by the Monash Institute for
Population Studies). The Labor and Green vote is also concentrated in
addition, in a secondary way in areas where the new social layers of
workers with tertiary education live, such as Canberra, the inner-west
of Sydney and other places.
The DSP, which was abusing Mark Latham last year when he led a
relatively leftist and populist election campaign, has suddenly
discovered he has a good side; the good side from their point of view
being his narcissistic and self-absorbed literary assault on the trade
unions and the whole of the labour movement. All they are really
interested in is moralising sectarianism towards the mass labour
movement, and Latham's gratuitous abuse suits them down to the ground.
Sue Bull says something else very revealing: that "a real opposition
and it can't rise like a phoenix out of the stinking carcass of the
ALP". (Sue Bull tries to establish her proletarian credentials rather
like Mark Latham, by using a mass of what she thinks is demotic
abusive language. Well, of course, some of us use slightly colourful
language in speech, but to write it down without editing it is the
real mark of a literary demagogue. Sue Bull should read Lenin on
language and Trotsky on cultured speech!
Putting aside Sue Bull's bizarre language the essence of her argument
is spectacularly metaphysical and unscientific. Serious electoral
alternatives to existing mass reformist parties in stable countries
have rarely been built purely by propaganda. The mass reformist
parties in, for instance, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Norway
are extraordinarily resilient formations. The significant centrist
group in Germany that has just emerged to the left of the Social
Democrats is partly a split, to use Bull's colourful language, "from
the stinking carcass" of the German Socialist Party, combined with the
rump of the equally stinking carcass of East German Stalinism.
At the end of the day, in Norway, New Zealand and Australia, even mass
electoral formations such as the German Left Party and the German
Greens, the New Zealand Greens and the New Zealand Maori Party, and
the Australian Greens are forced by the logic of their situation to
form some kind of bloc with the mass labor parties, against the
reactionary parties of the right.
None of the practitioners of left politics, other than the DSP can
afford the mental luxury of placing as the DSP does, an equals sign
between the labour parties and the conservative parties as the "two
parties of capitalism". The DSP's posture doesn't work sociologically,
politically or strategically and everyone but the DSP can see that,
even despite the increasingly hysterical language, taken over partly
from Latham, used by the DSP about labourism.
It's fascinating to note that the DSP's coverage in Green Left Weekly
of the dramatic shift to the right in the tory camp, with the
emergence of Opus Dei as a major player, was minimal, and only rated a
mention of a couple of lines in another article by Margaret Gleeson
overwhelmingly attacking the Laborites.
THE MARRICKVILLE BY-ELECTION
I worked for the ALP on election day, for three or four hours at the
Newtown booth, where I usually work and my slogan for the day was
"Kick Howard, vote Labor". It seemed to me fairly important in all the
circumstances for Labor to do well in the three by-elections to
strengthen the pressure on the State Labor Government to continue and
deepen its opposition to Howard's attacks on the trade unions.
Several acquaintances of mine, one member of the IS, and one member of
Solidarity, worked for the Greens on the same booth and their
rationale was that a Green vote would exert pressure on the state
government on issues like the industrial demands of teachers. I have
different electoral view to them, obviously, but we were able to argue
the point in a civilised way.
In electoral terms the Socialist Alliance was completely incidental in
the Marrickville by-election. Its 1.5 per cent probably included about
1 per cent of conscious votes, and the other .5 per cent were probably
accidental, including the bottom-up donkey vote and the hundred or so
random votes achieved by completely unknown independents.
In the event, the Labor vote held up surprisingly well, when you
consider that there was no Liberal candidate, and almost all the tory
voters, who are quite class-conscious in their own reactionary way,
went to the Greens. In my view of electoral politics, both the Labor
vote and the bulk of the Green vote, ie, minus the Liberals, are a
left vote and I favour a tactical united front between Labor and the
I choose to work in the Labor Party, as do quite a few other Marxists,
socialists and left wingers. Some Marxists, socialists and left
wingers work in the Greens and I have no quarrel with their tactical
For obvious reasons one works hard for the mass electoral formation on
the left that one chooses to work in. In ALP circles I argue the case
against a virulent anti-Green sectarianism that stems from fierce
electoral competition, but I still work hard for the ALP. That's part
of the deal of being in the ALP. Also at a personal level I feel more
at home amongst ALP activists, most of whom these days are on the
left. They often seem to me to be a bit more savvy and realistic about
political processes than many on the far left, and many in the Greens,
but that's a personal preference, and I have no quarrel with
socialists who feel more comfortable in Green circles. At the end of
the day the critical question is the united front, particularly in the
face of Howard's assault on the trade unions.
While both the Labor vote and the core Green vote are left votes, they
are differently composed sociologically, and the Marrickville results
demonstrate this. The pattern of the voting, booth by booth, in
Marrickville suggests that the Green vote is a much more affluent
tertiary educated and Anglo-Celtic vote. The Greens these days
achieve a majority around my shop in North Newtown and Erskineville
where the housing is very pleasant and expensive.
As you go down the hill into Marrickville proper, the Green vote is
highest in the booth covering the area around Newington College. As
you move down into central Marrickville with cheaper housing and a
largely ethnic blue collar working class population, the Labor vote
soars. If you go to the leafy, expensive, pleasant restored housing in
Stanmore, the Green vote soars. If you cross Crystal Street, where the
cheaper housing begins, and there are high concentrations of ethnic
blue collar workers such as Portuguese people, all the way to Dulwich
Hill, the Labor vote soars.
The Marrickville electorate is a fascinating patchwork of communities,
ethnicities, social layers and voting patterns, but by and large the
Green component of the left vote is much more affluent and the Labor
component is much less affluent. The booth by booth electoral results
amply demonstrate this. (The Socialist Alliance vote more or less
follows the pattern of the Green vote, although on an infinitely
To sum up Marxists and conscious Socialists are a very small
political force in current conditions. Any materialist assessment of
the strategic situation facing Marxists in Australia dictates a major
strategic orientation towards the Labor-trade union continuum, and a
secondary orientation towards the now well established Greens
electoral formation. Independent socialist electoral activity is of
little value in the face of the need for a serious orientation to the
major formations. All recent political developments in Australia
underline this general point. Idiot moralizing about Laborism of the
sort that comes from the DSP sect would make Lenin and Trotsky turn in
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