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24689Re: John/Togs Tognolini on Bob Gould's Another hot Christmas for the Australian

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  • bobgould987
    Dec 28, 2005
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      By Bob Gould

      I'd like to commend John Tognolini for the (for him) relatively calm
      nature of his post on the Green Left list at about 8.45pm on Tuesday.
      While we're at it, I strongly object to his inaccurate assertion in an
      earlier post that I called him a scab sometime in the 1980s for
      advocating that unions disaffiliate from the Labor Party.

      As most people, even my opponents, are aware, I'm always reasonably
      careful in my language, even in the full flow of verbal debate.

      I've never called a fellow socialist a scab, firstly because it's
      unsound to confuse discussion with pejorative language and secondly
      because lightly calling people scabs usually ends up rebounding on the
      people who do it. Tognolini probably mis-remembers some heated verbal
      exchange, but I am certain that I have never called him a scab.

      To jog my memory, does Tognolini remember whether or not, in his
      highly coloured recollection, this exchange took place before or after
      the DSP leadership changed its mind about the character of the Labor
      Party. Enough of that.

      Tognolini says that earlier this year the Teachers Federation
      leadership estimated that a legal challenge to the transfer of
      industrial powers from the states to the federal government would
      fail. He relies on that. As everyone in the labour movement knows, the
      Teachers Federation leadership is very close to the ACTU leadership,
      and to a very large extent takes its cue from the ACTU leadership.

      That certainly was the view of the ACTU leadership early this year. As
      recorded in Green Left Weekly in an interview with Tim Gooden and
      others, the DSP was also clearly relying on that ACTU leadership view
      when it declared that a High Court legal challenge would probably fail.

      In some things the ACTU leadership is an unreliable ally. Under
      pressure from the unions and the Labor state governments in five of
      the six where state industrial systems still exist, Greg Combet and
      the ACTU leaders have changed their view on this matter and are now
      supporting the High Court challenge.

      There are conflicting legal opinions as to whether the challenge will
      succeed, but if it does succeed it will be a major obstacle to
      Howard's plans and will pretty well derail them.

      I'm not a lawyer, and neither are Tognolini or Gooden, so I tend to
      rely on the advice of a variety of expert lawyers, in this case
      obviously, constitutional lawyers.

      Being an optimist, I hope the challenge does succeed and it seems to
      me that the balance of constitutional legal opinion is shifting in the
      direction that the challenge may well succeed and that the case may
      hinge on what were the intentions of the drafters of the Australian
      constitution, and to some extent on the fact that in similar
      conflicts, transfers of power from the states to the Commonwealth have
      been defeated in a number of referenda.

      Nevertheless, the question of whether socialists should support a
      challenge to the transfer of powers from the states isn't totally
      simple or obvious. I've written a bit about this in two or three
      articles (http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Stanleybruce.html ,
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/GreenLeft_discussion/message/19578 ,
      http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Brucepaper.html ).

      The striking thing about the DSP leadership's approach to these
      matters is its mindlessness. If Labor state governments, or Unions
      NSW, are doing something, the DSP leadership's automatic reflex is to
      oppose it or say it's of no importance.

      A strenuous prosecution of the case against the transfer of powers in
      the High Court, whether it is won or lost, is yet another opportunity
      to make effective propaganda about the anti-working-class motives
      driving the Howard Government. In fact, anyone who saw John Delabosca,
      the NSW industrial relations minister, on television explaining the
      reasons for the challenge would find it hard to fault his energetic
      and intelligent explanation as to why the Liberals were trying to
      transfer the powers, and the dangers that represented to the interests
      of the working class.

      In a sense, the dimensions of the struggle are even more important
      than the legal case itself, because the legal case opens up one more
      field of struggle on the question of the industrial relations legislation.

      Nowhere has the DSP had any public discussion of the short-term
      strategic questions involved in the legal case or of the broader
      issues facing socialists that I canvassed very early on in my
      articles. Those questions don't interest the DSP leadership because
      because they don't fit in with the DSP's ritual denunciations of Laborism.

      Tognolini is only concerned to mouth a routine attack on the misdeeds
      of the Labor Party, and some ritual verbal abuse of me for failing to
      make verbal denunciation of the NSW Labor Government the centre of my
      political activity.

      Concerning the Labor Party, Tognolini is engaged in what Lenin
      frequently called scolding scoundrels. You know, quite well, that I
      oppose the actions of Labor governments that you refer to, and in fact
      from to time I express sharp opposition at Labor Party and other meetings.

      A revealing aspect of Tognolini's previous post flows from his verbal
      assault on Doug Jordan for joining the Greens. Tognolini clearly
      shares the idealist perspective of one group in the DSP leadership
      that the main requirement for socialists is to unfold the electoral
      banner, nail up the shingle, and this will enable you to build a mass
      alternative to Labor, the Liberals and by clear implication, the
      Greens as well.

      This is metaphysics. Tognolini should have a good look at the tactics
      advocated by Lenin and Trotsky at the third and fourth congresses of
      the Comintern. For them, politics wasn't simply a matter of running up
      the flag and the masses flocking to it, which is clearly implied in
      your post.

      As a matter of rather brutal fact, the DSP leadership has in fact been
      running up the banner and inviting the masses to join throughout the
      four-year experience of the Socialist Alliance. They've also been
      engaged in the small change of rather Machiavellian intrigues against
      the other organizations in the Alliance, and against the two
      successive groups of organised independents, both of which eventually
      came into conflict with the DSP leadership.

      The balance sheet of the Socialist Alliance experience is strikingly
      clear, and has emerged for all to see in the debate leading up to the
      coming DSP conference. The Alliance has steadily got smaller, its
      electoral vote has fallen, even from a rather low starting point, and
      the membership of both the DSP and Resistance has fallen, that of
      Resistance dramatically so.

      The objective possibility of the Socialist Alliance developing into a
      mass electoral force and a mass alternative to Labor and the Greens as
      organisations is about zero. The prospect of the Alliance developing
      into such a mass alternative is even less after four years experience
      of the Alliance than it was before.

      Among the very few successes successes that the proponents of the
      Socialist Alliance strategy can point to in recent months is the
      recruitment of a handful of individuals, Tognolini, Riley and bloke of
      "Glasgow kiss" fame, to the DSP. Whether this is a benefit to the DSP
      entirely depends on your point of view in these matters.

      The idea that voluntaristic enthusiasm can overcome the problems that
      socialists face in trying to win mass influence is obviously fantasy.
      The working class, migrant communities, the radical wing of the middle
      class, and organised trade unionists, taken as a whole the left side
      of society, are pretty clear about the material reality of the
      hegemony of Laborism and the Greens over the left half of society. In
      the current defensive situation resulting from the violent attacks of
      the Howard Government on the interests of the working class, and the
      left side of society, there's a strong tendency to close ranks around
      the trade unions, Labor and the Greens, and that leaves little scope
      for socialist groups that delude themselves about being a serious
      organisational alternative.

      Tactics adopted by Marxist groups should flow from a realistic
      appraisal of the circumstances confronting the working class and
      Marxists. To replace concrete analysis with voluntarist fantasies is
      of no use at all, and the belated recognition of this reality by a
      part of the DSP leadership and membership is a product of a
      recognition of the bankruptcy of this voluntarist kind of approach.

      Marxist groups should maintain their own independent organisation, but
      a united front strategy towards the existing organisations of the
      working class – the trade unions, the Labor Party and the Greens – is
      an imperative that flows out of the real situation that is clearly
      present in the material world of the working class and the left side
      of Australian society.

      Further, persisting in an open party tactic involving belligerent
      propaganda that the DSP-Socialist Alliance is the only alternative, or
      will become the mass leftist party in the reasonably short term,
      presents great dangers to the political and mental health of people
      who persist in isolating themselves in organisations of this mindset.
      They can, and often do, end up becoming kind of political Jehovah's
      Witnesses, denouncing everyone else in the labour movement for failing
      to see the light as they do.

      That is the path by which initially rational socialist political
      groups are transformed into messianic sects. The problem is that the
      constant battering of the heads of the socialists who adopt this
      strategy up against the hard wall of reality ends up producing a
      political mindset in which they can't comprehend life outside the
      sect. The wastage is usually pretty high.

      After persisting in this kind of political make-work for a while,
      activists often give politics away entirely, or if they remain in the
      labour movement, they sometimes shift over dramatically to the right
      because the gap between the sort of theory internal to the sect and
      any sensible practice in the broader labour movement is so immense.
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