24689Re: John/Togs Tognolini on Bob Gould's Another hot Christmas for the Australian
- Dec 28, 2005By 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 ,
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
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
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
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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