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3286Socialists and labour parties, demystified a bit

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  • ozleft
    Nov 16 3:35 AM
      By Bob Gould

      I write this the day after attending a small meeting organised by the
      DSP leadership to hear two Canadian revolutionary socialist comrades,
      veterans of the movement, who are on good terms with the DSP
      leadership, report on the workers movement in Canada.

      Their account was of considerable interest. They described the
      circumstances and composition of the far Left in Canada, fairly
      concretely. They described a successful struggle against electricity
      privatisation in Ontario, in which they were involved. They described
      the activities of some young militant workers, with whom they are in
      contact, in the large car manufacturing city of Windsor, who produce
      their own give away leftist newspaper, delivered to every house in
      Windsor (population 200,000), financed by advertising, particularly
      from one Chrysler vehicle sales franchisee.

      They described a regroupment initiative in which they are involved
      as revolutionary socialists, now called "The Socialist Project" (a
      pretty impressive name), which involves socialist intellectuals, the
      young militant workers aforementioned, and the members of a number of
      socialist groups. It emerged in the discussion that many of the
      participants in the socialist regroupment project, including the two
      revolutionary socialist veterans reporting on it, are current members
      of the New Democratic Party, the Canadian version of the Australian
      Labor Party. This party has never been as successful as the ALP, and
      only gets about 18 per cent of the vote, and is currently in a
      considerable state of crisis. Nevertheless many Canadian
      revolutionary socialists, including the two comrades, consider it
      important to maintain a presence in it.

      John Percy, who was chairing the small gathering, did not subject the
      two Canadian visitors to the kind of abuse that he dishes out at me
      and other socialists in Australia, who hold current Labor Party

      An interesting feature of the account was the way the Canadian
      comrades described the contradictory attitude of the NDP to the
      attempted electricity privatization process. A past NDP government in
      Ontario actually commenced the process, but was beaten in a
      subsequent provincial election. A new more leftist leadership was
      then elected in the NDP. When a popular agitation against electricity
      privatisation commenced in the province, after initial hesitation,
      the new NDP leadership got on side with the opposition to electricity
      privatisation. According to the two Canadian comrades, the official
      opposition of the NDP to the privatisation gave the anti-
      privatisation agitation enormous popular credibility and was a major
      factor in the ultimate defeat of the privatisation proposals. A
      pretty concrete account of the kind of contradictory but sometimes
      dynamic developments that we are occasionally also familiar with in
      Australia. I describe this meeting with the Canadian comrades to put
      the argument about socialists and the ALP in some kind of broader
      world context. Australia and Canada are structurally pretty similar,
      and the NDP, like the Australian Labor Party is based on the
      affiliation of trade unions. The obvious difference is that the Labor
      Party in Australia is far more successful electorally than the NDP in
      Canada, and Australia also, in addition to the 40 per cent odd who
      vote Labor directly, has a now well entrenched electoral formation to
      the left of Labor, the Greens, that gets approximately 10% of the
      vote. These are electoral realities that reflect certain social
      realities, that revolutionary socialists, if they wish to, ignore at
      the peril of sect like isolation.

      "Where are the 'conscious' socialists in the ALP today? Name them. As
      Bob Gould keeps reminding us, he is one ... OK. There's Bob
      Gould....David Spratt just left -- and Spratt's credentials are
      pretty good -- especially around antiwar and middle eastern issues. I
      gather that no certified Trotskyist group practices an active entrism
      sui generis in the ALP anymore....so that whole current is out of the
      running-- except for Bob of course. Then there are a gaggle of ex
      CPA/SPA types like Peter Murphy in the ALP ... they're socialists
      aren't they? Sure they are...Then there are those courageous Labor
      MPs like Laurence and Quirk who stood up so defiantly against the
      party machine on the question of the Iraq war ... But let's just say -
      - for the sake of realism -- it's a very short list, say, compared to
      28 years ago. Indeed, the exers of the various socialist groups, even
      they, no longer gravitate to the ALP -- like they used to -- as both
      the Greens and the Socialist Alliance are now their preferred home."

      And on 12th November, at 3.55pm, in responding to me, Sue B said:

      "The reality in the Australian union movement today, is that most of
      the union militants being attracted to militant groupings within
      unions are extremely disenchanted with the ALP. The militants who are
      still members of the ALP are reluctant members who are unenthusiastic
      about the ALP.

      "If Bob Gould walked into most workplaces today, he would discover
      that while most workers might reluctantly vote for the ALP, they
      would not count themselves as ALP supporters."

      Earlier in her post, Sue B writes the following masterful paragraph,
      which is an extremely metaphysical triumph of hope over experience:

      "The militants who have joined Socialist Alliance recognise that they
      need to break the link between the union and the ALP in order for the
      union to chart an industrial course which isn't influenced by the
      manufacturing bosses' agenda. They regard Socialist Alliance as
      having the potential of being a mass workers party at some stage in
      the future, if the current unity process keeps developing."

      The problem with all this bombastic rhetoric by Riley and Sue B, is
      that in fact, the overwhelming majority of militant union officials,
      particularly the officials in the unions like the Victorian CFMEU,
      and the Victorian Textile Union, and the current leader of the
      Workers First in Victoria, choose to be members of the ALP as a
      matter of policy, because they clearly believe that activity in the
      ALP gives them considerable political leverage to advance the
      interests of militant unionism and socialism. It is positively
      eccentric of Riley to talk as if Bob Gould is the only socialist who
      still operates in the ALP.

      It's gratuitously offensive and insulting of Sue B to attempt to
      interpret the mind of the Victorian militant union leaders who are in
      the ALP in the way she does, calling them "reluctant ALP members".
      Michelle O'Neill, for instance, was anything but reluctant when she
      led the battle to preserve the 60:40 predominance of trade unions
      over branch representation at the recent ALP Federal Conference. What
      Sue B is doing when she talks in this idealist and non materialist
      way, is deceiving herself about the realities of the situation, to
      convince herself and supporters of the DSP leadership, that somehow
      in the immediate future, the Socialist Alliance can be transformed
      into a mass revolutionary party, by a further application of the
      necessary enthusiasm. This kind of approach is political voodoo, of
      the sort that the American socialist writer, Upton Sinclair,
      described as "bootstrap lifting". (This wonderful phrase is used by
      Sinclair in his anti religious polemic, "The Profits of Religion", in
      relation to the God wallopers, but it is also applicable to socialist
      sects who believe that they can turn into mass parties by a simple
      process of self proclamation and enthusiasm, independent of any
      realistic tactical appraisals of their current situation.)

      Equally metaphysical is Sue B's assertion that in most workplaces,
      workers might reluctantly vote for the ALP but not consider
      themselves ALP supporters. Well, this piece of abstract nonsense is
      both true and not true. Certainly, some blue collar workers who are
      subjected to a constant anti-Labor barrage from television and the
      Murdoch press, are obviously a bit ambivalent about the Laborites,
      but the overwhelming majority of the most class conscious blue collar
      workers, are pretty deliberate Labor supporters, despite misgivings
      about this or that betrayal by Labor leaderships. In the final
      analysis the voting process is one of the major factors that reveals
      the contemporary mind of the working class, in so far as it exists.

      Serious research, tracking demographics and class, in recent times in
      Australia, clearly indicates that the majority of workers with any
      degree of class consciousness, vote Labor. The raw composition and
      pattern of the Labor vote indicates this. Labor gets substantial
      majorities in all the areas predominantly inhabited by blue collar
      workers and particularly, NESB migrant blue collar workers who are
      now a large proportion of the organised working class in
      manufacturing industry, transport etc. Sue B and Riley are using
      debating tricks and rhetoric to try and avoid the tactical
      conclusions that flow from this current objective reality. There is a
      qualitative difference between the Labor primary vote of 40 per cen
      or so, and the Green primary vote of 10 per cent on the one hand, and
      the Socialist Alliance half a per cent and less vote, on the other.
      The need for socialists to adopt a strategic united front tactic
      towards the Labor Party and the Greens, flows from the objective
      social realities in the population.


      In the first rank and file membership ballot for ALP Federal
      President, 38,000 ballot papers were mailed to members. As some
      observers, including me, predicted, the valid vote, after informals
      were deducted, was about 19,000 or approximately 50 per cent. This
      was a fairly high vote, as you can discount about 12,000 to 14,000 of
      the original ballot papers sent out, because they belong to members
      in (predominantly ethnic) stacking operations in particular areas.
      The dynamics of this situation are that people in stacking operations
      are mainly roped in to vote for particular candidates for public
      office, and the people organising the stacks are quite unlikely to
      strain the loyalty of their stack supporters by chasing them for a
      vote for an office like Federal President, which is fairly remote
      from local preoccupations. 19,000 votes in a non compulsory postal
      ballot, is a pretty proportion of the 24,000 or so non-stackee
      members of the ALP nationally.

      The result of the ballot is extremely revealing. Carmen Lawrence, the
      most leftist candidate, got 6517 votes, or 34.5 per cent. Michael
      Samaris, the NSW leftist candidate, got 563 votes. Duncan Kerr, the
      Tasmanian leftist got 733 votes. The total left vote was 41 per cent.

      Barry Jones, the voluble centrist candidate, a previous Federal
      President, got 5239 votes or 28 per cent. Other centre candidates got
      about 12 per cent, making a total centre vote of 40 per cent.

      On the right, the candidate of the NSW right, deliberately chosen by
      the NSW right for his relatively leftist credentials, the indigenous
      Australian Warren Mundine, got 12.4%. (Mundine is the first
      indigenous candidate ever to be elected as one of the now three
      rotating Federal ALP Presidents. He belongs to the same extended
      family as his cousin, Anthony Mundine, the champion boxer, who is a
      kind of Australian version of Muhamed Ali, has converted to Islam,
      and is well known in Australia for his anti-imperialist statements.)
      Other right wingers got about 6.6 per cent of the vote, giving a
      total right wing vote of 19%.

      The effect of this result is that Carmen Lawrence, Barry Jones and
      Warren Mundine will rotate over three years, with Carmen Lawrence the
      first year.

      All three successful presidential and vice-presidential candidates
      from the three factions: the right, the left and the centre, have
      indicated that they seek a more civilised position on assylum seekers
      than the one adopted by the ALP at the last federal election.

      What this vote shows is that there is still considerable leftist life
      in the lumbering Labor Party monolith. 41 per cent of the ALP's
      membership still consider themselves leftists and vote in their
      overwhelming majority for the most leftist candidate available,
      Carmen Lawrence, who is identified for two major political positions
      she has taken in recent times, which are her resignation from the
      shadow Cabinet in protest against a weak ALP policy on asylum
      seekers, and her vocal public agitation against the Iraq War.

      The 7500-odd people who still hold ALP tickets and voted for Carmen
      Lawrence or the two other left candidates are a very significant part
      of the organised left in Australian society. It is political lunacy
      of a particularly high order for the leadership of the DSP to
      constantly subject these ALP members, and indeed, the ALP members who
      voted for the centre or the right candidates, to abusive, moralising
      sectarianism because of their ALP membership.

      It would be a far saner policy to adopt a strategic united front
      approach. The possibilities for such an approach have been opened up
      considerably by the victory of Carmen Lawrence in the ballot for the
      Federal Presidency of the ALP. The landscape of the left in Australia
      is now pretty clear. There are over 7500 leftist who hold ALP
      tickets. There are over 7500 members of the Greens nationally. There
      are about 1000 far leftists organised meaningfully in the far left
      groups, and about another 1000 in the orbit of the far left groups
      (like the people who have signed pieces of paper to get the Socialist
      Alliance on the ballot). It would be far more realistic of the people
      in and around the far left groups and the Socialist Alliance, the
      1000 or so active ones of them, to adopt a united front approach with
      the 14,000 or so leftists around Labor and the Greens. This is just
      at the micro level of the membership of organisations. This necessity
      for a strategic united front with Laborites and Greens is even more
      powerful when you go to the broader arena of the 40 per odd who vote
      Labor and the 10 per cent odd who vote Green. A united front approach
      is the only rational way for socialists to proceed in current
      political conditions.
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