33704Re: TORIES THUMPED IN QLD
- Sep 13, 2006By Bob Gould
Rohan Pearce says I'm being a bit tough on the Green Left Weekly staff
for pointing to the lack of serious comment about the Queensland
elections other than triumphalism about Sam Watson's vote, and Nick
Fredman gets positively weepy about the efforts of the GLW staff.
I have considerable respect for the GLW staff, as I do for all
full-time socialist activists. They work very hard for very little
financial return, but of course the failure to comment in any serious
way isn't a technical matter but a political one.
As it was close to press time, even one paragraph would have sufficed.
Some words celebrating the defeat of the Liberals and a few more words
ascribing the defeat in part to the obvious hostility of a big part of
the working class to the Howard government's industrial laws. About
100 words would have been sufficient.
Judging by past experience of events in which successful opposition to
conservative policies within the Labor Party and the broad labour
movement is a key factor, you're unlikely to get recognition of that
from comment in GLW.
A striking recent example of this was the collapse of Howard's attempt
to revive and entrench the "Pacific solution" in migrant and refugee
matters. There was little comment by GLW for a week or so, and when
the analysis was finally made, it was a politically quite eccentric
article ascribing the defeat of Howard's policy to the Liberal
dissidents, the mass movement, etc, and completely ignoring the most
glaring aspect of the process, which was that shadow immigration
minister Tony Burke and Unions NSW president John Robertson had
stiffened up the whole of the Labor caucus, and that provided most of
the votes against Howard's proposals.
The stupid and insulting "analysis" in GLW ignored the Labor role in
the whole matter, and didn't even mention Burke or Robertson by name.
The GLW parallel universe might sometimes be extremely funny if it
weren't for the fact that it is dealing with big and serious questions
of orientation in the labour movement.
I'm not holding my breath awaiting a rounded analysis of the
Queensland elections in GLW. Dave Riley's woolly meanderings give a
bit of a flavour of what any analysis will be like, if it is ever made.
The DSP leadership's total preoccupation with its own alleged role as
the centre of all things progressive is displayed in almost every
sphere. For instance, on the LeftWrites blog, on which there have been
a number of serious discussions over the past couple of months, DSP
leaders such as Norm Dixon and Riley ignore most questions and only
come to life to blow their own trumpet in a Potemkin Village sort of
way. They appear to have no other interests.
In the Queensland elections, the broader picture is ignored in favour
of Potemkin Village skiting. To bring matters down to earth a bit,
Paul Benedek, Dave Riley, and now the noisy John Tognolini from NSW,
proudly relate that $1000 was raised for Sam Watson's campaign, it got
some endorsements from interstate and overseas, and its supporters
managed to letterbox 15,000 leaflets.
They say 60 people worked for the Socialist Alliance on election day,
and in another place they say the campaign managed to staff nearly all
of the booths.
The $1000 amounts to about $20 donation from each of the 60 people,
and about 300 leaflets letterboxed, on average, by the same 60 people.
Apparently these 60 people weren't of the same Stakhanovite material
as Comrade Tognolini, who proudly proclaimed that he gave out many
thousands of leaflets in a few hours at the recent Blacktown trade
At the last Queensland elections, two years ago, the DSP-Socialist
Alliance ran two candidates and the ISO-Socialist Alliance ran one in
the outer-suburban working-class area of Inala. The ISO candidate got
a far higher vote than either of the two DSP-Socialist Alliance
candidates, but in the interim the ISO has declined in membership and
has moved away from symbolic electoral contests.
The interesting thing about Sam Watson's result against Peter Beattie,
the Queensland premier, is that despite the fact that Watson is a much
more high-profile candidate than Coral Wynter, he still only about
received the same percentage result, while the Greens vote increased
and Beattie's vote declined.
If the Brisbane seat is anything like the seats surrounding the CBD in
Sydney, and I believe it is, significant gentrification is probably
taking place there, even in the past two years. This is undoubtedly a
factor in the rise of the Green vote.
The DSP-Socialist Alliance campaign had an aspect of almost sublime
demagogy, the most unprincipled example of which was the appeal for
Cuban doctors to solve the problems of the Queensland health system.
Did the DSP perhaps consult the Cubans about this? I strongly doubt it.
By and large the Cubans offer their doctors to exploited Third World
countries and to other countries in Latin American where language is
no barrier. The only exception to this I can think of is Cuba's offer
of medical aid to the US during the Katrina hurricane crisis, and
there were obvious propaganda points to be made, from the Cuban point
of view, in that particular offer.
The idea of draining trained health professionals from Cuba to a
relatively affluent capitalist country such as Australia is
reactionary nonsense. There is already a substantial brain drain of
doctors, nurses and other health professionals into Australia from
Third World countries to solve the problems of the Australian health
system, any working nurse can tell you that. The solution is not to
take more health professionals from the Third World, where they are
desperately needed, it's to train more health professionals here,
including permanent migrant health professionals.
The call for Cuban, doctors plucked out of the sky, is eccentric
demagogy with a reactionary aspect presented for electoral purposes,
which underlines the crudely symbolic character of the DSP-Socialist
Alliance electoral campaign.
The other aspect of the DSP leadership's approach to the Queensland
election is its total lack of interest in the general movement of the
labour movement and the Greens and its contempt for activists of the
labour movement, who are dismissed as reactionary because of their
traditional electoral allegiance and activity.
The Labor Party contested every seat in Queensland, which meant
staffing perhaps 2000 polling booths and mobilising upwards of 10,000
polling booth workers in a very decentralised state.
The Greens, a smallish mass party, contested a very large number of
seats and probably mobilised 3000-4000 polling booth workers on the
day. The Labor and Greens polling workers are by and large the most
politicised and, relative to society at large, the most left-wing
section of the population.
Labor won many provincial seats based on large towns and small cities,
and most of the seats in what used to be called the Red North, and now
might reasonably be described as the Pink North. The trade unions
played an important role in the Labor campaign all over the state.
There has been a certain low-key shift to the left in the Labor ranks,
one expression of which is the disappearance of the Queensland Old
Guard faction and the increase in the number of parliament seats held
by members of the Left faction.
In its often uninformed and internally focussed way, Green Left has
reported the rather leftist stance of the Electrical Trades Union in
Queensland and implicitly ascribed this shift to the left to the
influence of the Socialist Alliance. A more obvious explanation of the
ETU's stance is that it has shifted from the rump of the Old Guard to
the recently reunited Left faction. This aspect of the ETU's
re-emerging militancy has never been mentioned in GLW.
GLW never, ever, gives useful information about shifts in this or that
direction in the labour movement, and in that aspect GLW is
considerably inferior to the old Stalinist press, which carefully
covered such developments.
For Marxists the key question is not some Potemkin Village electoral
campaign (a rather inferior one compared with past efforts even by the
Socialist Alliance) it's how to get an audience among the tens of
thousands of Labor, trade union and Green activists who mobilised in
these elections, in large part driven by the opposition to the Howard
government and WorkChoices, expressed electorally through the channel
of their traditional allegiance to Labor and the Greens.
The DSP has a scattering of contacts in regional Queensland, who are
sometimes mentioned as selling GLW at the industrial mobilisations
against WorkChoices. The DSP leadership seems to have little to say to
these people about the electoral mobilisation, and the DSP leadership
doesn't seem to be interested in gathering their experiences in these
matters, let alone addressing the Labor and Green activists in any
sensible way. All you get from GLW is animosity to the Labor and trade
union activists and aristocratic condescension towards the Green
Paul Benedek's name appears on a report of the Brisbane election
campaign, proudly proclaiming that every time Beattie appeared the
Socialist Alliance gave him curry about the stolen wages of Aboriginal
people. I remember Benedek from Sydney and it's very likely to have
been par for the course on election day not just to be giving curry to
Beattie, but to be giving curry of the same sort to every Labor booth
That may be a partly effective way of innoculating your own ranks
against Laborism, but it's a very unlikely way of getting any kind of
audience for your ideas in the broader labour movement.
Several of the DSP leadership contributions refer to the 400 votes
(1.85 per cent of the Brisbane Central electorate) as conscious votes
for socialism. Are the people who write this stuff really mad enough
to believe what they write? When you're dealing with a tiny number of
votes like that, a fair percentage are clearly going to be votes for
"none of the above", a stick-a-pin-in-the-list kind of vote, and even
among those who deliberately vote for the socialist alliance, to call
those votes conscious votes for socialism is to live in a very
dangerous kind of fantasy land. If there really were 400 conscious
votes for socialism in Brisbane Central, the labour movement would be
in a very sharp upturn, which it's clearly not.
That sort of nutty rhetoric was stock in trade for the old Stalinist
movement whenever it was in one of its phases of headlong
confrontation with Labor. That sort of rhetoric has always been
evidence of dramatic miseducation of cadres.
I've written a fairly description of the ebbs and flows of the labour
movement in Queensland in my critique of Jim McIlroy's pamphlet, The
Red North, and those interested in the real history of the Queensland
labour movement might wish to have a look at it.
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