3882Re: Proof of the pudding
- Dec 25, 2003A personal response from one of "the Ozleft mob" to Terry's strange
and irritable post. From the cranky, eccentric socialist bookseller
to the stir-crazy Rip Van Winkles who inhabit the DSP national office
By Bob Gould
>>Some rambling thoughts and requests.activists in the Socialist Alliance what specific progress they are
>>Can Tristan and the Ozleft mob please outline to the 1000 or so
making within the ALP (and perhaps the Greens) to organise socialists
politically on the understanding that capitalism must be overthrown
and replaced with an entirely new system.
>>We need facts and figures on this not just theories, wishfulthinking and hopes.
>>How many revolutionary socialists are you comrades working withinside the ALP, how are they organised, do you have a faction and who
are the key activists in it, do you control branches, how are you
educating ALP members and supporters about the need for revolutionary
socialism, what specific initiatives are you carrying out, how do you
envision socialism being won through the ALP, are you prepared to
split from the ALP right at some time?
>>Unless these sort of questions are addressed, and answers providedthat show that real progress is possible at this time, arguing that
socialists -- and especially Marxists -- abandon the most successful
Australian socialist project in decades for the ALP quagmire is
tantamount to sabotage.>>
Bob Gould responds:
I don't much like having a go at Terry because I have a certain
respect for him. I know him a bit and he has several good features.
The first one, obviously, is that he has stuck at socialist activity
since he joined the DSP/SWP as a young man more than 20 years ago,
and he has kept doing it and has persisted in the financially
difficult life of a political full-timer for much of that period.
In addition to that, he's one of the few leaders of the DSP who has
done some independent ideological work involving research and
writing, and his long article on the national question is an
important basic document, which I often embarrass him by indicating
as a very useful primary source, along with the work of Mike Karadjis
on the Balkans.
This political position on the national question, elaborated by Terry
and Mike Karadjis, is something with which I agree, and it goes
without saying that I support Karadjis in his current war on the
national question on Marxmail, in which he has reduced some of Louis
Proyect's more benighted associates to almost incoherent fury.
I haven't bought into that debate on Marxmail because Mike Karadjis
and an energetic former member of the Workers League in New Orleans,
Les Evanchik, have done a good job of pinning Louis and Co's ears
back. It would be pointless for me to repeat Karadjis and Evanchik in
Despite my agreement in general with Terry and Mike Karadjis on the
national question, Terry's recent post about the Socialist Alliance
is such a classic statement of sectarianism and eccentric Third
Period partinost that it demands a reply. This post is so weird that
it has even crossed my mind that Terry is playing a kind of devil's
advocate role. Who knows?
The first point that must be challenged in Terry's post is the
implicit proposition that anyone engaged in any other form of
socialist activity than the DSP's Socialist Alliance project (in the
form that the DSP leadership insists on) is thereby effectively
sabotaging the revolutionary socialist movement.
That proposition is really mad. At the risk of harping on an obvious
theme, it resembles the Third Period position of the Communist Party
in the early 1930s.
There is a very useful collection of essays on the history of
communism in Britain, by Woodhouse and Pearce, which was first
published by Healy's New Park, and later republished by the British
SWP's Bookmarx. This collection of essays, mainly by Pearce, a member
of the British Communist Party historians' group, who broke with
Stalinism and became a Trotskyist in 1956, is of enormous value. In
due course Ozleft will make available the whole of the essay, The
Communist Party and the Labour Left. In this essay, Brian Pearce says
the following: "Very different, however, was the mood prevailing in
Moscow at this time. Stalin had recently ousted Bukharin and was
waging war on the "Rights". Instructions conveyed to the British
Communist leaders at a meeting in Berlin immediately following the
election, included "in our general campaign against the Labour
Party we should emphasise that it is a crime equivalent to
blacklegging for any worker to belong to the Labour Party". This line
from the Comintern during the Third Period is strikingly similar to
The Third Period Stalinists, who denounced Laborism so ferociously,
had behind them the enormous moral support and weight of the USSR.
That gave their ultraleftism a certain objective momentum. The DSP
leadership, by contrast, is a tiny group operating at a difficult
time in a relatively conservative country, and yet it seems mad
enough to make accusations of sabotaging the socialist movement, via
Terry's post, implicitly against all other socialists, of whom there
are some thousands in other groups, the ALP and the Greens, and
unorganised socialists and independents, who don't support this
particular project of the DSP.
Terry's formulation is the purest sectarianism. It's important to
consider the context in which Terry issues this ultimatum.
This is a moment when the DSP leadership, at a closed DSP conference,
intends to force through a position (in sweaty mid-summer heat at
Richmond), which it will then finalise in the structures of the
Socialist Alliance, that Green Left Weekly become the official
newspaper of the Socialist Alliance. A large number of the affiliates
of the Alliance spoke and voted against this proposition, but the DSP
intends to do it anyway, relying heavily on the success of its tactic
of organising a caucus of ostensible independents in the Alliance,
most of whom are in reality DSP "non-party Bolshevik" supporters of
the DSP, who run the Alliance in consultation with the DSP.
The DSP leadership is running around blackguarding the other groups
for "obstructing the process" by not immediately agreeing to the
DSP's proposals about Green Left Weekly. People who "sabotage the
Alliance" (by not being in it) like me, by arguing with the DSP on
tactical matters from outside the Alliance, and the affiliates, which
try to argue their point inside the Alliance are equally
anathematised for a kind of objective betrayal for not immediately
jumping to attention when the DSP leadership cracks the whip.
That's the reality behind the extravagant rhetoric about the Alliance
in Terry's post, in Peter Boyle's posts and in Dave Riley's posts.
Terry's unquestioned dedication to the socialist movement, which is
demonstrated by his modest life-style, has a certain flip side.
Despite his extravagant rhetoric in this post, a certain frustration
shows through, that the DSP's project is running into all kinds of
practical difficulties, and Terry and the DSP leadership are laying
the basis for blaming the difficulties of the project on political
saboteurs and wreckers, such as presumably myself, rather than having
a good look at the viability of this type of regroupment project in
current political circumstances.
In this post Terry sounds a bit like a kind of stir-crazy Rip Van
Winkle, as indeed, do a number of other DSP full-timers who
participate in this discussion. They denounce all kinds of other
socialists outside the DSP for assorted alleged betrayals and they
seem to look at the world in a hyped-up, rather imaginary way, which
stems to some extent from their physical isolation from the broader
labour movement, and even from much social contact with anyone on the
left outside the DSP.
This was also the occupational hazard of the functionaries and
political full-timers of the old Communist Party, which had many more
such people than the DSP. It also had a vastly larger membership.
Dedicated full-timers such as Terry, the other DSP fulltimers, and
many of the old Stalinist functionaries, fall very easily into the
habit of identifying the interests of the workers' movement with the
interests of what they narrowly conceive to be the party.
The actual class struggle figures a good deal further down their
scale of considerations than the interests of their organisation.
This is sharpened in the minds of the committed full-timers by the
dedication that they practice, and it's fed by their relative
isolation from the external world.
In the case of someone like Terry, it would possibly be better for
the socialist movement, and for him, if he used his unquestionable
talents in serious theoretical work rather than the deadening
journalistic and organisational routine of the group.
In Terry's case, he's clearly capable of very important, serious
Marxist theoretical work and research, and possibly independent new
analysis. The work he has done on the national question indicates
The peculiar way the fulltimers in the DSP and other socialist sects
view the world raises another obvious political problem. The model of
Leninism that all the groups have taken over from Zinoviev via Cannon
is carefully codified by Doug Lorimer in his recent article in Links.
This model requires careful and serious discussion, and I'm currently
working on a long piece arguing with Lorimer's version, which will
appear shortly. One central issue, which I'll discuss at greater
length in the other article, is relevant in this context. The
centralised Zinoviev-Cannon model of organisation, insofar as it was
taken over from Lenin and the Comintern, was predicated on fairly
imminent revolutionary possibilities.
The centralisation stemmed from the imminent revolutionary
possibilities and necessities. This excessive emphasis on
centralisation looks quite different in the context of the recent 30
years of relative capitalist stability. A long period of excessive
centralisation in relatively successful small socialist organisations
with a lot of fulltimers, seems inevitably to turn these groups into
sects, and that's a big political problem.
In all the groups with this model of organisation, the political line
tends to be developed in a pyramidal way, from the top down, by a
leadership just about all of which is part of the apparatus of
fulltimers, and the political line tends to reflect the interests of
perpetuating this apparatus, rather than being influenced, as it
ought to be, by the ebb and flow of the class struggle. This is a
political problem that exists despite the personal dedication and
self-denial of many members of this apparatus.
Terry throws off at the end of his bizarre post a formulation about
the revolutionary socialist project, as if that was something
finished and obvious. Blind Freddy can see that it's exactly in the
area of what a socialist program and transitional practice might look
like, that there is a real crisis of Marxist theory.
Karadjis and Terry have done extremely useful work on trying to bring
Marxist theory on the national question up to date, in difficult
modern conditions, but the general question of what a transition to
socialism may really look like is still unresolved. Terry is
clutching at the past in a rather thoughtless way when he throws out
trite remarks about revolutionary socialism in the way he does.
These are the kinds of questions that preoccupy me to the core of my
identity as a committed and convinced revolutionary socialist in
difficult new conditions. John Percy, Peter Boyle and others have
ridiculed our efforts on Ozleft to raise serious ideological
questions of considerable complexity, and they particularly ridicule
my writing on a number of questions.
They don't engage much with what I say, they just ridicule it. But
despite this ridicule the hits we get on some of the more serious
material on Ozleft indicate that there's a great deal of interest in
The DSP leadership is as pleased as punch that it has acquired my old
sparring partner, Humphrey McQueen, as a kind of political mascot, on
the basis of the DSP leadership's late-life conversion to Humphrey's
extreme leftism in relation to the Australian workers' movement. It's
still to be tested what Humphrey or the DSP leadership will spell out
as a comprehensive socialist program for the workers' movement.
They continually stress that there's nothing wrong with the movement
behind Chavez in Venezuela not having a specifically socialist
program, or even many short-term socialist proposals, and they have a
similar attitude to other leftist organisations in Indonesia or other
Third World countries. In those situations they stress that what
matters is the trajectory of movement. By contrast, in the Australian
workers' movement they are routinely ultraleftist about everyone
being obliged to be a revolutionary socialist, when they haven't even
resolved very clearly what revolutionary socialism means in current
The DSP leadership is threatening a new magazine in collaboration
with Humphrey and a few others, and that looks like an excellent
project. It should address as a matter of urgency what a serious
socialist program for transition would look like in current
conditions. That should be the first big discussion in the new
magazine, in my view.
BOB GOULD AND THE SOCIALIST ALLIANCE
At the very first Sydney public meeting to launch the Socialist
Alliance, I spoke from the floor generally supporting the idea of
socialist regroupment and proposing an alliance with two strands, one
of which was the project that the DSP was interested in, involving
groups that wanted to come together to run against the Laborites
I suggested a second strand for the alliance, collaborating with the
first, which might have involved other socialists, such as myself,
with different electoral commitments, such as to the ALP and the
Greens, or none, such as anarchists. I distributed a leaflet
advocating this position, which we will shortly put up on Ozleft to
John Percy came down on me like a ton of bricks, and the ever-
vitriolic Peter Boyle ridiculed my occasional agitator's stutter in
the safe haven of the DSP internal bulletin. From that moment on, the
DSP has prosecuted a small political war against any socialists that
operate in the ALP, the Greens or other groups, branding them
obstacles to the socialist movement because they don't dance
immediately to the DSP leadership's current tactical prescriptions.
This is the situation that has given rise to my polemic with the DSP
leadership over the Labor Party, which has now gone on for a couple
John Percy, Peter Boyle and others in the DSP leadership choose to
portray me as some kind of crank or eccentric with no influence
anywhere. That's their judgement and they're entitled to it, and
others will have to make up their own minds as to whether that's
The DSP leadership often says "why bother arguing with Bob Gould" but
they argue with me anyway, because they have to. I get a different
kind of reaction, a parallel reaction, actually, in the broader
labour movement, in the ALP, Green circles, and just about anywhere
outside the DSP's immediate orbit.
It takes the form of "fuck it, Bob, why do you spend so much time
arguing with the DSP. They're a pain in the neck and they have little
influence." My answer to all those people on the left, of whom there
are a very large number (Terry shouldn't underestimate the extent of
hostility to the DSP out there, it's much wider than the hostility to
Bob Gould, although there is also a fair amount of hostility to Bob
Gould among more conservative sections of the left). My answer to
these other leftists is that despite the systematic sectarianism of
the DSP leadership, the 300 or so members of the DSP are an important
part of the small numbers of people in Australia who still consider
themselves Marxists, and it's hard to envisage a project of socialist
or Marxist regroupment (which interests me deeply) without
confronting the physical existence of the DSP and the other small
socialist groups that have some of the same sectarian features.
At some point material reality should force a serious political
discussion on perspective, even on sects such as the DSP and some
I have been advocating such a public discussion on perspectives among
committed socialists for some time. I'm aware, obviously, that this
kind of thing doesn't necessarily go in a straight line.
It's worth quoting the book, "The Psychology of Revolution" by Gustav
le Bon, (T. Fisher Unwin, 1913) on page 41, le Bon says about the
possibilities of human reason and serious discussion: "Reason being
powerless to affect the brain of the convinced, Protestants and
Catholics continued their ferocious conflicts. All the efforts of
their sovereigns to reconcile them were in vain. Catherine di Medici,
seeing the party of the reformed church increasing day by day in
spite of persecution, and attracting a considerable number of nobles
and magistrates, thought to disarm them by convoking at Poissy in
1561, an assembly of bishops and pastors with the object of fusing
the two doctrines. Such an enterprise indicated that the queen,
despite subtleties, knew nothing of the laws of mystic logic. Not in
all history can one cite an example of a belief destroyed or reduced
by means of refutation. Catherine did not even know that although
toleration is with difficulty possible between individuals, it is
impossible between collectivities. Her attempt failed completely. The
assembled theologians hurled texts and insults at one another's
heads, but no one was moved. Catherine thought to succeed better in
1562 by promulgating an edict for Protestants to unite in the public
celebration of their cult."
I'm not as pessimistic as Gustav le Bon. It's obvious that getting
Marxist socialists to engage in a serious discussion of disputed
issues faces some of the same problems that faced Catherine de Medici
in trying to mediate discussion between Catholics and Protestants,
nevertheless the world has moved on a long way since the 16th century
and serious public discussion among Marxists ought to be possible.
The politically most dangerous aspect of Terry's post is the last
part, where he spells out to socialists in the Labor Party and to
some extent in the Greens what, according to his rubric, they should
do. Well, he has unintentionally raised some pretty serious
questions. They way he describes an entry tactic is more or less what
the DSP did in the Nuclear Disarmament Party and the first phase of
the development of the Greens. It's also pretty much the DSP behaved
when it stacked and took over the first NSW Socialist Left in 1971,
when the Socialist Left was in decline, and almost immediately
liquidated it ( http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/GPSL.html ).
The net result of this kind of entry tactic was the eventual
disappearance of the NDP and the effective exclusion of the DSP from
the Greens at a very early stage, and it's also the source of a great
deal of caution on the part of activists in the ALP when they
encounter the DSP.
Socialists operating in the Greens or the Labor Party ought to avoid
Terry's caricature of entrism like the plague. Serious socialists and
Marxists working in the Greens, for instance will, I don't doubt, in
due course get themselves organised, but with the rather grim history
of the DSP's past entrism in the Greens, I'm pretty certain that
socialists in the Greens will study the DSP's past entry in the
Greens as a kind of manual of what not to do.
Much the same applies to the question of socialist organisation in
the ALP. I'm strongly in favour of socialists in the ALP organising
themselves. One thing I'm quite sure of is that future socialist
organisation in the ALP may have some of the aspects that Terry
desires, such as an emphasis on socialist education for youth, but
it's highly unlikely to follow the rest of Terry's crude model.
We are just coming out of a period of general shift to the right in
the Labor Party, the unions and society as a whole, and the tasks for
socialists in all spheres have a defensive aspect, and this applies
also to the question of socialist organisation in the ALP.
At this stage in the ebb and flow of the class struggle my personal
activities in the ALP, for instance, are quite modest. All last year
and the year before I participated in Labor for Refugees, and I was
one of its founding members in NSW.
I campaigned in an energetic way for a principled stand by Labor for
Refugees on the refugee question. I campaigned in the ALP, with some
success, along with many others, for opposition to the Iraq war, etc,
As the ALP federal conference approaches, it appears to me that there
will be two key issues at that gathering: refugee policy and economic
policy. I will be lobbying strenuously that the left should, in a
responsible way, consistent with recognising his leadership, stand up
strongly to Mark Latham on both of these key questions.
I will also be arguing for concrete measures to revive the Labor left
in this struggle, the Labor left being somewhat broader than a few
individual revolutionary socialists such as myself. I would hope that
at this federal conference a number of the leftist trade union
leaders, to whom the DSP looks as the wave of the future, who are
delegates to this important federal conference, will take the lead in
such a careful agitation for better ALP policy on these questions.
These significant union leaders have a good deal more influence than
Bob Gould or "the Ozleft mob" and they should lead this struggle on
policy in the courageous way that Michelle O'Neill led the struggle
on 60:40 at the last federal ALP conference.
The problem for Terry and the DSP leadership in relation to the ALP
is this: independent of the failures of socialists or groups of
socialists to prevent the ALP's shift to the right in recent times,
nevertheless the hegemony of the ALP (now in combination to a lesser
extent with the Greens) over the leftist sector of society, is still
The question for serious socialists and Marxists in or out of the
Labor Party or the Greens, is not any particular scheme of entrism,
but the problem of the united front. The Labor Party, and now the
Greens, as living mass organisations of the working class and the
radical sector of the middle class, will inevitably throw up internal
forces, groups and individuals on the left. One major question for
Marxists remains how to relate strategically to these two
organisations as a whole (the ALP-trade union continuum and the Green
mass electoral party to the left of Labor). Flowing from this, the
question arises of how to relate strategically to the left, which
inevitably emerges in these plebian mass organisations. The question
for Marxist socialists in this difficult kind of period, which is
still posed brutally by this set of circumstances, is the question of
the united front.
In relation to the united front towards the masses who support and
are involved in the Labor Party, the Greens and the trade unions, the
irresponsible and eccentric ultraleft total permanent exposure tactic
of the DSP leadership is poisonous and destructive, and it estranges
the group of people who follow the DSP from the larger part of the
actual movement in society to the left. It is actually adopted by the
DSP leadership mainly for the purpose of perpetuating the DSP as an
organisation, rather than being based on the ebbs and flows of the
A PERSONAL NOTE ABOUT MY OWN ACTIVITIES
I carefully maintain my personal presence in the ALP because I regard
that as useful from a revolutionary socialist point of view,
particularly because most of the revolutionary socialist left these
days adopts a hopelessly sectarian posture towards the overwhelming
majority of the left of society, who relate to Laborism. In practice,
however, most of my activity these days is intellectual and
theoretical/agitational. I make no apology for this.
With a small group of collaborators I have helped to put together the
Ozleft website, which plays a useful role in precipitating serious
discussion on the far left.
I write a lot these days on all the questions I consider important,
which covers a considerably wider range than my current polemic with
the DSP over strategy and tactics.
For many years I've also systematically maintained the socialist and
leftist aspect of my bookshop, and in this particular way I help
educate generation after generation of young socialists interested in
ideas. I've just finished personally doing the six-monthly
reorganisation of the left-hand catwalk of my bookshop, which is
familiar to all, in preparation for the radicals from all over the
country who tend to drift through my shop in the holiday period.
This kind of combination of practical activity and intellectual work
and inquiry associated with it is not all that dissimilar to the kind
of thing that Terry does as Green Left journalist/editor and
occasional Marxist scholar, albeit in a different context.
Many people from time to time, including the DSP leaders, regard
these activities of mine as corrupting the youth. Well, I intend to
continue corrupting the youth in much this way until I drop off the
twig, so to speak. I have good genes, and my parents and grandparents
all survived into their eighties, touch wood.
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