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3882Re: Proof of the pudding

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  • ozleft
    Dec 25, 2003
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      A 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

      Terry wrote:

      >>Some rambling thoughts and requests.

      >>Can Tristan and the Ozleft mob please outline to the 1000 or so
      activists in the Socialist Alliance what specific progress they are
      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, wishful
      thinking and hopes.

      >>How many revolutionary socialists are you comrades working with
      inside 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 provided
      that 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
      different words.

      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
      Terry's formulation.

      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
      that.

      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
      these questions.

      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
      conditions.

      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
      electorally.

      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
      remind people.

      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
      of years.

      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
      accurate.

      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
      others.

      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,
      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
      total.

      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
      class struggle.

      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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