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9199Re: Query

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  • ozleft
    Sep 14, 2004
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      Dear Richard,

      Thanks for your reply. Thanks for passing on my comments to Ian Angus,
      and he has promptly recognised that failing to acknowledge the
      Kavanagh article to Ozleft was an oversight and he intends to correct it.

      I have always had the utmost respect for Ian Angus and his book on
      Canadian Trotskyism, which has a curious history in Australia.

      In the early 1980s, when the Australian DSP had its spectacular
      falling out with the US SWP, I was doing my usual thing at a Big Red
      Bookfair, organised by the now-deceased Communist Party of Australia,
      and I discovered that on the DSP's bookstall they were flogging off
      the Pathfinder editions of the writings of Trotsky, and a number of
      other major Pathfinder works for $1 each, including 10-15 copies of
      Ian Angus's book.

      When I established that the price wasn't a mistake, I rang a couple of
      my associates and we bought 10 or 12 boxes of Pathfinder stuff -- as
      much as was available -- $1 a pop was a good price for us in those
      days, and for a few years thereafter, we had Trotsky's writings and
      quite a few other Pathfinder editions, including Ian Angus's book, in
      my shop at reasonable prices.

      Flogging off Trotsky's writings for $1 seemed to me at the time to
      reflect a bit of catharsis on the part of the DSP leadership, which at
      the time was making a lot of noise about how it had ditched all the
      errors of Trotskyism. Flogging the Trotsky works for $1 each had an
      aspect of a break with the Trotskyist past. They also flogged off the
      Farrell Dobbs books about Mineappolis for $1, and I found selling them
      to new generations of activists a very useful thing indeed, in the
      1980s and 1990s.

      It always seemed to me that even given the heat of the political
      dispute between the US and Australian SWPs, flogging off the
      Pathfinder books at that price was both an unwise commercial decision
      and an unwise political decision.

      I sold my last copy of Ian Angus's book from the shop about a year
      ago, and I look forward with enthusiasm to his new edition. It's an
      excellent book.

      I note your careful and reasonably accurate account of the discussions
      between us, but I would make two strong points. First of all, you say
      there's useful material on Ozleft, but some dross. Well, dross and
      useful are all in your point of view, and just for reasons of
      political clarification I'd be extremely interested to know what you
      consider dross.

      It's not that I'm particularly defensive about the wide range of
      material on Ozleft, but what you might consider dross might illuminate
      some of the political differences we might have.

      Pontifically, you speak about how, as an experienced Trotskyist,
      you're conscious of unprincipled combinations, etc and so forth. Here,
      you're just belting out, in fact, the self-interested bullshit that
      you all learned from the nasty little piece by Joe Hansen about the
      "Abern Clique", which is wheeled out as a standard club to belt anyone
      who disagrees with leaderships in Cannonist organisations.

      In this particular mythology, in which you were trained, you just
      imply, as if it were normal, that leaderships are automatically
      principled but oppositions are usually "unprincipled combinations".

      This is particularly weird, coming from you, when with your other hat
      you assert that you're an independent who hasn't been in a group for
      20 years, but nevertheless you can smell an "unprincipled combination
      from a great distance.

      The problem you, John Percy and the DSP leadership face, is that their
      pretensions to political hegemony on the left aren't accepted by
      anybody except themselves and some members of their organisation.
      Ozleft is a relatively public discussion forum. It's not a political
      family in any meaningful sense, even the Joe Hansen sense, and it's
      directed at a public discussion of strategic and political issues, and
      in my case I view it as directed towards some kind of eventual

      You can have any views you like about allegedly unprincipled
      combinations, from afar, but the reality looks quite different in

      I repeat my question, is a heterogeneous grouping, an attempt at
      regroupment, such as the Socialist Project in Canada, with clear
      divergencies within it, one of the unprincipled combinations you can
      smell from a great distance?

      You will have noted that more or less accidentally, a very heated
      political debate has erupted on the Green Left site about Cuba. I
      don't particularly want to buy into that discussion, because I've been
      quietly working away on a study of the history of the Cuban
      Revolution, which is a question very dear to my heart.

      I also have the view that in general the defence of the Cuban and
      Venezuelan revolutions against US imperialism is the immediate and
      over-riding political consideration in Latin America.

      For these reasons, I'm a bit cautious about rushing into a discussion
      of Cuba, Vietnam, etc. Nevertheless, all the lessons of the overthrow
      of Stalinism underline, in my mind, the counter-revolutionary
      character of the general practice and idea of one-party states, from a
      Marxist point of view.

      It may be that, in some very exceptional circumstances, a one-party
      state is the lesser of a number of evils if it's associated with
      ongoing social revolution. Nevertheless, surely all the lessons of
      history indicate that from a revolutionary socialist point of view the
      one-party state is deeply undesirable. Idealisation of one-party
      states as a model for future socialist development is at the heart of
      the failed, counter-revolutionary phenomenon of Stalinism, which
      dominated the left for much of the middle part of the 20th century.

      I don't want to rush in until I've concluded my study and research,
      but I'll just draw your attention to the way, from the heart of the
      DSP, there has poured out a veritable panegyric to the one-party
      state, to the point of it being presented as the very model of the
      socialist revolution.

      It may be that the views being expressed by the young DSPers are just
      those of some enthusiasts, but I suspect they aren't and that in
      general they reflect the current views of the DSP leadership.

      These considerations go to the heart of rearming the revolutionary
      socialist project, and such a project with the aim of a one-party
      state seems to me to have a counter-revolutionary essence. It also
      gives some indication as to the kind of political model that may be in
      use by the DSP leadership in its internal arrangements.

      It's worth underlining the general point that on the Australian far
      left, other than the DSP leadership and DSP enthusiasts, enthusiasm
      for the one-party state is non-existent.

      To summarise, Ozleft is not a cult around Bob Gould. (I'm a pretty
      unlikely subject for a cult anyway. The large number of people who
      know me laugh at the idea of such a cult. Anyway, if you don't cop the
      cult story, the DSP leadership has an alternative to their cult story,
      that I'm some kind of marginal crank. That's not true either.)

      Ozleft is not an unprincipled combination. The underlying, unifying
      general principle is the idea of a united front among socialists of
      all persuasions. The other underlying principle is a serious public
      discussion on historical questions and current strategic questions.
      That's the stage the far left is at in Australia.

      It seems to me that your last remark is revealing. You say that my
      offer to you to organise a meeting of people who weren't distinctly in
      the DSP orbit was an attempt to line you up against the DSP. That is
      more revealing about your mindset than it is about mine.

      It was pretty clear that your primary point of contact was with the
      DSP leadership and I was attempting to organise to see that you got a
      variety of points of view. This, in your universe, becomes trying to
      line you up against the DSP leadership.

      This view of yours is only possible if you supremely prioritise the
      DSP leadership and its project. To use the old Stalinist lingo, life
      itself on the Australian far left has produced a situation in which
      no-one outside the DSP leadership and its close supporters prioritises
      the DSP leadership's project in the way you seem to do.
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