- Sep 14, 2004Dear 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
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
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
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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