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Re: Socialist Alliance in Australia

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  • bobgould987
    The Boyle-Riley Potemkin village. A letter to Andy Newman By Bob Gould Just recently you ve put up on your website a bland interview with Dave Riley about the
    Message 1 of 10 , Mar 15, 2005
      The Boyle-Riley Potemkin village. A letter to Andy Newman

      By Bob Gould

      Just recently you've put up on your website a bland interview with
      Dave Riley about the Australian Socialist Alliance. Within a few days
      of that, a rather sharp exchange between the ISO and the DSP about the
      alliance erupted into the public domain via exchanges in the alliance
      internal bulletin and an article in the Weekly Worker commenting on
      the conflict.

      You also sailed in from a considerable distance vehemently defending
      the DSP point of view on this exchange, using rather extravagant
      language attacking the author of the Weekly Worker article. In doing
      so, you load on to a real person an article written under a pseudonym,
      which is a pretty unfriendly act, to say the least.

      You argue that the Weekly Worker article quoted a private letter, but
      that document was actually circulated at leadership level in the
      Socialist Alliance, and just about everyone on the Australian far left
      has seen it.

      I'm fascinated that you seem so confident that the DSP is so correct
      on the questions in dispute on the Australian left.

      I appreciate that as someone who has parted company with the British
      SWP relatively recently you may have a jaundiced view of the
      Australian ISO, which is linked to the SWP, but I would put to you
      that the general proposition, the enemy of my enemy is my friend,
      while sometimes useful tactically in the very short term is generally
      a rather poor guide in serious discussions of major tactical and
      strategic questions in the labour movement.

      You sail in with the fact that the Australian Labor Party and the
      Prices-Incomes Accord were models for the Blair project in Britain,
      but you completly ignore the important political difference that the
      Australian Labor Party as a whole opposed the recent Iraq invasion and
      voted against it in the Australian parliament.

      More recently it opposed the commitment of more troops to Iraq. Surely
      there's an important difference between a mass Labor Party that,
      despite its reformism and right-wing trajectory, opposed the Iraq
      adventure, and the Blair Labor government, which was a central
      initiator of the Iraq war.

      I understand that you may not be clearly aware of this distinction if
      you've relied in the recent past on Green Left Weekly for information
      about Australian political developments. GLW played down the Labor
      opposition to the Iraq military commitment and even argued that it
      wasn't really opposition. You'd be wise to use other sources as well
      as GLW for an overview of Australian politics.

      I'd submit to you that the bland Riley-Boyle account of the
      DSP-Socialist Alliance is a classic Potemkin Village. The DSP
      leadership gets very cranky when I argue the point with them about
      their chronic Third Period posture in relation to Labor, and recently
      Boyle and Ben Courtice have repeated the mantra about the considerable
      influence of the DSP on some left-wing union officials, despite the
      fact that "they're still in the Labor Party". Ben Courtice asserts
      that they privately say they have little commitment to the Labor
      Party, whatever he means by that.

      There are several problems with this DSP organisational megalomania.
      Firstly, Australia is a federation of states, which are at
      considerable distance from each other and have independent political

      The Socialist Alliance is centred in the state of NSW in the city of
      Sydney, and about 25-30 of the 35-40 DSP full-timers, out of a
      membership of about 270, are located in Sydney, in the DSP
      headquarters in Chippendale.

      In NSW and Sydney, despite its centre and those full-timers being
      there, the DSP has no influence in the labour movement, and is in a
      constant, almost self-chosen, antagonistic posture towards the whole
      left of the labour movement.

      The situation is similar in the smaller states: Tasmania, South
      Australia, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory. The small
      DSP-Socialist Alliance group is extremely antagonistic towards the
      left of the labour movement in those regions.

      In Queensland there is one small exception: the secretary of the
      Transport Workers Union, a principled old former member of the
      Communist Party, who is now in the Labor Party, is quite courteous to
      the DSP and gives interviews occasionally to GLW.

      In the smallish state of West Australia, which is almost a country in
      its own right -- it costs more to fly from Sydney to Perth than it
      does to fly to Auckland, in New Zealand -- the DSP has a friendly
      relationship with someone who organised a rank and file group in the
      Maritime Union and eventually won office at state level. The DSP is
      also in a rather opportunist political relationship with some Labor
      lefts in the Electrical Trades Union, who won office in a closely
      fought battle against another left-winger, and the DSP also has a kind
      of alliance with the officials of the building workers union, who run
      their own centre-right operation in the Labor Party.

      Despite this, the results for the Socialist Alliance in the recent
      state elections -- which resulted in a big swing to Labor, and the
      Greens holding their own -- were so low as to be off the electoral radar.

      In Victoria, the second largest Australian state, and the city of
      Melbourne, there is a recognisable left current in the trade union
      movement, which has the leadership -- more or less -- of the Victorian
      Trades Hall Council.

      Most of the main personalities in this recognisably leftist trade
      union current are members of the Labor Party and play a substantial
      role in the affairs of the Labor left in Victoria. They go as
      delegates to Labor conferences, state and federal, and they play a
      considerable role in these events.

      Some of them give interviews to GLW sometimes, and a couple of them
      put free bundles of GLW in their union office reception area. By and
      large, they are good people, certainly the best bunch in the trade
      union movement Australia-wide. Nevertheless they are mostly indigenous
      left Laborites of the better sort.

      Boyle and Ben Courtice use self-serving rhetoric implying that these
      people might leave the Labor Party sometime soon, and the DSP
      leadership repeatedly says that these people say in private that Labor
      is no good, but anyone with any experience of the labour movement in
      any English-speaking country takes the DSP self-serving rhetoric on
      these questsions with the proverbial grain of salt.

      In particular, the proposition that these militant trade union
      Laborites, who are a distinct and relatively healthy labour movement
      current, are about to merge with the DSP-Socialist Alliance anytime
      soon is pure moonshine.

      Rather than deluding themselves with the kind of chronic bullshit that
      they go on with on these questions, the DSP leadership would be better
      served by asking themselves why these serious left-wing Labor trade
      unionists quietly ignore DSP calls to leave the "rotten second party
      of capitalism" and merrily continue in the normal activities in the
      Labor Party and trade unions.

      The answer to that question is obvious: that from the point of view of
      serious trade unionists of the left, and of serious Marxists for that
      matter, work in the Labor Party and the trade unions is one of the
      daily necessities of the class struggle. Serious activists in the
      trade union movement are mostly unwilling to abandon it, despite
      constant entreaties from the DSP leadership, because it is from time
      to time useful in prosecuting the class struggle.

      Some leftist officials of white collar unions are also activists in
      the Greens, which flows from the fact that the Greens are an important
      part of the stream of political life on the left-labour movement side
      of Australian politics.

      No amount of DSP ultraleft rhetoric about Labor betrayals, and about
      likely future Green betrayals, has much effect on serious activists in
      the labour movement. The day to day activities of these labour
      movement activists are generally influenced by broader considerations
      than the self-interested organisational pretensions of small socialist


      A number of the issues in dispute in the Socialist Alliance flow
      directly from the above tactical problems. At the very start of the
      alliance the ISO and the other non-DSP affiliates agreed to the
      proposition of a limited electoral alliance.

      Very quickly the DSP leadership pushed for what amounts to a
      regroupment -- a new, homogeneous organisation -- on DSP terms, which
      would have the alliance name but for practical purposes would be a
      kind of DSP mark II.

      The immediate instrument for this push for the alliance as a rebadged
      DSP was the organisation of a group of ostensible independents in the
      alliance. From the beginning the dominant influence in this
      independent group were DSP "non-party Bolsheviks", who essentially
      agreed with the political line of the DSP.

      As other independents who didn't agree on all questions with the DSP
      dropped out, this independent caucus has been reorganised several times.

      The focus of the pressure from the DSP and its allied independent
      caucus has been for the alliance to adopt GLW, the rather
      well-produced DSP paper, as the paper of the alliance, and for all
      alliance members and supporters to sell it.

      A certain amount of rhetoric is used about GLW being open to other
      points of view, but in practice the DSP leadership uses its mechanical
      majority to, in broad terms, confine GLW to the political line of the
      DSP. (Although in the face of the current crisis just this week GLW
      has published two sharply opposed articles on the crisis in the
      Socialist Alliance, which is a kind of first for what might have been
      institutionalised discussion in GLW if the DSP leadership had been
      serious about a multi-tendency paper. As the saying goes, you can lead
      a horse to water but you can't make it drink).

      It's hard to see what mechanism the DSP leadership can find to
      persuade the ISO and other affiliates to sell a paper the broad
      political line of which they generally don't agree with.

      The cutting edge of this dispute between the DSP leadership and the
      ISO and many of the other affiliates is obviously the differences in
      strategy towards the Labor Party and the Greens.

      In the short term, the point has been reached at which the Socialist
      Alliance resembles a badly dysfunctional marriage. It's hard to tell
      whether there'll be a short-term divorce or the DSP and, in particular
      the ISO, will stumble on for a bit longer in the way dysfunctional
      marriages stumble along "for the sake of the children".

      The half-smart rhetoric of Nick Fredman on the GLW discussion list
      attacking the ISO for holding back the Socialist Alliance process as
      the DSP sees it, is unlikely to solve any of these problems.

      Despite the bland Boyle-Riley Potemkin village story, there's a real
      crisis in the Socialist Alliance over these strategic questions and
      this crisis has led to the emergence of two caves in the DSP
      leadership which have been battling with each other for some months,
      but that's another story. Watch this space for future developments.
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