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Don't mention the war

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  • bobgould987
    Don t mention the war. Why the DSP leadership has great difficulty discussing Gallipoli and the Australian conscription referendums By Bob Gould In John
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2005
      Don't mention the war. Why the DSP leadership has great difficulty
      discussing Gallipoli and the Australian conscription referendums

      By Bob Gould

      In John Percy's memoir of the first seven years of the DSP, he has the
      following timeless words to say: (page 16) "We can assess how little
      it aided working-class struggles and how little it was independent of
      the capitalist class by its actions over the next 100 years. It has
      been the alternative party of rule by the bosses in times of crisis.
      Its goal is class peace and preservation of the status quo.

      "Its influence is directed to convincing workers that their needs can
      and must be met through parliament and arbitration (objectively the
      employers' policy), rather than through their own organisation and
      activity. From its inception, the role of the ALP has been to
      integrate the working class and its struggles into the capitalist
      framework, not to break from it. It hasn't been `a historic step

      And (page 17): "Every `socialist objective' adopted – as in 1919, or
      1921, for the `socialisation of industry, production, distribution and
      exchange' – was intended to contain radicalisation. It was designed to
      prevent the development of a strong independent working class
      alternative following the hopes raised among workers after the 1917
      Russian Revolution."

      And (page 17): "the ALP is more suited to implement the collective
      needs of the capitalist class – for example, to implement structural
      changes in the interests of capitalism as a whole, which the openly
      capitalist parties would find difficult because of their ties to
      particular sections of the class."

      And, page 18: "It's not our tradition. It's not a radical tradition,
      but an obstacle to the development of a radical tradition, an
      instrument to counter radical or revolutionary developments. The
      capitalists will promote that tradition; it's useful for them."

      What John Percy is expounding here amounts to a fully fledged
      conspiracy theory of politics applied to the development of the Labor

      Viewing the foundation and development of the Labor Party as a
      contradictory process driven partly by the desire for radical social
      change, and in part by the aspirations of many people who considered
      themselves socialists, it is presented as a conspiracy of the
      bourgeoisie to construct a consciously second party of capital.

      Percy then goes on to list the crimes of Labor leaderships and
      governments over 115 years, many of which are quite real.

      He is then able, out of this catalogue of crimes and betrayals, to
      sketch a picture of a Labor Party that is a complete conspiracy of the
      ruling class.

      The first question for advocates of this crazy schema is why would the
      organised working class be so doggedly loyal, electorally and
      organisationally, to such a reactionary conspiracy?

      It's only necessary to ask that question to be able to answer it by
      pointing to the undialectical, dishonest and selective character of
      Percy's narrative. (Percy ought to read and digest E.P. Thompson's
      "Making of the English Working Class", and so should Nick Fredman,
      before they write another word about labour history.)

      In nearly all of the instances that Percy cites, conflicting
      tendencies were present in the development of the Australian labour

      In passing, in reply to Nick Fredman
      it's nonsensical to apply the overused and half-developed theory of
      the labour aristocracy to the formation of the Labor Party. It's
      absurd, and obviously so, for Fredman to say, in his post, "the
      largely petty bourgeois membership of the rural Australian Workers
      Union, who were mostly attached to, or hungered after, land".

      To describe a semi-skilled union of shearers, miners and rural
      labourers as petty bourgeois, or part of a labour aristocracy, is
      sociological nonsense. They may well have been motivated by the desire
      for land, and some of them may have been small landholders who
      couldn't make a living from their holding (a situation not uncommon
      throughout the history of the working class, and common today in many
      Third World countries where industrial and peasant economies exist
      side by side), but that doesn't make them petty bourgeois, and they
      constructed their union in a series of big and militant strikes.

      It's worth noting that the difference between Australia and the US,
      where no Labor Party developed, partly lay in the fact that land was
      relatively free in the US west, which to some extent served as a
      safety valve in the US for the build-up of the sort of class pressures
      that contributed to the establishment of the Australian Labor Party.

      The other unions active in the formation of the Labor Party were
      largely "new" unions of unskilled and semi-skilled workers: the
      miners, builders labourers, rockchoppers, the Balmain labourers union,
      etc. The skilled unions were slower to join the push for a labour party.

      The retrospectively constructed labour aristocracy theory applied to
      the formation of the Labor Party is mainly instrumentalist
      sociological nonsense.

      The other, non-conspiratorial side to the history of the Labor Party,
      as it actually developed, proceeds this way: the first Labor
      governments, introduced arbitration as a legal system with the
      intention of entrenched the legal rights of trade unions at state and
      federal levels. Particularly in the years from 1905 to 1912, pretty
      well the whole of the blue collar workforce was unionised, including
      many groups of women workers and those in light industry who did not
      have much immediate industrial strength.

      When World War I was declared, it's true that Labor leader Andrew
      Fisher pledged the support of the labour movement to the war. It's
      also true, however, that most trade unions and Labor politicians, both
      federal and state, opposed conscription for overseas service.

      That opposition hardened in 1916, when the Labor Party all over
      Australia expelled pro-conscription Labor leaders and government
      figures such as federal Labor leader Billy Hughes and NSW
      parliamentary leader William Holman, and the Labor Party was the major
      social force campaigning for the defeat of conscription that took
      place in the two referendums.

      This was the only defeat of conscription in time of war anywhere,
      outside of Ireland, where conscription was defeated in a de facto way
      because the masses simply refused to sign up.

      The Labor Party took the lead in repeating the defeat of conscription
      in the second referendum, which brings me to the bizarre quiescence of
      the DSP weekly paper and website, "Green Left Weekly", in recent weeks
      in the face of an orgy of bourgeois nationalism in which the
      Australian ruling class is trying to soften up the youth for the
      impending resource wars of the 21st century by whipping up patriotic
      and militarist hysteria.

      The DSP leadership is incapable of commenting on any of this, because
      to comment in any way intelligently it would have to tell the true
      story of the conscription battle, which split the country, and split
      and radicalised the labour movement, for the next 20 years or so.
      Rather than have to discuss these questions, "Green Left" remains
      silent. (I have commented at length on Australia's wars, Gallipoli,
      etc, in several articles that are available on Ozleft,
      http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Catholics.html). I'm in a
      fair position to comment on these things because my father was a World
      War I digger who lost an arm in 1918 in France, as a result becoming a
      lifelong opponent of imperialist wars until his death at 80 in 1974.)

      Percy reduces Labor's adoption of a socialist objective as a result of
      the radicalisation of World War I to a conspiracy to deceive the
      masses. He quotes a couple of Labor politicians who tried with
      anti-revolutionary statements to soften impact of adopting the objective.

      Percy's approach is deeply contemptuous of the people who pushed for
      the socialist objective. Many of them, even some of the leaders, were
      were deeply committed to the general idea of achieving socialism.

      Percy's mechanical mindset can't comprehend the contradictions of a
      mass process in a mass workers' organisation, and even in the minds
      and hearts of individuals, over time. The adoption of the
      socialisation objective embodied the aspirations of hundreds of
      thousands of activists, including some leaders of Labor and the trade
      unions for the next 20 years.

      Unless these people automatically fit Percy's retrospective schema,
      they aren't socialists. This is a primitive, smug, ignorant view of
      the evolution of any labour movement, anywhere.

      After that, in the 1920s, came the radical policies of the government
      of Premier Jack Lang in NSW: the adoption of the 44-hour week, child
      endowment, etc, etc, in the teeth of fierce ruling class opposition.

      At the start of the Great Depression, Labor expelled right-wing
      politicians and leaders of several state governments and some federal
      politicians, and a very radical populist centrism developed behind
      Lang in NSW. At this time, mass socialisation units developed in the
      NSW Labor Party, which were deliberately sabotaged the Stalinists in
      Australian Communist Party's first phase of Third Period politics.

      At the start of the World War II, the labour movement in several
      states opposed the establishment of a national register for military
      service, and the NSW Labor Party passed the Hands Off Russia
      resolution (strongly influenced, it must be said, by Stalinists
      working in the Labor Party).

      During World War II a substantial minority of Labor politicians, in
      all states and federally, opposed conscription for overseas service.
      This opposition was led by Lang, Eddie Ward, Arthur Calwell and
      Maurice Blackburn.

      At the end of World War II a mobilisation for the 40-hour week,
      largely initiated by the Sydney Trotskyists, was rapidly taken up by
      the whole labour movement, and the federal Labor government legislated
      for the 40-hour week in 1947.

      Labor Prime Minister Chifley moved to nationalise the banks around the
      same time, and in the early 1950s a vigorous and successful campaign
      to defeat the banning of the Communist Party, firstly by a successful
      appeal to the High Court against the ban, and thereafter by defeating
      the ban proposal in a referendum, was led by Labor leader Herbert V.

      All through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, despite Labor's lack of
      electoral success federally, labour moved forward in many states as
      pressure from the unions and Labor conferences was important in
      securing improvements in wages, conditions and living standards for
      the working class. In all of this, agitation in the trade unions and
      Labor the Party was vital.

      In the 1960s came the agitation against the Vietnam War, courageously
      initiated by then Labor leader Arthur Calwell.

      In the 1970s the Whitlam Labor government introduced a number of
      reforms (and a federal Labor conference defeated the first wage-price
      freeze proposal, initiated by Clyde Cameron). I remember that clearly
      because I was a direct participant, as the one Socialist Left delegate
      from NSW, at the 40-delegate federal Labor Party conference.

      Later still came the major agitation against nuclear power by what
      turned out to be a substantial minority of the labour movement.

      When the Hawke government's Prices-Incomes Accord was adopted by the
      ACTU in 1983, after being initiated outside the Labor Party by the
      Communist Party and prominent CP metalworkers union leader Laurie
      Carmichael, the only elected union official to vote against its
      adoption was a Labor Party member, Jenny Haines, the secretary of the
      nurses' union in NSW.

      At ACTU congresses in the late 1980s, when discontent with the Accord
      began to broaden, the vocal critics of the Accord were often Labor
      Party members such as Gail Cotton of the Food Preservers Union.

      Even in the 1990s, the unions in NSW were able to block electricity
      privatisation at a Labor Party conference, and it never went ahead.

      The NSW government also, on the initiative of the ingenious then
      labour minister Jeff Shaw, succeeded in getting through the Upper
      House union-sympathetic industrial relations laws, and to a lesser
      extent this happened also in Western Australia.

      More recently, the Labor Party in the federal parliament opposed the
      Iraq war and opposed Howard's decision to send extra troops to Iraq,
      etc, etc.

      None of the things I've outlined above are part of the political
      program of the ruling class. Only the most idiosyncratic,
      instrumentalist conspiracy theory of the evolution of the labour
      movement can construct a ruling class conspiracy out of the actions
      listed above.

      Viewed in a more objective, dialectical way, when you take Percy's
      largely accurate list of betrayals and put against it my accurate
      account of progressive actions and episodes of robust centrism in the
      Labor Party and trade unions, what you get is a clear picture of a
      real, bourgeois workers' party in its historical evolution, which
      clearly remains one of the main arenas of struggle in Australian life.
      Socialists who aren't bigoted, mindless, middle-class sectarians ought
      to lend some support, and have an orientation towards, the progressive
      side of these struggles.

      I've discussed all these questions at considerable length in the past
      on Ozleft, Marxmail and the Green Left discussion list, and I suggest
      that those interested have a good look at some of those articles.

      I don't intend to write too much more about this aspect of political
      struggle in the immediate future, as I feel that I've examined just
      about every possible angle.

      Percy's narrative about the history of the Australian labour movement
      is a travesty. It's dishonest by omission and it's completely useless
      for training cadre for serious activity in the Australian workers'
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