Re: A critical reading of Resistance by John Percy
- By Bob Gould
Sol Salbe's critique of John Percy's book has some value, as far as it
goes. He details a number of obvious errors.
Nevertheless, Sol acts as a kind of attorney for John Percy. He says
that Percy's errors and omissions are mistakes, and he implies that
his old friend, Bob Gould, who he helped to hunt out of the old
Resistance, is a trifle paranoid in not accepting that Percy's
mis-statements are simple mistakes.
As I said in the first piece I wrote about Percy's book, it's rather
fascinating to be the Goldstein figure in a book like Percy's, with
about 80 mentions, 70 of them derogatory.
Apparently I'm mildly paranoid because I draw attention to this.
Come off it, Sol. Percy's book is an expanded version of the lectures
he has been giving for 20 years, so he has had plenty of time to
correct the errors of fact if he was a serious historian.
If Sol has been following carefully the numerous articles that I've
written on various aspects of Percy's book, it was only in the first
one that I dealt at length with Percy's slanders of me.
Towards the end of my assessment of the book, after another few
articles, in a month or two, I'll deal with further slanders of myself
in greater detail.
What I've mainly written about so far is Percy's rewriting of the
history of the labour movement and his false and inaccurate treatment
of the activities of a number of people other than myself.
The old Australian Trotskyists at whose feet I served my political
apprenticeship, who as John Percy is fond of saying were a small and
beleagured group, approached politics from the point of view of the
necessities of the class struggle and the crisis of leadership in the
labour movement and the working class.
They regarded organisational arrangements as flowing out of the
objective needs of the class struggle, which was one of the reasons
they chose to pursue the entry tactic.
From the moment when John and Jim Percy had their lightning bolt from
New York about the critical importance of the Cannonist form of
organisation, a lightning bolt which I precipitated by suggesting that
they read Cannon (not anticipating the bizarre consequences that would
ensue), the Percy current has proceeded from the interests of its
sect-like organisation, rather than the needs dictated by the ebb and
flow of the class struggle and the crisis of leadership in the labour
movement and the working class.
Percy's book is shot through with this obsession with organisation and
with building his sect as a thing in itself. By assembling it all in a
book, Percy has opened the way to a sustained and careful critique,
which is what I'm engaged in and will continue until I'm finished,
which will take some little time.
One striking thing about Percy's book is his cavalier attitude to
detail, which Sol focuses on. In this Percy's book is very like Denis
Freney's autobiography, A Map of Days, which is also very cavalier
In passing, Sol, you should really try to work out which strategic
approach to the labour movement is the more useful and correct: the
strategic united front approach that I advocate, or the Joshua
strategy of the DSP leadership.
This is an objective question of considerable importance to the
activities of socialists in the labour movement at this time, and a
bob each way isn't much use in current conditions.
Re: [GreenLeft_discussion] A critical reading of ResistancI've got a comment on a "trivial" (but interesting) error and a couple of more directly political points on Sol's post. Sol's meticulousness suggests he should have been an editor of this book, or should a book editor full stop. Re the error about his immortalisation in Australian rock history:
Page 184 I have never heard "the boy who lost his jocks at Flinders Street Station" so I cannot verify the facts personally but both friends and Internet give the band as the Painters and Dockers. My own recollection is that I always interspersed the words "socialist newspaper" between the name and the price. However, without listening to it I cannot verify it.My recollection of my long-lost vinyl copy of the Dockers 'Love Planet' LP (I think I've still got the late 80s classics 'Kiss My Art' and 'Touch One, Touch All'), is Sol just declaring "Direct Action, 20 cents". You can partly blame me for this error, as I picked it up in the draft John put in the DSP internal bulletin, then immediately forget to tell him about it. Sol and others may be interested in what I previously sent to the list about this:Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2005 10:27:16 +1000Subject: [GreenLeft_discussion] Trivia re John Percy's History of the DSP... The song 'The Boy Who Lost His Jocks at Flinders Street Station', featuring Sol Salby
shouting "Direct Action, 20 cents", is not by Weddings, Parties
Anything (p. 184), but Painters and Dockers (from the LP Love Planet,
1984). Maybe an understandable mistake, as both bands were from
Melbourne, both were around in the 80s and early 90s, and both were
generally leftist. The Dockers' style was post-punk rock with a killer
brass section, and apart from their provocative name (the P and D's
being very much a vilified union in Melbourne like the BLF) they
combined political songs with absurdist humour and a wild stage show -
their two hits in the late 80s were 'Die Yuppie Die' and 'Nude School',
and their most political record was 'Touch One Touch All' (1989).
Singer Paul Stewart was the brother of Tony Stewart, the youngest of
the five Australian-based journalist killed at Balibo, East Timor by
Indonesian forces in 1975, so understandably they were keen supporters
of East Timor solidarity. Another classic of theirs, 'You're Going Home
in the Back of a Divvy Van', appeared on a benefit compilation for East
Timor a few years ago. It's curious how a recording of Sol's sales
technique ended up on this song, the members of the Dockers must have
been quite young in 1973. Together with the song it fits their sympathyfor the left and their absurdism.Other comments:
These days I have some political differences but they are not of a factional nature, if anything GLW supporters have backed me on the two-states issue against some other members of the Socialist Alliance.I presume Sol is aware that the DSP still has a position that a democratic secular state in all of historic Palestine is the solution to the national question in Israel/Palestine, but is also interested in a real debate about this in GLW, like that a couple of years ago between Sol and Nikolai Haddad (who I think is in SA but is anyway politically close to Palestinian-Australian activist Rihad Charida who definately is).
Uncommon as it may sound I drifted gradually away from the then SWP never needing major political differences or a personal conflict with any of the other participants.Actually in my experience this is very common. Occasional ex-DSPers who leave in this way post-facto develop some substantial differences and even embittered hostility. Some seem to use this list as part of their therapy. Many other ex-DSPers who remain politically active, including those with substantial past and/or present difference, are like Sol much more measured. There's 3 such people in our little Socialist Alliance branch alone. Nikolai Haddad would be another one.
Most people in this country actually would have noted that the ALP has evolved. Its links with the unions have been gradually been severed. Its policies are hardily distinguished from the Liberals. Again, this wasn't the case 30 years ago.There's a common view among leftists that there's been a *linear* decline in ALP socialism, leftism and/or working class orientation from 1891 to today, or from Whitlam to today, and Sol seems to be falling into this particular simplification. Of course it's much more up and down, with the socialist forces largely defeated in the early history of the ALP, then strengthened after the Russian revolution, the effects of the 50s split, the Whitlam victory, smashing of the left by Hawke etc etc. I don't think the DSP's view of the ALP as a liberal bourgeois party precludes this concrete analysis (which I think is there is summary form in John's book), just as it's vital for US socialists to have a concrete analysis of how the liberal bourgeois Democratic Party (and the relation to the unions) has changed over the decades, notwithstanding the significant differences between the 2 parties.