Re: More on the WA ETU elections
- Nick Fredman does it again. More on the WA ETU elections
By Bob Gould
Nick Fredman's post this morning is an example of example of exactly
what I was talking about when I referred to smoke and mirrors. He
evinces great concern about what he says is a factual inaccuracy in
one of my posts and then uses that to make a sweeping generalisation
questioning my judgement in everything.
Well, I don't concede his point that I was factually inaccurate. The
exchanges at the Socialist Alliance conference, which he repeatedly
posts demonstrate that what's at issue is an interpretation of what
that exchange involved. In my view it involved implicitly, views on
both sides about matters such as union affiliation to the Labor Party
and the general approach to Laborism and the Laborites.
But even if his interpretation is more correct than mine, how does
that invalidate the rest of my many arguments about the ETU elections?
He implies that because, in his view, I make one factual error my
proposition should be rejected, and he's quite happy to, by
implication, accept the wisdom of Peter Boyle and presumably the rest
of the DSP leadership, as he admits he has no direct knowledge of the
events under discussion.
He does say, however, that he's very interested in the argument about
the ETU elections, and I believe that he probably is, as are no doubt
many other DSP and Socialist Alliance members and supporters, who
follow this discussion list but don't express themselves.
Peter Boyle, in his post, displays ultra-sensitivity to the
proposition that the DSP has a Zinovievist structure, internal life
and atmosphere. Well he might have such sensitivity, because the way
this discussion has proceeded seems to me is a striking demonstration
of Zinovievism in the DSP, and how, presumably, that's carried into
the Socialist Alliance.
We can agree that a decision was made somewhere in the DSP to support
a change of leadership in the WA ETU, from a leftist maverick to a
less-defined political figure who appears to have the support of the
centre-right Kevin Reynolds machine.
The DSP leadership no doubt has extensive knowledge of the issues
involved in this decision and obviously some of the members in Perth
would have some idea, but it seems highly likely that the ultimate
decision was made in the national office of the DSP because that's
how the DSP works, although there may have been some input from
members in Perth.
Zinovievism at work
Members of the DSP other than the leadership, in places other than
Perth, as Fredman says, have no information on which to make a
judgement other than their general loyalty to the wisdom of the DSP,
and members in Perth, who may know something about the decision and
its ramifications, and who knows, may even disagree, are not in a
position to say anything because of party discipline interpreted in
the Zinovievist way.
The only way such a DSP decision of an important strategic sort can
possibly be questioned once it's made is if some knowledgeable, noisy
outsider like me has a go at the DSP over it. But if that happens
party discipline and partinost are invoked to repel the impudent
outsider who questions the party line or practice. ("If you disagree,
comrade, you can take it up at some undefined time in the future in
discussion for the next congress.") That approach is hardly much help
in relation to disastrous or unprincipled day-to-day decisions in the
The DSP is not alone in this structure and atmosphere. A much worse
version of it prevailed in the old Stalinist movement, which I spent
20 or so years of my political life trying to combat.
But many organisations in the Trotskyist movement have the same
disastrous way of arriving at and defending decisions, which is one
of the factors that contributes to the fierce and often uninformed
clashes between adherents of the different groups bound by the
disciplines of their organisations on conflicting tactical matters.
How much better would be a regime if tactical decisions in Marxist
organizations could be disputed publicly, as they were in the
Bolshevik Party in Lenin's time, before the ban on factions and the
Zinovievisation of the Comintern.
In relation to the WA ETU a decision was made essentially by the DSP
leadership nationally, and as the saying goes, most of the membership
is kept in the dark and fed bullshit, and the only serious debates
take place in the leadership, and you usually only get to know about
them after some kind of split.
A further point has to be made about the implications for the
Socialist Alliance and the DSP's allies in the Alliance. By reason of
the weight of the DSP's weight in the Alliance, actions such as this
by the DSP are interpreted in the wider world as actions of the
Yet the dominating presence of the DSP in the Alliance, with its
Zinovievist internal structure, precludes any of its Alliance allies
from having any internal input into the decisions. The DSP members
don't have much input, and other Alliance affiliates and members have
none, but politically speaking they're saddled with the results.
In his earlier major post, Boyle appears to back away a little,
admits that the Chris Latham article last week was a bit misleading,
and indicates that the editor of Green Left Weekly had indicated that
may be corrected. They'll print an article from Game, big deal, and
he can write an article if he wants to. As I said in my previous
post, that's totally cynical.
The Green Left Weekly in which Game's article might appear is printed
next Monday or Tuesday, when the ballot starts being counted. GLW has
ambushed Game and insulted him by offering him an article well and
truly after the event.
When you examine this week's GLW there's no article about the ETU
elections, in which the effective misinformation in Latham's article
could be corrected, and ever so graciously GLW has published a letter
by Game, in which he has to attempt to defend himself within the very
limited constraints of the GLW letters column. I regard all that as
pretty insulting to Game, the members of the DSP and Socialist
Alliance, and the broader left public.
Meanwhile the GLW discussion list drags on, we have elaborate and
arcane discussions about matters such as the vital question of
antiwar slogans in the US, and there's absolutely no serious
continuance of the discussion on the WA ETU elections as the clock
ticks towards the counting of the ballot next Monday.
Boyle's crude assertion that the DSP leadership will be proved wrong
if the other bunch ousts Game and then shifts to the right is pretty
revealing. He's obviously staking a lot on the DSP leadership's
belief that Game will be defeated in this election. The DSP's whole
disreputable manoeuvre in this election seems to be predicated on
that hope, and they now hope they can pass off this manoeuvre as some
kind of wisdom because they've attached themselves to a successful
Unfortunately for Boyle and the DSP leaders, there are several other
Game may still win, he may win in a very close result or he may lose
in a very close result. If the result is close, either way, that very
fact will subject the DSP's electoral manoeuvre to very careful
The difference between the DSP leadership and myself on this question
doesn't just hinge on who wins or loses. It hinges on the social and
political forces brought into play by Game's victory or defeat in
Boyle reduces it to an abstract decision, almost as if it was based
on the toss of a coin, and says we might have been right or wrong,
we'll find out later. That's a poisonous practice and outlook for an
ostensible Marxist leadership in the workers' movement.
I've gone to considerable lengths to describe the general social
forces at work, which should have bearing on the decision one makes
on who to support in that election, and I've made a case which, the
further one proceeds, only seems to appear more convincing. (I'm
aware, of course, that one tends to convince oneself by one's own
eloquence, and I expect readers will allow for that.)
Boyle and the DSP leadership haven't done anything like that. They
haven't seriously put their decision in any context, and haven't
explained it to anyone in a comprehensive way, and they still refuse
to respond and discuss the question in any depth.
They seem to be precluded from engaging in that kind of discussion by
their own internal arrangements, which is a practical indictment of
In the course of this discussion, one of the DSP's leaders, Paul
Benedek, in an aside, casually declares political war, so to speak,
on what he describes as "the rotten leadership of Andrew Ferguson" in
the CFMEU. That also sets off major alarm bells for me, but I'll
address that in due course in another post.
I return to my five critical, unanswered questions from my second
post and I'd like some attempt at an answer by Boyle, the DSP
leadership or anyone else in the DSP, for that matter, if possible
before the ballot is counted next Monday.
Question 1: Was it at any stage possible to avert a bitter electoral
conflict in the ETU between two personalities you say are both left-
wingers and their two small industrial machines? Did you make any
effort to mediate the conflict? (Obviously in this situation, such
mediation would more or less necessarily have had to involve
accepting that Game, the senior bloke so publicly identified with
leftism in Perth, would continue as General Secretary.)
Question 2: Did you ever consider going with the Game camp?
Question 3. Did you ever consider remaining neutral in the ETU
Question 4: What were the general social and political criteria, in
and outside the ETU, that brought you to the conclusion that Les
McLaughlan's leadership of the ETU would be better for the socialist
and labour movement?
Question 5: What is the character of the election propaganda on both
sides? The printed propaganda used by competing factions in union
ballots is usually pretty revealing about the two groups of
candidates. Would you be prepared to put up on the Green Left
website, for careful consideration, the printed material of both
sides, including the "shit sheets" that are circulating, attacking
Bill Game. I'm getting them from WA, but you may already have them.
Why not put them up on the Green Left website to strengthen your
case? Also, would you be willing to try to acquire, for publication
on the web, the script being used by the people phoning every member
of the ETU attacking the Bill Game team? The character of that script
would be of some interest, obviously.
- Bob Gould wrote:
> Peter Boyle, in his post, displays ultra-sensitivity to theSome points:
> proposition that the DSP has a Zinovievist structure, internal life
> and atmosphere. Well he might have such sensitivity, because the way
> this discussion has proceeded seems to me is a striking
> demonstration of Zinovievism in the DSP, and how, presumably, that's
> carried into the Socialist Alliance.
(a) For anyone doesn't know what "Zinovievism" is - Bob is referring
to an analysis of how left grouplets function developed by US Marxist
Louis Proyect. Stuff on it can be found on Proyect's website:
For my money, Proyect has overgeneralised the experience of his former
group the US Socialist Workers Party.
(b) Bob places an emphasis on this stuff because it is in his
interests to portray the DSP as an undemocratic sect.
(c) Peter Boyle is "ultra-sensitive" about it for a couple of reasons
other than the obvious ones. The most interesting of these reasons is
that he is carefully explaining _to DSP members_ that that is NOT how
the DSP should work. That is, he is engaged in a political struggle
AGAINST "Zinovievism" within the DSP. Peter is, of course, speaking on
behalf of the DSP leadership in this.
That is, the DSP leadership are consciously acting to ensure that the
DSP does not behave in the manner that Bob alleges.
One of the key aspects of this is to encourage DSP members not to be
afraid to speak up about differences of opinion, and to guarantee that
no repercussions will follow if they do. Of course, there are
questions of reponsibility involved - unjustified slams aren't
encouraged - but of course serious differences can, and should, be
The question of whether that should be done in a public or internal
forum can't be resolved mechanically. It needs to be considered in
every specific situation in a political manner, since it is a
political question. That is, the choice is a political act.
> The DSP leadership no doubt has extensive knowledge of the issues"Some input". Right.
> involved in this decision and obviously some of the members in Perth
> would have some idea, but it seems highly likely that the ultimate
> decision was made in the national office of the DSP because that's
> how the DSP works, although there may have been some input from
> members in Perth.
> Zinovievism at workHow exactly is _anyone_ outside Perth supposed to have enough
> Members of the DSP other than the leadership, in places other than
> Perth, as Fredman says, have no information on which to make a
> judgement other than their general loyalty to the wisdom of the DSP,
> and members in Perth, who may know something about the decision and
> its ramifications, and who knows, may even disagree, are not in a
> position to say anything because of party discipline interpreted in
> the Zinovievist way.
information to second guess the people on the ground? At best, what
they know is what someone from Perth told them.
As for people from Perth with different opinions, well, nobody is
stopping them from expressing it here. Of course, it is entirely
possible that the DSP's position is, in fact, the opinion of the DSP
members in Perth.
> A further point has to be made about the implications for theBob "has to" make this point because Bob wants to score points against
> Socialist Alliance and the DSP's allies in the Alliance...
the Alliance by convincing the non-DSP members that the DSP is messing
them around, by convincing them that the DSP is an undemocratic,
> Boyle reduces it to an abstract decision, almost as if it was basedHeaven forbid that "an ostensible Marxist leadership in the workers'
> on the toss of a coin, and says we might have been right or wrong,
> we'll find out later. That's a poisonous practice and outlook for an
> ostensible Marxist leadership in the workers' movement.
movement" should make a political decision, put it into practice, and
see if it was correct. Where's the omniscience in that? Everyone knows
that the Marxist program has all the correct answers ahead of time. If
you know it all, there is no excuse for making a mistake, is there?
- Alan Bradley made 2 very pertinent points, that I'll comment on, that
sums up what's wrong with Bob Gould's demagogic thunderings on this
issue and his ill-informed speculations on the nature of the DSP and
the Socialist Alliance in general.
>The question of whether that should be done in a public or internal
>forum can't be resolved mechanically. It needs to be considered in
>every specific situation in a political manner, since it is a
>political question. That is, the choice is a political act.
>How exactly is _anyone_ outside Perth supposed to have enoughPublic and private
>information to second guess the people on the ground? At best, what
>they know is what someone from Perth told them.
What may some as a shock to Bob Gould is the proposition that a
socialist group can make a decision that is both correct and
democratically arrived at, even if he is not consulted. It could be
argued that a group should be able to defend and explain all its
positions, and having all debates publicly facilitates this, but
surely another principle is that it's up to the group to make its
decisions, and to work out the processes whereby it makes them. Ie as
Alan said it's a question of political context and public isn't in
all cases better. For fairly obvious reasons the discussion in SA is
more public than in its affliates, and it would be more relevant for
a large socialist organisation to be more public than a small one.
But eg the Greens have a members-only discussion page on their
website, so they don't think all discussion should be public. I never
see any public broadcasting of debates within the Greens' national
leadership or branches (I'll stand corrected if wrong). In a recent
dispute at the university where I work, it was so obvious as to not
being open to discussion that meetings of the NTEU branch executive
would be secret, as we would need frank discussions of how to respond
both to management and the nefarious role played by the CPSU.
Non-members are also not welcome at NTEU branch meetings. Also in
this dispute, the union's national office completely took over the
running of the campaign, including changing the nature of a meeting
that the local leadership had decided upon, for reasons that where
entirely appropriate and pragmatic in a fast-moving situation, which
brings me to the second point ...
Local and general
The way the DSP works is not so complicated, unusual, secretive, or
particularly controversial - it's only portrayed so by those with
sectarian axes to grind. Like any sensible political or "movement"
organisation it decides *general* policy and orientation in a
democratically centralised way (delegated congresses and elected
leaderships), which are implemented with due regard to local
conditions by branches and districts. Of course the way the DSP
operates has like any organisation a particular political basis and a
particular history, and could undoubtably be improved in a number of
areas, one reason that building a common organisation with a range of
other socialists is a good idea. In any case it's why I don't feel
"qualified" to comment on Perth events as I obviously not involved in
the minutinae of analysing and implemented the tactics there. It's
completely ludicrous to expect every local decision to be canvassed
and discussed nationally before decisions are made, though having a
national leadership would be a bit pointless unless unless it kept
track of and commented on where necessary local work. I would expect
though as is the norm to receive reports via the various DSP media
(and often other sources) of what is happening in various locales and
sectors, including any controversies therein, and I would form an
opinion on what's happening to the extent that's useful and relevant
(eg something controversial or something I'm involved in or
knowledgable of would be more relevant to have an opinion and/or
comment on than some routine work).
Student Rights Advocate
Southern Cross University (Lismore)
Student Representative Council
Shop 9 Plaza, SCU Lismore
Ph: 6620 3044
- There is an amazing amount of accusations and counter accusations on this list about people being sectarians.
In the vast majority, if not the complete, number of cases I haven't seen much that is evidence of that sectarianism. What I do see is arguments against particular groups or individuals which are robust, even strong, in their approach, in their use of language. People might not like this but it just ain't sectarian.
If you want to be sectarian elevate your organisation above the interests of the class. If you want to accuse somebody else of being sectarian point out how their arguments put their organisation or themselves as above the interests of the class.
The recent events in Sydney splitting the WAW was where we actually saw real sectarianism. The CPA and fellow travellers raised their organisations, their ideologies, over and against the objective interests of the working class. That comrades is sectarian. The rest is name calling.
Strangely, but not surprisingly, we can see this misuse of the term in Pip Hinman's report on the WAW meeting where it says ("This inevitably means debates and it has to have the courage to have the arguments out in a non-sectarian manner", I argued.) No Pip feel free to call them a bunch of sectarian parasites that's not being sectarian and its actually the truth.
Calling somebody a "dipstick" is not being sectarian. It may upset the named dipstick but it just ain't sectarian.
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