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Re: Green Left Weekly, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance

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  • ozleft
    Virginia Brown s response to my recent posts about Green Left Weekly By Bob Gould I note the relatively civil tone of Virginia Brown s response to my recent
    Message 1 of 3 , Feb 16, 2004
    • 0 Attachment
      Virginia Brown's response to my recent posts about Green Left
      Weekly

      By Bob Gould

      I note the relatively civil tone of Virginia Brown's response to my
      recent post and I'm grateful for it. We seem to be settling down to a
      reasonably rational style of discussion despite our sharp political
      difference.

      Virginia's careful tone is important because she's clearly one of the
      senior editorial staff of Green Left Weekly.

      In response, first of all, I don't say that GLW should be uncritical
      of the ALP leadership, far from it. Personally, I've been critical of
      various aspects of the activities of ALP leaderships all my political
      life.

      Recently, I've been particularly noisy in opposition to Labor's
      refugee policy. Criticism of ALP leaderships is normal, and par for
      the course for socialists, as long as the criticism is accurate and
      balanced.

      What I do say, is that in the run-up to the federal elections GLW's
      coverage is defective in the respect that it profoundly
      underestimates the considerable groundswell building up on the left
      side of Australian society for the removal of the reactionary Howard
      Government and its replacement by a Labor-Green majority and a Labor
      government led by Mark Latham.

      The sectarian attitude of GLW and the DSP leadership towards this
      phenomenon is aptly expressed in Peter Boyle's inane headline
      yesterday to his posting of the recent Morgan Gallup poll, which
      suggests a 56.5 per cent preferred vote to Labor.

      Peter headed that post "false consciousness". Does he suggest that
      non-false consciousness will only be achieved when the Morgan poll
      shows 56.5 per cent for the Socialist Alliance? If that's the case,
      he'll be waiting quite a while.

      In current conditions, a 56.5 per cent preferred vote for Labor with
      a large vote for the Greens would be a considerable leap in
      consciousness, but that seems to escape Peter Boyle.

      In the coming elections, socialists have three choices. A very large
      number of socialists of one sort or another will work for the ALP
      because their presence in the ALP involves a compact to work for
      selected and endorsed Labor candidates. A number of other socialists
      will work for the Greens, and a much smaller number of socialists
      will work for the Socialist Alliance.

      I have no quarrel with any of these three tactical positions,
      although as someone who has invested a lot of my life in activities
      in and around the Labor Party for socialist agitational reasons, I am
      bound, like other socialists in the ALP, to work for ALP candidates,
      and I will. I have no quarrel with anyone who takes either of the
      other two positions. What I do say is that the central strategic
      orientation of all three groups of socialists should be to kick the
      Howard Liberals out, and a strict exchange of preferences between
      Labor, the Green and the Socialist Alliance directed at the end of
      removing the Howard Government.

      That does not involve any abdication of criticism of the ALP
      leadership, but it does involve framing such criticism in the context
      of an understanding of the deep desire of the left-leaning 56.5 per
      cent of society, if you believe the Morgan poll, to remove the
      Liberals.

      That dimension of mass politics seems to be lost on GLW and the DSP
      leadership in their unremitting exposure tactics towards Laborism,
      root and branch, and their more tentative exposure rhetoric towards
      the Greens.

      My criticism of the GLW coverage of the industrial relations
      victories at the ALP federal conference was not that there was
      necessary criticism of the limitation of those policies, but that:

      1. GLW didn't seem to notice the industrial relations decisions in
      its first issue after the conference. That issue of GLW presented the
      ALP federal conference as an undifferentiated defeat for the left,
      which it wasn't.

      2. When I brought this defect forcefully to GLW's attention, the
      response was a carefully edited "interview" with Michelle O'Neil and
      Martin Kingham, which drew the conclusion that they were wasting
      their time in the ALP (despite the fact that the content of their
      activity at the conference demonstrated the opposite).

      Virginia develops a thesis that if there were any progressive
      decisions on industrial relations at the ALP conference they mainly
      were a product of mass struggle outside the ALP-trade union continuum.

      This proposition is metaphysical left rhetoric. Industrially, in
      society, the trade unions are still in an extremely defensive
      situation. Lenin and Trotsky used to stress that in politics it's
      extremely important to be able to tell the difference between ebb and
      flow. Anyone who says there's a big flow of industrial militancy in
      the unions right now is having themselves on.

      The situation is still overwhelmingly defensive. In this context any
      industrial victories that take place that dent Howard-Reith-Abbott
      assault on trade unions are very important. An example is the recent
      victory against compulsory individual contracts and some improvements
      in wages and conditions, achieved in recent bargaining by the NTEU.

      It's delusional to ascribe the victories on industrial relations at
      the ALP federal conference mainly to mass struggle of workers in
      industry, however. The fact that militants such as Michelle O'Neil
      and Martin Kingham were able to rustle up sufficient support within
      the ALP-trade union continuum to get these improvements unanimously
      through an ALP federal conference, despite some of them being
      rejected at the ACTU conference, is a classic example of the
      subjective factor of individual agitation and activity being
      extremely important.

      Obviously, lobbying by these militant union leaders, which persuaded
      even their most conservative union colleagues, involved intelligent
      use of the proposition that without a dramatic reversal of industrial
      relations structures in the direction of the more pro-trade-union
      arrangements of the past, the whole existence of trade unionism is in
      question.

      This included a fairly frank appeal to the self-interest of the trade
      union bureaucracy in the preservation and development of the trade
      union organisations, out of which they make their living, combined
      with a principled appeal to the traditional ideology of trade
      unionism. In the event this was successful, and what's wrong with
      that approach: a defensive approach in the current absence big mass
      industrial struggles?

      Virginia Brown may have noticed today that the employers are
      beginning to wake up to the dangers to their interests inherent in
      the ALP conference decisions. Of course, the trade union movement
      will have to agitate hard for a Labor government to carry out these
      decisions. This, naturally, first requires the election of a Labor
      government.

      These are all big and serious questions, and I suggest to Virginia,
      as a responsible member of the GLW editorial board, that the GLW
      editorial board consider my proposal for a four-page discussion
      supplement in GLW on various questions. This discussion should
      involve people who are active in the three sectors of the progressive
      side of Australian society.

      Firstly, people who are active in the ALP and the trade unions,
      secondly people who are active in the Greens and thirdly people who
      are active in far left groups, about half of whom are members of the
      Socialist Alliance.

      I would add to the six topics I have already suggested, the following
      three:

      1. A frank discussion, pro and con, of the recent victorious
      industrial struggle of the NTEU. That there was a victory at all has,
      rather to my surprise, been called into question by some Socialist
      Alliance comrades in the discussion of Michael Thomson's recent
      resignation from the Socialist Alliance, which is available on Ozleft.

      2. A second topic might be a frank discussion between the ALP and the
      Socialist Alliance. Why not get important figures who've led recent
      struggles in the ALP, such as ALP president Carmen Lawrence, Harry
      Quick (MHRs); Hugh Williams from the Queensland Transport Workers
      Union; Matt Collins, the convener of Labor for Refugees in
      Queensland; Nick Martin, the convener of Labor for Refugees in the
      ACT; Michelle O'Neil and Martin Kingham; Meredith Burgmann MLC and
      Tanya Plibersek HHR to explain why they continue to be active in the
      ALP from a socialist point of view. Why not counterpose their views
      to those of people who explain why they wish to be active in the
      Socialist Alliance, and put it in the form of some form of dialogue
      and interchange between the two points of view.

      3. Why not have a similar four-page spread of interchange between
      people who choose to be active in the Greens and socialists who
      choose to be active in the Socialist Alliance, again with some sort
      of emphasis on interchange.

      Wouldn't this kind of frank discussion between socialists of
      different orientations be preferable to the unremitting exposure
      rhetoric that has been the only point of view to come through
      consistently in GLW? I hope the GLW editorial board will consider my
      proposals in the civilised socialist spirit in which I point them
      forward.
    • Virginia Brown
      A couple of points in response to Bob Gould s post: In response to Bob s claims on the IR decisions at the ALP conference and GLW coverage thereof, 1. GLW
      Message 2 of 3 , Feb 21, 2004
      • 0 Attachment

        A couple of points in response to Bob Gould's post:

         

        In response to Bob's claims on the IR decisions at the ALP conference and GLW coverage thereof,

         

        1. GLW didn't seem to notice the industrial relations decisions in its first issue after the conference. That issue of GLW presented the ALP federal conference as an undifferentiated defeat for the left, which it wasn't.

         

        2. When I brought this defect forcefully to GLW's attention, the response was a carefully edited "interview" with Michelle O'Neil and

        Martin Kingham, which drew the conclusion that they were wasting their time in the ALP (despite the fact that the content of their

        activity at the conference demonstrated the opposite).

         

        Be reasonable, Bob.  The interview came out less than two weeks after the conference.  In a perfect world, with unlimited people available to do write articles, trade unionists with unlimited time to spare to do interviews, and money galore to produce Green Lefts as big as we'd like them, we might be able to get these things out immediately all the time, plus fit in all your suggestions for other contributions.  But we don't yet have that perfect world, so you might like to give the Green Left staff (of whom I'm not one, though thanks for the compliment) credit for the great work that they do without suggesting that it happened because of you.

         

        In response to one of your other points,

        Virginia develops a thesis that if there were any progressive decisions on industrial relations at the ALP conference they mainly

        were a product of mass struggle outside the ALP-trade union continuum.

         

        This proposition is metaphysical left rhetoric. Industrially, in society, the trade unions are still in an extremely defensive

        situation. Lenin and Trotsky used to stress that in politics it's extremely important to be able to tell the difference between ebb and

        flow. Anyone who says there's a big flow of industrial militancy in the unions right now is having themselves on.

         

        you're being rather inventive.  I didn't once use the word "mass".  (But I seem to recollect some complaints on this list recently about "verballing"...?)  My point was not that there's been a mass upsurge in industrial struggles, rather that if there hadn't been the level of struggle that has existed over the last few years (low-level but with pockets of militancy), there would have been little chance of getting up the positive policy results that occurred at the conference.  The ALP is aware of considerable discontent amongst trade unionists, inside and outside of the party, over its performance on IR issues - particularly its all-too frequent habit of siding with the bosses.  So even although there hasn't been a mass upsurge of union militancy, the pockets that exist are enough to scare the ALP into at least formally adopting some positive policies.  But it will also be this union militancy (or the fear thereof) that would be responsible for getting substantial amounts of this policy adhered to by an ALP government.  But do bear in mind that the formulation "the ALP-trade union continuum" is yours, not mine.  What I said was that many of these militant unionists are in fact in the ALP, but that their militancy doesn't necessarily owe a lot to the ALP.  So yes, displaying eloquence and grit on the conference floor, and lobbying behind the scenes were undoubtedly important, but shouldn't be seen as the main reason for the decisions made.  [Ironically, this undeniably-useful eloquence is of course often the consequence of unionists honing these skills in industrial and other progressive campaigns, very often in conflict with the positions and actions of the Labor Party!]  Surely, for a socialist, there is no point in glossing over this. 

         

        Re Bob Gould and elections

         

        Re Gould's criticism of Peter Boyle's "False Consciousness" headline, Peter's heading could only be inaccurate if the 56.5 % preferred vote to Labor is reflective of all those people (ie not just socialists) preferring Labor tactically, because they see it as a stepping-stone to engaging with other workers in order to win them to socialist politics! Is Bob suggesting that?  No?  Well, surely, if you are proceeding from a socialist perspective, it does indicate "false consciousness", then.  But false consciousness of a more progressive sort than a majority preferred vote to the Coalition would be!

         

        I won't go on about this topic because Peter has already addressed it very well.  But as I said before, I think that concentrating on kicking out the Liberals or Coalition (it's interesting that some leftists seem to forget that there is a Coalition government, with the Nationals as partners) is a mistaken approach.  If people are moving leftward, they're likely to be particularly receptive to more progressive politics, so just concentrating on criticising the Coalition, and ignoring the opportunity to put forward real solutions, is letting opportunities go to waste.  Ironically, by doing that, you'd end up with the left in a weaker position, because people would be more likely to think that all their problems would have been solved at the ballot box.  Whereas as we know, we need people to be organised and confident of their own collective political power in order for any government that gets elected to do much that is progressive.  And there really is no reason to believe that being honest about Labor is going to persuade significant numbers of people to preference the Coalition ahead of it. 

         

        in solidarity,

        Virginia

         

         

        From:  "ozleft" <ozleft@y...>

        Date:  Tue Feb 17, 2004  2:15 pm

        Subject:  Re: Green Left Weekly, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance

         

        Virginia Brown's response to my recent posts about Green Left Weekly

         

        By Bob Gould

         

        I note the relatively civil tone of Virginia Brown's response to my

        recent post and I'm grateful for it. We seem to be settling down to a reasonably rational style of discussion despite our sharp political difference.

         

        Virginia's careful tone is important because she's clearly one of the senior editorial staff of Green Left Weekly.

         

        In response, first of all, I don't say that GLW should be uncritical

        of the ALP leadership, far from it. Personally, I've been critical of various aspects of the activities of ALP leaderships all my political life.

         

        Recently, I've been particularly noisy in opposition to Labor's

        refugee policy. Criticism of ALP leaderships is normal, and par for the course for socialists, as long as the criticism is accurate and balanced.

         

        What I do say, is that in the run-up to the federal elections GLW's

        coverage is defective in the respect that it profoundly underestimates the considerable groundswell building up on the left side of Australian society for the removal of the reactionary Howard Government and its replacement by a Labor-Green majority and a Labor government led by Mark Latham.

         

        The sectarian attitude of GLW and the DSP leadership towards this phenomenon is aptly expressed in Peter Boyle's inane headline yesterday to his posting of the recent Morgan Gallup poll, which suggests a 56.5 per cent preferred vote to Labor.

         

        Peter headed that post "false consciousness". Does he suggest that non-false consciousness will only be achieved when the Morgan poll shows 56.5 per cent for the Socialist Alliance? If that's the case, he'll be waiting quite a while.

         

        In current conditions, a 56.5 per cent preferred vote for Labor with a large vote for the Greens would be a considerable leap in

        consciousness, but that seems to escape Peter Boyle.

         

        In the coming elections, socialists have three choices. A very large number of socialists of one sort or another will work for the ALP because their presence in the ALP involves a compact to work for selected and endorsed Labor candidates. A number of other socialists will work for the Greens, and a much smaller number of socialists will work for the Socialist Alliance.

         

        I have no quarrel with any of these three tactical positions,

        although as someone who has invested a lot of my life in activities in and around the Labor Party for socialist agitational reasons, I am bound, like other socialists in the ALP, to work for ALP candidates, and I will. I have no quarrel with anyone who takes either of the other two positions. What I do say is that the central strategic orientation of all three groups of socialists should be to kick the Howard Liberals out, and a strict exchange of preferences between Labor, the Green and the Socialist Alliance directed at the end of removing the Howard Government.

         

        That does not involve any abdication of criticism of the ALP

        leadership, but it does involve framing such criticism in the context of an understanding of the deep desire of the left-leaning 56.5 per cent of society, if you believe the Morgan poll, to remove the Liberals.

         

        That dimension of mass politics seems to be lost on GLW and the DSP leadership in their unremitting exposure tactics towards Laborism, root and branch, and their more tentative exposure rhetoric towards the Greens.

         

        My criticism of the GLW coverage of the industrial relations

        victories at the ALP federal conference was not that there was

        necessary criticism of the limitation of those policies, but that:

         

        1. GLW didn't seem to notice the industrial relations decisions in

        its first issue after the conference. That issue of GLW presented the ALP federal conference as an undifferentiated defeat for the left, which it wasn't.

         

        2. When I brought this defect forcefully to GLW's attention, the

        response was a carefully edited "interview" with Michelle O'Neil and Martin Kingham, which drew the conclusion that they were wasting their time in the ALP (despite the fact that the content of their activity at the conference demonstrated the opposite).

         

        Virginia develops a thesis that if there were any progressive

        decisions on industrial relations at the ALP conference they mainly were a product of mass struggle outside the ALP-trade union continuum.

         

        This proposition is metaphysical left rhetoric. Industrially, in

        society, the trade unions are still in an extremely defensive

        situation. Lenin and Trotsky used to stress that in politics it's

        extremely important to be able to tell the difference between ebb and flow. Anyone who says there's a big flow of industrial militancy in the unions right now is having themselves on.

         

        The situation is still overwhelmingly defensive. In this context any

        industrial victories that take place that dent Howard-Reith-Abbott

        assault on trade unions are very important. An example is the recent

        victory against compulsory individual contracts and some improvements

        in wages and conditions, achieved in recent bargaining by the NTEU.

         

        It's delusional to ascribe the victories on industrial relations at

        the ALP federal conference mainly to mass struggle of workers in

        industry, however. The fact that militants such as Michelle O'Neil

        and Martin Kingham were able to rustle up sufficient support within

        the ALP-trade union continuum to get these improvements unanimously

        through an ALP federal conference, despite some of them being

        rejected at the ACTU conference, is a classic example of the

        subjective factor of individual agitation and activity being

        extremely important.

         

        Obviously, lobbying by these militant union leaders, which persuaded

        even their most conservative union colleagues, involved intelligent

        use of the proposition that without a dramatic reversal of industrial

        relations structures in the direction of the more pro-trade-union

        arrangements of the past, the whole existence of trade unionism is in

        question.

         

        This included a fairly frank appeal to the self-interest of the trade

        union bureaucracy in the preservation and development of the trade

        union organisations, out of which they make their living, combined

        with a principled appeal to the traditional ideology of trade

        unionism. In the event this was successful, and what's wrong with

        that approach: a defensive approach in the current absence big mass

        industrial struggles?

         

        Virginia Brown may have noticed today that the employers are

        beginning to wake up to the dangers to their interests inherent in

        the ALP conference decisions. Of course, the trade union movement

        will have to agitate hard for a Labor government to carry out these

        decisions. This, naturally, first requires the election of a Labor

        government.

         

        These are all big and serious questions, and I suggest to Virginia,

        as a responsible member of the GLW editorial board, that the GLW

        editorial board consider my proposal for a four-page discussion

        supplement in GLW on various questions. This discussion should

        involve people who are active in the three sectors of the progressive

        side of Australian society.

         

        Firstly, people who are active in the ALP and the trade unions,

        secondly people who are active in the Greens and thirdly people who

        are active in far left groups, about half of whom are members of the

        Socialist Alliance.

         

        I would add to the six topics I have already suggested, the following

        three:

         

        1. A frank discussion, pro and con, of the recent victorious

        industrial struggle of the NTEU. That there was a victory at all has,

        rather to my surprise, been called into question by some Socialist

        Alliance comrades in the discussion of Michael Thomson's recent

        resignation from the Socialist Alliance, which is available on Ozleft.

         

        2. A second topic might be a frank discussion between the ALP and the

        Socialist Alliance. Why not get important figures who've led recent

        struggles in the ALP, such as ALP president Carmen Lawrence, Harry

        Quick (MHRs); Hugh Williams from the Queensland Transport Workers

        Union; Matt Collins, the convener of Labor for Refugees in

        Queensland; Nick Martin, the convener of Labor for Refugees in the

        ACT; Michelle O'Neil and Martin Kingham; Meredith Burgmann MLC and

        Tanya Plibersek HHR to explain why they continue to be active in the

        ALP from a socialist point of view. Why not counterpose their views

        to those of people who explain why they wish to be active in the

        Socialist Alliance, and put it in the form of some form of dialogue

        and interchange between the two points of view.

         

        3. Why not have a similar four-page spread of interchange between people who choose to be active in the Greens and socialists who choose to be active in the Socialist Alliance, again with some sort of emphasis on interchange.

         

        Wouldn't this kind of frank discussion between socialists of

        different orientations be preferable to the unremitting exposure

        rhetoric that has been the only point of view to come through

        consistently in GLW? I hope the GLW editorial board will consider my proposals in the civilised socialist spirit in which I point them forward.

         



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