A response to Peter Boyle’s curious mantra about Lenin, the labour aristocracy and other matters
Peter Boyle has posted on Marxmail an extremely strange, almost unintelligible, piece about Lenin and the labour aristocracy, and I echo Louis Proyect’s slightly irritated response to the last paragraph, and extend it to the whole post. What, in Lenin’s name, does Boyle mean? What immediate political propositions is he trying to convey from such an oracular and convoluted appeal to the imputed sanctity of Lenin’s writings about the “labour aristocracy”?
I would draw the attention of other readers to the way the way we have all read and participated in this discussion over the last few months. Around June, when a number of us in Australia, with collectively some hundreds of years experience of the revolutionary movement, held a modest, and rather successful, seminar on the history of the DSP and similar organisations in Australia, some of us became aware, mainly through my mate Steve, of Marxmail, where a discussion was raging about Zinovievism and Cannonism — eventually, in total, 60,000 or more words of it.
We downloaded and copied several of the key articles on these topics for the seminar, and the consensus among the 30 or so participants was that much of it was very relevant to our concerns, and a number of comrades at the seminar had come to similar conclusions on the broad questions raised, on the basis of their own extensive experience and reading.
A little later, I initiated a discussion on the question of the united front towards labour parties in the English-speaking world, particularly Australia, in both its historical and current context. This discussion was taken up by a number of people in Australia and overseas and a number of opposed views were canvassed in depth. In particular Richard Fidler and later myself attempted a fairly careful balance sheet, among other things, on the historical aspects and the current significance, of Lenin’s early writings about the “labour aristocracy”. In this context, in my most recent post, a lengthy piece on which I worked for some time, I attempted to outline the rudiments of a sociology of the Australian working class and labour movement, from a Marxist point of view, particularly in its political aspect.
Intertwined with this strain, and coincidental with it, there has been a discussion of the DSP’s organisational proposals for the Socialist Alliance in Australia. Peter Boyle has been, from time to time, an energetic participant in this discussion, as the main official proponent of the DSP’s views on all these matters. The tone of his contributions and the content has varied somewhat.
Peter Boyle adopts a fawning demeanour towards perceived friends of the DSP on the list and is not stinting with fulsome self-praise about how good the DSP is. He tends to adopt a spiteful tone towards Bob Gould, the “paleo-Trotskyist”, cemented-in old Laborite, and “old crank”, and also towards other critics of the DSP.
After posting my lengthy and carefully considered piece on the sociology of Laborism, I expected some reasoned response, both to me and to Richard Fidler, who advanced a number of similar propositions to myself, albeit in a more historical framework than mine, which tended to be more immediately tactical.
Well, the mountain trembled and out scrambled a mutant mouse. Peter Boyle’s strange, pompous and oracular statement about Lenin and the “labour aristocracy” doesn’t address any of the serious questions that have emerged in the discussion, except, as Louis points out, for making some dismissive remarks in the last paragraph about the very serious discussion of Zinovievism and Cannonism. This paragraph includes an implication, of the old Cominternist sort, which arrogates to the DSP “team leadership” the mantle of Lenin, and implies that the fact that a number of revolutionaries with considerable experience in the Trotskyist movement, had arrived at views critical of Zinovievism, was in the final analysis based on the fact that they were located in imperialist countries, and therefore did not properly understand the DSP’s version of the “Leninist party”, which concept of course the DSP did properly understand (the DSP by implication being obviously the true “Leninists”).
In this context, it’s worth remembering that a while back on the list in a similar rush of complex and slightly confused rhetoric Peter Boyle described himself and the DSP as revolutionary factionalists and Jacobins. This seemed to imply that the DSP had a sort of licence to say and do anything.
Workers in capitalist countries, September 11 and the Bali bombing
This sentence seems to me to be quite extraordinary: “Marxists living and working in the imperialist countries cannot afford to be dismissive of the question of a material base for opportunism in the working class. It is very real and mass working class responses to incidents like 9/11 and the Bali bombing in imperialist countries, the US and Australia show it up.”
That’s a very problematic statement. Is the reaction of the proletariat of the imperialist countries against indiscriminate mass terrorism a defect in their character because they live in imperialist countries? That’s a very problematic proposition. Are we to then conclude that the bourgeois caricature of the world is truthful, that is, that the oppressed of the Third World applaud indiscriminate terrorism? Boyle’s argument in this matter is demagogic and dangerous.
In imperialist countries we have to fight hard against constant and deliberate bourgeois attempts to turn the popular reaction to mass terrorism, against the oppressed of the Third World, nevertheless we have to recognise that the anger of the masses, including the proletarian masses, against indiscriminate mass terrorism, is normal and legitimate!
Many Balinese, some of whom have lost family members, many of whose livelihoods have been destroyed, and who aren’t living in imperialist countries, are also pretty angry. To pose this question the way Boyle does is bizarre Third Worldist demagogy. The reaction of the masses of most countries, imperialist or Third World, against indiscriminate terrorism, is entirely human.
Peter Boyle says, in this instance, a monumentally stupid thing to give weight to a piece of political demagogy.
What immediate political purpose is served by such a general statement about the “aristocracy of labour” in imperialist countries and former colonial settler states? The DSP’s instrumental use of ideological questions
It has become routine in the DSP to throw around general statements about the aristocracy of labour in imperialist countries as a kind of squid’s ink justifying a sectarian posture towards the Labor Party-trade union continuum. In particular, Dick Nichols is one of the main experts in that sort of rhetoric.
The DSP’s promiscuous and constant use of this very general rhetoric about the “aristocracy of labour” in justifying sectarianism towards the labour movement in Australia is the most striking and classic example of what I call the DSP’s instrumental use of out-of-context formulations about important ideological questions for the crudest current tactical impulses.
The DSP proceeds ideologically in this instrumental way in a number of areas, but the unifying thread always takes the discussion back to the exposure tactic towards Laborism.
This ideological instrumentalism usually proceeds by way of quoting Lenin out of historical context and using Lenin phrases as kind of ideological battering rams. This is possible, of course, because Lenin was such a creative, energetic and dialectical political activist and theorist about socialist activity. It is always possible to quote Lenin out of context in this way, from something he wrote at some time.
The Stalinists in the 1920s turned distortions of Lenin of this sort into a system of state-backed voodoo magic, and while the DSP doesn’t have the power of the state, its approach to the useful and powerful lifelong writing and activity of Lenin has something in common with the way the Stalinists used Lenin quotes. That’s not to say the DSP is Stalinist, just that it has learned a few tricks, ideologically speaking, from books such as Stalin’s Problems of Leninism.
This instrumental use of ideology seems to be one of the reasons that Boyle does not try at all to respond to the issues raised by myself and Fidler, and instead just makes the formal ideological statements that he does in his post. He doesn’t accuse everybody on this list who has been critical of Zinovievism and Cannonism of being direct agents of imperialism, he just implies that their views are, in the final analysis, based on their physical location in imperialist countries, which of course begs the question that the DSP is also located in a former colonial settler state.
My recent three-part piece was, among other things, an attempt to address the question of the “aristocracy of labour”. To do this I presented a rudimentary, rough-hewn, but fairly detailed sociological model of the Australian population in Marxist class terms, particularly relating political allegiance to class, ethnic, social and cultural factors.
It seems to me you have to do something like that if you’re going to refer to a concept like the “aristocracy of labour” and try to give it any political relevance in modern Australia.
In one of his short contributions, Ben Courtice says something singularly confusing: “The key to understanding the labour aristocracy is politics not sociology. I do get sidetracked into sociological definitions, but without mass struggles I think such definitions are pretty abstract.”
That’s about as confusionist as it’s possible to get. In the first instance, even Lenin’s initial use of the category of the “labour aristocracy” is clearly a sociological statement, a sociological concept. It does have political implications, obviously, but to discuss the politics sensibly you have to start with the sociology and present some kind of sociological model of the working class in the country that you’re dealing with, if you assert that the concept has any essential relationship to current political practice in that country.
Ben Courtice also has a strange formulation about an electricians’ industrial struggle in Melbourne, in which the employers gave in to certain economic demands without a fight, and he speculates that the bosses may have done that to incorporate the workers in the system. Does this imply that the constant and frequently effective struggle of trade unionists for improvements produces a rapid expansion of the “aristocracy of labour”?
For reasons of clarity, I address the following series of questions to Peter Boyle, Doug Lorimer, Dick Nichols, John Percy, Ben Courtice, or whoever else feels willing to try to answer them.
Boyle’s first version
- What is the current relevance of Lenin’s early writings and propositions about the “aristocracy of labour”?
- What are their current and immediate political implications, in say, Australia?
- Do you agree, with what Peter Boyle seems to be suggesting in these sentences: “In its imperialist stage/s, capitalism has created a relatively privileged minority of the international working class. And whether you take the approach of Engels on the ‘bourgeoisified’ English working class or take it further, as Lenin and other Bolsheviks did, and identify a base in a ‘labour aristocracy’.”
- Does this mean that the whole proletariat in imperialist and former colonial settler states forms part of the labour aristocracy?
- If this is the case, what strategic political implications flow from this for the work of socialists in these countries?
Peter Boyle’s second version
- Do you, however, use the concept in a different sense, as suggested in another paragraph in the same post: “The labour aristocracy, understood simply as the better-off and more secure layer of the working class, has both grown and shifted in its boundaries over the last century. In particular, we can note both these processes have accelerated in the period of the postwar boom and the period of neoliberal globalisation.”
- If the “labour aristocracy” is — as this paragraph (which contradicts the previous one) would have it — only a part of the working class in Australia, I ask the following questions:
i. at what approximate income does the labour aristocracy begin?
ii. Do the following categories form part of the labour aristocracy: homeowners (in Australia about 70 per cent of people, at least theoretically, own a home); web designers; eight-year nurses, or clinical nurse specialists or consultants; wharfies who drive portainer cranes at Port Botany; firemen; building tradespersons (plumbers, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, dogmen); teachers in universities; miners; workers on oil rigs; ballet dancers; self-employed truck drivers (most of whom are members of the transport workers union), or employed long-haul drivers, who also get big money? What about middle-level public servants? (This is a very important question in relation to the DSP itself, because many employed members of the DSP fall into this category.)
- If this phenomenon of the “aristocracy of labour” now exists in a country like Australia, what is its outline, and what strategic political and tactical considerations flow from its existence and role in society?
- In addition to this, it’s conventional wisdom, and it’s a shared perception, in fact between me and the DSP, that politically speaking the people who vote for the Greens are to the left of the Labor Party. It is however, a very general sociological observation that a very high proportion of Green voters are tertiary educated people in very well-paid jobs. Are the majority of these Green voters members of the labour aristocracy?
Are the Greens the “labour aristocracy”?
In my post, I said the following: “that the intermediate strata vacillate between Labor and Liberal. In a surge to Labor, the Labor vote goes up among the new social layers, and in a swing against it goes down those social strata. In that sense I’d assert something that will drive Philip Ferguson, the DSP and others like them completely mad: voting Labor, among the new social layers, rather than voting Tory, represents a significant leap in class consciousness, from outright identification with the bourgeoisie to a primitive reformist social or class consciousness.
“In modern conditions, voting Green, rather than conservative also involves a limited progressive shift in consciousness, and to complicate things even further, shifting from Labor to the Greens, as some people do, often involves a significant shift to the left, within a vaguely reformist consciousness.”
Boyle reduces this piece of analysis to: “Gould then uses crude determinism in his recycled analysis of voting patterns in NSW to dismiss the real process of disillusionment in the ALP in the period of neoliberal bipartisanship and to minimise the break that is being posed electorally by the Greens.”
At this point, all considerations about the “aristocracy of labour” go out the window. Is it then the case that tertiary educated people who vote Green cease to be significantly part of the “aristocracy of labour” by the act of voting Green?
This paragraph clearly indicates that Boyle uses the “aristocracy of labour” as a free-floating category to suit whatever purpose he has to hand. My final question to Peter Boyle and his associates is: how does the question of the “aristocracy of labour” relate in general to current political strategy in Australia? Is it a useable sociological concept, or is it a piece of rhetoric to be wheeled out whenever you wish to justify your sectarian posture towards Laborism?
Some more questions from Bob Gould to Peter Boyle on the concept of the “labour aristocracy” and what relevance it may have to Marxist political strategy in Australia and other advanced capitalist countries
November 1, 2002
Australia is a former colonial settler state that has over the past 100 years been transformed into a relatively mature capitalist economy, and it’s important when considering matters of sociology and the class forces in Australian society to look at the statistics of the existing class configuration.
In November 2001, in Australia, the population was 19.2 million and the population aged 15 and older was 15,417,800. There were 9,190,400 employed persons, who were divided by occupation as follows: managers and administrators: 730,100 professionals: 1,681,200 associate professionals 1,089,700 tradespersons and related workers: 1,177,300 advanced clerical and service workers: 388,300 intermediate clerical, sales and service workers: 1,575,200 intermediate production and transport workers: 788,900 elementary clerical, sales and service workers: 915,500 labourers and related workers: 837,800.
This employed section of the population was also by employment was divided into four categories: employees 7,960,900 own-account workers: 860,300 contributing family workers: 44,300 employers: 324,900.
A third way of dividing up Australia’s 9,190,400 employed persons is by industry: agriculture, forestry and fishing: 445,000 mining: 81,600 manufacturing: 1,095,900 electricity, gas and water supply: 68,500 construction: 711,800 wholesale trade: 438,400 retail trade: 1,399,800 accommodation, cafes and restaurants: 458,500 transport and storage:421,700 communications services: 162,000 finance and insurance: 351,100 property and business services: 1,006,400 government administration and defence: 384,100 education: 654,000 health and community services: 909,800 cultural and recreational services: 233,400 personal and other services: 368,300.
Also in November 2001, unemployment was 619,500. All of these figures are from the 2002, Labour Statistics in Brief, Australia, from the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics.
Trade union density of the employed workforce was about 30 per cent. It was higher in the public service sector, which includes a large part of health and education, where it approaches 40 per cent, and it was lower in the private sector, particularly small-scale manufacturing industry, finance, real estate, etc.
In the private sector, union density was only about 25 per cent.
The net number of trade unionists was about 3 million. Of these unionists, about 60 per cent were in unions affiliated to the Labor Party, which were mostly blue-collar unions in the manufacturing sector, transport, mining, construction, wholesale and part of the health industry.
Two weeks ago, Peter Boyle made a convoluted assertion of two contradictory propositions: firstly that the concept of the “aristocracy of labour” applied to the whole of the Australian working class; and secondly that it applied to part of the working population in modern Australia. He also implied that in some way this social category of the “aristocracy of labour” had some bearing on the political views of Marxists in advanced capitalist countries who took up the question of Zinovievism in Marxist organisations, and he also implied that in some way the social category of the “aristocracy of labour” had a direct relationship with the reactionary character of the Australian Labor Party, as an expression of the “aristocracy of labour”.
In a post a couple of days later, I asked Peter Boyle, and/or his associates who share his view, to spell out in a bit more detail what was meant by these concepts for current political strategy and practice, and did Boyle’s propositions in his post mean what they appear to mean?
I know it takes a while, sometimes, to prepare a considered response in serious matters, like this, but now two weeks have elapsed and I’m expectantly awaiting a response. To make the issues a little clearer, I’ve decided to post the above statistical breakdown of the Australian population and to supplement my previous questions with an associated question based on these ABS statistics. Firstly, I repeat the previous question: is Boyle’s assertion that the whole Australian working class forms a “labour aristocracy”, or is his assertion that only part of it forms the “labour aristocracy”.
If it’s the whole working population, then presumably the unemployed are also part of the “aristocracy of labour” in the early sense that Lenin used the term — that their economic privileges stem from some part of the proceeds of imperialist exploitation of colonial countries. Would Peter Boyle explain how this works economically in modern Australia in terms of the social categories of workers enumerated in the above ABS statistics?
If it’s asserted that only part of the working population forms the “aristocracy of labour” (the second formulation in Peter Boyle’s post) would he give some rough approximation as to which part of the different categories and groups of workers described in the ABS figures form the “aristocracy of labour”? I will be satisfied with a very rough approximation for this purpose.
As Boyle seems to associate the pro-capitalist nature of the Labor Party with the notion of the “aristocracy of labour” in Australia, as a current concept, would he attempt some explanation of how this works in relation to the unions affiliated to the Labor Party, which are largely located in the blue-collar section of the above statistics?
Are construction workers who vote Labor and whose unions are affiliated to the ALP, “labour aristocrats” by reason of their political associations, as Boyle seems to suggest?
All researchers and observers locate the bulk of the people who vote Green, to the left of Labor, in the tertiary semi-professional and even professional group in these statistics. In Peter Boyle’s configuration, do these people stop being part of the “labour aristocracy” by the political act of voting Green?
These are serious and important questions of sociology and politics and have considerable bearing on developing a useful Marxist strategic perspective.
Pete Boyle opened this question in his rather enigmatic post of two weeks ago, and I think he owes the readers of Marxmail a bit of an obligation to respond on these questions and develop his views in a more concrete and rounded theoretical way than he did in his previous post.
Empirical evidence and the “labour aristocracy” theory
November 5, 2002
I’ve been puzzling over how to respond usefully to Peter Boyle’s even more confusionist November 1 post on the labour aristocracy.
I’m irritated, but not surprised, by Boyle’s failure to respond to any of my specific questions about how this concept bears on current political strategy. In a lordly way, Boyle dismisses these specific questions and asserts that what is significant is the abstraction, or high theory. After my 10 years or so experience in the orbit of the British WRP and Gerry Healy, in the 1970s and early 1980s, including three schools in successive years at the WRP place in Derbyshire, and having sat in on a number of sessions at which Comrade Healy systematically chopped any tendency to empiricism — including empiricist tendencies in myself — into small pieces, I’m familiar with Boyle’s kind of argument.
On the basis of my own life experience in the movement, and my observation of the shipwreck of the WRP current, which was largely the product of Gerry Healy’s hostility to empiricism, I’ve come round to a different view to Peter Boyle — and to Gerry Healy — about the relationship between Marxist theory and empirical evidence.
After my experience in the orbit of the WRP, I’ve become, in fact, a bit deliberately empiricist in my approach, for instance, to the formulation of political perspectives for socialists in any country, and the elaboration of international perspectives. This kind of issue has come up, for instance, with the IS international tendency laying down an overly global perspective, and it certainly comes up in relation to Peter Boyle’s instrumentalist international schema.
My notion, for instance, of international perspectives would now run something like this: one should start with a general attempt to understand the main trends in world developments, the economy, social life, etc; one should then move very quickly to a detailed and substantially empirical analysis of perspectives in one’s own country; and an ultimate international perspective should come from the interplay between the local and the international, with any bending of the stick in favour of an emphasis in favour of empirical developments, to counteract the tendency of Marxist messianists to extrapolate to the most extreme development of their general theories.
So, Gerry Healy’s ghost, and the still-breathing Boyle, can attack me for empiricism if they like, but I’m forced by reality to refer to my rather empirical questions, and I’ll summarise them again: if Peter Boyle says the nature of Labor Party in Australia — as the “second party of capitalism” in his terms — and thee nature of social democratic reformism in general, stems currently from the super-profits of imperialism. Peter Boyle has to explain the modern world in a more concrete way than he does in his sweeping division of the world into oppressed Third World and imperialist countries. Where does Saudi Arabia fit into this model, where does the Republic of Ireland fit in, where does Greece fit in, where do Denmark and Sweden fit in, where do South Korea and Taiwan fit in, where do Singapore and Malaysia fit in? Where does the Stalino-capitalist regime in China fit in? I’m sorry if these questions are too empirical for Peter Boyle, but I feel obliged to ask them.
In his crudely DSP instrumentalist way, Boyle rushes where angels fear to tread, into a territory which, for obvious reasons, has caused much discussion among Marxists and other progressive thinkers for the past 20 or 30 years. There has been a variety of views, and a large number of serious — often international — discussions. One needs only to refer to the question of dependency theory associated with the name of Andre Gunder Frank in the 1970s and 1980s, and the associated fundamental questioning of the cruder versions of Lenin’s theory of imperialism, by the late Bill Warren.
Boyle belts out a schema of the crudest sort about the division of the world without any serious reference to the rich literature of these debates, which might throw some light on the flaws in his sweeping generalisations. This probably doesn’t bother Boyle much because the DSP’s approach to these questions is so instrumentalist.
At this point, it’s worth noting the function of the “break from Trotskyism” by the DSP and the US SWP and their ferocious and abstract polemic against the “theory of permanent revolution”. I don’t approach this question from the point of view that the theory of Trotsky (and before him Parvus), which was elaborated in concrete historical circumstances, is a perfect formula for all places and all times.
The historical outlines of the issue, it seems to me, were very well put by Richard Fidler in his repeat of an earlier post recently on Marxmail, and I generally agree with Fidler’s formulation of the historical aspect of the permanent revolution question. It’s obvious, however, that many of the specifics have been superseded by events, as Bill Warren pointed out in the 1970s and 1980s, a number of countries whose development at one stage was blocked by imperialism are now relatively modern capitalist countries, although ruled primitively and brutally, such as South Korea.
The attempt of the DSP and the US SWP to erect some retrospective, theoretical wall between the approaches of Lenin and Trotsky to the Russian Revolution is obvious nonsense &mdash the same nonsense that it was when J.V. Stalin elaborated the same thesis in Problems of Leninism in the 1920s. It always seemed to me that Jack Barnes’ initial formulation of this question was an almost direct plagiarisation of Stalin’s book.
What is important about this polemic against the theory of permanent revolution, is not so much its quoting-Lenin-and-Trotsky content, a game at which people like Doug Lorimer and Jack Barnes are pretty good, but the political gesture involved towards currents like the Cuban and Sandinista leaderships, the Stalinist leadership in Vietnam, and most importantly, for the DSP, former Maoist and Stalinist socialist organisations in Asia.
These organisations — serious and heroic revolutionaries that they are — carry, inevitably, substantial baggage from their Stalinist ideological formation. In my view it would be pretty stupid for non-Stalinist Marxists to rush in flatfooted, abusing them about these questions, or even worse trying to split them on ideological questions of this sort. But, nevertheless, the stagist Stalinist ideological tradition that they carry is a substantial difficulty for these formations in the face of the political tasks and problems that they face in the maturing and explosive conditions in particular countries.
In my view, the DSP in general tends to reinforce some of the negative features of the political tradition of these organisations by attempting a common polemic with them against the “old Trotskyism”, focusing on a caricature of the Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. A much better way would be to maintain collaboration with these groups while, however, arguing in a quiet, careful way on some of these questions. But I doubt if the DSP places much emphasis on the second aspect.
In countries such as Australia, the DSP places enormous emphasis on the importance of program, but in any country that it can, with any sort of squeeze, classify as Third World, it treats matters of program, and even of strategy, as of secondary importance.
All of this is of considerable significance in relation to the general question of the origins of reformism. In the crudely instrumentalist analysis of Boyle and the DSP it suits them to locate the origins of Labor reformism simply in the labour aristocracy. Other currents, such as the British SWP and the Australian ISO don’t share this view. I don’t share that view either.
Reformism develops fairly rapidly in any situation in any country that has serious and effective working class organisations, including Third World countries. It’s no insult, for instance, to the PDS in Indonesia, to note that it has a reformist aspect. The most striking example of an explosive and so far successful development of a mass reformist party is the PT in Brazil. No socialist or Marxist with any trace of rational Marxist internationalism can be anything but heartened and inspired by the landslide victory of Lula in the Brazilian elections.
As has been pointed out on this list in detail, there are a large number of Marxist organisations working effectively in the PT, and some outside. The election of a figure such as Lula at the head of a mass, contradictory, complex Workers Party, with a big base in the trade unions in a modern, industrialised, Third World country, like Brazil, which is about half of a continent, is an enormous and progressive political development.
In the short term, for instance, it’s a bit of a blow to Bush’s war plans, etc. On the other hand, however, the shadow of the problems that faced Salvador Allende and the grim fate of the Chilean revolution and Allende personally, hangs over our necessary and justified enthusiasm for the electoral victory in Brazil.
Our socialist comrades in Brazil, who are such a noticeable force in the mass movement, inside and outside the PT, face enormous tactical decisions. It would be stupid, ignorant and futile for either Bob Gould or Peter Boyle to pontificate on those tasks from the comfortable distance of Australia. Nevertheless, the Brazilian comrades undoubtedly, themselves, struggle over a variety of tactical approaches to these unfolding problems and events.
It is necessary to say this: one of the factors facing the socialist comrades in Brazil is the rapid development of an indigenous Brazilian reformism, of which Lula and his immediate leadership team are obvious representatives, as Salvador Allende was in his time. This reformism has not much to do with any “aristocracy of labour”, which is asserted to currently exist in imperialist countries. Boyle’s simple-minded association of the development of reformist mass parties in imperialist countries with the current existence there of an “aristocracy of labour”, in Lenin’s sense, is a crude reconstruction of reality to fit an instrumentalist schema suitable to Boyle’s tactical desires.
Returning to the specifics of Boyle’s formulation concerning Australia, I repeat all my previous questions.
If you say the “aristocracy of labour” is a current, operative, useful concept in interpreting Australian politics and sociology, it’s not good enough to just assert it as an abstraction. If you insist on just asserting it as an abstraction, a la comrade Healy, that is just a form of instrumentalist ideological mystification. It becomes a kind of metaphysical formulation, a bit like the mystery aspect with which Catholics resolve the problem of evil at the core of all theism — the god concept being a sort of ideological entity not subject to empirical investigation.
If you say the labour aristocracy exists in Australia as anything more than a metaphysical assertion, you have to advance some broad outlines as to where it is located, how it is organised and who is in it. Without such an attempt, it’s metaphysics.
I post this contribution a bit reluctantly. The problem is that I don’t entirely reject every aspect of a concrete exploration of the elements of an “aristocracy of labour” that clearly does still exist, to some extent, in modern capitalist societies. I don’t, however, think the general concept has the same dramatic and straightforward political implications that Boyle gives it for his instrumentalist purposes. I’m also a bit hesitant about opening up all the questions about imperialist relationships to the Third World and social and economic developments in the labour movements and the working class in the Third World because they are such enormous questions, and they require such serious consideration, above and beyond the polemical exaggerations to which we are all occasionally subject. I feel I may have opened an enormous Pandora’s Box, but maybe that’s useful for Marxmail.
A curious attitude to political discussion
November 9, 2002
The waspish Peter Boyle has a real knack for crudification. Instead of answering my very serious question about the rough outlines of what he calls the “labour aristocracy” in Australia, he opts for another stupid jab about my occupation as bookseller, a bit like his irritated remark in a previous post about my “secondhand bookshop and gossip centre”.
Boyle has a curious attitude to political discussion. He refers to my “long screeds handed out outside the larger DSP-organised events (now gracing the internet and Marxmail in particular)”. (In the DSP internal bulletins, some DSP leaders refer to my political arguments as “shit sheets” and Boyle is such a political primitive that in one DSP internal bulletin he even caricatured my occasional “agitator’s stutter”, which is something I’ve never seen anyone else do, particularly in writing).
My polemical activities are obviously upsetting Boyle. In a recent post, arguing with Jeff Sparrow, also the manager of a bookshop (presumably also a bit of a “gossip centre”) in Melbourne, Boyle makes this further observation: “especially with the Bob Gould left gossip machine in overdrive to defend the ALP”. Boyle would obviously like to eliminate from the scene all bookshops and “gossip centres” other than his own. The man’s obsessed!
Boyle is unwisely and unnecessarily ferocious some of the time, usually in the “privacy” of “internal bulletins”, but this brutality can create serious political problems for the DSP. As we speak, Boyle’s implacable spelling out in The Activist (the DSP’s internal bulletin) of the detail of the DSP’s immediate proposals for the Socialist Alliance and regroupment, which inevitably has crept into the public domain, has produced a crisis in the DSP’s relations with the ISO and other groups in the Socialist Alliance.
To me, Boyle’s attitude to public discussion of serious questions in the labour movement verges on the absurd. His rather proprietorial attitude towards Marxmail is eccentric. Early in this discussion, the DSP leadership encouraged DSP members to hook up to Marxmail, and when the DSP leadership flagged its recent organisational proposals for the Socialist Alliance it reproduced the beginnings of the discussion on their proposals in the DSP internal bulletin, even including a couple of my early critical posts because it more or less had to do that to maintain the rational flow of the argument.
When, however, the discussion exploded in the way that it has, they stopped publishing all the contributions, partly for the obvious reason that it was physically more than the internal bulletin could reasonably cope with, but probably also because they didn’t want to broadcast the views of critics such as myself more than was absolutely necessary.
A little further down the track, after a couple of internal bulletins without any Marxmail contributions, they’ve recently published Nick Fredman’ s reply to me on the student question, but without my post, to which he replies. They did a similar thing in Green Left a few months ago, publishing a reply by Dick Nichols to one of my articles without my piece that he was replying to. That’s the kind of “discussion” the DSP leadership prefers.
My contributions to this discussion may be long, as Boyle says, they may be “screeds” (when presumably his efforts are “profound contributions”), but I believe I don’t waste a word, and it’s up to the reader to decide, whether it’s on Marxmail or at the DSP’s “big events” — where in recent times it has been noticeable to me that most participants are pretty anxious to get what I write.
Boyle has become too used to playing his chief committee-man and “team leader” role in the DSP, where he gives hour-plus lectures at conferences, and few members are confident enough to challenge him. That’s, in fact, one of the chief characteristics of the internal life of the DSP. It’s a rather homogeneous outfit, inside which you have to be pretty game to challenge the leaders, on any major question.
This intimidating internal homogeneity of the DSP is one of the reasons why my contributions get around so widely these days. My documents are frequently the only formulated political critiques of the DSP available to DSP members, although now the crisis in the Socialist Alliance has produced a situation where the ISO collectively, despite their internal differences, have produced a sharp examination of the DSP’s proposals for the alliance, which Jeff Sparrow has rather cheekily put up on Marxmail.
This crisis in the Socialist Alliance underlines the problems at the core of the Zinovievist-Cannonist idea of the practice of “democratic centralism”. In the real history of the Bolshevik movement, in its classic period before the Russian Revolution, the distinction between internal debate and public discussion among the Bolsheviks was in fact very blurred. (Like Louis and his rereading of John Reed, I’ve just been rereading the Menshevik Sukhanov’s account of the Russian Revolution, an extraordinarily interesting book, and one of the things that emerges from it, which as Louis points out also emerges from John Reed, is the extremely public nature of the Bolshevik internal discussions.)
It was only when the Comintern started to degenerate, under Zinoviev, that an exaggerated split between internal and public discussion started to be the norm, and even during that process and the later Stalinisation this split between public and internal was often impossible to enforce. Witness Max Eastman’s release of the suppressed testament of Lenin, and James Cannon and Maurice Spector’s spiriting out of the Soviet Union and release of Trotsky’s critique of the draft program of the Comintern.
Boyle would obviously like to be rid of my “screeds” but, happily, in the modern world, with the existence of the World Wide Web, email, and a phenomenon like Marxmail as a forum of discussion, Boyle lacks the physical capacity to eliminate them. In practice, it’s increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep Marxist tactical discussions internal to any organisation.
No matter how hard the DSP “team leadership” may try to keep things secret, the details of their basic intentions in relation to other socialists, such as the ISO, that they, in reality, perceive as their opponents, inevitably become public very quickly.
I certainly try to speed this process up a bit in my documents, but I do it in a careful way, trying to centre on the major political issues as I see them on the basis of my experience in the workers’ movement. The DSP will eventually be forced to take part in a sensible public discussion of a lot of the strategic questions and the broader theoretical issues that have come up in the Marxmail discussion.
A response to Shane Hopkinson, Nick Fredman and Alan Bradley on the united front
This important digression gets me to the first point that I would raise in responding to Nick Fredman, Alan Bradley and Shane Hopkinson on what immediate proposals I would make for the united front.
Firstly I repeat my proposals from other documents and posts:
- First of all, have a serious discussion of all the historical problems of the socialist movement, and the outstanding tactical questions, between the members, as well as the leaders, of the socialist organisations, which are for practical purposes, the ISO, the DSP, Socialist Alternative, Left Press in Queensland, the Socialist Party in Victoria, some smaller socialist groups, and various groupings in the ALP Socialist Left.
- Second, maintain the useful and effective work done by some of these groups in universities and high schools, to interest younger people in socialism and recruit some of them to the socialist movement.
- Third, maintain and develop various agitations conducted by the groups, such as the campaign for refugees, the movement against globalisation, the agitation against racism, etc.
- Fourth, commence a serious program of educational work, common to all the groups, directed at their members and supporters, with a serious combination of discussion and development of basic Marxism, with examination of current Australian reality, linked with a thorough, comprehensive and dialectical account of Australian labour history.
- Fifth, the serious commencement of long-term, patient and energetic rank-and-file organisation in trade unions and the working class.
The above is my general outline for the united front. Fredman, Bradley and Hopkinson want me to be more specific on what the DSP should do.
In the first instance, the DSP should encourage a serious discussion of these questions over a significant period, associated with a discussion of the nature of social democracy and other leftist formations in Australia, such as the Greens. This public discussion should take place, initially, in Green Left Weekly. It would be technically quite feasible for GLW to have, say, a four-page lift-out over the next three or four months with suitably developed arguments on these questions.
That kind of discussion was routine, for instance, in Workers Weekly, the Communist Party’s paper, before Stalinisation. It also took place from time to time in the later CPA newspaper, Tribune, after about 1967. Very occasionally there has been something like this in GLW or Direct Action, but the last sustained discussion I can remember was in 1993, with Roger Clarke (at that time in Workers Liberty) on the Labor Party question.
One of the paradoxes of the current Socialist Alliance proposals of the DSP is that they have suggested to the other Alliance partners that they can in some way have a slice of GLW, yet GLW during the whole period of the Socialist Alliance, has had less sustained and unedited argument on tactical questions than it has had in previous periods.
As the ISO has pointed out to the DSP, any attempt by the DSP to turn the Alliance into a rebadged DSP, without resolving the major questions between the two organisations is futile, and will lead to the ISO’s withdrawal. Why can’t the DSP grasp the nettle, and unilaterally open up a real political discussion?
That’s the first necessity in developing a united front strategy towards the labour movement. It inevitably has to start with a serious discussion on tactical questions involving both the far left and other leftists in the workers’ movement.
Another important move in relation to the united front would be a U-turn by the DSP in the student movement. It should abandon its futile and self-isolating attempts to quarantine the Labor left from the rest of the left. It should become proactive in developing the idea of the construction of a left current in the student movement that would include all the Marxist groups, the Broad Left, Love and Rage, the anarchists, the Greens and the Labor left.
The DSP should take a leaf from Cromwell’s book and adopt a “Self-Denying Ordinance” to refrain from abusing the Labor left for its organisational adherence to what the DSP calls the “second party of capitalism”. The NUS conference coming up in December would be a suitable place for such a U-turn by the DSP.
Boyle’s hysterics in a recent post in which he pledged his commitment, literally, to the Third Period strategy of the DSP (“Green Left Weekly will continue to tell the truth that embarrasses the fake left in the ALP even at the terrible price of being called Third Periodists by Bob Gould!”) and denounced one of the NUS leaders as “one of the young ‘left’ careerists Bob Gould praises” (on the basis of an episodic tactical difference). Boyle’s approach in that post is not helpful to a necessary reorientation in the student movement towards the united front.
In the trade union movement the DSP should attempt to develop a class-struggle left-wing, rather than using rhetoric about such an approach while actually doing something completely different and much more sectarian.
Left caucuses in unions, while they inevitably must take into account specific circumstances in each union, ought to, in general, include people who are in Marxist groups, and left Laborites. The inclusion of left Laborites in such caucuses is particularly important in most blue-collar unions, where left caucuses that don’t include some left Laborites are usually farcical. The old Communist Party in Australia, and the old Trotskyists, both regarded it as routine to construct militant factions in unions that contained both members of Marxist organisations and left Laborites. It’s only groups like the DSP that have come up with the notion that it’s possible to have left factions in unions that exclude left Laborites by definition.
In some white-collar and teachers’ unions, where Greens are present, they also should be included in left caucuses. The current conception of the DSP is not like that. At a recent national meeting of the NTEU (the university academics’ union) the DSP and ISO formed a Socialist Alliance caucus, and even refused to admit to this caucus two members of Socialist Alternative on the grounds that they weren’t members of the Alliance.
This seems very short-sighted, to me, particularly in the NTEU, where there are also left Laborites and Greens. There should be a serious attempt at a united front strategy in that union, for a left caucus that includes ALL of the Marxist groups, the Labor left and the Greens.
Another united front question in the broad labour movement is union affiliation to the ALP and union influence in the ALP. For the past year, in particular, the DSP has practised a disgraceful policy of chiming in with pressure from the bourgeoisie and the Labor parliamentary leadership to reduce union influence in the ALP. The DSP has pressed for total removal of union influence in the ALP under the pretext that such disaffiliation would free unions from the malign influence of Laborism.
This DSP literary agitation for union disaffiliation has been prosecuted by the DSP as a key tactical question, quite independent of even short-term tactical questions about the interests of left unions under attack. At the end of this whole year of DSP agitation on this question, the net result is minimal. Left unions such as the CFMEU in Victoria, and the textile workers are still affiliated to the ALP, and their officials, particularly Michelle O’Neill, the secretary of the textile union, took a leading role in efforts to get the left caucus to retain the 60:40 rule at the recent national conference. That rule was only defeated by a few votes in the left caucus at the ALP conference.
The metalworkers union (AMWU) in Victoria, whose temporary disaffiliation from the ALP was so widely touted by the DSP, has already quietly reaffiliated to the ALP and a delegation from the metalworkers attended the recent Victorian ALP quarterly conference. This de facto reaffiliation was clearly tacitly accepted by the militant Workers First current. The DSP has been totally silent about the metalworkers’ reaffiliation.
Campaigning for support for disaffiliation of unions from the ALP was always a bad proposition in principle, and tactically it wasn’t at all useful in defending Workers First against the unwarranted attacks of national AMWU leader Doug Cameron.
The question of union affiliation to the ALP is erupting again, with Tory industrial relations minister Tony Abbot’s threat to force through the parliament a new law to require a Tory-government-conducted secret ballot about union affiliation to the ALP.
The DSP should immediately terminate its lamentable policy on this question and join with the rest of the labour movement in opposition to Abbot’s plans to place obstacles in the way of union affiliation to the Labor Party. This is a key question in any united front strategy towards elements in the labour movement and the trade unions moving to the left, or who may move to the left in future.
The new ASIO legislation and the “anti-terrorism” laws
Early this year the Tory government brought down legislation on “terrorism” and to give new powers to ASIO, the secret police. The first response of Green Left was to publish a couple of articles implying that these laws had already been passed with the complicity of the Laborites, which wasn’t true.
In the event, after a considerable campaign in the labour movement, a combination of Labor, Greens, Democrats and others forced a Senate inquiry into both pieces of legislation. On the terrorism laws, the Senate majority eventually defeated most of the objectionable and anti-democratic features, although some more negative provisions were left in.
This was a far cry from GLW’s initial strange implication that the legislation had already been passed.
On the legislation for increased powers to ASIO, the Labor caucus ultimately decided to eliminate most of the worst features of that too, after quite a lot of labour movement agitation on this question, too. For instance, in Sydney, the ALP legal and constitutional committee held a well-attended public meeting on the question, to which about 120 people, many of them ALP members, union activists and lawyers, came. At this meeting sentiment was overwhelmingly for rejection of every aspect of the legislation, and this clearly had considerable impact on Labor Senate leader John Faulkner, who reported on the legislation to the meeting.
This meeting was widely reported in the bourgeois press, but Green Left Weekly either considered it unimportant or was so out of contact that it didn’t even have anyone present to report on the meeting.
The legislation has still not come before the Senate, and in the interim the Bali bombings have produced a wave of hysteria in the mass media and public statements by Liberals, and some right-wing Labor politicians, in favour of increased powers for ASIO.
This question has caused a bit of a crisis in the ALP because the threatened legislation is in such contradiction to traditional labour movement notions of civil liberties.
We need a non-sectarian campaign to defeat these reactionary proposals. This campaign should reach out to the labour movement, legal circles and the community at large, leaning heavily on the already existing sentiment in the labour movement despite the hysteria of certain right-wing leaders, and one pathetic former Stalinist expert on ASIO, who now advocates increased powers for the reactionary institution he once opposed.
A serious campaign to defeat the ASIO legislation — mobilising support in the labour movement, including the ALP — should replace petty exposure of Laborism.
Necessary exposure, if required, should take place after a defeat on this question, not before, because, as the substantial gutting of the terrorism legislation indicates, a total defeat is not inevitable. These questions are too important for the future possibilities of socialist agitation, which will be severely affected if the ASIO bill goes through, for the chance of defeating the bill to be written off under the rubric of “the worse the better”.
A fourth area, and a very immediate one, for a serious application of the united front strategy is the popular social campaigns, particularly the refugee campaign and most immediately the struggle against the impending war on Iraq.
In this area the DSP’s practice isn’t as sharply sectarian as it is in the first three areas I have discussed, but I adopt a different emphasis to the DSP on some aspects of this, and to explain what I mean I’ll draw on some experience in the current agitation against the Iraq war drive in Sydney.
An antiwar demonstration took place about six week ago that attracted about 1500 people, which was small for Sydney considering the size of the city, but it wasn’t a bad start. That demonstration, which unfortunately coincided with the Resistance conference in Melbourne, was composed of some older DSP members, activists in other socialist groups, a number of supporters of the older Labor left and Stalinist networks, and quite a large contingent of Muslim people, both secular and religious, and western suburbs Muslim youth.
The next demonstration, about two weeks ago, was called as a pro-refugee action but inevitably became also a protest against the Iraq war drive. This action was run by an ad hoc committee drawn from a number of groups, and the rallies at the beginning and the end were chaired by the very effective left-wing ALP figure, Amanda Tattersall (who is now of an officer of the Labor Council of NSW), one of the two convenors of Labor for Refugees.
This demonstration was much larger — about 4000 people — and there were more youth, but fewer Muslims. Parallel with this, a split in the various organising forces against the Iraq war drive has been overcome at the organisational level. The three groups into which the antiwar movement had been split — one involving the far left, and two involving different wings of the more moderate forces — came together in a united committee two or three weeks ago.
This united committee has scheduled a united protest for the end of November. This is a most hopeful development. A pro-refugee demonstration earlier this year, organised by the more moderate forces, drew about 15,000 — a very large protest for Sydney in current conditions.
I’ve attended the two initial large meetings of this coalition as a delegate from Labor for Refugees.
Initially the DSP in a rather desultory fashion argued for open meetings of activists, but they wisely retreated in the face of the dominant sentiment for representatives of organisations. In the abstract, open meetings are sometimes a good idea, but in the concrete circumstances it’s better to accept a representative structure than perpetuate the split between the far left and moderate groups.
The most important thing is getting a united protest explicitly opposed to the Iraq war in all circumstances, which has become the agreed basis of the coalition, straddling all the forces that can be assembled, from left to right.
At the first meeting there was a sentiment from some Greens and some Laborites for the demonstration to be against war in general, and this culminated in an argument about the name of the coalition. I moved the necessary proposal, which was accepted, that the name of the event and the coalition be Walk Against The War, not Walk Against War, favoured by some of the more moderate people. This was carried overwhelmingly.
At that meeting I also successfully moved to add two well-known figures from moderate leftist official networks to the organising committee. One was an old political opponent of mine, the leading functionary of the Search Foundation (the ghost of the old CPA, which still has a considerable organisational influence in the trade unions), the other person was from the Politics in the Pub committee and numerous artists’ networks, another old opponent of mine.
The organising committee now consists of representatives of left unions, Bruce Childs from the ALP Socialist Left, former senator and former ALP assistant state secretary; a representative of the National Union of Students; Win Childs from Politics in the Pub; Peter Murphy from the Search Foundation; Bruce Cornwell (leader of a peace organisations and national chairman of the CPA-ML); Dennis Doherty from the (new) CPA; Luke Deer from the ISO; Louise O’Shea from Socialist Alternative; a woman from the Greens whose name I forget; and a bloke from the DSP. This is a very representative organising committee, which gives the possibility of a maximum turnout. In my view this kind of spectrum gives some possibility of a really big protest against Bush’s war at the end of November, and in my cosmos that kind of organising committee is a good expression of the united front. This demonstration at the end of November should have the utmost priority over all other planned actions, although they are important, too.
At the second big meeting there was a fair amount of manoeuvre and log-rolling over speakers, with the expression of a certain amount of what might be described as Green sectarianism against speakers who could be seen as deeply involved in Labor politics. Some Green representatives and the DSP grumbled quite a lot about having the president of the ACTU (national trade union federation) Sharon Burrow, or the secretary of the NSW Labor Council John Robertson (as the alternative as the ACTU reps aren’t available) as the possible trade union speakers because they were too closely identified with Labor politics.
But despite the crankiness of some of the Greens, a couple of Stalinists, and the DSP, this sentiment subsided and the idea of Burrow or someone else from the ACTU, and Robertson as the alternative, was adopted.
This is the context in which Boyle’s peculiar post a couple of days ago has to be considered. He talks about the organising committee for the rally as something remote, when it’s actually a body in which the DSP is, quite properly, represented.
Boyle’s DSP self-promoting posture towards John Pilger (kind of claiming proprietary rights to Pilger) is amusing and a bit irritating, but nevertheless the DSP’s bright idea of getting Pilger is a very useful initiative, and the prospect of a platform so broadly based across the political spectrum as to include Pilger and the president of the ACTU, improves the prospect of success for this coming antiwar demonstration.
In sum, the DSP, some of the Greens, and some of the Stalinists have a grumpy, churlish anti-Labor posture at these meetings, but in practice they break it down and don’t push it too far, and a practical united front emerges anyway, which given the difference we all have, is a very useful development. I don’t really expect people to give up their underlying attitudes (even on the basis of my persuasive attempts to convert them to a more reasonable outlook). Practical agreement on how to proceed seems to have been achieved, and this is a great step forward from the situation a few months ago when the DSP and other far left groups were excluded from the organising committee for the very large Palm Sunday rally.
The way this united committee for the demonstration has evolved, including everybody from Bruce Childs to the DSP, embodies my idea of the united front.
In passing, why is it necessary for Boyle to insult the many other left-wing intellectuals and public figures in Australia, who’ve opposed racism, opposed the war on Iraq and supported refugees, by saying: “I think Pilger has a higher moral standing on the big issues of the day than any Australian politician, intellectual or trade unionist in Australia today.” Pilger is a courageous intellectual figure, but why is it necessary to insult everyone else?
It seems to me that the political crisis in the Socialist Alliance underlines the need for some public forums on the united front, the crisis in the labour movement, union affiliation to the ALP, etc, in which all points of view can be expressed in a sensible way. Most of the things that Nick Fredman lists as examples of the DSP pursuing the united front are either trivial or not pursuits of the united front at all, and in some cases weird overestimations of the importance of the DSP.
It’s bizarre to think that the Labor Council’s blockade of Parliament House about the workers’ compensation legislation had anything, substantially, to do with the influence of the DSP. To present the gritted-teeth way the DSP occasionally invites Laborites to speak on their platforms, as providing a significant platform for those Laborites, is egocentric in the extreme.
The forums on trade unionism — with the exception Sydney and Brisbane, where there were real debates on ALP affiliation, because in Brisbane the ISO insisted on it and in Sydney Phil Sandford insisted on it — were hardly clear expressions of any united front tactic in the labour movement. The Melbourne and Perth debates were set up as platforms to give maximum exposure to the DSP’s disaffiliate-unions line, without coherent and serious debate against it.
In sum, many of Fredman’s assertions about the DSP practising some kind of united front with left Laborites are not descriptions of the united front at all.
The foregoing are, in general, and in some parts specific, proposals to the DSP and other Marxist groups for a united front with the rest of the labour movement.
The function of mantras
November 23, 2002
While I mightn’t be as good a good a writer as Salman Rushie (as comrade Boyle gleefully points out) in the good-humoured pre-Xmas spirit of his most recent post, I consider it useful to start this post (which I hope will be my wrap-up on the “labour aristocracy” question), with another digression, which may or may not appeal to Peter Boyle’s refined aesthetic judgement.
When we were young, or at least youngish (in 1968 I was 31) and the world was pregnant with revolutionary possibilities, the Trotskyists in Sydney were organised in the Vietnam Action Campaign, the youth group, Resistance, and a cadre group ultimately called the International Marxist League.
When we had parties, often after major demonstrations, we would play a mixture of much-loved records. The obvious ones were Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Country Joe McDonald, Dave van Ronk, Pete Seeger’s labour songs and International Brigade songs (on the old Folkways label), things like Rebellion by Dominic Behan and Clancy Bros records, “The East is Red” and even more weird and esoteric items.
One was a Jewish comedian of the early 1960s, “Theodore”, who had a monologue about “quadrupedism” that went on for half an hour, the punchline of which was “quadrupedism, quadrupedism, back to the position that nature gave us, down on all fours”. In some ways, we Sydney Trotskyists were seriously bent.
Our favourite record by far was The Fugs’ album with their “Nothing” song on it. In this song, which quite a few old 1960s rebels will remember, The Fugs went through all the things that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat hold dear, with the mantra, “nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing”. When we split over big political questions, there was a rather intense conflict over who got which records, and I ended up with The Fugs and some others. That was a period when our anarchist poet comrade, Allen Ginsberg, (may he rest well in the revolutionary Valhalla), used to mystify the ruling class with his mantra: “om, om, om, om”.
For 1500 years, until very recently, the Catholic Church added mystery to its ancient religious rites by conducting ceremonies in a dead language, Latin, with occasional forays into Greek, such as Kyrie Eleison. What person with a Catholic background from that time, can forget the mystery of the Mass or Benediction conducted in this dead language? The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt says its Mass in the dead, ancient Egyptian language, Coptic, rather than Arabic.
Mantras, incantations and mystified dead languages have rather deep roots in the religious psyche of humanity. Politically speaking, it’s a crime to turn the work of Lenin into this sort of mystified religious mantra, “nothing, nothing, nothing”, “om, om, om”. To treat the written work of Lenin like church Latin or church Coptic is the most damaging and politically counter-productive approach that it’s possible to adopt towards Lenin.
Lenin, himself, would have regarded such an approach to his work with irritated hostility. The project of turning Lenin’s work into a religious mantra, and thereby abdicating Marxist dialectical politics (which was the core of Lenin’s work) was commenced with the massive power of a state behind it, by the former seminarian and political mass murderer, Joseph Stalin, who turned Leninism into a mantra, a dead language with religious overtones.
In my considered, and not-so-humble, opinion, that what the DSP does to Lenin, as demonstrated by the dogged way Peter Boyle and Ben Courtice hang on to every significant aspect of Lenin’s “aristocracy of labour” passages, and treat them as if they apply in some way to the current social circumstances in Australia.
Boyle asserts that the “aristocracy of labour” theory still applies as a useful description of modern Australian society. Nevertheless, he refuses, contemptuously, as a point of principle, to even attempt to say how this could be so, even in outline. All that really matters to Boyle is using his Lenin chatter to buttress an elaborate metaphysical statement, about a kind of original sin, in which the Labor Party in Australia was born essentially as a creature of his (largely invented) “labour aristocracy”, and by some sleight of hand, which has no serious empirical basis in the contours of modern Australian society, that these origins still define the basic character of “Laborism”.
I’ve bombarded Boyle with my rough-hewn sociological model of modern Australian society, and with a raft of empirical evidence as to the actual social breakdown of the Australian working class and the labour movement, pointing to the fact that this empirical material doesn’t significantly fit in with his crude invocation of Lenin’s cursory observations about “labour aristocracies”.
None of this impresses Boyle at all, it’s crude empiricism for him, he asserts that it’s Lenin’s general concept that matters, and still applies. “Om, om, om”.
Boyle steadfastly refuses to reply carefully to any of my provocative empirical questions or evidence. He continually asserts that it’s only Lenin ‘s general concept that matters. That approach is effectively turning Lenin’ s writings into a kind of incantation, or a dead political language analogous to the use of Latin or Coptic in the Mass, to increase reverence.
Juriaan Bendien sends an extremely useful and detailed post in which he describes the sociology of the working class in advanced capitalist countries, in a different concrete way, and points out how notions of the labour aristocracy are of extremely limited value in describing the sociology of the modern working class. I repeat, again and again, my rough and ready sociological model of the working class and the trade unions, and I point to the fact that, for instance, the vote to the left of Labor for the Greens, is largely located in the tertiary-educated layers of the working class, which contradicts notions of the “aristocracy of labour”. Boyle is very contemptuous of this evidence, also. What matters, says Boyle is what Lenin said and Lenin’s general concept. “Om, om, om.” “Nothing, nothing, nothing.”
Few things in Marxist theory and politics offend me more than twisting the work of Lenin into such an inherently mystical framework, in which interpreting Lenin becomes analogous to Jewish theologians interpreting Kabbalah.
The striking thing about Lenin’s political activity was his combination of Marxist theory with a constant return to empirical investigation of the changing world. Nothing could be more alien to the spirit of Lenin than to use his work in the way Peter Boyle does.
In a recent post, Jonathan Strauss reels off three quotes from Lenin from 1913-21, to try to imply that there was a consistent thread in Lenin, opposed to a strategic united front orientation towards mass labour movements. This attempt to twist the consistent thread that really exists in Lenin — which was to construct a socialist organisation with the aim of the concrete and constantly tactically renewed objective of socialist revolution — into some kind of consistent espousal of ultraleftism, is a verbal trick frequently pushed into polemics, using Lenin instrumentally. It is particularly politically deceptive when it’s used to try to buttress the Third Period strategy of the DSP.
In this post, Jon Strauss completely ignores the earlier part of this Marxmail discussion in which a number of participants, including myself, made the point very strongly that what mattered with Lenin’s writings was context and circumstances. In stringing these three Lenin quotes together in the way he does, Strauss takes little note of context.
Oh, Lenin and Trotsky, what sublime mystical nonsense is advanced in thy name! As Trotsky said in the 1930s, paper is patient and will take any rubbish that’s written on it. The aspect of the “labour aristocracy” theory that really interests the “team leadership” of the DSP is the bit they take as some kind of justification of their Third Period tactics, and of their emphasis on the central importance of their particular organisation, quite independent of whether that organisation has any current, serious and practical orientation to getting a base in the working class, as it concretely exists or in the actually existing labour movement.
To add another piece of brutal empiricism to this discussion. Boyle should buy himself the new Sydney Social Atlas. This is a book of coloured maps of the Sydney region, with commentary, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on October 28, 2002, based on the 2001 census. (Similar social atlases were released on the same day for all the state capitals, and they all reveal the same underlying social trends. I use the Sydney social atlas as my working example because that’s where Boyle and I both live.) These maps provide an up-to-date cross section of economic and class relationships in the Sydney region. Boyle should have a good look, for instance, at the areas that show a very high Green vote. These are all areas showing a high proportion of tertiary-educated people, with medium to high incomes. Quite clearly, the leftward-moving Green vote is located among tertiary-educated people, many of them with good incomes. Is the Green vote an expression of the “aristocracy of labour”?
In this Sydney Social Atlas, some things jump out, to the point of biting one on the bum. For instance, there are maps of indigenous Australians, pages 18-19; of people from South-East Asia, 20-21; people who speak Arabic, 24-25; people who are not fluent in English, 26-27; of recent arrivals, 28-29; of people without qualifications, 34-35; of one-parent families with dependent children, 40-41; of low-income household, 46-47; of blue-collar workers, 58-59; and of unemployed people broken down by age, 50-51, 52-53 and 54-55. All of these maps locate by far the highest concentrations of the categories just outlined in the electorates with the highest Labor votes, and few Green votes. How does this square with a theory that associates the “labour aristocracy” with the hegemony of Laborism.
The level of class stratification revealed in these maps is, in fact, reasonably straightforward. These are the most oppressed of the population, and they are overwhelmingly Labor voters and supporters, and many of them are in trade unions affiliated to the Labor Party. The convoluted attempt to associate them with a “labour aristocracy” in the straightforward way that Boyle would have it, crudifying and mystifying Lenin, is to abdicate relating theory to any serious, empirical investigation.
It gets more complex when you move to two other categories: white-collar workers, pages 56-57. They are overwhelmingly concentrated on the North Shore, which votes conservative, and in the inner-west, which votes Labor or Green. An interesting fact here, is the numerical relationship between the sectors: 74.5 per cent of all employed persons are white-collar workers and only 24.5 per cent are blue-collar workers. The white-collar workers, if they are unionised, are mainly in unions that are not affiliated to the ALP. Are white-collar workers Boyle’s “aristocracy of labour”?
Taken as a whole, many white collar workers obviously are not “aristocrats”, as they work in industrialised white-collar occupations. The maps of white-collar workers only coincide in part with the maps of high-income earners, and the maps indicate that white-collar workers are spread across most of Sydney, although there are fewer of them in the heavily Labor-voting areas with a high concentration of recent NESB migrants and blue-collar workers.
Another map that might superficially help Boyle’s pursuit of the unicorn known as the “labour aristocracy”, is the map of people with skilled vocational qualifications (tradespeople) 13.1 per cent of the workforce. They are mainly located in areas with a massive Labor vote, but there are pockets of them in Liberal areas such as the northern beaches and north of Hornsby. There are very few in the areas of very high tertiary-educated concentration, including areas with a high Green vote. So maybe tradespeople qualify as Boyle’s unicorn, the “labour aristocracy”.
A major problem with applying the theory of the “labour aristocracy” that would equate tradespeople with the “labour aristocracy”, which is said by Boyle to be growing and becoming more complacent, is firstly that the proportion of tradespeople is in fact diminishing, and secondly the higher incomes of tradespeople (which are often in fact not as high as those of many tertiary-educated workers) have been largely won by industrial struggles throughout the 20th century, often led by socialists.
A very important political problem with Boyle’s contorted and instrumentalist general mantra about Lenin and the “labour aristocracy” in advanced capitalist countries, is the clear way in which it meshes in with the propaganda of the bourgeoisie, which has existed now for 30-40 years, about the disappearance of the working class, or at least its disappearance as any kind of potentially revolutionary force. For a large part of the 20th century, Marxists as divergent on other questions as Tony Cliff and Ernest Mandel spent a lot of time refuting bourgeois claims about the disappearance of the working class.
Way back in 1968, I reprinted in Australia Ernest Mandel’s Workers Under Neocapitalism, and Robert Langston’s “Herbert Marcuse and Marxism” (soon) as Third World Broadside No. 1. Both of these pieces stand the test of time very well, and they’re an effective refutation of Boyle’s “aristocracy of labour” theory.
It’s worth noting that the US SWP and James Cannon in their classic period did not regard any “aristocracy of labour” theory as the dominant question in relation to the US proletariat. Cannon and the SWP had a high regard for the revolutionary potential of the US proletariat, even, if anything a somewhat exaggerated on. In 1946 Cannon wrote a pamphlet: The Coming American Revolution. This pamphlet occupies an important place in Cannon literature, because it is often indicated as the high point of the SWP’s over-optimism at that time about revolutionary prospects in the US, but a secondary feature of that pamphlet is the clear indication that Cannon and the SWP did not give enormous weight to any “aristocracy of labour” in the US working class as an effective obstacle to socialist revolution.
The Australian DSP makes a fetish of Cannon’s ideas about the organisation of Marxist parties, but they completely ignore and forget his constant assertion of the potentially revolutionary role of the working class in advanced capitalist countries, in Cannon’s case, particularly the US.
In the current issue of the magazine produced by Socialist Alternative, serendipitously, there is an extremely useful article by Sandra Bloodworth, called “The modern working class” subheaded “Marxists argue that only the working class can lead a successful fight for socialism, Sandra Bloodworth answers ‘Post-Marxist’ theorists who claim this is no longer valid”. Bloodworth’s article is a very concrete description of the actual contours of the modern working class in Australia.
The “Lenin”-Boyle “aristocracy of labour” crudification doesn’t figure in Bloodworth’s analysis at all, for the obvious reason that it’s quite unusable in any concrete analysis.
Peter Boyle’s church-Latin use of Lenin looks pretty pale alongside any serious, concrete Marxian sociological description of the modern working class, such as Bloodworth’s, Juriaan Bendien’s, Ernest Mandel’s, Harry Braverman’s, or my sociological descriptions of the Australian labour movement and working class.
Another bizarre feature of Boyle’s misuse of Lenin, is the specific intellectual history of this question on the left in Australia, as in many countries. In the 1960s the “New Left” historian, my personal friend but political opponent, the then Maoist Humphrey McQueen, published a provocative book, “A New Britannia”. This was an assault, mainly on the previous generation of Marxist historians of the Australian labour movement, Robin Gollan, Ian Turner and Russel Ward.
These historians, in the 1950s and the 1960s, produced a considerable body of work, describing the contradictory development of the modern Australian labour movement emphasising the big steps forward for the working class involved in the development of a mass labour party, based on the trade unions and describing the struggles and evolution of the socialist current within that mass labour movement.
McQueen, from his Maoist standpoint of that time, said this whole school of Marxist historiography was essentially a waste of time, because what had mainly developed wasn’t a labour movement at all, but an expression of the petty bourgeoisie. McQueen’s approach was associated politically, with extreme Maoist ultraleftism and hostility to all the existing institutions of the labour movement.
There was a big argument about those questions in left historical and labour movement circles, and eventually McQueen retreated somewhat from his most extreme formulations. McQueen moved from labour history into the sphere of populist social history, and has recently written an interesting book about Coca-Cola, “The Essence of Capitalism”.
Humphrey and I are old mates, despite our intense political differences over 35 years. McQueen has achieved a notable feat in managing to get published, and earn a modest living as a social historian and an art historian, outside the entrenched structures and rituals of academic life, and that’s no mean achievement in Australia. He has been fairly prolific, and some of his books, such as his social sketches of Australian life and his seminal work on Australian art, “The Black Swan of Trespass”, are important in Australian intellectual life.
Nevertheless, the work of the Marxist labour historians with whom McQueen was in conflict are the classics of Australian labour history. They’re the intellectual foundations on which one inevitably has to construct any history of the Australian workers’ movement to give one some understanding of that movement. This very large body of serious Australian labour history is of little interest to the “team leadership” of the DSP.
The reason for the DSP’s lack of interest in Australian labour history is political. They disagree with the primary construction of Ward, Gollan and Turner, which was to describe in detail the evolution of the modern Australian working class, the labour movement and the ALP, and to regard these developments as a leap in working class consciousness. Obviously, I agree with the Ward-Gollan-Turner construction.
McQueen rejected all that, as — essentially — does Boyle. In its first phase the DSP sided with the old Marxist historians and rejected the McQueen construction. Up to 1984 that was the framework in which the DSP looked at Australian working class history. Boyle has well and truly dumped all that. The DSP’s relationship with our old mate Humphrey is really quite funny. They’ve roped him in as an enthusiastic patron of the Socialist Alliance, on the “expose-Laborism” basis. Privately, Humphrey McQueen laughs to other historians about how “A New Britannia” has become the Old Testament of historical writing in the DSP and the Socialist Alliance.
Kim Bullimore on sexism and racism
Kim Bullimore threw her two-bob’s worth into this “labour aristocracy” debate by reeling off a few points about deep-rooted racism and sexism being important parts of the hegemony of the so-called “labour aristocracy” in the Australian labour movement. Tom O’Lincoln has answered Kim’s contribution quite effectively, but what fascinates me is the lack of collective memory in the DSP, and once again, the intense instrumentalism of Kim Bullimore’s approach to these questions.
The use of these issues in this way has a quite extensive recent history in the labour movement, particularly in Australia and Britain. In Australia, constant use of ideological rhetoric about racism and sexism in the working class was an ideological battering ram, used in particular by the Communist Party and the official Labor left, all through the late 1970s and the 1980s, to justify the ALP-ACTU Prices-Incomes Accord in Australia and the replacement of trade union economic demands by an ostensible campaign for something called the “social wage”.
This “social wage” was never achieved, but the wage-freeze Accord was brutally imposed, and ideologically this process was spearheaded by cynical, bureaucratic chatter about racism and sexism in the trade unions, which was usually associated with the undesirability of unions pressing economic demands, because these demands were said to cut across the achievement of the “social wage”.
I had the experience, personally, of going along year after year, from about 1979 to when they folded in 1990, to the CPA’s Marxist Summer Schools. My associates and I, who were a group of active Marxist trade unionists in three or four significant unions, prosecuted a pretty vigorous ideological battle against the CPA’s attack on the centrality of the working class as the primary potential force for social revolution.
Through the 1980s the CPA took up four or five important, mainly British, ideologues and books, one after the other. They were: Stuart Hall, Beatrix Campbell, Eric Hobsbawm and others. The main fashionable books were: In and Against the State, Beyond the Fragments, Beatrix Campbell’s books and Hobsbawm’s contribution to The Forward March of Labour Halted.
My Marxist trade union associates and I collided repeatedly with some quite big fish at these CPA gatherings, particularly with Laurie Carmichael, the CPA trade unionist who was the main architect of the Accord. The important thing about this is that in justifying the Accord and wage-pegging required to defeat the rampant “economism” of the trade unions, all the official left leaders constantly reeled off formulations like the ones just advanced by Kim Bullimore.
Bullimore’s use of these arguments suggests that the DSP suffers from some kind of amnesia about the ideological aspect of the Accord period.
As we used to say to the CPA Stalinists in the 1980s, it would be delusional to ignore the existence of racism and sexism in the labour movement and the working class, they certainly do exist, even though institutionally the organised trade union movement has taken an increasingly strong formal stand against them. But how does the existence of these problems destroy the objectively progressive role of the organised working class? The obvious task is to combat racism and sexism, not to repudiate the organised workers’ movement as a force for social change.
Kim Bullimore will say, of course, that’s not what she is doing, but to throw that kind of issue in a cursory way into a discussion about some so-called “labour aristocracy” as the dominant force in the Australian labour movement, currently, is to confuse the issue considerably. It strikes me as distinctly odd for Bullimore to talk as if nothing has changed much in the workers’ movement on those questions. The Census statistics actually show increased feminisation of all sections of the industrial workforce, and they also show that an extraordinarily high proportion of blue-collar industrial workers are recent migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds. To some extent the rapidly changing situation in the unions reflects this demographic change.
While women’s wages still trail, the quintessential women’s unions, the Nurses and Teachers, both predominantly female organisations, which could by reason of their professional status be accused of being “aristocracies” (by Boyle on a bad day) fight hard and reasonably successfully for wages and conditions for their members.
Just in the last couple of months, the Public Service Association has had a victory in the NSW industrial commission in a long case claiming substantial increases for librarians, a mainly female occupation, to bring up that profession to wage parity with a number of mainly male professions. This wage case was conducted officially by the union over several years with the energetic participation of rank and file activists, some of them male, and some of them members of socialist organisations. It seems to me to be way off beam to be striking an attitude of pessimism in relation to the battle to end economic discrimination against women in the workforce.
In the blue-collar unions the number of migrant organisers and officials is increasing — in some unions, rapidly. Racism and sexism are no longer dominant in the trade union movement. We should fight hard against both problems, but it’s ferocious instrumentalism to throw that construction into the pot to buttress some Talmudic argument about the “aristocracy of labour” , and it lends itself to being used in the way it was classically used in the 1980s by the Stalinists to square off for the Accord.
Links on the US labour movement
In the latest issue of the DSP magazine, Links (No. 22 Sept-Dec 2002), there is an important article by Barry Sheppard, Caroline Lund and Malik Miah, the close US allies of the DSP. In the section on the US labour movement, starting on page 21, among other things, they say:
“An important aspect of the failure to wage a generalised counter-attack to the capitalist offensive is the nature of the leadership of the working class.
“There were two important legacies of the anti-communist witch-hunt the Cold War. One was the decimation of the socialist left. This was beginning to be overcome during the radicalisation of the 1960s, but with the end of that radicalisation, stagnation and decline set in. The ignominious collapse of the USSR and the victory of the US in the Cold War had the immediate effect of making any alternative to capitalism seem utopian.
“The second legacy was the witch-hunt in the unions. The right wing cooperated fully with the government in driving socialists and other militants out of the unions. This clinched the stranglehold of the bureaucratic machines that still control the unions today. They became more and more integrated into the capitalist state and supported imperialism’s wars (there were some breaks during the last stages of the Vietnam War, but only after it was opposed by the big majority of the US population and some capitalist politicians). They worked hand in glove with the CIA in destabilising left-leaning unions throughout the world.
“These entrenched bureaucracies openly reject the class struggle and see themselves as partners with the bosses. This policy has been a disaster, with organised workers dropping from 35 per cent of the work force in the 1950s to 13 per cent today. Only 9 per cent of workers in the private sector are in unions. ..
“At present the relationship of class forces is against us and will be for the next period.
“When Washington does become embroiled in a long-term conflict with a determined enemy, and US casualties begin to mount, there will be cracks in the working class’s support for the War on Terrorism. The experience of the Vietnam War is a cause for optimism in this regard. To get to that point will take a patient, long-term perspective of mobilising whatever forces we can against each concrete war Washington launches as part of its war on terrorism.”
The above are just extracts from a longer document that does not appear to be up on the Links website yet and it would be useful if Links put it up so that comrades, particularly US comrades, can consider the arguments advanced by Barry Sheppard et al. On the face of it, it’s a deeply pessimistic view of possibilities for the US labour movement and working class.
They write off immediate prospects for the development of any left wing in the US labour movement and working class in an extremely sweeping way. From this distance I’m not in a position to pass an informed judgement on how right they are on this, and I’d be extremely interested in observations by US comrades on this question.
From a distance it doesn’t seem to me quite as bleak as Sheppard et al think it is. For instance, I’ve seen on Marxmail references to some US labour opposition to Bush’s war drive, and the Australian media has had many reports of the militancy of US west coast waterfront workers in their current dispute.
I don’t want to hold Boyle responsible for the views of the US co-thinkers about the USA, but it’s hard to escape the impression that there’s a considerable flavour of this sort of approach to Australia in Boyle’s rhetoric about the ongoing power of his “aristocracy of labour” construction in relation to Australia.
Australia is a former colonial settler state with some imperialist aspects still significant, despite its transformation into a relatively modern capitalist country. In internal economic relations in Australia what operates is the class struggle between the workers and the bourgeoisie. While you can say that relative to the rest of the world the Australian working class is privileged, that statement doesn’t tell you much about the dynamics of the class struggle in Australia, and it’s voodoo, or church Lenin (analogous to church Latin) to constantly invoke the imperialist angle in relation to the class struggle inside Australia. An actual examination of the evolution of the Australian labour movement in relation to immigration, race, class and imperialism shows some bad things, but it also shows a number of very good things.
In my piece The ALP, the labour movement and racism: From the Bulletin and white Australia to Terry Muscat, Jennie George, Mick Costa, Henry Tsang, Nick Bolkus, Steve Bracks and Kim Beazley, I point out that the attitude and political practice of the labour movement in relation to race and migration was completely transformed in the course of the 20th century. In particular, relatively recent migrants, a very large proportion of them, people of colour, are now the big battalions of the blue-collar section of the labour movement. Where’s the “labour aristocracy” there?
In addition to this, the history of the Australian labour movement, both political and industrial, in the 20th century in relation to imperialism has a surprising number of good features. In 1900, a number of Labor politicians, the most remarked-on being William Holman, opposed the Boer War of British imperialism, and a radical minority in the labour movement opposed the First World War. The overwhelming majority of the movement opposed conscription for that war, and the Labor Party split over it.
A federal Labor parliamentarian, Hugh Mahon from Western Australia, became the only federal MP ever expelled from the Australian parliament because of his stand in support of the national revolution in Ireland. In the 1920s, the Sydney Labor Council, and the ACTU, eventually, affiliated to the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, based in Vladivostok, and copped flak from the right wing in the labour movement because of the implicit opposition to White Australia involved in that affiliation.
In the late 1930s the wharfies in Port Kembla conducted an effective strike against Japanese ships carrying pig iron to Japan, the pig iron being of use to the Japanese war in China. During the Second World War, left wing Australian unions, with the support of the ACTU took action to force the Dutch government to release nationalist and communist prisoners that they had tried to intern in Australia.
After the Second World War, the left in the trade union movement, particularly the wharfies and seamen, imposed a black ban on Dutch shipping in support of the Indonesian war of independence. That ban was supported by the ACTU eventually, and was a critical factor in the defeat of the Dutch in Indonesia.
In the 1960s, the federal ALP leader dragged a slightly reluctant Labor Party federal caucus into support for the demand for withdrawing Australian troops from Vietnam and complete opposition to conscription for that war. The ACTU, the national trade union body, opposed the war from very early on, and many Australian trade unions in every state officially supported the campaign against the war from the beginnings of Australian involvement in 1965 until the end of the war.
Three years ago, the whole labour movement united behind the proposition that the Indonesian government should be forced to withdraw from East Timor and also behind the necessary commitment of Australian troops to that end. The result of that internationalist stand of the Australian labour movement, belated though it was from the political wing of the labour movement, has produced a small independent state of East Timor, with relative freedom of speech, legal trade unions and freedom of agitation for socialist parties.
In the past few weeks, the peak labour bodies in both Sydney and Melbourne have come out in a general way in opposition to Bush’s war in the Middle East. They aren’t too specific about what will happen if Bush’s war is endorsed by the United Nations, but they have given official support to the mobilisations in a few weeks, the Walks Against the War, and they have authorised the president of the ACTU, Sharon Burrow and other important union officials to speak at the rallies against the war.
Some ALP federal MPs such as Harry Quick have come out against the war in any circumstances, and the ALP parliamentary caucus has come out against any support for a unilateral Bush war but left open what they will do if a war is endorsed by the UN.
Taken as a whole, the labour movement, both industrial and political, in Australia doesn’t have a bad record for a labour movement in a former colonial-settler state, and the record that I’ve just described, underlines the point that the pessimism that Sheppard et at feel about the workers’ movement in the US is certainly not necessary in Australia.
There is a long anti-colonial tradition in the Australian labour movement and a long tradition of opposing war and imperialist interventions, on which socialists can base themselves, and this tradition still has resonance in the workers’ movement, giving scope for socialists to campaign in the labour movement against imperialism and war.
The historical facts that I’ve outlined here further underline the defects in Boyle’s model, which associates a determinedly unspecific general concept about an “aristocracy of labour” in Australia with a picture of a labour movement totally dominated by imperialist sentiments. That view is not true historically, and not accurate today.
In my view, Boyle’s use of “aristocracy of labour” Lenin rhetoric about the Australian labour movement is an incoherent mantra, the aim of which is to reinforce a sectarian attitude towards the workers’ movement that suits the “team leadership” of the DSP in furthering a project of developing an organisation essentially located essentially outside the traditional labour movement.
For the “aristocracy of labour” mantra to be anything more than a metaphysic, Boyle and the DSP leaders would have to address all the concrete political and sociological issues raised in this discussion. They refuse to do so, mainly because they can’t do so. Facts are stubborn things, and they speak against the Boyle “labour aristocracy” construction in modern Australia.
Allen Ginsberg got a lot of publicity years ago for the story that he had programmed his computer to repeat the mantra “om, om, om” in downtime. Maybe the computers at the DSP headquarters could be programmed in a similar way to repeat mantras in downtime, like “om, om, om”, “nothing, nothing, nothing”, or even “Lenin, Lenin, Lenin”.