Social Democracy, the US SWP and the Australian DSP


Similarities in the approach of two socialist sects

Bob Gould

In the spirit of Walter Lippman’s very effective and politically pertinent satirical piece about the attitude of the US SWP to the Spanish government’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq, Marxmail readers may be interested in an item posted on the Australian Green Left list by Peter Boyle on Friday.

The post doesn’t really require much comment. It is almost a satire of itself. Satire would have difficulty doing justice to Boyle’s original words. A little bit of context, however, is useful.

All through the mobilisations against the Iraq war, in which many Labor politicians and union leaders participated, the Labor Party federal parliamentary caucus opposed the Iraq invasion, but the Australian DSP conducted a constant barrage of propaganda asserting that Labor’s opposition to the war was not genuine and Labor really supported the war in some way.

Even as late as last Monday, a post by Peter Boyle on the Green Left discussion site chimed in with a television presenter on the ABC’s Lateline who tried to put Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd on the spot by alleging that Latham had broken with Labor’s previous policy by calling for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Latham’s Wednesday speech, which Boyle posted, is an adequate correction of that point.

Boyle is left, like the US SWP, having to use abusive language to dismiss the Laborite’s call for withdrawal of troops because he is alleged to have the wrong motivation.

The US SWP and the Australian DSP still have a hell of a lot in common.

Demagogy versus the united front

April 5, 2004

Richard Fidler springs to the defence of the DSP leadership, and accuses me of demagogy because I cross-posted Boyle’s vintage piece of abuse about Mark Latham’s speech on Marxmail, with my own comment.

Well, I know the Australian DSP and Richard are mates, politically speaking, but its Richard and the Australian DSP leadership supporter he quotes, who are demagogic, rather than me.

Richard and the other bloke are in fact being extraordinarily Jesuitical in trying to draw some distinction between the demeanor of the American SWP and the posture of the Australian DSP leadership about the Spanish and Australian events.

The thing that the DSP and the SWP have strikingly in common is the way they concentrate on the defects of the Spanish Social Democrats and the Australian Labor Party, rather than on the very material fact that these mass parties of Social Democracy favour withdrawal from imperialist involvement in Iraq, which is a pretty large opening for the forces opposed to any imperialist war.

Richard Fidler takes up Peter Boyle’s proposition that Labor is only opposing the war from the point of view of traditional reformist Laborism, not from a revolutionary point of view. That’s also the approach of the US SWP and the Militant.

It’s a truism with a touch of what Lenin described so succinctly as “scolding scoundrels”. Richard Fidler seems shocked by the fact that Latham based his assertion about the bankruptcy of the Iraq involvement on the routine intelligence briefing given to opposition leaders in a so-called bourgeois democracy.

What was striking about this week’s events in the Australian parliament was not that Latham had such briefings as opposition leader, but that he obstinately drew his own conclusions from them, which were that Australian troops should be withdrawn, and Fidler and Boyle are forced to acknowledge that this is driving the “main battalions” of the Australian bourgeoisie off their tree.

Its worth noting that that the Australian DSP’s criteria for programmatic criticism are extremely subjective. For instance, here in Sydney, in preferencing a conservative populist member of parliament who kept the conservative Greiner government in office with her vote, and whose electoral support comes from the richest postcodes in Australia, they abdicate all criticism.

In the case of Latham and Labor, however, the DSP’s assault is unremitting, permanent and not very scrupulous. (There are a couple of recent examples of this: a) Karl Kenner, a DSP supporter, on the GLW discussion list made the absurd and obviously false assertion that Australian Labor had supported all imperialist wars, and no one attempted to correct him; b) Kim Bullimore posted on the Green Left list a claim that Labor in Bankstown was preferencing the ultra-right One Nation, when it was actually the Liberals who were doing this. Bullimore then squared off for herself by asserting that her mistake was made was because it was difficult to tell the difference between Labor and the Liberals, both being “neo-capitalist parties”).

Richard Fidler says Boyle and the DSP leadership are completely correct in warning their members against having any illusions in Latham and Labor. I’d submit the following to Richard Fidler, who was recently in Australia as a respected guest of the DSP at its conference: the DSP membership needs more lectures about the evils of Laborism like a hole in the head. What they really need is a few lectures based on Left Wing Communism, about the contradictions of Laborism and the grip that mass Laborism still has on the bulk of the left of society, including most of the working class. That’s the area in which the DSP is defective, and I’d bet you saw that in full flight at the DSP conference.

All through the upheaval over the second Iraq war, the DSP leadership and Green Left Weekly have adopted an ultra-sectarian attitude towards both the leadership and the ranks of the mass Labor Party in Australia, which all the blue collar unions are part of, and which gets the clear majority of the working class vote.

They’ve routinely attacked the occasional inconsistency of the opposition of the Laborites towards the Iraq war, which has been very public, about which the Australian and international bourgeoisie have gone ape-shit.

An appropriate approach would have been enthusiastic support, combined with trying to push this Laborite opposition further, but the DSP leadership is incapable of that kind of approach.

Typical of this approach has been the official ideologue of the DSP, the ubiquitous Peter Boyle who has talked about the “conga line of suckholes” supporting Latham about a dozen times on various web discussion lists.

The DSP leadership chose consistently to claim that the ALP’s opposition to the Iraq war was not real opposition, and that Labor really supported the war despite the obvious evidence to the contrary in the action of Labor in the Parliament, and the very large participation of Labor Party members at all levels in the demonstrations against the war.

The political basis for this is approach by the DSP leadership, which Richard Fidler apparently shares, is the proposition that Labor, which the overwhelming majority of the left side of society support and engage with, is an equivalent capitalist party to the Tories in Australia.

The practical bankruptcy of this approach is demonstrated by the evolution of Australian politics over the past 18 months. In the pursuit of a completely chimerical alternative revolutionary electoral alternative to the Laborites, the DSP leadership ends up electorally supporting the conservative populist Clover Moore.

The whole period of the Iraq war, culminating in the events of the last couple of weeks, has demonstrated that there is a fundamental social and class difference between Australian Laborism, however degenerate it may be, and the Tories. The overwhelming majority of Australian Laborites, and even the majority of the Australian Labor structures, have in a halting, contradictory, reformist way, opposed the Iraq involvement.

This has culminated in the past week in the clash between Latham and Howard, which has driven the Australian and international bourgeoisies so hysterical. On the other hand the Liberal-National coalition has been 110 per cent in support of George Bush and the Iraq involvement

In this situation, the DSP leadership has, in general, raised their differences with Labor to primacy. They may through gritted teeth now say that they’ll invite Latham on to an antiwar platform in June (big deal), but even as late as today, even on the question of the Iraq war, they are still concentrating their main fire on the defects of Labor.

Today’s Green Left Weekly contains a large number of attacks on Labor, and it does not anywhere contain a straightforward, general statement of solidarity with Latham and Labor on the very important question of Latham sticking to his guns against the assault from the Howard government.

All they can think of is to continue, as Boyle did last Monday, to try to pick holes in what they claim are contradictions of Labor. This approach is evident in the main article on these events, by Alison Dellit, in today’s Green Left Weekly.

To concentrate on the past and present inconsistencies in the position of Labor rather than backing up the enormous break with bipartisan politics involved in Latham’s stance this week, is the height of sectarianism. By way of contrast, Socialist Alternative, which is now about the same size as the DSP, has a far more realistic strategic orientation, and has just produced a petition supporting Latham headed “Don’t back down on troop withdrawal”, which recognises the importance of Latham’s stand.

Richard Fidler somewhat pompously refers me to the slogan that used to be hung at the American SWP’s Oberlin conferences: “The art of politics is knowing what to do next.” This quote applies particularly to the Australian DSP and the US SWP, and in my view they both fail that test.

Discussion, Discussion


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