The left press and the labour movement


Green Left discussion list, June 2, 2004

Norm Dixon sings the praises of Green Left Weekly at considerable length. I have respect for the doggedness of the people who produce that paper, since the very act of maintaining a socialist newspaper in hard copy and web form on a weekly basis is a considerable achievement.

Nevertheless, it has considerable political and agitational weaknesses, which in fact are even worse in the newspapers and magazines of the other socialist groups, because they have a similar sectarian tone, worsened by their lack of frequency.

When I became active politically, on the left in the 1950s, I used to read three weekly journals, religiously: the Stalinist Tribune, Jack Lang’s weekly newspaper, Century, then edited by Jim Ormonde, later a Labor Senator, and the Grouper newspaper, News Weekly. In my youth I evolved from a kind of radical Catholic Langism to Stalinism, then to anti-Stalinist revolutionary socialism, but I kept reading the newspapers of the three currents, which were sharply in opposition to each other.

Century and Tribune spent a lot of time exposing the Groupers, who gave as good as they got in their own weekly. As a young person, it took me a long while to grasp the nuances of all the broader political questions, which came to me in time. The detailed account in all three newspapers of battles and wars in the labour movement gave the reader a useful education of who was who in the labour and left political zoo.

The only one of the three left today is the Grouper News Weekly, which has undergone a very strange mutation from the political organ of the Grouper faction in the labour movement, into a sad little magazine that supports the Liberals, and wails, issue after issue, about the terrible swamp of modernity which is, according to it, burying the world: homosexuality, pornography, the destruction of marriage, etc, etc. The other two journals of my youth have disappeared.

One of the great weaknesses of Green Left Weekly, which it shares with the less frequent journals of the other socialist groups, is the lack of any serious ongoing description of issues and events in the labour and workers’ movements. When such issues are covered, from time to time, they’re only covered if some lesson can be drawn exposing Laborism and proving that all association with Laborism leads to hell.

As a result, despite the many interesting articles that Norm Dixon refers to, I doubt whether anyone reads Green Left, as I did Tribune, Century and News Weekly, to get a picture of developments in the labour movement.

An example of what I mean is that Green Left Weekly readers would have been oblivious to the complexities involved in the DSP’s support for forces to the right of Bill Game in the WA ETU election, until I drew attention to it on the discussion list.

GLW readers would also have been unaware of the vigorous and energetic interventions of left trade union leaders like Michelle O’Neill and Martin Kingham at the ALP federal conference, again until I drew attention to it. GLW readers, so far, have had no account of the sharp political struggle at the Victorian ALP conference last weekend, where the unions united to fire salvos over the bow of the Bracks government on industrial relations questions, once again led by Kingham and O’Neill and other militants, but supported by right wing unions. There was a bit of material about the conference in The Age, which I don’t get, and I don’t appear to be going to get an account of the events from Green Left.

The Financial Review last week had an interesting article about the upheaval in the WA ALP, where a right wing subfaction of the ALP led jointly by former Premier Burke and CFMEU secretary Kevin Reynolds were colliding with the Gallup government, on a range of issues. I would have expected some GLW analysis of this line up of forces, but all you get is silence from GLW.

I’m sure leftist web surfers around the world aren’t as interested in these questions as I am, but I’m also certain that anyone active in the workers movement in Australia is interested in these questions, and that their view of a journal or political tendency is formed in part by the information about these questions and the lead they get on them in the journal of a political tendency like the DSP.

On an associated question, which has some relationship to the disputes in the Socialist Alliance, in the 1920s, before Stalinisation, Workers Weekly, the Communist newspaper, used to have a four-page discussion bulletin on disputed strategic and tactical questions in the lead up to the CPA’s annual conference. In the period after Stalinisation broke down in the 1960s, the CP frequently had discussion supplements of four pages in the middle of the paper, on disputed issues. For its first six or seven years, Direct Action, which I have in bound volumes, also had a good deal of public discussion on serious disputed tactical questions. Pretty well all that has vanished from Green Left, and the rest of the left press.

It would be comparitively easy to dedicate four pages of each issue of Green Left Weekly to serious discussion of disputed strategic and tactical questions. I would recommend such a regular four-page discussion section, and I would also recommend a dedicated two-page section on serious coverage of developments and events in the workers movement, broadly conceived, to include the trade unions, the ALP and the Greens.

Both these innovations would be comparitively easy to achieve technically, the decision whether or not to do something like this is obviously political, not technical. These innovations could take place without reducing the features of the newspaper that Norm Dixon points to as attractive to leftist web surfers overseas.




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