Green Left discussion list, September 4, 2004
I’ve just been to three sessions of the ISO’s Marxism weekend in Sydney, a reasonably well-attended event, with more than 100 present despite the somewhat reduced character of the ISO.
It was very striking to me that I could only see two DSP members at the event, Lisa Macdonald, who spoke at a forum on regroupment attended by 22 people, and, running a bookstall in the foyer, the grand inquisitor/district secretary/organiser of the DSP, who subjected me to immediate verbal abuse before I’d opened my mouth, in the same terms as Peter Boyle on the Green Left list, that I was a “pathetic human being”, repeated a number of times.
There are two points about this. One is the curious nature of the Socialist Alliance from the DSP’s point of view. For a major event organised by the Alliance’s second largest affiliate it appears that the DSP can’t spare more than two of its vaunted activists to participate.
The second point is the substitution of abuse for political argument by the grand inquisitor. Such is life. (Needless to say, I was a bit verbally colourful in return.)
The political basis for the inquisitor’s substitution of abuse for political debate is laid by Peter Boyle’s incoherent written abuse. Boyle’s approach is then taken up in a rather more literary way by Paperclayman, who makes a slightly obscure reference to Isaac Deutscher’s book, Heretics and Renegades, classifying me as a renegade and throwing abuse at the whole body of work on Ozleft, which he says should be under the rubric of “once a jolly comrade”.
That’s all a bit revealing, actually. Once a Jolly Comrade was the rather journalistic title given by an editor to a memoir by longtime Communist Party functionary Keith McEwan after he left the CPA. Despite his political demoralisation at the time, his book is actually a very useful description of the practices and structures of the old CP.
The striking thing about the DSP is how similar its practices and structures are to those of the old Stalinist party.
I cut my political teeth in the revolt against Stalinism in the workers movement that started in Australia in the late 1950s. I’ve always regarded myself as a heretic, not a renegade, and the content of my lifelong political activity speaks for itself.
Paperclayman may resent the very wide range of material we’ve put up on Ozleft, quite a bit of it written by me, and quite a bit by other people, but this resentment may well be driven by the poverty of Paperclayman’s own intellectual activity.
Boyle says I’m obsessed with the DSP, but a perusal of Ozleft shows that I have a range of other political, cultural, historical and labour movement questions on my mind.
In fact, of my work on Ozleft only about an eighth of it, at most, would have even incidental reference to the DSP.
I’ve spent a bit of time discussing the DSP the way I spent a bit of agitational time on the old CPA between the 1950s and 1980s, because, in my considered view, the DSP has in some ways been transformed into the same sort of political obstacle to the development of a healthy socialist organisation that the CPA was.
Note carefully that I’m not saying that the DSP is explicitly a Stalinist formation. I’m saying that a number of practices of the DSP leadership are similar to those of the old Stalinist leadership.
One has only to read Frank Hardy’s novel, But the Dead are Many, or Jean Devanny’s autobiography, or Denis Freney’s description of his first expulsion from the CPA in the 1950s, to understand what I mean.
In A Map of Days, Freney describes an expulsion process strikingly similar to the expulsion process to which LF was subjected.
In her autobiography Jean Devanny describes internal CP disciplinary commissions set up to pass judgment on her, and the bodies she describes sound strikingly similar to the one set up to pass judgment on LF.
These things resonate powerfully with me because I lived through the agitations of Marxist heretics for many years against the Stalinist practices of the old CPA.
Incidentally, the behaviour of the DSP leaders when challenged, saying they don’t have time to talk about their bizarre organisational practices because they’re too busy being activists, sound exactly like the kind of square-off that the CPA leadership tried to lull its members with, whenever they were doing a job on individuals who in any way deviated.
Boyle is totally disingenuous when he says that LF was expelled by the Sydney district, implying that the national leaders had nothing to do with it. If you believe in that you believe in fairies, or the second coming of Christ, particularly when all documents are quite explicit about the procedure.
Did the organiser who laid the charges, and the judge-jury-executioner committee, operate independently of the national leadership? What a John-Howard-type pack of lies that is. Boyle’s disingenuousness beggars belief in an outfit like the DSP.
It’s also worth carefully examining Boyle’s proposition that LF attacked Resistance. What LF actually did, in that context, was what many people do in similar situations. He defended Resistance and other socialist groups against being pushed out of a broader radical formation. He said that Resistance had made mistakes but shouldn’t be excluded because of those mistakes. What was he supposed to do? Say that Resistance had never made any mistakes?
The nitty-gritty of the charges is that LF didn’t ask permission of the DSP leadership for every detail of his daily political activity. That’s a Catch 22 if ever there was one.
All my political life I’ve rejected the proposition that the activity of Lenin led directly to Stalinism, but what emerges from a serious study of the history of the revolutionary movement, and of the political practices of some sub-Leninist groups, in this case the DSP, is that they have institutionalised and crudified a completely invented schema about Lenin’s practices to justify an unreasonably centralised small political machine.
The political mincing up of LF demonstrates this in spades. Clearly the DSP leadership has no convincing answer on these questions, which is why Boyle and Paperclayman are forced to rely on gratuitous abuse.