Clownishness and personal abuse

by

Green Left discussion list, December 6, 2004

Advice to Duncan Meerding on holiday reading

Duncan Meerding wades in defending the political line of his chosen organisation, the DSP, against me. I note with pleasure, and even a little respect, that Duncan uses more cautious language than he has in past posts. His more careful tone is quite important.

His enthusiasm and partinost for the DSP have a good side. That kind of enthusiasm in the young, however, can also have a dangerous side if it blinds them to inquiry and self-education. The problem with a political sect such as the DSP is that it discourages younger members from inquiring into the views of other currents and individuals on the left.

A bellicose ultraleftism towards the broad labour movement obviously has a certain appeal for some youth, partly because they have nothing much to test it against. However, questions of strategy and tactics in the labour movement have a long and complex history, and are not exhausted by constantly drawing attention to reactionary positions adopted by some parts of the bureaucracies that lead the labour movement.

It’s possible that you don’t know terribly much about those bureaucracies, their methods of functioning, and their contradictory character. I’d urge you, Duncan, to read and study some of the material that’s accessible on these questions. For instance, Trotsky’s writings on the united front concerning the victory of fascism in Germany, which are collected in a relatively cheap Penguin book. You should also read Lenin’s Left Wing Communism, and some of the tactical discussions at the first four congresses of the Comintern, particularly Trotsky’s intervention on the united front tactic. Pointers to some of this material are available on Ozleft, and most of it is in the Marxists Internet Archive.

I note that you make a total distinction between the reactionary Labor Party and the progressive Greens. If the distinction is so absolute, what weight do you give to the way that the Labor Party is intertwined with the trade union movement, even included many trade unionists that the DSP quite validly draws attention to as a left current?

The educational year is finished, and historically in Australia the Christmas holidays are a time to read and study, and it might be a useful time for you to dig into some of the material, including the views of left and Marxist groups and individuals who disagree with the DSP on strategy and tactics. Who knows, you may even have begun such an inquiry independently of my urging.

In relation to Paul Benedek’s attempt to say that white is black in his response to Shane Hopkinson, I’d make the following observations.

Despite what Benedek says, that parallels between the British SWP and the Australian DSP on regroupment are striking, with this qualification: that the British SWP isn’t nearly as ruthless and monolothic as the DSP is in trying to bend its ostensible allies to its will.
Your problem, Paul, is that no one on the Marxist left believes the DSP version of the history except the DSP leadership and the personalities leading the

several-times-reorganised ostensibly independent caucus in the Socialist Alliance. The ostensible independents have been reorganised, of course, to exclude most independents who aren’t DSP non-party Bolsheviks.

It’s worth reviewing the history of the Socialist Alliance, which was set up as an electoral formation. That was what the groups all signed up to.

At a certain point the DSP introduced the idea that the Socialist Alliance should become a regroupment project, a multi-tendency socialist party, effectively run by the DSP. This project was presented by the DSP without any parallel proposal for discussion between the groups to resolve their historical differences, such as tactical attitudes towards the labour movement, theoretical approaches to state capitalism, workers’ states, etc.

Pretty well all the other affiliates, including the second largest affiliate, the ISO, rejected this repeated proposal of the DSP that they should be more or less absorbed by the DSP carnivorous plant, and they continue to do so.

Clearly the DSP wants to turn the Socialist Alliance into a kind of DSP mark II, and it continues to press for this outcome. The other groups continue to reject the DSP’s proposal and perspective for the Alliance. It’s always possible for the DSP to press ahead and use its greater weight in the Alliance to do anything it wants, but it’s highly that any of the other affiliates will acquiesce in the Alliance becoming DSP mark II. There the matter rests.

The verbal assaults of the DSP leadership on the ISO and the other groups for “holding back the unity process” (for which one should read, not allowing themselves to be absorbed into DSP mark II) are unlikely to change anything.

I reiterate: no one outside the DSP and its closest allies believes the DSP version of events. It seems to me that this situation, to which Shane Hopkinson has drawn attention so well, is the main reason for the intense venom of the recent responses to Shane from Peter Boyle and Alan Bradley.


Clownishness and personal abuse

December 6, 2004

The substitution of personal abuse for political debate seems to be an unbreakable habit for some members of the DSP leadership and their loyal echo chambers. Taking his cue from Peter Boyle, Rohan G calls me an old windbag and whinges that he can’t understand why people spend so much time arguing with me.

Rohan G is obviously a closet reader of the World Socialist Website, which has recently had a lengthy and quite intelligent piece on the life and activity of Wilhelm Reich. Rohan G compares me with Reich in his declining years, which is a pretty strange kind of insult. In his declining years Reich was known for his rather embittered anti-communism.

Is Rohan G implying that I’m an embittered anti-communist? If so, he should look at my written material. The proposition that I’m an embittered anti-communist is refuted by everything I write, unless you have the psychotic mindset of the DSP leadership, who clearly believe that anyone who argues with them must be an embittered anti-communist.

It’s also possible that Rohan G is referring to Reich’s later activities, for which he was persecuted by the US Food and Drugs Administration. Reich built something he called an orgone box. He believed that if one sat in this device one could extract good vibes from the ether, improving one’s orgiastic potency.

I can assure Rohan G and the DSP leadership that I’ve never been near an orgone box in my life, nor tried to build one.

On a more serious note, I don’t at all resent being associated with Wilhelm Reich. Before he went a little mad, Reich made considerable contributions to psychoanalysis and scientific inquiry into sexuality from a broadly Marxist point of view.

It seems to me that Rohan G and the DSP leadership might benefit from reading some of the earlier works of Reich (which I have in my shop), particularly The Function of the Orgasm. Another book in my shop that is of some interest is Orson Bean’s Me and the Orgone, a Memoir of the Reichian Movement.

One individual of my acquaintance in the DSP leadership, in particular, might benefit greatly from studying the early works of Reich, particularly on character armouring, the authoritarian personality and general questions of psychological repression. The early Reich warrants serious study by anyone interested in psychology, from a Marxist point of view.

Rohan G is a clown and he throws in for polemical purposes, in a rather nasty way, things about which he clearly knows very little.

Rohan G takes up the theme of Boyle and others in the DSP leadership that I’m an old windbag or an old fart. That’s a pretty dopey line of argument. Most human cultures have a certain respect for age, recognising that older people have often acquired knowledge and experience.

It’s clearly necessary, from time to time, to revolt against the old, but nevertheless human culture is transmitted to a certain extent from the old to the young, and this applies also in the socialist movement.

The Bolsheviks, for example, were no particular respecters of persons young or old, but it’s unimaginable that Lenin or Trotsky would ever conduct arguments with the gutter demagogy of a Peter Boyle or, now, a Rohan G.

Boyle tries to pass off his stupidly barbaric verbal behaviour on the basis that he’s some kind of larrikin. He’s not a larrikin at all. He’s a petty bourgeois committeeperson putting on a big act for the benefit of anyone ignorant enough to take seriously his proffering of an ostensible larrikin posture as a substitute for debate.

On matters much more serious than the clownishness of Boyle and Rohan G, Boyle’s recent response to Shane Hopkinson is extremely sinister, politically. Firstly, Boyle passes off the DSP leadership’s authoritarian practices as Leninism. What a nasty, slanderous view of Lenin is involved in this proposition.

If you look at the practice of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in their creative formative period, it bears no resemblance at all to the DSP’s structure and practices, as described by Boyle and the DSP leadership.

I’ve written at length on this question, and so have Louis Proyect and a number of others, and Boyle should attempt some response to these serious contributions to debate before he talks obvious bullshit about the DSP’s claims to Leninism.

In fact, the DSP leadership has refined an authoritarian structure that squeezes the life out of political debate in a tiny sect of 200 or so members, and which has institutionalised a regime in which no change of political line is possible unless it comes from the DSP leadership.

The political line entrenched by this process is exotic and sterile, and DSP members question it at their peril, as LF discovered when he was summarily expelled from the DSP this year, and as many others have discovered when they have been driven out. The structural arrangements in the DSP are such that its eclectic political line can’t be changed by any process of internal political discussion. That’s physically impossible in the DSP. The only changes can come from within the leadership.

This organisational set-up is obvious to all on the left, and it’s the main reason why other socialist groups are very cautious about getting into a too-close political embrace with the DSP leadership.

Boyle’s most sinister, outrageous and dangerous implication comes at the end, when in his ostensibly “larrikin” way he equates debate over political differences in the socialist movement with what he imagines — from his wealth of labour movement experience and reading — workers do to scabs on picket lines.

There are two very important points at issue here. Firstly, it’s absolutely poisonous, and the beginnings of Stalinism, to equate with scabs people who hold political disagreements. The implication is that people who act on their political differences should be treated physically like scabs. Comrade J.V. Stalin used to talk like that, with very precise political and physical intentions towards those who disagreed.

There’s a secondary, but also important, aspect to Boyle’s stupid, rhetorical and demagogic implication that oppositionists should be treated like he thinks workers treat scabs. It’s certainly true that in the history of the labour movement, at certain high points of mobilisation and struggle, workers have treated scabs very harshly.

Those workers, and their leaderships, however, have usually done such things in a responsible and careful way. The classic description of this kind of activity is in Farrell Dobbs’ very fine books about the class struggle in Minneapolis in the 1930s.

In industrial matters, however, it’s important to know the ebbs from the flows, and in Australia at the moment, industrial struggle is in rather defensive, low-key phase.

Apart from being wrong in principle in equating differences among socialists with conflict on a picket line, committeeperson Boyle displays a dangerous and pseudo-romantic approach to serious industrial matters.

He may not have thought these things through too clearly, because what he’s actually doing is throwing around abuse for his immediate political purposes, but in industrial matters in Australia for the past few years, quite dangerous consequences can arise from misestimating the political situation and the tactics it’s wise to adopt in prevailing circumstances.

Boyle’s congenital left talk is of no use to serious socialists in any sphere, and it’s a danger to the movement in some respects.


Vindictive and pretentious “humour”

December 8, 2004

Dave Riley always writes in a pretentious and vindictive way when arguing with, or writing about, anyone who disagrees with the DSP. He also doubles as an ostensible humourist. One problem with his writing is that it’s very hard to discern where the serious stuff ends and the humour begins, and a lot of what he writes seems to me like an extended satire on himself and the DSP.

He also doubles as a central leader of the ostensible independents in the Socialist Alliance, but this doesn’t stop him taking up arms in the most belligerent way against anyone who argues with the DSP. I often feel like asking: will the real Riley please stand up.

Riley launches an arrogant and politically stupid broadside today against socialists who are members of the Greens. He says quite baldly that most of them are “exers”, whatever that means, and in passing he asserts that one of my personal political crimes is that Ozleft, to use Riley’s insulting and rather revealing phrase, “panders to those exers”.

That kind of language has the nasty smell of Stalinism about it. It’s the kind of language that was once used by the CPA about anyone who parted company with it. One shouldn’t be surprised at that, as he’s somewhat of an ex himself, having kicked off his political life, as I myself did, as a young Catholic with a certain sympathy for the Groupers, which he shed and moved into the orbit of the CPA, as I also did as a youth, and then he moved on to the current that is now known as the DSP after changing its name several times.

Unfortunately, in Riley’s case, the bad habits of Stalinism die rather hard. If you examine carefully what Riley says, he clearly implies that the only socialists are the smallish number in the Socialist Alliance, and particularly in relation to the Greens he asserts that socialists in the Greens aren’t really socialists, but “exers”, who he implies are moving to the right.

What an offensive and stupid approach that is. That’s the attitude of the DSP/Socialist Alliance leadership towards both socialists in the Greens and socialists in the Labor Party: they can’t be real socialists because they don’t make themselves available for the DSP’s current political projects.

Riley also babbles about activists, implying also in a mealy-mouthed way that the Socialist Alliance and the DSP have the only real activists, and the socialists in the Greens aren’t activist, whatever that means.

In the real world of politics the DSP leadership’s rhetoric about their own activism has a slightly surreal quality. The DSP cum Socialist Alliance leadership are the leadership of a sect, whose primary political activity is internal, promoting their own projects, building their own organisation and trying to bend everyone in the Socialist Alliance to support for their newspaper.

They do engage in a bit of activism from time to time, but so does everyone else in the socialist, workers’ and popular movements.

In Sydney, for instance, in the past couple of days there have been a couple of activities, one outside the court over the James Hardie asbestos case, organised by the trade unions, another against the Carr Government’s rather sinister redevelopment plans for the Redfern area, an agitation organised mainly by local residents with the help of local Labor Party branches.

At the political level, the move of some right-wingers in the federal Labor caucus to attack refugee activists was withdrawn because the refugee activists were able to mobilise considerable sentiment in Labor Party circles against the move.

The move of the right wing of the federal Labor Party caucus to back down on workplace agreements has caused an upheaval, and most trade unions are starting agitation to force Steven Smith to back down. The move to block Smith’s proposition on AWAs by calling a special ALP federal conference is being spearheaded by the union bureaucrat that the DSP loves to hate, Doug Cameron.

The workers’ movement is a complex and contradictory place, and there’s piles of activism in it, all over the shop, only a small part of which has any significant input from the DSP leadership.
It’s both offensive and bizarr for Riley to imply that the socialist activists in the Greens aren’t really socialists because they don’t line up with the DSP.

Are Sylvia Hale, John Kaye, Lee Rhiannon, Jack Mundey and Kerry Nettle not socialists and not activists? That proposition is absurd. Are the grey-haired ex-members of the CPA scattered around the Greens not socialists? Clearly, the former members of the DSP in the Greens can’t be socialists because they’ve sinned by departing from the elect, but what about all the others? The same principle applies to the Labor Party.

Are the 6000-7000 people scattered across the country who voted for Carmen Lawrence as federal president of the ALP not socialists because they don’t adhere to the DSP?

The political problem for the Riley and the self-appointed DSP/Socialist Alliance leadership sect is that everywhere in the country, even in these rather defensive times, where there’s a bit of an upsurge of the movement of any sort, heaps of people turn up who are socialists in the Greens, in the Labor Party, in other socialist groups that don’t roll over to the DSP leadership, or who are not in any group.

No amount of vindictive, self-important abuse from Riley, Peter Boyle or anyone else, mainly written for internal consumption in the DSP/Socialist Alliance, is going to change that situation.

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