Green Left Weekly discussion list, February, 9,2005
About a fortnight ago Dick Nicholls put his name to an extraordinary Third-Period-type article about the Labor Party in Green Left Weekly.
One feature of Nicholls’s article was that it was a clear violation of the implicit protocol between the DSP and the other affiliates of the Socialist Alliance, who are expected to support GLW, that GLW would only have major line articles on contentious questions that embodied the Socialist Alliance agreed view.
Clearly Nicholls’s call for the Labor Party to go out of business forthwith does not fit that protocol. I’m reliably informed that the ISO are pretty angry about the way the Nicholls article breaches the protocol.
I posted a criticism of Nicholls on the GLW discussion list more than a week ago. Nicholls put a small post on Green Left saying he’d reply to me in due course, but no reply has appeared.
In the interim, about a week ago, Peter Boyle posted a vintage piece, which expresses everything that is bad about the DSP leadership approach to Laborism.
The first feature of Boyle’s outburst, which is so contemptuous of the reader that he doesn’t even correct it, is that Boyle’s proposition is simply untrue.
In a convoluted way he says no Labor governments have ever done anything for the working class.
Even the most limited student of Australian history knows that’s a lie. What about the introduction of child endowment by the Lang government in NSW, what about the introduction of workers compensation by Lang?
I won’t bore the reader, but there are literally hundreds of reforms introduced by Labor governments, usually against the strenuous opposition of the conservatives.
Boyle is talking obvious nonsense. A curious aspect of this is that no one on the GLW list has challenged Boyle in the five days since his post.
Even in very recent times, despite the general shift of Laborism to the right, there have been a number of reforms by Labor governments. The NSW government and its then industrial relations minister Jeff Shaw, steered through both houses industrial relations laws that met the full demands of the trade unions.
Labor in NSW a few years ago also steered through the Parliament the reform of the Upper House, which turned it from a bastion of reaction into a democratic house elected by proportional representation, which led to the election of Greens members to that house.
The Victorian Labor government recently brought in proportional representation in its upper house, also making possible the election of Greens. It also introduced proportional representation in local government elections, making possible the election of Greens and socialists such as Steve Jolly.
In saying that Labor governments have never done anything for the working class, Boyle is talking rubbish, and it’s difficult to believe that he doesn’t know it.
The question must be asked: why choose this moment for such an extravagant attack on Labor?
Given the tendency in far left organisations to be removed from the actual stream of life, and to get carried away by the heat generated in small rooms (referred to by Trotsky), Marxists should keep a copy of Lenin’s Left Wing Communism handy.
One can open a copy of this work at almost any page and be rewarded, and this paragraph, from page 73 of the Bookmarx edition is particularly relevant to Boyle’s outburst.
“The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political (and not only political) idea is to reduce it to absurdity on the plea of defending it. For every truth, if “overdone” (as Dietzgen senior put it), if exaggerated, if carried beyond the limits of actual applicability, can be reduced to absurdity and is even bound to become an absurdity. That is just the kind of backhanded service the Dutch and German lefts are rendering the new truth that the Soviet form of government is superior to bourgeois democratic parliaments.”
The most immediate problem facing the Australian labour movement and working class is the imminent assault of the Liberals, come July, on the state industrial relations systems. In particular, the Liberals are threatening to abolish the state systems, and that must be resisted by the labour movement.
An effective resistance should be modelled on the broad labour movement approach in the MUA dispute a few years ago, which combined the unions, community activists and many on the far left in effective resistance that led to defeat of the Liberals’ plans.
The same kind of flexible, active, militant united front is an obvious necessity on a national scale in resisting the Liberals’ industrial relations offensive.
It’s quite likely that the leadership of the unions and the state Labor governments will vacillate somewhat in this situation, but the left ought to try to stiffen them up by the use of flexible tactics, rather than denouncing them for “inevitable betrayal” before the battle is even joined.
Boyle and the DSP leaderships’ extravagant abuse of Laborism is, in this context, completely reactionary in relation to the task at hand.
Boyle reduces working class politics to a lunatic conspiracy theory when he says: “this difference makes it the capitalist that specialises in duping a large section of the working class into supporting it”. This curious, contemptuously uncorrected, sentence is at the heart of Boyle’s and the DSP leadership’s current madness.
The grip of Laborism on the left of Australian society is reduced crudely to Labor duping the working class. If that was the core of it, the problem would be easily solved. The working class would respond to the correct ideas presented by the DSP. You’ve only got to state that proposition for the obvious flaws in it to jump out and bite you.
The grip of Laborism on the Australian working class is a real, historic, material force. It’s based, in reality, on the association of Laborism with all the reforms introduced by Labor governments at different times, that Boyle baldly asserts don’t exist.
Socialists are unlikely to make any headway at all in combating the grip of Laborism by extravagant and untruthful pure propaganda of the Boyle type.
Significant sections of militants are certainly disaffected with Labor, but they’re hardly likely to take notice of socialists who tell them obvious and outright lies.
Boyle should study the above paragraph from Left Wing Communism every morning before he goes to work.
Before the DSP went crazy on the question of the Labor Party in 1984 it shared with most Trotskyist formations a reasonably realistic view of the sociology of mass labour parties and the need for strategic intervention in them. In fact, a couple of articles from the early years of the DSP about the sociology of mass labour parties, and strategic questions relating to them, stand the test of time as useful statements of the problems facing Marxists in the labour movement (Attitude to the ALP and Developing class consciousness).
In 1984, however, the DSP dumped all that realistic sociology in favour of pure metaphysics about the fundamental nature of political parties.
Once again, I can’t really understand why they say and do what they say and do. Why does Boyle tell obvious lies about the history of the labour movement, and why does he belt out this rubbish when the need of the moment is mobilisation for a united front against the Liberal industrial proposals.
Once again, the only possible explanation is that the extravagant anti-Labor rhetoric relates mainly to the internal problems of the DSP.
DSP membership has fallen to 265 or thereabouts, and hard copy sales of Green Left Weekly to about 2000. Clearly there is difficulty, partly as a result of the leadership’s Third Period political line, in persuading the members to persist in primarily internal and exotically overseas-focused political activity.
It obviously has less and less to do with reality.
The DSP puts an enormous amount of effort into developments in Latin America, many of them good and worthy. Nevertheless, this extraordinarily narrow focus on Latin America, for instance, tends to remove the DSP membership more and more from the reality of Australian life.
I make this modest proposal to the organisers of the coming Asia-Pacific Solidarity Conference, which has a stream on the Australian labour movement. Why not have several serious forums in this stream with different and opposed points of view, responsibly presented, on these vexed tactical questions in the broad Australian labour movement.