Lies, damned lies and statistics


Socialist Alliance and the Boyle-Riley Potemkin village

Green Left Weekly discussion list, March 17, 2005

The vitriolic committeeman Peter Boyle, in his latest post, pours out his usual bile against Bob Gould and extends it to a sweeping assault on the ISO, which he asserts belligerently will be steamrolled in a big fight if it uses any of Gould’s argument or even if it persists in opposing the DSP’s proposals.

He blurts out some half statistics, as does Dave Riley in his recent post. These statistics are ambiguously presented, but nevertheless let’s take them as a starting point.

Boyle says the Socialist Alliance has 1200 paid-up members, or thereabouts (a big drop from the 2000 that used to be claimed in the early days of the alliance).

Accepting Boyle’s fitures and extrapolating from the relative populations of Australian cities and regions and from what is publicly known about the Socialist Alliance in various states, the shape of the alliance may look as follows: 50 in Brisbane, 15 in rural Queensland, 15 in the NT, 50 in Perth, 10 in rural WA, 30 in Adelaide, 10 in rural SA, 30 in Tasmania, 50 in the ACT, 30 in Newcastle, 10 in Wollongong, 20 in rural NSW, 10 in Geelong, 20 in rural Victoria, which means there have to be about 500 in Sydney and about 400 in Melbourne to reach Boyle’s putative total of 1200.

Sydney is the area where I live. There are ostensibly, or have been, the following Alliance branches in this city: Eastern Suburbs, Sydney Central, Marrickville, Bankstown, Parramatta (now Auburn), Blue Mountains and Northern Suburbs.

The Blue Mountains and Northern Suburbs branches have closed, the Auburn and Bankstown branches get attendances at meetings of 15-20 and the other three branches have had very small attendances since Christmas, partly because the DSP members have been throwing their energies into the coming Asia-Pacific conference and next Sunday’s antiwar demonstration, and the ISO members have been concentrating on the antiwar demonstration and several local peace groups.

I have attended two or three Sydney-wide Socialist Alliance meetings for interesting overseas speakers held in Sydney’s Gaelic Club, and all the meetings I have attended had about 75 people at them, mostly DSP and Resistance members, although Green Left Weekly, with its 30 per cent inflation principle for such meetings, has always claimed attendances of 100.

In my experience, the DSP always inflates claims of attendance at its own events. Even if you accept the DSP claims, and factor in that not all members attend meetings, it’s hard to see how the Socialist Alliance could have 400-500 members in Sydney.

I don’t doubt that such members may exist somewhere, probably as signatures on a form, who have been signed up to get the alliance registered with the Electoral Commission. That kind of political cultivation of a periphery by socialists is a legitimate form of political activity.

The DSP, in particular, has always done that fairly systematically. In the early 1990s it used sign up former members and Green Left subscribers as Green Left supporters, etc, etc.

The Potemkin village aspect arises, however, when Boyle and Riley present these figures as evidence that the Socialist Alliance is a powerful political current in the labour movement and a serious mass competitor to Labor (the “second party of capitalism” as the DSP calls it), and the Greens.

Such crazy rhetoric is meant to persuade DSP-Socialist Alliance supporters that they are still relevant despite the political isolation that flows from their false perspective and to present themselves to friends overseas as a much more influential political current in Australia than they really are.

Riley’s self-serving piece is only one side of the story about Brisbane. I’m informed that the activists in the Inala branch have sent out letters saying that unless others start attending the meetings they’ll fold the branch, and so it goes.

There’s nothing wrong with socialists working their hardest at political outreach agitation. The political problems arise when this activity is conducted around an ultraleft, Third Period political perspective that is ultimately self-defeating.

It’s also crazy to present an energetic socialist outreach agitation as an existing serious mass alternative to Labor and the Greens.

The bombastic, chronically politically insulting committeeman Peter Boyle is now extending to the ISO the habitual abuse with which he treats me when I argue the point with the DSP, and I wonder with some interest what this portends.



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