Response to Sol Salbe


On John Percy’s memoir of the DSP and Resistance

Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 16, 2005

Sol Salbe’s critique of John Percy’s book has some value, as far as it goes. He details a number of obvious errors.

Nevertheless, Sol acts as a kind of attorney for John Percy. He says that Percy’s errors and omissions are mistakes, and he implies that his old friend, Bob Gould, who he helped to hunt out of the old Resistance, is a trifle paranoid in not accepting that Percy’s mis-statements are simple mistakes.

As I said in the first piece I wrote about Percy’s book, it’s rather fascinating to be the Goldstein figure in a book like Percy’s, with about 80 mentions, 70 of them derogatory.

Apparently I’m mildly paranoid because I draw attention to this.

Come off it, Sol. Percy’s book is an expanded version of the lectures he has been giving for 20 years, so he has had plenty of time to correct the errors of fact if he was a serious historian.

If Sol has been following carefully the numerous articles that I’ve written on various aspects of Percy’s book, it was only in the first one that I dealt at length with Percy’s slanders of me.

Towards the end of my assessment of the book, after another few articles, in a month or two, I’ll deal with further slanders of myself in greater detail.

What I’ve mainly written about so far is Percy’s rewriting of the history of the labour movement and his false and inaccurate treatment of the activities of a number of people other than myself.

The old Australian Trotskyists at whose feet I served my political apprenticeship, who as John Percy is fond of saying were a small and beleagured group, approached politics from the point of view of the necessities of the class struggle and the crisis of leadership in the labour movement and the working class.

They regarded organisational arrangements as flowing out of the objective needs of the class struggle, which was one of the reasons they chose to pursue the entry tactic.

From the moment when John and Jim Percy had their lightning bolt from New York about the critical importance of the Cannonist form of organisation, a lightning bolt which I precipitated by suggesting that they read Cannon (not anticipating the bizarre consequences that would ensue), the Percy current has proceeded from the interests of its sect-like organisation, rather than the needs dictated by the ebb and flow of the class struggle and the crisis of leadership in the labour movement and the working class.

Percy’s book is shot through with this obsession with organisation and with building his sect as a thing in itself. By assembling it all in a book, Percy has opened the way to a sustained and careful critique, which is what I’m engaged in and will continue until I’m finished, which will take some little time.

One striking thing about Percy’s book is his cavalier attitude to detail, which Sol focuses on. In this Percy’s book is very like Denis Freney’s autobiography, A Map of Days, which is also very cavalier about detail.

In passing, Sol, you should really try to work out which strategic approach to the labour movement is the more useful and correct: the strategic united front approach that I advocate, or the Joshua strategy of the DSP leadership.

This is an objective question of considerable importance to the activities of socialists in the labour movement at this time, and a bob each way isn’t much use in current conditions.

See also: John Percy’s lonely morsel, John Percy’s strange memoir, Dubious history

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