Lese majeste in the Socialist Alliance


Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 17, 2005

Peter Boyle and Dave Riley pour abuse on the heads of their former fairly close associates in the Socialist Alliance Non-Aligned Caucus, who dared to disagree with the DSP. They accuse them of factionalism, which is apparently a crime if you’re opposed to the DSP on some conjunctural questions, and they make dark remarks that the factionalism of the NAC was in some way responsible for the defeat of Raul Bassi in the elections to the Socialist Alliance national executive.

This sort of venom is par for the course from the DSP leadership, and the impudence of Boyle and Riley is collosal, if you step back and consider it carefully.

They behave as if the DSP leadership has the rights that were in olden times arrogated by the king, whose manoeuvring and factionalism was above criticism, while his subjects could be accused of treason for similar manoeuvres.

In the DSP leadership’s unpleasant, rather feudal cosmology, their factional manoeuvres are always good and righteous. They’ve even taken to calling themselves the “good guys”, which is a trifle bizarre. Factional activity by anyone else, however, is by DSP leadership definition reprehensible.

Sue B goes on in a convoluted way about voting systems, and mystifies everything. The voting system at the SA conference appears to have been proportional preferential. She talks hypocritically as if she made an individual voting decision, and also as if other DSP members made an individual voting decision.

That’s as likely as Peter Boyle becoming president of the United States. Unless they’ve taken leave of their senses in factional politics, and there’s no indication of that at the level of the DSP pursuing its factional interests (although they may have taken leave of their senses in significant other ways, politically) the DSP would have printed and circulated to its members and supporters what in common labour movement parlance is called a ticket.

You can deduce who was on the ticket from John Percy’s speech in which he called for votes for the six DSP candidates plus a number of other people, mostly reliable allies of the DSP, who he named.

Who was on the ticket can also be deduced from the results. Clearly the first six people on the ticket were the DSP members, and the next four were, not necessarily in this order, Alex Miller, Dave Riley, Sam Watson and Craig Johnson.

That 10 would about exhaust the number of votes the DSP could influence. All those 10 were elected.

On the face of it the ISO had enough votes to elect two, the NAC had enough votes to elect two and the small affiliates had enough votes to elect one, and that’s what happened.

One could bet the proverbial London to a brick that all the DSP members, plus anyone they could remotely influence, religiously voted the DSP ticket, giving the six DSP members plus reliable allies Riley and Miller an 8-7 majority even if all the others combined, which is unlikely.

It gets even better from the DSP’s point of view. One state and two territories that didn’t get someone elected in the 15 will elect a representative each. That is, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory. As the DSP is the only organised current in Tasmania and the NT, it’s clear the representative from there will be a DSP member or a reliable DSP ally.

In the ACT, the choice will be between the DSP and Humphrey McQueen. If Humphrey is chosen, the DSP plus allies on an 18-member national executive will have 10 votes, or if a DSP member is chosen to represent the ACT, the DSP plus allies will number 11 out of 18. Either way the DSP is well and truly in charge of the Socialist Alliance, with no likelihood of losing a vote, as happened once on the last national executive, unless of course there’s a split in the DSP, which doesn’t seem likely at this time.

As is obvious from the eccentric triumphalist tone of Peter Boyle, Dave Riley and Sue B, the DSP leadership is well and truly in charge of the Socialist Alliance at the cost of their thorough isolation from all the other groups and from the groupings of independents who won’t roll over to them.

End of the Socialist Alliance story for the time being.

Election processes

June 18, 2005

I apologise for my slip of the keyboard, confusing you with Sue B.

Your elaborate story about the elections is disingenuous. As you say, the DSP apparently indicated support for 12 people. But the DSP leaders can count, one assumes, and it would be pretty clear that the maximum the DSP ticket could hope to elect was the 10 that it did elect, if they did any kind of realistic appraisal of the delegates.

What mattered was the DSP ticket from 1-10, and these were the only people who had much hope of election on that ticket. Clearly, the 1-10 were the six DSP members, Alex Miller, Dave Riley, Sam Watson and Craig Johnson.

Andrew W and Humphrey, who were 11 and 12, clearly didn’t have any meaningful chance of being elected on the DSP ticket, because in a proportional representation ballot, the other tickets, and mini-tickets were bound to get 12 or 13 votes each, plus five votes for the small affiliates ticket, which is what happened.

To talk about the DSP recommending a vote for Humphrey and Andrew W, when they’re 11 and 12 in a hotly contested PR ballot for 15 positions, is just making smoke.

It’s like saying the third, fourth and fifth people on the Socialist Alliance ticket for the Senate are serious election prospects. Of course, it’s nonsense.

I strenuously reject the proposition that I have any particular obsession with the DSP leadership. I just encounter them in normal political life on the far left, and comment on disagreements I have with them. But in calling attention to what day it really is in relation to the election that took place at the Socialist Alliance conference, any obsession I’m alleged to have is not germane to the issue.

Anyone with any knowledge of how PR ballots work can’t avoid the conclusion that the 11th and 12th on the DSP ticket had no chance of election in that set of circumstances.

One person’s obsession is somebody else’s history or critique

June 18, 2005

During this week I’ve repeatedly performed the ultimate lese majeste in the eyes of the DSP leadership by writing and circulating widely a detailed critique of their handling of the political crisis in the Socialist Alliance.

It seems to me that while I’ve been a bit sharp, I’ve handled the issues essentially politically, with the occasional bit of humorous commentary and not too much abuse. I get back very abusive and often quite apolitical responses, mainly from Peter Boyle and Dave Riley, although a couple of other responses have been a bit more restrained.

One accusation is that I’m obsessed with the DSP. Apparently, in the eyes of the people who make that assertion, any criticism of the DSP’s political line and practice is an indication of a personality disorder of some kind.

There’s just a flavour in all this of the practices adopted by the bureaucracy towards political dissidents in the old USSR, where dissidents were often put away in mental asylums, and where disagreement with the bureaucratic leadership was regarded as prima facie evidence of lunacy.

Obsessions, of course, are in the eye of the beholder. Lifetime DSP General Secretary John Percy has recently published a book in which there are 70 or so derogatory references to me, and a significant part of the book is structured around denouncing Bob Gould. Who’s obsessed in this situation?

Apparently John Percy’s obsessed is regarded as objective history, despite its many gross inaccuracies. Yet my sustained critique of the DSP is dismissed as an obsession. Obviously, who’s obsessed depends on your point of view.

Ben Courtice’s Sisyphean task

June 18, 2005

If it’s any consolation to you Ben, this argument is beginning to wear me down a bit, too. But it’s still necessary to look at things as they really are.

Of all people in the DSP you ought to know something about ballots, given your Labor Party family antecedents, who you mentioned on the list a while ago.

1. Do you seriously tell me that you don’t remember the order in which you voted? Forgive me if I’m sceptical.

2. Do you seriously tell me that the DSP leadership wouldn’t have circulated a ticket with the order on the ticket, 1-12, clearly indicated? I don’t believe that either.

This is not a question of any sort of conspiracy theory, but a matter of what any competent group would to to maximise the number of its candidates elected in a proportional preferential ballot.

Anyone with any experience of ballots, in that kind of ballot, unless you indicate a sequential preference, that is, if you leave the choice of preference to the voter, a lot of your votes cancel each other out by the law of averages and you get fewer people elected.

I’ve got all kinds of political differences with the DSP leadership, but I don’t believe they’re stupid or incompetent when it comes to ballots. Maybe they haven’t had a lot of experience of proportional preferential ballots in recent times, but I’d bet London to a brick that they seriously investigated all the possibilities in the ballot, in the tense factional situation building up before the conference, and in their desire to maximise the number of people elected from their ticket.

My proposition is clearly demonstrated by the result. Humphrey and the other bloke in the 11-12 spots can’t have got much more than half a quota. If 106, a quota would have been 1/16th plus one, which is either seven or eight. In that kind of ballot, for the last position elected, if someone gets significantly more than half a quota, they’ll almost certainly be elected.

The result is brutal evidence that the overwhelming majority that the people who voted the DSP couldn’t have put Humphrey or Andrew W higher than 11 or 12. If even six or seven of the 70 people who voted the DSP ticket anywhere but 11 or 12, one of them would have been elected. Again the law of averages applies.

You and Kim B are arguing the impossible: that 60 or 70 people, separately and without direction, individually decided not to put Humphrey or Andrew in the first 10.

You’re talking nonsense. This is not a question of any conspiracy theory, it’s a rational interpretation of the very likely behaviour of the DSP leadership concerning this ballot, which is irrefutably confirmed by the mathematics of the result.

As a historical aside, I know quite a lot about proportional preferential ballots. I’ve been associated with a number of minority leftist groups in Young Labor and Labor Women, who managed to get themselves elected with a little more than half a quota on a few occasions.

In my own case, I ran as a Socialist Left candidate for the Labor Party federal conference at the first NSW conference after federal intervention in 1971, when the machines hadn’t quite nailed down the rules and precedents. I got half a vote more than half a quota, which as I remember, was about 65 votes, and the quota was 130. I won the first ballot, but all the scrutineers from both factions looked at each other and agreed they didn’t want Bob Gould, so they recounted using a random sample at the end and I was beaten in the second count.

However, I was tipped off by a friendly scrutineer and I appealed to the federal executive, which ordered another recount, which I won by half a vote and I ended up as the delegate to federal conference, a rather momentous federal conference, but that’s another story.

The farcical nature of the proceeedings led the ALP to tighten the rules and abolish the random sample at the end, so Gould made history in a rather minor way.

The point of the story is that it’s almost impossible to beat a candidate for the last position under that system if they get a vote or two more than half a quota. Everything suggests to me that Humphrey and Andres can only have had four or five people voting for them in the first 10, and if that doesn’t suggest a ticket to any educated eye, I’ll walk backwards to Bourke on the proverbial broken bottles.

In politics it’s a big mistake to presume that your critics or opponents are fools and will accept nonsensical statements as good coin.

I don’t know the exact details of how the ticket was distributed, but that there was a ticket and that Humphrey and Andrew weren’t on it in the first 10 is confirmed by the mathematics of the result.

It’s also possible that the DSP hoped, in particular, that Humphrey might have been elected by drawing votes out of the 30 or so supporting the assorted oppositions, but that clearly didn’t happen either, because the assorted oppositions were obviously running their own modest tickets and trying to maximise their votes for their preferred candidates.


A breath of fresh air

I’m grateful to Alison Dellit firstly for her calm tone and secondly for spelling out in detail the blooming obvious, which is that the DSP did run a ticket at the Socialist Alliance conference in Melbourne and did indicate preferences for the first 12 positions.
Readers of this list will note that for the past three or four days Bob Gould has been accused in very fruity language of a conspiracy theory in deducing this obvious fact from the voting pattern.
Alison is just a little coy, however, when she blandly says what’s all the fuss about, and of course the DSP ran a ticket. Well, that has been an issue in dispute for several days.
I’ve nowhere said it was illegitimate for the DSP to run a ticket. Everyone runs tickets in labour movement organisations for elected positions. I also have no objection to the DSP indicating a preference for Sam Watson and Craig Johnson in winnable positions. That seems very sensible and it’s demagogic nonsense to claim that I regard such people as “dupes” or “stooges”.
Having said that, a yawning gap emerges between Alison Dellit’s account of the way delegates voted and the Boyle and the Boyle lookalike (br3986) story of how people voted.
Alison asserts that only 50 per cent of the delegates voted for the full DSP ticket, 1-12. That may be true, and it’s quite clear, for instance from Ben Courtice, that he didn’t understand the system and didn’t vote exactly the DSP ticket. There may have been a few others like him. It’s also possible that reliable DSP loyalist independents such as Riley and Miller may not have followed the DSP ticket in every detail.
On the other hand, you get the grandiose, triumphalist proclamation from the Boyle lookalike, br3986 (who gives himself away with the Boylism directed at Nigel Irritable, “get it”), who claims that 80-85 per cent of the conference voted for the DSP.
I submit that the real relationship of forces in that ballot and in the Socialist Alliance at this point is simply and easily discernible from the result of the ballot.
The DSP ticket had 10 quotas, or about 66 per cent of the conference delegates, and the other three tickets had five quotas, or about 34 per cent.
Alison Dellit is being a bit cute in writing down the real voting strength of the DSP to 50 per cent, and the Boyle lookalike, br3086, is engaged in collective DSP megalomania in claiming that 80-85 per cent of the conference supported the DSP. The real relationship of forces was the two-thirds/one-third division indicated by the outcome of the ballot.
A revealing aspect of this week’s discussion has been the vituperative and insulting tone adopted by Boyle and Riley towards all in the Socialist Alliance who dared to disagree with the DSP, and against outside socialist commentators on the events, such as myself and Nigel Irritable.
The obvious aim of such abuse is to avoid serious political discussion between the various participants in the debates.
The DSP leadership now has the arrangement that it desires in the Socialist Alliance and I don’t doubt that the DSP membership and the part of the Socialist Alliance membership that accepts the DSP leadership’s perspectives will work very hard for those perspectives.
I don’t doubt that the DSP/Socialist Alliance will be a significant smallish force on the socialist left of Australian society for a while yet, which is the main reason I try to engage in serious political discussion with it.
It seems to me that without acknowledging it the DSP has backed away a bit from the worst excesses of its congenital anti-Laborism, obviously because the penny has dropped that such a posture is unpalatable to most of the militant unionists in Victoria to whom the DSP has an orientation.
I now, having satisfactorily settled the question as to what happened at the conference, would prefer to shift the axis of discussion to concrete strategic and tactical issues facing the whole left of the labour movement arising from the Howard Government’s assault on trade unionism.
In particular I’d like to open a careful discussion about the blindspot of almost all the far left, apparently including the DSP, about exploiting the legal aspects of the campaign against Howard’s laws, and particularly the imminent High Court case about the transfer of industrial powers to the Commonwealth.
As I said in my contribution from the floor at the very successful 200-strong Greens public meeting in Sydney against Howard’s laws, my view is that the main emphasis should be on the maximum realistic industrial mobilisation, but there should be a secondary community educational campaign, and exploiting the legal possibilities of the High Court challenge is also important because, win, lose or draw, it is likely to slow down the Howard government’s reactionary changes.
All three aspects of the campaign are important. I’m interested in people’s views on those questions.


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