The DSP and the united front


Green Left Weekly discussion list, June 21, 2005

How easily the DSP leadership snaps back into its juvenile Third Period ultraleftism concerning the Labor Party.

A few hours, even, can be a long time in politics, and the last few hours have been very unkind to Dixon and the DSP leadership.

Firstly, why should Laurie Ferguson’s reactionary statement on migration matters throw into question the united front strategy towards Labor?

That broad strategy is dictacted by the whole field of politics and the working class base of Laborism, and the division in Australian society between the organised working class, the overwhelming majority of recent migrants, the liberal section of the middle class, who overwhelmingly support Labor or the Greens, on the one hand, and the ruling class on the other who try to mobilise all the reactionary forces behind the Liberal-National coalition.

Before Norm Dixon points to a Laurie Ferguson he should read what Trotsky wrote in the 1930s about the united front and consider his point, replying to Stalinist ultralefts who pointed to the reactionary Social Democratic police chief in Berlin who was instrumental in the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. Trotsky pointed out that even that reactionary figure was likely to be attacked by the Nazis and imprisoned, as he indeed was.

Trotsky said it was infantile not to distinguish between the mass working class social base of Social Democracy and the reactionary social base of the Nazis.

While many of the circumstances are different, the same broad principles apply in Australia today.

The whole of the trade union movement, which is the base of the Labor Party, is coming under attack from the threatened Liberal industrial legislation, and that creates conditions for a united front by socialists directed at Laborism.

It was these basic political facts of life in Australia that Craig Johnson and the other militant trade union leaders drew forcibly to the attention of the DSP leadership at the Fightback conference, but despite all that it’s oh so easy for Dixon to fall back into a piece of dopey demagogy against Bob Gould, attacking the whole idea of a united front with Labor.

When that comes apart on him in the middle of the day, Dixon blurts out another demand: that Labor for Refugees issue some kind of public statement attacking Ferguson.

Dixon hasn’t got a clue in these matters. The Labor for Refugees activists are in close contact with the refugee organisations, and L4R activists all over the country have been widely circulating Ian Rintoul’s statement to the thousands of activists on various email trees.

Within a short space of time today there was a spirited revolt against Ferguson in the Labor federal caucus, and by tonight Kim Beazley was asserting forcefully that Ferguson had changed his view.

One might have thought that Norm would celebrate this day of modest agitation, which forced a retreat on Ferguson and demonstrated the lively character of the current in the Labor Party and the unions in support of refugees.

Instead, Dixon is scratching around for anything to prop up the DSP’s strategy of ritual denunciation of Labor, and sitting in Chippendale issuing media statements (or in this case demanding that someone else issue one). What an indictment today’s events have been of the blind moralising sectarianism of Dixon and the DSP leadership.

You might note, Norm, that Ian Rintoul’s statement embodied his political line on the refugee movement, which is quite different to, far saner, and much more effective, than the DSP’s position.

Rintoul, who more than any other individual has helped to keep the refugee movement alive, appeals clearly and in a non-sectarian way to the deep groundswell in the ALP and the unions in support of refugees.

Clearly, Rintoul’s agitation is infinitely more effective than the DSP’s demagogy, and that is demonstrated by the retreat forced on Laurie Ferguson tonight.

Taking Laurie Ferguson’s spin as good coin

June 22, 2005

Norm Dixon can’t help himself in his desire to dismiss the ALP as a more or less undifferentiated reactionary mass.

Dixon jumps in, taking as good coin Laurie Ferguson’s spin on the predicament he has created for himself. Ferguson has dug himself into a deep hole with his reactionary statements about Peter Qasim.

If it were true, as Dixon and Ferguson both claim, that the only protesting voice in caucus was Julia Irwin, how is it possible that the debate went on for an hour, according to the media reports?

Also, why was it necessary for Beazley to say that Ferguson had changed his view?

Dixon’s sectarian blindness prevents him from having any clue about real political processes in mass organisations. His years in the DSP seem to have eroded his political faculties in that respect. He probably had a clearer political understanding of such matters when he was a member of Young Labor.

Dixon refuses to even consider the pressure that’s building up all over the country to dump Ferguson from the immigration role.

That pressure is coming from the refugee movement in general and particularly from refugee supporters in the Labor Party, including some parliamentarians.

Dixon demands to know exact details of how Labor for Refugees is proceeding, and if he was given those details he’d probably put a provocative spin on it, thereby playing into Ferguson’s hands.

It’s really quite extraordinary for Dixon to take Ferguson’s defensive story as good coin. He dismisses contemptuously the wide distribution without comment of the Rintoul document in Labor for Refugees circles, but that only shows Dixon’s fundamental contempt for Labor for Refugees activists.

Those emails, which are sent out by Labor for Refugees activists in NSW and Victoria and Jack Smit of in WA, get to thousands of labour movement activists all over the country.

Incidentally, that network gets to a far wider audience in the labour movement than Green Left Weekly does, despite its considerable web presence.

Dixon refuses to see a broad struggle going on in the ALP and the labour movement when it’s right before his eyes. He instinctively falls back to treating the ALP and the broad labour movement as one reactionary mass when considerable evidence to the contrary is staring him in the face.

Dixon’s rhetoric is a perfect example of what I mean when I talk about the DSP’s belligerent Third Period posture towards Labor.

I recommend that he go away and read, and perhaps even have a little class among the DSP full-timers, on Ian Rintoul’s press release, which is a very useful example of how to concretely apply the united front as a strategy. It appeals to the ranks of the labour movement to campaign for the disciplining of Ferguson on this matter and assumes that it may well get a response from the ranks of the labour movement.

Contrast Rintoul’s approach with the dead-endism of Dixon and the DSP leadership in condemning the whole of the labour movement and presuming the battle on the immediate question of Ferguson’s role is already lost when it has really only just begun.

For Dixon’s information, Julia Irwin, the main caucus critic of Ferguson, is an important figure in the NSW Centre Unity faction, and she is well-known for her forthright defence of the right of the Palestinians to national self-determination, which often brings her into conflict with the likes of Michael Danby, the Victorian right-winger who often takes an ultra-Zionist stance.

A bit of sensible comment on Julia Irwin’s courageous role, rather than taking as good coin Ferguson’s contemptuous spin on her intervention, would be more appropriate than Dixon’s visceral sectarianism.

Dixon makes a throwaway remark that Bob Gould should confine himself to ALP affairs rather than attacking the left outside the ALP. This is another example of the DSP leadership’s delusions of its own royal status.

Of late I’ve argued with the DSP leadership on these strategic questions. Many others on the left outside the ALP, such as Ian Rintoul, take a far more rational stand on these questions, so I don’t argue with them.

It’s a bit rich of Dixon to talk about not attacking the left outside the ALP when the DSP leadership has just been engaged in a protracted period of trench warfare against almost every other group on the left outside the ALP.

When Dixon implies that his group IS the left outside the ALP, that’s just an extension of the DSP’s royal delusions of grandeur, and it’s really an extension of its attack in recent times on other left groups outside the ALP.

The DSP leadership regards the other groups as insignificant. As the self-appointed leadership of the non-ALP left, the DSP leadership is the only force that matters in its eyes, and by definition like the king in olden times, it shouldn’t be attacked or argued with.


See also: Laurie Ferguson and Labor for Refugees


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