The miller’s tale

by

Greg Adler

In responding to Alex Miller’s comment on my piece on the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance in Australia I want readers to know that Miller’s diatribe was posted to Marxmail and the Green Left Weekly discussion list. In those places it was headlined “A Glasgow Kiss for Greg Adler (and Weekly Worker)”.

I don’t know whether Miller, who is of Scottish background, used that heading or if it was supplied by another hand. I know that I was revolted by it when I saw it. I work as a criminal defence lawyer and I have dealt with many matters in which a Glasgow kiss — the headbutting of a victim’s nose mouth and jaw often results in horrible and disfiguring injuries. Its use has led to criminal charges and I have seen many pictures of victims with splattered noses, smashed teeth, and jaws wired to hold together shattered bones.

Among those of my clients who regard themselves as hard men but fair fighters, the use of this attack — whether labelled the Glasgow or Liverpool kiss — is regarded as vile and cowardly. The DSP’s moral compass seems a little less sure than that of my criminal clients. Vile and cowardly is a good, if somewhat restrained, description of it.

One more point before I move on from this — as I said, I don’t know if was Miller’s hand that wrote the disgusting heading but if it was it makes him a serial offender in resorting to, presumably metaphorical, threats of violence in response to political differences.

Dave Riley, a sort of a grumpy old man of the DSP’s heavy brigade, in one of his recent series of postings to the GLW list and elsewhere, in which he shambles to the defence of the DSP and the damnation of me and all my works, wrote of Miller: “At the recent Alliance national conference in June, Alex Miller addressed the delegates and in passing challenged anyone who called him a ‘DSP stooge’ to see him later. And among the prized Marxists in the affiliate stalls a wave of sniggering broke out.”

This is essentially correct — it was clear that seeing later did not mean for a quiet chat. My memory of the incident differs slightly from Riley’s. I recall outright laughter, rather than sniggering, brought on by the sheer comedy of Miller’s claiming to have acted other than as a DSP stooge, mixed with shock at the suggestion of violence, which no-one else had resorted to in spite of heated discussion and a great deal of frustration on the part of those who were trying to save the SA as a unifying force on the left rather than as a megaphone for the DSP. Miller has had the last laugh at us heartless sniggerers. He proved that he is no stooge of the DSP by … joining the DSP.

To return to Miller’s comment on my piece. He first waxes lyrical about how wonderful the DSP was, listing as one of its endearing qualities that its members were “often even charming”. Now, I am certain that some DSP members can be quite charming. In fact, I have even experienced the charm myself.

It seems to come when the DSP wants something from you — for example, a leading DSPer once begged me and another National Executive representative of a small affiliate to stay on the NE when we talked of resigning from it because of outrageous manipulation of the voting for the National Executive at the 2004 National Conference of the SA. Two successive waves of DSP-promoted leaders of non-aligned members of the SA experienced the DSP charm until they showed that they were interested in helping to lead an independent SA rather than a DSP sideshow. Then the charm disappeared and war was waged on each one in turn.

Now I would like to turn to the substantive issues raised by Miller. I’d like to do that but I can’t — he didn’t raise any. Reread my original piece — what does Miller say about my revelation from the words of John Percy, the 40-year leader of the DSP and its forerunners, that a substantial part of the DSP’s motivation in moving to set up the SA was to use it to undermine the ISO, and in his discussion contribution he declares that the tactic had worked. That’s right, Miller says nothing, unless of course, he regards such behaviour as a prime example of the DSP being “non-sectarian to a fault”.

What does Miller say about the fact that leading members of the DSP has said that the militant union current doesn’t amount to much and that the leading union figures that the SA claims to have a special relationship with don’t come to meetings of the SA, and that relationships with the unionsts are in fact carried on by the DSP, if at all? Yes, he says nothing.

I won’t bore readers by continuing this, point-by-point. If you are interested, reread my piece and then read Miller’s comment and find the number of times he actually comments on any substantial point I make. Here’s a hint as to the answer … nil, nada, niente, zero. We are left to contemplate the non-existent.

This, by the way, undermines the argument of some DSPers who have responded to comrades who have commented on the Glasgow kiss issue by saying it is the equivalent of saying that Miller’s comments were a knockout blow to what I had written. But if you accept the boxing metaphor, to have a knockout blow at least one punch must be landed. Miller’s pathetic series of air swings wouldn’t even cause the point scorers to take note.

So these air swings amount to a series of furphies (Australian slang for red herrings in this context), which more or less mirror the totality of the DSP response to what I wrote. A fair summary of Miller’s response is that I was “underhand” because I quoted from documents that I knew “were for private circulation only” without the permission of the writers or the DSP, that I had taken quotes “out of context” from “pilfered” documents and that I represent “certain of the authors as having views that are actually the exact opposite of those they explicitly hold”.

This mirrors the rest of the DSP’s reponse to me, in that none of it goes to my substantial points. I’ll give a few examples. The previously quoted Dave Riley wrote: “Don’t they have the right to copyright their own words? Hasn’t Adler dealt in stolen goods?”

As I know Riley is a seeker of truth, here are the answers to his two questions. Yes they do but, in my belief and understanding they didn’t. There is no assertion on the DSP’s documents of any copyright. Even if you argue that copyright does exist, there is nothing in copyright law to prevent limited quoting for commentary and criticism. On a rather more basic level, isn’t it absurd for Riley, who says he used to describe himself a Bolshevik emeritus (and no I can’t even begin to imagine what he means by that, but that’s one of the joys of grumpy old men — they don’t have to make sense to make you laugh out loud) to also robe himself as a doctor of law emeritus to invoke the bourgeois concept of copyright to protect the DSP’s machinations in the SA from being brought to light.

Then Riley quickly swaps robes and dons a wig to reappear as a Crown prosecutor to accuse me of dealing in stolen goods (posing the charge in a weasel way as a question). His junior counsel, Miller, is a little more abrupt, referring to documents I pilfered. Others have accused me of leaking the documents.

I did not leak the documents. By the time I saw them they had passed through several sets of hands of people of differing political persuasion. The documents were not pilfered, stolen or otherwise illegally obtained. To the best of my knowledge they were voluntarily passed on by DSP members without restriction as to whether they could be published.

Miller and others have gone on at length about the fact that these were internal documents. One example of this was from Nick Fredman. First I will just mention that he characterises me as a “useless whinger”. I take this to be an illustration of the DSP’s view that its members are “diligent, practical, politically sophisticated, non-sectarian to a fault, friendly, and often even charming” as Miller describes them, while others have less endearing qualities. Fredman’s point is that it is wrong to use the internal discussion of the DSP publicly because the DSP has as much right to an internal discussion as his union does to internally discuss its policies.

The point, of course, is that if Fredman’s union leadership was discussing internally how to undermine other unions and to maintain a regime of misinformation to its own membership — that is, if it were acting like the DSP’s internal bulletins reveals it was in the SA — I would think there was an obligation to reveal it, even at the risk of being called nasty names and being threatened with prosecution by Riley, QC.

Another of Miller’s air swings is the claim of out-of-context quoting and attributing to people views they don’t actually have. Other DSPers have written of misquotes, mangled quotes, etc. It all sounds very impressive until you realise that neither Miller nor any other of the outraged DSP writers has given a single example of this. I again assert that I did not do any such thing. If the DSP publishes the documents that I have quoted from, it will be clear that I have not misquoted, quoted out of context or attributed views to people other than they actually expressed.

To those who respond that this would violate their right to keep the documents internal, I note that Peter Boyle has suggested that in fact the DSP should accept that such documents will circulate and that it would be a chance for them to raise money by selling the documents. I offer him some free legal advice: put a copyright stamp on them if you want to do that.

I want to deal with a final red herring/furphy raised by Miller and others in attacking me. That is that I, as a representative of the Workers League, acted as did other affiliate representatives, except of course the blameless DSP, in our own sectarian interests and carried out sectarian obstruction of the DSP’s Lenin-like work in building a new leadership for the working class. The truth is, leaving other affiliates to speak for themselves, I and other Workers League members in the SA did oppose policies of the DSP that we regarded as contrary to the interests of the growth of a real, independent SA that could have been a force in uniting the left.

It’s difficult to see how this amounted to obstruction. The only justification I can think of for this claim is that if I spoke for, say five minutes or so, at an NE or branch meeting or at a state or national conference in opposition to some destructive proposal or other that had the support of the DSP, there would be a flood of DSPers jumping on to the speakers’ list to serially declaim their support of the proposal and denounce those who dared to oppose the DSP. An hour or more would go by with nothing achieved, as 99.99 per cent of the time the DSP and its supporters already had the numbers wrapped up long before the voting.

Contrary claims are made in this regard. Miller and others gleefully mock the Workers League for being small but then attribute the power of obstruction to us. By the way, the Workers League was small when I was its representative on the NE of the SA but we did number more than three. Miller didn’t know of more WL members because it was hard to get our members involved with the SA once they had experienced the “charm” of the DSP.

As to acting in our own sectarian interests, the interest of the WL in the SA was to attempt to build a unifying organisation in the left. Neither I nor any other member of the WL attempted to recruit members from then SA, nor did we see ourselves in any way as some sort of kernel of a vanguard party. We were a group of people with some shared background and some political agreement as well as differences. We argued for a real SA with its own publications and offices and realistic work in the unions, etc. We did not accept that our role was to megaphone the DSP politics and to sell its newspaper.

I will also take the opportunity to put myself on the record on two related points. A number of people in the discussion have referred to me as a Morenoite. I take that to mean that they think I am a member or supporter of the LIT. I have never been a member of the LIT and have strong political disagreements with it. I also record that my original piece on the DSP documents and what I have subsequently written, including this piece, has not been written at the direction of, or in consultation with, the WL and it bears no responsibility for those writings.

To conclude, the DSP’s and Miller’s response to me has these characteristics of a Glasgow kiss: it is vile because it is based on a series of misleading furphies, baseless charges against me, and pretty juvenile name-calling; it is cowardly because it has not engaged the real political issues that I raised.


Comment on Marxmail

December 2, 2005

I stand by what I wrote on the relationship between the DSP and The Socialist Alliance in Australia. It was posted to this list from the CPGB’s paper the Weekly Worker it was not written originally with a view to being published there or on this list. So some of it must have seemed somewhat arcane to many list readers.

In response to Joaquin’s question as to why it was printed half a world away from where I wrote it in Australia I fear the answer is a little less conspiratorial and sinister than the overly imaginative Dave Riley made it seem.

I wrote the piece and forwarded to a number of people including ex and current SA members who I thought may be interested in it. One of those forwarded to the person who sent it to WW with my blessings. I am not politically aligned to the CPGB.

I found the response to me in the form of a statement by the National Executive of the DSP over the top. I certainly don’t feel motivated by malice towards the DSP. I sought to make it clear that, in my opinion, the DSP has operated in its interests in the SA rather than in the genuine interest of seeking socialist and left regroupment. I am accused of quoting out of context. I assert that I haven’t, but if I have the solution is in the DSP’s hands: make available in full the material I quoted from and blow me out of the water by exposing where I have been misleading.

Their complaints about their rights to have an internal discussion I fear fall on deaf ears with me. They do not seek to hide their discussion from the state and its forces but to hide their practices within the SA from it’s non-DSP members and the rest of the left.

The post fowarded by leading members of the current DSP majority from the Socialist Unity Network UK is something of an embarrassment to its writer. His positive spin on the SA’s influence in the union movement and the work done by the DSP in fostering left regroupment are refuted by the words of long-time leading members of the DSP that I quoted.

On a positive note I can assure comrades still within the SA that there is plenty of life on the outside and much useful political work in the fight against repressive anti-union land so-called anti-terror laws. Contrary to Riley’s claims of my being obsessed with the DSP I assure him that there is plenty of political and union activity to occupy me and I will be quite content if this is the last I write on the DSP/SA.


Some political background

December 9, 2005

I offer some background on the political situation in Australia to help place the rather heated discussion about developments in the DSP/SA in context. On the electoral level the conservative Liberal-National coalition under Prime MInister John Howard has held power since 1996. It was re-elected in October last year for further three-year term. Importantly the coalition at this election won a majority in the upper house of parliament the Senate. This meant that the way was clear for the very conservative Howard to push through a range of anti-union and anti-worker legislation in the face of opposition from the Australian Labor Party and minor parties including the Greens.

In the past week so called anti-terror laws which attack fundamental civil liberties in the name of the phoney war on terror were also passed. In this instance, to its disgrace, the ALP supported the legislation although as a whole it had called for amendments to the legislation and sections of the left of the party had been opposed to the legislation as a whole. The fact that for constitutional reasons the federal government needed the support of the state governments to introduce this reactionary law and that the ALP holds power in all the states is a further black mark against the ALP.

The contradictory element in all of this is that there has been a powerful campaign against the changes to industrial relations law that were passed last week. On November 15 there were nationwide rallies and marches that drew some 650,000 people. To give this perspective on a proportional basis in the USA a similar turnout would be about 9 million.

In conjunction with these mass demonstration the right-wing leader of the ALP , Kim Beazley, said that his first action, if re-elected to government would be to rip up the new laws on the steps of Parliament. The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) — roughly equivalent to the AFL-CIO- — played a key role in organising the campaign against the new laws . In the video hook-up shown nationwide at the rallies the ACTU head, Greg Combet, declared that he would not comply with the anti-union provisions of the legislation even if it meant going to prison.

How socialists relate to the ALP and the union movement have been keen questions for the left here for a long time. The different approaches to these issues have often been central to disputes between socialist groupings. This is interestingly illustrated in Resistance the book published this year by John Percy,a 49-year long leader of the Democratic Socialist Perspective and its forerunners.

In the early part of the book he gives a brisk history setting forth the “three main sources in Australia for our revolutionary tradition ” ( p18 ) which he lists as the Industrial Workers of the World; the early Communist Party of Australia;and the early Trotskyists. In regard to the ALP he sets out a series of notorious anti-working class actions by a variety of state and federal Labor governments and quite justifiably writes:

“…It’s a sorry record — consistently pro-capitalist and anti-working class when the chips are down. It’s not our tradition. It’s not a radical tradition , but an obstacle to the development of a radical tradition, an instrument to counter radical or revolutionary developments.”

Later in the book talking about a factional fight in his group in 1972 Percy writes:

“(The leader of he opposing faction) emphasised the bourgeois nature of the Labor Party, a correct position that our united party came to adopt in the 1980s. However his current didn”t have a very transitional tactical approach to the ALP. Their tactical excesses were sometimes taken from Britain — ‘Piss in the polling booths’ was one particularly unmemorable piece of advice offered to British voters by the International Marxist Group’s paper. Our line was to call for a vote for Labor and to fight for socialist policies.” (p261)

The point of quoting the above is not to have a go at Percy but to show how vexed a matter this is for socialists in Australia and how even in the one group the approaches have differed over time and between factions.

It is beyond the scope of what I am trying to do here to further discuss the historical aspect of this issue. Anyone wanting to find out more about it could usefully read Percy’s interesting , but, in my view, self-justificatory book or check out the Ozleft and Green Left Weekly sites.

The existence of the ALP ,its still strong organised connection to the union movement and the electoral support it wins amongst the majority of workers creates a situation that socialists much deal with in any attempt to build unity and the needed new leadership in the fight for socialist solutuion to the crisis of the capitalist system. It is, I would, argue a very different situation to,for example, the Democratic Party in the US. I am not here going to try to set out the”correct” approach to the ALP question for socialists.

I note, however that it was my view in the Socialist Alliance, that the DSP had too dismissive a view of how to deal with this and saw the proclamation of the fantastic policy of reorienting the SA as a multi tendency socialist party as, in effect ,a solution to the long term problem.

It might be useful here to briefly explain the electoral system in Australia. At federal and state levels voting is compulsory which results in much greater turnout than in the US, Britain or the recent elections in Venezuela for example. Preferential voting is also available. To explain this a simple illustration will help. Say there is a vote in seat where there are three candidates A,B and C with A getting 40 per cent, B getting 43 per cent and C getting 17 per cent. As I understand it in the US and Britain B would therefore win the seat. Here if the voters for C cast second preference votes which went eg 11 per cent to A and 6 per cent to B then A would end up winning 51 per cent to 49 per cent.

I go into this to point out that socialists who want to contest elections in Australia have certain practical advantages. They don’t have to devote great effort to turnout the vote and can therefore concentrate on getting those who are going to vote to consider voting for a socialist candidate even though at this stage it has been many years since there was any real prospect of a declared non-ALP socialist winning a state or federal seat.

The other problem not faced here is the lesser evil one. By this I mean the sort of argument that even some leftists made in the US that, for example, a vote for Nader was wasted and having been taken from Gore helped Bush jr to victory. The availability of preference voting means that a vote can be given to a socialist candidate even if the voter is not confident that such a candidate has any realistic prospect of success knowing that a second preference can be given to the Labor candidate and still count against the conservative candidate.

All of this I suggest makes it more likely that the vote received by a socialist candidate in an Australian election will be closer reflection of the underlying level of support than in countries such as Britain and the US. The failure of the SA to ever get a vote that could be described as significant has some importance in this context. Undoubtedly however the fundamental difficulty for any electoral hopes for the SA were objective ones . Included in that is the fact that the relative electoral success of the Greens who receive some 10% of the vote and much higher votes in some inner-city seats sopped up the pool of voters who might otherwise have at least considered a socialist alternative.

I’ll mention here that the Greens have not won lower house seats nationally but have won seats in upper houses of parliament in some states and some seats in the state of Tasmania where there is a system of voting that I will not even attempt to explain .There are currently two Greens members in the federal Senate- Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle.

Both have taken strong stands on the anti-union laws,very creditably distinguished themselves from the ALP’s craven support of the repressive anti-terrorist laws. Both of these senators have been highly identified with a range of left political activities including strong involvement in the anti war campaign. Bob Brown came to national prominence many years ago through work in a campaign to save the Franklin River from being dammed for hydro-electric production in Tasmania. He is also one of the very tiny number of openly gay elected officials in the country.

There is much more I could write about the overall political situation in Australia but I think there is a limit to what I should impose on list readers. I am confident that we are entering a very important period in the fight for socialism with the immediate campaigns around the anti-union laws, the so-called anti-terror laws and the continuing campaign against the imperialist invasion of Iraq. I regret the fact that the SA as dominated by the DSP has proven to be inadequate to meet those tasks and we must look elsewhere for our allies in the fight while keeping open a willingness to cooperate with SA members on all fronts on which that is possible. I hope that even this brief overview of the political circumstances here leads people to understand that it is perfectly possible to view leaving the SA as opening to connecting effectively with real struggles without engaging in the DSP/SA fantasy that they are the leaders of the class struggle.

I want to turn briefly to some issues in regard to the discussion that has arisen, originally around a piece by me that was posted here and elsewhere in which I quoted from some DSP internal bulletins. This has led to a vastly over-excited discussion in which various DSPers have covered me in vituperation, misrepresentation, slander and outright lies.

Life is too short for me to chase all these elements of their concerted effort to discredit me down every possible rabbit hole but I will be doing a response to a selection of them elsewhere.

I do want to correct a few factual issues that have arisen possibly more from misunderstanding than misrepresentation. A number of people have made mention of Morenoites in relation to me and the Workers League. I take this to be reference to a belief that I have some allegiance or connection to the LIT. This is not the case. I was not required as a Workers League member to adhere to the LIT and I did not do so, I do not do so, and I have strong political disagreement with the LIT.

On the question of the Workers League the claim that it had three or four members is wrong but understandable as we could never convince the majority of our members to consistently involve themselves in the SA . It required a peculiar combination of a strong stomach and possibly a lack of good sense to put up with the way we were treated by the DSP. I am proud of the work I did with the Workers League in trying to turn the SA from the destructive path the DSP has led it down. I am sorry that we failed.

Finally I want to make it clear that when I resigned from the SA I did so as an individual. I was not seeking to disaffiliate the WL from the SA. What I have written since which has been partly the subject of discussion on this list has not been written at the direction of nor in consultation with the Workers League. It bears no responsibility for anything that I have written in this period including this posting.

See also:

Defending the indefensible

Discussion, Discussion, Discussion, Discussion, Discussion, Discussion

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