In response to Nick Fredman
Green Left Weekly discussion list, January 11, 2006
My comrade Ed Lewis and I have different styles, some political differences, different short-term strategic orientations, and our experience of political life on the left has also been different. In Ed’s case, he spent upwards of 20 years of his life in the DSP, so his rather pithy view of life in the DSP is informed by lengthy experience in that organisation.
Despite the constant attempts by Norm Dixon to equate the left outside the Labor Party totally with the DSP, Dixon’s position on this point is nonsense.
Personally, I don’t regard the project of socialists who operate outside the Labor Party as illegitimate at all. Whether or not socialists should join the Labor Party or the Greens, or work independently, or some combination of all three, is obviously up for discussion at the moment.
The activities of socialists outside the Labor Party is not what I object to. What I do insist on, however, is the need for a strategic united front orientation of any socialists who are halfway sane, towards the Labor Party, the trade unions and the Greens. That is at the core of my now rather long-running argument over the past five or six years with the DSP leadership.
The Third Period inclinations of the DSP leadership have now crystallised in the new Boyle leadership of the DSP, of which Norm Dixon is part.
Dixon’s penchant for rhetoric about scabbery, applied to the Labor Party leadership, is an extreme example of this. In the labour movement, the word scab has a very precise meaning: someone who crosses a picket line and breaks a strike. To extend the use of this term into the necessarily sharp political debate with right-wing Labor Party leaders is linguistically ludicrous and strategically quite unsound.
Marxists should be trying to influence the overwhelming majority of the left half of society who look to the Labor leaders, and calling the Labor leaders scabs every time they open their mouths is totally counterproductive to any such practical orientation. This practice as a substitute for an orientation is what Lenin repeatedly called “scolding scoundrels”.
The use of this rhetoric by Dixon and co, in any case, isn’t serious. Its main purpose is to harden up the members of the DSP against significant discussion of strategic questions.
Dixon could just as easily direct his rhetoric at ALP members and trade union leaders such as Kevin Reynolds, Dean Mighell, Michele O’Neil and Martin Kingham. He only does that indirectly, but aims his rhetoric directly at me because he wants to destroy any possibility of discussing serious strategic questions, and I’m the loudest voice raising some of these questions.
Obviously, all of these strategic questions have erupted in a big way in the internal discussion in the DSP. I’ve now got a pretty fair picture of how things proceeded at the DSP conference, and my personal style is to wait a little while, put it all together, and try to write a serious overview of the conference and the issues that were raised at it.
It seems that, so far, a split has been averted, and from my point of view that’s probably a good thing. Further splits on the left aren’t particularly desirable, because of the well-known fact that splits often produce more wreckage than clarification.
It’s also a well-known fact that splits often present the opportunity to people who can’t see a way forward to drop out of left politics. That tendency is often accentuated in difficult and defensive circumstances such as those facing socialists in Australia at the moment.
The DSP is clearly entering, for it, uncharted waters with an energetic and battle-scarred minority that makes a point of harking back to Lenin and Cannon, part of which is no bad thing.
The dominant faction is clearly a coalition, with chronically ultraleft builders of Potemkin villages in charge, led by an obvious adventurer whose main claim to leadership is his rather Machiavellian political skill at putting together a majority in a tiny organisation, on the basis of a systematic appeal to verbal ultraleftism.
Who knows what the immediate future holds, and I’d rather like to be a fly on the wall, watching how the participants in this process learn to coexist in the heated of a Sydney summer in the hive in Chippendale. My impression is that this January both groups are partly meeting separately and holding their own educationals, and conferring on strategy for the next period.
Far be it from me to play the soft cop to my associate Ed’s hard cop, but if Nick Fredman is at all serious about wanting to drop the belligerence from our exchanges, in favour of a calmer and more considered political tone, I’ll respond positively in a flash, and I’m sure Ed will too.
The initiative, however, needs to come from Nick’s side of the argument. Ed and I are not the people who publicly throw around rhetoric about scabs at our opponents.
PS. On alleged gossip on Ozleft. The Boyle faction, led mainly by its cyberwarrior, Norm Dixon, has fits about Ozleft being a gossip site, etc. It’s not. About 85 per cent of Ozleft is an archive of useful material on the history of the labour movement in Australia, and other questions of interest to socialists. The 15 per cent or so devoted to the affairs of the DSP is legitimate political comment.
After all, the Boyle bunch now leading the DSP see themselves as the centre of the socialist movement in Australia. Comment on, and discussion of, their orientation and pretensions in these matters is an inevitable part of political life on the left. The Boyle bunch are dreaming if they expect other socialists to avoid discussing their activities.
Ozleft is, in fact, doing quite well, with well over 80,000 hits on the home page. An analysis of the hits suggests that about 75 per cent are from Australia, which is probably in contrast with the much larger number of hits on the Green Left site, many of which are from overseas.
An examination of the hits on Ozleft also suggests that about 70 per cent are on the items of broader interest and political comment, but obviously many people who look at Ozleft are interested in both aspects.
The Boyle bunch may not like it, but there are a large number of people who regard themselves as socialists, and/or revolutionary socialists, who are active on the left in one way or another, including former members of the DSP. There are also many people who have interacted with the DSP in the labour movement and the social movement. Many of these people are interested in the political discussion in and around the DSP.
It’s clear from the recent hits on Ozleft that many people in the labour movement use the site as an important source of information about developments in and around the DSP. Ed and I believe we perform a useful function for socialists in this respect.