Green Left discussion list, January 15, 2007
A day or so is an awfully long time in cyberspace, and the past day or so on the GLW list verged on being barking mad, in the sense that the new DSP leadership seemed to have unleashed its most volatile and half-delusional supporters and geed them up to say the weirdest things. (I note that the list moderator and Norm Dixon have now drawn back from this a bit, and have suggested some quite sensible guidelines for discussion, but what I write here is a response to the previous 24 hours before the apparent change of tack. As I was the butt of a lot of the abuse in that time, I feel I am entitled to one response. In subsequent posts I’ll be more polite. In passing, it’s worth making the point that Norm, who has been one of the most reckless posters, tries to blame it all on Ed Lewis, who apparently so enrages Norm that he can’t resist the urge to go verbally berserk in response. I find that difficult to believe, given Norm’s long political experience.)
The new DSP leadership is obviously a bit off balance because its internal opposition has doggedly refused to fold its tent and go away, and there has been some careful comment on the DSP’s internal crisis on Ozleft and in the Weekly Worker. It’s worth noting that the first print issue of GLW has been postponed from January 18 to January 25, which seems to be calculated to allow more time to sort things out a bit more in the DSP.
In the interim, the new Boylite leadership has responded to critical comment in the only way it seems to know how, by encouraging its supporters to hype up the extravagance of their comments on the Green Left list. I exempt Nick Fredman and Mike Karadjis from these observations as, although their responses have been sharp in defence of their corner (I obviously disagree with some of their observations), their tone is still within reasonable bounds of political comment, which is important.
In ascending order of bizarreness, it’s useful to take a hard and careful look at what Norm Dixon had to say a day or so ago. He defended his indefensible rhetoric about scabs like a bourgeois lawyer or a casuistic Catholic theologian, presenting a tortuous argument that it’s reasonable to carry on at length, again and again and again, about assorted Labor leaders being scabs because, he says, the notion of scabbery can be extended to anyone who crosses his, or the DSP leadership’s, arbitrarily defined class line.
What a distorted and unscientific view of politics that is. It’s not all that far from saying that anyone who doesn’t agree with the current DSP leadership is a scab. Dixon slides over the question of the traditional way of dealing with real scabs who break strikes in the labour movement, and lets hang in the air the possibility that the category of people he defines as scabs might even be treated in the traditional way. This is a very dangerous line of argument.
A DSP old hand who seems to have rallied to the Boyle side in the DSP’s crisis, Reihana Mohideen, is roped in on Riley’s podcast, or whatever form of technology is his current hobby, to make a demagogic and clearly poorly thought out remark about comment on the DSP’s conference being “black propaganda”. When it is pointed out that loose talk about black propaganda is routinely used by the Sisson group in the Philippines before they launch physical attacks on left critics and opponents, Mohideen sees the point, up to a point, and backs off a bit, reducing her attack on Marcus Strom to a question of his supposedly shoddy journalism.
Norm Dixon should carefully consider where he is going with his strange and frenzied talk about scabs, applied to the existing leaders of working-class organisations. He tries to make some awkward distinction that not all Labor Party members are scabs, just the main leaders of the Labor Party, and by clear association many trade union leaders (he probably exempts Victoria from this proposition).
This rhetoric is ill-considered and dangerous. Dixon tries to make some kind of half-arsed distinction that of course he wouldn’t barrel up to Labor rank and filers and say that their leaders were scabs, as that wouldn’t be sensible politically. Yet he uses the medium of the World Wide Web, which as he knows more than most is infinitely more powerful than the human voice, to broadcast like a whirling dervish with his little foghorn, his indiscriminate rhetoric about scabs to anyone who will listen among the 800 or so people registered on the list and the probably much larger number who look at it occasionally or stumble on it in Google searches.
It’s reasonable to assume that Dixon is not really directing his rhetoric at the sprinkling of Labor Party members who look at the GLW list. They’re only likely to be amused, bemused, or offended. One Labor Party member, Barney Katz, who I’ve never heard of before, has bobbed up on the list anyway, talking a great deal of sense, and giving as good as he gets in the face of the inevitable abuse.
There are two issues involved in Dixon’s reckless use of his rhetoric about scabs. The first is that it is dangerous in itself and leaves open the possibility of legal action by some of the people called scabs. The second profound political objection is the one that came up constantly at the second, third and fourth conresses of the Comintern, during which Lenin a number of times made his point about “scolding scoundrels”.
The real issue for serious socialists is not a brainlessly repetitive story about the betrayals of various leaderships. The real issue is what strategic measures socialists can adopt to get a base in the labour movement and the working class. “Scolding scoundrels” is usually an alternative to a real perspective for intervention. This is the reason I constantly confront the DSP leadership about its encouragement of this kind of political nonsense.
Fredman, who as I’ve said is significantly saner than some others, says he hasn’t found Labor Party members on his patch too offended by the abusive tone of Green Left. I suspect, without direct evidence, that they’re possibly amused and a bit diplomatic with Nick, who they may consider is not such a bad bloke personally.
Then we get to Dave Riley, who becomes almost incoherent in his denunciation of all critics of the DSP. (One curious feature of the comments by Boyle faction supporters on the list is that they make some essentially right-wing attacks on all their critics and opponents, parrotting the attacks of right-wing journalists against the whole of the left and the Greens, that they’re only inner-city trendies in an alleged left ghetto. This curious line of attack from people who live in middle-class Katoomba, tree-change Lismore and inner-city Brisbane, is a Boylite DSP leadership triumph of aspiration and hope over experience. Of all the political formations on the far left, the DSP is possibly the one most located in inner city areas. Presumably the proletarian credentials of the Boyle faction leadership must come from their imperishable ideology, rather than their actual social composition or physical location. What demagogic bullshit this line of argument is, particularly coming from supporters of the new DSP leadership.)
Riley waxes lyrical about the successes of the Socialist Alliance. One has only to ask the obvious question, what successes (as the Percy faction has painfully and painstakingly asked inside the DSP) for the question to answer itself.
The Socialist Alliance has now been on ice for about six months while the two factions of the DSP have been fighting out. Most of the branches haven’t met during this period, as been pointed out at length in the DSP internal discussion by the Percy supporters.
The scattering ranks of independents involved in the Socialist Alliance have thinned noticeably in this time, aside from the odd DSP “non-party Bolshevik”. It’s problematic whether the alliance can be revived in these circumstances, but Ratbag Radio Riley prattles on in his incorrigible way as if the alliance was a powerful force.
He accuses myself and Ed Lewis of being daleks. Blimey, if he wants to see some real daleks, he should stand back and look carefully at some of his mates and associates. That brings me to John Tognolini and his contributions to discussion on the GLW list.
Tognolini seems to feel obliged to reinforce his claim to be a member of the human race by constantly repeating his self-adopted nickname, Togs/Tognolini, apparently so we remember who he is. He also reinforces his loud voice by the use of very large, bold type in his email contributions, again so that we should take notice of him. Well, he needn’t worry about being ignored. Those who have known him over many years know who he is. How could one forget him?
Tognolini makes a bit of a show of erudition in talking about the Socialisation Units in the Labor Party and their crushing by Jock Garden and Jack Lang in 1933. He neglects to mention that the other factor in their smashing was the invasion of the Socialisation Units by Third Period Stalinists, not unlike the Boyle faction, who set as a condition that the units should launch a headlong exposure jamboree against Labor leader Jack Lang, precisely at the time when the enormous Langite mass movement was the very symbol of mass opposition to the Australian ruling class during the Great Depression.
Tognolini shamelessly, in effect, adopts the Stalinist Third Period in relation to the Socialisation Units as good coin. He and the new DSP leadership should carefully read Bob Cooksey’s little book on the Socialisation Units.
In his curious verbal attack on me, he also says something that is the crux of the unscientific Boyleite perspective: “why do you believe so much in the ALP when most workers along with a lot of other people, see it as nothing more that an alternative Liberal Party?”
If Tognolini’s bold, unverifiable and wrong assertion were correct, why would the overwhelming majority of the organised working class, recent migrants and other sections of the oppressed such as Aboriginal people, vote for the Labor Party, as they stubbornly continue to do.
Even the conservatives of the Monash Institute of Population have recently published studies of the Labor vote that underline its plebian character. In a completely idealist way, Tognolini presents his opinions, and those of the Boyle faction of the DSP, as if they were social reality.
That kind of metaphysics is at the heart of the Boyle faction perspective, which is why the Boyle supporters unleash the Dixons, Rileys and Tognolinis to bay at the moon in the way they do. This outburst of political stupidity on the Green Left discussion list gives us a bit of a taste of what we can expect from the new leadership of the DSP.
It would be kind of funny if it wasn’t fairly serious. A permanent Third Period strategy by a significant socialist sect is a very dangerous and damaging approach in the current defensive circumstances facing the Australian working class and labour movement. If the last couple of days’ comment on the GLW discussion list is anything to go by, the internal crisis in the DSP seems set to deepen rapidly. I hope that even at this late stage the saner elements in the Boyle camp can step back a little bit, consider where they are going and call a halt to some of this politically dangerous nonsense.
PS. Most of this was written before the post by the moderator and some kind of attempted correction by Norm. Perhaps the process of stepping back a little may even have begun. Some of the propositions that Norm has put up for discussion in his new, calmer language, are a sensible basis for discussion and in due course I will respond to some of them.