Three cheers for Nick Fredman
In the early hours of June 28, a few hours before the national union protests against the Howard government’s anti-union laws, Nick Fredman posted on the Green Left discussion site the speech he intended to make at the rally against Howard’s anti-union laws.
There is a problem that when you face a crowd the speech you end up giving often isn’t the one you had carefully prepared beforehand. Even so, the one you prepared is your political statement, and Nick’s prepared speech is a breath of fresh air in DSP circles.
It’s clearly aimed at developing a united front with the workers at the rally, who will be overwhelmingly supporters of Labor or the Greens. He makes some sensible criticisms of the Labor leadership, but what matters is the rational and comradely tone, and that the criticism is subordinated to the common struggle against Howard’s attack on the unions.
Fredman concludes with his obligatory statement about building a political alternative to Labor, by which he clearly means the DSP’s independent electoral activity, which is very unlikely to take flight in the current climate. Nevertheless, that’s his orientation and he’s entitled to put it forward.
However, the speech has a deliberately comradely tone and attempts to make common cause with the trade unionists at the meeting, and subordinates the DSP’s political idiosyncracies to necessary united front against the Howard laws.
I hope Fredman was able to speak and he got a good response. As an old agitator I know the difficulties involved in getting the balance right.
I was a bit curious as to why he put it up, but the penny dropped when a number of associates of mine came back from the rally with the various leaflets handed out there.
The best leaflet at the Sydney rally, by a country mile, was published by the Greens. It was a modest leaflet on cheap green paper, and it incorporated all the key agitational issues involved in the struggle against the Howard government’s attacks on the working class, with information on how to participate in the struggle.
Another leaflet was by the Communist Party. It was on costly glossy paper and two thirds of it was an attack on the Liberals , while about one third attacked the Labor Party, with an inferred appeal to the assembled trade unionists to vote for the CPA’s candidates in the coming elections.
A third leaflet was from the DSP/Socialist Alliance, also on expensive glossy paper. About 45 per cent of it attacked the Liberals and about 55 per cent of it attacked Labor. The whole tone of this leaflet was in the sharpest contrast with the careful balance of Nick Fredman’s intended speech.
The tone of the leaflet, which quoted at length the inevitable Tim Gooden, can only have irritated those protesters who read it. Most of these people tend to take as pretty good coin Beazley’s commitment to tear up the Howard laws and abolish individual workplace agreements. That was demonstrated by the delirious reception for Beazley at the very large rally in Melbourne.
It’s rather bizarre that the main emphasis in the DSP leaflet was on the need to build their, in practice non-existent, electoral alternative to Labor and the Greens.
The Labor Party, which will get the overwhelming majority of the votes of the people at the protests, clearly didn’t see the need for leaflets at all. It relied on the total identification of Labor with the rallies.
The Greens, which will get the votes of a significant radical minority of the protesters, could rely on a simple, cheap leaflet that’s all business.
The adherents of the DSP and CPA sects, which will get almost no votes, seem to feel the need, for the first time in my memory, to produce bizarre, glossy leaflets talking up their almost non-existent electoral alternatives to Labor and the Greens.
There seems to be a law of diminishing returns operating here. The further removed from strategic and tactical reality that groups are, the more they try to substitute for their isolation with glossy leaflets. The glossy leaflets that I’m referring to are more likely to increase their isolation and accelerate their internal crisis than solve their political problems.
More power to Nick Fredman’s elbow. He clearly favours a calmer, more rational strategic approach in DSP circles. The best of Irish luck to him.
PS. The DSP leadership should publish the national leaflet distributed at the June 28 rally, on the Green Left discussion site, so readers can compare it with Fredman’s intended speech.
PPS. The demonstrations, nationwide, in all cities, with their divergent tactical approaches, including the strategic march into the western suburbs of Sydney, are clearly an enormous political success for the labour movement, which is clearly demonstrated by the hysterical response of Howard and Andrews to these massive protests against their policies.
Nick Fredman’s speech and the Socialist Alliance leaflet for June 28
June 29, 2006
Nick Fredman’s response to my comment on his speech prepared for the June 28 union protest in Lismore is civilised and careful, and suggests we may be beginning to establish a more rational basis for discussion, which is altogether a good thing.
Nick refers us to some comments by Tim Gooden on the DSP website, and he insists that essentially his own speech is no different to the thrust of the DSP leadership’s general line.
In passing he says that glossy leaflets aren’t costly in long runs. In my view he’s just wrong about that.
To assist in clarifying the point I’m making we reproduce here the three leaflets with their different approaches, so the reader can judge whether I’ve drawn too long a bow in contrasting Nick’s speech with the Socialist Alliance national leaflet.
Nick’s speech makes a real effort to strike a common chord with the Labor and Greens supporters at the rally. That can’t be said about the Socialist Alliance leaflet prepared by the DSP leadership.
That leaflet, which the reader can study below, has a definite function. Leaflets are intended to draw the attention of the reader to the main political lessons in a given struggle. The whole emphasis in the DSP leaflet, and to a lesser extent the CPA leaflet, isn’t what’s needed in the campaign, but the proposition that the workers should reject their existing leaderships and join the Socialist Alliance or the CPA. These are glossy recruiting leaflets for the two organisations, much more than agitational leaflets about the struggle.
To justify the proposition that the existing leadership should be rejected and the Socialist Alliance or the CPA supported, both leaflets are mainly concerned with attacking the existing leadership of the labour movement. That agitational approach is hopeless, blinkered and self-defeating, and will get no hearing from the workers who are currently rallying behind the labour movement leaders who supported and organised the rallies.
Tim Gooden is even quoted in the DSP leaflet as saying that Liberal spokesman Kevin Andrews is correct on a particular interpretation of historical events. That’s a throwaway remark that’s guaranteed to make it very difficult to get a hearing from the tens of thousands of workers who were protesting in opposition to Andrews.
These two leaflets from the DSP and the CPA are simply exercises in what the old Stalinists used to call, “showing the face of the party”.
For most of the history of the Stalinist CPA, leaflets at most workers’ rallies were not so crude as these in their attacks on existing leaderships.
It’s not so much the content but the emphasis that is such dead-end sectarianism, in the DSP/Socialist Alliance leaflet in particular. The glossy paper the leaflets are printed on tend to accentuate the impression that these groups are an alien force of political Martians parachuting in from outside the labour movement.
There’s not all that much difference between the Socialist Alliance leaflet and the approach of the World Socialist Web Site, which quotes an anonymous worker who is alleged to have said that all the union officials are sellout merchants, or words to that effect and that the whole Blacktown rally was an exercise in misleadership, and existing unions are no good anyway.
Nick may continue to insist that his approach and his speech are consistent with the DSP leadership’s mass leaflet, but that’s clearly not the case if you read his speech and the mass leaflet side by side.
Nick claims that the contrast I see is accidental, but I’m inclined to the view that he’s being politically diplomatic when he says that.
The contrast between the two glossy leaflets and the much more modest but politically entirely sensible Greens leaflet is devastating.
The Greens, who are engaged in quite a determined struggle to get votes in competition with everyone, including Labor, avoid in their leaflet any attacks on the existing leadership of the labour movement, including the Labor Party. They rely in quite a realistic way on the fact that a leaflet about the nature of the struggle, and their small Greens logo, will get them more electoral results among the radical minority than any rabid denunciation of the Labor and trade union leaderships.
The Greens are seriously engaged in electoral politics and they have learned through experience when to have a go at Labor and when to subordinate differences to the general struggle, which they are clearly doing in the battle against Howard’s industrial laws.
Paradoxically, recent polls show the Greens gaining electorally while the self-important Marxist sects, glossy leaflets and all, are still nowhere electorally.
Readers of the Green Left site and Ozleft should carefully study the three leaflets and Nick Fredman’s speech and make their own judgements on which approach is most likely to advance the struggle of the left in the labour movement.
DSP Stakhanovite Togs Tognolini strikes again
July 1, 2006
John (Togs) Tognolini, in his usual slightly obsessive and driven way, has posted a very nasty piece of hysterical abuse of Jorge Jorquera and his political associates.
Tognolini has no conception of trying to treat political differences sensibly and discuss them concretely and realistically.
It’s wise in Marxist politics to treat your opponents with a certain respect and to consider their arguments at their highest point if you want to reply.
It’s not so much the fact that Tognolini dishes out abuse. Everybody on the Sydney left knows Tognolini, and wiser heads in the DSP have in the past seem to have kept him out of the organisation for long periods because of the intemperate character of his interventions.
It’s a commentary on the political practices of the Boyle bunch that they cultivate Tognolini as one of their vocal supporters. They seem to find him useful in a political brawl, why is a bit beyond my comprehension. He rather resembles Leatherjacket, a minor character in James T. Farrell’s very interesting novel, The Road Between.
The most interesting thing about Tognolini’s abuse is that, as far as I can see, Jorge Jorquera hasn’t a personal enemy anywhere on the left. As long as I can remember him, over 15 years or so, he has been a byword for political seriousness combined with a certain good humour, and if you take the useful benchmark of demeanour towards the arch-fiend Bob Gould as an indicator, I’ve had quite a few political disagreements with Jorquera but never a personal cross word.
That’s how Jorquera and his associates are regarded by just about everyone on the left, except now by the eccentric Tognolini and his political mentors.
It’s not possible to stop an opportunist leadership like the one around Peter Boyle doing whatever it intends to do, but the fact that they unleash Tognolini speaks volumes, confirming the issues carefully raised by Jorquera and his associates in their statement.
On another matter, it’s difficult to believe much that Tognolini says, even about practical matters. He claims to have personally given out 2000 copies of the Socialist Alliance’s glossy leaflet, essentially attacking the leadership of the anti-Howard protests, at a fast-moving march of 40,000 workers in Blacktown.
I and others have plenty of experience of leafletting rallies and demonstrations, and I’m no slouch at handing out leaflets. I’m well-known as an energetic leafleter at literally hundreds of demonstrations, handing out agitational and political leaflets, and sometimes catalogues for my shop.
What Tognolini claims about personally handing out 2000 leaflets is probably physically impossible. How did he carry the rather heavy leaflets around? Did he have a posse of sepoys like an old-time grandee of the British Raj, or did he perhaps have a donkey or a camel? Or did he hire a cropduster and scatter the leaflets from the air? The man’s a clown and, politically speaking, a rather reckless one.
It’s well-known from the history of Stalinism that the exploits of “model workers” like Stakhanov were all faked.
Another aspect of Tognolini’s bizarre attack is at the start, where he says the protest “was meant to go pear shape according to the script from the leading lights of the conservative union officials in NSW”.
This is a vintage piece of Stalinist Third Period current DSP leadership rhetoric. The assorted union leaderships and active union officials and middle-level union activists who busted a gut to make this event event successful are slandered in this semi-coherent assertion.
I know dozens of union activists, from the rank and file up to leading union officials, who put in considerable effort to make this protest a success. I know some who were marshalls and some who leafleted railway stations, and I know quite a few of the full-time officials, left and right, who organised the event.
All the people I’ve spoken to who attended the event were struck by the breadth of union participation. Even the rather conservative shop assistants’ union had about 200 members marching and chanting. There was a Labor Party contingent of 200-300 as well, marching and chanting.
It’s true there were tactical arguments at all levels of the labour movement about strategy for the protest, but open discussions of such matters are entirely healthy.
Tognolini, in his dopey statement, blurts out what the new DSP leadership may not entirely believe, but certainly tell their supporters: that the existing leaders of the labour movement are deliberately betraying their members in the course of this struggle. This approach is straight out of the arsenal of Third Period Stalinism.
In the 1930s, Trotsky pointed out that even conservative union bureaucrats were threatened by Hitler and would be driven to conduct a certain struggle for the survival of the labour movement on which they depended, and that provided the objective basis for the necessary united front.
None of that dialectical approach to the problem of bureaucratic leaderships for Tognolini and his rather cynical political mentors.
I suspect that Tognolini’s mentors will whip up him, and others like him, into further verbal political excesses as the bankruptcy of their fantastic and unscientific political perspective is smashed to bits by events, as it has been severely battered over the past few months.
Tognolini and the new DSP leadership are going to need a lot of glossy leaflets, and cropdusters to distribute them, to counter the effect of developing objective circumstances, and I don’t know where they’ll find the planes.
The hype goes on: Green Left Weekly and the June 28 mobilisation against Howard’s anti-union laws
July 4, 2006
The issue of Green Left Weekly dated July 5 went up on the website later than usual, at midday on Monday. Usually it goes up on Sunday evening. The GLW editorial board may well have been fine-tuning the DSP’s account of the June 28 national trade union mobilisation against Howard’s industrial laws.
In the intense conflict that is still raging inside the DSP, the minority, which tends to be more careful politically, has been making a constant and systematic critique of the dishonest Socialist Alliance-focussed hype, mainly in GLW, which presents the DSP-Socialist Alliance as the central force in the radical aspect of the mobilisations, when in reality its influence is much more marginal.
This critique has been made, in particular, by a DSP minority supporter who is the DSP’s most experienced trade unionist, with about 25 years of experience. He and other minority supporters are accused by supporters of DSP national secretary Peter Boyle of defeatism, lack of faith in the working class and, by implication, even of a kind of sabotage of the DSP’s efforts.
All this makes it necessary to read GLW accounts of the June 28 mobilisation in the light of the internal battle in the DSP and in the light of the Boyleites’ pretensions to being a potential mass social force filling a political space that the Boyleites say exists in the working class to the left of Labor and the Greens.
The DSP minority ridicules this notion of such a large political space as fanciful in current conditions, and the minority is obviously correct in this.
The two main accounts of the events in GLW are both written by Boyle supporters, Graeme Matthews and Sue Bolton. One of them is a series of carefully edited interviews with such trade union officials as they can find who will talk to GLW, and when edited give some support to the DSP’s literary preoccupation with strikes as a panacea in the mobilisation against Howard’s laws.
This preoccupation is rather effectively dealt with by Mike Newman in a long article on the Labor Tribune website. I don’t agree with everything in Newman’s article, but most of it is sound, as against the DSP majority leadership’s hype.
It’s striking in the GLW interviews that there are no interviews with any trade union leaders who have a more nuanced point of view on tactics in the developing struggle against the Howard industrial laws. Everything in GLW on these matters is edited carefully to create a rather fantasised picture of a labour movement in which a large minority is pushing for substantial industrial action quickly, when that’s just not the case.
The second article is an ostensible account of the rallies and demonstrations themselves. Sue Bolton plays the numbers game with great finesse and a certain recklessness. The Melbourne rally is presented as between 80,000 (the police estimate) and 150,000 (the trade union estimate), and the articles says the event would have been bigger if the white-collar and public service unions hadn’t dragged their feet because of illusions in the Victorian Labor government. That seems to be a rather sweeping insult to those unions in Victoria.
Even the manufacturing unions are chided for not doing enough. The mass enthusiasm for Labor leader Kim Beazley’s committment to abolishing individual workplace contracts is treated with contempt, and GLW shelters behind an alleged anonymous worker who is said to have whinged about the event being an ALP election rally. The World Socialist Web Site also specialises in these anonymous workers, who are usually members of the organisation concerned.
When the report gets to Geelong, everything is wonderful. We’re told there were 10,000-15,000 at the rally, not quite as many as the 30,000 claimed for the previous mobilisation in that city, and we’re not told who made the estimate. We are told, however, that the marchers came in distinct union and community contingents from four locations, so it might have been interesting to get a count of those four groups to see how it all added up. But you won’t get that kind of analysis from GLW, just carefully angled hype.
In Sydney, the size of the march in Blacktown, is talked down. What we get, without comment, is the police estimate of 20,000 or so, but we don’t get the Unions NSW estimate of 40,000 and the estimate of 50,000 by one of the bourgeois media is ignored.
All this playing with figures and the careful editing is part of a general approach of trying to make the DSP-Socialist Alliance look in some way central to the June 28 events, as part of the internal argument in the DSP, which seems to be coming to a head. It’s also part of a curious picking sides in the trade union movement, in which the Victorian union leadership is presented as the good guys and the modernising and effective John Roberston, the Unions NSW secretary, is demonised.
The Boyleites’ mantra includes a constant attack on the whole mobilisation as in some sense simply a Labor Party election gimmick. Meanwhile, the thousands of activists involved in the mobilisations may be quite enthusiastic at the prospect of electing a Labor government, but they are also studying very hard the possibilities of moving forward against Howard’s attacks.
It’s particularly eccentric when the Boyleites’ own intervention, a glossy leaflet of which DSP Stakhanovite John Tognolini says he distributed 2000, is motivated in part by the Boyleites’ own election campaign.
At least the Labor Party and the Greens will get a substantial vote from combining their election interests with the agitation against Howard’s attacks. The DSP certainly won’t do that, despite the glossy leaflet.
The campaign against Howard’s laws is just beginning to build up. What is needed in the labour movement is a serious and sober discussion of strategy and tactics for the next stage of the struggle.
There is a tendency by some in the labour movement to reduce it to simply electing a Labor government, and that tendency should be rejected. All elements of defensive struggle should be used and explored and a real discussion of strategy and tactics is needed. GLW ‘s one-eyed and biased account of these developments is actually an obstacle to the proper discussion of these matters in the labour movment.
There’s now quite a bit of information and analysis on the June 28 events: the GLW articles, the Socialist Alliance and Greens leaflets on the day, and Mike Newman’s useful overview of the issues on the Labor Tribune site. That’s quite a start towards a systematic discussion of June 28 and the way forwards from here.