Labor and its immediate problems

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A response to Alan Bradley and Geoff Breen

Bob Gould

Alan Bradley’s response to my post is sensible. He has to unload me, of course, but that’s de rigueur on the Green Left list, and at least he does it in a civilised way rather than resorting to the systematic verbal abuse of most ofter DSP majority supporters. For that I thank him.

Obviously, Bradley has a different approach to others in the DSP majority. The proverbial Blind Freddy can see that a substantial conflict is building up in the Labor Party, and I’d draw people’s attention to the very sensible resolution passed by the Summer Hill branch of the Labor Party, which has just been posted on the Labor Tribune website. I largely agree with that resolution.

I’ve already referred to the decision of the Victorian CFMEU, and interested readers should have a look at today’s newspapers for reports for Dean Mighell’s circular to ETU members, which contains a measured response to recent events.

Mighell’s circular stresses the importance of continuing the struggle against Work Choices, regardless of which government is in office. It also stresses the importance of continuing to campaign for the election of a Rudd Labor government despite recent events. I agree with all of that.

I’ve canvassed in Labor Party circles the formation of a Pledge-type national campaign around a minimum program, particularly defending the rights of unions in the Labor Party, and unionists in the Labor Party and society at large, and other matters.

I stress this kind of minimum program in an attempt to cut through the contradictions and factional alignments in the Labor Party. Such a Pledge campaign should incorporate the better elements in the unions and the Labor Party from the factional Left and Right and sub-factions in between.

It’s worth noting in this context that Dean Mighell leads a sub-faction in the left of the Victorian Labor Party that in recent months has made some practical accommodations with the Labor Right, particularly at the union level. It’s also worth noting that Kevin Reynolds and Joe McDonald, who are militants at the industrial level, are the leaders and animators of the Centre-Right in the WA Labor Party.

It’s also worth noting that the most conservative elements of the left and right in the unions combined to block John Robertson from being elected as Greg Combet’s successor in the ACTU, instead favouring a more industrially moderate candidate.

The aim of any militant mobilisation in the Labor Party should be to use the division between militancy and moderation in the unions as the cutting edge.

A year or two ago the DSP majority made a fuss about the militant current in the trade unions, and that was based on a certain kernel of truth. Things have moved on a bit since then, and the overwhelming majority of what the DSP called the militant current are as preoccupied, and sensibly so, as almost everyone else in the workers’ movement, with the main task of defeating the Howard government.

Nevertheless the leading personalities in the militant current would be entirely appropriate people to initiate a Pledge campaign at a mass level. They’re far more likely to get a response on these questions than Bob Gould or Marcus Strom simply proclaiming it.

Geoff Breen and the Socialist Alliance

I apologise to Geoff Breen for thinking that he may not have been a real person. So many games are played by the Boyle grouping on the Green Left list that I may be unduly suspicious on these matters, but I unreservedly accept his assertion that he’s real, particularly because he adopts a more or less civilised tone.

I’d point him, however, to the fantastically abusive tone routinely adopted by his DSP majority allies. Their general approach, with a few exceptions, such as Nick Fredman and Bradley, is to pour verbal abuse on the heads of anyone who disagrees with them, and I’m their main bete noir for the obvious reason that I argue with them tactically in an articulate way and they generally have no answer to my arguments.

One thing in your response that jars with me a bit is the moralising tone you adopt towards the ranks of the labour movement, when you say you can’t abide rubbing shoulders with all the go-getters and careerists, or words to that effect.

I have some sympathy with that view, up to a point. I’m pretty well known myself for taking the mickey out of the go-getters and careerists who inhabit the Labor Party.

In my experience, however, in NSW and I doubt that it’s much different in Victoria, such people are a minority. The overwhelming majority of the Labor rank and file and the serious trade unionists, both officials and others, in and around the Labor Party aren’t simply go-getters and careerists. They’re a complex mixture of characteristics, but most are motivated by leftist sentiments, as they understand them.

The verbal superiority to the Labor ranks claimed by many on the far left is a petty bourgeois affectation.

On the more substantial question of the Socialist Alliance project. I’m more preoccupied with the political perspective involved than anything else. Most of the significant players present initially in the alliance project have for one reason or another given it away.

This includes the ISO, the smaller affiliates, and in practice the DSP minority. It also includes two or three generations, so to speak, of independents. All of these groups and individuals were subjected, seriatum, to the DSP majority’s brutal use of its mechanical majority to impose its unscientific and eccentric perspective.

This perspective can be summarised as the proposition that proclaiming an alliance, even when there’s not much else in the alliance except part of the DSP, and claiming that alliance is the main animating factor in all struggles in the labour movement, has something to do with the reality of the workers’ movement.

Quite obviously it doesn’t. Dick Nichols and Sue Bolton can issue press releases until the cows come home, proclaiming that the alliance is the central force in the struggle against Work Choices, but that doesn’t make that proposition anything to do with political reality.

Dave Riley can denounce everyone else, also until the cows come home, for not joining the alliance and rolling over to the DSP majority’s seizing control of it, but that also bears little obvious connection to the actual relationship of forces either in the labour movement at large or in the much smaller world of the far left.

In Marxist politics, perspectives are decisive, and the DSP majority’s witch-doctor perspective takes you nowhere.

In answer to the obvious question, why do I bother arguing the point with the DSP majority, I bother because it seems to me that the DSP majority witch-doctor perspective is the most extreme development of sectarian and opportunist tendencies that have become almost endemic on the far left, and that makes it worthwhile to devote a bit of time (although certainly not a lot of time) to debating these matters on the Green Left list. I mean no personal offence to anyone, including yourself, but these are serious matters that require sensible discussion.

The fact that most of the DSP majority leaders respond with hysterical voodoo incantations underlines to me the bankruptcy of their perspective.

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