Richard Fidler offers some advice

by

Ed Lewis

On Marxmail, Richard Fidler says:

Even ex-DSPer Ed Lewis — a carping critic of the DSP if there ever was one — has made a contribution of sorts by helping Bob Gould set up the Ozleft web site, which contains much valuable documentation on the Australian left and workers movement. Ed would make a further contribution if he put more of the DSP’s historical documents on-line!

It’s interesting Richard, that you, like many in the DSP leadership, find it necessary to focus on the individual, rather than the politics of what I had to say, but thanks for remembering me.

I’ve rarely posted to the Green Left list or this list for a year or so, and I would have thought the DSP and its apologists might have found other things to talk about by now. Something I said apparently made an impression, which means my labours weren’t wasted.

When I more regularly posted to the Green Left list, I considered myself a persistent critic, rather than carping, but perhaps that depends who you talk to.

Very briefly, my critique of the DSP was based on the view that an excessive and stifling homogeneity was necessary for its relative success as a small group. This homogeneity even showed early signs of becoming social as well as political, with some leaders trying to trying to “lead” in areas in which political leadership has no legitimate role (such as film reviews, to name a fairly mild example).

The other small socialist group model in Australia was that of the ISO, which was not so homogeneous and had more discussion but regularly suffered bitter feuds based largely on personality, leading to expulsions and splits. That indicated to me that the far left had a real problem with discussion. Discussion automatically led to splits, and the way to avoid splits was to avoid discussion.

The constraints on discussion in the DSP, in my opinion, meant that almost all initiative had to come from the central leadership of 10 or so people, as they were the only ones regularly involved in systematic discussion and development of policy. Over time, this created an inward-looking, tactically and strategically conservative organisation.

The DSP’s internal education system was quite good, so its cadres had a fairly high cultural level, but they had very little experience of mass political activity, which made them tactically flat-footed. It’s not good enough to say the objective situation was unfavourable for mass activity. Leftists must be able to develop the tactics and strategy to reach a mass audience in the given circumstances.

While I was developing these views I came across Louis Proyect’s critique of Zinovievism, which in my opinion explains much of the political background to the development of organisations such as the Australian DSP.

There have been quite a few developments since then, and I watch with interest whether the DSP has learned to handle discussion among its ranks. The jury’s still out on that, as my information is that tensions are intense and there’s a fair chance the minority will get the boot at some point, perhaps as early as the coming convention.

I’m not convinced of your observation on the number of activists who have passed through would-be Leninist organisations. No doubt some come away with some knowledge of Marxism, but my experience is that an equal number are repelled by the small-group culture and leave thinking they have had a brush with a very strange, narrow-minded and arrogant organisation. Explaining socialism to such people is more difficult as a result of their experience.

Thanks for your advice on the content of Ozleft. I think the site has played a positive role in the development of a more capable, thoughtful Australian left. Whether it has yet become sufficiently more tolerant of different viewpoints, and more objective in discussion, is still open to question. Lots of people give us advice, so I hope you won’t mind joining the queue.

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