This is the way a split happens

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Not with a bang, but but with constitutional and personnel changes (with apologies to T.S. Elliott)

Bob Gould

As has been pretty obvious from the material posted on the web by supporters of the Boyle leadership, the DSP conference laid the basis for the expulsion of the minority in fairly short order.

Major personnel changes took place at the congress. John Percy, one of the leaders of the minority, was replaced as president by Jim McIlroy from the majority, which suggests that the couple of remaining minority supporters on the full-time national office staff will probably be removed fairly quickly, if they haven’t been, in practice, already.

Peter Boyle, in reporting cautiously on the conference, makes a point that women have been promoted in the new leadership, but that’s obviously just a figleaf for factional considerations.

The nitty gritty of the event was the constitutional changes on the final day. Over the years leading up to the Boyle coup, the DSP had gradually relaxed its previously extreme Cannonism and for practical reasons dropped a few provisions directed against minorities.

This trend has been reversed by the Boyle group, which changed the constitution to make it a political crime to even “canvass” minority views in public. Under that rubric almost any public expression of views by the minority could be used to get rid of them, and it almost certainly will be used in such a way at a time convenient to the Boyle group.

A throwaway remark in one of Luke Weyland’s over-enthusiastic contributions on the web seems to indicate which way the wind is blowing. He makes reference to looking forward to reading the second volume of the DSP-Resistance history written by someone called Jim. There are three possibilities here: he has confused John and Jim Percy, he’s communicating with Jim’s ghost by some mechanism (a ouija board, perhaps), or more likely the task of writing the history has been taken from John Percy and given to Jim McIlroy.

I’ve also been looking forward to the second part of John Percy’s account of the history of the DSP with a view to arguing with him about his version of events, but at least John is in the position of having been in a central leadership role in the organisation from day one, and his version of events is worth arguing about, as I’ll continue to do. I haven’t quite finished with the first volume yet.

The bizarre practice of changing the writers of party histories to suit the political exigencies of the day brings to mind the history of Stalinism. The first time around the Stalinist rewriting of Bolshevik history were tragedy, but the idea of the amiable but rather ineffectual Jim McIlroy writing a version of the history to suit the Boyle groups slides from tragedy into farce.

The Boyleites have suddenly become ferocious enthusiasts for the Cannonism of Jim Cannon’s middle years, and they do Cannon a disservice by seizing on him in this way. Cannon was a many-sided political and workers’ leader. He made many mistakes but he was quite capable of correcting them after a while. (Louis Proyect’s demagogy about dumping all of Cannon’s books is excessive.) One is reminded in this situation of Cannon’s prescient warning in 1965, Don’t Strangle the Party, against a similar tightening of the rules of the US SWP, which laid the basis for its future degeneration.

It’s a pity the Australian DSP doesn’t have someone of Cannon’s experience and stature to issue a similar warning to the Boyleites.

Anyone who thinks my version of the evolution of the Boyle bunch is too severe should carefully read Ratbag Radio Riley’s account of the convention on his blog and Luke Weyland’s comment on Riley’s contribution.

Coincident with all this the DSP has just published a short piece by Sue Bolton from India, where she attended the December congress of the CPI (ML). Bolton doesn’t stint on self-praise, describing herself as “tirelessly interacting with a range of delegates” (give us a break).

Bolton spelled out to an overseas audience the current line of the Boyle group, which was adopted at the DSP convention. Flying in the face of all political reality, she attributes to the DSP an enormous role in the defeat of the Howard government and the election of the Rudd Labor government. She says the major factor in this was industrial mobilisations in Victoria and WA.

Well, healthy and useful as those mobilisations were, the DSP was only a marginal force in the fact that they took place, and whether they were a critical factor in the election outcome is very hard to quantify. In Victoria and WA, where those mobilisations mainly took place, Labor won few seats in the election. If fact, the only seat Labor lost, against the trend, was in WA.

Where that sort of mobilisation wasn’t so obvious, in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland, was where most of Labor’s electoral gains took place.

The Boyleites will say anything to exaggerate their own importance, and that is a very bad guide to Marxist politics.

During the conference quite a few of the participants drifted through my shop, and the oppositionists seemed in reasonable spirits despite the battering they were receiving. Taken as a whole, although this is a subjective impression, the oppositionists are saner and calmer people than many of the majority supporters, although the majority supporters who drifted through the shop were also quite rational.

Riley, on his blog, makes a hullaballoo about how the minority should be proper Leninists and shut up now, while the line is tested in practice.

The difficulty with that proposition is that the Boyleites’ perspectives are so out of context with reality that it’s hard to perceive how the minority could put them into practice.

The majority makes much about the Greens (which in Australian terms are very large small mass party that now gets 10 per cent of the vote to the left of Labor) being really no good at all because they don’t have the full program of the Socialist Alliance.

In Sue Bolton’s report from India, another theme is developed: that the current student movement is no good either, because it consists of inward-looking left cliques, she says. This is an indirect attack on the minority, which places great emphasis on reviving Resistance, and it’s also an obvious attack on the DSP’s main propaganda group rival, Socialist Alternative.

At the Australian student union conference in December, Labor Party supporters were the dominant force, and the Socialist Alternative bunch had a rather substantial 12 per cent of the delegates. There was one solitary delegate from the DSP at that conference. So, you see, the Boyleites say, the student movement is no good because it doesn’t accept our leadership.

I could go on, but there’s not much point. A lot of the documents and comments speak for themselves. I’m still mulling over the weird statistical document from the Socialist Alliance, and I’m half-tempted to write a Mr Bean-style skit on it, with Mr Bean turning it upside down, this way and that, biting it, and eventually stamping on it, but that might be a little on the harsh side.

To sum up, the DSP has now settled down to being a formation with the worst organisational rigidity from some of the saddest periods of Marxist history. The opposition will probably be driven out in a fairly short time, and the business about canvassing their views will be the pretext for the purge.

The constitutional change prohibiting minorities from “canvassing” their views quite clearly would bar things like Max Lane’s very cautious expression of his views on Marxmail a few days ago. It’s a clear declaration that disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who does anything similar.

This item was originally published on the Green Left Weekly list and a lengthy discussion followed. That discussion is indexed here (at the bottom of the GLW screen).

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