The new Direct Action and the Labor Party question


Bob Gould

It’s no secret that in the internal battle inside the DSP I have been, broadly speaking, more sympathetic to the minority that has now been expelled from the DSP and started publishing Direct Action. This sympathy was based on my estimate that, taken as a whole, they are a more serious group of people, particularly the younger ones, and more interested in Marxist theory, and to some extent the history of the labour movement.

I also believe that their critique of the DSP leadership’s Socialist Alliance adventure was by and large accurate and they had the best of that debate by a country mile.

The DSP majority, as most people on the left are aware, seemsto be led by political adventurers whom I trust politically about as far as I could throw the Sydney Town Hall.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, political line and practice must be the point of departure in socialist politics. I am beginning to feel about the comrades producing Direct Action the way Cannon felt, as he reports in the History of American Trotskyism. In a very funny anecdote Cannon recounts that after the Left Opposition was expelled in 1928, they were contacted by the leaders of the old underground faction of the early American Communist Party who indicated in their communication that they were in agreement with Trotsky’s criticism of the line of the Comintern.

Cannon went up to Boston to see them, and he was initially a bit amazed that they insisted on using their pseudonyms from the old communist underground. They then had a discussion with Cannon in which they indicated their general agreement with the political line of the Cannon-led communist opposition, but at the very end of the discussion they said they only had one condition, that the new party had to be underground. As Cannon tells it, he had a little more desultory conversation, cracked a few jokes and put his hat on and went back to New York and never saw them again.

It seems to me that the producers of Direct Action are just a bit like the leaders of the old communist underground. Personally I have always been a bit of a Jacobite. In a long political life I have learnt that majorities are not always right and minorities are often right, and I am often initially inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to minorities.

Nevertheless, some minorities are just nuts and their politics are to be avoided. It seems to me that this applies to the strategic attitude displayed so far by Direct Action to the workers movement, the trade unions, the Labor Party, and the current struggle in NSW against electricity privatisation.

It has to be said that they are not entirely consistent in this approach. There is a striking difference between the attitude displayed to the trade union struggle by Ian Jamieson in his article about the Maritime Union conference on the one hand, and the articles by Owen Richards and Andrew Martin in Direct Action II, and Allan Myers on the web.

By and large I agree with Jamieson’s approach but the other articles are shot through with the attempt to score off political opponents, and are informed by a totally unscientific view of the workers movement. Andrew Martin baldly says that workers should campaign for disaffiliation from the ALP. (This is at precisely the moment when a major immediate strategic objective of the ruling class is to end union influence in the Labor Party. It seems to me that socialists who find that their strategy approximates to the strategy of the ruling class ought, if they had any sense, immediately re-examine their strategy.)

Martin also advances the timeless slogan, which apparently Direct Action shares with the Melbourne-based Socialist Party, of forming a new worker’s party. The problem with this demand is that it is plucked out of the sky.

In the Leninist tradition, slogans should have some connection with current developments and circumstances or they are worse than useless. The demand for a new workers party has no hinge with current Australian circumstances. It is in fact a left-sounding formula for abstention from the current conflicts in the workers movement.

Owen Richards’ article about the electricity privatisation struggle is clearly a kind of line article. He accuses all socialist groups that have taken an active interest in, and given any kind of support to, the agitation against electricity privatisation throughout the labour movement of “official optimism” and he ascribes that to a quote from Lenin.

He doesn’t give any of the context for this Lenin quote. When quoting Lenin, or anyone else among the founders of the Marxist movement for that matter, the context of the quote is always decisive. What we know about Lenin’s approach to politics is that he himself was, as his understanding evolved and developed, correctly obsessed with context. (In this respect Owens and the other RSP comrades ought to carefully study the new book edited by Slaoj Zizek about the mature development of Lenin’s philosophical approach in his encounter with Hegel in the middle of the First World War. Unfortunately, most people quoting Lenin do so in a rather mechanical materialist way that takes no account of the mature Lenin.)

Owen Richards should tell us the context of the quote he is using, or is he just tossing off some phrase that Doug Lorimer or Allan Myers came up with, from their undoubtedly extraordinary memories of the works of Lenin. Doug in particular is brilliant at finding the appropriate quote to buttress an argument, but in my view he is much weaker on context.

Owen Richards lambasts the assorted socialist groups and individual socialists who he says are soft on the bureaucracy, which most certainly includes yours truly, for ignoring the timeless role of the bureaucracy to betray all struggles. In this he sounds quite a bit like the World Socialist Web Site.

The difficulty with this approach is that it takes no account of contradictions and developments at all. Betrayers of the working class dominate everything in the workers movement according to this version and their power is so great that no partial victories are possible. The clear implication is that the working class has to wait around for the socialist revolution led by the particular self-appointed leadership (you can take your pick, World Socialist Web Site, RSP, or whatever).

Comrade Richards even says quite baldly “and because it is not a serious fight by those ‘leading’, the opposition to privatisation will most likely be defeated in either the short or medium term. It will be back next year or the year after, perhaps presented by a Liberal-led state government”.

What a bald, timeless statement of pessimism about the worker’s movement is involved in that view. All it is really saying is that nothing can be done short of the socialist revolution. Of course the ruling class is constantly pressing to privatise everything. That is what the battle is about. And it is just the fact that the masses, and even the existing trade union bureaucracy can see this that‘s driving the popular struggle against these privatisations.

Obviously the masses and the trade union bureaucracy aren’t struggling for the socialist revolution, but they are pretty anxious to defeat the privatisations.

Even the Russian Revolution wasn’t initially a revolution for socialism. It was a revolution for peace, land and bread — very simple immediate demands, relevant to the context of the time. In the modern context, fighting privatisation of essential utilities is pretty similar to the struggle for peace, land and bread.

Richards’ half-remembered out-of-context Lenin quote can be matched by other quotes much more in context. I can quote the founders of the socialist movement as well as the next person who has read a few books, but I much prefer to put my quotes in some sort of relevant historical framework. The ignorant trading of Lenin and Trotsky quotes in polemics is one of the besetting sins in discussions in the socialist movement and becomes a kind of lunatic parlour game, which in fact does a disservice to the founders, their political activity and their theoretical understanding.

Nevertheless the network of quotes that I would recommend to Richards and the RSP are from Trotsky’s writings on the struggle against fascism in Germany. In polemiscising against the Stalinists, who said the communists could never unite with the Social Democratic police chief in Berlin, who had been in a sense responsible for the murder of Liebknect and Luxembourg, Trotsky made the point that this was demagogy, and not useful to the struggle against fascism because it tended to blur the real conflicts of interest between the fascists and the bureaucracy in the workers movement, whose interests lay, in the final analysis, in preserving the workers movement, of which they were the bureaucracy.

Trotsky even made the rather prescient prediction that the Nazis would probably even put the Social Democratic police chief in jail, which in fact they did in due course.

This analogy, in context, is in fact quite useful. It’s not a question of “official optimism” as Owen Richards says, but a question of the kind of official pessimism that underlay the suicidal Stalinist Third Period in Germany. Richards’ approach to the trade union bureaucracy is pretty much the same as that of the Stalinists in Germany in 1932.

Richards goes on to say “the reality is there can’t be a serious union campaign against the neoliberal policies of a Labor government while the unions remain tied to the pro-capitialist and pro-neoliberal ALP. That the present Unions NSW can be persuaded or pushed into conducting such a campaign only covers for the ALP’s deliberate hamstringing of the unions as effective organisations in defence of workers’ immediate interests.”

The approach involved in this line article in Direct Action is completely useless from a number of points of view. It implies that nothing can be done short of the RSP becoming the leadership of the workers movement. That is not going to happen in the immediate future, or ever, if that approach is adopted.

It takes no account of the shifts in the workers movement and the bureaucracy and it takes no account at all of the development of a certain centrism in the workers movement in recent times. Rather than the bureaucracy being an absolutely fixed category, in these circumstances the crisis of leadership in the workers movement, reflected in falling union membership and the attempt to drive union influence out of social life in Australia, has actually produced a certain healthy centrism, dare I say it, a leftward moving centrism in the unions and by extension in the ALP.

For deep historical reasons it doesn’t take the form that the RSP group would like, of automatically swinging over to accept the leadership of the RSP. It takes the form of a vigorous rebellion within the historically defined ALP-trade unions set-up, spearheaded by the unions in NSW and the flashpoint of which is the struggle against electricity privatisation.

Corresponding to that, an unusual figure, John Robertson, has ended up as the leader of Unions NSW. Ironically, he became secretary because his worst immediate predecessors, who played such a reactionary role in the trade union movement, headed off to what they thought were greener pastures in business and politics.

Robertson over a period of years has set about renovating Unions NSW, easing out the more reactionary time-servers and building a broad union faction committed to more or less traditional trade union and industrial and labour politics, which can be roughly summarized as getting the best deal you can for your members by mobilising the unions as a cohesive industrial force and using union muscle in ALP affairs.

Owen Richards and others like him will say that is not the socialist revolution, but from a socialist point of view it beats the hell out of the immediately preceding set of arrangements, and it frightens the hell out of the ruling class.

The reason it frightens the ruling class is that it is an absolutely serious material obstacle to the neoliberal projects of the ruling class. A historical analogy that is appropriate is the rise of the CIO in the United States.

The CIO was initiated by a bunch of rather unlikely union bureaucrats led by the union bureaucrat of them all, John L Lewis. The revolutionary socialists, Trotskyists, and communists of the time, after considering the matter, threw themselves into building the CIO despite its bureaucratic leadership, and that became the decisive development in the American working class for a whole historical period. Not the socialist revolution but an enormous leap in the class struggle.

The actual struggle against electricity privatisation

On the socialist left, I am possibly the greatest sinner of the lot in the struggle against electricity privatisation. I have been involved in the struggle since day one, both in the ALP and in society at large. I have argued pretty vigorously for an open agitation, involving the ALP, the Greens, community groups and socialist groups, but have also fought very hard for recognition of the practical point that the careful collaboration with Unions NSW and the trade unions in general and with those Labor parliamentarians willing to stick their neck out is essential for victory in the struggle.

The struggle so far has been contradictory and uneven. It has had, so far, a number of very progressive results. The first result has been that it has in practice consolidated the implicit bloc between the unions in NSW, from both right and left backgrounds under the hegemony of Unions NSW, around an entirely healthy centrist program in the current conditions, of defending unions and workers interests against all comers, including if necessary, Labor governments.

This has polarised in practice both Labor party internal factions, the Socialist Left and the Centre Unity faction between on the one hand, a group based on unions and branch activists, and on the other a group based on the more reactionary ministers and politicians. This polarisation has now broadened throughout the Labor Party in NSW.

The older factional alignments are still not quite in the past, but the current operative factional division is the one between the unions and the ALP rank and file, and now even the ALP head office machine on the one hand, and the reactionary clique that runs the Labor cabinet, with the support of the big end of town and the media on the other.

In this battle, throughout the workers movement, people are choosing sides as we speak. The overwhelming majority of the rank and file in or around the workers movement are broadly speaking choosing the progressive side in this battle and leaving those on the right, and even significant numbers of hacks drawn from the ALP left, stranded. The right wing minority of the left is has become nakedly a left face for the Costa-Iemma government and the plans of the big end of town. In this battle there is also an aspect of the whole trade union movement entering into a defensive struggle against the reactionary aspects of the Federal Labor government on industrial matters.

In NSW, the Labor Against the Sell Off/Power to the People agitation has played a useful role. It was initiated by ALP rank and filers and ALP trade unionists and has now broadened to establish relationships with community groups, Greens and those socialist groups that can see what day it is, in a broad mass movement.

In the recent weeks, the collisions in the ALP parliamentary caucus have sharpened, not diminished and there is very little sign of anyone on the trade union side drawing back from the struggle against electricity privatisation.

It is a fact that this struggle is proceeding in the contradictory and frequently less than industrially militant way in which struggles are often conducted in the labour movement in a defensive period.

However, any socialist who can’t see that there is a real struggle proceeding in which one side is defending the interests of the working class, in however limited a way, and the other side is attacking the interests of the working class, is blinded by an underlying, misleading doctrinaire approach.

At this point, it is worth noting the recent victory of the rail union in a wage dispute. One would hardly call the leadership of the rail union the most socialist leadership in the workers movement. In the past that leadership has often contained and held back struggles when it should not have, but nevertheless, for that union leadership a sticking point has been reached on the question of redundancies.

That union leadership with all its limitations has been fighting redundancies for quite a while. It has become quite obvious that a number of hangers-on of the rightwing state ministers who have constructed their lousy little careers around the labour movement, are quite determined to crush the rail union if they can, and one of those types has even said so semi-publicly. One can imagine the bitterness of the ranks and leadership of the rail union when they saw the report of the anti-union statements by that particular go-getter, whose career was actually assisted in the past by his presence in the Centre Unity group.

The divisions between the unions as a whole and the government, are now very wide and very deep, and everyone can see it. There is broad sympathy even in the community at large for the struggle of the rail union against the government, and fortuitously for the rail union, the period of enterprise bargaining wage negotiation just happened to coincide with the international Catholic religious festival that was commencing.

Notwithstanding the fact that he himself is a quite religious Catholic, Nick Lewocki and the rest of the union leadership took advantage of the fortuitous circumstances to stand up the government on the wage negotiations and the threatened redundancies. Despite the government’s hysterical threats against the rail union and the madness of the bourgeois press talking about industrial terrorism, when the government went to the lawyers they found they could not do anything against a legal strike in a bargaining period, so the government caved in forthwith.

That union victory in a current struggle is certainly not the socialist revolution, and it has been achieved by judicious industrial tactics in a relatively non-militant way. Nevertheless it is a considerable victory for the workers in the industry in their struggle for wages and no further redundancies and it has considerable significance for the labour movement and the broader working class because it revives the idea that unions can achieve things even in the current bleak industrial climate.

Writers in Direct Action can prattle all they like about their dubious story that nothing can be achieved while the present leadership of the labour movement exists, but the fact of the class struggle demonstrates something completely different. (It’s worth noting the strategic approach to this dispute by John Robertson and Unions NSW, who are up to their ears in the rail dispute. The day after the union victory in the dispute, Robertson wrote an article for the reactionary Daily Telegraph, which the Murdoch editors felt obliged to run despite the fact that for the preceding two or three days the Telegraph had been denouncing the rail unions and Unions NSW as “industrial terrorists.

Robertson quite properly implied that the industrial dispute had not been directed at the Pope, or the Catholic religious festival but was dictated by industrial necessity. He went on to welcome the Pope and the religious festival but he used the occasion to invoke his interpretation of Catholic social doctrine and the implicitly pro-working-class aspects of it, and served up this interpretation gently but firmly to the visiting Pope, the pilgrims, and by implication to Cardinal George Pell.

The subtlety of Robertson’s approach in this article impressed me mightily and it is in stark contrast to the peculiar antics of some alleged socialists who seem to think there is something leftist about dredging up from the primitive past the Anglo-Australian ascendancy’s traditional bigoted slogan of no Popery.)

Getting back to the electricity privatisation struggle, Richards repeats the story pioneered by the anti-socialist so-called World Socialist Web Site, that the struggle against electricity privatisation will inevitably be defeated. He is prepared to countenance an outside possibility (gee whiz, thanks Owen) that we might defeat it this time by more conservative methods of struggle, but of course the ruling class will try again and eventually win.

It was JM Keynes who said in the long run we are all dead. That throwaway line from Keynes has a certain application to the class struggle in all its forms. It is worth considering that electricity privatisation was defeated 10 years ago in a quite non-revolutionary way by the normal methods of mobilising a majority of the state conference of the ALP against it.

It took the ruling class 10 full years to cajole a compliant Labor ministry to try again. If we defeat it on this occasion, as is beginning to look increasingly likely, the reactionary forces peddling the privatisation are likely to be so bruised by the experience that they will be cautious about trying it again for quite a while. The by-product of that situation will be to increase the self-confidence of the ALP rank and file and of any class-conscious or liberal elements in society, that such things as further privatisations can more easily be defeated by some sort of mobilisation.

The dark Third Period reactionary pessimism of Comrade Richards on this question underlines is a complete dead-end.

In developing this sectarian moralizing and presenting it as socialist principles the comrades of Direct Action are bit like the Bourbon kings who are said to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. In fact they are a bit worse than the Bourbon Kings, because they seem to have forgotten what they ever knew about the labour movement, the working class and the class struggle.

I own a bound set of the first 60 or so copies of the old Direct Action, which the old DSP produced after they split with me and my supporters back in the early 1970s. Those first 60 issues were in fact pretty good papers because they took up the day-to-day questions of the class struggle in a fairly concrete way from a broadly Marxist point of view. Even after we split apart way back then we shared a pretty well common view of not adopting an ignorant doctrinaire approach to the workers movement.

The new Direct Action has largely abandoned all that in favour of what the French Marxist leader Daniel Bensaid described as moralising sectarianism, which he said was the besetting sin of some Marxist groups. Bensaid was obviously right about that and his striking phrase still applies.

A further consideration is that I am completely baffled by is the question of who the producers of the new Direct Action think will respond to this moralising sectarianism. Where is the working class or left-leaning audience for that stuff?

It doesn’t exist, because in so far as people resist the reactionary neoliberal forces that are rampaging in society, they are looking for concrete and scientific solutions to their problems. Telling the people who are rebelling, of whom there is an increasing number, despite the conservative nature of the period, that they have to hang around waiting til a new socialist leadership establishes itself as the dominant force in the workers movement, was always nonsense from a Marxist point of view. It is a formula for sterile, hopeless isolation followed by disillusionment in the current difficult circumstances.

The worst aspect of this approach is that it is a formula for abstention in most important spheres of current working class struggle. For instance, I have made a point of letting a couple of people in the Direct Action group know about meetings of the electricity privatisation agitation, and I have said that even allowing for the fact that they are getting their organisation up and running, some of them should come along to participate in the agitation.

Well, they have never turned up, and now the political reason for that is a little clearer. They are developing what is implicitly a theory of abstention prettied up by left talk about the need for a real socialist leadership — ie them. The difficulty with that is no socialist leadership in recorded history has ever been constructed seriously such abstentionism.

Why should the working class or any leftward-leaning people pay the slightest attention to you when all you do is lecture them in a very grand way, and attack their existing organisatoins, even when the leadership of those organisation is are doing partially good things? The notion of training your supporters in the actual struggle, learning from the struggle, and adopting a united front strategy, is completely alien to this kind of political approach. It has nothing to do with the mature Marxist politics of past socialist leaders. People like Lenin and Trotsky, James P Cannon and James Connolly would turn in their graves at such doctrinaire nonsense being peddled as Marxism.


35 Responses to “The new Direct Action and the Labor Party question”

  1. Wombo Says:

    Apology accepted Bob. 😉

  2. Antigone Says:

    It’s pretty clear that by far the best, clearest, most incisive, convincing and useful Marxist (or Marxist influenced) people today, whether activists, intellectuals, theoreticians, writers, or all of the above are people who live and work outside of the organisational framework of the far left sects like either the DSP, RSP, Socialist Alternative, WSWS, etc and their equivalents internationally.

    This is a neat piece by Bob. But it begs the question: how come the DSP was incapable of, to this day, explaining in such a clear, pedagogical Marxist fashion, as Bob has done here, exactly how the RSP were going off the rails? They never, ever came close to doing so to non-DSP members.

  3. Alan B Says:

    To Antigone:

    The RSP’s direction only existed as a potential. It was not guaranteed that they would go off into sectarian la-la land. The DSP majority were reluctant to predict that they would do so, as this would merely have fanned the flames, and mirrored the RSP’s ranting about degeneration.

    Besides, the whole thing scared the hell out of us. Let’s face it: any of us could, in theory, have succumbed to this batshit craziness.

  4. Alan B Says:

    A further reason why the DSP hasn’t tried too hard to criticise the RSP: actions speak louder than words.

    Ultimately, the only way the dispute can be fairly assessed will be for the two sides to follow their different paths, and let everyone see the consequences.

    This process is already beginning.

  5. entdinglichung Says:

    Bob wrote: “Personally I have always been a bit of a Jacobite

    … do you really mean “Jacobite” … or “Jacobin”? … 😉

  6. Alan B Says:

    Definitely Jacobite. 😉

    “The subtlety of Robertson’s approach in this article impressed me mightily and it is in stark contrast to the peculiar antics of some alleged socialists who seem to think there is something leftist about dredging up from the primitive past the Anglo-Australian ascendancy’s traditional bigoted slogan of no Popery.)”

  7. Wombo Says:

    Well, he DOES go around Newtown comparing people who dare protest the Catholic Church’s rather archaic (not to mention bloody stupid murderous) position on contraception to the reactionary bloody loyalist bigot Ian Paisley.

    The ain’t noone going around saying “no Popery” (at least not how Bob’s implying). To suggest so, as Bob does, is clearly intended to be a nasty slur, and is in some ways worse than his apologism for the ALP. He’s extending his fatherly wing of hypocrisy to include the protection of the reactionary positions of the Catholic Church (and not a few other Churches too).

    Bob’s just lucky he’s not a few decades younger, or I (and a good – and very Catholic – swathe of my family) might have a few choice words with him…

  8. Tony Says:

    I notice Mr Gould has been silent on the vile racist opposition to an Islamic school in Camden. No doubt he accepts his ALP’s cop-out that this racism was just a “planning issue”.
    I mention this because while the reactionary anti-Catholicism of the protestant ascendancy in Australia very much belongs to history, Islamophobia is with us today. Green Left Weekly can be proud of its record in opposing all religious bigotry, whether emanating from Cardinal Pell or professed secularists.

  9. Antigone Says:

    Oh, I dunno, I can think of plenty of people on the left who are that very contradictory human creature Jacobite-Jacobin, i.e. with a Jacobite strain of repressed sympathy for religion or religions (in all their forms) and/or a tendency to romantic defences of old orders (as bad as they may be) supplanted by new oligarchies, co-existing with Jacobinist support for democratic revolutionary forces and spirits that want to demolish the old order and construct new and better orders and ideologies.

  10. Tony Says:

    Why did my comment on this thread not go up???

  11. Ozleft Says:

    Sorry, Tony, it was in the spaminator. Now fished out.

    Perhaps the spaminator is allergic to wild leaps of logic from political sectarians.

  12. Captain Swing Says:

    In the context of the World Youth Day ‘celebration’, ‘No Popery’ seems like a lovely slogan to resurrect from the deep ‘sectarian’ past, from days when Catholics were the oppressed class, instead of the oppressors, as at least some of them now seem to be. ( Tony Abbott springs to mind, as a famous Catholic). The Socialist sects certainly seem to mirror the emnity displayed in religious conflicts of the past.
    Bob’s comments concerning Robertson and the role of rank and file unionists v. members of the ‘political class’ working for ALP Left Ministers in particular are spot on, especially in relation to electricity. The ‘staffer’ class have been notably absent from anything to do with opposition to electricity privatisation, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t significant pockets of the trade union bureaucracy that haven’t been particulary suspect too.
    On the theme of ‘industrial struggle’ , what of the Day of Action on 30/7/08, that Unions NSW is supposed to be promoting around the preservation of O. H & S. standards ( their impending watering down by the Feds), the lousy State Govt pay cut policy and the end of the NSW IR system? Looks more like a pure ‘media event’ to me, the latter-day replacement for industrial action, post Your Rights at Work. There will apparently be a press conference at 11 a.m. on 30/7, with leaflets being handed out at train stations in the morning and maybe some sort of a rally if enough people get there.
    Costa et. al. will just laugh at this feeble attempt to challenge their rotten wage and conditions cutting agenda. Real union leaders would have pressed for a public sector strike, to follow up the victory of the rail workers. Still have to trade off conditions or staffing for more than 2.5% by the look of it.
    One final comment about Wombo’s offering – you must be a brave person, threatening a senior citizen like Bob, that you and your Catholic family ‘might have a few choice words with him’ ..sounds like another type of ‘family’ emanating from Sicily. I imagine Bob could call on some good Comrades from Left Unions in particular to defend him if it really came to a ‘stoush’. I’ve seen them very effectively deal with Nazis trying to invade the Gaelic Club few years ago.
    Wombo demonstrates that not much has changed since the Inquisition, though there are some truly great Catholics in Australia – the likes of Frank Brennan and Bill Deane spring to mind. I even know a Catholic missionary Priest- but he’s a radical and writes rebellious things his superiors in the Church don’t like. A brave and decent man…as Brennan and Deane certainly are.
    The Captain.

  13. Wombo Says:

    The Captain certainly seems vulnerable to wild leaps of logic too. My comment about “choice words” was largely in jest (and there was certainly no suggestion of threatening “senior citizens” – go back and re-read my post).

    However, you seem to have missed the central point (conveniently), which was that Bob isn’t the only person around here with Irish roots, and some people don’t particularly like being compared to bloodthirsty sectarian murderers like Paisley (which is what Bob did) just because we happen to be organising a protest (alongside, I should point out, progressive Catholics) against the Pope’s and the Catholic Church’s reactionary stance on a number of important issues.

    There are indeed a number of great Catholics in Australia – most of whom I’m sure would agree with many of the demands of the NoToPope coalition (if not, perhaps, the name or method). I know of at least one priest (in the news about a week ago) who has criticised the money spent on WYD, and called for it to be spent on helping the homeless of Sydney. Bloody good call. Does this mean he is calling for “no Popery” too?

    However, if it’s a modern-day Inquisition you want, you shouldn’t have to look much further than the idiotic World Youth Day regulations that this wonderful ALP government has brought in. Or better yet, Ratzinger ‘s past few decades of activity within the Church.

    I should also point out – just to be clear – that it is Bob who has inserted the phrase “no Popery” into this discussion, deliberately insinuating the sectarianism associated with it. I find it interesting how he prefers do this (in order to attack those left of the ALP) rather than acknowledge the issues being protested.

    Nota Bene – “issues”. Let me spell it out for the hardened sectarians here – the protest on Saturday is not simply an anti-Catholic protest. If Bob’s little aside in the stream-of-consciousness screed above had been in any way genuine, he would have mentioned what the protest is actually about. He didn’t, because he’s trying to make out that it’s just the “loony left” attacking the Pope. The only loony here is Bob and his amazing ability to distort reality in order to defend the ALP and attack the left.

    Maybe Bob (and friends) should check this website out first:

  14. Tony Says:

    IN what why is it a “wild leap in sectarian logic” to point out that Islamophobia not anti-Catholicism is the main manifestation of religious bigotry in contemporary Australia?

  15. Tony Says:

    BTW, it would be really refreshing if instead of responding with the usual DSP-bashing snide remarks, someone from Ozleft would prove me wrong by putting up some article defending Muslims in Australia from religious bigotry.

  16. Antigone Says:

    Tony, my comment about “wild leaps of logic” referred to your illogical inference that because Bob had not written here or elsewhere about the Islamic school in Camden that he was, by implication, “a vile racist”.

    Firstly, Bob has been around a long time as Wombo in a surprisingly clumsy and ageist way acknowledged. But to suggest, as you did he, is a religious bigot or Islamophobic is beyond pathetic. If anything, Bob’s writings have made clear that he is much more in the Terry Eagleton camp on the question of religion than that of say, Louis Proyect or all the socialist-cum-Marxist (sic) sects like the DSP – or its Frankenstein offspring, the RSP.

    Secondly, Bob can’t comment on everything and Ozleft is not a news outlet. In this context I note that the DSP, the progenitor of its mirror-image, the RSP, seems to think that international politics can be adequately covered by only ever reporting on narrowly focussed developments in Cuba, Venezuela, Palestine, and Indonesia. What you got against the rest of the world!

    The Pope’s visit to the WYF provides not-to-be-missed and important opportunities in a variety of forums and by many means to lambast the Catholic Church’s reactionary position particularly in relation to the crucial questions of women’s right to reproductive control. These are not secondary issues.

    Captain Swing, I think the fact is that industrial action is not seen by most workers today as something that can be effective. It is not a question of them/us rejecting it as a tactic that could be successful. And like it or not this reality which has complex causes is also a factor that the union bureaucracy cannot ignore. Which is not to say mass industrial action is finished as a tactic. But it is problematic and not necessarily the measure of opposition – today. Work with it.

  17. Tony Says:


    1. I wasn’t inferring that Bob Gould was a vile racist, I was pointing out (not inferring) that the Islamophobia encapsulated in the vile racist opposition to the Camden school was the face of religious bigotry in Australia today: not the anti-catholicism of the protestant ascendancy that has largely disappeared from Australia. What I was inferring was (i) his bizarre accusation that the Socialist Alliance and Resistance being involved in the NoToPope represented “dredging up from the primitive past the Anglo-Australian ascendancy’s traditional bigoted slogan of no Popery” was drawing a long bow; & (ii) perhaps his reluctance to attack religious bigotry as it actually exists in contemporary Australia may be related to his loyalty to the ALP.

    2. The current Green Left Weekly has articles on Ecuador, Britain Switzerland, Malaysia, East Timor, Japan, Peru, Nepal, Korea, amongst others, last week’s on some of these places plus Afghanistan, Columbia, Bolivia, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, India, the US, Burma, Iraq… I could go on but I think its clear that our reporting goes way beyond the four countries you mentioned. Of course the country we report on most is Australia because that’s where we are.

    3. I’m glad you agree that WYD “provides not-to-be-missed and important opportunities in a variety of forums and by many means to lambast the Catholic Church’s reactionary position particularly in relation to the crucial questions of women’s right to reproductive control. These are not secondary issues.” That’s exactly what we have been doing, not dredging up slogans of the protestant ascendancy.

  18. Ed Lewis Says:

    Here’s one, Tony. There are plenty more, but it’s true no one on Ozleft has commented on the Camden events.

    By the way, the spaminator objected to your three links. The WordPress spaminator assumes anything with more than two links is a sales pitch for genital enlargment technology or medication, gambling websites, etc. We have to fish out the important stuff with multiple links.

  19. Tony Says:

    Thanks for the clarifications. I have to admit I hadn’t looked back in Ozleft archives as far as March 2006 (when, of course, the Liberals were responsible for government-fuelled bigotry, at least at the federal level). So I stand corrected on that point.

    Like I said before: I wasn’t accusing Bob Gould of Islamophobia, merely of going silent on the question when the ALP were the culprit. And of bringing in the “No Popery” furphy.

    Anyway, I’ve got other things I should be doing and there are political differences which aren’t likely to be resolved here. Bob Gould sees Green Left Weekly and the organisations associated with it as being obsessed with exposing the ALP: we see him as obsessed with providing the ALP cover.

  20. Captain Swing Says:

    Well Antigone, you sound just like the General Secretary of the PSA at its Central Council meeting on Monday night, eschewing a strike on 30/7.
    It seems the RTBU was prepared to contemplate a strike for tomorrow, which the Government couldn’t stop in the Federal IR Commission, ironically because Work Choices didn’t actually outlaw all strikes, only ‘unprotected’ industrial action outside a bargaining period, so the State Government had to contemplate the use of the Essential Services Act in defense of WYD. The use of that Act against the RTBU, even if constitutionally valid, might well have united the public sector unions to pursue an industrial campaign over pay, OH & S and the end of the State’s IR system, rather than pulling back to what looks like a media/community awareness campaign only. According to a State Library PSA delegate, the State Library workers were prepared to back a strike for 30/7, as that delegate tried to move the PSA leadership to at least ask Unions NSW to consider calling the Day of Action as a strike day, but of course the PSA’s General Secretary would have none of it. It’s no wonder the PSA is losing members.
    Does anyone really think that a media/ community awareness campaign alone will shift the likes of Costa on any of these other issues, given his performance on electricity?
    If ever there was an issue which the Unions could actually take industrial action on, with public support, it’s got to be electricity privatisation. The Auditor-General’s report on electricity privatisation could be nearly as interesting as the climate change Green paper. I’m not one for mindless ‘Gurkha charges’ at machine guns, as I’ve seen Comrades lead workers into disastrous industrial battles they can’t win, but to write off the prospects of industrial action in well-unionised areas of the public sector in particular, if that’s what’s being suggested, is extraordinary and defeatist given the issues at stake.
    If it doesn’t happen in the public sector, it certainly won’t happen in the private sector, given the 16% unionisation rate. Let’s see what sort of wage deals the Public Sector Unions get without taking industrial action. The FBEU, for one, doesn’t eschew such action. But it also runs media campaigns with its relatively limited resources.
    The Captain.

  21. Bob Gould Says:

    A number of people from the DSP have ignored the bigger questions that I raise in my article above and instead taken up a passing remark on the NoToPope coalition, together with a few things I said in conversation with a couple of DSP people in Newtown.

    In my view, socialists and Marxists are children of the enlightenment and we fight for issues such as abortion rights, the rights of gay people, for stem cell research, and I don’t resile from any of that.

    I also totally oppose the strengthening of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state in all its forms and I’m pleased that Rachel Evans and her friend won the case in the High Court to partly quash the latest extension of laws to restrict civil liberties.

    Nevertheless, I oppose anything that calls itself NoToPope, and I’m against any demonstration attacking any religious festival, including the World Youth Day.

    Firstly there’s a tactical consideration. Socialists should challenge the capitalist state in a considered way. I defend anyone’s right to demonstrate, but I will only lend my support to actions that are called with some judgment and common sense. I support large demonstrations against visiting imperialist leaders or business leaders or politicians engaged in acts against the working class. I’ve been involved in many such demonstrations, the most recent being the protests against visiting imperialist leaders for the APEC summit.

    Even in that case, I favoured concentrating the fire on the major imperialist leaders and not oppressed Third World countries, whose leaders were present for reasons of diplomacy and trade.

    I totally oppose demonstrations against major events of any religion, and I’m most bitterly opposed to demonstrations against Islamic events because of the pressing current issue of Islamophobia.

    For similar reasons, I oppose demonstrations directed at this enormous Catholic religious event and I oppose insulting the religious views of Catholics by handing out condoms at religious events, in the same way I oppose handing out condoms at, for instance, Friday prayers at a mosque.

    Obviously the current priority is to fight Islamophobia, but you live in a fool’s paradise if you think anti-Catholic prejudice is entirely dead in a country that orginated in British imperialism, such as Australia.

    The Catholic working class, and even a section of the Catholic middle class have always been part of the oppressed in Australia. Newer Catholic migrants from countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and other places are in fact among the most oppressed.

    My political outlook is based on the need to unite the working class and the oppressed rather than to divide them on religious lines.

    One of my main objections to Cardinal Pell is his tendency from time to time to stir up Islamophobia, and one only has to look at the Fairfax press to see the way it implicitly invokes traditional Anglo animosity to Catholics. Inflaming such divisions is the work of the ruling class, not socialists.

    In internal conflicts in the Catholic church I favour progressive Catholics, such as the Josephite nuns, Frank Brennan, Sir William Dean, the current Jesuits, and the Catholic priest at Mt Druitt who quite rightly objected to the massive expenditure on some of the ceremonial regalia for World Youth DAy. He pointed out that the money would be better spent on poor parishes such as Mt Druitt.

    I also have great respect for Bishop Manning of Parramatta, who spoke at the rally against electricity privatisation at Parliament House.

    Most of these progressive Catholics are involved in one way or another in World Youth Day as a religious event despite their misgivings about the right-wing policies and practices of people and organisations such as the present Pope, Cardinal Pell, Opus Dei and the neo-catechumens.

    A wholesale general attack, with abusive overtones, from outside the Catholic church inevitably has crude anti-Catholic overtones, even to progressive Catholics.

    I also, as a former Catholic and a person of Irish heritage, have an aesthetic and cultural distaste for kicking Catholics in this way, with all the overtones that it invokes from the reactionary history of Anglo-Australian society.

    The Catholic mass was banned in NSW for the first 10 or 15 years of the colony, and Protestant bigots tried to ban St Patrick’s Day in Melbourne during World War I because of Archbishop Mannix’s activities against conscription and in favour of Irish independence.

    My reference to Ian Paisley to Wombo in Newtown was quite considered. When the last Pope went to Northern Ireland 20 years ago, Paisley was frothing at the mouth about the Pope being the whore of Babylon. This theme was taken up a few days ago by the Christadelphian church in a quarter page ad in one of the Sydney papers, indicting the Pope and Roman church as the anti-Christ in the Book of Revelation.

    A NoToPope coalition, which involves a bloc with the Atheist Society and the Raelians (the people who think there’s a spaceship parked behind the moon waiting to take us all away) is a reactionary, lunatic political stunt.

    There’s no mileage for socialists in starting a religious war with anyone. Our business should be to unite the working class and the most oppressed.

    I’ve just had a pilgrim in my shop this evening, a young man from Northern Ireland, a rather religious student of theology at the Irish National University, who bought a few books on religion, and a book criticising religion in relation to the theology of the devil.

    I asked him about politics and he turned out to be a supporter of Sinn Fein and a great admirer of Martin McGuinness (he lives near Derry).

    I went last night to a Socialist Alternative meeting on the trade unions. A bit to my surprise, the approach to trade unionism was quite sensible and the lecturer tried to explain all aspects of the trade union struggle. This caused my to revise my view of Socialist Alternative a bit.

    Towards the end of the meeting, when the demonstration against the Catholic religious festival on Saturday was mentioned, one of the rank and file piped up quite stubbornly saying he opposed the whole idea of the demonstration. I agreed with him and said so, and my view was quite well received.

    Di Fields, one the Socialist Alternative leaders, also spoke and it seems there has been a fairly vigourous discussion about the matter, because she said activities should be concentrated against the Iemma government and the reactionary anti-protest law, but she opposed politically attacking the pilgrims and the Pope.

    She also referred to a demonstration a few days before on indigenous questions, which turned out to be small, but which was substantially expanded by members of a Jesuit-influence lay Catholic group from about eight countries.

    She ended on the note that attacking the pilgrims and the Pope was crazy and we should be trying to win allies among the pilgrims. I agree.

    There’s clearly a serious discussion going on in Socialist Alternative circles about the wisdom of endorsing the World Youth Day stunts initiated mainly by the DSP.

  22. Alan B Says:

    Bob wrote:
    “A number of people from the DSP have ignored the bigger questions that I raise in my article above and instead taken up a passing remark on the NoToPope coalition, together with a few things I said in conversation with a couple of DSP people in Newtown.”

    That would be because we agreed with you on your main point.

    As far as the Jacobite thing goes: it helps to think of this (long defunct) movement in terms of Ireland rather than Scotland. Bob’s sympathies make a lot more sense then. Of course, the kings of France the Jacobites relied upon were “the Bourbon kings who are said to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing”.

    Briefly back to the RSP: a lot of the people in the DSP who I considered friends were part of the group that became the RSP. If I had been a DSP member at the time, it would have been tempting to side with with them.

    That said, the RSP’s perspective was dead spot-on wrong. It consisted, in effect, of a combination of an excessively negative appraisal of politics in Australia with an over-emphasis on international “solidarity work”. That combination tends to (but doesn’t inevitably) lead to a half-hearted and sectarian approach to struggles in Australia.

    Opportunism and sectarianism are equal and opposite errors. It is possible that the DSP may have stumbled into some opportunist errors, but these are, in my opinion, far less serious in the current environment than the sectarian errors that are so effective at destroying far left groups.

    The RSP is a dead end. It takes all the mistakes the DSP has made in its history, and turns them into principles. Hopefully, it won’t recruit anyone.

    And yet I’m not keen on attacking them. They are still, in the end, friends.

    Off to work.

    Alan B

  23. Antigone Says:

    Captain Swing, it’s a tragedy that there exists nowhere on the internet (the obvious place) where left unionists can discuss such things. Nobody is hosting such a site, certainly not the socialist sects. I’d love to know and tell of the enemy better too. But then so many who could speak are not saying. Witness the latest NSW nurses’ union paltrey wages deal. No public criticism of it that I know of from within the union ranks. Why?

    The dominant PSA faction has endless narratives to justify what they do and explain their tactics. The NSW ALP government is in a far more powerful position and its machinations are way more finessed. These two factors interact. Like all unions, the PSA is reaping the sterile harvest it helped sow some time ago.

    I doubt that Bob’s take on NotoPope is representative of the broader Australian community, it all its marvellous diversity, let alone that of the Catholic community in all its fabulous diversity too. An aesthetic distaste for the half piss-taking condom gift tactic is understandable for people of more serious, mature disposition, but not a convincing reason for dissing it politically. And I doubt many of the “pilgrims” would be offended. Certainly, few young people would have blinked an eye in the 60s or 70s at such playful theatre. It’s comparable to the 1980s gay male Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence act or 70s lesbians dressing as pregnant nuns declaring they have gratefully received God’s steel prick. I quite liked Phillip Adams in his Australian column this week declaring his preferred t-shirt du jour: “I was touched by the Pope down under”.

    Criticism of the WYD, the current Pope and the reactionary role of the Catholic Church, on so many political levels, is widely understood and supported, including within the Catholic Church itself. The use of humour and farce to get our feminist and democratic messages across is essential. For some people of privilege these things are not so important because they do not materially impact on their lives as human beings.

    The idea that handing out condoms would be counter-productive in relation to the 2008 WYD Sydney pilgrims is about as naively quaint as is their feudal/celebrity worship of a human god father.

    And I can’t help but laugh and cry thinking of what Barangaroo, Bennelong’s stroppy, suspicious, curmudgeonly wife, would have made of all the hullabaloo and the constant, mindless invocation of her name this week.

  24. Norm Dixon Says:

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  25. philiptravers Says:

    How can anyone who is working class be actually opposed to NoToPope stuff beats me.It may not be the person in the office of such,but the holier than thou emulation,everytime someone sins,against the ACTU or State based Union leadership.Hawke the Pontiff of the ACTU once,went around in a state of no violence,whilst pissed to the eyeballs every night.Pontiff like carp like that metered out by Costa to more than unions and community groups and Socialist about electricity privatisation is the hallmark of the Pontiff approach.If you disallow the anti Pope sentiments ,you might as well have no unions or others having an opinion about those who claim regularly and loudly,incl. the introduction of impacts on civil liberties, the main topic when it comes to being concerned” who do you think you are?”.Iemma whoever he thinks he is, just even as the Premier ,doesnt answer the question.Should anyone who in anyway,finds decisions in part or full insulting by the powers that be,just curl up like a leaf,and say,”well he was duly elected.And that means all reasonable realities will be forthcoming ,that the letter of the Law the Detail of the Law and the Spirit of the Law is all intact by this vote outcome.” Even the Liberals ,under Howard even, bent in their own way an ear to the public. O’Farrell has even been known to seek out worker org. so I think I have read. If one decides,that all good will exists within Labor to the working class then,I think the evidence must be a mal-practice,that could be a class action at law.

  26. mark Says:

    There has been talk in this discussion of a supposed victory by the rtbu in regard to job losses due to a threatened strike during the world youth period – there was no victory! – according to the daily telegraph wed 9/7/08 – Rail Corp bosses are still demanding major job losses for a likely 4%pa pay rise that hardly meets the CPI “targeted job losses over the next few years.” What occurred was a case of “smoke and mirrors” – the union hierarchy with the aid of sections of the media and the bosses created the illusion of victory so the rail workers could be sold out – an excuse was found to put off industrial action from a most favourable moment -during world youth day when alternative transport services could not be organised by the bosses – so the rail workers action would be most disruptive. This technique is commonly used by the rtbu officials and the officials of other unions to sell enterprise agreements to their members – destroying conditions and cutting wages – workers are given the impression that by agreeing to the deal that they wouldn’t lose much and will get a meagre pay rise – in reality due to subtly worded clauses they are hard hit – eg clauses which allow discriminatory cuts to shift lengths resulting in massive pay losses – they gain say $20 a pay rise but get -$200 a pay loss due to the changes to their shifts allowed by the eba clauses.

  27. bill weller Says:

    Who cringed when the Saw Rudd introduce the fascist capitalist
    pope. A leader of a church with disgusting wealth and our so called left PM calls him “your holiness ” A church with a long history of murder torture and child abuse. Why is the ALP still married to its Catholic wing? What use is the SDA ( DLP) to its members? Is Catholicism a way of subduing the Worker while promoting its capitalist allies? The ALP like the Greens in SA are no friend to the worker or socialist. Both parties are promoting capitalism in their own way to the detriment of the disadvantaged and poverty stricken. Rudd and his ALP cronies are more dangerous than Howard ever was as they will slime their agenda through the unions and ACTU as worker friendly while sucking up big buisness

  28. Nat Says:

    Something to cleanse the palate following Gould’s apolitical defence of the reactionary Catholic Church hierarchy.

  29. Pope Wal Says:

    The far left sects have as much to do with theology, mysticism and divine authority as does the Catholic Church.

    In critiquing Catholicism they are unconsciously critiquing themselves.

  30. bill weler Says:

    And the right loves religion like Catholicism it enslaves the masses, promotes poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia. The SDA is a perfect example of such a right wing union. With so many pollies admitting and promoting Christianity no wonder was a Pope suck the other day. Rudd is slimy just like many of the priests he ‘supports’ What a sick world we live in!

  31. Jenny Haines Says:

    I can’t help feeling that if the Catholic Youth Festival had been the World Islamic Youth Festival or the World Buddhist Youth Festival with the leaders of those respective faiths in Sydney there would have been a completely different approach from the far left groups and leftists. I bet there would not have been a No Mufti Coalition even though some parts of Islam can be just as reactionary as some parts of Catholicism on social and political issues, or is it not politically correct to say that? Criticism of some religions is obviously OK, if the your far left group says it is but not OK if the religion or faith is the subject of some political sympathy or popular support amongst leftists.

    By the way Antigone, there was criticism of the nurses wages deal from within the trade union movement, particularly from within the nurses union and if you read the latest version, of Solidarity you will read some it.

  32. Nat Says:

    But it wasn’t “The Catholic Youth Festival”. It was “The World Youth Festival”. And some youth of Australia talked back and pointed out the bleeding obvious that this wasn’t a world yoof festival. Good on em.

    Catholics are less than a quarter of the Australian population and less than two per cent of Catholics worldwide. The whole thing was a misnomer and as the WSWS article eloquently details was an obscurantist, state sponsored piece of bullshit. In a democracy, the only leftist position to take was to accept that this con was going to occur, but critique the Catholic Church and its leadership, above all, the Pope for all the reasons most people including progressive Catholics understand, but not apparently the increasingly irrational Bob Gould.

  33. entdinglichung Says:

    probably, it is time to add my two favourite quotations by leftist celebrities on this topic:

    “Unity in this really revolutionary struggle of the oppressed class for the creation of a paradise on earth is more important to us than unity of proletarian opinion on paradise in heaven.” (Lenin)

    “Why should we debate amongst ourselves whether the soul is mortal or immortal, when we both know that hunger is mortal?” (Camilo Torres)

  34. Tony Says:

    Jenny Haines said:
    “I can’t help feeling that if the Catholic Youth Festival had been the World Islamic Youth Festival or the World Buddhist Youth Festival with the leaders of those respective faiths in Sydney there would have been a completely different approach from the far left groups and leftists.”

    Of course, because nothing happens outside a context.
    If it was a world Islamic youth festival do you think it would have got $150 million government money? And special laws making it illegal to annoy them?

    The same state that privileges mainstream Christian churches vilifies and persecutes Muslims.

    Socialists are always on the side of the oppressed which is why our comrades in Pakistan defend Christians.

  35. Nat Says:

    It’s certainly a long bow to position Catholics as marginalised and oppressed within Australian society today. Their overall and relative numbers may be rapidly declining, which is reportedly why the Pope chose Australia for this World Youth Day back in 2005, but their institutional clout is considerable and far outweighs that of Buddhists or Muslims. Just look at state aid for private Catholic schools which remains undiminished under sympathethic state ALP governments.

    The ALP’s eager overtures to the Vatican can partly be explained by concern to counter the dominance of the non-mainstream Christian Right in religious, and increasingly, political affairs in this country. A marriage of convenience.

    The Pope’s message was fairly banal though: essentially a message of anti-materialism with nods to the spiritual power of nature. Nothing that hasn’t been said a lot better and with greater depth and political import by secularists of all stripes.

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