My prediction that the Labor Party conference would be received with a round of ritual moaning and whingeing on the far left has been largely confirmed, although a couple of people have accused me of dishonesty in saying that.
In refutation of those claims and in support of my view I submit the following:
- The anti-union World Socialist Web Site has carried two articles, both denouncing the Labor Party in fairly ritual terms and dismissing debates at the conference as set-piece conspiracies to deceive the masses, and the marriage equality policy change as a diversion. This is pretty much what could be expected from this rightward-moving sect, which still claims to be Trotskyist. It’s more detailed than John Passant’s original summary judgment that the Labor conference could be dismissed as a con, but not fundamentally different.
- Socialist Alliance’s Green Left Weekly has carried an article by Peter Boyle patched together from media reports, barely mentioning that a number of policy clashes took place and appearing to also cast doubt on the importance of the shift on marriage equality: “ALP politicians have sometimes looked for costless social reforms to cover up their consistent betrayal of working class interests”. Boyle is more cautious and less forthright than the WSWS, but appears to share the WSWS’s view on the marriage equality change.
- Of course, there was John Passant’s original article, with which I took issue and which I have indicated elsewhere may not be a full expression of Socialist Alternative’s views. That seems to be the case, as Socialist Alternative’s website now carries an interview with Cat Rose, co-convenor of Community Action Against Homophobia in Sydney, indicating that the Labor policy change is a victory, not a diversion as the WSWS says, or some sort of trick, as Peter Boyle implies, and that a campaign is now necessary around the private member’s bill. Rose’s assessment of the conscience vote is matter-of-fact and straight to the political point: “a deliberate manoeuvre to limit our chances of winning”. No wasting of words moralising about a “rotten compromise” as one far left poster to this site described it.
- The Revolutionary Socialist Party has so far contented itself with dismissing the conference in advance, and particularly the efforts of refugee activists to change Labor policy, pretty well telling them their efforts were useless. Since the conference I’ve seen a message from Labor for Refugees indicating “we managed to secure some wins (although the Minister took credit for them) but lost the main issues”, and that some organising took place through a fringe event, which is no doubt why these activists keep doing what they do. Even if they don’t win all of their aims, they have a realistic assessment of what they might be able to achieve, make progress and keep organising.
- Then there are cruder outbursts such as Luke Weyland’s on the Green Left discussion list. Luke is apparently a former Labor Party member, and is entitled to be disillusioned, but it appears he has learned little as a member of Socialist Alliance about the importance of struggle in all fields and the need for alliances. It’s likely that views similar to Luke’s are shared by at least a largish minority in Socialist Alliance and perhaps some other organisations.
- Doug Jordan, who initially accused me of dishonesty, now turns out to have a different assessment of the Labor Party, dismissing it altogether as a field of struggle because pretty well all of the leftists have departed and only union and party bureaucrats are still there or still have any power. He particularly cites the decline of the Labor left since the mid-1980s. This appears to overlook the fact that the left as a whole has declined in that time, except for the very important exception of the rise of the Greens, largely as a point of regroupment for those who gave up on Labor and other left groups, as well as newly emerging activists. This overlaps with some points made by Max Lane in his more substantial discussion, which I will take up separately in a day or so.
The main exception to my prediction on the far left that I’m aware of is Solidarity, which has a more rounded view of organising in the Labor Party. It’s clear-eyed about the right-wing policies of the government, but recognises the efforts of Labor activists who keep fighting against the policies of the government and for better policies in a range of areas.