Left reaction to the Labor conference


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.


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9 Responses to “Left reaction to the Labor conference”

  1. Mike Says:

    The dogmatic determination of many on the Trotskyist left to deny that the ALP is a legitimate site of struggle for socialists (one of many sites, and not always the most important) is deeply sectarian and politically counter-productive.

    The radical left is presently too weak to define the terrain on which it makes the case for socialism. It therefore has to organise in those spaces where it can be heard and gain an audience. One of those spaces (but by no means the only one) is the ALP.

    Will the ALP become a revolutionary socialist party or adopt policies move in a socialist direction? Extremely unlikely to point of impossibility. However, will a newly radicalised and mobilised working class move, in part, via the ALP? Almost certainly yes. And if they do, it is important that experienced socialists are there to help challenge a leadership that will seek to use every trick in the book to divide and demobilise such a movement.

  2. John Passant Says:

    I like your discussion about my blog and then love how you bring in others under that rubric who have nothing in common with my views. Your attempt to paint Cat’s article as somehow different to my views is an interesting but ultimately failed attempt at sophistry. I am quite willing to join with anyone wanting to fight for equal love. I just don’t harbour or want to create illusions in a party of capitalism.

    • Ed Lewis Says:

      I’ve provided all the links John. People can look at them and judge for themselves. Can’t get fairer than that.

      I’m not saying that you disagree with Cat Rose, just that the interview is a precise and useful description of an effective campaign to change Labor Party policy, and certainly a lot more information than you provided.

      And if Labor was just a capitalist party, we wouldn’t be talking about it. There’s no point trying to convince capitalists to change their policy, the only aim would be to defeat them.

      The fact that Labor has a working class base of members, supporters and voters makes it a different type of party, although I agree its policies are largely pro-capitalist.

  3. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    “And if Labor was just a capitalist party, we wouldn’t be talking about it. There’s no point trying to convince capitalists to change their policy, the only aim would be to defeat them.”

    Ed Lewis

    WTF. It is a capitalist party Ed. Not composed of capitalists but politicians more than willing to serve that class. Carry out bullshit imperial wars for it. And the NeoLiberal agenda started by Thatcher in 1980’s.

    Hawke was our Thatcher in then. And a lot of union leaderships and career merchants didn’t give a rat’s backside about selling their class out. Even to the the point of helping the ALP carry out blue collar genocide with the near destruction on the manufacturing industry.

    The ALP made an example of the BLF to unions that wouldn’t toe the line. The ACTU didn’t mind going along with cutting the unions down from 300 to the big 30 we have now. Union leaders in a majority of cases stopped any fight back and started paying fines again.

    Look at Rudd and Gillard. Rudd extended the working life to 65. Not a word of protest from the union movement. If Howard had done this there would be people marching in the streets and strikes. In Katoomba the Blue Mountains Union Council website had an article praising the Spanish unions for taking on the extension of the working life but not a word against Rudd’s extension.

    Working in the ALP-the Alternative Liberal Party has always been a forlorn hope for the Left, even more so when they’ve just lost 6,000 members because of their conservative politics. For those of us that came from a Trotskyist tradition, I would have to say doing work in the ALP was an A Grade waste of time. Even orientating to it with demands such as Vote Labor fight for socialist politics was pointless.

    You’re last point Ed is on the mark, “the only aim would be to defeat them.” Their doing such a good job by themselves.

    • Ed Lewis Says:


      Perhaps if you try enough combinations of windbaggery you might stumble on the magical incantation that will make the Labor Party disappear.

      Keep trying. Your approach is at least as likely to work as that of Peter Boyle, who can write a report of the Labor conference without even mentioning the struggle that took place inside the conference to change the policy on marriage equality.

      All that you say, and more, is true of Labor governments and it’s still only part of the story, as you know.

  4. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    You’re just an ALP apologist. Dress yourself up with “Left rhetoric” but there is no humane or Left imperialist wars or xenophobia. It’s capitalism that we have to get rid of and the ALP has always been a road block to it. The Occupy Wall Street Movement has been inspiring breakthrough this year. A lot more important than the ALP conference or horse trading that went on before or during it. As usual with you Ed abuse takes the place of debate when you can’t argue with solid historical, political facts.

    • Ed Lewis Says:

      Nope, that doesn’t seem to have worked. The ALP is still there. Keep at it, there are endless combinations, but you may get lucky.

      Here’s something that might work: get a dictionary, look up contradiction, learn the definition backwards. Light a fire in the backyard, then hop backwards around the fire on one leg while reciting the backwards definition. You never can tell.

  5. John/Togs Tognolini Says:

    How mature Ed. Was Steve Painter a windbag in 1991 when he wrote, “Unless supporters of the Accord want to accept credit for the extra depth of the present slump, it seems the Hawke government’s policies have made very little difference, as little difference as did Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies in Britain. Throughout the ’80s Thatcher also boasted of creating vast numbers of jobs, most of which have now evaporated just as completely as their Australian counterparts…” http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/1392

    Also is another example of windbaggery?. “As the [Australian] Labour Party, starting with a band of inspired Socialists, degenerated into a vast machine for capturing political power, but did not know how to use that political power except for the profit of individuals; so the [ One Big Union ] will, in all likelihood, become just a gigantic apparatus for the glorification of a few bosses. Such is the history of all Labour organisations in Australia, and that is not because they are Australian, but because they are Labour.”

    Gordon Childe, How Labour Governs (1923) What would Gordon make of your politics? Would he be a windbag? He’d be in agreement with what Steve Painter wrote in 1991.

    I have far better things to than be abused by you Ed or any other ALP apologist.

  6. Ed Lewis Says:


    Everyone interested in this matter should read Gordon Childe’s excellent account of his conclusions from working as private secretary to the NSW Australian Labor Party leader and premier John Storey.

    The book certainly doesn’t support John Tognolini’s simple-minded approach to the Labor Party and the continuing electoral support of most of the working class for that party.

    Tognolini determinedly ignores my point that an ALP left exists, and will go on existing, and that it should be acknowledged and assisted by the whole of the left, not abused and told to leave the Labor Party and join the “real revolutionaries” who, it must be concluded after 40 years of experience, can’t build an organisation bigger than a few hundred.

    If organisations on the far left did that, they would be less likely to make stupid political errors such as Peter Boyle’s apparent dismissal of the importance of the marriage equality policy change by saying “ALP politicians have sometimes looked for costless social reforms to cover up their consistent betrayal of working class interests”. I doubt that gay and lesbian people campaigning for marriage equality would see the matter in those terms.

    Tognolini’s abuse of the whole of the ALP because of its leadership’s policies is beside the point, as I explained initially.

    Presumably Tognolini supported the demonstrations outside the Labor conference, but if he did, why did he do so? If he was trying to influence the policies of a capitalist party, wasn’t he in fact sowing illusions in that party, as John Passant is so afraid of doing? Wasn’t he suggesting that a change in Labor Party policy would make a difference that mattered?

    Would Tognolini or his organisation demonstrate outside a Liberal Party conference with any hope of achieving success, as was the case with the marriage equality policy change?

    The left does have a different approach to the Labor Party, but most of the organisations of the far left just can’t admit it and they cover their confusion with ignorant and extravagant abuse, of which Tognolini’s outbursts are a vintage example.

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