A response to Doug Jordan
DJ: “Almost implict in Ed’s comments seems to be the idea that any sharp criticism of the ALP is sectarian.”
What does “almost implicit” mean? Perhaps an implication that Doug would like to be able to point to but can’t find? There’s no justification for Doug trying to read implications into my writing. I try to write precisely and avoid ambiguity, which I hope Doug as a historical writer might appreciate. Doug doesn’t indicate which part of my analysis might be ambiguous on this point, which I’m sure wouldn’t pass muster in historical circles.
In fact, my own views are also sharply critical of many Labor Party policies.
I oppose many of the policies of Labor governments and their leaders, but when left-wingers in the Labor Party fight for positive changes to those policies I support them and I don’t tell them they’re wasting their time and should leave the Labor Party, nor do I tell them they’re sowing illusions in a capitalist party, all positions that have been put by one or another group in this discussion, or by their supporters, sometimes very experienced supporters.
As well, if I publicly attack the Labor Party I think it’s reasonable to indicate there are opponents in the Labor Party of the policy I’m attacking.
Above all, I acknowledge that there are people in the Labor Party who broadly share my views: opposition to great-power wars of aggression; a humane attitude to refugees; full democratic rights for everyone, including marriage equality and opposition to all gender and sexual orientation discrimination; support of trade union rights; opposition to neoliberalism, and much more. All of these positions are held by people in the Labor Party, and fights about them regularly break out at Labor conferences, state and federal.
When a fight occurs in the Labor Party, I expect that the left media should provide an honest and full account (full in broad outline, not necessarily in every detail), if those media want to be taken seriously. The Green Left and World Socialist Web Site coverage of the conference was derisory because it gave no guide to the forces at work and what tactical and strategic conclusions might flow from that.
The Labor Party is a complex alliance of political forces, and always has been, as Gordon Childe pointed out much earlier in its history. It has always had a minority socialist current as Childe pointed out. In this complexity it is like the Greens to a lesser extent. I regard this complexity as a useful thing that opens up opportunities for political debate and struggle.
The political battles that go on in both organisations are of importance and should be analysed with some precision. A single, simple-minded, unchanging approach for all times, issues and places is politically useless and misleading.
In my brief survey of left media responses to the conference, I indicated that I agreed with the Solidarity position more than any of the others, with the exception that I don’t regard the marriage equality policy change as a “small victory”, but a very important one that could be a focus for further struggle and mobilisation.
The Solidarity position outlines a view of the relationship between struggle inside and outside the Labor Party, assigning primacy to struggle outside, but not counterposing the two, as the Green Left position does: “But when this reform is won, it will have been won by the activists in the streets and not delivered by the politicians.”
The Green Left position misleads through oversimplification. Of course, nothing is ever delivered by parliamentary politicians alone, that’s a truism, but not the whole story. Reforms are won by people demonstrating in all sorts of ways that a change is popular, including at elections, in party conferences, through lobbying, street and industrial actions and many other ways.
The interview with Cat Rose, carried by Socialist Alternative, indicates some of the complexity of the relationship between the campaign outside and inside the Labor Party to change its policy on marriage equality.
DJ: “It’s an old debating trick and not much else to try guilt by association. You start an article which is little more than a rant against the far left by quoting the WWSW site — the most sectarian and bizzare of the left groups. From there you proceed to describe the positions of three other left groups and put an equal sign between all of them when you should know that the positions all quite different. In the 1930s the approach was: Trotskyites hate Stalin. Capitalists hate Stalin. Therefore the Trotskyites and Capitalists agree. A crude debating trick and nothing more.”
This is a considerable misreading of my two articles, in line with Doug’s original comment that my critique was “dishonest” when in fact he really had a different assessment of the Labor Party: that all of the leftists he knew had departed from the Labor Party, all of the activists he knew were critical of the Labor Party and “the policy of staying in and fighting is well past its use-by date”.
I haven’t expressed a view on working in the Labor Party as a tactic, simply noted that a considerable number of activists with whom I largely agree (as I largely agree on many issues of policy with many people in the Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative and other groups) continue to work in the Labor Party, and I think they’re doing useful work. I respect their decision to work in the Labor Party.
A problem for Doug’s view is that many leftists are still fighting effectively in the Labor Party, as indicated by the fact that the right’s wins on major divisions at the national conference came down to about 24 votes, in other words about 12-13 out of 400 or so delegates changing sides.
I have made no attempt to establish “guilt by association”, merely conducted a simple, admittedly very brief, comparison of the positions of various groups, done very fairly with links to all of the positions so that the various positions could be checked by readers. I also briefly noted the differences in the various positions.
Doug’s accusation that I have used a Stalinist technique of discussion is tortuous, extravagant and unjustified. It doesn’t stand up to examination, as I’ve indicated above.
I plead guilty to a certain Sydney-centrism in overlooking the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party is based in Melbourne, and I overlooked it.
The Socialist Party, like the Greens on a larger scale, does some good work at local government level, but I wouldn’t take very seriously its views on its period working in the Labor Party. It appears to have left the Labor Party because the Committee for a Workers International decided that was to be the international policy after much of the Militant group was expelled from the British Labour Party. It worked in the Labor Party because that was CWI policy and it left because CWI policy changed.