Prospects for the Left in Australia: the ISO splits

g.maclennan at g.maclennan at
Thu Nov 2 21:26:48 MST 1995

Marcus Strom has posted a lengthy piece on the splits in the Australian 
ISO.   I would like to take this opportunity to comment and hopefully 
start a thread on the political and industrual situation here in 
Australia.  I am assuming that this will be ok with the list.

Now I had heard gossip about the splits in Melbourne.  "The purges" as 
they are called and Marcus' piece was very helpful here in clarifying 
what it was all about.

Marcus refers to splits in the 80s.  Unfortunately he omits all 
reference to the spilt in 1981 when I and some 14 others were driven out 
in Brisbane.  I would argue that the earlier split set the pattern for 
the oragisation for the next decade and presumably the future.  Shortly 
before our split Professor Andrew Milner produced an internal 
document criticising the direction of the then IS.

>From memory, Andrew was arguing against the "Leninisation" of IS.  Cliff's 
work had just been published to be followed by a book on Trotsky by 
Harris (?).Andrew's sympathies were I think with the anarcho-syncidalist 
roots of IS.

Just as the peasant uprising in Wexford in 98 came too late to link up 
the United Irishmen, so the split in Brisbane didn't make the 
necessary connexions 
to Andrew's document.  Nevertheless what we were arguing about was the 
turn of the organisation away from engagement and dialogue with the Left
and  towards a hard sectarian "we are the party" approach.  In retrospect 
we were trying to oppose the growing bureaucratic centralism that Marcus 

This very bureaucratisation has to be seen as a strugggle for internal 
power and one which is practically policy  neutral.  If the dominant 
led by Rintoul had advocated a turn to the universities,  then the purged 
ones would have advocated a turn to the community.  To understand this 
shit, read Animal Farm.  See how Napoleon pisses on Snowball's plans but 
as soon as Snowball is deposed Napoleon takes them up and makes a real
mess of it all because he has no understanding of the basis of Snowball's 

Ditto for Rintoul and Armstrong.

I don't know what one can do about "professional" revolutionaries like 
Rintould and Armstrong.  Quite simply they will fuck up any organisation 
they take over.  They remind me of the line in Yeats

"The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate 

They need however to keep the organisation small to maintain their 
control.  Collier has noted that there is a mathematics to all this.  I f 
the group gets too big then questions of how to relate to the outside 
world become very imporant.  So the group tends to split in order for the 
leadership to maintain control.  ISO is probably around 150 and this is close to the 
maximum that a sect can tolerate in Australia.

So what is to be done?  Marcus criticises the formation of Socialist 
Alternative.  By contrast I am happy that some little crazy group exists to 
accomodate Armstrong and co.  My attitude twards Rintoul is similar.
ISO is a sect and it is beyond saving.  I gave over three years of my 
life to it and it gives me no joy to say that.  But it is all a gigantic 
mistake and no amount of revolutionary rhetoric should blind us from 
seeing that.  Marcus appears to want people to stay in the organisation.  
I think they should leave now and quickly before they are demoralised or 
turned into something like the current leaders.

Marcus wants to compare the struggle for democarcy inside ISO as 
something like the struggle against capitalism.  He cannot see that one 
is a distraction from the other.

Having said that I will be the first to admit that we need an 
organisation.  I would love to belong to a party which has more to do 
with Marx's original conception of that term than bureaucratic 
distortions of Lenin's model.  Perhaps we need to set up something like 
the COC.  

It is fashionable inside organisations like ISO to dimiss such 
organisations as swamps.  But a swamp is precisely what we need at this 
time.  If we think about swamps ecologically and rename them "wetlands" 
then we can see them as places of extreme fertility essential to life.  
It is this that might take us forward rather than some vicious sectarian 
urge to keep the organisation "pure" i.e. small and easily dominated.

In my next post I will take up the case of the drive for an Alliance 
Party here in Australia to be modelled on the New Zealand Alliance Party.
If there is any interest I will also comment on the political and 
industrial situation in terms of the run up to the next Federal Election


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