25,000 march in Sydney

Steve Painter and Rose McCann spainter at optushome.com.au
Sun Dec 1 17:39:53 MST 2002

Bob Gould responds to Nick Fredman

Nick Fredman and the DSP leadership damn the current Sydney antiwar movement
with faint praise. It's not unreasonable to take Nick Fredman's recent post
about the Sydney protest as the general view of the DSP leadership because
he puts well a number of things they say verbally but rarely put in print in
such a straightforward way.

For a start, Fredman's view of the number of the numbers in the first Gulf
War demonstrations is wildly inflated. It's not too difficult to compare the
size of the protests, in memory, because a number of them started in Town
Hall Square and I counted several of them in the same way that I described
in my previous post, and I never got past more than 8000-10,000 in 1991. The
biggest of them, the 8000-10,000 one, was only about half the length of
Saturday's march.

I stand by my assertion that Saturday's demonstration was the biggest
explicitly antiwar demonstration since the movement against the Vietnam War.
(Some of the Palm Sunday marches in the mid-1980s were bigger, but they were
around very general environmental, anti-nuclear and peace themes that were
popular at that time, not against a specific war).

The other aspect of Nick Fredman's post, which expresses the sectarian
aspect of DSP thinking, is the whingeing about the delegated character of
the very broad and united committee that organised last Saturday's
demonstration around the completely principled and far-reaching slogan of
specific and total opposition to Bush's war against the Iraqi people.

To support their grumbling about the structural arrangements in this
committee, in which the DSP along with all the far left is included, but the
DSP can't dominate, Fredman and the DSP leadership create a myth of the
"golden past", which is historically inaccurate in a number of ways.

It's true that after five or six years of political agitation and heightened
consciousness from that agitation among antiwar activists, the two Vietnam
Moratoriums in 1970-71, the high point of the agitation, were organised
through open meetings of sponsors. That doesn't exhaust the question even of
the Moratoriums, however. A great deal of negotiation took place between the
different components of the movement: the more militant youth groups and the
older labour movement and Stalinist networks, to keep the thing united.

The secretariat, the main organising body, was always carefully selected to
represent the main currents of the movement. In particular, John Percy and
Phil Sandford, who follow Marxmail, would remember all that, because they,
along with myself, were vigorous participants in those developments. We didn
't make a fetish of the mass sponsors' meetings. They were useful, but we
were also preoccupied with holding all the diverse forces together, and in
fact the left of the movement took the most deliberate initiatives to
maintain unity, despite what the self-serving late recruit to Stalinism,
Denis Freney, said in his autobiography.

In the seven-year build-up to the Moratoriums, different organisational
arrangements prevailed at different times. For a couple of years the
right-wing Stalinist forces, for instance, acquiesced to my election, along
with several other representatives of the radical youth groups, to the
executive of the official left Stalinist peace movement, the Association for
International Co-operation and Disarmament.

However, they demonstrably defeated me for that executive in 1967 after the
Vietnam Action Committee and myself challenged them, when we defended the
continuation of federal Labor leader Arthur Calwell's policy of complete
withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam, in opposition to the CPA's
policy of "stop the bombing, negotiate". 1967 was also the year I was
expelled from the official left ALP Steering Committee in NSW for
successfully helping to rally about 40 per cent of that year's ALP state
conference behind Calwell's withdrawal policy when the official left and the
Stalinists were peddling support for Gough Whitlam's more moderate "stop the
bombing, negotiate" policy.

As those events indicate, relationships and political conflicts in the
Vietnam antiwar movement were often stormy. Despite this, as a deliberate
matter of policy, the Vietnam Action Committee and Resistance participated
in all the broad mobilising committees, along with the Stalinist official
peace movement, which dominated them, in the broader Sunday marches, which
were usually a bit bigger than our more militant Friday night street

The committees for the broader demonstrations were all, up to the Moratorium
period, delegated. We didn't whinge about the delegated character of the
committees, we just made extremely sure that we had plenty of delegates to
those committees and our minority often carried the day, politically

You don't always have to stack a meeting with a bunch of youth to achieve
your political ends, although we did a bit of stacking now and then, as
everyone in politics does on occasion.

The DSP leadership's whingeing about the delegated character of the current
Sydney committee is politically very destructive. The facts of life are
these: we are just, in Australia, beginning to emerge from a very
conservative political period (contrary to the overoptimism of, for
instance, the British leadership of the International Socialist current).

At Easter last year, the assorted liberal left and Stalinist groups excluded
the DSP and the rest of the far left from the organising committee of the
very successful Palm Sunday march in Sydney, which was an act of
sectarianism despite the sometimes provocative behaviour of the DSP. The
exclusion was a red-baiting act, which I strenuously opposed at the time, as
did a lot of others who don't particularly love the DSP. In the run-up to
Saturday's successful demonstration, the more conservative forces caved in
and dropped any idea of exclusions, but insisted on a delegated structure.

The meetings that took place were pretty interesting. A number of the
Stalinists and members of the official left are quite as antagonistic to me,
for instance, as they are to the DSP, but they put up with our presence, and
in fact they began to work pretty well at the organisational level,
particularly with the DSP representatives, who did a very good job of
practical organising within the framework of that committee, and whose
bright idea of getting John Pilger proved to be a master stroke in terms of
giving the event a strongly anti-imperialist flavour and getting a much
bigger crowd to the event.

The DSP's contribution to the event, from this angle, was considerable. It
seems to me that their obsession with the structural arrangements reflects a
suppressed irritation on their part that they don't entirely run the show
and that they have to do business with the left Laborites and others.

They express these underlying sentiments in a verbal diatribe about the
structural arrangements. I think their attitude is misplaced. Whether the
structure is delegated structure or some sort of mass meeting is entirely
tactical and the delegate structure in these circumstances achieves the
desired end of getting a principled political position for the coalition,
and the broadest possible outreach into the labour movement and the
community at large, to get the biggest crowd possible.

I've cracked a few little smiles, privately, through the whole process, at
being in a room full of people, including quite a lot of Stalinists with
whom I've been in conflict, in some cases for 45 years.

I'm not like Gary McLennan, however, I don't feel physically sick at being
in the same room with old opponents. It amuses and excites me, in fact, when
the result of the process is to mobilise 1 per cent of the active adult
population of this "bourgeois town", Sydney, in the necessary beginnings of
a mass campaign against the Bush-Howard imperialist war.

Nick Fredman and the DSP ought to drop their implicit aspiration to hegemony
embodied in their hankering after mass meetings, which they might be able to
stack. They should recognise the reality of the existing relationship of
forces, which is that they are a distinct minority of the movement. They
should continue to do what they have, in fact, done reasonably well in this
committee, which is to use their considerable organisation talents as a
minority, to influence the outcome in the committee.

In the event, I'm reasonably confident that in the broad committee that has
emerged it's possible to construct a sufficient bloc to ensure that a
generally principled opposition to the Iraq war continues, and that a
sufficient variety of people and organisations, including those who hold
views to the right of the more principled position, are present in the
committee, to help mobilise the maximum forces in opposition to the war.

Postscript on the Victorian elections. It now seems clear that Labor has won
a majority in the notoriously reactionary Victorian Upper House. This is the
first time a stable Labor majority in the Upper House has existed in
Victoria, except for a brief, unstably three month period in 1985.
Premier-elect Bracks has already indicated his intention of legislating to
reform the Upper House with the introduction of proportional representation,
despite the fact that the short-term effect of this may well be to benefit
the Greens, as well as clearly benefiting Labor, because the Labor vote is
heavily concentrated in a number of industrial areas.

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