25,000 march in Sydney

Steve Painter and Rose McCann spainter at optushome.com.au
Mon Dec 2 18:58:11 MST 2002


 Bob Gould responds to Nick Fredman and Ben Reid

As an unfinancial, religiously agnostic but culturally identified part of
the Irish Empire, I'm a bit bemused by Nick Fredman's surprise at finding
the inhabitants of the mass religious organisation known as the Catholic
Church on the left of society. His slightly condescending tone about "the
good sister and I" irritates me a bit, but I'll put it down to Nick being on
a steep learning curve on matters of religious sociology, as he is on some
other questions.

Taken as a whole, Irish Catholics in Australia have been on the left since
convict times despite the right-wing Catholic Action, Grouper aberration in
years immediately after World War II. As coincidence would have it, we've
just posted my piece Australia, the Irish Catholics and the Labour Movement
on Ozleft http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Catholics.html, and I
recommended it to Nick for intense study to bring him up to speed on the
history of that religious question in Australia, along with a shorter piece
about my own family http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Goulds.html,
which illustrates some of the demography of Australia. Also relevant is my
piece, Bob Santamaria and Bob Gould
http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Santamaria.html, about the Labor
Split of the mid-1950s and the Communist Party in Australian Life
http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/CPA.html, which also throws light
on the political divisions in the labour movement in the 20th century,
including religious divisions.

Taken as a whole, Nick Fredman's post is very sensible, and I note that he
has dropped the view he expressed previously that there were no Laborites in
sight on the left around Lismore. I find Nick's account of the healthy
united front and substantial demonstration in Lismore, and the respectful
attitude of the subtropical rain, entertaining and heartening.

Nick Fredman and I will just have to agree to disagree about the size of the
demonstrations in 1991. I have my memory of doing a count, and he has the
Green Left figures.

Comrade Fredman and I have worn each other down, on the basis of sharp and
far-reaching exchanges, to reasonable civility and we may even have taught
each other a bit, who knows?

Ben Reid, the DSP bloke from Newcastle, is a different proposition. He
reacts like an irritated hornet to my observations about the underlying
strategic attitude of the DSP, which is actually contradicted by their
rather more sensible practice in the lead up to the recent Sydney
demonstrations. Reid, for me, is like Voltaire's god, if Reid didn't exist,
he ought to be invented, as he spells out in such an unbridled and
educational way the political line of the DSP leadership.

Ben Reid accuses me of smearing the DSP. He can't seem to comprehend the
difference between a sharp political argument about divergent strategies and
a smear. Most of his argument in response to my assertion loudly confirm
that what he calls a smear was an accurate description of the underlying
tactical attitude of the DSP, because he repeats in spades the tactical
attitude that I was criticising. I suppose I'm now guilty of smearing Ben
Reid for pointing that out.

The extreme venom of Ben Reid's response underlines my general point. He
takes the DSP fetish about using some kind of mass meeting to run
demonstrations in current conditions to a new height of rhetorical
absurdity.

His extravagant rhetoric suggests there are masses of young activists just
out there itching to come forward and take over the "democratic
decision-making" for future demonstrations.

That sort of rhetoric from a sub-Leninist, Zinovievist group like the DSP is
always extremely problematic. A feature of the internal political outlook
and life of the DSP is a highly centralised view, including a considerable
distrust of "spontaneity", so when the DSP talks about "activists" coming
forward to make democratic decisions, it's usually talking about organising
those "activists" to follow its line, and those "activists" will usually in
practice turn out to be young supporters of the DSP.

The problem for the DSP and Ben is that everybody else involved in these
movements knows the score and nobody outside the DSP's own ranks takes their
ingenuous democratic rhetoric as anything more than the tactical ploy that
it is.

I'm a bit puzzled, in fact, why they persist with this rhetoric in Sydney.
They don't press it like that much in other cities. For instance, it's my
understanding that the Melbourne demonstrations are organised by a more or
less delegated structure convened by the Victorian Trades Hall Council, and
I'm given to believe that the DSP quite sensibly accepts that situation in
the interests of unity. (I'd be very interested if some Melbourne comrade
might put up a post describing the internal dynamics of the main antiwar
committee in Melbourne.)

Why make a fuss of it in Sydney when you don't make a fuss about it in
Melbourne? I'm genuinely a bit puzzled by the different tactical approach in
the two cities.

Ben Reid paints a picture of a Sydney committee dominated by conservative
Laborites and he directs insulting rhetoric about Mick Costa and guard dogs
at me and any other Laborite in the committee, which is pretty stupid. I
reiterate my point from the previous post that the delegated structure was a
practical necessity to accommodate all the disparate forces in one
organisation, and in practice it has worked extremely well.

The lines of division on the committee don't fit Ben Reid's DSP stereotype
of conservative Laborites holding back the rest at all. In the initial
argument about aims, the people favouring a generalised pacifist Walk
Against War, weren't Laborites at all, and the Laborites supported Walk
Against The War, meaning Bush's war, which won a comfortable majority. On
organisational matters, the Laborites and the DSP have got along swimmingly.
For instance, the only two people who expressed some caution about possibly
saddling the committee with a large debt by hiring The Domain for $15,000
when the alternative was an overflow gathering at a smaller park that was
free, were myself and Bruce Cornwell, the peace activist and chairman of the
CPA-ML, and we were democratically voted down on this question by a majority
that included both the other Laborites and the DSP. That's the democratic
and healthy way points of view were put and decisions were taken. The idea
of a bloc of Laborites dominating the committee is Ben Reid's fantasy.

Obviously, if a war actually starts, which seems likely, and the ALP federal
parliamentary party caves in to the war on some pretext or other, there will
then be the necessary battle in the committee to maintain and expand its
opposition to the war, regardless of the ALP leadership's position.

In my estimate the balance of forces in the Sydney committee is such that
there will be a clear majority to continue complete opposition to the war,
even in those circumstances, and that majority will include most of the
Laborites participating in the committee.

The idea that you need to give a licence to the DSP to beat the drum for its
youth to go to the meetings, as ostensible "activists", to keep everyone
else in line is self-interested nonsense.

When writing letters of a righteous, progressive sort to the bourgeois
press, Ben Reid uses tactics a bit, by signing himself as Dr Ben Reid, to
give his letters more authority, a reasonable tactic. So what's wrong with
the tactic of having delegated committees to hold everybody in the united
front that we can, in the difficult current conditions?

Ben Reid lives in Newcastle, a conservative, overwhelmingly working-class,
blue-collar Labor city. It seems to me that Ben Reid needs to drop his
nasty, abusive, anti-Labor tone if he wants to build a successful, broad
antiwar committee in Newcastle.

It's one thing to make a stupid point abusing Bob Gould (because he's a
Laborite in the same organisation as Costa and the guard dogs) but if Reid
uses that kind of rhetoric in Newcastle (which if he's halfway sensible he
may not) he'll find it is completely counter-productive to the task of
organising a substantial committee against the war. Any antiwar committee in
Newcastle that doesn't have a big contingent of Laborites won't be much of
an antiwar committee.


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