United Fronts - Labor parties and the Socialist Project

Shane Hopkinson s.hopkinson at cqu.edu.au
Thu Dec 5 07:53:43 MST 2002


Dear MM

Shane H responds to Bob Gould re what Marxists should do in
Australia. Part 1

I think Bob's 2 part reply warrants a 2 part response
(well more really but heh).

The first takes us the 'local' issue and the second I will begin
persuing the broader issues he raises about socialist strategy.

Bob commences by promising that he will respond with a civilised
tone for which I am grateful and even though his old agigator's
habit of polemics rears it ugly head in relation to the DSP and
its 'lunatic arrogance' I think we can let that pass and get onto
substantive issues (after all the various views of regular
contributors are no particular secret and he really didn't mean
I was crackpot).

My intention in raising the question about the role of ALP socialists
was that I thought Bob considered them part of the socialist project
(perhaps I was wrong there) and while we all spend time thinking about
the way forward I wondered if, as a member of the ALP he,(or others) knew
what conclusions they had drawn from the experience of the Accord. I
didn't imply that we in the DSP or Socialist Alliance (SA) had all the
answers and they didn't. Generally the laborites see the ALP as the
'real game' and so I wondering what serious thought had gone on in *their*
ranks on the basis of *their* experience. Granted that this is a broader
problem it doesn't alter the fact that if as fellow travellers on
the socialist road then we should investigate what they think.
It is certainly the case that those like Lev Lafayette from the ALP
pledge faction have had nothing but contempt for the Socialist Alliance
as 'wasting a another generation of activists' who, he thinks
should put their energy into the ALP. Whatever the effectiveness of
the SA it certainly doesn't waste activists or create bureaucrats the way
the ALP does.

Bob has clarified for me at least what he means by a 'united front
with the ALP and the Greens' and this is a key question, an analysis
of the Accord experience would, as Louis has suggested be an important
part of the debate between the caucuses in SA.

Most concretely there are differences between the ISO and DSP on the
issue of the ALP and labourism - some of which  has been discussed here
and is in the process of working itself out in the SA. As I finished
writing this I find that Carmen Lawrence, a front bencher in the ALP
has resigned her position on the 'front bench' over the ALP's failure
to adopt a progressive position on refugees. I think the whole 'Labor
For Refugees' (L4R)section of the movement requires some detailed
analysis since it brings to a focus the issue of how socialists should
relate to the labor party. It highlights a key difference in the Alliance
partners over strategy. The ISO has, I understand, in general been more
sympathetic to L4R while the DSP remains more skeptical. Whether one
sees them as bourgeois liberal or bourgeois workers party, given one's
real weight in these things, it seems to me that this resignation is a
good thing and a sign of the levels of dissent that exists with the ALP
ranks. The question then is 'what stance should the SA adopt to this
development?'

>The issue of a united front strategy towards Laborism, and towards the now
>clearly established Green mass formation isn't, in the first instance,
>mainly a question of what socialists in those mass organisations should do.
>**It's a question of what strategic orientation Marxists should adopt towards
>mass workers' organisations or formations** and that kind of strategic
>question isn't primarily about the leaderships of those organisations, or
>even what socialists might do inside them.

That's a bit clearer and I must say that, knowing Bob's penchant for
classical language that I read him (plus his membership of the ALP)
as calling for a much closer working relationship rather than a
united front "attitude" to ALP and Greens. In relation to the latter
Ben Reid's rather belligent posts here belie the fact that at the
end of the day we need "a semi-permanent orientation" to the Greens,
and ultimately to the ALP rank and file as well.

>The brutal facts of political life in Australia are these: conscious Marxist
>socialists are a tiny minority, and to make matters more difficult, they are
>located mainly among students and if they are employed, they are among what
>I loosely term the new social layers, not among the industrial working
>class.

No problem with this, except that it doesn't go far enough :-)
We face historically low levels of class consciousness and since
the 1982-83 recession working class confidence is low. Those shaped
by "1968" have lived through a historical downturn in struggle without
precedent, in length, in the history of the movement since 1848 -
three generations depoliticised. The 1989-92 Fall of Berlin Wall and
collapse of the USSR (and the CPA) disoriented the left and attempts
to set up a new left party failed (though the Greens are now starting
to capitalise on this) despite widespread discontent and unemployment,
neoliberalism is triumphant. Socialists as Bob says are regarded as
'exotic utopians' if they know we exist at all.

>the shift to the right in the mass
>Labor Party in Australia, while it was certainly pushed very hard by Hawke
>and Keating, was made ideologically possible because the Communist Party,
><snip> transformed itself into a powerful political force
>campaigning against any kind of socialist project in the labour movement.

Incredible, isn't it? And what did the CPA officials do after they
collapsed the CPA and put all those comrades contributions in safe fund
to research social alternative and then joined the labour party but not
its left wing.

>The shift to the right in the Australian labour movement was, ideologically
>speaking, a political crisis of the CPA and the official left in the labour
>movement in the first instance.

So well before the collapse of the USSR, the CPA and Socialist Left
of ALP were in a crisis about 'the way forward'?  More recent reading
has made it clearer to me that the CPA not only lost the plot before
the collapse of the USSR but well before.

>My point is that the ideological crisis of the socialist movement was
>general to the whole left.

And so they (with some noble exceptions) supported the Accord. The DSP
and SPA were opposed to it though and tried to unite around this but its
seems incredible that the ALP socialist left with all its resources and
the CPA with all its experience could capitulate so badly to neoliberalism,
almost without a fight, and from a position of strength. I'll have to
continue my reading over this.

Finally to finish off - Bob accuses me of a a certain lunatic arrogance.
I hope that I have made my intentions a bit clearer but he rightly points
out the issues are broader than the ALP question. The idea that I, or those
of us in the DSP, think we have all the answers that we could deliver to the
Greens and the left about revolutionary strategy really is a bit insulting,
despite Bob's disavowal of such intentions. At the moment I am still trying
to figure about what the right questions are and the DSP is, as always, trying
to figure out what to do *next*.

In my next post I will take up the broader issues more and hopefully we can
bring the full weight of Marxmail to the question of a socialist transistion.

Cheers

Shane

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