(fwd from Ozleft) Copycatism

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Mon Nov 25 14:58:20 MST 2002

Steve Painter responds to Kay McVey

Kay wrote:

>>Anytime they sneezed in NY we caught colds on the other side of the

The Australian SWP leadership actually used to thank our lucky stars that we
*were* on the other side of the world, unlike the unfortunate Canadians, who
were put through the Barnes "revolutionary continuity" mincer quite early.

There was a bit of a lag in Intercontinental Press and Militant arriving in
Australia. This was before email, the web, etc, and international phone
calls were seriously expensive, so once or twice the Australian SWP took
positions before the line arrived from New York by air freight. Once was to
oppose the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, which required an embarrassing
180 degree turn the following week, after IP arrived, and another was on
Afghanistan: we supported the Soviet presence after Barnes changed his mind.

We were wrong on both questions, but the fact that we took positions without
consulting New York obviously indicated serious lese majeste, and was enough
to get us excommunicated eventually, when Larry Siegal launched a broadside
against us at Oberlin. That turned out to be a big favour. The Australian
SWP leadership decided the US SWP was hostile to us, and we broke off
relations, which the Fourth International centre said we shouldn't do, as an
FI section.

The Australian SWP also didn't go along with the turn within the turn. We
made the turn, put heavy pressure on people to go into industry (even one of
the top radiology doctors in Sydney, a comrade in his 50s at the time, I
think, and a person doing an extremely socially useful job), and after
getting a lot of people into industrial jobs and losing about a third of our
members in a year in the process, we decided the turn was completed. That
also didn't go down well in New York.

The unfortunate aspect of the expulsions that Kay got caught up in was that
the initial opposition was indigenous, and nothing to do with Barnes. It
grew out of the excessive focus of the leadership on one individual. That
led to discontent among some members of the central leadership. That
discontent spread to some relatively minor political issues. Because the DSP
had little experience of internal disagreement and discussion, except a
premature split by Fourth International majority supporters around 1973,
these fairly minor differences became the focus of some pretty obsessive
behaviour, positions hardened very quickly and central leadership meetings
became very tense.

The way those events unfolded was very unfortunate, because a more tolerant
attitude towards differences at that stage could have led to a quite
different evolution of the SWP/DSP. Some of the people who developed
differences at that time were among the most capable early leaders of the
Australian SWP.

The response to those differences, and the later expulsions, confirmed and
hardened the anti-discussion culture that had been incipient all along, but
hadn't had serious consequences up to that point, although it had probably
contributed to the 1973 split.

The oppositionists probably began to feel quite harassed, and at some point
hooked up with Dave Deutschmann, who had the misfortune to be the first, and
only, Australian SWP member to go to the US cadre/clone school and come back
a Barnes acolyte. Once the Barnes link was made, the SWP/DSP leadership,
with the spectre of the Canadians and the New Zealand SAL clear in our
minds, moved quickly to some very brutal expulsions, as Kay points out.

If the SAL members wanted to stop publishing Socialist Action and sell the
US Militant in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, be listed in the
Militant's sub-drive charts, etc, that was their choice, but not many of us
wanted to try that in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, etc. Once that was clear,
not many wanted to listen to the opposition.

It's interesting that Kay noted the similarities in her experience and
Jessica Mitford's, as described in A Fine Old Conflict. Rose and I drew
pretty well identical conclusions from reading that book.

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