DSP and Socialist Alliance
Steve Painter and Rose McCann
spainter at optushome.com.au
Thu Sep 5 22:31:03 MDT 2002
I am forwarding a response by Bob Gould, long-time Marxist in Sydney, to the
DSP's proposal concerning the Socialist Alliance.
Nigel Irritable raises some legitimate questions about the DSP's proposal to
dissolve into the Socialist Alliance: two important questions are why now
and why the haste?
Jose Perez has responded enthusiastically to this proposal, but elsewhere
Jose and others have sketched out a comprehensive critique of Cannon and the
Cannonist party concept.
Everything in the internal life of the DSP up to the present underlines that
ultra-Cannonism is their organisational model and their practice. The DSP is
pretty well homogeneous, and organised from the top down, and the way they
sketch out how their tendency will operate in the alliance has to be
considered in this Cannonist spirit. Is this leopard really about to change
its spots, and with such speed?
It is revealing to look at the sequence of events surrounding this proposal.
It was announced by Dick Nichols to other convenors of the Socialist
Alliance about 10 days ago. Dick said it hadn't even been discussed by the
DSP National Executive, and that it was an initiative of the Political
Committee (the DSP has three levels of national leadership - the National
Committee, a smaller National Executive and the day-to-day decision-making
body, the Political Committee). Dick said he was confident other DSP bodies
would endorse the proposal, and no doubt it will be endorsed almost
unanimously. Everything in the DSP comes from the top down, based on the
caricature the DSP leaders have in their heads about how Lenin and the
Bolsheviks used to operate. The DSP hasn't changed in that respect.
In discussion with John Percy about this proposal, I asked if discussion
would be opened up on all tactical questions within the labour movement. He
replied that the discussion would have to take place about how to build the
Socialist Alliance outside, and in opposition to the Labor Party (and by
inference the Greens). All serious tactical discussions realistically
located in the actuality of the labour movement in Australia at this time
are, by John Percy's definition, excluded from this.
The reality of the situation is that the DSP has about 350 members, the ISO
has about 100, the Freedom Socialist Party, Socialist Democracy, the Workers
League and Workers Liberty all have less than 10 members each, Workers Power
has about 15, and the membership of the Workers Communist Party of Iraq is
hard to establish but obviously very small.
Two significant non-Stalinist groups stand outside the Socialist Alliance:
Socialist Alternative with about 100 members and the Socialist Party with
less than 40, mostly in Melbourne.
All my informants in the Socialist Alliance indicate that the Socialist
Alliance meetings, in Sydney at least, are almost entirely attended by
members of the DSP. The 2000 members claimed by DSP leaders for the
Socialist Alliance nationally, outside the members of groups, are almost
entirely names collected, in a quite impressive effort to get the alliance
registered under state and federal electoral laws.
The notion that most of them represent very great potential for political
activism, is a DSP leadership triumph of hope over experience.
Why has the DSP leadership made its proposal at this time?
First of all, it's a manoeuvre against the ISO in the spirit of Cannon's
well-known attitude to the entry into the US Socialist Party. In Cannon's
cosmology, often quoted in the DSP's internal educationals -- particularly
by John Percy -- the gains of this manoeuvre were some numerical growth and
the destruction of the Socialist Party, thereby removing an obstacle to the
construction of the "revolutionary party".
The DSP has over the years removed quite a number of "obstacles" by
capturing control of them and then winding them up when circumstances
changed or the DSP leadership's preoccupations and interests changed. The
two most striking examples of this are the NSW ALP Socialist Left that
developed in 1971 and the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1980s. In both
cases the DSP seized effective organisational control of the group but as
the DSP's tactical orientation and practical interests changed they lost
interests in these structures and acquiesced in their liquidation.
The DSP leadership's attitude toward "obstacle" organisations may have
changed, but most political players would like to see practical evidence of
such change, more than just assertions that they have changed.
The DSP leadership has a public and a private attitude towards the ISO, and
indeed towards all the other groups in the Socialist Alliance. The public
attitude is unity, but in internal discussion in the DSP, particularly
concerning the ISO, there is constant detail and up-to-date commentary on
the very real crisis in the ISO, expressed in a triumphalist, hostile way,
as towards an opponent organisation. In the student movement and the refugee
movement, where the DSP and ISO meet, these attitudes mix. There are
occasional protestations of unity, combined with frequent turf wars.
The DSP is seizing the moment in relation to the ISO, and the question
arises whether they may have received some sort of nod from Callinicos, as
part of the British SWP leadership's rearrangement of the chessmen on the
global board of regroupment. That aspect is unclear at this time.
A second reason for this proposal at this time is a realistic assessment by
the DSP leadership that the electoral aspect of the Socialist Alliance is
dead in the water. John Percy's written proposal explicitly notes the
limited electoral prospects of the alliance, in an indirect and discreet
The DSP put all the muscle into getting the necessary electoral
registrations, but they aren't dopey enough to think there will be anything
but minimal electoral results. The talk about big electoral prospects for
the alliance is strictly for external consumption. In the inner councils of
the DSP leadership the assessment is more realistic about electoral
prospects, which are obviously very small.
A third reason for moving now with such extraordinary haste, is the crisis
point that has been reached in the DSP's semi-delusional perspective that
there's some kind of mass leftist trade union break from the Labor Party,
developing rapidly in Melbourne and to a lesser extent in Western Australia.
The most obvious expression of the left current emerging in the trade unions
in Victoria is the Workers First grouping in the metalworkers union. Workers
First is under considerable and unreasonable attack by the national
leadership of the metalworkers union. Workers First has made a number of
tactical moves in various directions to deflect the federal leadership's
attack. One tactic that has clearly been considered and wisely rejected is
forming a breakaway union. A second tactic adopted was a strike by some
union officials and a 10-day picket of the union offices. This tactic has
now been terminated in favour of the tactic of the Workers First elected
officials and the Workers First majority of the Victorian state council
asserting and defending their rights as elected officials of the union.
Implicit in this is the possibility of reaching some negotiated modus
vivendi with the federal leadership of the union, although at this point
political war still seems to exist between the groupings and no settlement
appears to have been reached.
My personal sympathies lie with Workers First in its attempt to defeat the
assault by the federal leadership machine, but that is not of any great
importance because I am at some distance from the scene of the conflict. It
would be interesting to know what advice was given to the Workers First
grouping about tactics by the industrial "experts" of the DSP, because
tactics in situations like this are of considerable importance to the
survival of any serious trade union formation. The "expose Labor" rhetoric
of the DSP is no asset to Workers First in this situation. Craig Johnston,
the charismatic figure to whom the DSP has attached much importance, as
literally the only prominent left-wing trade union figure in Victoria to
join the Socialist Alliance, has just resigned as secretary of the Victorian
branch of the metalworkers union, obviously for sensible tactical reasons.
His replacement as secretary -- the kind of second-in-command of Workers
First -- Steve Dargeville is a well-known member of the Labor Party and was
briefly a Labor MP.
The other two axes of the very real militant industrial development in
Melbourne, to which the DSP gives its delusional break-from-Laborism slant
are the CFMEU (construction, forestry, mining and energy union) led by
Martin Kingham and the textile and clothing union led by Michelle O'Neill.
There is a crisis conference of the federal Labor Party coming up in five
weeks, made up of 194 delegates. The DSP has taken a completely hostile
attitude to the struggle of number of unions, on both left and right, to
retain 60 per cent representation of unions in party bodies, and 40 per cent
representation of branches.
Martin Kingham and Michelle O'Neill are two left delegates among the 47 from
Victoria who will attend this critical federal conference. The only wisdom
the DSP can offer these militant delegates from Victoria is to leave the
Labor Party and join the Socialist Alliance, which advice Kingham and O'
Neill have so far wisely ignored.
Internally, in the DSP, the leadership refers to Michelle O'Neill as a very
cynical Labor Party member, but in public they quite rightly praise her as a
courageous militant unionist. She is clearly not as cynical about the ALP as
the DSP leadership say in private. Her union and the CFMEU along with a
number of other left unions took a strong stand in favour of 60:40 at a
recent meeting of the Victorian ALP Socialist Left union caucus despite the
obvious log-rolling and pressure they have been subjected to in these
matters. The parliamentary leadership of the Labor left is pushing hard in
support of federal parliamentary Labor leader Simon Crean's 50:50 proposals
and the attitude of the Victorian left unions may well be critical to the
outcome. It will be a very interesting Labor Party federal conference.
The relevance of these developments in Victoria is that they expose the
unreality of DSP leadership's rhetoric about the militancy in Victoria
representing a fundamental and final break from the Labor Party. For most
militants involved in this leftward-moving current, insofar as they consider
political alliances, there's a very strong pull on them to intervene in the
Labor Party to defend their basic trade union interests, and the DSP's
sectarian "destroy the ALP" perspective cuts right across those necessities.
In even a month from now, it will be increasingly difficult for the DSP to
continue with its delusional break-from-Laborism rhetoric, and from the
point of view of the DSP leaders it is obviously better to move now, rather
than later, when their over-riding "expose Laborism" perspective will be in
even worse shape.
When the Socialist Alliance was formed 18 months ago, I started a document
war with the DSP in an attempt to provoke discussion on strategy and
perspectives in the workers movement. Despite my well-known energy in
distributing material, I struck a stony wall of hostility and professed lack
of interest from the DSP leadership on these questions.
I proposed an alliance, with two strands: one being with groups outside the
Labor Party and the Greens, and the second strand involving people in the
ALP and the Greens, and a public discussion focussed around strategic
questions in the workers movement.
I wish the DSP, ISO and the smaller groups well in the alliance project as
they attempt to sort out their mutual relations, but I have a strong feeling
that this discussion may well become a little stormy, as the DSP leadership
elaborates in more detail the kind of organisational and political
arrangements they envisage for the new formation.
I propose to the DSP, ISO and the smaller groups that as an extension of
their internal discussion they also hold discussions on broader labour
movement perspectives, union affiliation to the Labor Party, the united
front tactic, the 60:40 rule and other matters that the DSP leadership has
so far avoided discussing in a serious way.
That sort of discussion is dictated by "life itself" -- the useful phrase
that the old Stalinists used to misuse. It is quite obvious, for example,
that such a discussion would be of burning interest to the leftward-moving
trade union militants in Victoria, to whom the DSP leadership so frequently
points with little comprehension or understanding of the variety of
situations, complexities and circumstances in which these trade unionists
inevitably have to operate.
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