Labor, Marxists and Gould and Painter's distortions

Nick Fredman nfredman at
Wed Sep 25 08:56:15 MDT 2002

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I sent this several days ago but it seems to have not appeared.
Apologies if both do.

Bob Gould wrote.

>The DSP and Jose Perez are a different proposition. They are not principled
>maximalist ultraleftists. In this discussion, for, what appears to me
>demagogic, reasons they use arguments, drawn from maximalist ultraleftism,
>in an instrumental way to attack the leaderships, the middle ranks and the
>supporters of traditional workers' organisations, and the organisations
>themselves as institutions. They use this polemical stance to separate
>themselves from any relationship with these traditional workers'
>organisations and to justify a non-class politics, in which no significant
>class difference is recognised between the universe of the existing workers'
>organisations, on the one hand, and the outright capitalist political
>parties on the other.

In a later post he asserts a "total exposure posture" on the part of the DSP

This is a load of rubbish. While Gould's discussion of the historial
development of Marxist tactics towards Labor parties has some merit,
as maybe does his sociological observations, his description of the
current positions and most importantly actions of the Australian
Marxist left, particularly the DSP, is full of wilful distortion, a
veritable straw universe towards which he can launch smug assertions
of principled Marxist politics against his fantasy of rampant Third
Period ultraleftism. Similarly Steve Painter writes

>All the leftie feel-good stuff about how rotten Labour is gets us nowhere if
>it leads to no tactical conclusions other than exposure and denunciation by
>tiny groups of Marxists. That hasn't worked for the past 80 years or so, and
>there's little sign of it working now. Even the Scottish Socialist Party is
>not seriously challenging Labour's hegemony over working class votes.

What a simplistic caricature of all the varied analyses and tactics -
from deep deep entryism to real untraleft sectarianism - that
Marxists have adopted towards labour parties. Despite very major
differences over this question, Marxists of all persuasions have at
most times times remained pretty marginal in the countries relevant
to this discussion, so the Labour party question can't in itself
explain our relative lack of success to date.

But the main problem with Gould and Painter's claims is not
historical but a wilful distortion of current positions and tactics.
Within the Australian Socialist Alliance, there are major differences
over the ALP question. However agreement has been fairly readily
reached on what to do and what to say on the major issues of the day
in regard to the ALP. Which is great as it shows in practice that
disagreement on the class nature of the ALP do not necessarily lead
to different tactics and perspectives, and that there's no reason for
Marxists with this theoretical difference being in different
organisations. Gould and  Painter make unsubstantiated accusations of
hysterical ultraleftism, while Gould also dishes up gossip from a
strange fantasy that he has detailed knowledge and observations of
the internal life of the DSP (such as claiming the existence of a
secret cynical attitude to someone like Michelle from the Textile
Workers, which is not just rubbish but unsubstantiatable). Let's look
at what the Socialist Alliance has actually said and done in the last
year or so:

* Distributed an Open Letter to ALP members on the war in Afghanistan
leading up to and on the day of last October's federal election,
urging them to take the fight against the war within their party.
 From many accounts this got a good response - as SA campaign
coordinator for the Page electorate (northern NSW) I talked to
numerous ALP booth workers on my rounds on the day and had a long
convo with the ALP candidate, a right-wing farmer, who said he agreed
with the letter completely and promised to campaign aginst the war
after the elections. I haven't seen him since though. The recent SA
statement on the impending Iraq attack takes the same united front

* Orgainsed ALP (and Green as you'd no doubt appreciate Steve)
speakers on numerous rally platforms, particularly on the refugee
issue, and done the bulk of the work in mobilising thousands of
people to listen to them. Though there's differences within SA on the
attitude to take towards Labor 4 Refugees, I understand some SA and
DSP members have been involved in this ALP/union grouping (in my area
there's no L4R group and no ALPers involved at all in the campaign),
and all SA activists have been at pains to draw them into recent
refugee rights activities initiated by the far left such as the June
rallies and the Tampa Day anniversary.

* Orgainsed forums a few months ago on the way forward for the union
movement with speakers from the ALP, Greens and SA, in at least
Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, that attracted 100s of
activists, including over 100 in Perth. Many of the talks (including
those advocating continued union affiliation to Labor) were
subsequestly read by 1000s in Green Left Weekly. This created a space
for a real discussion about what to do in relation to the ALP and the
union movement (which Gould seems to be demanding though he ignores
completly the efforts already made).

* Encouraged the NSW Labor Council in its struggle last year against
attacks made by the Labor state government agsint workers
compensation, while criticising the Council's dampening down of the
struggle. As an aside to those like Gould and Painter who seem to see
influences in the class struggle as measurable only by votes and
paper membership figures, the union blockade of state parliament over
that issue was clearly inspired by the Stock Exchange and World
Economic Foprum blockades organised by the far left in the preceding

* perhaps most importantly, been amongst the most vigourous activists
fighting the current attacks on building and manufacturing worker
militants, and those in Workers First and the Skilled Six campaign
who are ALP members do not seem to do at all put off by the alledged
Third Period hysteria of SA or at least the DSP.

I could go on but I should get back to work. The point is that seeing
the ALP as a bourgeois party doesn't at all stop proposals for joint
activity, working closely with ALP people in particular circumstances
(my closest ally in my union branch exec is the only ALP member
there), trying to get a hearing, yada yada yada, but it does make the
strategic line of march a lot clearer. The above-mentioned activities
are of course quite modest, but they should make clear that the SA as
an organisation, despite differnences, has a stance of united front
campaigning with ALP activists, union officals and MPs etc where
appropriate, while criticising the ALP's pro-capitalist policies and
actions (as an aside while modest such activity of the oprganised
promotion of socialist politics in the labour movement is far beyond
the capacities of any grouping in the Greens or the ALP left). What
on Earth else, or additionally, are Gould and Painter advocating that
Marxists actually say and do? Not criticise the ALP at all? Surely
part of a united front is an honest debate. And surely educating
people about the nature of social democracy is a vital part of
building a Marxist organisation in a country like Australia. Surely
as well as engaging with broader layers one *must* actually build a
Marxist current, and I can't see Gould doing that in the ALP or
Painter doing that in the Greens.

The theoretical differences are very important, but they don't stop
Workers Liberty for example, who see the DSP approach to the ALP as
"sectarian", enthusiastically building Socialist Alliance. The
differences will be much better resolved through joint activity, and
SA is the only possible forum for Marxists to do that, beside the
limited areans of the unions and single issue campaigns, for the
forseeable future. Unless Gould and Painter come up with actual
suggestions of what else is to be done I can't see their
interventions being a lot of use.

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