(fwd from Bob Gould) Australian left

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Fri Sep 27 09:16:42 MDT 2002

Bob Gould responds to Peter Boyle and Tom O'Lincoln

I'm just getting the hang of this web business. As an old agitator who has
dished out many thousands of leaflets and documents in a long political
life, I'm mightily impressed by the instantaneous quality of this new medium
(for me).

Steve and I work hard on putting material up on Marxmail, Steve busts his
gut getting our Ozleft website up and running, and slaves into the night
putting up a miscellaneous collection of material of significance to the
debates, mentions them on Marxmail in an interesting way and bingo, the
ether is humming with serious Marxist discussion! I rather like this medium.
I was a late developer in this field, but I'm a staunch convert.

Another aspect that impresses me mightily is the way a number of strands of
discussion, of considerable importance, spin off in different directions,
supplement each other and proceed in parallel as we commonly inform each
other of important day-to-day matters, such as the necessary agitation
against the seemingly impending imperialist assault on Iraq.

I'm taken with the good-humoured catholicity of it all, and for Tom O'
Lincoln's benefit, I'm rather awed that there's someone in the world like
Phil Ferguson who can seemingly treble my output at the press of a button. I
don't agree with a lot of what Ferguson says, but it's well-argued and a
useful counterpoint in these discussions. And my, there's a lot of it.

Tom says he may not get to the end of my serious piece, the Open Letter to
Alex Callinicos, but judging by email to the Ozleft site, and Peter Boyle's
feverish appeal to the audience to ignore what he characterises as my
attempt in that document to sabotage the current, detailed DSP regroupment
proposals, a lot of people have read it.

Peter Boyle constantly accuses me of trying to create obstacles to
regroupment. I resent his insinuation that a different notion of regroupment
constitutes an opposition to regroupment. That kind of attack on my views is
nonsense. I've been advocating a broad regroupment of the socialist left for
six or seven years, intertwined as it must necessarily be, if it is to
succeed, with a sensible and intelligent and, dare I say it, even rather
restrained, public discussion of serious socialist questions.

The real difference between Boyle and myself is that the kind of regroupment
and discussion that I'm trying to precipitate is one that involves the
Marxist left AND left currents in the Labor Party-trade union continuum and
the broad green movement, without arbitrarily constructed barriers being
placed between the Marxist groups and the others.

I've expressed that general proposition in a series of documents and here I
quote the summary I made earlier this year in "Observations on the
Discussion in the ISO and Issues Raised for the Left" (which will shortly be
available in full on the Ozleft website:

"It follows from any serious appraisal of the current circumstances, that
the following perspective is useful to any group of serious Marxists.

"First of all, have a serious discussion of all the historical problems of
the socialist movement, and the outstanding tactical questions, between the
members, as well as the leaders of the socialist organisations, which are
for practical purposes, the ISO, the DSP, Socialist Alternative, Left Press
in Queensland, the Socialist Party in Victoria, some smaller Socialist
groups, and various groupings in the ALP Socialist Left.

"Second, maintain the useful and effective work, done by some of these
groups, in universities and high schools, to interest younger people in
socialism, and recruit some of them to the socialist movement.

"Third, maintain and develop various agitations conducted by the groups,
such as the Campaign for Refugees, the Movement against Globalisation, the
agitation against Racism, etc.

"Fourth, commence a serious programme of educational work, common to all the
groups, directed at their members and supporters, with a serious combination
of discussion and development of basic Marxism, with examination of current
Australian reality, linked with a thorough. comprehensive and dialectical
account of Australian labour history.

"Fifth, the serious commencement of long-term, patient and energetic
rank-and-file organisation in trade unions and the working class.

"The Marxist groups, including the DSP, should adopt a rational strategy,
summarised in a slogan like "Build a Class Struggle Left Wing in the Labour
Movement". A genuine attempt to build an actual class-struggle left wing,
rather than the demagogic caricature of such a left wing, advocated by the
DSP, would inevitably involve ditching the completely futile and destructive
"Expose Laborism and all its Works" strategy, practiced by the DSP.

"In sum, all the above perspectives, if practised seriously, would
necessarily involve the adoption of a united front strategy towards
labourism, and would also involve the Socialist groups encouraging the
serious development of the Labor Left, rather than regarding the Labor Left
as an organisational rival to be destroyed. Such a reorientation, the
adoption of a thoroughgoing united front strategy, is obviously a necessary
precondition for Marxist groups to be able to adopt any serious orientation
towards trade unions, the organised labour movement, and the working class.

"A similar united front strategy should be adopted by the socialist groups
towards the Greens, with the encouragement of the development of a socialist
left within the Greens. Such a strategy towards the Greens should be
commenced forthwith.

"All activities towards building a socialist current both in the Labor Party
and in the Greens should be conducted with sensitivity and discretion,
taking into account bad experiences many people in the broader left have had
with the past sectarianism of the far left."

In a recent post Peter Boyle suggest that a rational, public political
discussion is a disruptive proposition that would blow regroupment sky-high.
Is Boyle's kind of regroupment that fragile?

The opposite is the case. An attempted regroupment without a serious
political discussion will very likely prove disastrous. You have this
strange situation that the two largest groups in the Socialist Alliance --
the DSP and the ISO -- are conducting internal discussions leading up to
their respective congresses in their usual "democratic centralist" way, and
the "democratic centralism" in the DSP is so structured that in his notes to
DSP members as to how to present the latest DSP organisational proposals,
Boyle specifically lays down the law that any incipient opposition that may
disagree can argue the point internally in the DSP leading up to the
conference, but they have to support every detail of these organisational
proposals in any discussion with other people in the Socialist Alliance.

This is in a context in which the DSP is proposing to dissolve into the
Socialist Alliance while maintaining its existing disciplinary structure.
What a reductio ad absurdum of the Cannon-Zinoviev version of democratic
centralism this situation is.

Without a looser, more relaxed and sensible political discussion among all
the participants, that kind of environment is a recipe for very unpleasant
and unclear collisions of the kind that have taken place in the past between
the DSP and others.

Boyle says that I am attempting to obstruct regroupment by addressing these
contradictions and difficulties, and the hysterical tone of his references
to me seem to attribute to me almost supernatural capacities to obstruct the
kind of regroupment he and the DSP are interested in. Wow! I'm energetic and
forceful, but I think he overestimates my capacity for mischief.

On page 9 of The Activist, no. 11, September 2002, in "Questions and Answers
on the DSP NE's Proposal", Boyle writes: "Gould is trying to split and
divide the SA, poison Workers First against the DSP, etc. Desperate measures
that confirm Gould is a sectarian."

This over-reaction is genuinely eccentric. As a matter of fact, over the
last few months I've spoken to no-one in Workers First. I do talk to members
of some of the groups in the Socialist Alliance. They are old associates,
and we compare notes. Again, it's attributing to me powers of persuasion
beyond even my capacities, to explain the fact that other organisations in
the Socialist Alliance end up with positions on some of these questions
similar to mine. The main thing influencing people to take these positions
is obviously their own experience, although my arguments may have some
effect on them.

Boyle's attitude in these notes in The Activist converts disagreement with
some strategic propositions of the DSP into political crime. "Poisoning
Workers First against the DSP" has bizarre overtones of oppositionists
allegedly poisoning the workers' vodka in the Soviet Union, etc.

To the DSP I'm like Trotsky to Stalin or Goldstein was to The Leader in
Orwell's "1984". In real life, things are happily not as stark as that, and
the audience in this discussion have the advantage over people in those
other situations that they can actually read my concrete proposals in the
material that I produce.

Peter Boyle's consistent over-reaction to my propositions, and caricature of
them, puzzles me. My propaganda activities must be having greater impact
somewhere that isn't immediately apparent to me.

Peter Boyle is obviously opposed to face-to-face discussion on some major
questions, in which members of the various organisations participate,
particularly on strategy and tactics in relation to the labour movement and
the Greens.

The DSP won't be able much longer to prevent the necessary open public
discussions between the members of the various organisations on these

The other aspect of Boyle's uneasiness about a public political discussion
has some merit. I believe the socialist movement has reached the point that
a non-exclusionary political discussion is possible and necessary, but we do
have to exercise some civility and restraint in this discussion, so it
doesn't degenerate into the kind of mad point-scoring, of which most of us
have unpleasant memories.

In the DSP's Activist, no. 9, September 2002, there is published a
resolution from Solidarity in the US on regroupment, and I would commend
this resolution to Peter Boyle and the DSP for close study. Allowing for the
fact that my knowledge of all the political circumstances in the US
discussed in this document is incomplete, I find myself in total general
agreement with the thrust and the detail of Solidarity's proposal for
regroupment. The DSP has done us a service in publishing this resolutoin in
The Activist, and in due course we will put it up on the Ozleft website.

I'm not against regroupment. I favour regroupment, but in the kind of
framework suggested in the Solidarity resolution.

I take strong note of Louis Proyect's obvious concern that such a
degeneration shouldn't happen in the Marxmail discussion and I have rapidly
become so addicted to the Marxmail discussion that I strongly support Louis'
pleas for civility, despite the fact that from time to time I can have a
rather sharp tone myself.

It is interesting that what attracted the most immediate attention in my
letter to Alex Callinicos was a small anecdote about a political debate in
Jakarta. That underlines the general point about the desirability of having
civilised political discussions in the less threatening environments of
Sydney, Melbourne, etc.

Bob Gould

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