Green Left Weekly article on WA union elections

Ozleft ozleft at
Tue Aug 19 07:50:10 MDT 2003

This topic has stirred up quite a bit of discussion on the Green Left Weekly
list. For pointers to the various contributions see near the top of the
Ozleft homepage.

Nick Fredman does it again. More on the WA ETU elections

By Bob Gould

Nick Fredman's post this morning is an example of example of exactly what I
was talking about when I referred to smoke and mirrors. He evinces great
concern about what he says is a factual inaccuracy in one of my posts and
then uses that to make a sweeping generalisation questioning my judgement in

Well, I don't concede his point that I was factually inaccurate. The
exchanges at the Socialist Alliance conference, which he repeatedly posts
demonstrate that what's at issue is an interpretation of what that exchange
involved. In my view it involved implicitly, views on both sides about
matters such as union affiliation to the Labor Party and the general
approach to Laborism and the Laborites.

But even if his interpretation is more correct than mine, how does that
invalidate the rest of my many arguments about the ETU elections?

He implies that because, in his view, I make one factual error my
proposition should be rejected, and he's quite happy to, by implication,
accept the wisdom of Peter Boyle and presumably the rest of the DSP
leadership, as he admits he has no direct knowledge of the events under

He does say, however, that he's very interested in the argument about the
ETU elections, and I believe that he probably is, as are no doubt many other
DSP and Socialist Alliance members and supporters, who follow this
discussion list but don't express themselves.

Peter Boyle, in his post, displays ultra-sensitivity to the proposition that
the DSP has a Zinovievist structure, internal life and atmosphere. Well he
might have such sensitivity, because the way this discussion has proceeded
seems to me is a striking demonstration of Zinovievism in the DSP, and how,
presumably, that's carried into the Socialist Alliance.

We can agree that a decision was made somewhere in the DSP to support a
change of leadership in the WA ETU, from a leftist maverick to a
less-defined political figure who appears to have the support of the
centre-right Kevin Reynolds machine.

The DSP leadership no doubt has extensive knowledge of the issues involved
in this decision and obviously some of the members in Perth would have some
idea, but it seems highly likely that the ultimate decision was made in the
national office of the DSP because that's how the DSP works, although there
may have been some input from members in Perth.

Zinovievism at work

Members of the DSP other than the leadership, in places other than Perth, as
Fredman says, have no information on which to make a judgement other than
their general loyalty to the wisdom of the DSP, and members in Perth, who
may know something about the decision and its ramifications, and who knows,
may even disagree, are not in a position to say anything because of party
discipline interpreted in the Zinovievist way.

The only way such a DSP decision of an important strategic sort can possibly
be questioned once it's made is if some knowledgeable, noisy outsider like
me has a go at the DSP over it. But if that happens party discipline and
partinost are invoked to repel the impudent outsider who questions the party
line or practice. ("If you disagree, comrade, you can take it up at some
undefined time in the future in discussion for the next congress.") That
approach is hardly much help in relation to disastrous or unprincipled
day-to-day decisions in the labour movement.

The DSP is not alone in this structure and atmosphere. A much worse version
of it prevailed in the old Stalinist movement, which I spent 20 or so years
of my political life trying to combat.

But many organisations in the Trotskyist movement have the same disastrous
way of arriving at and defending decisions, which is one of the factors that
contributes to the fierce and often uninformed clashes between adherents of
the different groups bound by the disciplines of their organisations on
conflicting tactical matters.

How much better would be a regime if tactical decisions in Marxist
organizations could be disputed publicly, as they were in the Bolshevik
Party in Lenin's time, before the ban on factions and the Zinovievisation of
the Comintern.

In relation to the WA ETU a decision was made essentially by the DSP
leadership nationally, and as the saying goes, most of the membership is
kept in the dark and fed bullshit, and the only serious debates take place
in the leadership, and you usually only get to know about them after some
kind of split.

A further point has to be made about the implications for the Socialist
Alliance and the DSP's allies in the Alliance. By reason of the weight of
the DSP's weight in the Alliance, actions such as this by the DSP are
interpreted in the wider world as actions of the Alliance.

Yet the dominating presence of the DSP in the Alliance, with its Zinovievist
internal structure, precludes any of its Alliance allies from having any
internal input into the decisions. The DSP members don't have much input,
and other Alliance affiliates and members have none, but politically
speaking they're saddled with the results.

In his earlier major post, Boyle appears to back away a little, admits that
the Chris Latham article last week was a bit misleading, and indicates that
the editor of Green Left Weekly had indicated that may be corrected. They'll
print an article from Game, big deal, and he can write an article if he
wants to. As I said in my previous post, that's totally cynical.

The Green Left Weekly in which Game's article might appear is printed next
Monday or Tuesday, when the ballot starts being counted. GLW has ambushed
Game and insulted him by offering him an article well and truly after the

When you examine this week's GLW there's no article about the ETU elections,
in which the effective misinformation in Latham's article could be
corrected, and ever so graciously GLW has published a letter by Game, in
which he has to attempt to defend himself within the very limited
constraints of the GLW letters column. I regard all that as pretty insulting
to Game, the members of the DSP and Socialist Alliance, and the broader left

Meanwhile the GLW discussion list drags on, we have elaborate and arcane
discussions about matters such as the vital question of antiwar slogans in
the US, and there's absolutely no serious continuance of the discussion on
the WA ETU elections as the clock ticks towards the counting of the ballot
next Monday.

Boyle's crude assertion that the DSP leadership will be proved wrong if the
other bunch ousts Game and then shifts to the right is pretty revealing. He'
s obviously staking a lot on the DSP leadership's belief that Game will be
defeated in this election. The DSP's whole disreputable manoeuvre in this
election seems to be predicated on that hope, and they now hope they can
pass off this manoeuvre as some kind of wisdom because they've attached
themselves to a successful team.

Unfortunately for Boyle and the DSP leaders, there are several other

Game may still win, he may win in a very close result or he may lose in a
very close result. If the result is close, either way, that very fact will
subject the DSP's electoral manoeuvre to very careful scrutiny indeed.

The difference between the DSP leadership and myself on this question doesn'
t just hinge on who wins or loses. It hinges on the social and political
forces brought into play by Game's victory or defeat in this election.

Boyle reduces it to an abstract decision, almost as if it was based on the
toss of a coin, and says we might have been right or wrong, we'll find out
later. That's a poisonous practice and outlook for an ostensible Marxist
leadership in the workers' movement.

I've gone to considerable lengths to describe the general social forces at
work, which should have bearing on the decision one makes on who to support
in that election, and I've made a case which, the further one proceeds, only
seems to appear more convincing. (I'm aware, of course, that one tends to
convince oneself by one's own eloquence, and I expect readers will allow for

Boyle and the DSP leadership haven't done anything like that. They haven't
seriously put their decision in any context, and haven't explained it to
anyone in a comprehensive way, and they still refuse to respond and discuss
the question in any depth.

They seem to be precluded from engaging in that kind of discussion by their
own internal arrangements, which is a practical indictment of those

In the course of this discussion, one of the DSP's leaders, Paul Benedek, in
an aside, casually declares political war, so to speak, on what he describes
as "the rotten leadership of Andrew Ferguson" in the CFMEU. That also sets
off major alarm bells for me, but I'll address that in due course in another

I return to my five critical, unanswered questions from my second post and I
'd like some attempt at an answer by Boyle, the DSP leadership or anyone
else in the DSP, for that matter, if possible before the ballot is counted
next Monday.

Question 1: Was it at any stage possible to avert a bitter electoral
conflict in the ETU between two personalities you say are both left-wingers
and their two small industrial machines? Did you make any effort to mediate
the conflict? (Obviously in this situation, such mediation would more or
less necessarily have had to involve accepting that Game, the senior bloke
so publicly identified with leftism in Perth, would continue as General

Question 2: Did you ever consider going with the Game camp?

Question 3. Did you ever consider remaining neutral in the ETU elections?

Question 4: What were the general social and political criteria, in and
outside the ETU, that brought you to the conclusion that Les McLaughlan's
leadership of the ETU would be better for the socialist and labour movement?

Question 5: What is the character of the election propaganda on both sides?
The printed propaganda used by competing factions in union ballots is
usually pretty revealing about the two groups of candidates. Would you be
prepared to put up on the Green Left website, for careful consideration, the
printed material of both sides, including the "shit sheets" that are
circulating, attacking Bill Game. I'm getting them from WA, but you may
already have them. Why not put them up on the Green Left website to
strengthen your case? Also, would you be willing to try to acquire, for
publication on the web, the script being used by the people phoning every
member of the ETU attacking the Bill Game team? The character of that script
would be of some interest, obviously.

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