workers online, green left weekly and sociolist journalism

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at
Sun May 4 23:35:13 MDT 2003

On the "Green Left" site:-

Peter Perkins writes:

>>This article below appeared in the latest Workers Online - It really goes
to show how far some people on the left have gone down the Neo Liberal road.

>>Its an ideology we should reject as socialists as it reduces all struggle
to a matter of morality, rather than the emancipation of the classes. It
removes the primary reason for struggle at all.

>>"Morality" doesn't exist as a concrete entity, having a differing value
from person to person.

>>This drivel from the same Labor Left that Bob Gould is relying on to
emancipate the working classes.>>
And earlier, on April 10 (message 950), he said:
>>Who's the sectarian here?

>>Bob, deal with realities rather than eulogise your own ALP bias. This
drivel doesn't even make a rational argument, that would be constructive
for the left.>>

Peter Perkins seems to like words like "drivel", and in a way his polemical
style is part of his political line. It's worth examining the context here.

His attack on Workers Online and Neil Towart underlines a sharp difference
between us in how to approach the broader labour movement. Perkins is a bit
politically cute about the article to which he refers. Eric Aarons has
never been a member of the Labor Party, either left or right. He was a
member of the Communist Party until it went out of business, a party with
Perkins himself once had some association, or am I mistaken?

Eric Aarons has been expressing this kind of liberal reformist view for a
very long time, and indeed that kind of political outlook was dominant in
the CPA during its last few years, when Aarons was still a major leader, and
when the DSP was desperate to amalgamate with the CP (in the so-called New
Left Party process)  and when Perkins was associated with that group.

As it happens, I'm at the moment working on a careful critique of Aarons's
views because I believe that this is an important part of settling accounts
with the Stalinist tradition in the Australian labour movement.

Nevertheless, I find Perkins' tone insufferably superior. Even in a critique
of Eric Aarons a careful, reasoned approach would be more useful than
expletives about moralism. I'd recommend Perkins reread Their Morals and
Ours, by
Trotsky. In that pamphlet Trotsky is necessarily quite sharp with opponents,
but he nowhere accuses them of writing "drivel". What Trotsky does, however,
is what Perkins doesn't do, he examines the arguments of his opponents in
detail and refutes them issue by issue,  a good approach to adopt in

In addition to Peter Perkin's aggrieved, contemptuous  tone, which is
actually part of his political line, he's not too careful about actually
making clear who is the valid object of his attack.  I'd point out to him
that Neil Towart (who I know), the author of the offending review, is not a
member of the Labor Party (either faction) and makes a careful point of
being an independent leftist. He's actually the archivist and librarian of
the Labor Council, and a very conscientious one.

I disagree with Towart's views on this particular matter, and intend to take
up in due course, but to describe them as drivel because they come from a
source associated with the Labor Council is the height of ignorant

In fact, insofar as the left anti-neoliberal views of Aarons have
significant influence, in my experience that influence is mainly in the
broad movement around the Greens, rather than in the ALP, so Perkins has
directed this particular broadside almost entirely to the wrong address.

Perkins obviously regards everything associated with the NSW Labor Council
and the official trade union movement in NSW, right or left, as beyond the
pale, and he shares that general orientation with the DSP. That's his and
their problem, not mine.

Perkins is highly selective in his example from Workers Online. The thing
that struck me about the May Day digest, from which he selects one article
to post with a bit of abuse, is its broad and generally leftist character.

I admit to a bias here, because the editor saw fit to publish as a letter
the whole of my polemical piece attacking Bush's Iraq war and polemicising
with Barry York, Albert Langer and Gerard Henderson.

The gritted-teeth venom directed by the DSP from time to time against
Workers Online is tactically unbalanced in the extreme. When you consider
that it's the official organ of the trade union movement in NSW and has the
highest hit rate of any trade union website in the English-speaking world,
anyone but a blind sectarian ought to value its generally leftist character
and nurture the opportunity to get a voice there, which is possible, due to
the reasonably liberal editoral policy of the Labor Council.

Which brings us to the point of how, as a socialist or leftist consumer, one
looks at a newspaper or a website. The mix of material in Workers Online
seems to me to be far more rational and balanced, from a proletarian
socialist point of view than, for instance, the usual content of Green Left

When I came into labour movement and left wing politics back in the 1950s,
when technical production of left-wing newspapers was far more difficult
than it
is now, everybody active in the movement used to read the old stodgy black
and white Stalinist Tribune, not for its editorial line, but because it
carried very detailed coverage of industrial and matters, including matters
and disputes well outside and beyond the direct political influence of the
CPA, which produced Tribune. Quite a few leftist opponents of the Groupers
used to read the Grouper weekly paper, "News Weekly", as well, for the same
reason, that "News Weekly" had a very detailed account of the day to day
chop chop in the unions, covered from the Grouper point of view.

Tribune also used to have commentary of a critical united frontist sort on
developments in the broader labour movement. That editorial approach helped
ensure it of a large audience, despite the "high Stalinist" idiosyncrasies
of the paper, inevitable because of the political allegiance of the editors
and journalists.

Unfortunately, GLW, which due to modern technology, colour printing, etc, is
infinitely more accomplished than the old black-and-white, Stalinist,
Tribune, is considerably narrower, politically speaking, in its general
approach to covering industrial and political issues in the Australian labor

GLW covers international matters at great length and often in considerable
detail, but in this sphere it's competing with the internet and left liberal
sources of information and opinion such as the Guardian Weekly. My
impression is that few people, even among those who get GLW, read much of
the international stuff because they've already read similar material

GLW's coverage of industrial matters is usually narrowly focussed on a
couple of
situations where the DSP has a direct interest or involvement. The rest of
the world of labour doesn't get much of a look in at all in GLW.

The other thing that doesn't get much coverage any more in GLW is
Australian labour movement history. The political reason for this is
obvious: all past labour movement history, is, in the current view of the
DSP, a history of "betrayal" because the participants didn't have the
advantage of a DSP to lead them, etc, etc.

By way of contrast, if you take the May Day issue of Workers Online as a
working example, it's a pretty good workers' newspaper in a number of

Obviously, the editorial line of the paper is the left reformist line of the
official labour movement and the Labor Council leadership. Nevertheless, the
coverage of current industrial matters, issues in the workers' movement,
labour history and other questions is diverse and interesting.

There's more actual workers' movement information in any issue of Workers
Online than there is in about half a dozen issues of GLW. A sane Marxist
obviously ought to argue sharply with the editorial of Workers Online on
many questions, but in my experience the smart thing is to do that
concretely and without gratuitous abuse, taking into account that Workers
Online represents
something pretty tangible and important in the real world of the labour and
workers movement. The arena for sensible struggle presented, for
example, by its letters page, should be taken up by Marxists in a realistic

The attitude adopted by Peter Perkins and by GLW towards Workers Online is
of a piece with their generally sectarian approach to the broader labour
movement. I'd recommend a steady diet of Workers Online to most members of
the far left, and to that end I've posted the digest of this May Day issue
of Workers Online on the GLW site and on Marxmail for perusal and

P.S.     I don't intend this critique as a personal attack on the comrades
who produce GLW, on a lowish, dedicated party allowance. I'm amazed,
actually, at the amount of material they manage to produce. The narrowness
of the DSP's conception of the paper is a political question, not a personal
question. I have some idea of how a paper like GLW is produced. The
editorial board meets from time to time, a political line and approach is
laid down, and a division of labour amongst the editorial staff is defined
from time to time.

I have particular sympathy for the dedicated comrade who is given the job of
surfing the world left press for the international component. That must be
the deadliest of jobs, and it has been done at different times by Norm
Dickson, Sean Healy and now Rohan Pearce Sarah Steven obviously has the job
of putting together accounts of movement events throughout the country and
focussing coverage of them mainly around the "leading role of the DSP".
Alison Dellitt has the other unenviable job of general political comment,
with the inevitable, "scolding scoundrels" exposure rhetoric belted out week
after week, at the Laborites. Most of the limited industrial coverage is
obviously faxed or e-mailed up from Melbourne, written by Sue Bull, and
focuses almost entirely on industrial events involving the couple of
Victorian unions who are the DSP's almost entire industrial focus. Labor
history doesn't get a guernsey anywhere.

Another area that rarely gets coverage these days, is any popular exposition
of Marxist theory, or serious argument about issues in Marxist theory. It
seems to me the absence of argument and debate on theoretical questions in
the paper is all of a piece with keeping such arguments almost entirely
internal. By way of contrast, the first hundred and fifty or so issues of
"Direct Action", which I have in bound form, were (despite the fact that
they were technically more primitive than GLW now) infinitely more wide
ranging in all the areas that I've just raised.

The editor, presumably presides over the whole show within the narrow
sectarian framework defined by the current DSP political line.

The sad thing is, from my point of view, that all the comrades involved in
producing the paper are dedicated, hardworking and intelligent people, and
if the DSP had a broader, more workers movement oriented, less moralising
political line, that same group of people could produce quite an
extraordinary paper with the modern techniques available these days.`

   -  Bob Gould.

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