Peter Boyle's ignorant demagogy about the history of the CPA, the ALP and the labor movement.

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Thu Nov 6 22:36:43 MST 2003


Peter Boyle's ignorant demagogy about the history of the CPA, the ALP and
the labor movement.

Peter Boyle's first response to me is very revealing, in style, language and
content. It went up only a few minutes after my post, and he didn't even
bother to correct obvious spelling mistakes. I have a humorous mental image
of Boyle spluttering and very excited, as he taps his vitriol into the
machine. The spelling errors, of course, are trivial. But, along with the
bombastic leftist language, they are the indicators of a speedy response, on
automatic, so to speak. The political-historical content indicates the frame
of mind into which the DSP leadership have managed to talk themselves, and
to some extent talk the membership of the DSP.

They merge two separate questions. Strategy and tactics by the CP, as a
relatively small cadre group towards the overwhelmingly hegemonic ALP-trade
union continuum, and what policies the CP pursued in the broader labor
movement. I'd be the last person to idealise the broad political strategy
defended by the old CP at many points. Revolutionary socialists like me were
often critical of the strategy the Stalinist CPA practiced within the broad
labor movement, in particular for its tendency to adapt to the most
conservative, lowest common denominator in the labor movement. We often
accused the Stalinists, including the trade union leaders, of a kind of
"double-entry". See my piece, "The Communist Party in Australian life" on
OzLeft, and my other piece criticising Jim McIlroy's pamphlet ("The Red
North") on the labor movement in Queensland, to get a broader insight into
these questions.

Despite this tendency to adaptation, however, on a number of broad labor
movement questions, the CP from time to time was hardened up, both by
pressure from the ranks, particularly the trade union ranks, by the
influence of traditional socialist ideology, and by the agitation of other
revolutionary groups. The classical example of an event like this was the
situation in the workers movement from the Clarrie O'Shea industrial
dispute, through into the middle of the 1970s. Clarrie O'Shea (the Victorian
Tramways Union's secretary), who was a Maoist, refused to pay fines to the
industrial court, or to open the union books to the court. The Communist
Party and the Labor left mobilised a major wave of national strikes in his
defence. The Tory government caved in, a representative of the ruling class
paid O'Shea's fines, and the Penal Powers in the Arbitration Act became a
dead letter for the next historical period.

Shortly after this the broad Labor left split into a more militant group and
a more conservative group, and the more militant group, the Socialist Left
in Victoria, and the much smaller NSW Socialist Left, emerged as a force for
a period in ALP politics. Clyde Cameron attempted to bring in an accord type
prices and incomes arrangement at the 1971 ALP Federal Conference. The
Victorian Socialist Left and myself, as the NSW Socialist Left delegate, led
the opposition to this. The official left and the CP, under pressure from
the trade union ranks, got on side with the Socialist Left and that Prices
and Incomes accord arrangement was resoundingly defeated at that conference.
This set of circumstances contributed directly to success of the wave of
industrial militancy in Australia in 1972-1975, the so-called wages
explosion and wages breakout.

The point of this is that all these battles over strategy and direction in
the workers movement took place, as they inevitably had to, in the broad
labor movement dominated by the ALP. At that stage, realistic tactics toward
the grip of Laborism on the masses electorally did not lead to an Accord, or
anything like it, and the pressure to defeat it came in the first instance
from forces inside the ALP like the Victorian Socialist Left and George
Petersen and myself in the NSW Socialist Left. The Communist Party, which
was an independent organisation, mainly outside the ALP, was less vigorous
in its opposition to that Accord arrangement, though it ultimately had to
get on side, in opposition, because of the spirit of the times.

Boyle's politically dishonest narrative is a piece of simple-minded,
ahistorical determinism, which starts from his present theory, not from any
accurate historical account of developments in the labor movement. When you
get to the 1981-82 Prices and Incomes Accord, for instance, the idea of such
an accord did not originate, primarily, inside the ALP. The inventor of the
Accord (who really had a right to patent it), was Laurie Carmichael, the
main CP ideologue in the trade unions, who had never held a Labor Party
ticket in his life. The CP, an independent party outside the ALP, was the
ideological engine of the Accord, which was then eagerly picked up by the
more conservative laborites, as you might expect. The Accord was
essentially, in part, the product of the ideological crisis of world
Stalinism, and was replicated in Stalinist organisations all over the world,
including those in France and Italy which were mass independent parties.

Concretely when the Accord was adopted in Australia, initially at a select
federal unions conference, the only union official who stubbornly voted
against it was the then secretary of the NSW nurses union, who has been a
member of the ALP since 1975. At the ACTU conference over Accord Mark II,
the main opponent of it was Gail Cotton, the then secretary of the food
preservers union, also a member of the ALP. In both these instances leading
figures in the Communist Party, who were quite emphatically outside the ALP,
were the main advocates of the Accord.

Peter Boyle's short narrative involves a kind of almost lunatic
semi-calvinist predestination. In his universe any practical recognition of
the still existing grip and hegemony of laborism is the road to damnation.
To make this work, he has to chop bits off at both ends to make the actual
history fit this schema, that any association with Labor inevitably
corrupts. This is clearly untrue, and does not stand up well against any
cursory overview of the history of the labor movement in Australia.
The history of the DSP, Boyle's own political outfit, is instructive. After
all the betrayals of the Accord period, the DSP entered into quite elaborate
negotiations with a Communist Party, still quite unreconstructed in its
attitude to the Accord, directed at trying to form a New Socialist Party, in
what was called the "New Party Process". At that time, internally, the DSP
leadership insisted that differences over the Accord should not be treated
as a definitive obstacle to forming a new party with the CP. These
negotiations only fell apart because the CP walked away from the DSP.

Boyle's second post is a bit more measured. He implicitly skites a bit about
his capacity for getting intelligence, by giving us the minutes of the rival
conservative coalition. These minutes are pretty revealing, and show that
the conservative coalition has contracted to a bit of a rump. Quite clearly,
the dominant force in the conservative coalition, if you judge by these
minutes, are the Stalinist organisations - the CPA, CPA-ML, and the Search
Foundation, the cashed up ghost of the old CP. The Laborites just go along
for the ride, so to speak. But Boyle insists in squashing this phenomenon
into his procrustean bed of all-pervading Laborite Dominance. He
deliberately insults me by lying about what I said. He distorts the fact
that I noted that socialists can possibly make use of the limited opposition
to the war expressed even by Crean, into me wanting to build a movement
behind Crean's policy. Well I can't stop Boyle deliberately distorting what
I say, that's his business, but the kind of orientation I spelt out speaks
for itself. I've been as involved as anyone else in campaigning to build an
agitational mass movement for withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq, I
just believe that a pedagogic attitude to the existing consciousness of a
large part of the masses on the left of society, who accept the leadership
of the laborites, is useful in constructing such a movement.

Boyle makes great play of David Spratt in Victoria deciding at this point to
leave the ALP. David Spratt is an old friendly acquaintance of mine. He is
primarily a "movement" kind of activist, who is the main coordinator of the
Victorian Peace Network, and in that context is frequently an organisational
opponent of the DSP faction, because his links are with the Trades Hall, the
Socialist Left and lately also with the Greens. In other contexts he is one
of the people the DSP pay out on quite vigorously because his estimate of
the current situation in the antiwar movement is a bit different to theirs.
There is no likelihood of David Spratt joining the Socialist Alliance. He
will inevitably join the Greens, in short, rather than longer course in
fact. His move from the ALP to the Greens is indicative of a similar shift
among a much broader layer of movement activists in Melbourne. The DSP and
the Socialist Alliance don't figure in David Spratt's universe, except as
sporadic factional opponents.

The dead end sectarianism of the DSP leadership's approach to the workers
movement is expressed in this paragraph:
"Of course this is not to say that the anti-war movement shouldn't welcome
ALP members and even ALP branches into its ranks. The Stop The War Coalition
has reached our very warmly to Labor MPs Harry Quick and Carmen Lawrence.
They've been put on every platform possible and encouraged in any defiance
of Crean's standing-ovation-for-Bush and bipartisanship on the 'war on
terrorism'."

This offensive piece of political idiocy sums up the strategic approach of
the DSP leadership. Its exactly the sort of rhetoric that the Stalinists
used to use during "third periods" - the "United Front From Below",
so-called. This was an approach against which Trotsky, in particular,
constantly polemicised. The vintage distaste displayed in Boyle's comment
that the Stop the War Coalition accepts "even ALP branches", as if ALP
branches were leper colonies, gives you some hint of the political outlook
of the DSP leadership.

The eccentric view embodied in his comment that "the Stop The War Coalition
has reached our very warmly to Labor MPs Harry Quick and Carmen Lawrence" is
a bit like a rather self-important mouse reaching out to an uncomprehending
elephant. The implicit condescending and insulting tone towards Carmen
Lawrence is disproportionate to the actual realities of the situation. The
Stop the War Coalition, while by no means a negligible force, is basically a
smallish group of socialist militants. It has some successful activities to
its credit, but its footprint and influence in society is rather limited.
Carmen Lawrence has probably just been elected National President of the ALP
by a majority of the 20,000 ALP members who voted. In terms of society at
large, Carmen Lawrence is a considerably more influential figure than anyone
in the Stop the War Coalition, and the ALP is a mass organisation with its
primary base in the organised working class, which shares with a secondary
formation, the Greens, overwhelming hegemony on the left of society. Between
the two of them, the ALP and the Greens, will get around 50% of the vote in
the next Federal Election. The Socialist Alliance will get inevitably get
less than half of a percent in those elections. In these circumstances, to
represent the Stop the War Coalition as some kind of great power graciously
reaching out to Carmen Lawrence and Harry Quick is a grandly lunatic way of
viewing Australian society strategically.

It goes without saying that I agree with Boyle about the need for the Stop
the War Coalition, in which we are both involved, to respond with any forces
that it can muster to international calls for major demonstrations against
the occupation of Iraq in the New Year. In my view, the success of such
demonstrations is more likely to be assisted by a realistic view of the
influence of the Stop the War Coalition, and sensible strategies flowing
from such a realistic view. I'll write more about this the future.

Bob Gould
bob at gouldsbooks.com.au

Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW
Ph: 9519-8947
Fax: 9550-5924

Abe Books:
http://dogbert.abebooks.com/abe/BooksBrowsePL?vendorclientid=2899716



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