[Marxism] Phillip Ferguson, Peter Boyle and the ALP Federal Conference

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Tue Feb 3 19:10:51 MST 2004

Phillip Ferguson, Peter Boyle and the ALP Federal Conference

By Bob Gould

Peter Boyle, in his usual apolitical, philistine way has me "hanging around
the entrance, handing out flyers for his [my] bookshop!" What a philistine.
What I was handing out was a well presented list of labor movement history,
marxist and socialist books including, as circumstance would have it, a
number of the useful books on marxist theory produced by Resistance and the
DSP. It seems that the DSP are happy enough to sell the books, but a bit
resentful when I seek out an audience who might actually read them. My
eclectic and diverse labor movement and socialist booklist, which has grown
and grown over the years is, in its own way, a very definite political
statement. It is recognised as such throughout the labor movement. As a
matter of fact I gave away about 1300 copies of it, to a fairly receptive
audience. Quite a diverse range of people who came to the Federal
Conference, particularly from interstate, have come into the shop to acquire
particular items, and through the process I've got to know some left wingers
I didn't know before.

In addition to that I gave away about 800 copies of our flyer for the OzLeft
web site, and hits on the site have gone up sharply for a few days, which
always happens after we give out OzLeft flyers at big events on the left.
Giving out both leaflets was a useful talking point for me, as it always is.
I was a bit amused at the rather humorless but obvious resentment of several
of Boyle's associates, during the brief period I saw them picketing the
conference, at the easy familiarity of a lot of the delegates with me,
stemming from the fact that I've been agitating many of them, for many
years, over many different questions. My division of labor with other
associates of mine who were working on the Labor for Refugees stall was
clear for all to see. I've been active in Labor for Refugees since day one,
and I asserted myself forcefully in all the meetings running up to the

Now that I've drawn the DSP leadership's attention to it, Boyle is forced to
recognise the biased and inadequate nature of their reporting of the
conference, but he ascribes it, falsely in my view, to accidental factors.
The question he of course has to answer is the question I've posed in both
my major posts. Did the sweeping radical propositions carried in the
industrial relations debate, and on a number of other questions, represent a
significant shift to the left in the ALP? Does it also represent a change in
mood and more assertiveness within the trade union movement? If the answer
is yes to both of those questions, the subsequent question is, is there a
real mood of expectation and hope, associated with this shift to the left,
that the ALP under Latham's leadership may be able to defeat Howard in the
coming Federal Elections, with the possibility of the Greens having the
balance of power in the Senate. If the answer to that question is also yes,
isn't an adjustment in the tactics of the DSP leadership with respect to the
mainstream labor movement necessary? Wouldn't it be more sensible to mesh in
with the aspirations of pretty well the whole of the workers movement, in a
less sectarian way than before, while, of course, independently posing all
of the militant demands that socialists ought to pose?

A political analysis of what is involved in the shift at the ALP Federal
Conference, and the current enthusiasm for Latham's leadership of Labor on
the left of society, is required. This should be an analysis in the name of
the DSP leadership, and should not shelter behind tendentiously framed
pseudo-interviews with trade unionists, though of course whatever the DSP
can rustle up to support them in such interviews could be taken into account
in such an analysis.

The middle-aged, socialist sectarian Phil Ferguson (pompously nailed to his
own wall, as he is, by his sectarian schemas) is a different proposition. It
is quite clear to me from many past postings by Phil, that he is in favour
of his 'Bolshevik' formation running in a few seats in elections, but
otherwise voting informal, because of course all other parties are
capitalist parties (If I've got that wrong, he can correct me). He also
appears dubious as to whether modern trade union structures, in their
weakened and bureaucratic state, are of much value (from this point of view,
it is obviously of dubious importance to Phil that the ALP Federal
Conference endorsed the demands of the trade unions). It might be useful for
us if Phil would elaborate a little further, in detail, on his views about
the current tasks of socialists in relation to trade unionism, to give us
some idea from what standpoint he judges developments at the ALP Federal

Ferguson, for purposes of argument, paints a Groundhog Day scenario in
relation to the attitude of myself, and also for that matter, most left wing
trade unionists towards Laborism. Well, he can develop that caricature as
far as he likes. The issue however, for serious marxists, is to get an
audience amongst the working class and progressive middle class. Lenin and
the Bolsheviks spelt out the general tactic of the United Front, as the way
to get that audience, and in my view, that approach is still valid. Ferguson
's views replicate the views of Pannekoek and Gorter, not the views of Lenin
in relation to the United Front with social-democracy, though he likes to
throw in a reference to Lenin to confuse things occasionally. He likes to
associate himself with the DSP leadership from time to time, latching on to
their ultra-leftism towards the Laborites. But the DSP leadership aren't
quite as loopy as Phil Ferguson, in this respect. They do at least, through
gritted teeth, finally call for a preferred vote for Labor, against the
Tories. Phil, however, clearly advocates an informal vote where the small
group of people he recognises as socialists aren't standing. He ought to
come clean about his electoral tactics, rather than sniping at me, in an
eccentric way, for the apparent crime of relative political longevity.

Gould's Book Arcade
32 King St, Newtown, NSW
Ph: 9519-8947
Fax: 9550-5924
Email: bob at gouldsbooks.com.au
Web: www.gouldsbooks.com.au

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