[Marxism] Green Left Weekly, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance.

Gould's Book Arcade ggouldsb at bigpond.net.au
Thu Feb 12 22:48:13 MST 2004

Green Left Weekly, the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist
By Bob Gould

Recently OzLeft posted, for information, on the GreenLeft, and Marxmail
lists, Michael Thomson's resignation letter from the Australian Socialist
Alliance. We obtained the original from a posting by Simply Red on the
Trainspotters list, so we did not bother repeating a reference on the
trainspotters list.

Over the last two days, we have received over 160 hits (recorded on the
counter on the page on ozleft) which is the highest hit rate we've ever had
for a single document, so there's obviously a lot of interest on marxmail
and green left.

In response, Nick Fredman posted on Green Left, and on Marxmail, two
comments by 'independents' in the Socialist Alliance. In particular, the
comment by Austin Whitten, is a dramatic confirmation of a number of the
issues raised in Michael Thomson's Alliance resignation statement.

Much of my contribution here will focus on the nature of Green Left Weekly,
but at the start I want to stress that its not a personal attack on either
the newspaper, or its staff. Over the years, I've probably read every issue
of Green Left and its predecessor Direct Action, and despite sharp political
differences I have the deepest respect for the project of maintaining a
weekly socialist newspaper. For practical purposes, it's the last one
standing in Australia, and that's no mean achievement. That is what makes it
worthwhile, from a socialist point of view, to argue with GLW and those who
produce it. I know a little bit about socialist newspapers. Over a
considerable number of years I've helped rank-and-file groups of militants
in unions produce newspapers and leaflets. For some years people I'm closely
associated with put an immense amount of effort, largely unpaid, into the
production of Workers News (now deceased). I'm acquainted with all the staff
of GLW, and I don't underestimate the dedication and constant physical
commitment required of them to produce the newspaper. I'm impressed that
such an effective newspaper can be produced on a sustained, weekly basis by
such a small staff, even with the improvements in modern technology. I like
some of the Green Left staff, with whom I'm slightly acquainted, and don't
like others, but that's not the point. All the people that produce it devote
their lives to producing a paper week after week, year after year. My
differences with GLW are political, not personal. (Its worth saying that I
had a similar attitude to the dedicated staff of the Stalinist weekly paper,
Tribune, before its demise. I knew a number of them personally too, and
respected them as human beings, though I had fundamental disagreements with
their politics).

Austin Whitten, the Alliance 'independent' says:
"Michael, as a member of the Socialist Alliance editorial board for Green
Left Weekly and someone who is actively involved in the SA-GLW project, I
feel compelled to comment on your remarks about same. And as an active NTEU
member, I also feel compelled to offer my perspective on the NTEU and the
SA. Characterising Green Left as a DSP paper that only supports a "certain
set of political positions associated with the Democratic Socialist Party"
is not supported by the evidence available on a weekly basis in the pages of
the newspaper. GLW, as any regular reader readily knows, represents a broad
left spectrum and is not, nor ever has been a party paper, for two reasons.
It was envisioned as a mechanism for reaching out to a broad left audience
in order to survive economically, and more practically, it had to be
organised as an independent entity, with no assets, to act as protection
against litigation."

Well, that paragraph can be described as a 'black is white', 'the moon is
made of green cheese', 'the earth is flat' paragraph. No one in Australia,
or anywhere else for that matter, who reads Green Left Weekly and who
accepts the evidence of their senses is likely to believe this. The DSP
leadership, loyal DSP members, and loyal supporters, like Austin Whitten,
say this everywhere that they go in public. Internally in the DSP, however,
particularly at the leadership level, but also among the rank-and-file,
Green Left Weekly is proudly claimed as the DSP's paper. The DSP is a highly
centralised organism. At a closed conference of the DSP, and subsequently at
a national meeting of Resistance, the DSP's youth organisation (also
ostensibly 'independent' of the party) an opposition, based in Resistance,
who advocated that Resistance too become a multi-tendency organisation, like
the Alliance, were thoroughly quarantined and defeated on the initiative of
the DSP leadership, and effectively isolated in the organisation. In the
discussion in Resistance, the young supporters of the DSP leadership
frequently quoted John Percy and Doug Lorimer defending homogeneity in the
party and the youth organisation, and opposing 'pluralism'. There were also
a number of references to the implicit Cannonist framework of party and
youth movement building. The DSP, as is clear in the DSP perspective
document adopted at the conference, decided to make Green Left Weekly the
newspaper of the Alliance, but on the strict understanding that the DSP and
Resistance retain their totally centralised, Cannonist character. The clear
implication is that the DSP leadership will retain control of the Green Left
Weekly, particularly of its political line, while however, accomodating some
of the organisations in the Alliance a bit.

Austin Whitten asks the readers to generously give him the political benefit
of the doubt both ways. He proclaims that in the future he will ensure that
none of the affiliates dominate GLW, but he also asserts the opposite, that
its always been a broad left newspaper anyway. Either Comrade Whitten is
unbelievably naïve, or he is asking us to believe something that contradicts
reality. All the full-time staff of GLW are, and have always been, leading
members of the DSP. My understanding is that there are in Sydney six or
seven full-timers working on GLW. They are all leading members of the DSP.
All the significant responsible correspondents interstate have always been
members of the DSP. All past and present editors have been members of the
DSP leadership. The overwhelming majority of the people who sign articles in
GLW are members of the DSP or Resistance. In the internal literature of the
DSP, the Party Campaigner, etc, there is a constant detailed account of
organisation of selling the paper, the level of sale, the number of people
selling, the number of hours devoted to it, etc, etc. There are frequent
internal DSP campaigns to maintain this rather impressive effort. The 'line'
articles on significant current political questions in Australian and
international matters are consistent with the current political line of the
DSP in almost every detail. Over the years, the odd controversy has been
allowed in GLW, or Direct Action, but these controversies are relatively
rare, and are usually on more abstract international questions.

Paradoxically, there has been less internal argument in GLW in the period
since the Alliance commenced, than there was previously. There has certainly
been nothing like the extended argument about the student movement that
there was a few years ago, or the argument with Roger Clark in Brisbane
about the Labor Party that there was a while back. The DSP leadership make
some attempt at what they call 'broadness', they publish from time to time
historical and political articles by Phil Shannon, who's not a member of the
DSP, and they've even on a couple of occasions printed pieces by myself, for
which I'm properly grateful. Through gritted teeth, they put up with a
limited amount of serious discussion on the GLW discussion list, though they
don't encourage such discussions to take off or develop too far. I'm
conscious of the fact that the Greenleft list is their show, and so I'm
sensibly grateful that they tolerate my contributions there, but its worth
noting that when it started a year ago, they suggested that from time to
time there might be a spread of discussions from the GLW list every month or
so into GLW itself, but that hasn't eventuated. What the DSP leadership
mean, when they talk about GLW being a broad newspaper of the left is that
they, from time to time, publish articles by leftists and liberals which
conjuncturally agree with the current political line of the DSP. But they
very rarely even note the views of significant leftists and liberals who
disagree with them, other than to ridicule them.

By way of contrast, the Communist Party of Australia, before Stalinisation,
and to some extent after the decay of Stalinism had set in, had a much
greater culture of debate and argument on tactical questions. The Workers
Weekly in the 1920s institutionalised a party wide debate in the newspaper
every year for four or five years before their annual conference. And
Tribune, in the last 15 years of its existence, before it closed down in the
late 1980s, had a culture of public debate. That isn't the case with GLW. At
the moment, despite the unconvincing rhetoric about GLW being a broad left,
non party, paper, which Austin Whitten unreflectively repeats (despite the
real material evidence to the contrary) the whole of the Australian left
view GLW as what it really is, the well produced, unrelenting newspaper
expressing the political line of the DSP's leadership. A demonstration of
this is the recent coverage of the ALP Federal Conference, a major political
event in Australia. I posted two major articles describing the actual events
at the Federal Conference, and criticising the GLW coverage for its bias by
way of excluding major topics. GLW responds in part, with an equally biased
account of the industrial relations debate at the conference, and so far
there is silence in GLW, and on the green left list, in response to my

The issue of the GLW coverage of the ALP Federal Conference is a useful
example, because it's a case where the DSP leadership's curious and biased
version of this event is at variance with the views of the overwhelming
majority of activists in the Australian labor movement, other than those in
the DSP.

A modest proposal for Green Left Weekly
For GLW to have any possibility of convincing anyone outside the ranks of
the DSP and their supporters in the Alliance, that GLW is in any sense a
broad left paper, the following proposal might rectify the situation
somewhat. What about having a four page discussion section in every issue of
the newspaper, with solicited articles from significant representatives of
different and opposed points of view in the left movement, the labor
movement, the green movement and progressive forces in society. The first
such four page discussion would obviously have to be a frank discussion
across the left and labor movement about perspectives for the coming
elections. A second such discussion might be between different points of
view in relations to developments in Iraq and the anti-war movement. A third
such discussion a wide-ranging discussion about perspectives in the trade
union movement, in the light of the decisions of the ALP Federal Conference,
the ACTU Conference, today's victory of the train drivers in NSW, and the
recent victory of the NTEU in its conflict with recalcitrant university
employers. A fourth such discussion might be about indigenous affairs, with
viewpoints solicited from all points of view in the indigenous movement. A
fifth discussion might be about the future of the Greens. A sixth might be
about the recent reactionary, racist decision of the French Government to
ban moslem headress in schools, and its possible implications for
multiculturalism and race relations in Australia.

It goes without saying that to have a rational discussion of any of these
questions, people would have to be involved from the far left, across the
spectrum from the Greens to all wings of the labor movement - or as I often
put it, the ALP-trade union continuum. Without such a physical turn in Green
Left Weekly, no one outside the DSP and a few of its Alliance supporters are
likely to take seriously Comrade Whitten's proposition that Green Left
Weekly is some kind of broad left newspaper.

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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