[Marxism] John Percy's strange history of the Australian DSP

Ozleft ozleft at optushome.com.au
Tue Mar 29 19:10:21 MST 2005

By Ed Lewis

John Percy's purported "History of the Democratic Party and Resistance" 
is dubious history. It's a participant's account, sloppily written in 
places, crammed with triumphalist moralising on behalf of Percy, his 
brother Jim, and the DSP current, and often careless with facts. If was 
history it would be bad history, but in reality it's Percy's 
reminiscence, liberally larded with hindight, with little regard for 
historical method, especially factual precision.

An example of Percy's looseness with facts is his treatment of the 
expulsion of the left from Victorian Young Labor in 1974 (pp 279-80). 
Percy writes: "In Victoria the left came close to winning control of the 
Young Labor Association, and the ALP leadership reacted by a wholesale 
purge in February 1974. Most of the 34 expelled were SWL or SYA members, 
but they also included half a dozen ALP members who got too close to us, 
who got caught up in the witch-hunt. After a vigorous campaign, the ALP 
tops were forced to reinstate us, but the experience somewhat dimmed our 
vision of changing things through the ALP."

In fact, it was the Young Labor right, not the ALP leadership, that 
expelled the 34 leftists. The right included a number of up-and-coming 
Labor apparatchiks who later became prominent, including Robert Ray (now 
Senator), Dean Wells (MP in Queensland, for some time attorney general 
and now environment minister), Peter Gavin (member for Coburg in the 
Victorian parliament for 13 years), Greg Sword (until recently a 
prominent official of the Nation Union of Workers), Andre Haermeyer 
(minister in the Victorian Labor government of Steve Bracks). Others 
such as Mark Plummer, Ross Betts, John Zeleznikov, Mike Harlan and Geoff 
Farey appear not to have pursued careers in the ALP and union movement, 
or if they did I'm not aware of it.

At the time of the expulsions, none of the Young Labor right-wingers 
were prominent in the Labor Party and were not part of the ALP state 
leadership. Their careers were yet to be made, although some of them 
probably had some links to the top levels of the Centre Unity faction 
(which was really the right). It's pretty clear that the YLA 
right-wingers cooked up the expulsions on their own, and some of them 
probably set their careers back by a few years because of the 
embarassment they caused to Centre Unity by their clumsiness, and 
because they almost destroyed Young Labor in their attempts to defeat 
the left. It took many years for Young Labor to recover from that incident.

The Victorian Labor Party leadership was strongly influenced by the 
Socialist Left at the time. The SL may not have had a majority on the 
state executive, but it was probably the largest faction on that body, 
and it usually had a majority in alliance with the small traditional 
Labor right faction of the ALP leadership that was associated with 
Senator John Button. That group opposed the expulsions and supported 
readmission of the leftists to Young Labor, and the Socialist Left was 
important in securing the readmission of the leftists. Relying on 
memory, even the Centre Unity leadership, or at least a prominent 
leader, reacted to the expulsions by saying that there appeared to have 
been a denial of natural justice.

The 34 were expelled only from Young Labor, and not the ALP, and there 
was never any question of them being expelled from the Labor Party. They 
retained their ALP membership and were able to campaign in the ALP for 
readmission. Many Labor Party branches supported the readmission of the 
YLA left.

Thus John Percy is simply wrong to say that "the ALP leadership reacted 
by a wholesale purge", unless he has some new evidence of a conspiracy 
between the YLA right and the Centre Unity leaders, who at the very 
least would then stand accused of betraying their young acolytes rather 
badly. If Percy has such evidence, he doesn't cite it, and it's 
reasonable to conclude that his latter-day zeal to condemn the Labor 
Party has run away with him. This is not history, and not even accurate 
reminiscence, but propagandist mythology.

As for the 1974 incident having "dimmed our vision of changing things 
through the ALP", if that's the case, how does Percy explain the 
continued work in the ALP for another decade of people who had views 
close to those of the DSP/SWP, including the publication of an internal 
ALP magazine, Labor Militant, in the early 1980s? At the very least, if 
what Percy says is true, the continuation of work in the ALP for another 
decade would seem to indicate less-than-dynamic leadership by the 
central DSP/SWP leaders, if not inexcusable sloppiness and incompetence.

Another example of factual sloppiness is Percy's invention of a 
"Resistance Centre" at 136 or 140 Queensberry St, Carlton, in the early 
1970s (p 181). At that time, the youth organisation was known as the 
Socialist Youth Alliance, not Resistance, and the term Resistance Centre 
was not applied to DSP-Resistance offices until at least the mid-1980s. 
This is a small point, but in a supposed history, particularly of the 
micro-history genre that Percy seems to be attempting, factual 
inaccuracy about the central focus of the story is extremely sloppy, to 
say the least.

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