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