An open letter to members of
the Democratic Socialist Party
It is time to carefully reconsider your strategy towards the
movement, and reverse the right-wing policy of supporting the drive to
push unions out of the ALP!
By Bob Gould
A great deal has happened in the three months since the
2001 federal elections is an even longer time. In the elections, which
were dominated by the capitulation of the ALP leadership to the right
wing populist demagoguery of the Tories on the asylum seeker question,
there was a small swing against Labor, a bit over 1 per cent in two
party preferred terms. Labor retained the overwhelming support of the
organised working class, and the progressive section of the middle
class, although there was a significant swing of backward workers from
One Nation to the Liberals, and an even more pronounced swing among
sections of the progressive middle class from the ALP to the Greens in
revulsion against the ALP’s policy on refugees.
The DSP-supported electoral formation, the Socialist Alliance,
very badly in the elections, getting approximately 1 per cent where it
stood, and the left protest vote went to the Greens, who are now
clearly established as the electoral party to the left of Labor. The
possibility of the Socialist Alliance establishing itself as a
significant force electorally is now extinguished, if it ever existed.
This is underlined by the recent state election result in South
The swing to Labor in the South Australian elections
In the long-postponed February 9 elections in South Australia,
most conservative Australian state, there was a significant swing to
Labor and an important swing to the Greens as well. The Democrat vote
dropped dramatically. The electorate polarised very sharply on class
lines behind Labor and the Greens, on the one hand, and the Liberals
and Nationals on the other.
The two Labor Independents were defeated, and their seats
to Labor, but on the other side of politics, several Independents
defeated the Liberals in traditional Tory seats, and two of them seem
determined to lean the Labor way in parliament, giving the ALP
It is very instructive to look at the electoral map of the
results published in The Australian
on Monday,February 11. Like the electoral map in all states and capital
cities after the federal elections, this map is a dramatic illustration
of the class division between Liberal and Labor.
The high-income seats in the hilly, leafy suburbs to the east
Adelaide are all Liberal. The proletarian, low-income, migrant,
flatter, seats to the west of the city, from West Torrens through Port
Adelaide, to Elizabeth and beyond, are all Labor seats. Outside
Adelaide, most prosperous farming areas vote Liberal, Independent or
National, but Giles is a safe Labor seat, and Stuart swings between
Liberal and Labor. These two seats contain, between them, the
industrial cities of Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Whyalla, and, in the
remote areas, significant Aboriginal communities.
The class nature of the electoral divide between Labor and
Liberal in Australian politics
Electoral results in Australia, despite all the confusing
both from right-wing populists, and the DSP leadership, still
demonstrate a dramatic contrast in class forces, sociologically
speaking, between the Tory side of electoral politics and the
The organised working class, significant sections of small
people and farmers, most migrants, particularly recent
non-English-speaking (NESB) migrants, most Catholics, and a section of
the progressive middle class, vote Labor or Green, and the richer and
more conservative sections of the middle class, the upper classes, the
reactionary section of the farming community, and some backward
unorganised workers, vote Liberal. Since the controversy1
about Michael Thompson's book Labor without class: The
gentrification of the ALP (Pluto
a couple of years ago, I have done some research into the correlation
between voting patterns, electoral behaviour, ethnic and religious
identity, and economic and social patterns, as revealed by the useful
and detailed Social Atlases published periodically by the
Australian Bureau of Census and Statistics. I have distributed two
papers based on my researches.
These researches indicate a powerful coincidence between
areas with lower incomes, high trade union membership, higher numbers
of “industrial occupations”, and a very high number of NESB migrants,
and an overwhelming vote for the ALP.
This is true for all elections, both those where there is a
Labor, and those where there is a swing against Labor. There are other
areas, like some inner city seats, with a relatively high Labor vote as
well, where the social mix includes a large number of highly paid
professionals, some of whom also vote Labor, but the hard core of the
Labor vote is always in the type of blue-collar, migrant, electorates
that I have described above.
All serious sociology underlines the social and economic
of this division in voting patterns, and this division must be a vital
determinant for serious Marxists in their judgement on political and
industrial strategy, including electoral strategy!
Mark Latham, Birrell, migration, asylum seekers and trade
union influence in the ALP
Research about the changing population pattern of Australia
used in different ways. Some demographic changes have recently been
“discovered” by the embittered anti-immigration, anti-refuge (for
asylum seekers) academic, Bob Birrell, of Monash University.
Predictably, he has refined his long-standing mantra about Sydney to
redefine Sydney divisions into:
an Eastern Suburbs, Inner West, North Shore region (inhabited
by “elites”, who support migration and refugees, unlike the “ordinary
people” [like him] who oppose such things).
a middle Western Suburbs area, where all the recent migrants
live, (in terrible conditions, which demonstrates, to him, Labor
right-winger Mark Latham and others, the dangers of further migration).
an outer suburban area of “white flight”, where
ordinary voters live, who, we are told, surprise, surprise, agree with
Birrell and Latham on migration and asylum seekers.
This highly disputable ideological construction, which
distorts an underlying demographic reality, to which I also refer, has
predictably been taken up, in spades, so to speak, by right-wing Labor
supposedly Western Suburbs demagogues such as Latham and Alex Sanchez.
These two, who used to present themselves as representatives
Western Suburbs in general, versus the Inner Western, Eastern Suburbs,
North Shore “elites”, now explicitly position themselves as
representatives of outer suburban “white flight” voters. Latham and
Sanchez have suddenly turned against the middle Western Suburbs areas,
because the dense mass of recent migrants there represents, to them,
low income, ethnic ghettoes, of which they strongly disapprove.
Latham associates this sharp shift in his stance with his
to the existing trade union influence in the ALP, as demonstrated by
his rhetorical and widely publicised January
2002 letter to John Robertson
attacking the NSW Labor Council over its support for asylum seekers,
and criticising union influence. The bourgeois media are promoting
Latham for all they are worth, on this whole complex of questions.
The Socialist Alliance vote in South Australia was close to
In the South Australian election, the Socialist Alliance
one seat, the inner-city seat of Adelaide, where many of South
Australia’s progressive middle class live.
Jane Lomax-Smith, the ALP candidate in this swinging seat,
a 2.5 per cent swing in the preferred vote, and won the seat from the
Liberals. She got 6764 votes, as reported in Monday’s Australian.
The Green, Jack Bugden, got a respectable 851 votes (5 per cent). The
Socialist Alliance candidate, Tom Bertuleit, listed as an Independent
on the ballot paper, got 48 votes, or 0.28 per cent of the 17,078 votes
counted at that stage.
In mathematical-electoral terms, 48 votes is almost the
of zero if you allow for the random factor and the fact that a
significant number of protest voters look for the Independent on the
voting paper, and Bertuleit was the only Independent.
In this electorate of Adelaide, equivalent to Sydney or
NSW, and similar electorates in other states, the Socialist Alliance
got as close to zero as it is possible to get in any election. The
South Australian election was held after the right wing Tory populism
about asylum seekers had abated a bit. Normal trends and class forces
had begun to reassert themselves. This SA election result for the
Socialist Alliance dramatically underlines the fact that this formation
has little future electorally.
A modest 1 per cent two-party-preferred swing against Labor,
got nearly 50 per cent of the preferred vote anyway, has caused the
ALP, which is a pretty serious electoral formation, to engage in
several fully fledged inquiries into its electoral performance in the
last federal elections. The DSP leadership, on the other hand, passes
over the fact that the Socialist Alliance got almost a zero vote in
South Australia in almost complete silence. This is a bit of a
commentary on the lack of seriousness of the DSP leadership in its
propagandistic and sterile approach to electoral politics.
The insecure, and, to some extent, illegitimate, Howard
Liberal Government lashes out, and the post-election upheaval in the ALP
The Howard Government achieved re-election in a skilful way,
by the use of the most repellent wedge politics.
Its parliamentary program is marked by a determined attack
unions, and on workers’ industrial rights, and by a vicious attack on
civil liberties in the new powers proposed for ASIO. In fact, the
Government seems to have few other parliamentary proposals than these,
and its insistence on maintaining the right wing populist assault on
the rights of refugees, embodied in the expensive and inhuman “Pacific
So far, its major propaganda weapon in the Parliament on
matters has been a barrage of rhetoric attacking trade union influence
in the ALP, particularly the affiliation of unions to the ALP, and the
60:40 arrangement in internal ALP affairs. This propaganda is aimed at
creating a climate, in which Blairite right wingers like Latham on the
Right, and Lindsay Tanner on the Left, will create chaos in the ALP by
pushing for an end to, or reduction of, trade union influence in the
On the other hand, the rebellion of civilised people, coming
all major ALP factions, Left and Right, against the parliamentary
leadership’s federal election asylum seeker capitulation to the
Liberals, has erupted across the country, particularly in mass meetings
of ALP members called by the Wran and Hawke official inquiries into the
ALP election loss.
In three major states, large and vocal Labor for Refugees
have been set up, mainly on a cross-factional basis. They have strong
support from ALP-affiliated unions, and, in a rather surprising
development, Labor for Refugees has gained considerable momentum from
the deliberate act of the leadership of the Labor Council of NSW
(traditionally part of the Right faction) in jointly sponsoring Labor
for Refugees with figures from the Left of the party.
The revolt in the ALP about asylum-seeker policy
All of these developments have been pretty rapid. The revolt
asylum seeker policy in the ALP, and the question of the ALP internal
set-up, particularly the rule that gives trade unions 60 per cent of
conference delegates and the branches 40 per cent (60:40), have been
intertwined, so far, in internal ALP discussions, particularly at the
robust, vigorous and well-attended mass meetings, which are part of the
Wran and Hawke inquiries.
Somewhere between 40 and 50 people have spoken at each
five minutes each. Opposition to the asylum seeker policy has been
almost universal, and most people who have spoken about 60:40 have
supported the existing arrangement.
Some ALP politicians, like Latham on the Right and Laurie
on the Left, have vigorously defended the election asylum seeker
policy, but they have been a distinct minority of those who have spoken
out, and the parliamentary Labor leadership has been more cautious. A
groundswell is developing for ditching the reactionary asylum seeker
policy acquiesced to by the ALP during the federal elections.
The debate about trade union structural influence in the
ALP and 60:40
On the 60:40 question, both of the two Right ALP
sub-factions in NSW
seem to be cautiously supporting 60:40, and in Victoria and Queensland,
most of both the Right and the Left seem also to be supporting 60:40,
with the exception of the Clerks Union, from the Left, in Victoria,
obviously under the influence of Tanner. In NSW, the Left is divided on
the question, with the building section of the CFMEU and their allies
supporting 60:40, and the Metal Workers grouping opposing 60:40.
This upheaval in the ALP, both about the asylum seekers, and
internal ALP structure, will go on for a few months. The way the ALP
works, there will have to be state conferences (the NSW one is in late
May) and ultimately a Federal Conference, and therefore the framework
exists for socialists to campaign vigorously in the next period on both
It seems obvious to me that we have to campaign, both in the
the unions, for a civilised policy on asylum seekers, and in defence of
the affiliation of unions to the ALP, and the 60:40 predominance of
unions in ALP affairs, combined with proportional representation for
factions in the ALP. It will be impossible for anybody in the labour
movement to avoid taking a position on these questions in the next
Manoeuvering in the ALP and the trade union movement on ALP
trade union influence and 60:40
As the struggle unfolds in the labour movement on all these
questions, the most dangerous manoeuvring is beginning to emerge from a
section of the “left” in the federal ALP caucus, a part of what is
sometimes, rather arcanely, dubbed the “hard” left, on the basis of
some past, essentially personal, divisions in the ALP left.
The main public expression of this manoeuvring is the
adopted by Doug Cameron, the federal secretary of the Metal Workers,
who is locked in a bitter internal union conflict with Craig Johnston,
the leader of the Victorian Metal Workers.
Cameron still vigorously publicly defends the late and
ALP-ACTU Prices and Incomes Accord process, and those who inflicted it
on the labour movement, such as the former Communist Party leader, and
now retired Metal Workers official, Laurie Carmichael.
At the start of the debate about union influence, Cameron
the completely correct proposition that trade union influence in the
ALP was not the problem, and did not cause the federal election loss.
However, said Cameron (representing the manoeuvring position of his
allied “left cave” in the federal ALP Caucus), “60:40 was not the
issue”. Cameron asserted that a reduction in the voting proportion for
unions could be considered, as unions “could exercise their influence
in other ways”.
Cameron has now taken this position a good deal further,
rhetoric threatening to disaffiliate the Metal Workers as a whole from
the ALP. (In adopting this rhetoric, he obviously thinks that kind of
left talk may be useful to him in his conflict with Johnston, who also
advocates disaffiliation. I believe that both Cameron and Johnston
misread the underlying attitude of their members on this question of
union ALP links.)
I am a pretty well total cynic about rhetorical positions
some trade union bureaucrats in matters of this sort. It seems to me
very likely that this confusing rhetoric and behaviour on the ALP
question, emanating from the Metal Workers national leadership, is an
extension of a series of manoeuvres within the federal ALP caucus,
where the section of the left that the Metal Workers national
leadership is associated with is trying to position itself as staunch
supporters of the parliamentary leaders by brokering some kind of deal
for reduction of union institutional influence. They obviously hope to
gain favour from the parliamentary leadership, for this service, which
they think will help them in future caucus ballots etc.
Even more dangerous, from the point of view of basic union
interests, and traditional socialist ideas in the ALP, are other
structural changes, being floated by some sections of the ALP left.
Postal preselection ballots, and even primaries on US lines, are very
reactionary propositions indeed, as is the proposal being touted for
membership postal ballots for ALP officials.
It is obvious that all ballots like this would be conducted
full intervention of the bourgeois media, and leftist and trade union
candidates would be disadvantaged by the very process itself, conducted
as it would be in a blaze of reactionary media publicity. Do we really
want Alan Jones and Murdoch to decide on how the ALP is run? These
structural proposals would give enormously increased power to
parliamentary leaders vis a vis the rank and file, and they would
completely exclude trade unions from the process.
However this battle pans out, and it is by no means over
thing can be predicted with certainty. If some unions do disaffiliate
from the ALP in these circumstances, none of them will affiliate with
the Socialist Alliance, and very few of their union officials and
activists are likely to join small socialist groups.
The Howard Government is in strife and likely to lash out
The political crisis of the Howard Government, newly elected
it is, has erupted in a very intense way. A fairly accidental series of
events, surrounding the Tory appointee as Governor General,
Hollingworth, has produced a considerable crisis for the Government, in
its own heartland, the affluent suburbs of the major cities, and the
unspeakable tabloid media. More importantly, the fabric of lies and
deceptions used by the Government in its desperate bid for re-election
has fallen completely apart.
The Government lies about asylum seekers throwing their kids
water have been exposed by the honourable stubbornness of the Navy
personnel, who were direct witnesses or participants in the events, and
who told the truth. It is not unreasonable to classify the Hollingworth
crisis, the children-overboard lies, and the attempt by Liberal
head-kicker, Senator Bill Heffernan, to destroy Justice Kirby with the
use of forged documents, as a kind of Australian Watergate.
The Howard Government is in considerable strife on these
Its natural instinct is to lash out with diversions, and particularly
Industrial Relations Minister Tony Abbott’s performance in the
parliament, rabbiting on about union influence in the ALP and 60:40, is
the shape of things to come from the Liberals. Do not be surprised if
they dream up legislation to try to obstruct unions paying affiliation
fees to the ALP. They have threatened that in the past, and they are
obviously tempted to do so now.
The important function of impending Senate inquiries
On the Labor-Green side of politics, the Senate is looming
up as the
arena for possible effective obstruction of Tory aims. The formidable
Labor duo of John Faulkner and Robert Ray, backed up from time to time
by Greens Senator Bob Brown, have used the forum of the Senate,
particularly the Senate Estimates Committee, to expose Liberal lies on
a number of questions, including the asylum seekers. They have quite
properly insisted on a Senate inquiry into the new ASIO legislation,
and such a Senate inquiry will create the basis for the necessary
rejection of that legislation, if properly conducted.
The Labor-Green-Democrat majority in the Senate should be
encouraged to conduct effective Senate inquiries into all objectionable
Liberal legislation (followed by the appropriate rejection of these
proposals). The Senate is looming up as a very important arena for the
frustration of the political aims of the illegitimate Howard Government.
Such effective frustration of the Liberals' aims depends on
popular campaign, and an effective united front in the Senate between
the Labor, Green and Democrat senators, for full Senate inquiries into
all objectionable Liberal proposals. Even the proverbial Blind Freddy
can see that such a popular campaign requires combining an appeal to
the good instincts of the Labor representatives with sensible pressure
on them, rather than the relentless, mindless “exposure” of the
Laborites, currently practiced by the DSP leadership.
The DSP leadership’s sectarian, right-wing opportunism. The
dangerous call for a Royal Commission into the Government’s asylum
Campaigning for Senate inquiries, which in a number of cases
quite achievable, is obviously unacceptable to the right sectarians of
the DSP leadership, because of the need for a united front with the
Labor and Greens Senators, required to win a Senate inquiry.
The DSP leadership is currently attempting to split the
pro-asylum-seeker campaign in Sydney by setting up its own organisation
in opposition to the Refugee Action Collective, which has successfully
and effectively advanced the campaign in support of refugees up to now.
The RAC also took the initiative for setting up Labor for Refugees as a
group specifically directed at the labour movement.
The DSP leadership is clearly unhappy with the distinct
movement orientation of the RAC, and has set up its own organisation,
called Free the Refugees Campaign. The DSP leadership has attempted to
carve out a space, essentially to the right of RAC and Labor for
Refugees, (covered with a bit of a left face involving occasional
ultraleft demands for immediate open borders). This operation is
powerfully reminiscent of the sort of thing the Stalinist CPA used to
do in the campaign against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
As part of its sectarian exercise in splitting the movement
support of refugees (to stake out territory in right field, so to
speak), the DSP leadership has invented, and begun to campaign for, a
“Royal Commission”, a demand that is reactionary in the current
context, as an alternative to Senate inquiries.
The DSP has begun collecting signatures for their “Royal
into Asylum Seeker Policy. What a spurious right-wing proposal that is,
in current circumstances. As Jack Lang was fond of asserting, a serious
politician never holds a Royal Commission or a government inquiry
unless he or she has their desired result clearly in mind, and unless
they select the commissioners and design the terms of reference.
Calling on the Howard Government for a Royal Commission into asylum
seekers, when the Government will select the commissioners and design
the terms of reference, is a mistaken, right-wing proposal at this time.
The attempt by the DSP leadership to raise a demand for a
Commission — which is a deliberate diversion from the campaign to force
a major change in ALP policy on asylum seekers, from the campaign to
force the Government to reverse the policy, and from impending speedy
Senate inquiries that will advance those two campaigns — has very sad
historical overtones of the experience of the struggle against the
Vietnam War in the 1960s.
In the course of that struggle, in 1967 and 1968, the
Communist Party attempted to confuse the mass movement against the
Vietnam War by presenting the slogan, “Stop the Bombing, Negotiate” as
an alternative to the necessary demand for immediate withdrawal of
Australian troops (the policy of the ALP under Calwell’s leadership
until he was replaced by Whitlam in 1967), and the CP campaigned
energetically in the antiwar movement for this right-wing, diversionary
alternative to immediate withdrawal.
DSP national secretary John Percy knows all this, as he was
participant in defeating this Stalinist diversion, and he frequently
mentions this in articles and pamphlets about the Vietnam anitwar
movement. I hope he feels a twinge of guilt when he advances the
equally diversionary call for a Royal Commission into asylum seeker
The only context in which Howard is ever likely to accept
proposal for a Royal Commission, is if anger about the asylum seekers
builds up, and Senate inquiries are threatened into asylum-seeker
In that context, the only one possible for a Royal
effect of a Royal Commission would be to postpone consideration of the
question for many months in Howard’s hope that the lapse of time would
defuse the issue. (John Minns of Socialist Alternative has written a
useful leaflet, on this question, which he distributed to the Illawarra
Branch of the RAC, successfully defeating the DSP leadership’s proposal
for a Royal Commission, by an overwhelming majority.)
This DSP leadership’s Royal Commission diversion has to be
considered in the context of its entrenched hostility to any united
front with the Laborites. Pursuing this entrenched hostility to the
united front has, among other things, taken them so far as to present
an immediate proposal for a “Royal Commission” that can only be useful
to the Liberals in defusing anger about asylum seekers. Right-wing
sectarianism has carried the DSP a long way from a sensible Marxist
perspective in these matters.
A Socialist Alliance could be the vehicle for serious
discussion of differences among socialists, and for co-ordination and
negotiation to avoid splits like the one in the refugee movement, but
unfortunately the DSP leadership has chosen to restrict the Socialist
Alliance solely to an electoral exercise, the severe limits of which
have now been demonstrated
The leadership of the DSP has been at considerable pains to
allowing the Socialist Alliance to be the vehicle for a serious public
discussion among socialists about the many complex historical,
ideological and tactical questions that divide them, directed at, if
possible, a dialectical resolution of some of these questions.
The Socialist Alliance also could have been the vehicle for
practical negotiations to avoid unnecessary organisational divisions
and conflicts in day-to-day activities, like, obviously, the split
rapidly developing in the refugee movement. The DSP leadership has
doggedly chosen to treat the Socialist Alliance as solely an electoral
bloc between two largish, small socialist groups and a number of tiny
This electoral Socialist Alliance, the only one acceptable
DSP leadership, has proved to be a failure as a serious electoral
intervention, although it obviously has some propaganda value to the
DSP leadership in hardening up the DSP’s members in opposition to any
intervention in the broader workers’ movement, conceived in terms of
any serious united front.
The DSP leadership efficiently evades a serious and
public debate among socialists about trade union affiliation to the
ALP, but nevertheless implacably persists with its right-wing sectarian
preoccupation with driving unions out of the ALP
I have been opposed to the DSP leadership’s hostility to any
front with the Labor Party since it adopted that stance in 1984.
Despite this important political difference, I have, however, continued
to regard the DSP as an important part of the Marxist Left, and at
different periods I have made common cause with it on various questions
and issues, and in social movements where we have had common views and
interests, for instance opposition to the Gulf War, and the campaign,
on which I agreed with the DSP completely, in support of East Timorese
independence, and therefore in favour of Australian troops being sent
In the short but effective movement for the necessary
intervention in Timor, the DSP's long-standing fraternal organisation,
ASIET, played an extremely progressive and useful role.
From time to time over the last 15 years or so I have
DSP's major conferences as an observer, and I was even invited to speak
at the Memorial Meeting for Jim Percy.
Our relations in a previous period, from, say, 1970-71, when
Percys and I split from each other, until about 1984, were considerably
less fraternal, and in that period they threw me out a few times from
such things as public debates between the DSP and the CPA, and it and
the Communist League, which brings wry memories to my mind when I read
about the DSP’s current difficulties with the Palm Sunday Committee.
Boiling the frog
I attended two sessions of the DSP’s national conference at
in 2001, the session on trade unions and the one on student activities.
I was struck forcibly, in fact appalled, by the monolithic way in
which, it seemed to me, from listening to those two sessions,
opposition to the united front with the ALP had become the obsessive
and central axis of the DSP's whole political strategy.
I had argued with the DSP before on these questions, but I
really appreciated how much this preoccupation had become the
centrepiece around which the group is now built. Seeing the full
development of this DSP leadership preoccupation in bold relief
reminded me a bit of the well-nown phenomenon of boiling the frog. The
frog doesn’t realise anything is wrong until the water is well on the
way to boiling point.
The student session at this cnference was also totally
the Labor Party question. The DSP students were full of
self-congratulation about how they had “exposed the Laborites” in the
National Union of Students (NUS), and conducted a split away from the
broad Left, because the broad Left had “capitulated” to the Laborites.
I was a bit amused when the confident, good-looking young
was obviously the leader of their faction at the NUS Conference, made a
speech, to much applause, congratulating them all, and by implication
himself, for having made the “perfect intervention” at the NUS
Conference, where they split from the broad Left.
Irrational hubris reigned supreme at this student session of
conference. My experience in politics tells me that anyone who can
delude themselves that they made the “perfect intervention” anywhere,
is capable of deluding themselves about almost anything, on a fairly
This impression of the DSP leadership’s embedded right-wing
sectarian orientation was sharpened when they succeeded in persuading
some other Marxist groups to join them in this ill-considered electoral
venture, the Socialist Alliance, the core of which was, for the DSP
leadership, the exposure of Laborism, and which has now been shown
definitively to be an unsuccessful exercise electorally and a strategic
mistake in relation to socialists achieving any real implantation in
the workers’ movement.
The stupefying report to the trade union session at the
2002 DSP conference. Sue Bull’s bull
Attendance at the trade union session of the 2002 DSP
accentuated my alarm at the “boiling point” being reached in the
development of the DSP leadership’s unrealistic and disruptive line in
the workers’ movement.
For a start, the stupefying way that plenary sessions are
at DSP conferences is designed to daze the participants into agreeing
with almost anything. Gough Whitlam has got nothing on the DSP leaders
in the long-windedness stakes! The reporter at these DSP plenaries,
routinely speaks for over an hour, and has almost unlimited right of
reply to the brief discussion from the floor possible in a session
conducted under these conditions.
The very party-loyal DSP internal opposition cautiously
idea, in one of their contributions to the DSP internal bulletin, that
the time of reporters at these kinds of sessions be cut down a bit, but
on the basis of my experiences with the DSP I think the opposition has
Buckley’s chance of achieving this. It seems to me that the generous
time given to leaders to pontificate is a central part of the
authoritarian structure of the DSP, and is unlikely to be relinquished
by the DSP leaders. Nevertheless, the best of Irish luck to the
The DSP leadership’s left talk about the trade unions. They
exaggerate the grip and power of the trade union bureaucracy, making
this influence sound almost total to attempt to justify their rabid
Sue Bull’s report was a bit curious. She spent about half an
a lengthy and rhetorical denunciation of the trade union bureaucracy,
which, she asserted, carried Laborism into the unions as its primary
function, which is a rather strange, completely unscientific,
proposition. She then went on to spend another 20 minutes or so in the
usual denunciation of Laborism, and developed the proposition that
smashing the Laborite influence in unions was the key immediate
question in the unions.
The DSP leadership routinely exaggerates the power and
of the trade union bureaucracy. They verbally elevate this bureaucracy
into an almost all-encompassing power, demonically preoccupied with
“carrying Laborite influence into the unions”.
This chronic exaggeration of the powers of the bureaucracy
and diminishes the contradictory position and situation of that
bureaucracy, which is that it professionally balances between the
interests of trade union members, who it is supposed to represent and
serve, and the pressures bearing down on the bureaucracy from the
If it did not make a reasonable show of representing the
of union members, no union bureaucracy would last very long. In
concrete conditions in Australia in the year 2002, the power and
influence of the union bureaucracy is, in some ways, greater than in
the past, but in some other ways it is weaker, in relation to pressure
from the trade union ranks.
The very decline of the institution of unionism, produced by
ALP-ACTU Prices and Incomes Accord process, has forced the union
leadership to attempt to mobilise the union membership a bit to rebuild
the unions. The bureaucracy doesn’t do this terribly well, and it is
always looking over its collective shoulder at the rank and file, so to
speak, but the current rhetoric in trade unions is all about the
so-called “organising model”.
Far from being primarily preoccupied about carrying some
called Laborism into the unions, the bureaucracy is preoccupied, in
reality, by a multitude of other concerns, including its own survival,
which requires it to defend the unions against the Tory government, and
from time to time, to attempt to advance the interests of trade union
members. In their crazed left talk about the power of the union
bureaucracy, which they make sound almost infinite, the DSP leaders
have forgotten the ABC of the contradictory way the trade union
bureaucracy actually functions in Australian society.
The power and sweep of the trade union bureaucracy is not
nearly as total as the DSP leadership asserts
In concrete terms, in Australia at the moment, the union
amalgamation process and the process of the ageing of union officials
has led to a certain renewal of all ranks of the trade union
bureaucracy, and a somewhat leftist development in most states, with
most younger trade union officials being vaguely on the left.
Even in NSW, the heartland of the traditional right of the
union bureaucracy, the Labor Council right is divided into two
factions, which compete with each other with a certain leftism on
industrial matters. This is also the context in which the NSW Labor
Council right, as a whole, has taken the lead in establishing Labor for
Refugees, conducted a struggle in opposition to adverse Workers
Compensation changes, defeated electricity privatisation, and a little
bit earlier, participated vigorously in the defence of the Maritime
The DSP leadership’s cynical and frenzied rhetoric about the
union bureaucracy and Laborism is actually a device to harden up the
DSP membership, and to consolidate the DSP members around the special
interests of the institution of the DSP, instead of any serious,
concrete orientation to implantation and organisation in the labour
movement as a whole.
(The rump of the Healy organisation, the Socialist Equality
(SEP), in Australia, the US, etc, has taken this kind of exaggerated
description of the power and influence of the trade union bureaucracy
one stage further, for the same kind of narrow organisational reasons
as the DSP leadership. In a relatively recent pamphlet, Marxism and
The Trade Unions
the head honcho of the SEP tendency, the American musician David North,
develops the proposition that the unions were always essentially
capitalist organisations anyway, and particularly in modern conditions
they are totally capitalist institutions, completely integrated into
the capitalist system and state. Therefore, says North, the socialists
should sever their connections with the unions, and the only thing
socialists can do is directly construct the Socialist Equality Party.
The current rhetoric of the DSP leadership about the malevolence and
infinite power of the trade union bureaucracy only falls just short of
drawing Dave North’s bizarre and separatist conclusions.)
Sue Bull tips her hat to the Minneapolis Teamsters’
then gives a misleading account of the essence of that struggle
Sue Bull then gave a 20-minute exposition on the importance
Farrell Dobbs’s four books about the Teamsters' struggle in Minneapolis
in the early 1930s, as a model to be followed in DSP union
interventions. (She also said, with one her coy little smiles, that she
had bought the last set of the Dobbs books they had in their bookshop,
so one has to think it might be a bit hard for most of those present to
check up later, whether her story about Minneapolis was an accurate
Bull’s account of the Minneapolis struggle was a caricature
actual struggle, as described in Farrell Dobbs very useful books. The
practice of the Trotskyists in the Minneapolis upsurge between 1933 and
1940 was a classic example of the development of a workers’ united
front in the labour movement. Vincent Dunn, Farrell Dobbs and the
others, did not primarily engage in dopey denunciation of the trade
union bureaucracy. They left that sterile practice to their rivals, the
Third Period Stalinists.
Being, in the first instance, a group of Marxist industrial
mainly located in the super-exploited coal yards, the Minneapolis
Trotskyists moved, in an organised way, into the main Teamsters’ Local,
where they practiced vigorously a united front tactic with the left
wing of the union bureaucracy in that Local, and by means of an
energetic prosecution of the class struggle, combined with this united
front tactic, built the Local into the dominant industrial force in
Minneapolis in the most non-sectarian way.
They collided with the bureaucracy from time to time, but,
circumstances, they made a political and industrial bloc with sections
of the bureaucracy, and even, on occasion, with the national
bureaucracy of the Teamsters, in the Over-the-Road organising campaign.
Ultimately, Farrell Dobbs was even grudgingly appointed by
conservative national bureaucracy of the Teamsters Union, to the
national staff, because of his expertise in organising Over-the-Road
truck drivers. (In all three biographies of Jimmy Hoffa that I have
read, Hoffa is always quoted as expressing considerable respect for
Dobbs, Dunn and the other Minneapolis Trotskyists, as the inventors and
pioneers of the Over-the-Road strategy, which was the key element in
the dramatic growth of the Teamsters into the most powerful US
No abstract DSP-style bureaucracy-denunciation for the
Teamsters in Minneapolis. Dobbs’ books actually describe a practice
opposite to that of the current DSP leadership. In the course of this
model and classical agitation, they also intervened energetically in a
non-sectarian way inside the extremely moderate Minnesota Farmer-Labor
Party. No sterile exposure of Laborism there, either.
The Victorian metalworkers and the Victorian CFMEU
Sue Bull’s final section was devoted to exhorting DSP
present to become active in unions, and she spelt out the policy of
encouraging DSP members to get into two unions in Victoria, the CFMEU,
and the Metal Workers, both of which are under attack by the employers
She clearly indicated that this intervention would be
focused on the exposure of Laborism, and exhorting both those unions to
break from the ALP. The following questions arise from all this:
Why choose two robust, left-wing, militant unions, not
obviously particularly short of activists and cadres, for the main DSP
effort. Surely more greenfield unions, say, with right-wing
leaderships, might be a more effective place to concentrate your forces
if your aim is to rebuild the labour movement.
Secondly, it is extraordinarily dangerous politically and
industrially, to try to impose on these two beleaguered unions, the DSP
leadership’s espose-Laborism schema, in current industrial and
political circumstances. Those two unions need that kind of pressure
and advice like an elephant needs a bicycle. What those two unions need
now is the maximum industrial and political solidarity of other unions
and Labor Councils, and expose-Labor rhetoric is a very concrete
obstacle to generating that sort of industrial united front in support
of these two unions.
If I was an activist or an official in either of those two
would look with a very sceptical eye at the DSP bunch coming towards
us, loudly proclaiming their support, more or less on condition that
the union take up the DSP leadership’s anti-Labor political stance,
which cuts so clearly across the necessary day-to-day industrial and
political alliances, the Laborite allegiances of most other unions, and
the Laborite political leanings of most of the rank-and-file of the
Metal Workers and the CFMEU.
The DSP leadership’s electoral war against the beleaguered
leadership of the Wollongong Ironworkers Union in the early 1980s
Sue Bull devoted about a quarter of an hour of her speech to
lengthy defence of the political adventure perpetrated by the DSP
leadership in the Ironworkers Union in the early 1980s. She told a
lengthy story about how the then impending danger of large-scale
sackings in the steel industry dictated the necessity of the DSP
activists challenging the leftist leadership of the Wollongong
Ironworkers for all positions in the union elections.
The DSP activists, who had recently colonised the steelworks
Wollongong, as part of their then total industrial concentration
policy, had only been in the steelworks for a comparatively short time.
(The DSP wisely ditched the total industrial concentration policy
shortly after these events.)
Sue Bull did not explain how such a propaganda exercise
could in any
way advance the movement. Surely, as socialists outside the DSP said at
the time, in deciding to run in a union election the leadership of a
socialist group must make a realistic estimate of the chance of
success. In reality, the DSP candidates had Buckley’s chance, which was
demonstrated by the result. They got about 20 per cent of the vote
against the incumbents’ 80 per cent. Either the DSP leadership’s
estimate of the electoral possibilities was deeply flawed, or the thing
was a propaganda stunt — a very unwise thing to use a union election
The DSP leadership aren’t completely stupid in its
estimates, and it
was indeed a propaganda stunt, dreamed up by the dominant personality
in the DSP, essentially to harden up the DSP members in industry
against getting too integrated in the broad leftist current in the
unions to the detriment of their total commitment to the DSP.
In the event, it proved to be a disaster all round, for the
the left in the union (which was pinned down resisting this
unreasonable electoral assault rather than challenging the right in the
union) and for the unfortunate DSP members who were roped into this
Most other leftists, particularly, as you might expect, the
leadership of the Wollongong Ironworkers (who at that stage were about
the most leftist union leadership in the country), became extremely
hostile to the DSP because of this adventure. Most of the activists in
the DSP who were pushed into this stunt left the steelworks fairly
quickly afterwards, and most of them left the DSP comparatively quickly.
I could not quite understand why Sue Bull devoted so much
proudly recounting this disaster, but maybe her purpose was to drum the
idea into the heads of the DSP members present that maybe in the
future, some of the leftist union bureaucrats that the DSP is currently
courting, might have to be challenged in similar adventures. Who knows!
Sue Bull’s lengthy, cocky justification of the political and
industrial adventure in Wollongong underlined my feeling that caution
about the DSP leadership’s industrial intentions is appropriate,
particularly in the current circumstances, where the Federal Government
is associating its assault on unions with an assault on union influence
in the ALP.
Recent and current disaffiliations, and threats of
disaffiliation, of unions from the ALP
About four years ago, the National Union of Workers (NUW) in
led by the redoubtable militant union leader, the late Frank Belan,
disaffiliated from the NSW ALP because of anger at actions by the state
Labor Government that affected the NUW. This disaffiliation was a good
example of the use of disaffiliation as a traditional and well-worn
tactic of pressure on the state ALP, used on a number of occasions by
other unions, as an entirely normal part of the hurly burly of ALP and
trade union politics to try to achieve certain entirely justifiable
outcomes desired by different unions at different times.
Like all such normal pressure tactic disaffiliations, this
disaffiliation lived and died in its allotted span, and Frank Belan
quietly took the initiative in reaffiliating the NUW to the ALP a
couple of years later, just before his untimely death.
The current flurry of threats of disaffiliation of unions,
resignation from the ALP of several prominent union officials in
Victoria, is the same sort of thing. The particular grievances of the
Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Victorian Fire Fighters are
directed sharply at the Bracks Labor Government in Victoria.
The Bracks Government has ignored the interests of the
Fire Fighters by an excessive use of unpaid or underpaid volunteer
country fire fighters. The Government has also ignored the traditional
input of the ETU into the process of designing new legislation for the
registration of electricians.
Dean Mighell, the Secretary of the ETU, is an ingenious and
colourful, and possibly quite ambitious, trade union official of the
left, who has up to this point, been something of a wheeler and dealer,
of the better sort, in Victorian trade union and Labor politics. He is
the bloke, for instance, who created the conditions for the press photo
of Kim Beazley, Craig Johnston and himself, which embarrassed Beazley
somewhat, but made most other people in the labour movement laugh a bit.
In my view, the current threats of disaffiliation by these
Victorian unions, have to be viewed as reasonably defensible pressure
politics, in and on the Victorian ALP, to achieve the ends desired by
the unions. They obviously reflect deep discontent in the unions as a
whole with the Victorian ALP, which is why even the right-wing ALP
unions in Victoria are trying to persuade them to stay in the ALP.
Another side of these events has to be considered. Up to
two unions currently threatening disaffiliation have not, to my
knowledge, conducted a campaign to get the Victorian ALP conference to
discipline the Bracks Government on the issues in dispute.
They have relied, up to this point, on what are, to union
often the normal channels, of attempting to communicate with ministers,
their staffs, etc, without a public hullabaloo at ALP conferences or
Trades Hall Council meetings.
Being blocked in these “normal” channels, by the arrogance
of a new,
extremely conservative Labor Government that ignores the traditional
avenues, these unions have chosen to use threats of disaffiliation,
which may seem to them more effective, in the short term, in achieving
their objective of getting the ear of the Bracks Government than the
more protracted, complex, although politically important process of
standing the Government up at a state conference.
It seems to me unlikely that, in particular, the ETU, will
with the disaffiliation. It is unlikely that any unions will affiliate
with the Greens, because of underlying institutional conflicts of
interest with the under-consumptionist, anti-growth undercurrent that
is the negative side of Green politics, and which is fundamentally
unpalatable to most unions because of the essential union function of
representing members’ economic interests.
It is equally unlikely that any unions disaffiliating in
part of this upheaval (if they do), will affiliate to the Socialist
Alliance. This also applies to Cameron and the federal Metal Workers,
in the very unlikely event that they carry out their disaffiliation
Why I do my pamphleteering
The intensity of my observations, impressions and
these DSP conferences is one of the reasons I commenced, and continue,
my campaign of polemical pamphlets in opposition to the DSP
leadership’s mistaken orientation. (I have also become steadily more
infuriated at the arrogant and omniscient tone adopted in Green
which belts out, in a bombastic way, as if from a great height of
wisdom, knowledge and scholarship, unscientific and ahistorical
tactical propositions about the labour movement, and pontifications
about them, without even the most cursory attempt to research and
consider obvious evidence for alternative tactics.
Green Left Weekly is extremely reluctant to discuss
these questions seriously, which is why my slightly unorthodox agitprop
method of discussion and distribution, of material about these
questions is both necessary and useful.)
The DSP leadership’s churlish and stupid response to the
in the ALP about asylum seeker policy, and to the discussion of
ALP-trade union links
It seems to me that the DSP leadership’s response to the ALP
upheaval, since Green Left
recommenced in January 2002, underlines the DSP’s qualitative
transformation into a rather self-interested, rightward-moving
political sect. The water is beginning to boil, politically speaking.
Commentary in Green Left on the Labor Party
upheaval, by Alex
Bainbridge, Pip Hinman, Alison Dellit, Peter Boyle and the ubiquitous
and dominant ideological “Red Professor”, Doug Lorimer, the editor of
the paper, has been uniformly dismissive and contemptuous of both the
motives of those Laborites in revolt, and of any likely good coming
from this revolt.
Some historical context. How the DSP leadership abandoned
the united front in the labour movement in 1984
As part of its energetic publishing program, in the year
2001, the DSP reprinted the document Revolutionary Strategy and
Tactics in the Trade Unions
adopted by the DSP in January 1983. On pages 43 and 44, this pamphlet
has the following useful formulation in relation to unions and the ALP:
In Australia, the fight to transform the unions into
revolutionary instruments, must be waged in the Australian Labor Party,
as well as in the unions themselves. In its form of organisation, the
ALP is the party of the trade unions; in the content of its program and
actions, it is the political expression of the union bureaucracy. The
unions cannot become revolutionary instruments of the proletariat while
the majority of the proletariat remains politically subordinate to the
bourgeois program of the ALP.
In general, however, revolutionaries favour union
affiliation to the
ALP, while that party continues to have the allegiance of the big
majority of the working class. The spurious ideal of trade union
"independence" in politics is not a break with the bourgeois program of
the ALP. It is a break with what is progressive in the Labor Party: the
understanding that the proletariat requires its own political party,
separate from and opposed to the parties of the capitalists.
It is impossible for the unions to be independent of
Either they adopt proletarian politics, or they support, actively or
passively, bourgeois politics. Thus the task at present is not to break
the organisational links between the unions and the ALP; the task is to
break the unions from their subordination to the bourgeois politics of
class collaboration, whether in the form of the ALP program or the
daily practice of the union bureaucracy.
Revolutionary propaganda therefore argues for union
and control of the activities of the Labor Party, not to reinforce the
status quo, but as part of a fight to end the ALP’s subordination to
the interests of capital, to change it from a political instrument of
the union bureaucracy, to a political instrument of proletarian
It is only along this line of simultaneous struggle against
agents of the bourgeoisie, in the unions and in the Labor Party, that
the revolutionary party can increase its own influence, correctly
orient the class struggle left wing as it arises, and win the real
leadership of the organised and unorganised proletariat.
In general terms, the above paragraph is a clear and cogent
statement of the orientation hammered out by the early Comintern in the
early 1920s under the direct tutelage of Lenin and Trotsky. It is a
rational and practical attempt to comprehend the strategic problems
confronting Marxists in countries like Australia and Britain, where
Marxists are a small minority, and mass reformist parties based on the
trade unions have the electoral allegiance of the overwhelming majority
of the organised working class.
It is an unexceptionable statement of the position in terms
tradition of the Comintern, before Stalinisation, but it is a rather
succinct and useful short statement of that position, despite its
slightly omniscient tone. There is no question it is the spirit of the
understanding that Lenin and Trotsky had of those matters, expressed in
Australian conditions. It would be superfluous of me to attempt to
rewrite it in my own words. Give or take a few phrases, and the
know-all style characteristic of the DSP, I basically agree with the
thrust of the document.
How the DSP leadership justified its abandonment of the
Comintern’s strategy of the united front in the workers’ movement, and
replaced that strategy with a permanent strategy drawn squarely from
Third Period Stalinism
In attempting to explain the change from the united front
orientation of the DSP’s 1983 document, Doug Lorimer says, in the
introduction to the pamphlet (dated 1995):
The DSP’s previous characterisation of the ALP, which it had inherited
from the Trotskyist movement’s analysis of social democratic parties
around the world, was based on the determination of the class character
of a political party not only by its program — its real aims and the
means by which it seeks their attainment — but also by the class
composition of its membership and supporters. This approach, however,
represents a departure from the Marxist method of analysing social
phenomena . . .
Thus, for Marxists, the class character of a political party
determined by the class that supports it at any particular time, but by
what class the party supports, ie, by the party’s program, by its real
aims and basic policy. From this point of view, the only correct one
for Marxists, the ALP is not a worker’s but a bourgeois party.
Jim Percy’s 1984 brainstorm
This piece of pompous Lorimerism is the crucial attempt at
of theoretical justification of the DSP leadership’s change in
strategic orientation towards the unions and the ALP. The real context
of the change was a crude and pragmatic brainstorm by the late Jim
Percy, the dominant personality in the DSP until his death, that a
tremendous opportunity had been opened up for the DSP by the large vote
for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the 1984 federal elections, and to
a lesser extent by an apparent leftward shift by the Democrats.
Changing the DSP’s basic orientation in relation to the
the ALP because of these short term tactical considerations, required
some theoretical justification. No doubt Jim turned to Doug and said,
"Go and find us some quotes from Lenin and some theory to explain this
turn," which Doug then did.
After the disastrous collapse of the DSP’s intervention in
Nuclear Disarmament Party (NDP), the same “theoretical” reinforcement
was useful during the period of the DSP leadership’s attempt to form a
New Left Party, firstly with the thoroughly Stalinist SPA, and
subsequently with the still essentially Stalinist CPA. A sectarian
attitude towards Laborism was no obstacle to an attempted regroupment
with these formations out of the Stalinist tradition. In fact, a
certain mindless hostility to Laborism was extremely useful to a
project of regroupment with these Stalinist formations, in their then
condition of advanced decay.
A careful reading of the 1985 DSP pamphlet Labor and the Fight
for Socialism and the Jim Percy Memorial book, Traditions,
Lessons and Socialist Perspectives,
graphically illustrate my general point about how the big political
change by the DSP, in relation to tactics towards the Labor Party, came
In particular, the rather self-important meanderings of Jim
interspersed with a trawling round for quotes from Lenin (obviously dug
up by others) illustrates very clearly the point that Jim had a
brainstorm to make a major tactical turn and the theoretical
justification was cobbled together after the event.
All Jim’s pompous rhetoric, about “how near we were to going
rails, etc, etc”, by not reversing the united front tactic towards
Laborism, until they were saved (by inference, by Jim’s wisdom in such
matters) can’t disguise the reality, quite clear in the two pamphlets,
that the tactical decision was made first, and the justification was
cobbled together, after the event, by an earnest picking through the 45
volumes of Lenin to find whatever quotes that could be used, with a bit
of stretching, squeezing, and ignoring of context, to justify the turn.
Dissecting Lorimer’s pompous nonsense. How Lorimer distorts
Lorimer’s two paragraphs are, from the Marxist point of
thoroughly misleading. He attributes the emphasis on the sociological
make-up of political parties and trade unions, as something specific
only to the Trotskyist movement and in a slightly dishonest way,
attempts to counterpose it against Marxism and Leninism.
He is careful not to quote any sources when he makes his
to “Marxism”. If pressed, I don’t doubt that Lorimer can find the odd
quote from Lenin, wrenched out of context, to justify a tactical
approach to workers’ organisations based on their formal written
program. That wrenching out of context bits from Lenin, is, after all,
the core skill required of the craft of a “Red Professor” — Lorimer’s
The united front tactic, directed at reformist workers’
organisations, including reformist political parties, was the core
strategic orientation of the early Comintern, before the Stalinisation
of that body, and is the main strategic legacy we have from Lenin and
Trotsky in relation to tactics in the workers’ movement. It is at the
centre of the documents of the first four Congresses of the Comintern,
and it is also at the core of Lenin’s classic statement on strategic
Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder.
The reason for the preoccupation of Lenin, Trotsky and the early
Comintern with this tactic, was that the working class and the workers’
organisations, trade unions and even reformist parties, were, for them,
one of the primary spheres of activity for serious revolutionaries who
aimed at a socialist revolution led by the working class. (I’ve
reprinted at the end of this document Australian socialist leader Jock
Garden’s speech to the 1922 Congress of the Comintern, which has
considerable bearing on this question.)
Lenin, Trotsky and the Comintern did have an emphasis on the
Communist movement having complete clarity about its own program, and
they are very sharp against accepting the Marxist credentials of
individuals and groups who pass off anti-Marxist political positions as
appropriate in Marxist organisations, and you can find many quotes that
emphasise the importance of program in this context.
These are obviously the Lenin quotes on which Lorimer will
pressed, to justify his position, because there are no quotes from
Lenin that can be used reasonably to oppose the tactic of the united
front. It is a blatant political trick to use Lenin quotes, which are
applicable to the program of the Marxist party itself, to attempt to
buttress an argument for ditching the united front directed by Marxist
parties at mass reformist workers’ organisations.
In the important sphere of tactics towards reformist
it was always the proletarian social composition of the supporters of
reformist organisations that was dominant for the early Bolsheviks, and
dictated the united front tactic.
Lorimer’s three-card trick. The DSP leadership makes the
program of organisations the fundamental criterion in Australia, but
downplays the importance of ostensible program in relation to
revolutionary or Stalinist organisations in Third World countries
Lorimer’s spurious attempt to make the ostensible program of
reformist workers’ organisations the critical determinant in Marxist
strategic orientation towards them, and his rejection of the importance
of their sociology, is a thoroughgoing anti-Marxist and reactionary
revision of the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky, and the practice of the
It is a set of political formulas drawn squarely from the
and practice of Third Period Stalinism, and Lorimer’s attempt to
ascribe solely to “Trotskyism” the sensible united front tactical
orientation of the early Bolsheviks, primarily towards the
organisations of the working class, is a full-blooded piece of
confusionism directed at reinforcing the narrowest organisational
interests of the DSP leadership, conceived in the most sectarian way.
The ideological three card trick perpetrated by Lorimer in
to the importance of the sociology of workers’ organisations, versus
the importance of their formal written program, can be seen in bold
relief when you examine the DSP leadership’s attitude to programmatic
questions in other contexts. In the pamphlet, The SWP and the
Lorimer and Jim Percy explicitly polemicise against giving much
significance at all to the programs of revolutionary organisations in
the Third World, like the PRD in Indonesia, etc, etc, etc, when making
combinations and working with them.
Alex Bainbridge’s equals sign between Labor and Liberal,
his so-called “two capitalist parties”
On page 8 of the Green Left Weekly of February 13,
is a lengthy article, Cracks
showing in the major parties,
discussing the refugee crisis, in terms of the response of what Alex
Bainbridge calls the “two capitalist parties”, to that crisis.
He projects the idea that there is a more or less equal,
small, chance of shifting either of these parties in a civilised
direction on refugees. This equals sign is a particularly stupid
expression of the DSP leadership’s orientation.
As I have demonstrated above, the sociology of the two
parties in Australia is completely different, and opposed in class
terms. To treat them as equivalent “capitalist parties” is both vicious
and stupid for a Marxist.
The overwhelming majority of the people that Marxists would
influence are presently on the Labor side of this class divide in
electoral politics. The rhetoric about two equivalent “capitalist
parties” is both unscientific, and an obstacle tactically, to any
attempt to influence most people among these classes and groups that
Marxists want to influence, although it might have some impact on the
sort of leftist members of the progressive middle class, who mainly
vote for the Greens.
It is particularly stupid in relation to refugee policy. The
development of the crisis on the ALP side of the divide reflects the
class composition of the ALP electorate, and the much tinier uneasiness
on the Liberal side of the electoral divide, reflects the much more
reactionary social composition of the Tory electorate.
The DSP leadership very carefully doesn’t use its
exposure-of-Laborism, elevated to a principle, in discussion of New
Zealand electoral politics. They reserve that kind of rhetoric for
One of the featured speakers at the coming DSP conference is
McCarten, the leader of the left wing in the breakaway left labor party
in New Zealand, the Alliance Party.
McCarten is locked in a struggle with the right wing of the
Party about tactics to be followed in the Coalition Government with the
Labor Party, which governs New Zealand. McCarten has been struggling
for a more leftist stance by the Alliance, in the Coalition Government,
in an extremely principled and ingenious way.
McCarten and his leftist colleagues, however, correctly and
scientifically, don’t use any extravagant, generalised rhetoric about
either the NZ Labor Party, or the right wing of the Alliance Party,
being “rotten capitalist parties” and “traitors to the working class”.
In coverage of New Zealand affairs the DSP leadership and Green
don’t use that kind of rhetoric either, although, if it’s applicable in
Australia, it also ought to be applicable in New Zealand, as the
political circumstances and the relationship of class forces in
Australia and New Zealand are as parallel as you can get between
It is only when they discuss reformist workers’
Australia that the DSP leadership suddenly elevates the importance of
the formal program over the sociology of these organisations for the
pettiest and narrowest of organisational reasons, based on the
short-term interests of the DSP as an institution. This kind of thing
is most clearly expressed in Alison
Dellit’s response to Leon Parissi in Green Left Weekly2.
Alison Dellit’s contribution to the argument about the
I don’t like attacking Alison Dellit much, because I know
slightly, and she is a young and serious Marxist intellectual (working
flat-out, in a dedicated way, full-time on the paper, on obviously, a
lowish allowance). She is not particularly sectarian in her behaviour,
and she even flattered me once by showing her parents (from out of
town) my bookshop, as one of the sights of Sydney.
Nevertheless, Alison’s contribution to the discussion of
questions is a vintage version of the views, obviously held at the rank
and file level in the DSP, on the basis of the fairly systematic
“educational” activities of the DSP leadership. Pretty well everything
in Delitt’s contribution on page 8 of GLW of February 13, 2002,
starts from the narrowest organisational interests of the DSP and the
She says quite baldly:
If Parissi really believes that socialist unionists should
argue for continued union affiliation to the ALP, then the logical step
would be to argue against socialist unionists individually leaving the
ALP and joining the Socialist Alliance.
Elsewhere she says:
If we do not argue for unions to disaffiliate from the ALP, how
can we seriously argue that the Socialist Alliance is worthwhile?
Should we be arguing that the unions pay money in affiliation fees to a
pro-capitalist outfit rather than give it to pro-working class
The sectarian self-interest of the DSP leadership could not
stated any clearer than that. (It’s interesting the recurrent theme in
the DSP leadership’s propaganda against trade union affiliation to the
ALP, relating to the money paid by unions to the ALP. The DSP
leadership seems obsessed by the idea that somehow they can persuade
the unions to transfer that affiliation money to the Socialist Alliance
or the DSP. Of all their hopeful tactical obsessions, that one is the
strangest and the least likely to happen anytime in the foreseeable
Alison Delitt's, and the DSP leadership’s, peremptory
demand that all good leftists must leave the ALP forthwith
Alison Delitt demands that anyone on the left leave the
She spells out in slightly gentler words, the crude “alternatives”
constantly posed by the DSP leadership: either be a class traitor and
support or be in the Labor Party, or join the revolution by joining the
DSP and the Socialist Alliance.
In real life, a very large number of workers and
who support, or are in, the Labor Party, evolve in a different way, if
they move to the left. Most of them initially, and many, such as
myself, for a very long time, pose the question in terms of fighting in
the labour movement, which includes the unions and the Labor Party, for
a radical and socialist policy.
In practice, very few people in the workers’ movement will
over to Alison’s small sect, whatever emotional blackmail and radical
rhetoric that small sect uses. The effect of all this rhetoric is to
make most people in the workers’ movement, on the left, who don’t
respond to this rhetorical appeal to join the DSP (as the only
honourable possibility for socialists), to become very hostile to the
The DSP leadership’s sectarianism towards the labor
movement, actually accentuates its own self-isolation in the labor
The problem with the DSP leadership’s orientation, which
expresses here so crudely and deliberately, is that all past history in
the Australian workers’ movement, and all recent history as expressed
in the recent round of elections, demonstrates the impossibility of
displacing the ideological and electoral grip of Laborism in the way
the DSP leadership now operates.
In the real world there is not the slightest likelihood
that, if the
current campaign to push unions out of the ALP were to succeed, (which
is by no means inevitable), that any of these unions would transfer
their allegiance to the Socialist Alliance. On the basis of all the
available indicators, it just won’t happen.
The immediate question in the labour movement, is not, for
Marxists, the question of entrism in the Labor Party, but the question
of a rational united front tactic by Marxists towards the mass Labor
Party and the trade unions
The DSP leadership confuses the issues that are immediately
presented in the labour movement, and attempt to justify their fierce
opposition to a united front tactic by very leftist utterances against
“entrism” by Marxists in the Labor Party.
As a long-standing individual Marxist in the Labor Party, I
advocating that the DSP as an organisation should move into the Labor
Party. That is pretty unlikely anyway, and in current circumstances,
undesirable. The reason the DSP leadership conducts its frenzied
literary agitation against Laborism is obviously because it considers
that this is a short-term recipe for recruiting some younger people,
mainly students, sociologically part of the new social layers, or the
progressive middle class, directly to the DSP on the basis of a
hostility to Laborism.
This hostility of some of the youth to the Laborites has a
contradictory background. It includes some healthy opposition to
right-wing Labor betrayals, but it also includes some rejection of the
idea of being part of a blue-collar labour movement, which the media
constantly caricature and attempt to portray as something of no use or
interest to young people.
No argument by anyone on these matters is likely to change
trajectory of the DSP leaders in the short term, because recruiting
from youth in universities, in the way they do, with a deliberate
emphasis on the fact that the DSP is something quite different to the
traditional labour movement, is their professional device for renewing
the membership of the organisation to replace those who go through the
revolving door, so to speak, as they tire of the internal atmosphere of
a rather isolated, stand-alone political sect, and move on to other
things in life.
This self-perpetuating tactic by the DSP leadership,
however, has a
flip side. Many members of the DSP recruited in this way have very
little knowledge and understanding of what the workers’ movement is
really like, which is why they often carry on in a careless and
thoughtless way in everything relating to the traditional workers’
movement. This tactic also has a lot to do with the ongoing tendency of
the DSP to have predominantly a student and petty bourgeois social
The real point at issue with the DSP leadership is not
rejection of entrism in the ALP, but their constant rejection of a
united front in the workers’ movement
The issue is not entrism but the united front. While the DSP
leadership prosecutes its extravagant verbal hostility to the labour
movement, it will inevitably remain, in practice, isolated from that
movement, with very little influence there.
By way of historical comparison, the Stalinist Communist
the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s, carried big political baggage from the
influence of high Stalinism, which was a pretty exotic phenomenon in
Australia. After 1952 it did have direct influence over a few leading
personalities in the Labor left, and a few rank and filers, and these
people were fairly critical organisers in the struggle against the
Grouper right wing in the ALP.
Nevertheless, the influence of the CP on the Labor left,
very substantial, considerably bigger than that of the anti-Stalinist
left (although this had some influence as well), was exercised mainly
by the influence of CP trade unionists outside the Labor Party, in
their united front work in the unions and in community organisations.
The very substantial influence of the left in the labour
depended in those days on the fact that both the Stalinists, and the
smaller number of anti-Stalinist Marxists (who actually did practice
some organised entrism), avoided generalised hostile anti-Laborist
rhetoric. One has only to revisit the past in this way for the contrast
with the current bizarre tactics of the DSP leadership to be thrown
into bold relief.
If one takes, as an example, the great upsurge against the
War in the 1960s, the fact that revolutionary socialists like myself
were active in the Labor Party, and made quite a conscious bloc with
the ALP leadership of Arthur Calwell against the war, gave enormous
momentum to our agitation in the streets and society at large.
The fact that our rivals in the antiwar movement, the
the CPA, also practiced a united front tactic, of their distinctive
Stalinist sort, towards the Labor Party, actually aided them
considerably in increasing their influence in the antiwar movement and
in the labour movement and society as a whole.
The big questions of tactics and demands in the antiwar
were fought out both in that movement, and inside the ALP, and all this
contributed to the most far-reaching and successful antiwar agitation
Australia has ever seen.
The exclusion (spearheaded by remnant Stalinist
the DSP from the Committee to Organise the Palm Sunday March against
Racism, and the issues raised by this exclusion
The upsurge in opposition to the Howard Government’s
racist asylum seeker activities has led to a rather broad initiative to
have a peaceful Palm Sunday march, mainly focussed on the refugee
issue, reviving the Palm Sunday marches that lapsed a few years ago.
The meetings to organise this march were called by
only, with the DSP (and some other organisations, by implication)
excluded. The initiative for excluding the DSP came from the Search
Foundation, the former SPA/CP, the CPA-ML, and a couple of individuals
from the Progressive Labor Party. It is a bit ironic that two of these
organisations, the Search (the ghost of the CPA), and the SPA/CP, are
organisations with which the DSP leadership conducted earnest and
extremely diplomatic negotiations for fusion in the late 1980s, during
the period of the DSP’s compromising attitude to Stalinism a la Gorbachev.3
This exclusion of the DSP and others must be opposed
The picture of wraith-like relics of Stalinism’s past: tiny, ageing
organisations with almost no youth, attempting to exclude the DSP, no
matter how provocative the DSP might be, is really quite bizarre.
In proposing this exclusion, the man from the Search cited,
justification for his action, among other things, that DSP speakers at
antiwar and anti-racism rallies, were notorious for their constant
public attacks on the ALP from those platforms. He also said in
passing, that he did not want the organising meetings to be like the
organising meetings for the Moratoriums in the 1960s, where all
political points of view on the left were present, expressed their
opinions, and had input into the nature of the Moratorium
The Search man’s remarks are quite revealing, when you
issues thrown up by this exclusion. In the 1960s, such exclusions from
organising committees, in the turbulent mass movement of the
Moratorium, proved quite impossible, although many Stalinists desired
such exclusions. (The very first small national meeting to float the
idea of the Moratorium was called without many of the assorted youthful
and leftist groups in various cities being invited, but this
half-hearted attempted exclusion collapsed almost immediately, and the
organisation of the Moratoriums proceeded through big, colourful,
interesting, raucous, all-inclusive sponsors' meetings.)
None of the revolutionary socialists who contested with the
hegemony in the enormous 1960s mass movement were silly enough to adopt
the stupid rhetoric, adopted these days by the DSP leadership, in
relation to the rest of the labour movement. The antiwar movement was
much bigger and more diverse, and the revolutionary socialists, who
adopted in those days, a united front tactic towards Laborism, were so
well entrenched in the movement that the Stalinists, although they
desired it, were in no position to successfully exclude the
It is a very sad commentary on current circumstances that
like the exclusion of the DSP can even be attempted, let alone succeed.
The developments in the Palm Sunday Committee ought to persuade the DSP
leaders to consider the practical consequences of their constantly
increasing, and extravagant, rhetoric against the labour movement.
I am totally opposed to this Stalinist exclusion. My
this exclusion is sharpened by the fact that it is clearly not just
directed at the DSP but also at other groupings on the far left, which
don’t have the sectarian orientation of the DSP. I have a deep
suspicion, politically, of the Stalinists who initiated this exclusion,
particularly when I read in the CPA-ML newspaper, Vanguard,
defence of this exclusion combined with a little homily to the Palm
Sunday Committee that the demonstration should concentrate on
“attacking US imperialism” rather than concentrating on the immediate
question of the day — the Howard Government’s attack on refugees.
Nevertheless, the DSP leaders are not fools. They can hardly
surprised when assorted Laborites, Catholics, Greens, Friends of the
Earth, and others, whom they berate on a day-to-day basis, go along
with the exclusion. (I’m told that, when the DSP put their case against
the exclusion on the Indymedia website, it was quickly followed by a
rush of about 20 separate comments from individuals and organisations
who had collided with the DSP in the past, most supporting the
exclusion. This does not lead me to support the exclusion; as I’ve
said, I’m bitterly opposed to it, but the mixed response to the
exclusion, ought to make the DSP leaders reassess the impact that their
chronically sectarian posture has on many of the people and groups they
encounter in the course of their activities.)
The DSP leadership seem to be responding to this exclusion
unwise way, consistent with their current rhetoric, by focussing on the
fact that representatives of Labor for Refugees did not oppose the
exclusion. They would be much wiser to concentrate their fire on the
shadowy Stalinist forces that initiated the exclusion, and appeal to
the democratic sentiments of the assorted Laborites, and others who
were dragged into the exclusion move. This exclusion should be opposed
by all serious socialists, and the immediate question is how to achieve
its reversal, without a damaging public brawl, particularly in the
movement in support of the refugees.
In passing, it’s worth noting that quite a few individuals
around the old CPA have started turning up in the ALP. Their politics
are now on the extreme right of any socialist continuum, and one
individual of this CPA background is energetically circulating a
document on the future of the labour movement that, in all essentials,
agrees with the political program of Mark Latham.
Predictably, most of these former CPAers are vocal advocates
reducing union influence in the ALP. The sudden presence of these
politically demoralised, rightward-moving ex-Stalinists in the ALP is
an additional small factor in the build-up of pressures to move the ALP
to the right. This underlines the importance of conducting an energetic
campaign in the ALP for a reinvention and development of the socialist
project, in modern conditions, which must include the defence of trade
union predominance in the ALP.
The extravagantly hostile posture towards the labour
which the DSP leadership have psyched themselves, has carried them a
long way from the possibility of exercising the kind of influence on
events, that both the much smaller number of anti-Stalinist
revolutionaries, and the Stalinist CPA (on the institutional influence
of which, the DSP sometimes aspires to model themselves), had in the
A balance sheet of some recent and past ALP breakaways
The history of the ALP is studded with many small breakaways
and electoral revolts, and four large ones. The large ones were:
the split over conscription during World War I, in which the
right-wing breakaways joined the Tories.
the mass split in NSW in 1919 when the leftist unions broke
from the ALP, only to return three years later (as mentioned in Garden’s
1922 speech to the Comintern congress).
the Lang split in the 1930s, in which the bulk of the
eventually returned to the ALP after considerable independent electoral
success for a period.
the split with the right-wing Groupers in 1955, in which
Grouper electoral preferences to the Liberals held Labor out of office
for many years. The Groupers eventually withered away, with some of
their personalities going over to the Liberals, but the old Grouper
unions in Victoria, returning to the ALP.
The most successful recent split was local leftist and
Phil Cleary’s winning electoral ambush of the ALP in Hawke’s old
electorate of Wills, in a by-election after Hawke left parliament. This
seat returned decisively to the ALP in the subsequent federal election,
Cleary being defeated.
Another breakaway was the highly respected long-time leftist
Queensland Labor Senator George Georges, who ran in a federal election
as a Labor Independent protesting against the right-wing policies of
the Hawke and Keating Governments. His vote as an independent Laborite
A similar thing happened with Bill Hartley’s breakaway
Labor Party in Victoria, in a federal election. Its electoral vote was
very small, despite the support of several unions.
The same thing happened to John Troy in Western Australia, a
well-respected leftist in Fremantle, who tried his luck against the ALP
machine after losing his ALP pre-selection after a term in parliament.
He did somewhat better than Hartley or Georges, but was defeated and
his breakaway party withered.
The most determined breakaway in recent times was that of
Petersen on the South Coast of NSW, precipitated by his expulsion from
the ALP (because of his parliamentary vote against the first round of
destruction of the Workers Compensation system, after more than 20
years as a Labor MP). His result was better than John Troy’s, and he
might even have won the seat if he hadn’t been caught in a swing
against the Unsworth government that inflated the Liberal vote in his
safe Labor seat to the point that the Liberal got ahead of Petersen on
the primary vote. After that defeat, George Petersen's Illawarra
Workers Party withered away, and many of his main supporters, which
included the leadership of the Wollongong Ironworkers Union (now the
AWU), went back into the ALP.
There is a large experience of leftists, rightists and other
breakaways running against the ALP in municipal elections, and they
quite often have some success in this arena. (This is the one sphere
where Socialist Alliance candidates might, in some circumstances expect
to achieve electoral success. The problem with this arena is that, from
the point of view of the DSP, it is difficult to operate in because
success in municipal elections, requires almost total commitment to
local activities, for the candidate to become a local identity. This
tends to contradict any concentration on the work and identity of the
DSP as a distinct entity, which is usually the primary preoccupation of
All the above experiences of ALP breakaways tend to
fact that, in current Australian circumstances, the grip of Laborism
over the working class, the labour movement, and a large section of the
progressive middle class has a very large, powerful and durable
tradition. Releasing this strong grip by the pure propaganda of small
socialist groups, including occasional electoral propaganda, is an
Current tasks in the labour movement
Due to past defeats, and the reduction in density and
trade unionism, the labour movement in Australia is in an extremely
The circumstances require a defensive remobilisation of the
movement. In the current circumstances, disaffiliation of unions from
the ALP will not lead to any surge forward, it will only lead to
demobilisation and depoliticisation. It is idealist, metaphysical
nonsense to raise the chimera of the immediate probability, or even
possibility, of the working class transferring its allegiance directly
to the Socialist Alliance.
This idea is sectarian fantasy, an illusion. Even in
mass upsurge, the grip of reformist mass organisations has rarely been
broken by the direct electoral transfer of the allegiance of the
working class from a very large, old organisation, to a very small, new
The only mass Communist parties, in countries where there
previously mass Social Democratic or Labor parties — that is France and
Italy — emerged from massive splits in those Socialist prties. They
never emerged in any other way in countries like that.
The only mass communist parties in countries where there had
previously been mass Social Democratic parties, were formed from major
splits within the existing Social Democratic formations, rather than a
mechanical transfer of allegiance to a tiny new organisation, no matter
how revolutionary or orthodoxly Marxist. It was because of this
strategic reality that the early Comintern and Lenin and Trotsky
formulated the united front tactic towards mass workers’ organisations
in the first place.
For Alison Dellit and the DSP leadership to develop any
Marxist argument for the strategy they advocate, it is necessary for
them, not just to preach in a hysterical, moralistic way about the
desirability of having a genuine Marxist workers’ party, but to outline
realistic strategies for how that might be achieved.
From that point of view it is impossible to escape the
necessity for the application in Australian conditions of the united
front strategy pioneered by the early Bolsheviks. Such a strategy may
not offer a get-rich-quick solution to the problems facing Marxists in
the workers’ movement, but the alternative advanced currently by the
DSP leadership is, in practice, to assist the project of the
bourgeoisie of shifting the labour movement to the right by driving the
unions out of the ALP.
If this bourgeois project succeeds, which in my view is by
certain, the terrain on which socialists will have to operate will be
shifted dramatically to the right and make the achievement of effective
socialist organisation in Australia considerably more difficult.
Some people will say: “Bob Gould may be right on many of
historical questions, but the ALP has become much worse than it was in
the past, social circumstances have changed, and the united front
strategy probably no longer applies”
Many people, including the DSP leadership, after their
pretensions have been debunked, ask variants of the above question. It
is an entirely reasonable question. I have been at pains to refute the
confusing way that the DSP leaders use historical references to justify
their sectarian practice, and this has been useful in allowing me to
research and describe the context and practice of the united front
strategy, as developed by Lenin and Trotsky.
Historical research, even illuminating historical research
mine, should, however, never be used to imply that we can repeat
exactly the same tactics as the past, for the obvious reason that the
whole network of social relations and circumstances changes all the
time. As sensible historical materialists we should never expect to use
an exact template from the past.
Nevertheless, we do study the past to learn from it, and in
instance we have to make a practical judgement of what the new
circumstances are, how much of the traditional united front tactic is
still applicable, or if it is still useful in some ways, how it should
be modified to take into account new objective circumstances.
The most obvious aspect of these new circumstances is the
modifications and changes in the details of the class structure of
world capitalism, and Australian capitalist society. There is no doubt
that many new social layers have emerged that are somewhat different to
the class formations of past capitalist society. The question is, how
does the emergence of these new social layers affect the structure of
politics, and what tactical considerations for Marxists flow from these
A mass Labor Party, based on the unions, still exists, with
considerable support from the progressive middle class, and is the
alternative, in two-party-preferred terms, to the conservative Liberal
Party in elections. This division in politics and society has been
modified by the emergence of the Greens, as a leftist expression, and
the Democrats, as a rightist expression, of the new social layers.
The sheer fact that the Labor Party still exists, as the
political expression of trade union interests, and that the map of
electoral results is still a map of class division in Australian
society, dictates, in my view, that Marxists ought still to practice a
united front towards the mass Labor Party, and from this point of view
a detailed study of the history of the united front, and its ebbs and
flows, is useful and instructive.
Due to the alienation of sections of the youth and the
middle classes from this mass Labor Party, and the emergence of the
Greens as the left expression of these changes, a secondary united
front strategy by Marxists towards the Greens is clearly indicated from
This secondary united front towards the Greens, which is a
necessity, presents, in some ways, the greatest problems. A part of
some strains of Green ideology is animosity to all economic growth, and
even (on the part of some members of the new social layers, from whom
the Greens support is largely drawn), animosity to the traditional
organised working class, particularly its blue collar component.
The particular social features of some sections of the new
layers are, to some extent, badges of identity in some Green circles.
There is a certain social pressure in some of these groups to be a
vegetarian (or even a vegan) and so on.
Nevertheless, taken as a whole, there is no question that
of those voting for the Greens are to the left of Labor on most issues,
which is why a united front tactic towards the Greens is appropriate,
but it would be blind of serious Marxists to underestimate the
potential conflict between some sections of the traditional labour
movement, and some sections of the Greens and the new social layers.
These are problems to be overcome in the course of struggle.
From this point of view, the unrealistic attempts of the DSP
to pose their tiny organisation as a serious electoral alternative to
either the mass Labor Party or the significant Greens electoral
formation, is an enormous mistake. Small socialist organisations can
have a substantial influence on events, but that is, in my view, really
conditional on them adopting a flexible, united front strategy towards
Labor and the Greens.
In addition to this, the trade union movement is still the
basic and primary field of work for serious Marxists. In this context,
in particular, the development of a united front towards Laborism is
still a tactical imperative for Marxists, despite the emergence of new
A serious public discussion of the question of the united
would be a useful addition to the program of the coming Easter
conference of leftists, initiated by the DSP.
The questions I have discussed in this document are very
They have been thrust to the forefront in the workers’ movement by the
campaign of the bourgeoisie to smash the link between the unions and
the Labor Party.
It is impossible for the DSP leadership to evade a serious
responsible public discussion on these questions forever. I make the
following proposal to the DSP: at the Easter Conference, at least have
a serious public debate on the question of the united front in the
labour movement, with, say, myself, someone from the ISO, Phil
Sandford, and a couple of people from the DSP, maybe Doug Lorimer or
Peter Boyle, and Alison Delitt. Why not have such a responsible debate
at the coming Easter conference?
The speech of Jock Garden, then secretary of the Labor
NSW, and major leader of the Australian Communist Party, to the 1922
Congress of the Comintern in Moscow, is taken from my very battered
copy of the Report of the Moscow Congress published by Martin
Lawrence, London, 1923. The session on the trade union question was
held on November 20-21, 1922. The chairman was Comrade Neurath, and the
speakers were Comrades Lozofsky, Clark, Lansing, Kucher, Heckert,
Sturm, Taska, Lauriden, Pavlik, Garden and Rosmer. Jock Garden’s speech
is on pages 280-282.
This speech is very informative about the united front
the Bolsheviks at that period. Jock Garden was a great performer, and
one wonders what the Comintern delegates made of his grandiose
exaggeration of the (then actually quite substantial) influence of the
new Australian Communist Party in the trade unions.
Later developments in the 1920s damped down Garden’s
grandeur a fair bit. Nevertheless, the significance of the speech and
the discussion of which it was a part, is this: no Bolshevik leader
challenged Garden on any of his statements, and Garden’s exposition of
the strategic conception of the united front that he was talking about
in regard to Australia was fully in accord with the orientation
elaborated by Lenin, Trotsky and the other Bolsheviks in regard to
tactics towards the workers’ movement.
Obviously the Bolshevik leaders, not being too directly
about circumstances in faraway Australia, other than from Garden and
his associates, inclined to give Jock the benefit of the doubt, in
relation to his grandiose claims about the influence of his still-small
Communist Party, but his line of march was that espoused by the early
Comintern. After making this speech, Garden was elected to the
Comintern executive at the end of the congress, which underlines the
general orthodoxy of his approach in terms of the then policy of the
So much for Lorimer’s misleading attribution of the united
strategy towards mass labour movements solely to the later Trotskyist
movement. The circumstances surrounding the united front tactic and
Garden’s speech at the Comintern congress are discussed in Greater
Than Lenin? Lang and Labor 1916-1932 by Miriam Dixson, Ray Markey’s
history of the Labor Council of NSW, Frank Farrell’s International
Socialism & Australian Labor and Stuart Macintyre’s The Reds.
Lenin’s book Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder sets
the political context of the united front tactic squarely in place. Two
issues of the journal Labor History,
which I have in my bookshop at the discount price of $5 each, have
articles by Barbara Curthoys and Beris Penrose, illuminated by new
material from the Comintern archives describing the Stalinisation of
the Australian Communist Party and the imposition on it of the Third
Period strategy in the period 1929-32.
As Jock Garden indicates in his speech, the old Bolshevik
Lozovsky was the Russian expert on trade union matters. He was of
Jewish origin, and had been active in unions overseas in his exile from
Russia as a revolutionary on the run.
He had been, for a period, secretary of the Hatters Union in
He very soon became the Secretary of the Red International of Labor
Unions (RILU), the Comintern’s labor movement fraternal organisation.
The Labor Council of NSW affiliated to the RILU, and under Garden’s
leadership it also affiliated to another Comintern fraternal
organisation, the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, which mainly
covered colonial countries in Asia, and the Russian trade unions.
It had, at different periods, its headquarters in Shanghai
Vladivostok. These affiliations were, for the time, a very courageous
initiative by Garden and right-wing unions in Australia, and Australian
Tories went hysterical about both affiliations, pointing out the
obvious, that such affiliations were an implicit repudiation of the
White Australia Policy. In their propaganda against the affiliation of
the Sydney Labor Council and the ACTU to the RILU, Australian Tories
made constant anti-Semitic references to Solomon Lozovsky’s Jewish
The connection of Garden and the Labor Council with the RILU
Lozovsky became important later, during the Stalinisation of the
Comintern, and eventually of the Australian CP.
Lozovsky generally adapted to the Stalin regime in the
but as secretary of the RILU he retained a certain limited
independence, and discretely resisted the worst excesses of the Third
Period line in the labour movement.
He sent his son-in-law to Australia as a RILU emissary to
the CP, to
discretely try to soften the blows from Moscow against the Labor
Council, and particularly against Jack Ryan, the Labor Council’s
research officer, a CPA leader who resisted the Third Period line.
Eventually, however, Ryan was expelled from the CP on the eve of a
vital ACTU Conference.
His absence, as the most experienced CP speaker and leader,
critical difference to the debate on a motion from right-wing unions to
disaffiliate from the Pan Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, which was
carried narrowly. Had Ryan spoken the result would probably have been
The bloodthirsty monster, Stalin, never forgave and never
even the slightest deviation from his will. A recent book, published by
Yale University Press, containing newly released material from the
Comintern archives, includes letters and documents exchanged by
Dimitrov and Stalin, which reveal the shabby, casual way in which
Stalin purged Lozovsky from the RILU and closed that body down in the
late 1930s because it had become a bit of an obstacle to the total
Stalinisation of the Communist Party forces in the labour movement.
The sad fate of one old Bolshevik. Stalin murders Solomon
and the other leaders of the Soviet “Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee” in
the last Moscow Trial, conducted in secret in 1952
During the Second World War, however, Lozovsky again proved
to Stalin because of his Jewish background and his wide connections in
Jewish circles in Europe and the United States. He was made the main
organiser of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the Soviet Union,
which was extraordinarily successful in mobilising Jewish community
support for the Soviet Union in its war effort, particularly from the
After the crisis of the war, however, Stalin’s underlying
anti-Semitism began to resurface, and in the late 1940s and the early
1950s, organisations like the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and
Vsevolod Meyerhold’s very successful Yiddish Theatre, were closed down,
and all their main personnel, including Solomon Lozovsky, were arrested
by the NKVD.
The greatest of all theatre producers in the Soviet period,
Meyerhold, was murdered on Stalin’s instructions. The last fully
fledged Moscow purge trial was held, in secret, in 1952, involving the
leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, with the main figure in
the trial being Solomon Lozovsky, by now an old man, and up until then
one of the very few survivors of the old Bolsheviks.
The transcript of that trial recently surfaced in the GPU
and it has now been published by Yale University Press. The book is Stalin’s
secret pogrom. The postwar inquisition of the Jewish Anti-Fascist
edited by Joshua Rubenstein and Vladimir Naumov (Yale 2001). The
transcript of this final Moscow Trial makes the most extraordinary
In the transcript Lozovsky, the stubborn old Bolshevik, who
doubt, capitulated to Stalin several times, nevertheless finds the
extraordinary inner resources to repudiate, in the courtroom, the
confession that has been extorted from him under torture. He makes a
lengthy and detailed speech defending his life’s activities, and
indicting the Stalinist Court and Stalinist justice. Nevertheless, he
and most of his fellow accused are found guilty, sentenced to death and
shot on July 18, 1952. Lozovsky was 75.
One political point that emerges from this episode is the
shallowness of the political vacillations of the very pragmatic and
impressionistic leadership of the DSP. Towards the end of the Gorbachev
period, they developed the theory that somehow a strand of
revolutionary content had survived in the leadership of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union, that had suddenly flowered under Gorbachev,
and that Gorbachev was therefore a genuine Marxist leader.
A serious overview of the reality of the process of
the Soviet Union, and the world Communist movement, and the detailed
history of that development, ought to have given them pause before
making such a facile and false political turn in relation to Stalinism.
The life story of Solomon Lozovsky underlines what a
monstrosity the imposition of the Third Period line on the left of the
world labour movement actually was. People caught up in the Stalinist
machine, like Lozovsky and thousands of others, had no way of
extricating themselves from the Third Period meatgrinder.
How bizarre it is for a small socialist group, which isn’t
any set of circumstances like that, to voluntarily adopt a kind of
Third Period tactic as their main orientation in the workers’ movement.
1. For some of this debate see reviews
Ferguson and Marian Sawer, Andrew
Weekly, Sue Boland
(Green Left Weekly)
left and union affiliation to the ALP, Leon Parissi
3. For a description of the
evolution of the DSP's attitude towards Gorbachev, see The
politics of the Democratic Socialist Party by Chris Gaffney
March 11, 2002