In a letter to Theodore Draper, an important historian of US
Communism, the US Marxist James P. Cannon made the important point that
omission of relevant facts, by a selective use of sources, is one form
of historical falsification.
The purple prose of the editorial is a vintage exposition of
central axis of the DSP's current strategy: "expose Laborism and all
its works". It also goes right over the edge into direct falsification
when it ascribes a quote to Whitlam "relax, don't fight, go home, go
back to sleep". That may well be what you think he wished, but Whitlam
never said this, and it is political madness of a high order to invent
quotes like that. As Trotsky asserted, referring to the propaganda of
the Third Period Stalinists in the 1930s, paper is patient and long
suffering and will take anything that is printed on it.
This unbalanced historiography lies repeatedly by leaving out
account all gains and reforms achieved within the ALP and trade union
framework and only recording betrayals. All working class upsurges that
happened within a Labor framework are ignored.
A truthful balance sheet of Laborism should include, along
with the betrayals, the following achievements:
10. The recent defeat at the NSW ALP conference of
electricity privatisation is ignored. This omission highlights the
problem for the GLW approach. All serious attempts to defeat
privatisations under Labor governments necessarily involve an appeal to
the better aspects of Labor traditions, and an agitation within the
ALP-trade union framework, for the defeat of such privatisations.
This is the only way most privatisations can be defeated in
world. As this contradicts the DSP's futile "strategy" it must be
omitted from the GLW editorial narrative.
The situation is similar with the many limited improvements
homosexual rights, abortion rights, the introduction of heroin
injecting room trials and other social reforms. Although not the whole
of the social revolution, by any means, these reforms nevertheless, are
important in themselves, and in recent times have mostly been
implemented under Labor governments, and bitterly opposed by
conservative parties. Any serious examination of these social
developments, as they have actually happened, contradicts the GLW
editorial approach, and so therefore these questions must be ignored in
the GLW story.
There are a large number of other improvements for the
that have taken place within the ALP framework, but space prohibits
listing them. If the GLW editorial version of Labor history
were true, the dogged electoral adherence of most the organised section
of the working class, and the progressive section of the middle class
to Labor, for the last 110 years, would be one of the major
metaphysical mysteries of our times, but in fact the GLW
version is a rather stupid, self-serving historical falsification.
The addition to the historical record of all of the things
that the GLW
editorial leaves out, makes the stubborn electoral allegiance to Labor
of the broad masses of the organised working class, and the progressive
middle class comprehensible, and underlines the devastating current
reality, for the DSP and the Socialist Alliance, that this Labor
electoral allegiance will continue, and probably dramatically increase,
in the context of the forthcoming federal election.
The GLW editorial insults Lenin by roping him in,
1913 comment on Australia, quoted out of context, to buttress a false
argument, in the way Stalinist historians like E.W. Campbell used to
do. Lenin was the most accomplished theorist and practitioner of
revolutionary politics ever, but a throwaway remark in 1913 about
Australia is hardly the last word on the topic.
Further down the track in the early 1920s Lenin gave strong
to the British Communists to spare no trouble and expense in their
efforts to get the Labor Party, led by Ramsay McDonald, elected in
England. He also supported the election of Jock Garden, the Communist
secretary of the Sydney Labour Council, to the Comintern executive,
despite Garden's well-known penchant for exaggerating the influence of
the Australian CPA, under his leadership, in the unions and the ALP.
At that time, in the early 1920s, the Russian Bolsheviks
leadership of Lenin and Trotsky insisted very firmly that the Communist
Parties in Britain and Australia should campaign vigorously for
affiliation to, and participation in, the mass labor parties in those
two countries, mainly because of the organic link between the trade
unions and the Labor Parties in Britain and Australia.
Lenin's book, Left Wing
Communism, An Infantile Disorder,
takes up this question in detail, and the documents of the early
Comintern congresses contain a detailed account of the struggles that
took place on this question, with the Russian Bolsheviks always on the
side of participation in the mass Labor parties in the English-speaking
If Green Left Weekly's litany of betrayal was the
about Laborism, Lenin and Trotsky must have been awful opportunists!
Before 1984, in the period when they practiced the orientation
generally described as building a class-struggle left-wing in the
labour movement, the DSP used to educate its members in a much more
dialectical way about Australian labour history.
Peter Conrick's booklet on labour history, which the DSP
they started their exposure of Laborism orgy, is a very serviceable
short account of labour history, as is another short pamphlet by Mick
Armstrong published by the ISO in 1989.
The two longer books (incidentally advertised in GLW),
Ian Turner's Industrial Labor and Politics and Ray Markey's
work on the origins of the ALP in NSW, are also useful sources, and
contradict the narrative in the GLW editorial. It is
fascinating that the GLW editorial version is, in all its
essential historical respects, similar to the approach of Stuart
Macintyre in his recent Concise History of Australia. Macintyre
also ignores most past Labor upsurges, but his political conclusion is
rather different to the GLW standpoint. He wishes to glamorise
modern Laborism, rather than denounce it for its betrayals.
Why are these historical questions important?
History is important in itself. The misleading, denunciatory
version of labour history is defeatist, negative and boring. It reduces
a stormy, colourful, interesting and contradictory labour movement
history of achievements and defeats, of struggles led and betrayals
perpetrated, to a depressing, moralising, completely inaccurate litany
of total betrayal. This kind of false history is hardly likely to
stimulate a serious interest in labour history among the cadres of the
DSP and the Socialist Alliance.
The intention of the editor of GLW is clearly to
noisy literary barrier between the activists of the DSP and any
Laborites moving to the left. The effect on any Laborites reading it is
only likely to antagonise them, particularly as it is obviously
falsification by omission.
I was initially puzzled as to why the GLW editor
such a curious, ahistorical piece. Would not his readers, who have, one
presumes, some historical knowledge, react in a similar way to me? Over
the past week or so, I have subjected two or three (extremely patient)
DSPers who were buying books in my shop, to one of my well-known
diatribes on this topic. What emerged from these exchanges is that they
didn't know much of this history, and took the GLW editorial
account of events as good coin, which rather flattened me but
explained, a bit, the function of the editorial.
The GLW editorial is obviously written primarily for
consumption among the members and supporters of the DSP and the
Socialist Alliance, relying on the fact that many of them are new to
politics, and don't know much history. Its function is to indoctrinate
them in a special historical narrative, and thereby to inoculate them
against the Laborite virus considered to infest the external world.
In my view, this strange DSP style of creating a rather
political fraternity, with its own special tailored version of
historical events, is a pretty dangerous way for Marxists to proceed.
It tends to establish a small, inward-looking political community, with
its only interaction with the external world being a kind of
proselytising militancy driven by a special historical narrative, which
marks off the members of the sect from all others.
At its worst, this kind of training produces organisations
activists who have quite a lot in common, in the political sphere, with
Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons in the sphere of religion. In this
framework, the historical writing in Green Left has the same
function as the Book of Mormon
for Mormons, in the sense that it is an esoteric alternative history of
the world, properly understood only by the converted faithful, whose
task it is to bring an unbelieving world to an appreciation of the
importance of this esoteric knowledge.
I issue this challenge to the Editor of GLW. Why
serialise Peter Conrick's small booklet (considering that it was
published by the DSP) on the history of the Australian labour movement,
in GLW, with a critical appraisal of what you now consider to
be its errors. Such a project would be a useful beginning to a critical
approach to the history of the Australian labour movement, and would
contribute to the necessary political education of the adherents of the
DSP and the Socialist Alliance.
Dick Nichols fulminates against the Laborites
The next issue of Green Left Weekly (May 23, 2001)
has a full-page article, Who's
afraid of the Socialist Alliance?,
which is ostensibly a response to a critic of the DSP named Lev
Lafayette. This article by Nichols, who used to be the industrial
organiser of the DSP, and is its expert on Cuba, indicates that Nichols
in an acting convenor of the Socialist Alliance.
This article is a vintage piece of fulmination against
starts by asserting that there are hundreds of thousands of people in
this country who understand that the Laborites are essentially the
same, in Nichols' view, as the Howard Liberals, and just might vote for
the Socialist Alliance, because several socialist groups have made
Well, desirable although it undoubtedly is that these
groups have stopped slagging each other off and got together, the
surreal leap that Nichols makes, to the possibility that disillusioned
voters may, in the concrete current circumstances, vote for the
Socialist Alliance, is wishful thinking of the highest order.
The disillusioned voters in this election will vote, in
majority, for the Greens, the Democrats, and One Nation. The vote for
the new Socialist Alliance in this very polarised election will be
tiny. This can quite confidently be asserted now, well before the
election, on the basis of the minuscule votes achieved by socialist
candidates in the recently similarly polarised Western Australian and
Nichols is obviously aware of this likelihood, as he spends
lot of time in the article attacking the Greens, who will obviously get
the lion's share of disillusioned leftist voters in this election.
Nichols simplifies history enormously by ascribing the
ending of he
involvement in the Vietnam War, and the defeat of the Franklin Dam
proposal, simply to "democratic mass movements". In both these
instances, the very existence of these democratic mass movements was
profoundly assisted by the courageous intervention and leadership of
leading figures in the ALP, particularly Arthur Calwell in relation to
Vietnam, and both the withdrawal from Vietnam, and the stopping of the
Franklin Dam were finally ratified by Labor governments.
Nichols makes the rather inspired leap from the relative
success of far left groupings in Portugal, France, Denmark and Italy to
the possibility of Socialist Alliance candidates being elected in
Australia, without any reference to the particular historical
circumstances that apply in those countries, which made their electoral
successes possible, and which, when examined, demonstrate the virtual
impossibility of a similar development in Australia in the current
elections, because the concrete immediate circumstances in Australia,
and the historical political set up that bears on these current
circumstances, are quite different.
Nichols clearly reveals the immediate electoral illusions
in this Socialist Alliance electoral project, in the following sentence:
Sending even one fearless and forthright socialist "tribune of
the people" to Canberra would bring an inspiring shock wave through the
dozy irrelevance of Australia's national parliament.
The problem with this approach is that there have been, and
are, a number of "tribunes of the people" in Australian parliaments,
and almost all of them have been elected initially as Laborites, with
the exception of one elected as a Communist in the Queensland
parliament, and several elected in recent times as Greens.
The very notable "tribunes of the people" initially elected
Laborites have included such figures as Percy Brookfield, who used his
balance of power to achieve the release of the IWW prisoners by a Labor
government in the 1920s; Frank Anstey, the socialist voice in federal
parliament in the 1920s and the 1930s; the socialist poet, McDougall;
Hugh Mahon, the Irish Labor parliamentarian from Western Australia who
was expelled from federal parliament by the Tory majority for defending
Irish independence (the only man ever expelled from an Australian
parliament); the redoubtable E.J. Ward, who defended the interests of
the working class belligerently in the Federal parliament for 30 years;
Arthur Calwell who lost his Labor leadership because of his
intransigant stand on Vietnam; and George Petersen, who used his 20
years in the parliament of NSW to achieve a royal commission on
prisons, significant homosexual law reform, significant abortion law
reforms, defence of the interests of the Irish and Palestinian peoples,
and who even had an influence on the adoption of proportional
representation in the NSW Upper House, which gave democratic electoral
possibilities to the people of NSW.
Acting as "tribunes of the people" in the parliaments of
is by no means the exclusive province of the DSP, and in the sphere of
cold, hard fact they have not yet been able to achieve that role, and
they certainly won't in the coming election.
Even in the existing parliaments, if you look around for
effective "tribunes of the people" you would have to concede that the
modest backbench Laborite, Jenny Macklin, functions pretty well in this
regard, in relation to health and welfare matters. In current
parliaments, federal and state, the Greens Bob Brown and Lee Rhiannon
operate as extremely effective "tribunes of the people", etc.
The same issue of Green Left has a photo of three
young rebels who have formed the Socialist Alliance in Lismore, at a
respectable meeting of 45 people. I wish them every luck, but I would
sound a note of warning to them. Be very careful in that area about
using the current rhetoric of the DSP about Laborites being a bunch of
The ALP candidate for one marginal far north coast seat is
McAlister. She is a competent and confident young left-wing Labor
feminist. She isn't exactly Rosa Luxembourg or Alexandra Kollontai, but
she has probably read the works of both those socialist feminst
thinkers. She has just been through the bruising experience of a
bitterly contested preselection ballot, which she won by the narrowest
of margins against the candidate of another faction of the ALP left.
She was born on the north coast, has some experience in
politics, and is an extremely energetic woman. She is already
doorknocking the electorate.
Be very cautious about light-mindedly accusing Jenny
being a reactionary, because she is a pretty assertive kind of woman
and is just as likely to bite your bloody head off (figuratively
speaking) if you attack her in that way. She will most probably win the
seat from the coalition, and she is on my short list for very likely
real and effective socialist "tribunes of the people" in the next
Caution in relation to Jenny McAlister and others like her
be dictated by the very real prospect the people in the Socialist
Alliance face, that after the election, when the significant number of
candidates like Jenny McAlister scattered around Australia have been
elected to the parliament, as Laborites or Greens, and no Socialist
Alliance members have been elected at all, the people in the Socialist
Alliance will have to wake up to themselves.
They will need to develop a civilised relationship with the
and Green leftists, if those Socialist Alliance people are to exert any
significant influence on parliamentary developments under the incoming
Labor government. One of the important tasks in this situation for
socialists will be to exert civilised pressure on the many Labor and
Green leftists in the parliament to oppose right-wing policies, and
that necessary task is not aided at all by the current GLW
indiscriminate abuse of them all as reactionary Laborites.
Nichols gilds his lillies further by Peter Reith-sounding
about "ALP chieftains on company boards and union barons in harbourside
homes" and lengthy diatribes about trade union careerism.
Well, there certainly are some Labor barons and union
but it is wild political sectarianism to then make the leap, as Nichols
and the DSP tend to do, to the proposition that the whole of the
official labour movement, political and industrial, is made up of such
barons and careerists.
There are many people in parliament as Laborites, and many
officials who are not primarily careerists, although obviously career
factors bear down on most people in official positions these days,
even, dare we say it, people in the DSP and the Socialist Alliance.
In the broad labour and trade union movement, the primary
task is to
construct an effective socialist left wing in the whole movement, trade
union and political, and to defeat the constant pressure for
bureaucratisation and careerism. None of this is assisted by cordoning
off the young rebels attracted to the DSP and the Socialist Alliance in
a sect-like existance, in which they are trained to treat the rest of
the labour and progressive movement as reactionaries, unless those
people immediately spring to attention and immediately join in the
DSP's current projects.