The DSP's sectarian hostility to the Labor Party
By Bob Gould
and Aboriginal leaders in the Northern Territory
I find it interesting that no-one from the DSP leadership makes any
kind of response on the major issues I raise in my last post about the
reasonable inference that the DSP leadership favours the transfer of
industrial powers from state to federal jurisdiction. If that were not
the case it would be a simple matter for the DSP leadership to reply,
and simply say it opposes the transfer, but no reply is forthcoming.
As this is a burning issue facing the working class and the labour
movement, I intend to keep pressing for a forthright reply.
Nevertheless, there have been infuriated responses from Norm Dixon, Kim
Bullimore and Kathy Newnam, from the Northern Territory, on my passing
comment on the DSP's sectarian hostility to the labour movement in the
Northern Territory, and to the leadership of the Aboriginal community
there. This is extraordinarily revealing about the DSP leadership's
systematic sectarianism, which has become a total and self-reinforcing
I have some respect for the small number of DSP and Socialist Alliance
members in the Northern Territory, the eight or 10 of them, because
most of them are people who move there to try to extend the political
influence of the DSP.
The DSP's attempt to strike roots in selected far-flung places, and the
sacrifices individual members make to do that, is worthy of a certain
respect. Nevertheless, that respect doesn't make them immune from a
serious critique of their strategy and methods.
The left and the labour movement in the Northern Territory has a long
history. The NT itself is a very unusual community. About 25-30 per
cent of the population is indigenous, but the non-indigenous population
is also very diverse, including a large component of recent migrants
and a large component of people of colour.
The White Australia Policy was never successfully enforced in the NT,
as is made clear in the work of Henry Reynolds and Julia Martinez
(which I quote at length in my piece on the labour movement and racism
http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Racism.html). It wasn't
accidental that the first Australian capital city to elect a mayor of
Chinese ethnic background was Darwin. That was many years ago, when the
White Australia Policy was still dominant in most of Australia.
For all of the labour movement's existence in the NT, the overwhelming
majority of the indigenous community has voted Labor right up to the
latest election, when the proportion of indigenous people voting Labor
appears to have increased slightly.
Kim Bullimore waxes eloquent about the general proposition that people
of colour, lesbians and others are often co-opted under capitalism, and
she baldly infers that's the case with the representative leaders of
Aboriginal communities who were elected to the NT parliament.
Kathy Newnam expands on this in a rather indirect way and asserts that
the indiginous leaders elected to parliament are co-opted by the
This is a completely futile approach politically. The whole politics of
indigenous Australia in the NT is expressed through the ALP, and
there's not the slightest evidence of any change in that situation at
the mass level. All the evidence points to that relationship
increasing, with indigenous communities in the NT now finding
substantial direct representation in government, through the ALP.
The DSP leadership manages to find one Aboriginal leader who's talking
about a new party, and they manage to hang a whole theory on that, but
the results of the election, which are staring them in the face,
indicate that the overwhelming majority of indigenous communities vote
for, and are tied in with, the ALP.
On the non-indigenous side of things, the enormous swing to Labor is
dismissed as the behaviour of a bunch of rednecks. This is a pretty
strange bunch of rednecks, who vote for a Labor Party a third of whose
winning candidates are Aboriginal, and a large number of whose
government ministers are clearly going to be indigenous.
In fact, the idiot chatter about rednecks is a brutal slander of the
rather proletarian population of the NT. Even the northern suburbs of
Darwin are among the most ethnically diverse places in Australia. As
well, the NT, and Darwin particularly, including the northern suburbs,
is one of the most proletarian places in Australia if you include
service workers and public servants. The concentration of public
servance in the NT is one of the highest in Australia.
I would expect that the thousands who marched against Howard's
industrial laws were a representative cross-section of Darwin's
Norm Dixon slanders Bob Gould, saying that by arguing for a united
front in the NT I'm in some way supporting Claire Martin's draconian
and populist legislation against chronic alcoholics. That's just a
slander. If I lived in the NT and was in the ALP I would campaign
energetically against such populism. But to single that out as the only
issue in politics is stupid and myopic.
It seems highly likely that a number of the indigenous leaders who are
in the ALP are likely to oppose that legislation, too. Having watched
one of them, Marian Scrimgeour, energetically steering a pro-indigenous
political platform through the last ALP federal conference, in a most
forthright way, I'm quite confident the representative figures in the
NT indigenous community who've been elected to parliament and cabinet
in the ALP, will conduct the necessary campaign for the rights of
indigenous Australians, because of their mass connections with
indigenous communities all over the NT.
I don't mean to be too unkind to the tiny group of mainly
European-descended cadres of the DSP in the NT, but unless they're
miracle workers I doubt that they have any serious mass connections
with the indigenous community.
The most revealing point in Kathy Newnam's post is her primitive abuse
of the NT treasurer, who she says made a wonderful speech about
solidarity of workers against Howard's laws, but who must be abused,
condemned and rejected because he's a stinking Laborite, or words to
that effect. This dead-end sectarianism is as close as you can get to
the opposite of what's required in the mobilisation against Howard.
One might have expected that serious socialists would have a critique
of Claire Martin's populism on the alcohol question, but unite with
Martin, the treasurer, the rest of the parliamentary Labor Party and
the cabinet in opposition to Howard's proposals.
But no, all you get from the DSP cadres is extravagant abuse of Labor
and nasty anti-working-class slander of the rather proletarian
European-descended and mixed-race population of the NT as mainly a
bunch of rednecks.
It's striking that in the NT, as with everywhere else in Australia for
that matter, the ALP-trade union continuum is treated by the DSP
leadership as a reactionary monolith. In reality, things are quite
different. There are broad contradictions in the Labor Party and the
unions in the NT between left and right, and in objective terms the
overwhelming majority of the indigenous community are on the left
because of their oppressed situation.
The DSP leadership are dramatically exaggerating the co-option of the
indigenous community and its leaders, which has really not advanced
very far at all, at this point.
The sheer magnitude of the anti-Howard protest in the NT and the fact
that all the Labor politicians there (the whole 19 of them) felt
obliged to participate, underlines the class dynamics of the labour
movement in the NT and the contrast between that phenomenon and Claire
Martin's conservative electoral populism on the question of alcoholics
and alcoholism is evidence that the ALP in the NT is anything but a
homogeneous reactionary mass.
In particular, in relation to indigenous Australians, wouldn't it be
far saner to orient to the leadership of the indigenous community, who
are clearly integrated in the Labor Party, and to try to move them to
the left, rather than arbitrarily and mindlessly condemning them all as
a bunch of sellouts, as Kim Bullimore clearly implies?
Strategically, in relation to all sections of the oppressed in the NT,
the DSP has gone barking mad, despite the dedication and good
intentions of the young comrades from the south who've gone up there to
trail-blaze for the DSP.