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The Miller's tale

By Greg Adler

In responding to Alex Miller's comment on my piece on the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance in Australia I want readers to know  that Miller's diatribe was posted to Marxmail and the Green Left Weekly discussion list. In those places it was headlined "A Glasgow Kiss for Greg Adler (and Weekly Worker)".

I don't know whether Miller, who is of Scottish background, used that heading or if it was supplied by another hand. I know that I was revolted by it when I saw it. I work as a criminal defence lawyer and I have dealt with many matters in which a Glasgow kiss – the headbutting of a victim's nose mouth and jaw often results in horrible and disfiguring injuries. Its use has led to criminal charges and I have seen many pictures of victims with splattered noses, smashed teeth, and jaws wired to hold together shattered bones.

Among those of my clients who regard themselves as hard men but fair fighters, the use of this attack – whether labelled the Glasgow or Liverpool kiss – is regarded as vile and cowardly. The DSP's moral compass seems a little less sure than that of my criminal clients. Vile and cowardly is a good, if somewhat restrained, description of it.

One more point before I move on from this – as I said, I don't know if was Miller's hand that wrote the disgusting heading but if it was it makes him a serial offender in resorting to, presumably metaphorical, threats of violence in response to political differences.

Dave Riley, a sort of a grumpy old man of the DSP's heavy brigade, in one of his recent series of postings to the GLW list and elsewhere, in which he shambles to the defence of the DSP and the damnation of me and all my works, wrote of Miller: "At the recent Alliance national conference in June, Alex Miller addressed the delegates and in passing challenged anyone who called him a 'DSP stooge' to see him later. And among the prized Marxists in the affiliate stalls a wave of sniggering broke out."

This is essentially correct – it was clear that seeing later did not mean for a quiet chat. My memory of the incident differs slightly from Riley's. I recall outright laughter, rather than sniggering, brought on by the sheer comedy of Miller's claiming to have acted other than as a DSP stooge, mixed with shock at the suggestion of violence, which no-one else had resorted to in spite of heated discussion and a great deal of frustration on the part of those who were trying to save the SA as a unifying force on the left rather than as a megaphone for the DSP. Miller has had the last laugh at us heartless sniggerers. He proved that he is no stooge of the DSP by ... joining the DSP.

To return to Miller's comment on my piece. He first waxes lyrical about how wonderful the DSP was, listing as one of its endearing qualities that  its members were "often even charming". Now, I am certain that some DSP members can be quite charming. In fact, I have even experienced the charm myself.

It seems to come when the DSP wants something from you – for example, a leading DSPer once begged me and another National Executive representative of a small affiliate to stay on the NE when we  talked of resigning from it because of outrageous manipulation of the voting for the National Executive at the 2004 National Conference of the SA. Two successive waves of DSP-promoted leaders of non-aligned members of the SA experienced the DSP charm until they showed that they were interested in helping to lead an independent SA rather than a DSP sideshow. Then the charm disappeared and war was waged on each one in turn.

Now I would like  to turn to the substantive issues raised by Miller. I'd like to do that but I can't – he  didn't raise any. Reread my original piece – what does Miller say about my revelation from the words of John Percy, the 40-year leader of the DSP and its forerunners, that a substantial part of the DSP's motivation in moving to set up the SA was to use it to undermine the ISO, and in his discussion contribution he declares that the tactic had worked. That's right, Miller says nothing, unless of course, he regards such behaviour as a prime example of the DSP being "non-sectarian to a fault".

What does Miller say about the fact that leading members of the DSP has said that the militant union current doesn't amount to much and that the leading union figures that the SA claims to have a special relationship with don't come to meetings of the SA, and that relationships with the unionsts are in fact carried on by the DSP, if at all? Yes, he says nothing.

I won't bore readers by continuing this, point-by-point. If you are interested, reread my piece and then read Miller's comment and find the number of times he actually comments on any substantial point I make. Here's a hint as to the answer ... nil, nada, niente, zero. We are left to contemplate the non-existent.

This, by the way, undermines the argument of some DSPers who have responded to comrades who have commented on the Glasgow kiss issue by saying it is the equivalent of saying that Miller's comments were a knockout blow to what I had written. But if you accept the boxing metaphor, to have a knockout blow at least one punch must be landed. Miller's pathetic series of air swings wouldn't  even cause the point scorers to take note.

So these air swings amount to a series of furphies (Australian slang for red herrings in this context), which more or less mirror the totality of the DSP response to what I wrote. A fair summary of Miller's response is that  I was "underhand" because I quoted from documents that I knew "were for private circulation only" without the permission of the writers or the DSP, that I had taken quotes "out of context" from "pilfered" documents and that I represent "certain of the authors as having views that are actually the exact opposite of those they explicitly hold”.

This mirrors the rest of the DSP's reponse to me, in that none of it goes to my substantial points. I'll give a few examples. The previously quoted Dave Riley wrote: "Don't they have the right to copyright their own words? Hasn't Adler dealt in stolen goods?"

As I know Riley is a seeker of truth, here are the answers to his two questions. Yes they do but, in my belief and understanding they didn't.  There is no assertion on the DSP's documents of any copyright. Even if you argue that copyright does exist, there is nothing in copyright law to prevent limited quoting for commentary and criticism. On a rather more basic level, isn't it absurd for Riley, who says he used to describe himself a Bolshevik emeritus (and no I can't even begin to imagine what he means by that, but that's one of the joys of grumpy old men – they don't have to make sense to make you laugh out loud) to also robe himself as a doctor of law emeritus to invoke the bourgeois concept of copyright to protect the DSP's machinations in the SA from being brought to light.

Then Riley quickly swaps robes and dons a wig to reappear as a Crown prosecutor to accuse me of dealing in stolen goods (posing the charge in a weasel way as a question). His junior counsel, Miller, is a little more abrupt, referring to documents I pilfered. Others have accused me of leaking the documents.

I did not leak the documents. By the time I saw them they had passed through several sets of hands of people of differing political persuasion. The documents were not pilfered, stolen or otherwise illegally obtained. To the best of my knowledge they were voluntarily passed on by DSP members  without restriction as to whether they could be published.

Miller and others have gone on at length about the fact that these were internal documents. One example of this was from Nick Fredman. First  I will just mention that he characterises me as a "useless whinger". I take this to be an illustration of the DSP's view that its members are "diligent, practical, politically sophisticated, non-sectarian to a fault, friendly, and often even charming" as Miller describes them, while others have less endearing qualities. Fredman's point is that it is wrong to use the internal discussion of the DSP publicly because the DSP has as much right to an internal discussion as his union does to internally discuss its policies.

The point, of course, is that if  Fredman's union leadership was discussing internally how to undermine other unions and to maintain a regime of misinformation to its own membership – that is, if it were acting like the DSP's internal bulletins reveals it was in the SA – I would think there was an obligation to reveal it, even at the risk of being called nasty names and being threatened with prosecution by Riley, QC.

Another of  Miller's air swings is the claim of out-of-context quoting and attributing to people views they don't actually have. Other DSPers have written of misquotes, mangled quotes, etc. It all sounds very impressive until you realise that neither Miller nor any other of the outraged DSP writers has given a single example of this. I again assert that I did not do any such thing. If the DSP publishes the documents that I have quoted from, it will be clear that I have not misquoted, quoted out of context or attributed views to people other than they actually expressed.

To those who respond that this would violate their right to keep the documents internal, I note that Peter Boyle has suggested that in fact the DSP should accept that such documents will circulate and that it would be a chance for them to raise money by selling the documents. I offer him some free legal advice: put a copyright stamp on them if you want to do that.

I want to deal with a final red herring/furphy raised by Miller and others in attacking me. That is that I, as a representative of the Workers League, acted as did other affiliate representatives, except of course the blameless DSP, in our own sectarian interests and carried out sectarian obstruction of the DSP's Lenin-like work in building a new leadership for the working class. The truth is, leaving other affiliates to speak for themselves, I and other Workers League members in the SA did oppose policies of the DSP that we regarded as contrary to the interests of the growth of a real, independent SA that could have been a force in uniting the left.

It's difficult to see how this amounted to obstruction. The only justification I can think of for this claim is that if  I spoke for, say five minutes or so, at an NE or branch meeting or at a state or national conference in opposition to some destructive proposal or other that had the support of the DSP, there would be a flood of DSPers jumping on to the speakers' list to serially declaim their support of the proposal and denounce those who dared to oppose the DSP. An hour or more would go by with nothing achieved, as 99.99 per cent of the time the DSP and its supporters already had the numbers wrapped up long before the voting.

Contrary claims are made in this regard. Miller and others gleefully mock the Workers League for being small but then attribute the power of obstruction to us. By the way, the Workers League was small when I was its representative on the NE of the SA  but we did number more than three. Miller didn't know of more WL members because it was hard to get our members involved with the SA once they had experienced the "charm" of the DSP.

As to acting in our own sectarian interests, the interest of the WL in the SA was to attempt to build a unifying organisation in the left. Neither I nor any other member of the WL attempted to recruit members from then SA, nor did we see ourselves in any way as some sort of kernel of a vanguard party. We were a group of people with some shared background and some political agreement as well as differences. We argued for a real SA with its own publications and offices and realistic work in the unions, etc. We did not accept that our role was to megaphone the DSP politics and to sell its newspaper.

I will also take the opportunity to put myself on the record on two related points. A number of people in the discussion have referred to me as a Morenoite. I take that to mean that they think I am a member or supporter of the LIT. I have never been a member of the LIT and have strong political disagreements with it. I also record that my original piece on the DSP documents and what I have subsequently written, including this piece, has not been written at the direction of, or in consultation with, the WL and it bears no responsibility for those writings.

To conclude, the DSP's and Miller's response to me has these characteristics of a Glasgow kiss: it is vile because it is based on a series of misleading furphies, baseless charges against me, and pretty juvenile name-calling; it is cowardly because it has not engaged the real political issues that I raised.
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Since December 12, 2005