The impending split in the DSP
By Bob Gould
A response to Fred Feldman, Walter Lippmann and Peter Boyle
To deal with the lightweight first, Walter Lippmann, who tends to drive
many people a bit crazy with incessant indiscriminate emails about Cuba
that confuse the necessary diplomatic arrangements made by the Cuban
government with Marxist revolutionary science, has the gall to accuse
me of being a ghoul for arguing with the new DSP leadership, mainly
strategic questions in Australia.
In passing he ridicules me as a clapped-out seller of used books. My
used book shop, as he describes it, has the largest range of labour
movement and Marxist and socialist literature in Australia by a country
mile, and has performed a useful political role for about 40 years.
Lippmann is a tunnel-visioned obsessive, in my opinion, and his
monomania is constantly
displayed on Marxmail and its spin-off the discussion
list on the US SWP, as well as the Green Left list.
As a long-standing supporter of the Cuban revolution, I don't need to
know nearly as much about it as Walter Lippmann seems to think is
necessary, and I find teacup reading about, and constant scapegoating
of, the US SWP on international questions problematic, tedious,
often personally abusive and sometimes almost incomprehensible.
By way of contrast with all that, Ozleft's treatment of developments on
the Australian far left, and our polemical exchanges with the DSP, are
of an altogether different character.
Our debates with the DSP leadership are generally about concrete
day-to-day questions of political and industrial struggle in Australia.
material on Ozleft, which is of interest in its own
right, often sheds light on current questions facing socialists.
Lippmann's dopey comment suggests that he hasn't noticed other aspects
of the content of Ozleft, and my own journalism, which contains a lot
of history and cultural criticism of Australian society. Possibly that
material is of little interest to Lippmann because of his tunnel
I suggest, for instance, that he has a good look at my two lengthy articles
on Leninism to get some idea of where I'm coming from.
Feldman's post on Green Left and Marxmail is of an altogether more
serious character than Lippmann's personal abuse of Bob Gould. While
Feldman unloads me in a way that he clearly considers as useful
tactically on the Green Left list, nevertheless he reinforces at length
my basic point about the discussion in the DSP and insists quite
properly that it's incumbent on the current DSP leadership to ensure
publication of material from the opposition that would give the
socialist public some idea of the issues raised in the internal DSP
On one point Feldman is just wrong. I don't favour a split in the DSP.
I just point to the fact that is obvious from talking to people who are
well informed, and from reading material that comes my way, that a
split is imminent.
The far left in Australia needs further organisational splits like the
proverbial hole in the head, but the only alternative to such splits is
firstly the relaxation, rather than strengthening, of Cannonist norms
Cannonist organisations, to the point at which some sort of serious
public discussion of points in dispute in those organisations can take
For the past five or six years, myself and the people who produce
Ozleft have been preoccupied with two or three themes. One is the
importance of the united front in the labour movement, another is the
need for serious public discussion of strategic and tactical
questions that are in dispute, and the third is projecting the idea of
an eventual socialist regroupment on the basis of such a serious public
We are not naive about these questions, but we already have gone a
considerable distance getting a large audience, by Australian
standards, for these themes.
Differences between Australia and the United States
The three themes that I mention flow from the Australian political
situation. Australia has a mass labour movement with five recognisable
elements: the Labor Party and the Greens at the political level, the
trade union movement, a variety of social movements and the far left,
which relative to the others, even taken as a whole, is much smaller
than the other four.
The labour movement as a whole opposed the imperialist intervention in
Iraq, unlike for instance the British labour movement and most of the
trade unions in the US.
The labour movement as a whole is currently fighting vigourously
the Howard government's attempts to smash the trade unions and
dismantle the Labor Party. This mass fightback against the Tory
government is reasonably effective
and has considerable mass resonance, but it is taking place
defensively in a difficult situation in a relatively affluent
This set of circumstances makes arguments about strategy and tactics,
particularly on the far left, of considerable importance. From that
flows the polemical intensity of Ozleft's arguments,
particularly with the Boyleite adventurers who currently run the DSP.
The current crisis in the DSP
Australia is a big country geographically, but it's fairly homogeneous
socially and culturally, and it is massively urbanised. The far left,
the labour movement and the Greens, etc, all exist in
every state, most major cities, and even some smaller centres.
In this day and age it's possible to conduct a political discussion in
a country like Australia on the web. Taking advantage of this, Ozleft
has taken up most of the important themes involved in debates in the
labour movement, and particularly at the moment the debate in the DSP.
Semi-accidentally, we've become the major source of information on
developments on the far left, and currently in the DSP. In addition,
all the small group of people who produce Ozleft have
personal and social connections, sometimes friendly and sometimes
hostile, with a large number of people on the far left, and
particularly those involved in the current dispute in the DSP.
I, and my collaborators, take no pleasure at all in the personal
acrimony that has erupted in the DSP and the imminence of a split.
We've known many of the participants for a very long time. We're old
acquaintances, some of us even old collaborators and friends at one
time, who've become current opponents, but we all know each other
reasonably well and it's worth saying that the incredibly visceral
personal animosities that are often expressed on Marxmail aren't
in Australia in quite the same vicious way. Most of us in these parts
know each other a bit too well, and the socialist movement is too
small, for us to indulge for too long the Marxmail kind of luxury of
unbridled abuse of each other.
In my case, I have good reason to be critical of John Percy's story
about the history of the DSP and the initial split in which he and I
were involved 30-odd years ago. I've written a fair bit about that, and
in due course I'll
write more. But old disputes aren't the major factor in politics,
although they may inform us in our current activities.
Studying the current upheaval in the DSP, I've come to the conclusion,
which is shared by my associates, that while there are historical
defects and current weaknesses in the political orientation of the
Percy minority, they're head and shoulders politically above Boyle and
the others who carried out the palace coup in the DSP.
In particular, the second ranks of the Percy minority are more careful,
more interested in basic Marxism, and in the context of being an
opposition in a Cannonist group, pretty courageous. Reluctantly though
we might recognise it at Ozleft, this must have something to do with
the political training they've had from Doug Lorimer and John Percy.
By way of contrast, it seems to me that Boyle and many of his close
associates are rhetorical adventurers who will say or do almost
anything to achieve their short-term organisational objectives. This,
of course, does not apply to all those in Boyle's circle, some of whom
are old hands who desperately hang on to the idea that, despite all the
evidence that is now in, the almost defunct and moribund Socialist
Alliance project may in some way get the DSP out of its partly
These supporters of the Boyle faction seem to be prepared to go along
with Boyle's rhetoric in the hope that somehow this rhetoric will help
the DSP to emerge as a mass force.
There are also some capable younger people on the Boyle side and some
of them seem to be rapidly developing reservations about the Boyle
leadership's moves to tighten up the DSP organisationally along the
lines of the US
SWP's 1965 organisational resolution.
These reservations are demonstrated by some abstentions on the key
organisational resolution at the May national committee meeting, and
those with experience in such organisations will know that in a heated
situation even an abstention is a courageous act.
As Feldman correctly points out, the ball is well and truly in the
court of the Boyle leadership. Boyle and his supporters can easily
clear up the question as to who is really pushing for a split in the
DSP and provide the socialist public with substantial political
education by publishing six documents: the national committee report
and counter-report on the Australian political situation (SB vs MC),
the report and counter-report on the DSP (Peter Boyle vs John Percy),
and the report and counter-report on the organisational proposals (DH
vs DL). These three exchanges outline most of the political questions
The latest proposal by People
Many for publication of some kind of
bowdlerised version of the DSP's position on a number of questions is
not an adequate substitute for publishing the substantial exchanges.
A note on sources and internal discussion. I'm inclined to disagree
with Marcus Strom, who elevates an idealistic schema of total public
discussion as the central question in the current dispute in the DSP. I
favour reasonably open discussion towards the political end
of possible regroupment in the long term, but
Cannonist norms of organisation didn't fall from the sky and it's
idealism to expect people trained in that school to make a big leap
into open discussion in one fell swoop.
In addition to this, totally open discussion of some matters is
neither desirable nor normal practice anywhere in the labour movement
at any level. Some things are necessarily private. The essential
political debates should be public, but serious
socialists have a duty of care even towards sometimes reckless
opponents on the left. The DSP internal material circulates fairly
widely in Australia, and I'm unsure as to where it all comes from. Some
of it arrives unannounced and unexplained.
I'm sometimes in a similar situation to Woodward and Bernstein at the
start of the Watergate affair. I'm not entirely sure where some of my
information comes from and what purposes or interests are involved in
some anonymous leaks. The latest material I have seen could have come
from the Boyle or Percy
camps or someone who is not in either camp.
Some things I have seen, in my considered opinion, should not have been
committed to paper at all, and should be discussed privately, which is
where a certain duty of care comes in. Marcus Strom's schema about
total public disclosure wouldn't work in
this kind of situation.
Boyle and the current leadership of the DSP could take the heat out of
a lot of their problems by publishing the six documents I've mentioned
above, with the necessary omission of full names, etc.