In Class Struggle # 60 we criticised the Australian Democratic Socialist Perspectives’ cheerleading for Chavez. As we point out the DSP is aligned to the Castroites who are influential in the World Social Forum and play a treacherous role in the mass struggles in Latin America. It also has some influence on some reformist currents in Aotearoa/NZ, and may be the model for a future ‘socialist alliance’ between between the SWO and Matt McCarten. To expose the treacherous role of this organisation today we print here a short history of the DSP by the Communist Left of Australia which traces its degeneration from a self-declared Trotskyist group in the 1960s to its present pro-Stalinist, pro-Castroist position as the ‘Democratic Socialist Perspectives’ inside the Australian Socialist Alliance. It is a sorry tale.
Origins in the ‘Fourth International’
The origins of the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia go right back to a split in the post-war self-claimed ‘Fourth International’ between the majority United Secretariat, and those who supported Michel Pablo known as the International Marxist Tendency. In Australia the majority led by Nick Origlass, supported the IMT. The Australian United Secretariat supporters led by Bob Gould and Ian MacDougall split in 1965 and put out the magazine called Socialist Perspectives.
Whilst there was an organisational break with Pablo over political questions, both groupings had the same fundamental methodology. In Pablo's ‘new world reality’ history was seen as an inevitible process that would revolutionise reformist, stalinist and even bourgeois nationalist parties. Therefore both sides of this split no longer saw the need to build independent Trotskyist parties.
Both groupings were thoroughly loyal to the Australian Labor Party (ALP) practicing long term entry work (deep entrism). John and Jim Percy, foundation leaders of the Democratic Socialist Party, were then Sydney University campus radicals in the Labor Club. They were recruited by those who produced Socialist Perspectives. Eventually they were to win ideological hegemony over the Sydney University Labor club.
The grouping around Socialist Perspectives, founded the Campaign for Nuclear disarmament which became the Vietnam Action Committee when Australia entered the Vietnam War. Its leader was Bob Gould. For the next few years a number of youth and student fronts were formed centred around their bookshop, the ‘Third World Bookshop’, which became an activist centre.
Inside this group there were differences over organisation. The Percy brothers were known for their belief in strong centralised organisation. On the other hand, the ‘New Leftists’ very influential at the time, opposed organisation, equating it with bureaucracy. New left meetings were often chaotic and bureaucratic (lacking structure certain stronger members tended to dominate). The older Trotskyists (MacDougall and Gould) were fearful that a more defined organisation would threaten their long-term entryism in the ALP.
Their youth group Resistance became very successful, organising high school students against the war and the Student Underground. During 1968 there was a significant growth in activity and membership. They also received a degree of notoriety because of their support for the NLF in Vietnam and with their booklet How Not to Join the Army. The ‘Third World Bookshop’ was raided by the police.
A number of splits occurred over organisational issues. The most significant of these being in 1970 was with Bob Gould who opposed Resistance being defined by political demands. Gould split away taking with him about one third of the membership. Both supported protest movements and an orientation to the Labor Party. The real difference was priority. This is shown by their support for Bob Gould as Socialist Left delegate to the 1971 Federal ALP Conference. In NSW the Percy group won hegemonic control over the Socialist Left within the Labor Party which never grew (in NSW) significantly beyond the radical left.
Bob Gould claimed the Third World Bookshop as his property because he was the legal owner and put in more money than others. The Percy majority pointed out that the Third World Bookshop was established as a bookshop for Resistance and Bob was in the minority. Within six months, Gould had lost most of his supporters to the variant of the so-called "Fourth International" called the International Committee led internationally by Gerry Healy.
Out of all this the Percy grouping renamed itself as the Socialist Youth Alliance and emerged as politically coherent with a strong organisational framework. They then formed the Socialist Workers League. They published a colourful and strident newspaper called Direct Action. Each issue came out in a different colour. They had the full support of the Socialist Workers Party of the US (SWP-US). John Percy had been to the USA. Barry Shepherd SWP-US leader had visited Australia. Allen Myers, an antiwar GI, migrated to Australia and joined their ranks.
Now being fully aligned with the SWP-US, they took on its theoretical heritage, such as Cuba being considered a healthy workers state. The SWP-US was an ex-Trotskyist party in total degeneration. It adapted to bourgeois liberalism in the anti-war movement and Castroism in Cuba. Castro, they argued was an ‘unconscious Trotskyist’.
The priority of SYA became the Moratorium against the Vietnam War. They fought for a coherent single-issue one-point programme: ‘Out Now!’ They opposed calls for ‘peace’ or ‘negotiations’. They opposed the Moratorium being based around support for the National Liberation Front.
They opposed any orientation to draft resistance or against conscription. They opposed the slogan "stop work to stop the war" arguing that this underestimated the strength of the protest movement. They supported strong centralised and regular marches and opposed decentralised ones. They opposed the Vietnam Moratorium becoming multi-issue.
Their opposition to the ‘solidarity with the NLF’ slogan came from both the right and left. For revolutionaries, the point of internationalist solidarity is to sharpen the struggle against ‘ones own’ country by calling for its military defeat. This the SYA didn't do. They deliberately avoided taking a military stand in what was an imperialist war with the conscious purpose of mobilising as broadly as possible. According to SYA ‘theory’, which they still agree with today, the might of numbers i.e. public opinion, forces governments to act. This they counter-posed to direct action by the working class. Their strategy amounted to populism and public opinion. Bourgeois forces were welcomed as part of the mass movement. This apparently was "their contradiction and not ours".
They sounded left when they opposed the strategy of the Vietcong, correctly identifying this strategy as stalinist. They made the link between Stalin's theory of socialism in one country and the NLF call for peace talks. Of course class struggle anti-imperialist solidarity must mean a break from Stalinism. But the SYA opposed identification with Stalinism as it might scare off bourgeois liberal antiwar opponents and narrow the movement. This is a right wing opposition to the ‘solidarity with the NLF’ demand. They have since changed their analysis and now consider the NLF to be Leninists who pursued a revolutionary strategy.
From class struggle to protest politics
SYA adhered to the theory of neo-capitalism. According to this theory capitalist crises are over, and issues such as alienation were now more relevant in creating a revolutionary dynamic. In the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies in prosperous Australia, radical middle class people were concerned about many ‘quality of life’ issues. SYA were active around issues such as high school students’ rights, the environment, women’s liberation, gay liberation, anti-racism, anti-censorship etc.
In all these issues they pursued the same method — mass action around single-issue demands. They were, seen as conservatives, especially during the mass movement against the South African racist Springbok rugby tour. Virtually everyone else involved supported physical disruption of that tour.
In short, SYA were a Labor Party loyal league with a minimalist programme oriented to radical middle class protest politics.
In 1972, the economic crisis hit. Class issues came to the forefront. The Liberals moved some reactionary anti-working class legislation known as the ‘Lynch Laws’ bringing about an upsurge of militancy in the metal industry, the ‘movement for workers control’. This resistance continued after the Whitlam-led ALP was elected in November '72. During this upsurge of working class struggle the SWL were basically irrelevant. A group of Ernest Mandel supporters left its ranks no doubt itching to get involved in class struggle as opposed to student protests. They constituted themselves as the Communist League.
A key issue in the split was what attitude to take to the ALP. In his recently published book John Percy has suggested that the difference was merely a tactical one of formulating their critical support. However if one reads SWL leader Jim McIlroy in his commentary on the 1974 Federal election, it is very clear that the SWL considered voting Labor to be a matter of principle, as opposed to tactics, since Labor was the working class party to be supported despite its leadership.
During the Whitlam years the SWL may have abstained from the militant working class struggle, but there was plenty of student and mass movement activism for them to build their league. They formed the Women's Abortion Action Campaign, a single issue campaign. They were prominent in defending the Palestinians in resolutions debated within the Australian Union of Students. They recruited some from the Communist Party of Australia – Dr Gordon Adler being the most prominent. But basically, they consolidated their organisation. In the climate of militancy during that period they were considered conservatives within the left. The Communist League described their paper as ‘The Women’s Weekly of the Australian revolutionary left’.
They entered into many significant debates with the CPA Stalinists on international issues such as Chile, Portugal and Vietnam.
The 1975 Federal Election saw them stand candidates for the first time. They have stood in almost every election since. Previously they were known to have opposed standing for parliament on principle, arguing that it was a barrier to their fight against the Labor leadership. The '75 election occurred after the sacking of Whitlam by governor General Sir John Kerr and his replacement with an interim Fraser government. Working class militancy and anger was immense. The left were extremely active. Of all the left groups the SWL was the least involved with the justifiable anger felt within the working class. They made a splash with prominent and colourful posters around protest issues (Women’s, gay and black rights) calling for a Labor government pledged to socialist policies. This, in a situation were a revolutionary general strike was being seriously and widely demanded.
In February '76 they renamed themselves the Socialist Workers Party. Of course this spelt out that they were to have a prominent presence outside the ALP. But they were still liquidationist. A few years later Bob Gould was to point out that ‘supporters of Direct Action were virtually indistinguishable from the official Left in NSW Young Labor, the Radical Leadership Group’. Gould at least had a faction which demanded ‘socialist policies’ (of the reformist variety). The RLG and therefore ‘supporters of Direct Action’ did not!
‘Turn to the workers’
As with their US comrades, the 1976 conference announced a ‘turn to the working class’ They argued that this is necessary due to intensified class struggle. There was no objective reason the turn to the working class was any more warranted in ‘76 as it was in ‘73 or ‘74. In fact the working class of ‘76 was more on the defensive. But the Australians turned basically out of loyalty to the US SWP.
By renaming themselves as a party and their turn to the working class, the SWP did form a sort of pole of attraction among sections of the far left. They won over some former members of the syndicalist Melbourne Revolutionary Marxists and some former CPA members. They were on the road to winning back those who split to form the Communist League which was seen to be failing in its efforts to build an organisation,
They were still strongly involved in protest politics. In the Timor Moratorium movement and the anti-uranium movement they intervened as they did against the Vietnam War. They had a single-issue broad populist approach. From these movements they recruited. But they didn't recruit from the movement for civil liberties in Queensland. They opposed marching for the ‘right to march’ because it was against the law even when large sections of the labor bureaucracy were marching. Once again they were considered conservatives on the left.
The turn to the working class was unsuccessful in terms of results for effort. The ex-student radicals joined the unions to form rank-and-file oppositions. While a few militants were won the class composition did not significantly change. And in no union were they a serious left pole of attraction. On the whole they opposed economic protectionism but sometimes made opportunist adaptations to link up with militants who were protectionist (Victorian Builders’ Union for example). In Wollongong they were controversial for standing against the official rank and file dominated by the CPA. For this they got a hostile reception and were disowned by almost the whole of the Wollongong left.
But they did have some ideological influence on the left. This resulted from the CPA Stalinists rabid turn to the right. In the major unions where the CPA had significant influence, the perspective of workers control of the early ‘seventies was replaced by overt class collaborationist protectionism. The CPA promoted all sorts of ‘Peoples’ Economic Programmes’ (PEP) basically to get the government to ‘save manufacturing’. The logic of this was the selling-out of class struggle, as the bureaucrats did with the Prices and Incomes Accord which they negotiated before Bob Hawke came to power.
The SWP was a pole of attraction because they were the most prominent opponents of the stalinist social patriotic schemas promoted by the "left" union bureaucrats, supported by large sections of the rank and file and sections of the academic left. However the SWP had an analysis which did not correspond to the reality of Australian capitalism. For the SWP, there was no fundamental restructuring away from manufacturing to mining nor any significant intervention by foreign capital. The reality was that during the ‘seventies, ‘eighties and ‘nineties whole sections of manufacturing collapsed, including shipbuilding, the car industry, white goods and the BHP steelworks in Newcastle. In short, because of their failure to understand the dynamics of Australian capitalism, their heartfelt desire to oppose both protectionism and class collaboration lacked credibility, especially in the eyes of trade union militants.
The Communist League shared a roughly similar analysis and there was joint work in opposition to the PEP. This facilitated their reunification. The Communist League were instructed to rejoin by leaders of the United Secretariat such as Ernest Mandel.
The formal break with Trotskyism
Subjective revolutionaries joined the SWP because they perceived the need for a numerically strong party which identified with Trotskyism (irrespective of its flaws). Many were purged by the Percy leadership whose lesson from their previous CL experience was to deal with potential troublemakers. But some remained as members. But what these leftists were joining was a party collapsing into Stalinism at a rapid rate of knots. With every crisis of Stalinism that occurred during the next twenty years, the SWP took one step further in a Stalinist direction.
In 1979 there was a third Indochina war when Vietnam invaded Pol Pot's Kampuchea and China invaded Vietnam. The SWP justified their pro-Vietnamese line by suddenly discovering that Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge was ‘state capitalist’. This convenient analysis meant they were not seen as endorsing an invasion of one post-capitalist state by another. But in no way did it square with reality. The ‘capitalist’ Khmer Rouge had even abolished money!
When the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan, they endorsed the invasion more enthusiastically than their US comrades.
SWP Australia was formed in solidarity with SWP-US and therefore considered Cuba a healthy workers state. But on the whole Cuba had been a low priority for the Australian comrades. With the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, this was to change. The SWP Australia became their uncritical cheerleaders. The popular governments in Nicaragua and Grenada were hailed for ‘following the Cuban road’. They defended the Sandinistas maintenance of capitalism and their repression of the revisionist Trotskyist Simon Bolivar Brigade.
The SWP-US was also enthusiastic, uncritically hailing these revolutions and their leaderships. They also made a reassessment of Trotskyism, consciously breaking from it. But the Australian SWP went even further along the Stalinist road than the North Americans did.
For the Australian SWP, Castro was not an ‘unconsciousness Trotskyist’ but a ‘conscious Leninist’. Trotskyism, they now argued, was a sectarian deviation from Leninism. They repeated the Stalinist slander that Trotsky ‘underestimated the peasantry’. Basically they were arguing for a Stalinist strategy for the third world. One leading SWP member at their Social Rights Conference argued that if Trotsky's line had been pursued, the Chinese revolution would never have been won!
The Australian SWP then reassessed their analysis of the Vietnamese revolution. The Vietnamese Stalinists too became ‘conscious Leninists’. In doing this they stabbed in the back the very significant Trotskyist movement that had a strong base amongst the Vietnamese proletariat. They rehashed the same Stalinist slanders which they had refuted when argued by Denis Freney, the notorious Pabloite who became a Stalinist. They have since established friendly relations with the Vietnamese Workers’ Party and invite speakers from the Vietnamese Embassy to their conferences.
Of course this blatant turn to Stalinism led to a break not only from the SWP-US, but from the United Secretariat which they considered a roadblock to their efforts to regroup third world Stalinists. Here there is a clear logic. If the Sandinistas, Castroites etc. are revolutionary, then why have a Fourth International? Mandel and Co could not junk the old Trotskyism, or rather identification with Trotsky, so easily. So the SWP liquidated the fundamental class line between Trotskyism and Stalinism. As a result of this international break, Australian supporters of the United Secretariat and of Sean Matgamna (now called Workers Liberty) left the SWP.
Bloc with Stalinist Socialist Party of Australia
Internationally the SWP was pursuing alliances with left Stalinists. In Australia, they looked for an alliance with the pro-Moscow Socialist Party of Australia (now called Communist Party of Australia). There was no way that the SPA would abandon support for Stalin, nor the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union or Poland (the SWP supported Solidarnosc), but there was some basis for unity.
The organisation called CPA at the time was heading to the right rapidly. And many SPA trade union officials were joining in. The logic of CPA strategy was to make an alliance with the Hawke government called the Prices and Incomes Accord. Under the Accord workers sacrificed wages and conditions in exchange for minor reforms which workers would normally expect from a Labor government anyway. The Accord divided the Australian left but the only official to have opposed it openly was Jenny Haines, a supporter of Bob Gould. But it was SPA policy to oppose the Accord.
The SPA stood by its principles and expelled the overwhelming majority of its trade union base, including prominent party leaders. They lost not only one third of their membership, but the significant membership in terms of trade union influence. Making an alliance with the SWP gave them a bit more clout and assisted their influence amongst young people. The SWP gained some contact with unionists. Their joint efforts meant more effective election campaigns.
Their main campaign was the Social Rights Manifesto. The title speaks for itself. Rights is a bourgeois concept and their Manifesto was for rights under capitalism. What this showed was that in terms of the Australian situation, the SWP and SPA had approximately the same minimum programme. The SWP called their demands ‘transitional’ and argued that the process was continuing. SPA called the Manifesto the first stage of their two stage revolution.
The SWP and SPA were also allies in the peace movement. Both opposed the right stalinist and liberal bourgeois view that ‘both superpowers’ were responsible for the arms race. SWP and SPA put the blame on imperialism and were clearly better in their variant of the popular front. Eventually there was a division of labour with the right Stalinists organising Palm Sunday, and SWP/SPA running the Hiroshima Day protests. Of these two the right popular front was the more popular.
All this stalinist maneuvering was too much for the SWP-US who formed a faction in Australia which were then expelled (forming another Communist League). This faction included former leaders Nita Keig, Deb Schnookal and Dave Deutschmann. In the US the Australian SWP had the support of former SWP-US presidential candidate Pedro Camejo. In the USA, John Percy and Pedro Camejo supported the presidential campaign of US Democrat Jesse Jackson and the protest campaign to freeze nuclear weapons.
The SWP-US and its supporters also objected to the Australian SWP's support for cold war right wingers at Polish solidarity rallies and its support for a Croatian nationalist organisation known as the Croatian Movement for Statehood (HDP).
Was HDP a former fascist Croatian organisation moving to the left or an adaptation by the fascists to co-opt the left? Either way it was unsupportable. The HDP, even with its left face, recognised the fascist government of Pavlevic whose dictatorship was backed by Mussolini during the Second World War. This fact alone made it thoroughly unprincipled, in fact treacherous, for revolutionaries to give it any positive recognition irrespective of its left rhetoric, genuine or otherwise.
The Hawke Government went to the right and started attacking unions. In response there was a national rank and file movement called Fightback which the SWP was active in. Fightback split into two wings. Some known as Canberra fightback, wanted it to remain a rank-and-file caucus. The SWP and SPA alliance, joined by the Maoist CPA(ML) wanted to turn it into a new communist party.
The Maoist-led Builders Labourers Federation was under attack by the Hawke Government at the Federal level, and by the Cain Labor government in Victoria which authorised an armed police raid on its offices. Legislation aimed at the BLF was a serious threat to organised militant unionism in Victoria. So the Maoists were now hard left when it came to opposing Labor. The pro-Accord Stalinists stabbed the BLF in the back, refusing to defend it from a capitalist state attack, in fact often endorsing the attack!
Understandably there was strong hostility amongst militants towards Labor. The SWP opposition to Labor also intensified. In 1987 they even endorsed the bourgeois Australian Democrats. They argued that whilst the Democrats were a bourgeois party, they supported progressive movements and were to the left of Labor on social services and welfare issues, and could be given critical support. At the same time the Greens were growing rapidly. So the name of the SWP paper Direct Action was changed to Green Left Weekly.
The Gorbachev liberal bureaucratic leadership of the Soviet Union led to another turn by the SWP — towards the Gorbachev leadership. As the Soviet Union degenerated rapidly, the SWP made all sorts of alliances with liberalised Stalinists. Devoid of any Marxist analysis they took their democratic credentials at face value oblivious at any threat of counter-revolution. They have close ties with East Germany's former ruling party, the PDS. In the spirit of democratic socialism, they changed their name to Democratic Socialist Party.
Meanwhile the SPA was going in the opposite direction. They wanted to hang onto as much of the Breshnevite past as possible. So there was a strain on the alliance. The SPA was then oriented to the Chinese leadership. The bloodshed of Tienamin Square, supported by SPA but opposed by DSP, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The alliance was over.
The DSP then oriented to the fast degenerating Communist Party of Australia who were aiming to develop a new party in what was called the ‘New Left Party Process’. The CPA were reassessing the Accord but hadn't broken from it. But the CPA did not reciprocate the DSP’s advances, and chose to degenerate in alliance with old pro-Accord ex-SPA bureaucrats. The DSP has tried to fill the vacuum left by the CPA degeneration.
The most recent party building maneuver has been the Socialist Alliance formed similar to the one in Britain. The Socialist Workers Party (‘state capitalist’ and unrelated to the SWP-US and DSP traditions) was a key initiating force in Britain. Their Australian supporters, the International Socialist Organisation were joint founders of the Australian version along with the DSP.
What started off as a joint electoral bloc around minimal demands with equal participation by the various groupings has become virtually a DSP front. The DSP has now become renamed as Democratic Socialist Perspectives and has no public presence apart from the Socialist Alliance, though its youth group Resistance still has an open presence. The Alliance is now virtually a non-revolutionary party dominated by the DSP. Alliance candidates effectively stand on the DSP programme.
During the eighties, the pin-up boys for the DSP were the Sandinistas. They ‘reassessed’ Trotskyism and abandoned it on the basis of the Sandinistas' ‘success’. Had they any integrity they would have re-assessed their position in the light of the Sandinista’s failure. This they haven't done. Today they have replaced cheerleading the Sandinistas with cheerleading Chavez in Venezuela. They hail him virtually uncritically.
Another piece of DSP treachery has been its support for Australian troops in East Timor, sent there ostensibly for defending Timorese independence. It may be understandable that some bourgeois nationalists may take imperialist rhetoric at face value. Those who have some understanding of Lenin should know better. Australia has now imposed a deal which steals oil that belongs to the Timorese.
This is only an overview of the whole SWP/DSP history of liquidation and treachery. Essentially what started off as an attempt to establish Trotskyism on the basis of student radicalism against the Vietnam War, degenerated into a pro-Stalinist grouping, organisationally opportunist, and whose only principle appears to be cheerleading Stalinists and building a party distinct from Labor (but not reformism). They are good at tapping into youth and student radicalism.
Whilst on some issues, they find Trotsky's analysis appropriate, when it comes to drawing fundamental class lines they clearly stand with Stalin, especially in imperialist dominated countries euphemistically called the ‘third world’.
Many DSP members are good activists in their unions. The DSP presents itself as a strong and confident organisation. But it is the Stalinist principles which are decisive. For the sake of the revolution, these must be thoroughly broken from. The only revolutionary banner is the red banner of proletarian internationalism. The revolutionary tradition is that of Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International. On the basis of this tradition a new revolutionary international must be built.
* This is a repost to redrave as the original posted in August 2005 was unfortunately deleted.