Telling the truth or fostering false hopes

Kieran Latty (Letters, DA #3) claims there are two problems with my article “NSW Labor’s electricity privatisation plans” in DA #2. He wrote: “The main problem with Richards’ article is that in arguing that only radical action can stop privatisation, and then arguing why this cannot happen in the short term his argument leads into the passive conclusion that nothing can be done to defeat [NSW Labor’s plan for electricity] privatisation and the most useful role we can play is to propagandise about the weaknesses of the union and ALP leadership”

How “arguing that only radical action can stop privatisation, and then arguing why this cannot happen in the short term …leads into a passive conclusion”, that “nothing can be done”, Latty doesn’t explain. Wouldn’t it lead instead to the “active” conclusion that socialists in this campaign need to explain to workers that only a campaign independent of Unions NSW has a hope of winning? And what’s wrong with propagandising “about the weaknesses [sic] of the union and ALP leadership”?

There’s nothing “passive” about socialists intervening in campaigns with propaganda – i.e., the dissemination of many ideas to relatively small numbers of radicalising workers. Such propaganda is the bread and butter of socialist activity. But such propaganda would be remiss if it were to talk of, as Latty puts it, “the weaknesses of the union and ALP leadership”.

Socialists need to tell the truth to workers about the actual, past and present, role in the class struggle of the union bureaucracy as a conscious agent of capitalist influence in the trade unions. It’s not that these “leaders” simply have “weaknesses” (as if they are genuine defenders of the interests of the working class who have some secondary deficiencies in their approach to seeking to advance labour’s cause against capital); it’s that they consciously lead workers down the dead end of class collaboration time and time again. They do so because their own career prospects are dependent upon avoiding any challenge to Labor’s support for the institutions of capitalist rule.

According to Latty, my article’s “second problem is one of methodology. The best way to change people’s ideas, to build their confidence and convince them to struggle in an effective way is to work alongside them in what ever forms of struggle are currently possible”. Nowhere in my article did I argue otherwise. However, I do differ with Latty’s understanding of what it means to “work alongside” people if he thinks that this means revolutionary socialists should not tell them the truth about their existing trade union “leaders”.

Latty acknowledges it was incorrect for Solidarity to claim in the April issue of its magazine that pressure from the union bureaucracy for “a vote [at the NSW ALP conference against electricity privatisation] would effectively sink privatisation”. But why was this “incorrect” claim made? Latty doesn’t offer any direct explanation. But indirectly he does. It flows from Solidarity’s methodology about “the best way to change people’s ideas, to build their confidence and convince them to struggle”. This “best way” apparently is to cynically peddle false hopes in what the union bureaucracy can accomplish.

Latty says that “the right-wing leaderships in many unions need to be challenged as an integral part of rebuilding industrial strength”. But surely an “integral part” of preparing such a challenge is telling the ranks of the unions the truth about these leaderships, rather than fostering false hopes that these consciously class-collaboration leaderships can somehow be pressured by the activities of the tiny forces of the “far left” into organising an effective campaign against the pro-capitalist policies of Labor governments when there exists none.

Owen Richards,
Merrylands West, NSW


Heartfelt congratulations on a splendid first edition of Direct Action. Very best wishes for future editions and very good luck to the Revolutionary Socialist Party. It will be an honour to take out a subscription to Direct Action.

Lee Cameron, MBBS,
Research, Victoria

GLW on Dita Sari

The August 20 Green Left Weekly article “Indonesia: Union militant to contest elections” by Socialist Alliance member Vannessa Hearman attempts to put a positive spin on what is clearly an embarrassing turn of events — the announcement that PRD-Papernas leader Dita Sari has decided to join (and run as a candidate for) the Star Reform Party (PBR), an Islamist party. GLW has given favourable coverage to the Papernas group’s “tactic” of pursing an electoral “coalition” with the PBR.

Hearman’s article is liberally interspersed with snippets designed to cast the PBR in the best possible light — the PBR is a split from the Suharto-era sanctioned United Development Party (they left because it wasn’t Islamic enough), the PBR stands against corruption (and sacked a member arrested for allegedly taking bribes), party chairperson Bursah Zarnubi’s activist credentials (he is actually a former right-wing leader of the Islamic Students Association) and the party is aiming for 30% women candidates (which is required by law for all parties anyway).

Hearman also quotes extensively from an August 3 Indo Post report. Having translated the same article for the Asia-Pacific Solidarity Network website from the Java Post (of which Indo Post is a subsidiary), I noticed that there were a couple of subtle omissions and alterations in one paragraph taken by Hearman from Java Post/Indo Post article.

Java Post/Indo Post reported that “Sari claimed that she does not have a problem with the PBR being an Islamic based party. This is because much of the PBR’s program is in accordance with her [views]. For example, economic independence and not being dependent upon foreigners, the option of abolishing the foreign debt and economic development in rural areas as a priority. ‘I see the PBR as a party that is trying to introduce Islamic principles with a more open understanding,’ she said.”

Hearman paraphrases this as “Sari explained that Papernas would continue to exist and not be liquidated into PBR. She told Indo Post that she was not perturbed by PBR’s Islamic origins, pointing to the aspects of the PBR program that she agreed with — for example economic independence, free from foreign domination, the abolition of the foreign debt and prioritising development of the rural economy.”

The Indo Post article describes the PBR as an “Islamic based party” (berasas Islam). Hearman changes this to the “PBR’s Islamic origins”. The Indo Post reports that Sari said the PBR is for “the option of abolishing the foreign debt” (opsi penghapusan utang luar negeri). Hearman changes this to “the abolition of the foreign debt”. And lost (in translation?) is Sari’s statement that “I see the PBR as a party that is trying to introduce Islamic principles [mencoba mengenalkan asas Islam] with a more open understanding”.

“Islamic based party” trying to introduce “Islamic principles” conveys quite a different sense of what the PBR’s politics is to the phrase “PBR’s Islamic origins”. And agreeing with the “option of abolishing the foreign debit” is not the same thing as actually calling for “abolishing the foreign debit”.

James Balowski,