Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Unhitched by Richard Seymour


'As a member of the SWP, buying this book is probably an expellable offence', I joked to the genial old guy behind the counter in Housman's bookshop in London the other day as I handed over money for Unhitched by Richard Seymour - the proprieter of the Lenin's Tomb blog, which seems to be currently devoted to trying to drum up both sales of Unhitched and supporters of the 'SWP Opposition'. The Housmans assistant didn't get the joke, which served for me as a timely reminder that for probably about 99% of the Left in Britain, 'Lenin's Tomb' means, well, the Lenin's Tomb.

Anyway, onto Unhitched, which is really an enlargement on some of the arguments about the late Christopher Hitchens made in Seymour's The Liberal Defence of Murder. In many ways this little book is vintage Seymour doing what he does best - taking down pro-war liberal scum through remorseless detailed analysis of their bullshit. Those wanting a brief summary of the argument can go straight to this fine little piece Seymour wrote for the Guardian recently - Christopher Hitchens: from socialist to neocon. In general, Seymour's Unhitched does what it says on the tin - puts Christopher Hitchens on trial for his crimes - chief of which was acting as an apologist and propagandist for the American Empire. 'This is not a biography but an extended political essay' (pxxi), Seymour writes, indeed 'unabashedly a prosecution' in an imagined 'Trial of Christopher Hitchens' and 'if it must be conducted with the subject in absentia, as it were, it will not be carried out with less vim as a result'. (pxxii)

Its appearance is therefore to be welcomed by socialists and democrats more generally - if only to serve as a long overdue and hopefully permanent antidote to the pro-war liberal chorus of sycophancy and sentimentality that still surrounds and stifles any discussion of 'the Hitch'. How did that disgraced former MP Denis Macshane describe Hitchens after his death - oh yes, 'a cross between Voltaire and Orwell'...

As someone who has not read Hitchen's own autobiography, Hitch 22, I personally was hoping for something resembling a bit more of a biography than a long polemical essay when I bought Seymour's book. However, after reading Unhitched I am convinced that for all of Hitchens's brilliance and talent as a literary critic, he is simply not intellectually worthy enough of the attention and the effort necessary for someone to write a decent, critical biography of him - being essentially a charlatan, prone to plagiarism even when he was good, and happy to lie and caricature when he was bad. Hitchens's intellectual and political degeneration - so apparent post September 11th but as Seymour shows, with long roots in Hitchens's past work - perhaps reached its nadir with his writing about the death of Mark Daily, a young American who signed up to fight and die in the 'war on terror' after apparently being inspired by Hitchens's pro-war propaganda. As Seymour notes of Hitchen's subsequent 'maudlin display of his grief and catharsis, in some ways even more stomach lurching than his tribute to the World Trade Center', it 'climaxed in a puddle of self-pity and self-vindication', and Hitchens, having 'fantasised that the Bush administration was the equivalent of the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification', was 'shocked to find that they were selling out his just war' and so now 'felt awful - so awful that he shed his tears, took the occasion to vindicate himself once again, and then moved on without ever having to really account for what he had done' (p98).

There is a lot in here - discussions of Hitchens on Orwell, Kipling, Paul Scott, Edward Said as well as the more political material one would expect - and there are plenty of references that readers will want to follow up on, whatever their own particular interests. There is some good historic discussion on previous cases of political shifts to the right from former revolutionaries - and there are some nice quotes from the likes of William Hazlitt and Isaac Deutscher on the situation post the French and Russian revolutions respectively, as former hopes were dashed by the rise of the likes of Napoleon and Stalin. Seymour even has space to aptly quote Norman Geras on the shift that followed the fading hopes that the movements of 1968 would break through:

In the advanced capitalist world from the mid-1960s a generation of intellectuals was radicalized and won for Marxism. Many of them were disappointed in the hopes they formed — some of these wild but let that pass — and for a good while now we have been witnessing a procession of erstwhile Marxists, a sizeable portion of the generational current they shared in creating, in the business of finding their way "out" and away. This exit is always presented, naturally, in the guise of an intellectual advance. Those of us unpersuaded of it cannot but remind its proponents of what they once knew but seem instantly to forget as they make their exit, namely, that the evolution of ideas has a social and material context.

Hitchens - in the late 1960s and early 1970s of course a member of the International Socialists - himself once revealingly told Decca Aitkenhead,

 'I've done better than I thought I would. I've made more money than I ever thought I would. I've got more readers than I ever thought I would, and more esteem' and now earns 'several hundred thousand dollars a year' – but Aitkenhead noted Hitchens claims his wealth hasn't influenced his opinions at all. Does he think wealth ever affects people's opinions? 'Well, yes, I'm a Marxist, after all.' So why would his own opinions be mysteriously immune to his bank balance? 'Well, because I can't trace any connection...'

Marx's key point about 'social being determining consciousness' is demonstrated well in the case of Christopher Hitchens, and he is well placed in his historical context by Seymour. Ultimately, this is not about one personality - but politics. If I have any criticism, it is that books like this - and the Verso Counterblasts series in general which aims 'to challenge the apologists of Empire and Capital' are essentially a negative critique. They raise a wider issue and a more interesting question which is not really discussed: what is the responsibility of intellectuals at a time of crisis, tumult and war? After all there is a great tradition of revolutionary intellectuals who have managed to play a positive role in the class struggle and revolutionary politics without being pulled to the right, even when confronted by defeats far greater than the defeats of the 1970s and 1980s.

 As well as this piece on the subject by Rick Kuhn, there is an interesting article in the latest issue of International Socialism on 'Hegemony and mass critical intellectuality' by Panagiotis Sotiris that discusses Marx, Gramsci, Bourdieu and Foucault, but concludes by rightly stressing the importance of political organisation for intellectuals.  

Above all we must think of radical left parties, political fronts and organisations as knowledge practices and laboratories of new forms of mass critical intellectuality. In a period of economic and political crisis but also of new possibilities to challenge capitalist rule, questions of political organisation gain new relevance. Thinking of organisation simply in terms of practical or communicative skills for mobilisation, or of electoral fronts and tactics is not enough. It would be better, in order to build today’s parties and united fronts, to revisit Gramsci’s (and Lenin’s) conception of the party as a democratic political and theoretical process that produces knowledge of the conjuncture, organic intellectuals, new worldviews, social and political alternatives, as a potential (counter)hegemonic apparatus. We need forms of organisation that not only enable coordination and networking, democratic discussion and effective campaigning, but also bring together different experiences, combine critical theory with the knowledge coming from the different sites of struggle, and produce both concrete analyses but also mass ideological practices and new forms of radical “common sense”.

This is I think right - but it is perhaps worth also remembering what Marx and Engels - traditional intellectuals themselves who made an immeasurable contribution to the theory and practice of independent revolutionary working class politics - also said on the matter of radical intellectuals and left-wing political parties in 1879:  

It is an unavoidable phenomenon, well established in the course of development, that people from the ruling class also join the proletariat and supply it with educated elements. This we have already clearly stated in the [Communist] Manifesto. Here, however, two remarks are to be made: 

First, such people, in order to be useful to the proletarian movement, must bring with them really educated elements. This, however, is not the case with the great majority of German bourgeois converts. Neither the Zukunft [fortnightly Berlin magazine] nor the Neue Gesellschaft [monthly Zurich periodical] has provided anything to advance the movement one step. They are completely deficient in real, factual, or theoretical material. Instead, there are efforts to bring superficial socialist ideas into harmony with the various theoretical viewpoints which the gentlemen from the universities, or from wherever, bring with them, and among whom one is more confused than the other, thanks to the process of decomposition in which German philosophy finds itself today. Instead of first studying the new science [scientific socialism] thoroughly, everyone relies rather on the viewpoint he brought with him, makes a short cut toward it with his own private science, and immediately steps forth with pretensions of wanting to teach it. Hence, there are among those gentlemen as many viewpoints as there are heads; instead of clarifying anything, they only produce arrant confusion — fortunately, almost always only among themselves. Such educated elements, whose guiding principle is to teach what they have not learned, the party can well dispense with. 

 Second, when such people from other classes join the proletarian movement, the first demand upon them must be that they do not bring with them any remnants of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., prejudices, but that they irreversibly assimilate the proletarian viewpoint. But those gentlemen, as has been shown, adhere overwhelmingly to petty-bourgeois conceptions. In so petty-bourgeois a country as Germany, such conceptions certainly have their justification, but only outside the Social-Democratic Labor party. If the gentlemen want to build a social-democratic petty-bourgeois party, they have a full right to do so; one could then negotiate with them, conclude agreements, etc., according to circumstances. But in a labor party, they are a falsifying element. If there are grounds which necessitates tolerating them, it is a duty only to tolerate them, to allow them no influence in party leadership, and to keep in mind that a break with them is only a matter of time.

In 1890, Engels even more forcefully warned of the potential danger of petty-bourgeois intellectuals for a revolutionary workers' organisation, noting such intellectuals should

 understand that their “academic education” — which in any case needs a basic, critical self-review — gives them no officer’s commission with a claim to a corresponding post in the party; that in our party everyone must serve in the ranks; that posts of responsibility in the party will be won not simply by literary talent and theoretical knowledge, even if both of these are present beyond a doubt, but that in addition what is required is a thorough familiarity with the conditions of the party struggle and seasoning in its forms, tested personnel reliability and sound character, and, finally, willing enlistment in the ranks of the fighters;—in short, that they, the “academically educated people,” have far more to learn from the workers, all in all, than the latter have to learn from them.

It is telling for example that Hitchens arrogantly apparently thought himself 'on the brink of becoming a "full-time organiser"' while he was in the International Socialists (p7)- as though his academic education at Oxford gave him some kind of 'officer’s commission with a claim to a corresponding post in the party'. Ian Birchall once drew a useful contrast comparing Christopher Hitchens with Paul Foot (who Seymour sadly doesn't mention in Unhitched), who did stay the course in the IS/SWP despite equal pressures from bourgeois society to break with his commitment to building revolutionary socialist organisation and embrace the mainstream:  

It is interesting to compare him with Paul Foot. Both had the same public school/Oxford training, and used the literary and oratorical skills they had acquired from it. But Foot had a solid core of principles which stayed with him to the very end - and which certainly made him less successful, in terms of official recognition, than he otherwise might have been. Hitchens, even in his left-wing phase, was always much more committed to his own career and to staying within the bounds of the mainstream. I knew him when he was a member of the Hornsey International Socialists in 1974, and I have to say I never liked or trusted him very much. That is only a personal reaction, of course, but I always felt the commitment to his personal advancement was greater than his commitment to the socialist cause.

As Seymour demonstrates in this volume, Christopher Hitchens was 'a petty bourgeois individualist who esteemed collectivism at least some of the time but never submitted to it himself ... the sociological basis, as it were, for his leftism was the radical intelligentsia'(pxi, xxii). But is Seymour himself really so different from Hitchens in this sense? Though of course one cannot doubt Seymour's principled commitment to the socialist cause, and his politics are no doubt better and sharper than those of even the young Hitchens, as someone whose base is in higher education as a PhD student, Seymour is clearly not immune from the gravitational pull of the 'radical intelligentsia' in the form of 'academic Marxism', to say nothing of the wider pull of petty-bourgeois thinking predominant in the 'blogosphere'/ social media which comes with being a high profile blogger who writes for the likes of The Guardian.  Indeed, arguably Seymour's recent post on Lenin's Tomb defending 'patriarchy' - critically debated here - is perhaps best seen as an example of what Marx and Engels were talking about in 1879 when they criticised 'efforts to bring superficial socialist ideas into harmony with the various theoretical viewpoints which the gentlemen from the universities, or from wherever, bring with them ... Instead of first studying the new science [scientific socialism] thoroughly, everyone relies rather on the viewpoint he brought with him, makes a short cut toward it with his own private science, and immediately steps forth with pretensions of wanting to teach it'.

This is not meant as a personal or sectarian attack on Seymour - for no Marxist who works in the environment of higher education and/or who is an aspiring journalist is immune from such pressures. Still less is it meant as an attack on radical intellectuals per se. As Tony Cliff, founder of the SWP once wrote,

 The worst damage that can be done inside a revolutionary party is if there is an attack on the intellectuals inside the party, in the name of a proletarian attitude. As a matter of fact such an attack is not so much on the intellectuals but on the workers in the party. It is an insult to the workers as it assumes the workers are unable to grasp theory.

There of course has to be freedom inside a revolutionary party for members to have debates around, for example, theories of patriarchy. But equally, for socialists to take at face value the contemporary theories fashionable in the capitalist institutions of higher education, add one's own personal spin on them, and then pass what results off as the latest and highest form of thinking in 'Marxist theory' is precisely a method of thinking Marx and Engels (and later revolutionary Marxists) always warned against. To dismiss, for example, the relevance today of the debates that were had between Marxists and 'socialist feminists' during the 1970s and subsequently into the 1980s when the Women's Liberation Movement was at a much higher level of mass struggle than it has reached since, reveals a kind of intellectual elitism and arrogance that is most unworthy of any Marxist, let alone someone who is a member of the SWP.

Seymour wants his study of Hitchens to be seen as a kind of 'cautionary tale' to others - and he is right.  In a sense it is tragic that Hitchens was never able to develop into the outstanding socialist journalist and writer that at his best he showed signs of becoming - and instead became - as Seymour notes, paraphrasing Hazlitt, 'a living and ignominious satire on himself'.  It would be farcical now if Richard Seymour, who founded a blog called 'Lenin's Tomb' precisely to rightly provoke those with essentially petty-bourgeois and individualist prejudices against the most important and outstanding revolutionary Marxist thinker after Marx himself - ever ended up himself succumbing to the kind of hostile pressures he once so detested and still warns us against so eloquently and effectively in Unhitched.

Edited to add: For more on Marxism and intellectuals, see Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vols I and II (1977/78) and Paul Blackledge, (2007), ‘Marx and Intellectuals’, in David Bates, (ed.) Marxism, Intellectuals and Politics.

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At 7:28 pm, Anonymous Keith Watermelon said...

"'As a member of the SWP, buying this book is probably an expellable offence', I joked to the genial old guy behind the counter in Housman's bookshop in London the other day as I handed over money for Unhitched by Richard Seymour - the proprieter of the Lenin's Tomb blog, which seems to be currently devoted to trying to drum up both sales of Unhitched and supporters of the 'SWP Opposition'. The Housmans assistant didn't get the joke"

a variation on the 'everything's fine - no one mentioned it on the paper sale' argument.

also this - http://builder.cheezburger.com/Builder/RenderPreview/9dc51ab9-ae05-4b9d-bf9a-b58b936cb987

At 9:53 pm, Anonymous Brian Smith said...

Few people will understand the reference in your final sentence - because you haven't had the courage to spell it out.

At 10:43 pm, Anonymous Richard Seymour said...

When I was a proper worker, I didn't care about the cover-up of serious sexual allegations. But now that I'm a petty bourgeois individualist, I find myself succumbing to creeping feminism, and find it impossible to stomach the lies, rationalisations and evasions characteristic of rape culture necessary to sustain such a cover-up and defend it.

At 7:58 am, Anonymous Brian Smith said...


At 10:35 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am not a member of the SWP but i'm a worker who has moved closer and closer to thr party, having got increasingly involved in activity at my work over the last few years under the latest aggressive government attacks on the public sector.
(Labour looks like just anpther betrayal foretold, and in my union the general secretary seesm to have done everything possible to put the lid on any real fight whenever it looks like building)

But as a female i can't stomach the idea of joining a party where the position seems to me to be: if i am upset about suffering sexist behaviour and enduring the institutionalised tolerance of it, then that's because i am some kind of sensitive bourgeois creature luxuriating in a sense of the right not to be abused.
I would never question a colleague who came up to me claiming to have been bullied or abused by a peer or boss.
But this isn't the message i get from you.

At 10:40 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Richard – I don’t really want to get into the specifics of the disputes committee case – but not because I am defending any sort of ‘cover up’. Rather because, while clearly this is all a very sorry, messy business, the only people who really know and will ever know what exactly happened in the case are the people directly involved. The rest of us – like you and me – can only really speculate, and personally I think there has already been more than enough uninformed public speculation around this on the internet already without my needing to add to it.

Indeed, one of the best things I have seen written by an SWP member on the matter was the following:

"I should say upfront that I cannot and will not broach the details of the case you are referring to. It is natural that people will want to discuss what is already in the public sphere, but I am not able to add anything - even if it was appropriate for me to do so.
All that I can say is that which is already known - there was a debate about the handling of a case involving an extremely serious matter at this year's conference of the SWP; there were factions formed which seriously criticised the handling of that case and rejected the resultant report, and I was a member of one of those factions; the report was narrowly endorsed at conference. Those arguing the same position as me did not win the vote. Obviously, I am disappointed by this. I can't go any further than that."

That was an excellent position, Richard and one I would have greatly respected you for had you had the confidence of your Leninist politics to have been able to stick to it amid the mounting hostile pressure in the media / social media from those outside the party. After all, because the complainant didn’t want to go to the police over the allegations this was by necessity an internal matter for the party to handle – and though perhaps it could and should have been handled better, now, as Alex Callinicos has noted, we should have the confidence that ‘our theoretical tradition and our democratic structures will allow us to arrive at the necessary political clarity and to learn the lessons of the disciplinary case’. And of course there are lessons for us to learn from this disciplinary case in case such a similar scenario should ever present itself again in the future. However, as Leninists, we discuss and debate how we go about learning these lessons using and respecting the existing democratic structures we have in the party.

At 10:41 am, Blogger Snowball said...

The real question and issue Richard is why did you suddenly break from your former position that respected the collective democracy of the party and instead launched a series of increasingly vitriolic public attacks on not only the CC but also - implicitly or explicitly - the majority of party members publically? After all no new facts about the case or how it had been handled had come to light – the only thing that had changed was that the mainstream media were now beginning to pick up the story.

My own suspicion is that once China Mieville broke democratic centralism and agreed to talk to Laurie Penny about the issue in the New Statesman, you thought ‘what the hell’ and decided to follow suit out of personal solidarity with him. You want to do that – fine, okay - but try to understand that it is just a bit hard for outsiders like me to see any Leninism or socialist principles at play in your sudden volte face.

The real irony is that the more you attack the SWP majority the increasingly you are beginning to sound like Christopher Hitchens – ‘I have not changed, it’s the party that has changed’ etc. Your instinctive dismissal of even the mildest suggestion that Marx’s insistence that ‘social being determines consciousness’ could ever be extended to your good self, while again in keeping with Hitchens, is surely a problematic stance for a Marxist. I hope this isn't seen as a personal attack - I am just trying to understand how you could have gone from such a good position to such a terrible position so quickly and for no clearly good reason.

At 10:52 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Anonymous - I am very sorry if my book review might have givin you this impression about the SWP. Our position is of course not that 'if i am upset about suffering sexist behaviour and enduring the institutionalised tolerance of it, then that's because i am some kind of sensitive bourgeois creature luxuriating in a sense of the right not to be abused.'
Our position is that whenever sexist behaviour is on display comrades rightly challenge that person about it - we do not have any kind of institutionalised tolerance of sexist behaviour in the party - though I'd suggest you are better off talking to women SWP comrades you know personally for confirmation this rather than taking such a thing for granted from a male SWP blogger like myself.

There have for example been plenty of cases over the years where male comrades have been disciplined / expelled for sexist behaviour. Part of the problem around this case is that because it concerns a leading member of the SWP there has been so much shit put out and stirred around by various people online for various reasons - none of whom can know any of the details of the actual case. That is why rather than try to work out whether the SWP is sexist from online discussions with anonymous people - I'd advise you talk to those SWP comrades you know face to face and raise any concerns / questions you have with them.

At 11:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everybody is aware of the facility with which Shachtman is able to weave various historical episodes around one or another axis. This ability makes Shachtman a talented journalist. Unfortunately, this by itself is not enough. The main quest...ion is what axis to select. Shachtman is absorbed always by the reflection of politics in literature and in the press. He lacks interest in the actual processes of the class struggle, the life of the masses, the inter-relationships between the different layers within the working class itself, etc. I have read not a few excellent and even brilliant articles by Shachtman but I have never seen a single commentary of his which actually probed into the life of the working class or its vanguard..... A qualification must be made to this extent – that not only Shachtman’s personal failing is embodied therein, but the fate of a whole revolutionary generation which because of a special conjuncture of historical conditions grew up outside the labor movement. More than once in the past I have had occasion to speak and write about the danger of these valuable elements degenerating despite their devotion to the revolution. What was an inescapable characteristic in its day has become a weakness. Weakness invites disease. If neglected, the disease can become fatal..... As a matter of fact, the gist of the present crisis consists in the conservatism of the petty-bourgeois elements who have passed through a purely propagandistic school and who have not yet found a pathway to the road of class struggle. The present crisis is the final battle of these elements for self-preservation. Every oppositionist as an individual can, if they firmly desire, find a worthy place for themselves in the revolutionary movement. As a faction, they are doomed." Trotsky; From a Scratch – To the Danger of Gangrene

At 12:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So "mounting hostile pressure in the media / social media" was no reason to break "Leninist discipline" - I mean, why should the fact that something very hostile about the SWP was in Britain's top circulation newspapers , or that some of the leading leftwingers invited regularly onto party plaforms were deeply critical make any difference ? That stand isn't practical politics, it's magical thinking. Now , a better strategy might have been for the party to have responded, with many members refuting the criticisms in a friendly but clear way in many forums. Except nobody could do that. Frankly, the handling of the rape allegation was simply indefensible - which is why no member of the SWP has really defended it in public, beyond mumbling about "difficult case", "internal matter". It isn't about the "sorry messy business" of whatever happened between the two individuals that is in question - it is the party's handling of it: Once the (I assume accurate) transcript of the conference was out, like it or not, things changed: And it is the handling of the allegation which is poison for the SWP: A rigged kangaroo court on an issue like this looks crazy and was crazy.(BTW it also does no favours to the member who has as it stands faced what is still no more than an informal charge of the assault) : Put it this way. do you think, if the "rebels" in the SWP hadn't gone public, and all that was going on was the criticism or attacks (two quite different things) from the outside on "rape allegations" and "kangaroo courts" on one side, and the occasional sulky response from the SWP on the other, that the SWP would be in a better position ? Stronger ? More influence ? Easier to recruit , build a periphery ? There is a good argument for "Democratic Centralism", but the recent actions of the CC aren't it: If things keep going badly wrong - Respect, this crisis - then there is something wrong that needs fixing . Maybe people were bounced into acting, but you need to respond to reality, not just chant mantras : The idea that on the one hand, say, introducing individual elections for CC members and fulltimers would automatically lead to an implosion,but the current strategy leads to a strong united organisation - do you really believe that ? It amazes me that people who know how to run strikes, campaigns, marches, think circle the wagons is a viable strategy, let alone the best one
Solomon Hughes

At 12:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The truth is the party has been very unhealthy for a long time. This appalling crisis has just brought all of this into sharp relief because of the way that it has handled.

All these problems at root stem from a leading body made up of people who have worked for the party for years. Have no chance of gaining employment elsewhere because of this very fact. Therefore they are dependant on there preeminant positions whether they like it or not. Thus creating an atmosphere where the leadership is utterly unable to admit all but the most trivial of mistakes. When minor changes on the CC are necessary the people that make up the CC the overwhelming majority of those who come on to the body have currently work for the party, have experience in following the political direction from above, of groupthink, of not thinking through policy, except in the most superficial way, in terms of the different parts of the country they are working in, and, above all, keeping their disagreements quiet (in contradiction to the soverign decision of the Democracy Commission).

There are major figures outside the leadership, well respected people have profiles in the party respected in certain fields of study or as thought of 'bearing the conscience' of the party, but they never get near to being on the CC unless they are willing to drop all cricticism and (most likely) work for the party.

The fact is the leadership has become prisoners of their own conservatism. So when union militants are added to the CC,its is done buercratically and half-heartedly, and are removed if they have reservations about certain decisions. Or when the CC oppose a commision of our internet work because it won't give us the quick turnabout we need - 13 months later absolutely nothing has changed to our online presence.

In short this top-down culture distorts our pratice and narrows the potential of the membership becoming the organic intellectuals necessary for the task of a revolutionary party and of refreshing the leadership from the best elements democratically, instead they are appointed for buercratic reasons.

At 2:19 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Just quickly - in reply to Solomon, 'do I think, if the "rebels" in the SWP hadn't gone public, and all that was going on was the criticism or attacks (two quite different things) from the outside on "rape allegations" and "kangaroo courts" on one side, and the occasional sulky response from the SWP on the other, that the SWP would be in a better position ? Stronger ? More influence ? Easier to recruit , build a periphery ?'

The short answer is: yes I do. All those wanting to attack the SWP would have had is a leaked (and in all likelihood partly inaccurate) transcript from the disputes committee. If SWP comrades had maintained discipline in the face of the resulting attacks and criticism - and simply said, 'yes, there undoubtedly are issues about how this was handled that the party needs to think about in future so that we would do things better in a future case but basically - this is nobody's business to sort out but ours - the main issue at the moment is fighting the Tories' [not members of the SWP CC or disputes committee] - then yes, I think things would have been a hell of a lot better now than they currently are. Yes there would undoubtedly have been stinking rows and hard political arguments inside the party at some branches and so on - and some comrades would have been pissed off at it all - but ultimately you have to have confidence - as Callinicos says - that the SWP is bigger and better than to split or fragment politically over essentially our handling of a personal matter involving two or perhaps three people in which there are really no major political disagreements over strategy and tactics at stake.

At 3:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"do I think, if the "rebels" in the SWP hadn't gone public, and all that was going on was the criticism or attacks (two quite different things) from the outside on "rape allegations" and "kangaroo courts" on one side, and the occasional sulky response from the SWP on the other, that the SWP would be in a better position ? Stronger ? More influence ? Easier to recruit , build a periphery ? The short answer is: yes I do."
This is mental. It can only possibly make sense to anyone inside the party. A lot of people who in the past have been wiling to work with yous in one area or another are very disturbed by what we've heard. For anyone outside the party - and really, I mean anyone, have you seen any defence of the CC by anyone outside? - the only argument that can be made for continuing to work alongside the SWP rather than severing relations altogether is that there are still some decent people within the organisation, and the level of public dissent is proof of this. If everyone had gone along with the Party line like good little Leninists, then you'd be seen as even more toxic and indefensibly cultish than you are now. In a lot of people's eyes, the rebels are doing you lot a big favour in terms of making it harder to just write the whole organisation off entirely.

At 3:27 pm, Blogger Roobin said...

"amid the mounting hostile pressure in the media / social media from those outside the party".

This is called the Real World, and it's bloody inconvenient to Alex Callinicos. The (accurate) transcript was leaked - it's in the public domain. Silence is not an option, especially as it's becoming increasingly clear the skulduggery (expulsions, bullying, the doctored documents, the suppression of documents, incitement of comrade against comrade, the general inversion of all democratic principles) used to protect Delta goes back further than this year.


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