To return to Roger Ebert, I’ve always been well served by his dictum that a film is not about what it’s about, but about how it’s about it. This is actually a basic part of literary theory that you can trace all the way back to Homer. After all, the Iliad is not about the Trojan War – I recommend Dio Chrysostom on this point as an early example of deconstructionist criticism – it’s about the wrath of Achilles. The Iliad’s modern-day equivalent, Catch-22, is likewise not about the Second World War but about the wrath of Yossarian.
I think this appeals to me so much because it echoes JP Cannon’s old crack that there are always two reasons for a split, a good reason and the real reason. Note that this isn’t the same as Kremlinology or the sort of second-guessing that the Phoenix goes in for with Bertie (often rising to the level of third- or fourth-guessing), but just a way of looking at underlying themes that often throws what people say – even what they consciously think – into sharp relief.
I wasn’t an Ard Fheis delegate in 1986, for two reasons. The first was that I wasn’t a member of Sinn Féin, although some other folks got in who were never seen before or since. More practically, I was in the Soviet Union, which made intervening in Irish politics rather difficult. Nevertheless, had I been a delegate, I would have voted for the abstentionist position with both hands, despite the fact that I’m not an abstentionist. I would have done so based not on the wording of the resolution as put, but on the trajectory that I thought it indicated, on the forces involved and, yes, on the personalities involved and my estimation of their characters.
Which leads me on to Mike Macnair’s latest, kindly pointed out by Cameron, which analyses the Respect crisis in terms of an outbreak of rhetorical leftism from the SWP CC. Mike’s position can be boiled down to the following paragraph:
The politics of the debate, such as it is so far, is not a pretty sight. It is a certain kind of debate: one like the debate between the Bukharinite ‘rights’ and the Stalinists in 1929-33; and one like the debate between ‘Euros’ and ‘tankies’ in the ‘official communist’ parties in the 1970s. In other words, a debate between rightists who represent themselves as favouring democracy, pluralism and broad unity and bureaucrats who for the moment represent themselves as leftists.
Let’s leave aside the historical analogies for the moment. I’m not sure of the relevance of the Bukharin-Lovestone-Brandler “right opposition”, who were much better than any of the participants in this fight. And Mike is just plain wrong when it comes to the CPGB of the 1970s – as any fule kno, the “tankies” were those who insisted on party democracy, while the Euros were those who resorted to a draconian regime of mass expulsions, exclusions and disbandment of recalcitrant party bodies. The devolution of most of the old Marxism Today hard right towards what is now New Labour was hardly an accident.
What Mike seems to me to be arguing is that there is a “fake leftism” in the air, specifically in the argumentation of the SWP CC, while what is needed is a “real left”. I’ll agree with him thus far, but would point out that it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two, even for the adepts of Jack Conrad Thought.
But, put very basically, what I take from Mike’s article is that the SWP CC are disingenuous fuckers. No duh. It is rather difficult to take what the CC have been saying at face value, especially when they find it hard to get through a paragraph without contradicting themselves. So it’s fair to assume that a certain amount of posturing is going on. (I further note some – possibly tongue-in-cheek – support for the CC’s position from the AWL, who are disingenuous fuckers themselves.)
So what of George’s sudden conversion to democracy and pluralism? It will be recalled that supporters of Socialist Resistance – and the Lord loves a tryer – have been calling since the foundation of Respect four years ago for democracy, accountability etc. Consistently, George combined with the SWP to vote them down, which is why I thought they were on a hiding to nothing. It was abundantly clear that the kind of regime favoured by George was whatever regime gave George the maximum freedom of manoeuvre. As long as he had a chummy relationship with the Sheriff of Nottingham, that suited George down to the ground. But the more the SWP tried to import its internal regime into Respect… well, it’s not surprising George would chafe a little.
Is George serious about democracy and accountability? Well, his record to date suggests we should be a little sceptical. Nonetheless, if he is taking up the cudgels for democracy, it hardly matters. If he is serious, well and good. If, as Mike argues, he’s a fake democrat, then he’s making a noose for his own neck. Sin é.
Rud eile: I’m not doing Search of the Week, simply because there is very little of interest in this week’s searches. But I’m intrigued by celebrity women dentures, and even more so by Protocols of the Elders of Éire.