Medice, cura teipsum!

cod_windsor_me_hattie

A little gem today from Sean Matgamna, proprietor of the Alliance for Workers Liberty. As part of the AWL’s recycling policy, which has the happy outcome of putting more of the tendency’s older material into the public domain, we have a 15-year-old critique of the late Gerry Healy. Why Sean feels this to be relevant at this moment in time is a mystery to me, but it does contain a few notable hostages to fortune.

Official “Trotskyism” since Trotsky has been an unstable amalgam of Trotsky’s hostility to Stalinism and reluctant endorsements of Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Tito’s versions of Stalinism as deformed expressions of “the world socialist revolution.” Everywhere this “Trotskyism” has been inherently unstable.

There’s something to that, although I don’t think embracing Zionism marks any great ideological progress.

Healy was a highly volatile fellow who tended to believe what he wanted to believe, and ever more so as he got old at the heart of an organisation where his every whim was law. At the centre of a machine where no-one could make him take account of anything he wanted to ignore, Healy slowly went mad — or, if you like, retreated into such a childish, me-centred solipsistic view of the world that it came to the same thing.

Ahem. Well, we’ve seen that more than once…

For example, by the late 1960s the SLL was turning up at 100,000-strong anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations with leaflets asserting that the marches were a conspiracy by the press to boost the march organisers at the expense of great Marxists like Healy!

This is true, the famous “Why the Socialist Labour League is not marching” leaflet has gone down in legend. Nowadays, of course, the British left is much more mature, and pulling off such a madcap stunt – the equivalent, I suppose, would be turning up at a pro-Palestinian rally waving an Israeli flag – would be unthinkable.

Healy concentrated more and more on expounding a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Hegelian gobbledygook reminiscent, despite its verbiage about “dialectics” and so on, of nothing so much as L Ron Hubbard’s dianetics, around which the Church of Scientology has been constructed. This stuff mixed oddly with his continuing “political” concerns and the lines were often crossed: it was not unknown for the WRP press to denounce someone as both a police agent and a “philosophical idealist.”

Somewhere on my bookshelf I have a copy of Whither Thornett? by Mike Banda, a small classic of the genre. But again, this sort of thing was never exclusive to the Healy movement although it took a particularly sharp form there.

They churned out crude Arab-chauvinist propaganda lauding Saddam Hussein and Libya’s ruler Colonel Gaddafi and denouncing Israel and “Zionism.”

It’s just as well no current British left group would stoop to producing hasbara for a Middle Eastern government.

He dominated his organisation by uninhibited brute force. The ‘cadre’ of the group came to be the product of ‘selection’— survival— through a never-ending serious of savage sado-masochistic rituals, involving the pillorying, hounding, denouncing, then self-denouncing and self-prostrating at one time or another of most of the hard core. In this way Healy built a machine that was essentially depoliticised, ready like the Stalinist parties for any “turn.” It was a farcical caricature of Stalinism despite its verbal “Trotskyism.”

The sex and violence really is where Healyism was sui generis. But that’s not to say that the content, as opposed to the form, was unique. There is a man on the British left who was once a serial expellee from left groups and later, having accumulated some disciples, became a serial expeller; despite claiming that his group had only a soupçon of centralism leavening its democracy, he turned out to have a pretty short way with dissident comrades. I wish I could remember his name, or that of his group.

Still, it’s all good fun. Takes a swami to critique a swami.

87 Comments

  1. Neil said,

    March 19, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Great stuff.

    I think Sean is actually being quite rude for not churning out a heavy weight denunciation as a reward for all your hard work!

  2. Dr Paul said,

    March 20, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Hmmm, ‘to critique’ indeed. Since when have you become an American academic?

  3. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 20, 2009 at 3:42 am

    The amount of focus by our good friend Sean on the personalities of Grant, Cliff, Healy is worrying. Is he begging for someone to do this for him?

    The general rambling character of his writing, the disconnect from paragraph to paragraph, the “we alone” mentality, the niche market occupation of both Schactmanism and Left Zionism: good stuff that.

    I like how all the “forerunners” of Matgamna’s groups have completely different politics from each previous runner. The founding document is about how The Militant are crap organizers and won’t grow due to lack of dynamism. Sean apparently had all the answers for growth and dynamism.

  4. Ken MacLeod said,

    March 20, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Sean Matgamna’s infliction of his Vogon poetry on the group’s public press is hardly up there with Healy’s crimes, but the psychological scars it must leave on the cadre will make for quite a misery memoir some day.

  5. March 20, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I wonder why the membership of the AWL hasn’t revolted against Matgamna’s (bad) poetry

  6. Doug said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Because most of them are barmpots, except, obviously, Jim Denham, whose level-headed reasoned thoughts and respectful debates with other socialists, is an example to us all. Perhaps we ought to have a little fun competition – who has the most absurd reason for being accused of being an anti-semite? Perhaps at the greengrocers an AWL member witnessed you casually picking up some oranges and then you realised too late that they weren’t Jaffas.

  7. March 20, 2009 at 10:50 am

    [...] * Sean Matgamna: Gerry Healy and the Failure of the Old British Trotskyist Movement (1994 … einen Kommentar zu diesem Artikel findet mensch auf Splintered Sunrise) [...]

  8. March 20, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Brilliant stuff.

    Ever considered it may have been a closeted opponent of SM in the AWL office that dug this out and stuck it up?

  9. RobM said,

    March 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Could be. In which case, I eagerly await further revelations from the anti-Sean faction in the AWL. Perhaps someone will go public with allegations of his forcing his rhyming couplets down the throats of impressionable young recruits at a secret Zionist Education College…
    But, sadly, the AWL seems to be devoid of the kind of personalities which made the break up of the WRP such a compelling soap. Who in the AWL could really take on the mantle of the Elastic Banda Brothers or Vanessa & Corin?

  10. Dr Paul said,

    March 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    The AWL, and especially its ganzer macher, is very sensitive to any idea that it might share the sins of any other left-wing group. A few years back, I made the mistake of writing a brief letter to the Weekly Worker asking if the AWL worked out its political positions in much the same way as the defunct Revolutionary Communist Party; that is, seeing what other groups had to say, and then saying something different.

    A couple of weeks later, a thinly-disguised Sean Matgamna (‘Cyclops’) spent nearly a whole page in Solidarity denouncing me, a somewhat disproportionate response and surely a somewhat profligate use of valuable space in the party paper. What annoyed him the most was my comparison between the AWL and the RCP in respect of policy formation.

    Yet there are similarities amongst all left-wing groups, not least the manner in which each leader tends to treat his organisation as his own personal property (it’s true that Healy took things a little further by treating female members as his own private property, but, vide the original post, this is just an extreme development of the general tendency). Whatever their class backgrounds, left-wing leaders all end up with the characteristics of a particularly obsessive, grumpy small sweetshop owner, the ultimate petit-bourgeois.

  11. Hasta siempre comandante said,

    March 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I wonder what the shekel exchange rate is against the pound. I bet the AWL knows it.

  12. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 20, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Hasta whatever said, tout court:

    “I wonder what the shekel exchange rate is against the pound. I bet the AWL knows it.”

    I find that unacceptable in so many ways.

  13. Duncan said,

    March 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    except, obviously, Jim Denham, whose level-headed reasoned thoughts and respectful debates with other socialists, is an example to us all.

    The fact that I laughed out loud at that is a sad indication of how introverted the socialist left in the UK is.

  14. Hasta siempre comandante said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    So you think the splenetic hasbara of the AWL is voluntary work, then?

  15. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    I don’t know Duncan #12. Maybe its just who you read and who they read.

    I hope so.

    Actually I think that if I break up what I wrote above over several lines, I could submit it to the Workers’ Liberty poetry corner.

    (Mind you, that’s true of almost anything. Being published is what matters.)

  16. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Ken MacLeod said:

    “Sean Matgamna’s infliction of his Vogon poetry on the group’s public press is hardly up there with Healy’s crimes…”

    Speak for yourself, matey.

    Oh, you have – sorry about that.

  17. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 20, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Hasta..,.said tout court:

    “So you think the splenetic hasbara of the AWL is voluntary work, then?”

    Yes, I do.

  18. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 21, 2009 at 11:33 am

    They remind me a bit of the Scoop Jackson Society, who seem to have forgotten that the whole point of Labour Atlanticism is that the CIA pay you to do it. The Scoopies actually seem to do it for free, which is much scarier.

    I’ve no doubt that there are shekels being disbursed in the British labour movement, but I suspect Sean’s position has much more to do with niche marketing. As Dr Paul says, very much like the RCP. And Sean, as a former Granville who has long since graduated to Arkwright status, knows the value that a small but loyal clientele can have to your business.

  19. Garibaldy said,

    March 21, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Not too sure SS that Labour Atlanticism is the point of Scoop Jackson Society. More like good old fashioned imperialism.

  20. johng said,

    March 22, 2009 at 10:51 am

    This is so frustrating. The only point of the AWL is to watch them becoming indignant. Where are they? Why won’t they write long diatribes about what a “disgrace” this article is? My own feeling is that they got a little carried away with having a “respectable” audience. They are regularly congratulated by the decents on their decency. The fact that they took comfort from being patronised by these people tells its own story. The complete lack of any real base anywhere I suspect. A number of individuals got “all the way off the boat” and now harangue their ex-comrades for not being “consistant”.

  21. Andy Newman said,

    March 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Incidently, a special gem from Jim Denham is his recent argument on Dave Osler’s blog that Protestantism is inherently ideologically and politically progressive compared to Catholicism.

    Happily cheerleading for the Israelis seemlessly morphing into support for the UDA?

  22. Liam said,

    March 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    This is not a sentence I often use but here goes. Jim might be right. The rejection of hierarchy, the individual path to salvation and the right to dissent are not big in Catholic teaching.

    I’m looking forward to see if any of Jim’s co-thinkers appear on Saturday’s demo wearing those IDF T-shirts as a way of asserting their distinctive views on Palestine.

  23. Dr Paul said,

    March 23, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Re John G at 20: One of the more amusing things I saw on the Workers Liberty site a few years back was when Jane Ashworth, a former Matgamnaite and now Eustonite, was berating the AWL for not doing this or that (I forget exactly what). I commented that there was a certain irony in a former member of an organisation berating her erstwhile comrades in the manner reminiscent of a central committee member or head office apparatchik giving orders to lowly cadres. Old habits die hard, I guess.

  24. johng said,

    March 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    The other side of that coin is the wierd attempt by AWL’ers to denounce in the strongest possible terms Alan Johnson, editor of that wierd little decent journal whose name escapes me now (some reference to the enthusiasm about civil society and everything eastern european which seized people in 1989 I believe), an ex-member of theirs who later spent a little time in the SWP, before after 9/11 leaving the Marxist left altogeather. Jim was particularly furious when I suggested that given the AWL’s beliefs, he seemed to have drawn the logical conclusion of them rather then engaged in any serious apostasy. For the life of me I can’t work what differences in principle Jim is supposed to have with someone like Alan. The stuff about the inherent progressiveness of Protestantism suprises me not at all. I recall an argument with Jim where I suggested that his line on Islam was more paisley then marxist. He never responded (well….I think he accused me of being a Nazi or some such at that point but I didn’t really count it as a response). How serious a mess are they in by the way? Not that it matters much, but I’ve found myself wondering over the last year whether they might not disapear altogeather.

  25. johng said,

    March 23, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    …they were’nt that big in actually existing historical protestantism either Liam. I recall reading about how actual Calvinist communities were a damn sight more repressive and intrusive then anything feudalism could have dreamt up. Thats not to be philistine about the broader connection between protestantism and revolutionary struggles associated with the dawnings of capitalism, but I sometimes think people guild the lily a little in discussions of communities were children could be beheaded for raising a hand to their parents.

  26. johng said,

    March 23, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    Ironically from Jim’s point of view there is a parrallel between this and the contradictory relationship of political Islam to historical change…

  27. Dr Paul said,

    March 23, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    I think that the vehemence of AWL’s denunciation of Alan Johnson might be related to the fact that his drift to the right is a continuation of their own drift in that direction. If you look at some of Shachtman’s critiques of those who drifted to the right before he went the whole hog himself, you’ll find a similar feel. It’s as if Shachtmanites past and present subconsciously know that a central factor in their politics inexorably draws them to the right, and their vehemence is a subconscious recognition of that.

    The baffling thing is why left-wingers today would adopt a tradition of that type; in Jim Higgin’s immortal words, ‘why reinvent the wheel when it was only a very little one that moved inexorably to the right’. Matgamna & Co insist that it was not niche marketing, that a Shachtmanite group would fill a gap in Britain’s left-wing market-place and thus bring in a few recruits attracted to something (at least here) novel. So why do it, seeing where Shachtman ended up?

  28. johng said,

    March 23, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Alan Johnson himself always had a romantic relationship with the history he was writing of the Shactmanites. I think he came to genuinely believe that it was 1950s America all over again. A perenial danger for us Trots I reckon, the romantic pull of the past. I wonder if part of the attraction of Shactmanism on the AWL wasn’t academic. If you look back at the ’90s this was the period in which arguments about the alleged decline of imperialism went hand in hand with the rebirth of liberal internationalism and global governance: a must believe in those days for any aspiring academic. They somehow married all this to a rhetorical anti-stalinism and anti-third worldism believing they were riding the tide of a new modernity.

    Then came 9/11.

  29. NollaigO said,

    March 24, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Only us exTrots and exRCers are allowed to criticise our old churches!!
    As regards Protestantism being more progressive than Catholicism:
    In the twentieth century mass communist parties were far more common in countries where Catholicism was the dominant religion rather than in ones where Protestantism prevailed.

  30. Neil said,

    March 24, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    “In the twentieth century mass communist parties were far more common in countries where Catholicism was the dominant religion rather than in ones where Protestantism prevailed.”

    Non sequiter.

  31. johng said,

    March 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    well yeah it is a bit. Communist parties tended to do better countries where what in old fashioned language, the tasks of the democratic revolution remained to be settled. In protastant countries they tended to make them up but it wasn’t quite as compelling. Some of our comrades DO still try though…

  32. March 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    in France and Italy, the CP was very successful in areas with a strong secularist or anti-clerical tradition (e.g. the French South-West and Emilia-Romagna, Umbria (both parts of the papal state up to 1860) & Toscana) … interestingly, the Italian CP attracted in the 1940ies and 1950ies a non-negligable percentage of the adherents of the (small) non-RC churches in Italy (Waldesians, Greek Catholics, etc.) and the protestants in Spain were strongly pro-republican in 1936-39 … an interesting observation is, that the KPD was able to be successfull in some of the catholic industrial areas of Germany were the SPD never was able to make major inroads (Upper Silesia, Saar, catholic parts of the Ruhr area) in the period 1921-1933 but the KPD was also successfull in some of the originally protestant industrial areas (Berlin, Halle-Merseburg, protestant Ruhr area)

  33. Jason S. said,

    March 24, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Dr. Paul: “It’s as if Shachtmanites past and present subconsciously know that a central factor in their politics inexorably draws them to the right, and their vehemence is a subconscious recognition of that.”

    Inexorably? Explain Hal Draper and his co-thinkers, then, or the “Shachtmanites” in the International Socialists-US who later helped form Solidarity (www.solidarity-us.org). Or the “Shatchtmanites” who founded NEW POLITICS (www.newpol.org). Might not Matgammna’s problems be HIS problems, not connected to (left-wing) “Shachtmanism” per se?

  34. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 25, 2009 at 12:21 am

    johng #20 said:

    “This is so frustrating. The only point of the AWL is to watch them becoming indignant. ”

    Yes, I am disappointed too. You hope for a Gerry Healy, Lyndon Larouche type breakdown – but nothing happens. As for apostasy, just idiosyncratic posing re the state of Israel.

    Just not good enough.

  35. johng said,

    March 25, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Then of course there is the R H Tawney critique of the transition to capitalism and his variant of feudal socialism (cf Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, a recent discovery for me, and a very pleasurable one). If I wax lyrical about feudal socialism do you think an AWLer might finally come on here in a state of high indignation?

  36. Dr Paul said,

    March 25, 2009 at 12:19 pm

    Re Jason at 33: I’m not denying that not a few Shachtmanites stayed loyal to genuine socialism — Draper being a good example — but what is interesting is that Shachtman’s group sloughed off rightward-moving individuals and splinters right from the start, commencing with James Burnham in 1940, right through to Shachtman himself effectively leaving his own past in the late 1950s.

    It certainly seems to be the case that Shachtman’s group served as a channel through which revolutionary Marxists could move to left-wing social democracy, right-wing social democracy, liberalism or neo-conservatism avant la lettre, with only relatively few staying loyal to their original views.

    The question is whether this continual rightward sloughing was inherent as a result of a core feature of Shachtmanism — its view that the Soviet Union represented a new form of class society — or whether it was a series of separate defections unconnected to this, and was rather the normal sorry process of deradicalisation that we see with people in most if not all left-wing groups.

    I think that the group’s analysis of the Soviet Union played an important part in this. If Stalinism represented a new form of society that could not afford the rights won by the working class in advanced capitalist countries, then one can see how people holding this view could come to see Stalinism as a bigger enemy than imperialism.

    Could it be that the rightward-moving splinters were by their defection to the right drawing the logical conclusion of one key feature of Shachtmanism, and that, by corollary, Draper & Co failed to draw Shachtmanism to its logical conclusion?

  37. johng said,

    March 25, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve always been interested in the way that the AWL seem to have adopted a stages theory of history. This has meant that they tend to ally with Stalinists who have become so obsessed with the democratic revolution that they have started to look for some deux ex machina to achieve it. In the case of the said Stalinists this is understandable in the sense that a) they’re often in a horrendous position with respect to awful regimes b) their own politics mean that seeking for deux ex machina is hardly a new experiance; various progressive bourgoisie’s rising and falling not to speak of the Soviet Union itself. In the case of the AWL the reality is less comprehensible. Unlike the Shactmanites it isn’t even as if there is any need for socialists to be as isolated as they were during the 1950s. They are however trying very hard to reproduce the situation for themselves. Unlike the RCP though I don’t really see’s these people as careerists in the narrow media sense. For one thing why hire an AWL member when you’ve got Christopher Hitchens to do the same thing. And look at the fate of Alan Johnson. Complete obscurity really. Its puzzling. There is always the Higgens theory of course.

  38. johng said,

    March 25, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    STILL they’re not rising to the bait.

  39. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 25, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Denham has bad taste in jazz. Nobody ever says “Zionists” when they really mean “Jews.” The AWL is the exact same group as the CPGB, except the leaders of each respective group didn’t want to go through the hassle that would’ve come with a merger (dividing up the positions and finance). Prostitution should be banned. Enlightenment values are cultural imperialism.

    Surely, that’ll get em here.

  40. johng said,

    March 26, 2009 at 10:59 am

    I reckon what we need is more Arab nationalism. COME ON!!

  41. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 26, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Jim Denham eats kitsch!

  42. johng said,

    March 26, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    I reckon there is a lot one can learn from feudalism.

  43. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 26, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    “If we build it, they will come.” The attention will boost their egos, making them all the more intolerable (and entertaining) in other forums. We should continue with one comment a day.

    When reading the Communist Manifesto, there is no need to go over the part on “reactionary socialism.” It has no relevance to today.

  44. johng said,

    March 26, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I read Fanon every day. He had some interesting ideas.

  45. Ken MacLeod said,

    March 26, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    It’s important not to overlook the gains for the working class that remained in the workers’ states, however degenerated. In a similar vein, the progressive elements in Islamist thought should be seriously engaged with, rather than dismissed as ‘reactionary socialism’. To give credit where it’s due, the SWP’s theoretical journal has done serious work here, notably in the contributions of John Rees and Chris Harman, who are among the most significant Marxist thinkers of our time.

  46. Ken MacLeod said,

    March 26, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    As even Zizek has not dared to say, the correct response to the liberal-reactionary plaint ‘Stalin was worse than Hitler’ is ‘Yes! And a good thing, too! How fortunate for our side that we had someone worse than the worst your side could throw at us!’

    (Actually, and going out of character for a moment, I can imagine Zizek saying just that.)

  47. Ken MacLeod said,

    March 26, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    It’s spelled ‘Kosovo’.

  48. Neil said,

    March 27, 2009 at 1:00 am

    By the way what does Jim Denham look like?
    Is he by any chance an angry, heavy set fellow with glasses?

  49. Lambert Lie Detector said,

    March 27, 2009 at 6:36 am

    39 Denham has bad tasting jizz? Surely not…

  50. men should weep said,

    March 27, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Open letters to “the left” or indeed anybody else are mawkish and trite devices.

    It is not customary practice to end sentences with an exclamation mark.

    The SWP’s strategy in relation to Respect did not remind me of the CPGB in 1939-40.

  51. johng said,

    March 27, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Shariati is a very interesting thinker much under-rated by Marxists.

  52. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 27, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Edward Said as well. Sean Matgamna is from a middle-class background, possibly not even Irish.

  53. Dr Paul said,

    March 27, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    There was a picture of Jim Denham in an AWL paper some years back, and he looked rather like Reg Varney, the actor of On the Buses fame. When I finally saw him at the infamous AWL/CPGB imbroglio over the Middle East a few months back in the Lukács Arms in London, I was disappointed to find that he didn’t look a bit like Reg Varney. Who says the camera doesn’t lie?

  54. johng said,

    March 27, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Edward Said is indeed a writer that Jim Denham would do well to read more. His theses on Orientalism has been particularly important in improving the quality of research and discussion about the middle east. And yes whenever I read anything by Sean Matgamna I for some reason always imagine him as David Cameron sort.

  55. johng said,

    March 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Jim on the other hand has a reputation for being red-faced and belligerent, spraying spittle everywhere as he hammers away on a key board. Thus when a rumour spread that he’d had an altercation with Ger Francis there was an unpardonable lack of sympathy amongst quite large numbers of people is my understanding. I was shocked.

  56. charliethechulo said,

    March 28, 2009 at 1:33 am

    Any attempt to draw a comparison between Gerry H, a rapist and a violent man in politics, with Sean Matgamna, a sharp polemicist, but a man who abides by the strictest codes of personal and political behaviour (and has also has a record of personal concern towards former factional opponents in old age and difficulties), is disreputable. “splintered Sunrise” owes Matgamna an apology. Only then do you have the moral or political authority to enter into a debate.

  57. Jim Denham said,

    March 28, 2009 at 3:27 am

    “Dr Paul”

    What you’ve written is is absolutely contemptible, (“It’s true that Healy took things a little bit further…”!!!), and requires an apology:

    “Dr Paul said,
    March 20, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    “The AWL, and especially its ganzer macher, is very sensitive to any idea that it might share the sins of any other left-wing group. A few years back, I made the mistake of writing a brief letter to the Weekly Worker asking if the AWL worked out its political positions in much the same way as the defunct Revolutionary Communist Party; that is, seeing what other groups had to say, and then saying something different.

    “A couple of weeks later, a thinly-disguised Sean Matgamna (’Cyclops’) spent nearly a whole page in Solidarity denouncing me, a somewhat disproportionate response and surely a somewhat profligate use of valuable space in the party paper. What annoyed him the most was my comparison between the AWL and the RCP in respect of policy formation.

    “Yet there are similarities amongst all left-wing groups, not least the manner in which each leader tends to treat his organisation as his own personal property (it’s true that Healy took things a little further by treating female members as his own private property, but, vide the original post, this is just an extreme development of the general tendency). Whatever their class backgrounds, left-wing leaders all end up with the characteristics of a particularly obsessive, grumpy small sweetshop owner, the ultimate petit-bourgeois.”

  58. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:43 am

    Oh, this is very, very funny. I can spot several names in this thread who enjoy the odd whinge about how others are obsessed with sectarian point-scoring: a case of physician heal thyself evidently. Nevertheless, quite an amusing thread, especially the guy who asked whether the AWL is in the pay of the Jews or whatever the phrasing was (and well done for challenging him, y’all apart from Lobby…). Can’t say I ever noticed anything untoward on that front myself, mind. I’ll ring Rothschild later if you like and ask him if Matgamna’s on the books.

    I genuinely did find all this a good read though, and have one point to add. John, you seem to have forgotten that during one of his incarnations Alan Johnson was a card-carrying member of the SWP, was he not? Obviously you presumably think that this is a mere aberration which says nothing about the SWP as a group, whereas his time in the AWL says everything about them?

  59. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:46 am

    PS on that subject the roll of honour also includes (at various stages of the IS/SWP’s evolution) Gary Bushell, P and C Hitchens, doesn’t it? Again obviously this says nothing about the SWP as a group and is just Crimes Of The SWP Sectarianism.

  60. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I did not forget it. I actually mention it in the above thread. As it happened I collaberated with Alan Johnson in some work and I remember arguing with him about some of his politics. He was always extremely well mannered about these disagreements, but it was very clear, as he himself concluded, that membership of the SWP was incompatible with his politics. Of some interest is a document he wrote shortly after 9/11 called ‘why I signed’ (google it) in which he berates Christopher Hitchens for reacting to 9/11 by falling into the arms of the pro-war leadership of western countries (something which he claimed the AWL had done previously citing this as a reason for leaving them and joining the SWP). He subsequently rejected this line of argument, and it has to be said, pretty honestly, repudiated his past involvement with the anti-imperialist left, and indeed with substantial portions of the Marxist tradition. As to sarcastic claims about whether or not the AWL are an AIPAC like body, I don’t happen to think they are. For one thing they are a bit too silly.

  61. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Incidently I very much enjoy the demands for an apology for suggesting that the AWL may share charecteristics with the rest of the left. In some ways I think this is fair comment although not for the reasons Jim Denham thinks. To adopt the style ‘you should apologise MISTER Dr Paul’.

    On the various defectors from the SWP, whilst the organisation I am a member of has many faults, I suspect that in this case the reasons are quite simply that it is a little bit LARGER. In saying this I am no doubt guilty of BIG GROUP CHAUVINISM.

  62. March 28, 2009 at 9:34 am

    [...] lovers of sectarian bun-fighting (and let’s face it, who isn’t on a Saturday morning?), there’s a treat over at Splintered Sunrise. He’s dug up an article by Sean Matgamna, who presumably dug it up himself for publishing [...]

  63. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Are you still holding to the old “10,000 members” line John? Or has that gone by the by? ;-)

  64. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Oh, also by the way “Crimes Of The SWP” is a real stock phrase that SWP’ers use to deflect criticism of their historical role in anything. That’s why it’s funny, see? Whereas you just made that big group chauvinism thing up didn’t you…

  65. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Nah. Big Group Chauvinism is a CPGB thing I think. But then again I don’t pay much attention to exactly who says what because I’m a big group chauvinist with a low level of political education. Incidently I’m annoyed that I couldn’t make it to hijack that protest by ordinary people today. Very annoyed.

  66. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. You do know some stuff about India and that. It’s just the socialism bit that needs a little work ;-)

  67. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I will be studying the rational and serious points made by Nick Cohen in order to rectify this defect.

  68. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    No no no you see that’s the problem. Neither Cohen nor Nasrallah but International Socialism, comrade.

  69. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 28, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Healy was useful for despotic states because his group had an apparatus and a base that could actually achieve important underhanded things. As for Sean…no need for anyone to hire him. Actually, I imagine that’s part of his motivation for the niche politics: keeps him a job when he has no talent for anything useful in capitalist society (if his writing skills and poetry are any indication).

  70. Moreno Truth Kit said,

    March 28, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I WANT AN APOLOGY!!!
    The above seems to only be screamed by small children and British leftists.

    Johng: my job here is done. Who says the CWI and the IST can’t collaborate effectively?

  71. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Ohh Uhhh Hezbollah. I am pleased that the fraternal merger between the CWI and the IST around the complete silliness of all matters connected to the AWL is going well. In reality though comrades, its not a HUGE stretch is it?

  72. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Incidently we have 150, 000 members. It happened last week.

  73. johng said,

    March 28, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    We are all SWP now, etc.

  74. jschulman said,

    March 28, 2009 at 9:07 pm

    Dr. Paul asks: “The question is whether this continual rightward sloughing was inherent as a result of a core feature of Shachtmanism — its view that the Soviet Union represented a new form of class society — or whether it was a series of separate defections unconnected to this, and was rather the normal sorry process of deradicalisation that we see with people in most if not all left-wing groups.”

    Well, as you imply, plenty of people who held to an orthodox-Trotskyist or state-capitalist analysis of the Stalinist states have abandoned Marxism over the years. Some of the more prominent ex-SWP (“state cap”) ex-Marxists are mentioned above. Doesn’t that answer the question? Yes, comparatively speaking, more Shachtmanites abandoned Marxism. But there were always fewer Shachtmanites to begin with. The WP-ISL never had more than 600 members. (Nor did the Independent Socialist Clubs/International Socialists, which had more defections to the ultra-left than it did to the right.) So the number of “Left Shachtmanites” has always been small in comparison to ortho-Trots, Cliffites, etc.

  75. voltairespriest said,

    March 28, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Really? My mole on the CC told me you’d hit the million mark. There was going to be a march next week, burning effigies of John Rees and that, called the Million Member March, with chants of “Ooh Ahh Swoppah” and everything lol.

    I hear the IST/CWI merger has foundered over the thorny and difficult question of supporting strikes called by oikish oil workers btw. Sorry to report this downturn of events, but it may be time to batten down the hatches and ignore The Sects again.

  76. johng said,

    March 29, 2009 at 10:04 am

    You fail to understand the larger picture Voltaire. Everyone, whatever their other differences, unites against the decents.

  77. voltairespriest said,

    March 29, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Yes, such is the online left’s ability to see the real enemy. Big corporations? Naah. The political right? Naah. Fascism? Naah. Capitalism? Naah. David T and Nick Cohen? Yeah!

    Dear oh dear, I mean really, I’m not a fan of all that B52 Liberal neocon malarkey but I think there’s a need for a sense of perspective…

  78. Ken MacLeod said,

    March 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    voltairespriest: the guy who asked whether the AWL is in the pay of the Jews or whatever the phrasing was

    The phrasing was this: I wonder what the shekel exchange rate is against the pound. I bet the AWL knows it.

    I read this as suggesting that the AWL is ‘in the pay of’ a state whose currency unit is the shekel. My response to this outrageous insinuation would be along the lines of the well-known ditty about the British Trotskyist journalist.

  79. charliethechulo said,

    March 29, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Yeah, Ken: why suggest someone’s paid to spead BNP-type anti-semitism, when they’ll do it as a knee-jerk reaction for free, and claim to be “left wing” into the bargain?

  80. johng said,

    March 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Actually Voltaire I think B-52 Liberals have done rather a lot of harm to the world of late.

  81. splinteredsunrise said,

    March 29, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    In fact, Charlie, the BNP under the Griffin leadership has gone to great lengths in recent years to live down its antisemitic past and is now extremely pro-Israel. Apparently they’ve decided that the dastardly Mooslims are now the main enemy, which puts them in some interesting company.

  82. voltairespriest said,

    March 29, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    John: by… writing crap articles giving spurious reasons (not largely taken up) as to why the left of centre should support the right’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? You clearly attach more political weight to the likes of Hitchens, T and Cohen than I do. I still tend towards the view that the central problem with the world is capitalism, but then maybe I’ve missed something and a band of pro-war liberal journalists really are more of a threat than world poverty, war, exploitation and bigotry drawn into one. I’d be interested to hear why you think that is the case.

  83. Dr Paul said,

    March 29, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Re Jim D at # 57: You should know my phraseology by now, I have been contributing to your and other blogs for a couple of years, and my use of irony is pretty clear, even on serious matters like this.

    What Healy did with his female comrades was totally disgraceful, I have no doubt of that. However, what I was trying to say was that Healy was taking to an extreme (my word, which you cited) the proprietorial attitude that practically every left-wing leader I have encountered in words and/or deeds holds towards his own organisation. Healy was, of course, sui generis in what he did; Grant, Cannon, Mandel, Cliff, Matgamna and all the other ganzer machers have never behaved in such a dreadful manner towards female comrades, and nobody has ever suggested that they have.

    Nevertheless, history has shown that they do treat their organisations, to varying degrees, as their own personal property, like a classic petit-bourgeois would do towards his shop. Why else do I think of left-wing groups when I see ‘No hoodies, only three children at a time’ on the door of a local shop? Whether such leaders are aware of this trait I am not sure; the question of the relationship between a group leader and his group would make a very interesting topic for a research project. I do not think that this proprietorial standpoint is a healthy matter, and it helps to undermine democratic procedures on the left.

    However, much as I am reluctant to take a tip from someone who in his blog regularly and openly accuses left-wingers of anti-Semitism — a very serious accusation — for Jim’s benefit, I will try to make my use of irony a little more clear in future; perhaps it’s a shame there are not ‘ironics’ in the same manner as inverted commas.

  84. Jim Denham said,

    March 29, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    OK Doc: I’ll take that as an apology for comparing a sharp polemicist who once upset you, with a serial rapist. Hostilities over.

  85. Lobby Ludd said,

    March 30, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Hang on a minute, Jim. Since when was Healy a ‘sharp polemicist’ ?

    Badly, badly, wrong on all counts.

  86. johng said,

    March 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Yes Voltaire and what is the ideology of capitalism? under what ideological banner were these wars fought?

  87. Jim Denham said,

    April 2, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Under what idealogical banner do you, John, unwaveringly defend clerical fascism and most other of the most reactionary, fascistic ideologies active in the world today?


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