The business of sectariana


I’m not certain, but I have a feeling it was the late Al Richardson who came up with the concept of “market socialism”, the idea that far-left groups function like small businesses. The paradigmatic example of corporate Trotskyism would I suppose be the US SWP under the infamous Jack Barnes, which has long since become a successful publishing venture with a small party attached to it.

There is also the phenomenon of small left groups using commercial printing work to subsidise their revolutionary apparat. Gerry Healy was the trailblazer here, but Militant did it to good effect and so did Cliff’s SWP.

In general, “market socialism” has a less literal application, but still a good one in that the rules of competition, of market niches and of trying to get yourself a saleable product apply. Not to mention the proprietorial instincts of the groups’ leaders. Observers of the left with a taste for British sitcoms can be more specific yet. Militant, now rebranded the Socialist Party, is a bit like Arkwright’s in Open All Hours, a business at least two decades past its peak, clinging on like grim death to its customer base and with horizons so prosaic that a new bell for Granville’s bike seems the height of extravagance. The SWP are more like Del Boy, flogging dodgy goods out of the back of a van, consoling themselves with the hope that this time next year they’ll have a mass revolutionary party. If only they could shift these Latvian toasters…

(Although Kieran Allen reminds me more of Swiss Toni, but that’s another story.) 

If you can think of a left group that functions like Grace Brothers, we can have a full set. 

And now, from the good folks at Red Squirrel’s Lair, we have this extraordinary tale of Dave North, proprietor of the Socialist Equality Party/International Committee of the Fourth International/World Socialist Website, a fragment of the Healy movement best known for continuing its former guru’s charming practice of branding anyone who disagrees with it a CIA agent. But in real life Comrade North, it seems, is not a million miles removed from printing company CEO David W Green. Nice one Dave!


  1. ejh said,

    April 26, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    For what it’s worth, the head librarian at my old place of work, whenever she needed to evade some responsibility which she was paid to attend to, would send us all an email declaring how pleased she was with our work. The comparison with Young Mr Grace saying “you’ve all doing very well” every episode was too plain to miss.

  2. Red Squirrel said,

    April 26, 2007 at 9:59 pm

    I wonder if comrade North is against or in favour of business subsidies.

  3. Darren said,

    April 28, 2007 at 6:55 am

    I think the late Al Richardson used the term ‘consumer’ socialism, rather than ‘market’ socialism.

    I think “resolutionary’ socialism was one of his as well.

  4. Darren said,

    April 28, 2007 at 7:00 am

    Oops, sorry for that. I only skimmed before making my first comment.

    Richardson used the term ‘consumer’ socialism, for those excuses – sorry I mean, ideological reasons – for why the various generals without armies that make up the vanguardist left felt the need to be have their separate central committees etc etc.

    Btw, shouldn’t Kieran Allen be SWSS Toni? I’ll get my coat.

  5. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 28, 2007 at 10:44 am

    Of course, ‘consumer’ socialism. And for customer base read the sociology of the recruits, which is an interesting subject in itself.

    Since Kieran got his high-powered position at UCD, I’ve seen him wearing suits on occasion, while the old green jumper with no elbows seems to have been retired. Now if he would grow the ‘tache and start blow-drying, the resemblance would be even more uncanny.

  6. Ed Hayes said,

    April 30, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    Kieran has come a long way since his days as a national school teacher, scribbling his way through dozens of kids homework while grappling with the question of whether or not the south was a neo-colony, getting severe dressing downs every summer in London from the intolerant Tony Cliff who didn’t realize what a tough job being the IS tendencey’s Irish supremo and having a real job was. Now that he lectures in sociology that problem is solved…

  7. December 3, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    […] tradition on the left of Marxist entrepreneurialism, something I’ve touched on to some degree before. The key in this is the printshop. Traditionally, the organisation will acquire printing equipment […]

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