Decency, rhetorical dishonesty and psychological projection

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So, let’s return today to considering the rhetorical tropes of Decency. This time around I want to postulate that the Decents’ characteristic rhetorical style is closely linked to their group psychology. You see this demonstrated clearly in the methods of argumentation they use.

Guilt by association is a prominent one, and sometimes the associations are pretty tenuous. As in: the Socialist Workers Party, via the Stop the War Coalition, has a relationship with the Muslim Association of Britain; the MAB is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood; the Brotherhood reveres the obscurantist theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi; therefore the SWP must endorse the teachings of Qaradawi, especially the more outré ones about gays and women. Now, the SWP may be opportunistic in their alliances, but I’m fairly sure they don’t endorse stoning gays. It’s a bit like saying that, because Marko Attila Hoare endorses Chechen separatism and so does Osama bin Laden, therefore the Decent Left are fellow travellers of al-Qaeda.

Another one is “if you’re not with us you’re against us”. This draws not only on the rhetoric of GW Bush, but also on many of the Decent cadre’s background in far-left sectarian groups. A basic part of the sectarian’s psychological makeup is that anyone not entirely enamoured of his sect is on the side of the enemy. A sort of reductio ad absurdum of this appears below, with the assumption of SWP comrades that if I’m cynical about their little campaign around the Glen Road barracks site, then I must want West Belfast to be overrun by the Greedy Developers, who seem to be doing a pretty good job without my support. A considerably more annoying version is the tendency of the Decents to throw epithets like “appeaser”, “apologist” and “pro-fascist” at anyone dissenting from their agenda.

But, beyond this basic sort of rhetorical dishonesty, we have to consider the possibility that many of the Decents believe what they’re saying. This is where the concept of psychological projection comes in. There is a Decent Left equivalent of this, which I term “Chomsky in your head syndrome”, because, thanks in no small part to Oliver Kampf, poor old Chomsky seems to get the rough end of this more than anyone else. You found this with the Grauniad’s infamous hoax interview with Chomsky, and the Francis Kammovitch letter urging the Graun to retract its retraction. To the average rational mind, the idea that Chomsky had “denied Srebrenica” could be easily disproved by the multiplicity of quotes in Chomsky’s writings and interviews explicitly saying that there was a massacre at Srebrenica. This, however, did not deter the likes of Nick, Francis, Ollie and Attila from blowing lots of smoke about how Chomsky was an “all intents and purposes denier”. They seemed to be suffering a form of cognitive dissonance quite common on the Decent Left – so Chomsky must have denied the Srebrenica massacre because that’s just the sort of thing a reprobate like Chomsky would do, in the same way that the Decents don’t need a quote from Socialist Worker to “prove” that the SWP supports stoning gays – you just need the Decent equivalent of mystical intuition.

This sort of thing happes all the time. Let’s do a compare and contrast between Tariq Ramadan and the late Alija Izetbegović. Ramadan is an outspoken modernist who frequently speaks and writes on how European and North American Muslims will not only have to adapt their religion to their environment, but in doing so will transform Islam on an international scale. Izetbegović, on the other hand, was a conservative adherent of political Islam – not a mad fundie by any means, but someone with a distinct Islamist ideology not a million miles away from the politics of the Muslim Brotherhood. You would expect, then, that the Decent Left would embrace Ramadan in preference to Izetbegović. Wrong! They simply take the subject’s position on issues dear to the Decent worldview, and extrapolate a whole set of politics based on that. Therefore Tariq Ramadan, because he has said somewhat Indecent things about Israel and the War on Terror, must be a mad fundie. And, because Bosnia was the Good War, Izetbegović must have been a liberal multiculturalist who definitely had nothing to do with political Islam.

There are further things flowing from this, not least the increasingly hysterical tone as it becomes ever clearer that Iraq and Afghanistan are disaster areas. It’s a worldview that is both Manichaean and Antinomian, positing that, because we are Good and Decent, therefore anything that contradicts our position doesn’t exist, and because our opponents are Indecent, their villainy is boundless indeed. It’s deliciously ironic, isn’t it, to watch people who have built up reputations as scourges of postmodernism – without, mind you, bothering to find out what postmodernism is – themselves becoming ever more detached from empirical reality. This might be classed as the revenge of the simulacrum.

57 Comments

  1. Phil said,

    August 13, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    Actually Izetbegovic and Ramadan have a lot in common. When Izetbegovic was in government it was as the head of a coalition between the SDA and the pro-Serbian Socialist Party, which shows that he was moderate and a good thing. Whereas Ramadan has been endorsed by the pro-Serbian Socialist Workers Party, which shows that… no, wait.

  2. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 13, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    One thing that frustrated me at the time, and has frustrated me since, is that it was extremely difficult to get accurate information on the politics of the various sides in the former Yugoslavia.

    Only in the initial stages of the war did the journalistic classes make some effort to explain the roots of both Serbian and Croatian nationalism; later they settled on a line of ‘Serbs are evil’, which was probably an exagerration.

    As for the Bosniaks – the recurring theme in the liberal press was how liberal and cosmopolitan the Bosnian intelligentsia were, at least in their Sarajevo branch. And that appears to have been true. But the vital question, surely, was whether and to what extent that liberal cosmopolitan intellectual tradition was represented in the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. And the people I’ve asked that question of in recent years have answered ‘not at all’.

    Another common trope was that Bosnia was the Spanish Civil War in a new 1990s costume. Well, you could identify avatars of the fascists and falangists all right – but where were the socialists and anarchists?

    Just as the Dublin media saw Northern Ireland as a convenient backdrop against which to pose and preen themselves, far too many members of the western intelligentsia (and pseudo-intelligentsia) saw the wars in Yugoslavia, also, as convenient backdrop for posing.

  3. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 13, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    On reflection – to clarify the point about exagerration. Serbian forces undeniably did evil and atrocious things, but that is not the same thing as saying ‘Serbs are evil’.

  4. Cian said,

    August 13, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Yeah the reporting was terrible, but when isn’t it? I have a wee suspicion that what happened in Rwanda was a little more complex (and a little less “evil”) than the way it was presented in the media, or has been since. Darfur certainly is.

    Mind you, Serbian forces did some pretty awful things, and (according to a couple of Serb Emigree friends) most Serbs didn’t have much of a problem with that. So I wouldn’t let the Serb population off that lightly. A large chunk of it was complicit.

  5. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 13, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Rwanda was both more complex than the western media implied, and just as evil as they said it was.

    And more than a bit of evil has happened since then in the region, and again that hasn’t been reported at all in the western meida.

    ‘A large chunk of it was complicit’ – how big a chunk? And in what way complicit?

  6. Jim Denham said,

    August 13, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    You’re too kind to the SWP and its present embrace of Islamism: it *does* now downgrade gay rights (a “shibboleth” according to Lindsay German)and argue that the burka is an understandable protection from male rapacity, and that headscarves are just great, and that secularism and the enlightenment are western cons…etc…etc. I haven’t got the quotes to hand, but anyone who has had dealings with them since 2001 will know the score.
    What’s wrong with the Eustonite “decents” isn’t that they’re “decent” in comparison with the likes of the MAB and the SWP: it’s that they look to the ruling class to uphold “decent” (ie:enlightenment) values.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:23 am

    Interesting point, Jim, but I think it’s more a case of hypocrisy. AFAIK they still turn out for Gay Pride etc, but building amongst “the Muslims” seems to mean telling the Muslims what they want to hear, or rather what the SWP think they want to hear.

    The sexual politics of the SWP comes into this as well. Much of the cadre has a swinging bohemian lifestyle, but there’s also a strong puritanical streak. In the past that’s often been used for backstabbing members, but you can see how it works with conservative Muslims. Both will picket a lapdancing club, but while the Muslims will talk about sin, the SWP will say it’s about the objectification of women.

    I prefer the conservative Muslims. You know where you stand with them.

  8. Ken MacLeod said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:48 am

    Here’s SW and Respect, busy downgrading gay rights by having a Respect float in Gay Pride. Jim ‘I haven’t got the quotes to hand’ Denham is just another Decent who ‘knows’.

  9. Idris of Dungiven said,

    August 14, 2007 at 10:02 am

    You must have crossed swords with both the SWP and the soi-disant ‘Decent Left’ in your time, Cde. McLeod. How about a fearless Early Years expose/investigation of these two mysterious phenomena?

  10. Cian said,

    August 14, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    “Rwanda was both more complex than the western media implied, and just as evil as they said it was.”

    Depends what you mean by evil. As a word its overused, and used in so many ways, that its largely meaningless. No two people agree on its meaning, and discussions that use it tend to be the worst kinds of language game. Which is why I put it in quotes.
    Rwanda was bad, very bad. Dead people is. However it had causes, and it was not a case of one group being entirely blameless and the other irrationally “evil”. Which is how it has been mostly portrayed in the west – irrational evil. Which it wasn’t. And that matters, because there’s no way to prevent irrational evil. Whereas if there’s a cause – well you can do something about that.

    “‘A large chunk of it was complicit’ – how big a chunk? And in what way complicit?”

    Knew what was going on, or should have known and chose to ignore it. And they kept voting for Milosevic. Large chunk – no idea. My two Serbian friends implied it was a large majority, and certainly the cultural atmosphere of Serbia at the time (turbo-folk, that kind of thing) would tend to support that.

    And if you want a modern parallel. Well, there’s Israel and arguably there’s the US Republican heartlands. If you vote for the fuckers, you support many of their policies and you could have known what was going on – I think complicit is a fair charge.

  11. Worldbystorm said,

    August 14, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Not sure that Respect having a float in the Gay Parade Pride and building with a somewhat different message amongst “the Muslims” are mutually incompatible with splintered sunrise’s point.

  12. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 14, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    You might call it “niche marketing”…

  13. Ken MacLeod said,

    August 14, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    I have no experience of how the SWP and/or Respect campaigns in Muslim communities, but if you put ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ and ‘Respect’ in the SW site’s search engine, you’ll see they’ve not dropped the issue. And the article I’ve linked to specifically and approvingly mentions a gay Muslim group in the Pride parade.

  14. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 14, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    True indeed, but again, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Respect modifies its message depending upon the audience. I’m not particularly anti-SWP, or indeed Respect (although obviously my direct experience of Respect is limited), but nor am I entirely convinced that they cleave to the sort of left party formations that I personally am fond of. This might be a matter of taste, or a matter of experience in campaigning in Dublin on various issues over the years. I’m waiting to see what happens next… 🙂

  15. Jim Denham said,

    August 15, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Ken: if you really want to make an issue of it, I’ll find the bloody quotes: I wasn’t trying to be evasive – it’s just that life’s only so long. But I think mosyt comrades who have had dealings with the SWP of late will be aware of how they have compromised their commitment to gay and womens’ rights, and completely fallen in with islamicist anti-semtism, since their decision to throw in their lot with the MAB and political-Islamic fascism.

  16. Ken MacLeod said,

    August 15, 2007 at 8:49 am

    Jim, I’m not demanding that you rummage up Lindesy German on shibboleths, some comment on the Taliban, etc. Seen ’em. I’ve had dealings with the SWP ‘of late’, in that in the past few years I’ve been on Scottish antiwar demos and other activities and been to a couple of the SWP’s annual Marxism events. And I read their press, etc. So this is very much from the outside, OK. What I see is a continuing open commitment to women’s rights and gay rights, a continuing rejection of anything that smacks of anti-semitism (such as the ‘Jewish lobby’ explanation of US support for Israel), a continuing honouring of Jewish socialists and communists even outside the party’s tradition, and so on.

    What I also see is a refusal to characterise all Islamist movements as reactionary, and a refusal to paint Islam as intrinsically more anti-democratic, homophobic, and misogynist than all other religions, and an attempt to recover from obscurity the actual Bolshevik record on religion, including Islam. There is also a strong objection to using reactionary tenets of Islam – which it has in common with Christianity and/or Judaism – as a stick to beat the Muslim community. Now, on some points of this I have disagreements, but to characterise this in the way you, the AWL, and the Decents do is a gross distortion.

    This is all particularly rich coming from a group that supported the Afghan muj in the 80s, the KLA in the 90s and the Chechen rebels today.

  17. Cian said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Well Jim isn’t being strictly accurate with his quotation (or at least the context), but then being Jim I doubt he actually read it in its original context and is just repeating something he read at Harry’s Place.

    The quote is from Marxism2003
    http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/488/rees.html

    Comrades, I really think that in this debate and in the wider debate that we’re having there’s really two ways in which the left can go. Either the left can maintain itself in its sectarian isolation, nitpicking against everyone else, criticising people because they are not socialists (or not pure enough socialists), or we can throw ourselves into the movement, and out of that build a viable alternative revolutionary presence, and it is that second option that the SWP is committed to.

    I think we need to ask questions about some people in the SA. Stuart King says some muslims are anti-gay, and this is perfectly true, but it is not a question we pose to christians who join the Socialist Alliance, is it? Now I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who … won’t defend George Galloway, and who regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence, justified in occupying Palestinian territories.

    I do think it’s a very serious question for the SA, but – let’s be honest – there are people in the SA who don’t support the STWC, who don’t support the muslim community in opposition to the war – that is the real dividing line on the left, as far as I’m concerned. And out of that we have to build an alliance which moves outwards and takes on serious forces, and doesn’t become a sectarian talking shop. About a quarter of the people at the recent SA conference did not want to leave the room and engage in the real world.

    In the SWP we are moving into the new left. When you talk about the forums we’re having, the test for the SWP is, do we want to lie back in the ghetto with these people who don’t want to relate to the real world or are we prepared to link in with the new forces in this society in order to change things?

  18. Cian said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Incidentally I’m not a member of the SWP, don’t particularly like the SWP and tend to have very little sympathy for them. However, I broadly agree with the above. Its a sign of the armchair political activist that they think you engage in some form of “pure politics”.

  19. Jim Denham said,

    August 15, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Cian: so Lindsay German *did*, indeed say: “Now I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I’m not prepared to see it turned into a shibboleth”? So if I were to say, for instance, “I’m in favour of Muslim rights (or Jewish rights, or the rights of Afro Caribbeans), but I’m not prepared to see it turned into a shibboleth”, that woukld be OK by you, would it? Must try that one sometime: I can be “in favour” of just about anything, but that doesn’t commit me to actually doing anything about it (and, indeed, allows me to support people who actively *oppose* that which I’m theoretically “in favour of”), because “I’m not prepared to see it turned into a shibboleth”. Great! I must remember that one!
    Ken: the SWP’s “continuing opposion to anything that smacks of anti-semitism” would include their active promotion of Gilad “Protocols of the Elders of London” Atzmon, would it?
    As for the SWP’s (and, presumably, your own) “refusal to paint Islamist movements as intrinsically reactionary”; I’m glad you used the term “Islamist” (as opposed to the muslim religion, which as you rightly say is no more and no less reactionary than any other religion): please provide me with an example of one single Islamist political movement, whether in power or challenguing for power, that has not attacked democtrats, socialists, trade unions, women and gays? just one will do, Ken.

  20. Ciarán said,

    August 15, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Hamas?

  21. Cian said,

    August 15, 2007 at 4:35 pm

    The quote was for the benefit of Ken, not you Jim. I know what you think on everything.

    ““Now I’m in favour of defending gay rights, but I’m not prepared to see it turned into a shibboleth”?”

    Good to see that you’re living up to your reputation. No she said that she’s in favour of defending gay rights, but she’s not prepared to let the fact many Muslims are anti-gay to stop her from forming a coalition with Muslims. Which is a tactical decision, and one which has been made by many socialists. Many of the miners were homophobic in the 80s, much of the working class in the US are homophobic. Should proper socialists ignore them? Well obviously we know your view on this. For that matter a lot of gay people are anti working class/union/etc. Hey, well we better not form any alliances with them either if we’re to maintain ideological purity.

  22. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 15, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Problem is that the SWP and Respect do, objectively, seem to speak with very mixed messages on these issues. On the one hand there are the progressive approaches Ken points to. On the other there are the not so progressive comments, etc, etc, that Ken also point to. Whether one or other characterises the parties more persuasively is an open question, but… for my money when I go to blogs run by those in or close to the SWP I’m never surprised to find a level of discourse which tends towards a rhetorical extremeness on all these issues.

    It’s not even a case of a refusal to characterise all Islamist movements as reactionary, but more a case of refusing to characterise almost any Islamist movements as reactionary. WRT to the other points about Islam, it’s not that they are intrinsically more homophobic etc, but it seems to me that for various reasons largely Islam is broadly more conservative in practice and observance, that the dial is shifted some way towards the right as it were. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ramadan and others are fighting the good fight on this issue, but as it stands at the moment it appears to be. That can be a small c conservatism (both politically and socially – consider how much of a minority those who follow the most conservative precepts are), and broadly speaking I think that the remarkably low level of anger within Islamic communities in Europe, or indeed in the Middle East, is testament to that conservatism.

    Another part of the problem is that the SWP seems to have raised public promotion and issue campaigning to the level of an art form so that it’s difficult to entirely tell what it really really believes is a bed rock issue. German’s comment is in some respects worse because it’s considered, not because it was off the cuff. That doesn’t invalidate anything else they the SWP do for all time, any more actually than certain comments the pro-war left made at the height of their stupidity invalidates them either for all time. But it does demand that people approach them (both) with a certain degree of caution.

    So I’d not place much faith in them – despite the clear sincerity of their membership – as a way forward on any or all of these issues.

    Cian what you’re saying is interesting, but if one altered that speech only slightly and amended the references to Islam say…to Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism or even on a secular level to members of the Conservative Party… would any socialist seriously consider it made any sense in the context of building ‘a viable alternative revolutionary presence’ in the way in which you suggest that Respect builds a coalition not merely with, but actually incorporates into itself those who can be homophobic, misogynistic etc? It’s absolutely not a question of ignoring people, but recognising that while bridges can and must be built to groups who take different views the structures at our end of the bridge should be clearly progressive.

    Or to take an Irish context, if the SWP suddenly announced in the context of the power struggles within Poland by the conservative right anti-EU ruling party that it intended to create a new vehicle for conservative Poles in Ireland and the SWP to work together in support of the Polish govt. against Irish participation in the EU as part of some revolutionary anti-EU front. Would you join such a front? Would I? That’s simply ‘enemies enemy’ stuff of the worst and most ill-considered sort.

    And to bring it even closer home if we examine the track record of the SWP/SWM in Ireland with regard to PSF/PIRA we see evidence that their ‘support’ was also ill-considered, attempting to run with hare and chase with the hounds and transitory – a sort of ‘sniff the cordite and hope it accrues to our revolutionary struggle’ sort of stuff. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

    This is what is counterintuitive for people like me who have no truck with the decent left and all it’s pomps and work.

  23. Mark P said,

    August 15, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Worldbystorm:
    It’s not even a case of a refusal to characterise all Islamist movements as reactionary, but more a case of refusing to characterise almost any Islamist movements as reactionary.

    Worse than that, they refuse to raise pretty much any criticism of any Islamist movement at all and at public meetings will respond to anyone who does – regardless of how measured teh criticism is – in terms which imply that critics are Islamophobic. They can be a bit more nuanced about it in their (little read) theoretical articles, but in the circumstances where others on the left actually encounter them they tend to be pushing their line in its crudest form.

    Ken MacLeod:
    an attempt to recover from obscurity the actual Bolshevik record on religion, including Islam.

    This I wouldn’t accept. Having read the historical material they have produced it looks to me less like an attempt to recover the actual Bolshevik record and more like their usual rummaging through old arguments to find the parts which suit the line they are currently pushing anyway. This is, unfortunately common practice on the left but the SWP, which actually has a theory (“bending the stick”) to justify overstating their arguments is particularly notorious for it.

    Essentially their historical work, on this subject at least, is entirely one-sided. It concentratres on alliances of desperation between the revolutionaries and Islamist forces during the civil war – circumstances which are obviously very far removed from those pertaining in Britain at the moment. It also emphasises commonalities and deemphasises or ignores the extensive and open disagreements between Bolshevik and Islamic forces and the constant attempts by the Bolsheviks to convince Muslims of a Marxist programme.

    Now, on some points of this I have disagreements, but to characterise this in the way you, the AWL, and the Decents do is a gross distortion. This is all particularly rich coming from a group that supported the Afghan muj in the 80s, the KLA in the 90s and the Chechen rebels today.

    Indeed. The AWL’s method of argument on this question, as on many others, is reprehensible. They are more concerned with attempts to write their larger competitor out of the left entirely than they are with any real engagement.

  24. Jim Denham said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Mike “They (the AWL – of which I am a member)are more concerned with attempts to write their larger competitor out of the left entirely than they are with any real engagement”.

    I honestly don’t understand what you mean by that, Mike. The SWP systematically refuse to “engage” with the AWL – and yet you accuse *us* of a “reprehensible” method of argument. I make no secret of the fact that I peronally, and the AWL as a whole ( although I probably go further than the majority of my comrades on this) do not regard the SWP as in any meaningful way part of the “left”: but I (and the AWL) would be happy to debate them any time, anywhere, on any subject. What’s “reprehensible” about that, Mike?

  25. Pinkie said,

    August 15, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    “The AWL’s method of argument on this question, as on many others, is reprehensible. They are more concerned with attempts to write their larger competitor out of the left entirely than they are with any real engagement.”

    Yes indeed. Hence their description of (most)anti-zionists as anti-semitic. Do they understand how alienating that is, and do they care?

    Do current members of the AWL know that the history of their sect is to:

    1)cosy up to almost every group on the left;

    and when that (strangely) inevitably fails:

    2) denounce those groups as reactionary (ie not at all socialist) in some way.

    It’s a living for Sean Matgamna, but it ain’t socialism.

    Quite a unique formation really, the AWL. They are both ‘house trotskyites’ for the the ‘decent left’ and fucking irritating to the rest of the left as in the super-communist style of the Sparts.

    (And no. I am not, nor ever have been, a member of the SWP – unlike certain members of the AWL.)

    (Just to be frivolous, where on earth do Sean Matgamna and his best mate John O’Mahony get their living wage?)

  26. Jim Denham said,

    August 16, 2007 at 8:35 am

    You’ve answered your own question, Pinkie: Sean, as you say, makes “a living” by cosying up to every group on the left, then denouncing them. That’s how he and his alter ego John live in such luxury. That and the pay-offs from the CIA of course.

  27. Cian said,

    August 16, 2007 at 10:40 am

    WorldbyStorm:
    Sorry I should have been clearer.
    I have no problem with what Lindsay German said in that meeting. I have lots of problems with what SWP/Respect is doing at the moment. But then I have problems with pretty much everything the SWP do (even if I feel that if Jim Denham hates them, they can’t be all bad), despite liking and respecting individual members. Its a toxic organisation – undemocratic, with a nasty habbit of taking over pre-existing campaigns and destroying them (and in the process destroying all spark of political activism in the original members of thse campaigns). I don’t like entryist organisations, or groups that use front groups and the SWP is one of the worst offenders.

    I suspect they’re trying to do the same thing with Muslim organisations, only they’ve bitten off rather more than they can chew. And I suspect the mixed messages we’re hearing from the SWP on this is as much for their own benefit (keeping the cognitive dissonance to a minimum).

    It’s not even a case of a refusal to characterise all Islamist movements as reactionary, but more a case of refusing to characterise almost any Islamist movements as reactionary.

    Well yeah, but the SWP believes that Muslims have the potential to be some form of revolutionary proletariat. I mean they really have to believe that now, given all that they’ve invested. If they’re reactionary that rather reduces their revolutionary potential. SO like I said, I think they’re trying to convince themselves of this.

    WRT to the other points about Islam, it’s not that they are intrinsically more homophobic etc, but it seems to me that for various reasons largely Islam is broadly more conservative in practice and observance, that the dial is shifted some way towards the right as it were.

    I think Islam as practiced tends to reflect the cultures in which it is embedded, rather then the other way round. Much of what we’re seeing is a fairly conservative group, from a fairly poor, insular and backward part of the world reacting to modern secular Europe. When people complain about the practices of many Muslims, they’re largely criticising village people and peasants. Islam is something they cling to as a cultural comfort blanket, or as a way of making sense of a rather hostile world. Something similar has happened in the South/Midwest of the US
    Now there are two ways to engage with that. Either increase the hostility and thus increase their conservative reaction, or try and engage with them. The latter means bracketing (for the moment) the fact that one might find some of their views repellant, but that’s not going to change if you lecture them. It might change as they become more cosmopolitan.

    Cian what you’re saying is interesting, but if one altered that speech only slightly and amended the references to Islam say…to Catholicism, fundamentalist Protestantism or even on a secular level to members of the Conservative Party… would any socialist seriously consider it made any sense in the context of building ‘a viable alternative revolutionary presence’ in the way in which you suggest that Respect builds a coalition not merely with, but actually incorporates into itself those who can be homophobic, misogynistic etc?

    Well ignoring the revolutionary potential (I’m not SWP, so don’t have to share their silly beliefs), but I can think of all kinds of coalitions you could build with all those groups. Just because you’re in a coalition, doesn’t mean that you have to share all the same beliefs. Plenty of good, successful, political campaigns have been fought with both fundie protestants and Catholics in S. America and the US. Obviously there needs to be some shared beliefs that relate to the campaign, but there are fundie prots who are quite amenable to environmentalism, worker’s rights, social provisions, etc. And who knows, if they fight alongside a few non-homophobes (or even genuine QUEEEEEERS), they might change their views a bit. After all, what better opportunity for them to come into contact with a wider range of people and so soften their views?

    Or to take an Irish context, if the SWP suddenly announced in the context of the power struggles within Poland by the conservative right anti-EU ruling party that it intended to create a new vehicle for conservative Poles in Ireland and the SWP to work together in support of the Polish govt. against Irish participation in the EU as part of some revolutionary anti-EU front. Would you join such a front? Would I? That’s simply ‘enemies enemy’ stuff of the worst and most ill-considered sort.

    Sorry, I don’t really understand this example. Probably not, but I’m not wild about hypotheticals so that would be my stock answer to most hypothetical. It depends on the context, not the groups involved.

  28. Cian said,

    August 16, 2007 at 10:42 am

    What does the AWL do other than denounce people. They must have, what, 100 members. Maybe. Bad enough to be a member of the SWP, but at least they do things.

  29. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 16, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Cian, I don’t disagree with anything you write, bar having a probably minor issue with the ‘ignore the revolutionary potential’ bit. Seems to me that that is key to an understanding of the SWP/Respect approach, one which attempts to merge political activism within more or less a single vehicle. Obviously broad coalitions of forces are possible and necessary in any political campaign, but… generally left parties can see the distinction between calling upon people to support them issue by issue – and hopefully as you suggest being educative in the process – and integrating them into much more distinct formations embraced by and pulled towards the originating party. So while I’m entirely happy to work with social conservatives, Islamic, Christian or whatever on many issues on a case by case basis I don’t see how such social conservatives have a place within a party I might belong to any more than I would expect economic conservatives to be part of a socialist party.

    Incidentally MarkP, I’d strongly agree with your points re the re-reading of early Bolshevist history. Self-serving is one word that springs to mind.

  30. Ken MacLeod said,

    August 17, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Jim: one Islamist movement that has (so far) not done what you say they all do: Hezbollah in Lebanon. Anyway, what some Islamist movements have done to the left, etc, is not qualitatively worse than what some secular nationalist movements have done. Re Gilad Atzmon, the SWP has always said it disagrees with his bizarre and reactionary ideas.

    Mark P, the Bolshevik record on Islam (and other religions) extended through the 1920s, not just the civil war. The SWP’s presentation of this may well be one-sided and partisan, but the basic facts really are there. The mass offensives against religion as such (as distinct from breaking the political power of the Orthodox church) were part of Stalin’s ‘second revolution’.

  31. Ken MacLeod said,

    August 17, 2007 at 7:56 am

    PS: I should say, by the way, that I agree with Michael Rosen rather than the SWP on the appropriateness of inviting Atzmon to play jazz at Marxism.

  32. Andy Newman said,

    August 17, 2007 at 11:58 am

    When mark P writes: “Essentially [the SWP’s]historical work, on this subject at least, is entirely one-sided. It concentratres on alliances of desperation between the revolutionaries and Islamist forces during the civil war – circumstances which are obviously very far removed from those pertaining in Britain at the moment. It also emphasises commonalities and deemphasises or ignores the extensive and open disagreements between Bolshevik and Islamic forces and the constant attempts by the Bolsheviks to convince Muslims of a Marxist programme.”

    he is entirely wrong. And Ken is correct that the actual historical record is not of a desperate alliance of convenience, but a principled one. Writing in November 1917, in the appeal to the toiling Muslims of the East signed by Lenin, the Bolshevik government wrote: “Henceforth your beleifs and customs, your national and cultural instritutins are declared free and inviolable. Build you national life freely and without hinderence.”

    the policy of the Soviet government, an the comintern for example towards Turkey was one of principle, nt desperation.

    Now mark P says: ” It also emphasises commonalities and deemphasises or ignores the extensive and open disagreements between Bolshevik and Islamic forces and the constant attempts by the Bolsheviks to convince Muslims of a Marxist programme”

    I assume that he is writng this in misguided good faith and ignorance of Russian history .

    In the third session of the 1920 Baku congress of the peoples of the East, those bolsheviks who were following the line described by Mark p (and advocated by Jim Denham) were condemned by Zinoviev and Radek, and Narbutabekov, who led the session denounced those seeking to promote atheism in the Islamic republics as “provocateurs and demagogues who corrupt the fundamental idea of soviet power”.

    Radek denouned those who propoted “extensive and open disagreements with Islamist forces” (as Mark P describes it as being guilty of West European Kulturtraeger and being brigarnds carrying out a policy of Red Inperialism.

    The success of General Frunze of the Red Army in the basmatchis war in Turkmenistan or General Todoiski in Daghestan was based upon opening up full membership of the CP to Muslims of all persuasions, who were then allowed to develop their own national and religious culture.

    “open disagreements between Bolshevik and Islamic forces and the constant attempts by the Bolsheviks to convince Muslims of a Marxist programme” were initiated by Stalin in 1923, starting with the arrest of leading Muslim member of the CP, Sultan Galiev, in the Crimea, and it was not until 1928 after Stalin consolidated his power that the camaign against Islam advocated by Jim Denham, and defended by mark P, started in earnest.

  33. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 17, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Andy, I’ve read the SWPs material on the issue and other bits and pieces and it really is hard not to view the approach taken by the Soviets as fairly – albeit understandably – opportunistic. This isn’t to deny the role of the Orthodox Church in supporting reaction prior to the Revolution (and after it too now I think of it). But in pragmatic terms for the Soviet project to succeed they were more willing, or forced, to deal with Islamic minorities within the borders of the Union in a way they didn’t, or didn’t feel they had to, with the Orthodox. And whatever about congresses, with the best will in the world, I’m not sure I’d entirely take at face value any public pronouncements which would have been very consciously geared for some public consumption. I’m not saying that disagreements didn’t exist, nor am I defending campaigns against Islam.

  34. Jim Denham said,

    August 17, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Ken: If you’re right about Hezbullah in Lebanon (and I’m not sure that you are, but I’m willing to give you-and them- the benefit of the doubt), then they are indeed the exception. Every other Islamist force, whether in government or opposition, that I know of has repressed democrats, women and trade unionists. Hamas is doing exactly that at present in Gaza – and they’re not the worst example, by any means. I strongly suspect that, were they to gain power, the Lebanese Hezbullah would follow the example of Islamist movements the world over, and start the repression. After all, surely the job of Marxists is to learn from history. I should say that the history of Islamist movements is pretty clear, even if you are right about the Lebanese Hezbullah…so far. After all,during the early-to-mid 1930’s Mussolini’s Italian fascists were not particularly anti-semitic…

  35. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 17, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    Why not invert what is suggested about Marxism and Islam in the Soviet Union. What so far has been the experience of Marxists in Islamic – not necessarily Islamist – states. To be honest it’s been pretty grim. Iran is a good example, in so far as that Revolution had a strong left face, but as we know the left was cut out within a very short period. Elsewhere the left has been sidelined by national liberation movements, etc, or co-opted.

    And this is not in any sense anti-Islamic. We see a similar pattern in the early 20th century in confessional Catholic states, Spain, Portugal, across most of Latin America, etc – and arguably if one ascribes Protestantism to the US a similar antipathy.

  36. Andy Newman said,

    August 17, 2007 at 11:29 pm

    WorldbtStorm – you have rthe advantage of me if you have read the SWP’s writing on Islam, I have never bothered.

    I base my understanding upon the report of the Baku peoples congress of the East, New Park 1977, ands the discussion of Bolshevik policy towards the Islamic world in “the War in Afghanistan” Brigot and Roy 1988, and “The Soviet Withdrawal from Adghanistan” Editors Siakal and maley 1989.

    The difference between the policy to Islam and towards the Orthodox church was that the Muslims were the peoples of oppressed colonies. It was the policy of the Soviet republic to win them over by guaranteeing national and cultural autonomy – this was a question of principle not expediency.

  37. Cian said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:31 am

    “Every other Islamist force, whether in government or opposition, that I know of has repressed democrats, women and trade unionists.”

    The Turkish Islamic party.

  38. Cian said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:32 am

    “After all,during the early-to-mid 1930’s Mussolini’s Italian fascists were not particularly anti-semitic…”

    Oh I missed this. You really are a bit thick aren’t you Jim.

  39. Andy Newman said,

    August 18, 2007 at 8:20 am

    “Every other Islamist force, whether in government or opposition, that I know of has repressed democrats, women and trade unionists.””

    An interesting admission from a member of the AWL who supported the Kosavans.

  40. Worldbystorm said,

    August 18, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Andy, I’m not sure it’s an advantage ;), but I still think that you’re seeing principle where I see at least some degree of expediency. Seems to me the functional difference between the treatment of the two religions demonstrates that the colonial nature of the Islamic regions (although in a largley semi or barely post-feudal society such as Russia it’s surely arguable that all outside the elites were treated as effectively being colonised) wasn’t the main feature. What was the nature of Islamic elites within those societies and how was Islam used as a socio-political glue to maintain essentially conservative social orders and how did this differ say to the way in which Orthodoxy was used in Russia proper? Incidentally, this is a fascinating area.

  41. Jim Denham said,

    August 18, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    Andy, I’m quite prepared to bow to your suoperior knowledge of the Balkans, but my (and the AWL’s) understanding was that the KLA was primarily a natiional liberation movement rather than an Islamist force. I still think we were right about that, but I accept that it isn’t always possible to be clear-cut about these things, especially from afar. However, what our support for the KLA (in contrast to, for instance the SWP’s generally pro-Serbian stance) ought to scotch once and for all is the slander that we are “Islamophobes”.
    Cian: don’t be silly: the “Turkish Islamic Party” (I presume you mean the Erdogan’s AK Party) are not “Islamist” in any meaningful sense and have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of challenging Turkey’s secular constitution – and I for one believe them. Ironically, by calling them “islamist” you are repeating the slanders of the most reactionary and nationalist of the “old” Kemalist forces and the military in Turkey.

  42. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 18, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    On the Balkans, Jim is correct in a limited sense. That sense is that the AWL’s current preoccupation with Muslims notwithstanding, it has always been consistently Stalinophobic. Hence its line on the Balkans, which was based on an assumption of the Serbs as surrogate Russians.

    And no, the SWP (for which I hold no brief) did not take a pro-Serbian stance. It took a strictly neutral stance, too strictly in my view, and was extremely cautious about taking any stances on whatever issues arose. The “pro-Serbian” canard derives from Attila Hoare, who is not what I would consider a trustworthy source – although Cohen et al take his word as gospel.

  43. Jim Denham said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Believe me, SS, they *were* in practice pro-Serb. I was present at a meeting in Birmingham when they proudly presented an out-and-out Chetnik (an AEU shop steward from a factory in Wolverhampton, and probably a very good trade unionist), who proceded to spew out a racist diatribe against the kosovan Albanians, without any objection from the leading SWP’ers present.

  44. ejh said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    Do you have any quotes for us, Jim?

    I can find “heroic struggle of the Kosovan Albanians”.

  45. Jim Denham said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    ehj: As I didn’t have a tape recorder running at thast meeting, I guess you’ll either have bto take my word for it, or write me of as an inveterate liar and/or loony. I haven’t checked the archives of the SWP on this matter, but I would guess that there will be some stuff there that reflects their ‘de fact’ pro-Serb position at this time, as it was before their alliance with Muslim fundasmentalism.

  46. ejh said,

    August 18, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    or write me off as an inveterate liar and/or loony

    Since you offer.

  47. Jim Denham said,

    August 18, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Btw, SS: No, our line on the Serb /Kosova dispute was most certainly *not* based upon the idea that the Serbs were “surrogate Russians” – it was based upon the fact that Serb forces were massacring Kosovans, and we reckoned the Kosovans had the right to defend themselves, despite tyhe West’s arms embargo against them.
    And BTW, SS: if the AWL is “Stalinophobic”: which part of Stalin’s heritage, exactly, do you think socialists *shouldn’t* be “phobic” about?

  48. Chris Williams said,

    August 18, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Me, I gave right up on Respect that time the night before the Leicester South by-election, when then put a leaflet (It was the one headed “What Ismail Patel really said”) through my letterbox enjoining me to vote for “the only _muslim_ candidate. … Vote for Sister Yvonne.”

    They also managed to work out of a campaign HQ set up behind a pre-existing lamp-post sticker reading ‘Muslims – don’t vote for kufir’, and never find the time to scrape it off.

    Click.

  49. ejh said,

    August 19, 2007 at 8:33 am

    One notes of course how Jimbo’s little story fits perfectly the rhetorical habits of Decency (apart from being, of course, entirely anecdotal). Notably it condemns his targets:

    (a) not on the basis of what they have said, but on what somebody else connected to them has said ;

    (b) not on the basis of what they have said, but on that they have not said.

    Pure Harry’s Place, I’d have said.

    Now interrogation by quotation isn’t always a perfect technique (the works of Oliver Kamm, for instance demonstrate how it’s possible to misuse it) but it’s a damned sight healthier and more honest than the HP approach.

  50. Jim Denham said,

    August 19, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    So we only judge people by what they formally put on the record *about themselves*, ehj? Not by what we observe for ourselves about their practice? Admittedly, the second approach depends upon the honesty and reliability of the observer (and you evidenly doubt my credentials in one or both of those departments – that’s your progative), but without it, I’d contend, meaningful political analysis is impossible.
    I think, btw, that’s me about spent on this particular subject. Feel free to have the last word: unless it’s something utterly outrageous I’ll leave it at that.

  51. ejh said,

    August 19, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    Well, I’ll have two. Firstly, trying to show that people are something other than what they say they are, something contrary to their public statements and policies, can be useful in very limited circumstances. But most of the time it’s basically either an attempt to deliberately distort people’s opinions, or a paranoid reaction. Both are frequent methods in Decent discourse, though not of course confined to them: both are common red-baiting techniques. When you start feeling that there’s a lot of exposing and unmasking to be done, then both you and what you do are deeply unhealthy.

    The second thing is that this is a good website. Most commentary on here is intelligent, experienced, informed, nuanced, well-motivated and accepting of difference. This is a very long way away from the AWL approach and I really would much prefer it if you and your friends don’t make the same poisonous mess here that they do everywhere else.

  52. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 19, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I had been thinking of running a sweep on how long it would take for Jim to call me a Stalinist, and was willing to offer side bets on “anti-Semite” and “Chetnik”. But actually what I had in mind was not the AWL’s position on Kosovo in 1999, but their position in 1991, when they fondly believed the Croat chauvinists to be a national liberation movement.

    And as far as Stalinophobia goes, I refer Jim to JP Cannon’s essay on “Ruth Fischer and the Stalinists”.

  53. ejh said,

    August 19, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Talking of essays, the section of this piece entitled Renegades And Pedants contains some well-considered thoughts.

  54. ejh said,

    August 19, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Incidentally it would be marvellous if somebody were to put this great old essay into some sort of readable format.

  55. Cian said,

    August 20, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Justin,
    if you’ve got a copy of Word, just import that page into it. It should sort out the paragraphs for you (OpenOffice will do the same I’m shore, or Google’s online office app). If you haven’t, send me an email via cian dot oconnor ampersand gmail dot com
    and I’ll send you it as a PDF.

  56. ejh said,

    August 20, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Oh, I could do that, yeah, but I wasn’t talking about my personal use, I meant somebody who’s interested in displaying it for other people’s use. Like Marxists Internet Archive, for instance, which doesn’t seem to have Deutscher about the place at all. Why?

  57. Brian Reid said,

    December 8, 2007 at 7:25 am

    “Marxists Internet Archive, for instance, which doesn’t seem to have Deutscher about the place at all. Why?”

    Copyright issues.


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