Apologies for returning once again to the Weedy Wanker, but this week’s edition provides an opportunity to draw out an issue that I’ve touched on in relation to the Respect row, but could do with expanding further.
On the way there, I notice that Mr Chamberlain, that greatest of living Marxists, devotes a big tendentious article to slagging off Liam and Andy while defending Mark Fischer’s Newsnight performance. He isn’t straightforward about this, of course. The article is topped with some windy ruminations on free speech, and the Fischer affair only makes an appearance over halfway through. Jack justifies “using the enemy’s media”, as he delicately puts it, by reference to Trotsky’s proposed appearance before the Dies Committee. All I will say is this:
1. Trotsky’s brainstorm was, as Jack notes, not uncontroversial in the US SWP. In fact, and this may upset the ancestor worshippers, it’s arguable that Burnham was right and Trotsky wrong.
2. The Dies Committee rescinded its invitation to Trotsky, so we’re talking hypotheticals here – unlike, say, Galloway’s Washington performance, which Jack unsurprisingly doesn’t want to cite as an example.
3. In any case, it’s quite a logical jump from the debate over the Dies Committee in 1939 to Mark Fischer going on Newsnight and proclaiming that the SWP are soft on the Taliban. And if Mark is surprised at how he was edited, then he doesn’t know very much about Michael Crick. If he is only feigning surprise, then he’s even more culpable.
Anyhow, let us proceed to Manson’s Kremlinology, which isn’t very interesting this week. I do however want to deal with this idea Manson is putting forward that the SWP represents the “socialist left” of Respect. No it doesn’t. In the current situation, and it pains me immensely to say this, the SWP is the right and George is the left. Which says more about the SWP’s degeneration than it does about George’s virtues.
Now it’s possible that Manson is just flattering the SWP’s membership with a view to poaching a couple of recruits, which would account for his dopey calls for the SWP membership to rise up and overthrow their leaders – given that there are no mechanisms for doing so, such actions could only lead to speedy expulsion, followed by an overture from the Weekly Worker. But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Manson is being serious.
The trouble is that, even though the SWP are the Marxists in Respect, or the bulk of the Marxists at any rate, this doesn’t feature in how they operate in Respect. They have opposed any idea of Respect adopting a socialist programme. Prior to their recent discovery of “communalism”, they have been much more protective of conservative Muslim sensibilities than, say, Salma Yaqoob. And while the anti-SWP combo’s orientation carries at least the possibility of Respect generating some momentum, with unpredictable consequences, the SWP has been rigid in its insistence on freezing Respect in the form of three years ago.
Manson’s argumentation bears the dread signs of programmitis. One recalls how Militant styled themselves the “Marxist tendency” in the Labour Party on the grounds that, while they might function like social democrats, in private (actually in secret) they had a Marxist programme. Then you had, classically, the insistence of certain Fourth Internationalists that the Maoist takeover of China in 1949 was a proletarian revolution because, even though the workers played no part in the revolution and indeed there were no workers in the CCP, the character of the revolution was determined by the CCP’s “proletarian” programme. It didn’t actually have a proletarian programme, but go with me here.
Now I’m going to say something that will be deeply counter-intuitive for many Irish readers. That is that between 1926 and 1967, Fianna Fáil was, in formal programmatic terms, far to the left of Sinn Féin. You may not be aware that, on Fianna Fáil’s formation in 1926, the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil was incorporated into the party Córú. It may still be there for all I know. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, did not formally become a socialist party until the 1967 Ard Fheis and prior to that, to the extent that the party had any social and economic programme, that programme was Rerum Novarum. What determined FF’s conservative nature from at least the late 1930s was its status as one of the Saorstát’s biggest vested interests; what determined SF’s revolutionary orientation was its de jure non-recognition of the partitionist governments, practically expressed through the policy of abstentionism.
In this I go part of the way with Cliff. I don’t share Cliff’s latter-day disdain for programmes as such – they obviously have an important function – but I do agree with him that you can’t judge political tendencies by what is written in their programme. You judge them to a very large extent by what interests they represent and by what they do. This is why I say that, in terms of its formal politics, the SWP is far to the left of Galloway; in terms of the actual dynamics of the situation, it stands to his right.
Therefore, even if Manson isn’t speaking with forked tongue, he is demonstrably guilty of an idealist deviation. And in the current state of affairs, of all the deviationists you could possibly have, an idealist is probably the least useful.