The Swiss Toni school of international relations

swiss.jpg

One of the most minor and unremarked aspects of this whole Respect debacle has been the document sent to the SWP Party Council by the burger-flippers in the Emerald Isle. I can’t write much about it because I haven’t yet had sight of it, but I can confidently guess at its contents. That is, the Irish branch office will have pledged up-front support for whatever it is the Brits decide to do.

It’s not really surprising that Swiss Toni and his acolytes have chosen to stick their oar in, nor that they would give the Brits a blank cheque. Go back to the excommunication of the American ISO some years ago and you’ll recall that Swiss sent an unsolicited letter of support to Prof Callinicos, without however bothering to tell his own members for some considerable time afterwards. This sort of cretinous display is par for the course in the SWP’s Pomintern.

I suppose you can’t really blame Kieran. He owes his position, after all, to Sasanach patronage. Having distinguished himself at a young age by his prominent role in shafting the so-called Opposition Group (now the Workers Power guys in Galway) he was thereafter favoured with the sunny side of Cliff’s countenance. That really marked the beginning of his rise to power in his little kingdom, although he would need to wait almost a decade, till people of stature like Trench and Kerrigan had dropped out, before attaining his present monarchical position.

It is a bit embarrassing though, or would be if the guy wasn’t so shameless. Gorgeous George has visited these shores two or three times in the last year, and the local SWP made a huge fuss of him on each occasion. Indeed, the party is currently building something called the People Before Profit Alliance, which could best be described as Respect without Galloway or the Muslims. (I do hear, though, that Meehan and Des Res have joined, which just goes to show that some folks never learn.) As if the PBPA wasn’t enough of a sectarian abomination in the first place, one would think that the collapse in Scotland and the big bust-up in England may be causing a few comrades to ponder. If they are, they’re keeping very quiet for the time being, although you do hear the odd murmur from the ranks if you keep your ear to the ground.

But this will be interesting to watch. Historically, ructions in the Brit SWP tend to have a ripple effect in the Irish franchise, with Workers Power being an object example. Blowback, you might call it. It’s unlikely in the extreme that there will be a split over here – the Brits, remember, have draconian restrictions on factions, but the Irish simply don’t allow them at all. And there can’t be all that much more attrition with numbers having fallen as low as they have. But there’s always the possibility that someone will stick his head above the parapet. And, what with critical mass and all that, Kieran can’t really afford to lose anybody else.

33 Comments

  1. ejh said,

    October 25, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I can’t write much about it because I haven’t yet had sight of it

    Is that normally an inhibiting factor in SWPology?

  2. Mark P said,

    October 25, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    ejh said: “Is that normally an inhibiting factor in SWPology?”

    In recent times, given the rapidity with which their documents circulate on the internet, it’s rarely a factor of any kind.

  3. Mark P said,

    October 25, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    At the time of the ISO expulsion I remember being pretty surprised by the Irish SWP’s involvement and the fact that it had been done without consulting the membership. It seems that this was normal practice.

    There is, in my view, practically no chance of ructions in the Irish group over it though. Firstly I’m not sure how many of the remaining members it would even occur to to think that they should have been asked beforehand. Secondly, where could real dissent come from? The Irish SWP a decade ago had many problems but it certainly had a well drilled and experienced middle cadre. That just doesn’t exist now.

  4. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 25, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    One thing that strikes me about the current period, politically, is that whereas in the past pre-internet fairly tricksy dealings could go on in political groups (and let’s be fair, while the SWP gets some stick at the moment pretty much all political formations have had or have similar issues) vis policy/personality conflicts the space for that to happen has narrowed. So therefore people do get to see documentary evidence and make comparisons with stated positions before and after schisms and ruptures. Upping everyones game? Well…perhaps.

    A question. When people leave the SWP in Ireland, where do they go? Into other formations or just depart the political arena?

  5. Garibaldy said,

    October 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    I’d say most of them are burnt out and disillusioned, and never go near politics again. Which a friend of mine argues is the historical role Trotskyism has played in the west.

  6. Matt said,

    October 25, 2007 at 11:00 pm

    Breaking with the SWP has helped to keep the ISO sane, and for my money, one of the best of the US marxist groups. While accused of “not taking the anti-globalization movement seriously” (only a slander) they have been one of the most important forces pulling movements to the left while every one else, including lots of people calling themselves revolutionaries are pulling the other way. They’ve done real work Shedding the SWP allowed them flexibility. It hasn’t always worked and they have a certain sectarian/opportunist impulse toward “coalition building” as their continued legacy in some places. They have a maddening focus on leftist celebrities like Howard Zinn, Michael Moore and Naomi Klein even while they all supported Kerry in 04; totally letting them off the hook in the movement. Still, leaving the iSt was the best thing they ever did. I can only imagine what they think now of their erstewhile comrades.

  7. Mark P said,

    October 25, 2007 at 11:09 pm

    Garibaldy said: “I’d say most of them are burnt out and disillusioned, and never go near politics again. Which a friend of mine argues is the historical role Trotskyism has played in the west.”

    Of course even if the slander your “friend” was spreading was entirely true this would still be an infinitely preferable record to that of Stalinism anywhere.

  8. Phil said,

    October 25, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    leaving the iSt was the best thing they ever did

    Is this a subtle dig, or does the organisation really capitalise in this unusual way?

  9. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 6:34 am

    totally letting them off the hook in the movement.

    What does this mean, outside the realms of rhetoric?

  10. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 6:40 am

    Of course even if the slander your “friend” was spreading was entirely true

    I think the word “slander” is used rather too often in Trotskyite discourse: it’s appearing rather a lot in the current brouhaha, for instance. “Slander” actually means a delibate and harmful untruth: it does not mean “a suggestion which I consider untrue although I accept that somebody else may consider largely true even if exaggerated”.

    I think it isn’t true, by the way: though it’s true in some instances and even then the reasons it’s true aren’t necessarily the fault of Trotskyism.

    I tend to find that what puts people off leftwing politics isn’t so much one strand of it or another, but the sheer stress of working extremely hard to get practically nowhere in an atmosphere of internal and external denunciation. For instance

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 26, 2007 at 8:01 am

    To address Mark P, I don’t think it’s at all likely that SWP members will suddenly start coming out with the sort of thought-out criticisms that he or I would think of. But if the membership is a lot less educated than it was, it’s also a lot flakier and a lot harder to insulate from outside opinions. So yes, I do think some shake-out is possible, but it’ll be confused.

  12. Ken MacLeod said,

    October 26, 2007 at 10:09 am

    The iSt was the international Spartacist tendency, now trading as the ICL. And yes, they really did capitalise it that way. The SWP’s international siblinghood is the International Socialist Tendency (IST).

  13. Garibaldy said,

    October 26, 2007 at 10:21 am

    Given that my friend was once denounced as an agent of Hanoi by a Trotskyist I can see why he doesn’t hold them in the highest regard.

    EJH raises an interesting point about the way people on the left debate. Too much denunciation, not enough civilised discussion. Although I wouldn’t let what somebody called me stop me from continuing my political engagement.

  14. Phil said,

    October 26, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Ken – that was precisely my point! Maybe Matt can clarify.

  15. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    ejh: “think the word “slander” is used rather too often in Trotskyite discourse: it’s appearing rather a lot in the current brouhaha, for instance. “Slander” actually means a delibate and harmful untruth: it does not mean “a suggestion which I consider untrue although I accept that somebody else may consider largely true even if exaggerated”.

    I’m well aware of the meaning of the term slander, and I used it quite deliberately. I am not inclined to assume good faith when I see dismissive, sneering remarks about Trotskyism from a supporter of a Stalinist party. The long history of Stalinist commentary on Trotskyism would, to put it mildly, make an assumption of honesty rather naive.

    It is of course possible that Garibaldy (or his “friend”) genuinely believes his remark to be true. If that is indeed the case, he would still be rather better off considering the bloody and vile history of his own political current before criticising the historical role of others.

  16. Matt said,

    October 26, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Much apologies for getting the capitalization wrong of the International Socialist Tendency. IST is it then.

  17. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    I’m well aware of the meaning of the term slander, and I used it quite deliberately.

    Yeah, I thought you did.

  18. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    I’m impressed that your all-consuming concern for moderation in language extends even to responses to supporters of Stalinism who are criticising a political current which the Stalinists attempted to exterminate. At least you are consistent, I suppose.

  19. Andy Newman said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Mark.

    The complex tragedy of the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the split n he international socialist movement is hardly well served by a simple goodies and baddies model, some 80 years later.

  20. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I’m not aware that I put forward such a model, on this thread or elsewhere. I made the rather straightforward observations that (1) Stalinists have a long record of slandering Trotskyists and that (2) the Stalinists attempted to exterminate Trotskyists. I’d be surprised if you disagree with either statement. Neither implies any kind of “simple goodies and baddies model” of the degenration of the Russian revolution.

  21. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Has Garibaldy tried to put a bullet in the back of your head, Mark, or expressed the sentiment that such would be a good idea?

  22. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    Not that I’m aware, ejh, which is one of the many reasons why I have generally been polite to him. As it happens, I enjoy and find interesting, even if I disagree with, many of his comments on the cedar lounge site. If however he, as a member of a Stalinist party, wants to start putting the boot into Trotskyism he will get neither a polite nor a welcoming reception from me. If that means that you regard me as discourteous, then while unfortunate that’s a burden I shall have to bear.

  23. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    wants to start putting the boot into Trotskyism

    Indeed, every time I read his comment I get a mental picture of a criticism coming down on a human face.

  24. Andy Newman said,

    October 26, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    “1) Stalinists have a long record of slandering Trotskyists and that (2) the Stalinists attempted to exterminate Trotskyists”

    That does sound like a simple goodies/ baddies model to me.

    To most people there is no obvious difference between “Stalinists” and “Trotskists”. there was of course even an exchange of people between the two camps (Preobrazhensky, Radek, Anotonov, et al)

    And the fact that the left opposition came out on the losing side in a brutal power struggle in the USSR, does not convnce me that they would have been any less brutal themselves had they been the victors. Nothing in the behaviour of Trotsky nor the left opposition in Russia before their defeat gives me any room to think they were less brutal (they didn’t object to the execution of the 100 Czarist prisoners that caused the international trade crisis for the USSR in 1926, and they argued for an acceleration of the grain seizures in 1927), trotsky of course wrote perhaps the only theortecical defence of a police state, in “terrorism and communism”.

    Nor has he subsequent history of the trotskist left shown them manifestly different from the “Stalinists”.

  25. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    I see Andy that you are still trailing that particular coat.

    The two observations I made are, at this stage, largely undisputed historical facts. They do, of course, form only one small part of my wider views about the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the rise of the bureaucratic Stalinist dictatorship. But acceptance of those two facts does not necessitate agreement with my wider views.

    The Stalinists did spread vast quantities of lies about Trotskyism. The Stalinists did murder huge numbers of Trotskyists, and even larger numbers of people they falsely claimed were Trotskyists. Those two facts alone are quite enough to justify a less than welcoming attitude towards members of Stalinist parties who have the cheek to criticise the historical record of Trotskyism.

    If you really want another run through your attempts to conflate Stalinism with its victims, we can do that. Personally I’d rather not bother.

  26. ejh said,

    October 26, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Phew!

  27. Andy Newman said,

    October 26, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    So Stalin was bad. no shit. Well since the 20th Congress of the CPSU, even the official communist parties agree with that.

    What you haven’t established is that (except for a few bizarre sects like the CPGB-ML) there are any people on the left today that are actually “Stalinists”

    And it does make it virtually impossible to debate some things in a rational way when the purges of the 1930s are thrown up.

    For example, anyone suggesting inviting a Tory MP to participate in a local campaign is likely not to have the issue discussed on its merits, but that it is a “popular front” (bad) not a “united front” (good), which is not only an unseakable error in its own right, but has the blood of the thousands of the Trotskist saints to be factored in as well.

  28. Mark P said,

    October 26, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    What you haven’t established is that (except for a few bizarre sects like the CPGB-ML) there are any people on the left today that are actually “Stalinists”

    Well I’d broadly agree with you that the only people on the left today who are actually Stalinists tend to be in small sects. We would differ about precisely which small sects, I suspect.

    Without wanting to put ejh through the tedium of an extended debate on this, Stalinism is a political movement (or perhaps set of movements) and its boundaries are not defined by personal admiration of Stalin but by a distinctive set of political positions. You may differer of course.

  29. Andy Newman said,

    October 26, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Yes but that’s my point.

    There may be a distinctive set of political positions – but those positions don’t necessarily lead to the gulag.

    What happened in the USSR was historically contingent.

  30. Garibaldy said,

    October 26, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    I normally wouldn’t have referenced my friend’s theory (even in the light hearted way I thought I had) as I knew it might well draw a hostile response, and I don’t believe in sniping at others, especially now that the left is so weak and cooperation essential.

    However, there is a fairly serious point behind the remark, and I wanted to start a debate on that. To wit, is there something wrong with the way many organisations on the left go about deploying their human resources. And if so, how far is this related to their analysis about the imminence or otherwise of revolution. If people are brought in to an organisation on the basis that massive gains are liable to made quickly if they work, work, work with little or no serious attempt to get them to think about how political change has occurred historically, and how that relates to the situation they find themselves in, is it any wonder they rapidly become disillusioned and bugger off. Very frequently permanently. Is there still a large touch of infantilism among many organisations of the left (and not just Trotskyist ones)? This issue seems to me to have quite a bit of relevance to the whole Respect thing.

  31. Korolev said,

    October 26, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    Just a brief point on Stalinism and Trotskyism – the differences between them can seem enormous if you stand within the Leninist tradition. If you do not, then the similarities seem far greater than the differences. And one of the greatest similarities – to be found in all varieties of Bolshevism – is the tendency to conduct violent polemics and to refuse to acknowledge the good faith of the other party. This poisonous aspect of Leninism bears a significant part of the responsibility for the dismal state of the left today and its enormous difficulties in working together constructively and honestly.

  32. Ciarán said,

    October 27, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Why can’t all the Stalinists and Trotskyites just feck off to Russia? It’d make the job building a serious left in Ireland much easier.

  33. Martin Cassidy said,

    October 29, 2007 at 11:01 am

    The CPGB(ML) defends Stalin…just like the CP of China, CP of Greece, CP of Viet Nam, CP of Cuba, CP of Venezuela, CP of India (M), CP of Nepal – in short the biggest communist parties on this planet.

    Besides these parties the permanently defeated losers of Trotskyism and their four or is it five ‘internationals’ are the true sects.


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