Nehmen Sie hoch das Bein, treten Sie ein – unser Tanz, er muß der nächste sein…


To return to Roger Ebert, I’ve always been well served by his dictum that a film is not about what it’s about, but about how it’s about it. This is actually a basic part of literary theory that you can trace all the way back to Homer. After all, the Iliad is not about the Trojan War – I recommend Dio Chrysostom on this point as an early example of deconstructionist criticism – it’s about the wrath of Achilles. The Iliad’s modern-day equivalent, Catch-22, is likewise not about the Second World War but about the wrath of Yossarian.

I think this appeals to me so much because it echoes JP Cannon’s old crack that there are always two reasons for a split, a good reason and the real reason. Note that this isn’t the same as Kremlinology or the sort of second-guessing that the Phoenix goes in for with Bertie (often rising to the level of third- or fourth-guessing), but just a way of looking at underlying themes that often throws what people say – even what they consciously think – into sharp relief.

I wasn’t an Ard Fheis delegate in 1986, for two reasons. The first was that I wasn’t a member of Sinn Féin, although some other folks got in who were never seen before or since. More practically, I was in the Soviet Union, which made intervening in Irish politics rather difficult. Nevertheless, had I been a delegate, I would have voted for the abstentionist position with both hands, despite the fact that I’m not an abstentionist. I would have done so based not on the wording of the resolution as put, but on the trajectory that I thought it indicated, on the forces involved and, yes, on the personalities involved and my estimation of their characters.

Which leads me on to Mike Macnair’s latest, kindly pointed out by Cameron, which analyses the Respect crisis in terms of an outbreak of rhetorical leftism from the SWP CC. Mike’s position can be boiled down to the following paragraph:

The politics of the debate, such as it is so far, is not a pretty sight. It is a certain kind of debate: one like the debate between the Bukharinite ‘rights’ and the Stalinists in 1929-33; and one like the debate between ‘Euros’ and ‘tankies’ in the ‘official communist’ parties in the 1970s. In other words, a debate between rightists who represent themselves as favouring democracy, pluralism and broad unity and bureaucrats who for the moment represent themselves as leftists.

Let’s leave aside the historical analogies for the moment. I’m not sure of the relevance of the Bukharin-Lovestone-Brandler “right opposition”, who were much better than any of the participants in this fight. And Mike is just plain wrong when it comes to the CPGB of the 1970s – as any fule kno, the “tankies” were those who insisted on party democracy, while the Euros were those who resorted to a draconian regime of mass expulsions, exclusions and disbandment of recalcitrant party bodies. The devolution of most of the old Marxism Today hard right towards what is now New Labour was hardly an accident.

What Mike seems to me to be arguing is that there is a “fake leftism” in the air, specifically in the argumentation of the SWP CC, while what is needed is a “real left”. I’ll agree with him thus far, but would point out that it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the two, even for the adepts of Jack Conrad Thought.

But, put very basically, what I take from Mike’s article is that the SWP CC are disingenuous fuckers. No duh. It is rather difficult to take what the CC have been saying at face value, especially when they find it hard to get through a paragraph without contradicting themselves. So it’s fair to assume that a certain amount of posturing is going on. (I further note some – possibly tongue-in-cheek – support for the CC’s position from the AWL, who are disingenuous fuckers themselves.)

So what of George’s sudden conversion to democracy and pluralism? It will be recalled that supporters of Socialist Resistance – and the Lord loves a tryer – have been calling since the foundation of Respect four years ago for democracy, accountability etc. Consistently, George combined with the SWP to vote them down, which is why I thought they were on a hiding to nothing. It was abundantly clear that the kind of regime favoured by George was whatever regime gave George the maximum freedom of manoeuvre. As long as he had a chummy relationship with the Sheriff of Nottingham, that suited George down to the ground. But the more the SWP tried to import its internal regime into Respect… well, it’s not surprising George would chafe a little.

Is George serious about democracy and accountability? Well, his record to date suggests we should be a little sceptical. Nonetheless, if he is taking up the cudgels for democracy, it hardly matters. If he is serious, well and good. If, as Mike argues, he’s a fake democrat, then he’s making a noose for his own neck. Sin é.

Rud eile: I’m not doing Search of the Week, simply because there is very little of interest in this week’s searches. But I’m intrigued by celebrity women dentures, and even more so by Protocols of the Elders of Éire.


  1. Andy Newman said,

    October 29, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    the Euros were those who resorted to a draconian regime of mass expulsions, exclusions and disbandment of recalcitrant party bodies. The devolution of most of the old Marxism Today hard right towards what is now New Labour was hardly an accident.

    The first part of this is mainly true, but I question the second part:

    Hobsbawm is incredibly old and has no part in politics. Stuart Hall is also getting on a bit, but is still oppossed to the labour party and certianly opposed to the New labour project. Bea cambell is not involved in politic at all, but does write left wing plays that have a different agenda to new labour. Martin Jacques is out of politics for personal reasons.

    Of the younger crowd, mark Perryman is a member of Respect and on the editorial board of Red Pepper. So that just leaves Chralie Leadbetter – now yes he supports New Labour.

    But as he is the only name associated with the New Times argument from the CP Euro-communist wing to now be supporting New Labour, I think the evidence for this to be a generalised political trajectory is weak indeed.

  2. ejh said,

    October 29, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    Mark Perryman is a member of Respect

    Good God.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 29, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    I had Leadbetter in mind, also Aaro though he wasn’t really an ideologue. And the ex-CPers in New Labour are I think almost exclusively from the Euro wing, although maybe not strictly the New Times lot.

  4. Mike said,

    October 30, 2007 at 12:11 am

    Mike McNairs historical discussion of the various tendencies within the RCP(b) and the Comintern are daft. For the good reason that Respect is not a workers party but a populist coalition. That fact should also tell us why it is important to take the side of the SWP in this dispute as they remain a socialist group based on the idea of workers power.

    Despite which we should also be very sympathetic to those members of the SWP who been disillusioned by their leadership undemocratic shenanigans. But not to those members of the SWPs petty little machine who have gone native and betrayed their long avowed believe in social revolution. I refer of course to the pitiful likes of Grr Francis, Hoveman and Ovenden.

  5. Korolev said,

    October 30, 2007 at 7:02 am

    You should also distinguish between the CPGB’s eurocommunists (= those who were prepared, at times, to criticise the USSR before the CPSU had given permission) and the small clique around Marxism Today. The largest single group of ex-CPGB euros you will find anywhere is in the Alliance for Green Socialism. The AGS may not be the hardest of hard left groups, but it is certainly not New Labour.

  6. cameron said,

    October 30, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    If Mike ( not Mike McNair) believes a left is going to emerge in Respect, then it’s only going to happen if the democratic rights of all SWP members is championed. Cheerleading the expulsions of the SWP right – and they are just as socialist or not as Rees – only plays into the hands of the CC.

    The CC’s clampdown on the dissidents has nothing to do with an eleventh hour return to marxism. It has everything to do attempting to prevent any serious debate happening before SWP conference.

    This, of course, doesn’t mean siding with the political arguments of the SWP right. Yet the rotten bureaucratic centralist structure in the SWP ought, in the present context, give the CC no authority to expel those who rebel.

    Each time they get away with expelling people without a democratic debate, the more potential SWP oppositionists will just draw the conclusion that resignation is the only possible option.

  7. johng said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    I don’t actually agree with the presuppositions of this piece rather obviously but the line about the relationship between Socialist Resistance’s demands for democracy and pluralism and Galloway’s likely behaviour and the consequences do recall Cliff’s jokes about fleas and buffalo’s, or McCann’s joke about giving out leaflets demanding the sunrise and then fervently claiming responsibility for it.

  8. johng said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    And for one moment there I thought Cameron was championing the democratic rights of SWP members in Respect.

  9. ejh said,

    October 31, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    John, why is it that all the people you work with always turn out to be horrid? Do you just pick poor collaborators?

  10. Mike said,

    October 31, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    Cameron if you accept the idea that the membership have rights, as i know you do, then you must also accept the idea that membership also demands responsibilities. In the case of the Respect 3 they acted as a disloyal opposition which openly broke the SWP’s discipline. It follows for me that it was correct to expell them.

    I note that Lenin agreed with the views of Paul Levi but still backed his expulsion from the KPD. That more should have been done to bring him back into the KPD is true but the point remains that individual militants must follow the discipline of their organisation should they claim to be Leninists.

    What is most important about the debate around the expulsion of the Respect 3 however is that the arguments brought up by the SWP leadership around their co-sponsorship of Respect expose themfor being as rightist as the Respect 3 only more protective of their groups organisational base. Given that some involved owe their living to said organisation this is hardly surprising for Marxists.

  11. Andy Newman said,

    October 31, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Mike – the trouble is that the view you expouse, that the members have to adhere to discipline is incompatible with SWP members also participating in a broader political organisation like Respect.

    And what is more, any organisation should take the tactical judgements of the troops in the front line seriously.

    In this case the expelled three agree with the expressed principles and strategy of the SWP, but they have a tactical disagreement.

  12. Mike said,

    November 1, 2007 at 12:52 am

    Andy communist principle is incompatible with participating in a populist front such as Respect.

    Yes the Respect 3 were treated harshly and in other circumstances they would not have been expelled. But their trajectory is towards liquidating a revolutionary tendencuy within a populist movement. Therefore I rejoice at their expulsion.

    As for cameron and the cpgb, despite my liking for him and some members of the Conrad party, I cannot take their atttitude to Respect at all seriously. They opposed it as populist and then took out paper membership doing nothing to build it.

  13. Andy Newman said,

    November 1, 2007 at 1:50 am

    Mike: “communist principle is incompatible with participating in a populist front such as Respect.”

    In which case they should all be expelled.

  14. Mike said,

    November 1, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Yes! LOL.

  15. johng said,

    November 1, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    They don’t all turn out to be horrid at all.

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