He gets knocked down, but he gets up again…


What does John Rees have in common with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor? On the face of it, not very much.

And on the face of it, there’s nothing much to be said about Pope Benny’s appointment of Cormac to two positions in the Roman Curia, at the Congregation for Bishops and at whatever Propaganda Fidei is calling itself these days. If you’re willing to take the statement from the Catholic Communications Network as the last word on the matter, this is quite simply the Holy Father registering his esteem for a distinguished prince of the Church by giving him these important responsibilities. This is quite plausible in its own terms – even Cormac’s sternest critics will acknowledge that he’s a thoroughly decent man who has given decades of selfless service.

On the other hand, if you look at it from another, more cynical perspective, this can appear like the kind of slick manoeuvre of which Machiavelli would have been proud, addressing several problems with one fell swoop. It is said that Vinnie Nichols and Bernie Longley are exercised at the possibility of Cormac getting in their feet – given the long history of previous primates dying in office, the English hierarchy doesn’t really have any experience of the backseat driver phenomenon. As for those Anglo-Catholics who might be considering a defection to Rome, their jittery nerves aren’t going to be soothed by Cormac hanging around, when it’s well known that he opposed the new Apostolic Constitution. Cormac himself would like a Curia job commensurate with his status. And Benny would probably like to have Cormac where he can keep an eye on him – if the rumours are true that the ferociously orthodox Cardinal George Pell of Sydney is taking over the Congregation for Bishops, that would certainly count as keeping an eye on any cardinals stationed there.

Slick, indeed. It’s even better than the way Cardinal Des Connell, a Ratzinger ally of long standing, abruptly found himself spending more time with his study of French philosophy.

The Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party must be wishing they had found a similarly inventive way of dealing with the shambling miscreant Rees. Rather, since his defenestration from the CC at the start of the year, John and Lindsey have been holed up in their Stop The War fastness, nursing their grievance. And lo, with the pre-conference discussion period having opened, John has gone and got himself a faction.

There’s a write-up of this in the current issue of the Weekly World Worker News, which has got some ground to make up after the blogosphere has caught it napping several times in the last couple of years. They can run lots of good articles on Iran, and learned exegeses of Marxist-Leninist thought from Dr Macnair, but that’s not what people read the Weekly Worker for – if they can’t provide decent gossip, they’ve lost their USP. So anyway, Peter Manson is covering this – given the publication, the usual caveats about imaginative filling in of gaps apply, but you might find it of interest.

The reader will find more of interest than usual in the leaked IB, and there’s quite a bit there of political as opposed to prurient factional interest. Certainly I have no interest in the minutiae of how many papers were sold in Southampton last week, or how a comrade got a motion passed at a union meeting in Reading. On the other hand, there are a few debates on the go that are of broader interest to the left, because they’re touching on issues those of us outwith the SWP have to deal with. A serious and open discussion around issues like the economic crisis, No Platform, the antiwar movement, electoral strategy, developments in the unions and what have you would be all to the good. It’s entirely possible that there will be insights that everyone can profit from.

Anyway, this blog knows what the punters want, and what the punters will primarily be interested in is the factional barney. Now, it is not strictly true that this is purely a fight for position without political content. I think the fight for position is its motive force, but it’s picked up some political content as it’s gone along. It has done so, however, in a confused way, and there’s no obvious right side or wrong side.

Let’s begin with the grubby business of position, though. John Rees is evidently still aggrieved about his unceremonious dumping from the leadership. Although I don’t particularly like Rees, I can well understand his position – he’s had to walk the plank for things that many other people shared responsibility for, and after many years of being accustomed to a party culture wherein being a member of the CC meant never having to take responsibility for anything, not while there was someone further down on the food chain who could be dumped on. One particularly thinks of Cliff’s old party trick, when a “turn” didn’t work out, of blaming “conservative elements” in the party for failing to make the turn with sufficient enthusiasm, and then setting loose the apparat’s attack dogs on any poor sod in the branches who happened to be on the outs at the time. A year or two later, Cliff might announce that the turn had failed due to objective circumstances, but that was scant consolation to anyone who’d been fucked over in the interim.

The trouble is that, having dumped Rees less than a year ago, it would be an immense climbdown for the CC to take him back now, and unrepentant forbye. A Rees who had gone off and quietly spent four or five years doing an unglamorous job might have been rehabilitated, but not in these circumstances. Moreover, it’s hard to see how the CC could justify putting him in charge of a whelk stall, given the deconstruction of his failings that took place in the last pre-conference discussion. Here is Professor Callinicos:

The problem was rather that the crisis in Respect exposed certain systematic weaknesses in John’s methods of working – in particular a failure to respect the collective decision-making of the party and, in large part as a result, to make serious mistakes that caused him to lose the confidence of the majority, not just of the leadership, but of the party cadre as well…

The problem with John isn’t that he disagrees with the CC majority. Disagreements are necessary to the development of a living party. But John sees everything through the distorting lens of the struggle to maintain his personal position. This leads him to inflate real, but quite specific disagreements into systematic differences and to rubbish aspects of the party’s work for which, as a CC member for the past 14 years, he must share responsibility.

For a year now the Central Committee has had to grapple with the unrelenting struggle of an undeniably talented comrade to shield himself for being held to account for the mistakes he has made. For those of us with a long history of party membership, who remember the many personal sacrifices made by individual comrades and their disciplined acceptance of unwelcome decisions, John’s behaviour is nothing short of a scandal.

And here is John Molyneux:

Despite the odd nod in favour of democratic debate John makes it clear that really he is opposed to the idea of the ‘democracy commission’, while I strongly support it. John has never seen anything wrong with the state of democracy in the party and neither as far as I can tell have Lindsey or Chris B or Chris L . This may be true of other members of the CC as well but they at least seem to be shifting their position – John is not. John also makes it clear that he wants ‘firmer’ more ‘decisive’ leadership of the kind he has always been keen to provide. I have always disagreed with John about this. I always disliked those speeches John gave in which he would explain ‘the real nature of political leadership’ and it would turn out to be what he had done recently. Nor is this just a question of personal arrogance, I also think John holds an elitist theory of leadership derived from Lukacs’ concept of the party as bearer of working class consciousness (but perhaps that is a debate for another time). At any rate I think the question of John’s removal from the CC is bound up with the question of improving party democracy because it is seen by the members as asserting the principle that no one is ‘above’ accountability and that is why it is popular in the party.

John’s views on the Rees question have remained consistent for many years, as anyone who’s had the opportunity of talking with him will know. Alexander is slightly disingenuous, I feel. The reason I feel this is that the new regime is basically the old regime minus Rees and German, and that the people who a year ago felt Rees was unfit to hold a leadership position are the same people who for years protected him, promoted him, supported his brainstorms, went along with his pretensions to be the successor to Cliff, and went to war with important allies in his defence. Again, if we’re talking about serious fuckups, Alexander’s managing of the international tendency doesn’t seem to have undermined his position. (Although, to be fair, he seems to have calmed down a bit in recent years, and isn’t as promiscuous with the anathemata.)

What then are the political aspects? Well, the only real line in the sand that’s been drawn has been on the No Platform issue, and that’s not so much sand as mud. To recap: some while back John Molyneux, in his established role of loyal opposition, wrote a letter to SW arguing that No Platform should be re-examined – not that it should be dropped, but that it should be refined and amended. This seems sensible to me, especially given that no platform for fascists was conceived as an approach to be operated within the labour movement, and it’s only recently that it seems to have been extended to petitioning the state broadcaster not to interview fascists. This drew a swift response from the CC maintaining its total adherence to No Platform. Which in turn drew a response from the Reesites also proclaiming their total adherence to No Platform, while accusing the CC of having abandoned the policy. More heat than light then, and an example of how factional considerations can obscure an issue just as easily as bringing one into the open.

There’s also a more general issue of orientation – and this is where I think Peter Manson is off the mark when he accuses the CC of making up reasons for Rees’ defenestration after the fact. There were at least implicit differences a year or more ago, certainly since the parking of Left Alternative, and those have firmed up slightly although they’re still inchoate. Partly it comes out in scrapping over whether Stop The War or Unite Against Fascism is more important at the moment. For me, this is a tactical issue – while in general terms imperialist war is more important than a Mickey Mouse outfit like the BNP, the huge kerfuffle over Griffin on Question Time obviously required a response. It’s also easy to view this in purely cynical terms, based on who’s working in STW or UAF respectively. There’s something to that, but there’s also a political conception tied to it.

John and Lindsey’s insistence on the transcendent importance of Stop The War may be self-serving, but it’s linked to this view they’ve developed whereby the operation of various united fronts (mar dhea) is conceived as the path through which the party progresses. The CC, on the other hand, is cleaving much closer to a 1990s perspective whereby the party attempts to raise its own profile through agitprop, while operating fronts on a more ad-hoc and less permanent basis. This, by the way, is implicit much more than it’s theorised. Perhaps it will become more explicit as the debate rumbles on.

As I say, there’s no obvious right and wrong side in this. John and Lindsey had things their way for the best part of a decade, and to give them their due, they had the imagination to push outwards. (They also assembled a very talented team around them to give initiatives like Stop The War an impact previous campaigns hadn’t had. Where are those people now, I wonder?) They were much more open than previous leaderships in building links with the rest of the left. However, they also racked up a tremendous record of buggering up those relationships they had built and leaving a lasting legacy of bitterness behind them. It says something when Martin Smith, of all people, has to present himself as the smiling non-sectarian face of the SWP and try to rebuild those bridges they had burned.

From a Reesite perspective, the current CC must seem dreadfully insular, conservative and lacking in ambition. And such a critique could easily attract people who aren’t natural Rees groupies. On the other hand, many members must see the current regime of Democratic Martinism as quite a relief – certainly, spirits seem to be a bit higher these days. A steady-as-she-goes approach of routine party-building, broader initiatives on a more ad-hoc basis and professionalising some basic activities that had fallen into disarray – these things have an obvious attraction to party cadre whose heads have been left spinning from the party throwing all its energy into John and Lindsey’s various punts, year after year.

We also have the outworkings of the Democracy Commission, which I’m cautiously optimistic about. My instinct remains that a democratic revolution led by Martin Smith, Chris Harman and Alex Callinicos is almost by definition going to be a self-limiting revolution. But at least they have been willing to recognise there was a problem. As Molyneux says, neither Rees nor German, in their whole time as party leaders, expressed any sentiment that party democracy was less than perfect. They do now, but only by way of adopting the Jools Holland Fallacy. Viewers of Later will be aware of Jools’ theory that there is no piece of music that can’t be improved by the addition of some boogie-woogie piano. The counterpart of this is the theory that there’s no revolutionary leadership that can’t be improved by the addition of John Rees. I find both theories equally unappealing.

It may be that we’re just seeing John and Lindsey embarking on a path to political self-destruction, for which they would only have themselves to blame. But if they are intent on destroying themselves, let them do it themselves. Any short-circuiting of the discussion by administrative measures would cast the new friendly regime in a deeply unflattering light. To return to where we started, it’s a bit like the Personal Ordinariate. Whether the Anglican defectors number in the dozens or the thousands is probably less important than how much sensitivity the iniative is handled with. The Orthodox Churches will be watching keenly, as will traditionalist Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia. Likewise, one hopes that Martin realises that there’s a tension between putting on a smiling face externally and continuing with the old head-on-a-stick politics internally. If he’s forgotten, it won’t hurt to remind him.


  1. Madam Miaow said,

    November 2, 2009 at 1:12 am

    What he said. 🙂

  2. ejh said,

    November 2, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    It’s always worth rethinking No Platform, I’d have thought, not least because if it’s not sustainable as a policy then you don’t really have any option.

    I’m reminded of my days back in CPSA when we used to have, for very good reasons, a blanket overtime ban. We would hold meetings in which the members would vote to retain the policy by overwhelming margins and then the same people would all go an work overtime. At the time, we (where “we” means the left in CPSA) considered it a good iaea to maintain the pollicy, because it was the principled think to do and the only way to stop management using overtime to hide staffing problems, but towards the end of my time there I realised that it was probably silly and that a policy you can’t sustain it one you probably need to rethink. This is not something, but the way, that the hard left is good at doing, not least because it has a justified fear of what happens when you start backsliding.

    What should be done with No Platform – and I’m not at all sure that petitioning the state broadcaster is a new thing in this regard, though I am just a little too young to hgave been involved in the late Seventies – I don’t specifically know. I do imagine that it will be impossible to prevent the appearance on BNP people in the media and I also imagine that the case will be widely made that these apparearances can be turned to their disadvantage (I didn’t see the Griffin show, but I understand that this is basically what happened). It may well be possible to maintain a successful No Platform policy on university campuses, and if it is, then that should surely be done. But what else – I don’t know.

    There’s another thing that I remembered just the other day, prompted by the Question Time business, that when I was a student we held a demo to prevent, successfully, John Carlisle speaking at the university. Younger readers may not know who John Carlisle was, but basically he was a Conservative MP and a very prominent Parliamentary supporter of apartheid. He was not, however, an organiser of violence against ethnic minorities in the UK nor someone whose presence was likely to lead to this, and in retrospect I don’t think that preventing him speaking – as opposed to picketing his meeting, was a proper thing to do. Understandable, for sure, but not proper.

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 2, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Oh yes, John Carlisle. I think the irreducible aspect of No Platform is to enforce it within the labour movement, or in some other area where the left has the influence to make it achievable. I have no idea how UAF proposes to extend No Platform to the airwaves, and of course the BNP already has a platform – it’s called the European Parliament.

    It’s one of those things, like the sliding scale of wages. As I can remember Duncan Hallas pointing out, that’s a progressive slogan if wages are falling behind inflation but a reactionary one if they’re running ahead. The trouble comes when we box ourselves into positions that reality has rendered obsolete.

    • Chris Williams said,

      November 4, 2009 at 1:57 pm

      There’s a half-decent discussion along these lines in the current issue of _Freedom_ if any of youse can bring yourselves to read anathemic anarchist material.

  4. skidmarx said,

    November 2, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I always thought that no platforming on TV was about encouraging the broadcasting unions not to co-operate with the broadcast and was never aware that there was some idea that it was only labour movement platforms that should be exclusionary.
    I remember Cliff saying that rather than Hallas, nut I guess in a party you share goodideas.

  5. Doug said,

    November 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Rather a waste of energy analysing internal SWP goings on since the outcome will still be the same for the vast majoirty of the rest of the Left –

    ‘bargepole’, ‘either’, ‘touch’, ‘with’, ‘wouldn’t’, ‘of’, ‘them’ and ‘a’

  6. ejh said,

    November 2, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I have no idea how UAF proposes to extend No Platform to the airwaves

    Well, I would have thought it impossible as a blanket thing. However, perhaps the question is whether people are obliged to accept that now that Griffin’s been on QT (and sundry others of his chums on the radio) that that particular battle is lost. It might well be, though alternatively it might be that Griffin’s appearance caused such discontent that the next one may be a long time coming.

    However, I suppose it’s likely that every arsehole in broadcasting who wants to do provocative will decide to invite a minor Nazi on to the radio in order to make publicity and up the figures, and you can’t chase all of them around all day. No you’ll probably end up asking which ones to chase, which is pragmatic enough but more of a Not So Many Platforms policy than anything else.

  7. Doloras said,

    November 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    In Australia, the Socialist Alternative crowd (ultra-Cliffites, very big on campus) have been trying to extend no-platform on campus to members of the mainstream conservative party. I don’t think it’s mad ethem very popular.

  8. darren redstar said,

    November 2, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    the concept of Martin Smith, the SWP’s own grey blur, making any form of democratic reform (let alone revolution) is hilarious

  9. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 2, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    Yes, but if they split, that will be two organisations for the rest of the left to avoid, not one.

  10. WorldbyStorm said,

    November 2, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    The resemblance in the photo is really quite remarkable… seriously. A second career awaits if this one ever falls through… 🙂 (I mean that kindly).

  11. johng said,

    November 2, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I’m not at all sure about this clare short type argument about no platform (you’ll remember: well I was against the war but now we’ve begun it etc). There is actually a serious debate about this question reaching from the leadership of the Labour Party through to the NUJ. What I do think is that it is an argument that has to be won. I have no objection to the kind of tactical flexibility that Molyneux advocated, but I also think that the constituency for the argument is under-rated in much of the discussion on the media. Would anyone really (I mean really) feel comfortable if there were NOT protests about the BNP coming on QT?

  12. Dirty Red Bandana said,

    November 2, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I think you have made a bit of a logical pitfall for yourself here, Splinty. If you are right that Rees was removed and targeted as a scapegoat for the failings of the collective leadership, then how can you have any confidence in the likes of Harman, Callinicos and Smith to make the shambles more democratic?

    The quite mendacious arguments of Callinicos and Harman in the internal bulletin and the ‘journal’ last year set a concrete sarcophagus around the Respect discussion that offers a clear reason why the current debate is taking place in such stilted ways. Radioactive seepage provides the occasionally interesting remark such as one or two of the IB articles but it is remarkable that the SWP has managed to produce a perspectives document that fails to discuss the General Election due in the next year. How does the SWP define its electoral strategy now?

    There is another scenario in development as a possibility. The Rees faction does not command much support in the SWP and is trying to snowball support though this is quite unlikely. Its primary effect was to pull the CC leftwards just as a reassessment over anti-fascist strategy was underway. It is also likely to provide a tether on any electoral ambitions (though I suspect there are some in the party who want to do something here but face the sarcophagus). The failure to develop factional support further could lead to certain defeat at the party conference in January so the chances are that there will be some sort of orchestrated incident that allows a split of sorts to occur.

    The question is whether such a scenario would free the existing SWP leadership to launch a more wide ranging discussion over Respect and the SWP’s relationship to it (it is a bit of a problem that Respect is growing again and finding its electoral chances rising as well – this was definitely not part of the plan). Do turkeys vote for Christmas? After all, the record of many of the party luminaries is very stained on the issue.

    Destruction has failed. Containment may not be working so the question of how to approach the discussion will keep arising.

  13. November 3, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Surely the most interesting issue is the SWP’s emerging line on Lukacs?

    John Molyneux: “John holds an elitist theory of leadership derived from Lukacs’ concept of the party as bearer of working class consciousness (but perhaps that is a debate for another time). ”

    No it is not for “another time” comrade Molyneux! We demand a workers’ enquiry into the deviation riddled Reesite Algebra of Revolution now! Chaired, for his skill in poring over unreadable theology, by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

  14. Andy Wilson said,

    November 3, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I agree with many of the points in the post but think that some of the commentary is formalistic. It’s true that Harman, Callinicos, et al, share responsibility for the way that, eg., Respect was handled. They were on the CC and signed off many of the decisions. In any case they share the normal collective responsibility. So far, so good. But to leave it at that would be to overlook the fact that Rees and his allies have in reality been an undeclared faction of the SWP for many years now. Rees has developed his own idea of what constitutes revolutionary leadership, which he justifies by cobbling together various quotes from Cliff and throwing in some half-digested Lukacs to make the proposition sound posh (On the other hand, some aspects of his Bonapartism are genuinely lifted from Cliff, but that’s another matter.) I don’t mind if you sum this up by saying that it essentially involves the ‘Jules Holland Fallacy’, as that’s really the gist of it.
    Harman et al may well have provided cover for Rees for a long time, but Respect proved to be a step too far (Harman is probably just ashamed at having to write such utter fucking drivel in defence of Rees’s strategy post hoc) and finally they’ve decided, in their own dithering way, to deal with him. The fact that they bear some responsibility shouldn’t blind anyone at all sympathetic to the IS tradition to the fact that the move against Rees is a good thing, albeit long overdue.
    Also, the fact that the debate will mostly be conducted in the usual way (through indirection, code, hints, etc., combined with back-room skulduggery, rather than straightforward accounting) will make it harder for SWP members to see what the underlying issues really are (personally I think they are life or death issues for the IS / State Cap tradition).
    As far as ‘democratic reform’ goes It’s also true that left to their own devices the current SWP CC are likely at best to do just enough to convince the membership that something is being done against Rees, but not a jot more. The only way real democratic reform of the SWP can take place is if the members (presumably starting with those that supported Neil Davidson’s platform earlier in the year) take the matter into their own hands and push the CC further. If SWP members continue to rely on the sense and goodwill of the CC they will inevitably be undone.
    Things would be a lot easier for members of the SWP if the line between Rees, German and the rest of the leadership were drawn more clearly and accurately. Harman et al are unlikely to do that because it would raise the question of why they had sat on their hands all this time despite being perfectly well aware of how Rees operated. And if they didn’t know how Rees operated they are fools, since it was perfectly obvious to many rank and file members. I for one believe that many of the CC didn’t like Rees’s MO but (wrongly) felt compelled to put up with it. At least now the fact of a conflict is now out in the open. SWP members have generally proved to be very loyal to their leadership, but for a long time at least they could justify that to themselves by observing that, compared to the rest of the left – their competition, as they see it – at least they were making some headway. After the collapse of Respect that argument no longer holds any water at all. What will they do?

    ps. I too remember organising pickets of John Carlisle. I also remember Lindsey German causing consternation among the SWSS of the time by arguing with us that we took the position too literally and needed to tailor it more carefully to circumstances. But that was a long time ago and I am sure that she has simply forgotten.

  15. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 3, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    As you’ll know, at least two members of the CC (one still a member) opposed Rees’ elevation to that body from the beginning. Those two can at least feel slightly vindicated, even if in the intervening years they wrote a load of crap justifying him. There is also the acquiescence of Cliff, and how he got more and more reliant on Lindsey’s judgement – not ideal I would think.

    My view tends to be, yes, that the positions of Davidson and Molyneux offer at least a way forward, even if they can’t be as open as I might like. But the leadership will offer the minimum they think the members will accept, and what I fear is that the members have either forgotten or never knew how to pressure the leadership.

  16. Madam Miaow said,

    November 3, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    “And if they didn’t know how Rees operated they are fools, since it was perfectly obvious to many rank and file members.”

    Andy, they can’t even clutch at this straw. I was yelling loud and clear from the time Rees started to torpedo the Socialist Alliance in 2002 and they had my September 2003 Tribune article pinned up at the HQ. Several other members were asking wtf was going on as well (Birmingham, especially), so they knew something was up and still turned a blind eye.

    I may not have had a full grasp of political theory — I was on a steep learning curve — but I’m glad I stood by my instincts despite what was thrown at me. Rule 1 of being a socialist — You don’t do over other lefties. The SA was far from perfect but it was a rejuvenating and empowering move for the left during the window of opportunity the SWP had themselves predicted. All now wasted and back to square one but without the print shop and minus the respect they once had.

    Splinty, one of the CC you refer to who opposed him was his strongest supporter during the obvious screw-ups. I don’t care how many books someone’s written, if they can’t apply that in practice and effectively “lie to the class”, they’ve lost their credibility and should sod off.

    • Neil said,

      November 3, 2009 at 5:13 pm

      From an Irish perspective one of the things I’ve always found bizzare about what the SWP did to the Socialist Alliance was that the rest of the Left (apart from the SP) didn’t see it coming.

      I’m not having a go at people like Madam Miaow by the way but from my own limited experience of them in Ireland at the time where I just got to see a hand full of them saboutage local campaigns it seemed blindingly obvious if you put *thousands* of them in charge of something as delicate as left regroupment and working class political representation the whole thing was going to end in tears. But as for the rest of the left in the SA… It was the SWP. What did they think was going to happen?

      • Mark P said,

        November 3, 2009 at 5:31 pm

        I think that criticism really only apples to certain elements of the Socialist Alliance, Neil. You can divide the SA into a few categories:

        1) Many of the people involved were relatively new to far left politics and so really can’t have been expected to know better. They didn’t have psychic powers after all.

        2) Most of the little groups were well aware that the SWP were taking of the alliance and throwing their weight about. They just didn’t care because for the likes of the AWL, WP or the Weekly Worker, the whole point of the exercise was to poach some members from larger groups. An alliance featuring a domineering SWP actually suited them just as well as any other form of alliance, in this case because it gave them a “democracy” angle to use when criticising it.

        3) The Socialist Party, Red Action and the independent councillors in Preston who all left as soon as the SWP took over.

        4) The terminally naive and/or stupid. This included the ISG and any number of independents promoted to prominence and then discarded by the SWP as it suited them. These people tended to either fantasise that the SWP really was interested in an alliance of equals and left unity and apple pie and all the rest, or in a few ases imagined that they could use the SWP rather than be used by it. They couldn’t, because the balance of forces dictated otherwise. The SWP of course got the fright of their lives a few years later when they discovered that Galloway was an altogether more serious proposition. He was used to playing in the big boy’s leagues and promptly ripped them a collected new arsehole when they tried to put manners on him.

        It’s really only those people in category 4 who were being stupid in the way you describe. But then again nobody every accused the ISG of a surfeit of foresight.

      • Chris Williams said,

        November 4, 2009 at 11:40 am

        At the final break up conference at the IoE, I proposed Pete Maclaren’s independent-friendly motion, so I might appear to fall into MarkP’s category (1) (inexperienced) or (4) (blinded) below. But I seem to remember a long phone conversation with one of officers of the SA, when we agreed on what would happen if the SWP turned up. There were only two solutions to that problem:
        1) grow and cohere fast enough that we could out-vote them when they arrived. We tried this.
        2) cohere fast enough to actively exclude them from participation. We rejected this, on the basis that we could not unify fast enough to carry out a competent screening process which would still allow us to recruit.

        In other words, we did see it coming, but we couldn’t do anything about it, and most of us voted with our feet along with the SP. Hopefully the Cliffites are now too weak to destroy a similar attempt in the future.

  17. November 3, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    the hatred of “traditionalist Lutherans in Germany” for the Catholic church is much stronger than the AWL’s hatred for the SWP

  18. Andy Wilson said,

    November 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    #14: John Molyneux: “John holds an elitist theory of leadership derived from Lukacs’ concept of the party as bearer of working class consciousness (but perhaps that is a debate for another time). ”

    As I’ve commented elsewhere, maybe that time was somewhere circa the early 90s, when in fact there was precisely such a debate on Lukacs, directed against Rees, in which he was roundly opposed by a number of people, not including Molyneux, Harman or Callinicos, who preferred at the time to sit back and watch a group of young, expendable comrades sacrificed as the punishment for their hubris in arguing with Cliff’s annointed one. I remember, because I was there. I now claim my prize, which consists of a Greek urn depicting Cassandra warning the citizens against the Trojan Horse.

  19. skidmarx said,

    November 3, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    8. It’s good to see you’re not letting your own dislike of the SWP bias your analysis.
    12. It’s good to see you’re not letting your own dislike of the SWP bias your analysis. When you start from a position that everything Rees did in the Respect split was wrong and everything Galloway did was right, it’s not surprising that you cling to the belief that a faction of the SWP will swing round to your way of thinking, but when it didn’t happen during the split or during the post-split analysis it becomes a more and more ludicrous perspective as time goes by.

    13. Maybe they need less Gyorgy Lukacs and more George Lucas. “Around the survivors a perimeter create”, as Yoda says in Attack of the Clones.

    14. Harman is probably just ashamed at having to write such utter fucking drivel in defence of Rees’s strategy
    Because you think he should be?

    15.As you’ll know, at least two members of the CC (one still a member) opposed Rees’ elevation to that body from the beginning. Those two can at least feel slightly vindicated, even if in the intervening years they wrote a load of crap justifying him.
    Or maybe in the intervening years they thought he was doing a good job?

    16. It’s good to see you’re not letting your own dislike of the SWP bias your analysis. John Rees’ crime here seems to be that he thought the SA’s time had come to an end.

    • Doloras said,

      November 3, 2009 at 8:04 pm

      But a faction of the SWP did back Galloway. They were all expelled.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 4, 2009 at 1:12 pm

        Three people were expelled, and Mark Steel left. I think that’s still a couple of dissenters short of a faction in an organisation with a subs paying membership of 3,000.I could also have disputed the suggestion that the Respect Rump is growing again and it’s electoral chances improving, but ther are only so many hours in the day.

        On Mark P’s point about the ISG:But then again nobody every accused the ISG of a surfeit of foresight. At least Thornett had the foresight to get out of the WRP before Healy had him killed.

      • November 4, 2009 at 7:38 pm

        “Three people were expelled, and Mark Steel left. I think that’s still a couple of dissenters short of a faction”

        Considering the hyper-emotional attitude, summed up in the word “WITCHHUNT!” which prevailed in the SWP during the split, and still obviously prevails among some SWP members to this day, this comment smacks of a man holding a loaded gun asking a room of people whether he hears any objections.

        I think you might want to ask Tony C – formerly a comments moderator on Lenin’s Tomb – whether there might have been other opponents of the destruction of Respect who were quietly pushed or jumped of their own accord from the SWP after the split. Or even SWP members who still think Respect was ruined unnecessarily, but aren’t prepared to say so openly now because they don’t have a CC member or ex-CC member on their side.

  20. Andy Wilson said,

    November 3, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Anyhow, to reiterate the moral – it is now down to the SWP rank and file to push forward the democratisation of the party and the excision of Rees, German and their allies. And to those of them relying on the CC to do this for them I’d offer an alternate formulation of Cassandra’s prophesy: beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

  21. Andy Wilson said,

    November 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    #19: “Because you think he should be?”

    I do

    • skidmarx said,

      November 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm

      Hooray for straight answers!

  22. Wendy James said,

    November 3, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    Hows the old poster situation Andy? And what ever did happen to ‘A Taste of Honey’?

    • Andy Wilson said,

      November 4, 2009 at 1:34 pm

      ‘A Taste of Honey’ was a special edition. Coincidetally, someone just sent me a couple of copies, and a copy of Jim Higgins’ book, now long out of print.

  23. Madam Miaow said,

    November 3, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    #19: “John Rees’ crime here seems to be that he thought the SA’s time had come to an end.”

    Then he should have said so instead of wasting everyone’s time and encouraging us us to build while he slipped the knife in.

  24. Neil said,

    November 3, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    “Any short-circuiting of the discussion by administrative measures would cast the new friendly regime in a deeply unflattering light.”

    Well what are we to make of the round of suspensions that have hit SWP members in the run up to conference season?

    All of the bully boy tactics of the old regime are present in the new one. For example two SP members went down to leaflet the SWP’s led ‘Another Education is Possible’ last Saturday. Any SWP member or contact foolish enough to take a leaflet was confronted with a full timer who then helpfully disposed of the poisonous leaflet in question which was advertising a march against unemployment. Clearly the kind of material the rank and file must be shielded from. I really don’t understand why they do things like that. Don’t they see behaviour like that is worth a hundred anti-SWP screeds?

    This I think illustrates the fundamental bind the SWP are now in. It’s not just the malign influence of John and Lindsey, the thuggishness of Martin Smith or the bumblesome nature Harman and Callinicos that have landed them in this tight spot. The reality is that there is a whole layer from top to bottom that have learned their politics in an undemocratic culture and so have been trained with false political methods that alienates everyone else and scuppers whatever political capital they manage to gain from successful mass work.

    That said although this is a serious crisis for the SWP, they will definitely recover from it. I can’t see any big split coming out of this factional feud between two cliques. The SWP will do what it always does. Change the political line, wear out the existing layer committed to the old line, expel the dissidents and recruit a new layer for the new line. But their days as the 1,000lb gorilla on the left are over.

    • Dan said,

      November 3, 2009 at 10:27 pm

      Neil. I was at that conference. I did not see a single member of your organisation, let alone an SWP full-timer attacking your leaflet. Now perhaps this happened, but perhaps you should tell your members to try leafletting a bit harder, if most delegates didn’t even get the leaflet?

  25. Andy Wilson said,

    November 3, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    #23: “All of the bully boy tactics of the old regime are present in the new one…. For example… confronted with a full timer”

    I wouldn’t draw such wide-ranging conclusions from the behaviour of one full-timer.

    You have, however, reminded me of the time when I was an SWP full-timer myself in Liverpool and a ‘leading member of The Militant’ (aka Derek Hatton) threatened me to my face that he would have me ‘murdered’ if I ever showed my face at another Militant public meeting. I didn’t take it as representative of the entire Militant, just a little over-excitability on the part of one individual with overinflated ideas about his own world-historical significance.

    My, how times have changed! Now there are no more gorillas – just a lot of of undernourished and confused-looking chimps clutching for the few remaining bananas. In nature it’s at precisely this point that you’d expect mutation and the laws of evolution to kick in 😉

    • Neil said,

      November 3, 2009 at 8:48 pm

      Ah yes was this before or after your paper accused a man who was under 18 seperate malicious criminal investigations by the state and had the Murdoch press camped outside his door night and day for the role he was playing in fighting Thatcher, of selling out the people of Liverpool?

      Lots of people in the Liverpool Labour Party and not just members of the Militant threatened to kill SWPers after that. Some of your members were chased down the road by bin workers after Mr. Cliff felt the need to tell the truth to the working class.

      By the way Derek Hatton may have had many faults but he was in the leadership of one of the most significant struggles of the working class in Britain in the 20th century. He sweated blood for the people of Liverpool and had to live with years of press vilification and black listing for what he did (as did many other so called ‘sell outs’). He was no Lenin but he was certainly of greater ‘world historical significance’ than anyone who ever paid subs to the SWP. What happened to him and the rest of the Liverpool 47 certainly puts the plight of poor old John and Lindsey in it’s proper perspective.

      • ejh said,

        November 3, 2009 at 9:18 pm

        Lots of people in the Liverpool Labour Party and not just members of the Militant threatened to kill SWPers after that

        You do know what you’re saying Neil, and what you sound like when you’re saying it?

      • Neil said,

        November 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm

        It’s true I’m afraid.
        I spoke to one member of the Liverpool Labour Party at the time who’d gone off on one at a young SWPer trying to sell the SW with that infamous headline.
        He felt bad about it all those years later but the truth was a lot of peole in the movement in Liverpool were enraged by that headline. They were really under the cosh from Thatcher and the Tories and emotions were running high.
        Hatton was out of order for what he did, as was the more extreme reactions to the SWP but Andy is being entirely disingenuous if he is comparing that to SWP members confiscating an innocuous leaflet about for a demo on unemployment.

      • Andy Wilson said,

        November 19, 2009 at 12:16 pm

        I was the SWP organiser in Liverpoll and can assure you that we had very good relations with many Militant members, especially those, eg., in G&M branch 5, who shared many of our views on how the dispute there was handled. I also fondly remember being invited to give a meeting to a Militant controlled YS branch on ‘Why Socialists Should Leave the Labour Party’. Of course the local Militant bigwigs tried everything in their power to have the meeting canceled, but the YS branch would not back down. When I finally did the meeting the front row consisted of a solid line of 60+ year old Militant grandees – but the meeting went ahead anyway, and the rest of the room was packed with young Militant and YS supporters (practically the same thing in Liverpool at the time).

        In short, it is not true that Militant members in Liverpool were uniformly hostile to the SWP. Once again, Neil, don’t be too hasty in drawing conclusions based on what a few party organisers / leaders say and do.

        Caveat: Hatton proved popular with the some of the best sections of the Liverpool Militant because he had argued longer for the strike among the Militant leadership (well, that’s what I was led to believe at the time). His hostility to me was not based on disgust with the SWP line on the strike, but recognition that some of the best Militant members – particularly some of those in the council workforce – privately agreed with us.

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 12:43 pm


        They “privately agreed with” you? Now you sound like a Weekly Worker writer, rabbitting on about how deep down their bizarre arguments are “having an effect” on the rank and file of some other group.

        Come off it.

      • Andy Wilson said,

        November 19, 2009 at 1:38 pm

        Oh, OK Mark. They didn’t privately agree – the publicly chased me through the streets of Liverpool and beat me to a bloody pulp. I had forgotten all about it until you reminded me.

      • Andy Wilson said,

        November 19, 2009 at 1:45 pm

        More seriously, I don’t claim anything other than that a number of Militant supporters in Liverpool were not anything like as hostile to the SWP as Neil makes out. You can deny that if you like, but that was my experience. I’m sorry it doesn’t fit the picture many people prefer of Trots tearing one another’s heads off for sport and as a matter of principle, but there you have it…

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 2:13 pm


        I have not argued that Militant supporters in Liverpool were constantly ferociously hostile to the SWP. Quite a few won’t have had much idea who you were and a larger group again wouldn’t have given a toss either way. Of those who knew of you and cared to any degree, there would have been a range of opinions ranging from polite disagreement to outright hostility.

        The SWP in Liverpool were a small group “intervening” into a struggle they had little or nothing to do with.

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 2:18 pm

        Just to add:

        Not that there’s anything wrong with being a small group intervening into a struggle you don’t have much of a role in! We’ve all been there from time to time and sometimes there isn’t much else you can do.

    • Andy Wilson said,

      November 19, 2009 at 4:36 pm

      “Of those who knew of you and cared to any degree, there would have been a range of opinions ranging from polite disagreement to outright hostility.”

      You are missing out those who knew of us and had at least some sympathy with, or interest in our position. Not many, I admit, but enough to get, eg., a YS branch (the biggest and most active in Liverpool, I hasted to add. Riverside ward? My memory may be failing at this point) to ask us to do a meeting on why they should leave the Labour Party, and doing so in defiance of direct instructions from the Militant leadership both locally and nationally. I would suggest that that response lies outside the narrow spectrum you describe.

      Bear in mind that what I am trying to establish here is that I found many Militant cdes perfectly friendly when their organisers weren’t around. I am not trying to claim any great influence on the part of the SWP at the time, just that rank and file members of such groups as the Militant and SWP are often less paranoid about one another than you would get from reading, eg., their respective leaderships denunciations of ‘the sects’, etc., and there is often more scope for comradely co-operation than is generally supposed.

      But if you guys want to go on boasting that your team (in their righteous and justified indignation, of course) persecuted members of another socialist group even when your supposed victims deny it, then feel free. I can’t see what good it will do you.

      • Mark P said,

        November 19, 2009 at 5:53 pm

        Actually I think that how friendly or unfriendly people in different political organisations are to each other varies wildly, depending on the cultural and political features of the groups and the personality of the individuals concerned.

        Here in Dublin the far left tends to be reasonably polite, at least in comparison to my experiences in Britain. At public meetings for instance there’s a sort of unspoken code whereby the various groups don’t try to “swamp” the others with paper sellers – you simply don’t get the twenty paper seller mob that you quite often get at big meetings in London. For the most part people are allowed speak at other groups meetings without being carved out or heckled. People often swap papers with each other. There are rarely shouting matches.

        My experience of the left in London wasn’t quite so rosy.

  26. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Well actually I have a better story. Perhaps the worst intervention of my life (possibly bar a few here) was when I turned up at a militant meeting and began my contribution by complaining how unfriendly it was of the militant to fly post over our posters. “awwwwwwww” was the response from the militant full-timer. Quite right too really.

    • Mark P said,

      November 3, 2009 at 7:21 pm

      I once arrived to a demonstration, rather hungover, and was chatting to a friend of mine who had recently joined the SWP. We’d been friends since long before either of us had become politically involved on the left and we were talking about a party we’d both been at the night before. An SWP fulltimer saw us talking, immediately walked over and pulled her away from the evil sectarian. Much to my amusement but not to hers.

      I’ve also seen four or five London SWP members form a line in front of a stall manned by another group at a student event of there’s trying to physically stop them from leafletting SWSS student contacts.

      I wouldn’t blame every member of the SWP for that kind of stupidity though. Some people are just pricks after all and you get them anywhere. The SWP do however, in my experience have a culture which discourages contact with other currents on the left and such a culture can encourage the kind of crass behaviour Neils anecdote exemplifies.

      They don’t have a monopoly on such a culture, mind you. Militant back in the 1980s wasn’t wildly fond of “the sects” for example and I’m told that SWP cadre sent along to intervene into LPYS summer camps may not always have had an entirely delightful time of it. It’s an attitude that’s quite common on the left and tends to be more common amongst relatively large groups than amongst relatively small ones for obvious reasons – no matter how many arguments the SWP win with Workers Power for instance it won’t gain them many new members.

      But there are degrees in everything. The old WRP were renowned for their thuggery and general obnoxiousness towards their political rivals for instance in a way that nobody seriously accuses the SWP of. Despite the occasional hilarious open letter issued by the AWL or Weekly Worker after one of their members gets removed from Marxism or whatever. With the SWP the problem is more of a general low level contempt for others on the far left, which normalises things like not allowing various political opponents (expelled members, Sparts etc) into public meetings.

      • ejh said,

        November 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm

        With the SWP the problem is more of a general low level contempt for others on the far left

        I would have thought this was true of pretty much everybody on the far left…

      • Doloras said,

        November 3, 2009 at 8:06 pm

        Actually, I think not letting Sparts into your public meetings is an elementary mental health precaution. They may appear a joke know, but they managed to totally ruin at least one British left group in the 70s.

      • Mark P said,

        November 3, 2009 at 8:10 pm

        ejh: Fair point. Although that general problem manifests itself in more or less concentrated ways.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

        I’m told that SWP cadre sent along to intervene into LPYS summer camps may not always have had an entirely delightful time of it.
        I may have told the story before, but I went to a Militant summer camp two years running at the end of that decade, and one of the SWP tents was pissed on one year and thrown up on the other.

        I went to a meeting on China at Marxism this year where both the IBT and Sparts were allowed to contribute, and actually had a polite conversation with a Spart later that day.

  27. Dirty Red Bandana said,

    November 3, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    Sorry Andy but I do not buy this ‘rank and file must assert themselves’ line, though I like your point about the existence of a de facto faction in the 90s. An organization that loses its honesty, refuses to take a serious account of major strategic mistakes (especially ones that haunt as the election approaches, let alone what it will do as the left reshapes afterwards) and leaves most of the leadership involved in situ, has serious trouble brewing. I concur that this is potentially life or death now though it will play out slowly.

    The problem is that the major area of analysis has been sealed off and any attempt to discuss or reflect upon its meaning will risk expulsion. If Respect does well next year, the problem will ramp up a few notches and the tactical tensions will grow. How does the rank and file deal with this, especially when there is no tradition of ‘revolutionary democracy’?

    On Lukacs, I think Molyneux is grasping a bit here. You can find any number of blunderbusses in Rees’ book, not least the faked research (look at what he says about the Russian dialectics debate of the 1920s – pure unadulterated acceptance of every Stalinist label on the basis of reading a couple of pages in one book by a right wing Oxford academic). You could blame his reading of Machiavelli as much as Lukacs…and I do remember the debates in the early 90s that AW played a prominent role in.

    Mutation and genetic drift are only part of the ‘laws of evolution’. Most species learned about the other.

  28. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    Is everyone against barring the sparts?

    • Mark P said,

      November 3, 2009 at 8:18 pm

      As I understand it, the SWP bar any expelled former members, plus Sparts, plus IBT people from their public meetings.

      And yes, I think that’s wrong. The IBT and the ex-members are highly unlikely to be disruptive. Even the Sparts are not generally disruptive as long as the same rules are applied to them as to anyone else – ie, I’ve very rarely seen them be disruptive and even then only in circumstances where the chair is obviously refusing to let them speak.

      I think by the way that there is a big difference between being disruptive and being politically obnoxious. Sparts are actually very easy to deal with politically – they always make the same speech, so let them make it and then have one person respond to them briefly before moving on and not mentioning them again. As for your expelled members, what’s the reasoning behind forbidding them from attending public meetings? I honestly can’t think of any good reason to do that, although I can think of quite a few bad ones.

      • Neil said,

        November 3, 2009 at 8:55 pm

        If the SWP ever do decide to let the Sparts or the IBT into their meetings here’s how to deal with them:

        Let the IBT person speak first. The Spart will then immediately forget about what ever pre prepared denunciation they had in mind and immediately launch into a tirade about Bill Logan and ‘crimes against communist morality’. 🙂

      • Doloras said,

        November 3, 2009 at 11:03 pm

        I’ve met Bill Logan. Odd guy, almost avuncular on the surface. Adaire Hannah is much scarier.

      • splinteredsunrise said,

        November 4, 2009 at 12:19 am

        Bill is a secular celebrant, is he not? I suppose somebody has to do it.

      • Doloras said,

        November 4, 2009 at 1:18 am

        Yep, Bill does weddings and funerals. One of my comrades is ex-IBT and has many hilarious tales to tell about Bill, Adaire and their wacky hijinks.

  29. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    On the Tomb just now this poster re-appeared after an absence, with a long rant about the ‘churchladies of the SWP’. Except since I made fun of his strange sexist vocabulary last time round he now says ‘churchladies and churchladdies’. I suppose it does show that Sparticist League members to occassionally take part in dialogic exchanges, but surely organisations can decide not to allow those who are habitually disruptive and/or deranged into their meetings?

  30. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    “The problem is that the major area of analysis has been sealed off and any attempt to discuss or reflect upon its meaning will risk expulsion”

    I don’t think this is true. Its only the first bulletin.

    • Dirty Red Bandana said,

      November 3, 2009 at 10:36 pm

      Aw, you can do better than that, John! You’ve read the IB and will have read the numerous references to Respect as if it is the past and a dead failed organization – there is clearly a deep element in the Central Committee that simply wants to wish away the problem and not open a discussion about the corner it has put their party into.

      Meanwhile, in the real world, Respect seeks to provide a focal point where it can against the cuts agenda and has strong hopes for the election. It is also recruiting strongly and creating new branches. In existing branches, the message is that people are coming back. The question becomes whether the left wants to wake up after the election to the news of BNP MPs or a larger grouping of left MPs centred around the Gren Party and Respect. The SWP’s abstention from this issue mirrors its ability to miss the European Election campaign.

  31. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Generally speaking I think organisations have a right to steward their own meetings.

    • Neil said,

      November 3, 2009 at 9:41 pm

      I don’t think suggesting that barring ex-members or Sparts from your meetings speaks ill of your organization is the same as saying you’ve no right to steward your meetings.

  32. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Well I don’t know. Just had a spart on lenin’s tomb. I have to say that lenin is terribly liberal about these things but I’d delete on sight. Its just a waste of time and anyway its a cult not a political party. But hell I’m notoriously hatchet faced and illiberal. On the question of expulsions I think organisations have to have a way of removing people from their organisation and their institutional life. Expulsions should though be rare and only entred into when unavoidable. I think its a wierd idea for people who have been expelled from an organisation to turn up to the organisation. the real questions usually revolve around whether they ought to have been expelled or not.

    • Mark P said,

      November 3, 2009 at 10:02 pm

      Do you think it was fair and reasonable for the Communist Parties to refuse to allow members of small Trotskyist groups to enter their public meetings?

      My view is that if you advertise a meeting as a public event then anyone should be able to go, as long as they behave in an orderly manner. I think that the Sparts or the IBT have as much right to go along, listen to proceedings, and then stick their hands up and get a turn to speak as anyone else.

      I have even more of a problem with the idea that expelled former members of an organisation should be barred from events advertised as being open to the public. I think that organisations do have a right to boot people out, although the Irish SP pretty much never does so, but I think that the consequences of such an expulsion should be that the person so removed is treated like any other member of the public. Not that they are then to be treated like lepers.

      Here in Dublin, two people who were expelled from the SWP went on to set up the main refugee solidarity campaign and do tireless work on the issue. Do you really think that if the SWP decided to hold a public meeting on refugee issues it should ban those people from attending? Why shouldn’t they attend?

      Barring expelled members from public meetings serves only two purposes:

      1) It stops those people from raising their expulsion in a forum where plenty of members and contacts may be present.

      2) It encourages a culture of ostracism.

      I don’t think that either of those are good reasons at all.

  33. Liam said,

    November 3, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    “I’ve also seen four or five London SWP members form a line in front of a stall manned by another group at a student event of there’s trying to physically stop them from leafletting SWSS student contacts.”

    What is horrible about this is that it’s true.

    What makes it even more horrible is that a group of fairly intelligent people think that it’s a sensible thing to do. How little self respect or respect for someone else’s judgement do you need before you think that this sort of bureaucratic imbecility is a good idea?

  34. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    I can only re-iterate. I think an organisation needs to have some form of disciplinary proceedure’s to deal with a situation where individuals either for political or personal reasons place themselves without the boundaries of the organisation. Expulsions though ought to be a last resort. I also think that organisations which hold events have a perfect right to decide to proscribe organisations which have a history of disrupting meetings. Obviously there will be disagreements about whether such an organisation is in fact guilty but ultimately thats for an organisation to decide. I’m not in favour of the behaviour you mention Liam, but I’m also aware that when I intervene in other peoples meetings I would recognise that it is their meeting and not mine. If you book a venue you’d expect to be consulted about where someone else wanted to put their stall.

    • Mark P said,

      November 3, 2009 at 11:58 pm

      1) I’m not sure if Liam and I are talking about the same event, but on the occasion I saw that particular stunt pulled it was in front of a stall that was outside the meeting venue. To be fair it’s not something I’ve seen regularly, but was memorable because it was so bizarre.

      2) Nobody here is arguing that an organisation doesn’t have a right to expel people from membership. That’s a red herring.

      3) Neither is anybody saying that an organisation doesn’t have a right to steward its public meetings. What we are saying is that excluding people who are not being disruptive on political grounds doesn’t reflect well on the way in which an organisation stewards its meetings.

      The fact that the Sparts and the IBT may be politically crazed isn’t really the point. All kinds of people with peculiar views come to public meetings. All kinds of people with unpopular views do too. More importantly, excluding expelled former members from meetings advertised as open to the public serves no purpose other than trying to stop members and supporters from hearing about the expulsions or encouraging a culture of ostracism. I don’t think that either reason is very reasonable.

  35. johng said,

    November 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

    Oh and know I don’t know better then that Red Bandana. I suspect there will be quite a lot of debate about these questions. However recognising mistakes and reassessing the past can have different outcomes. I get the sense that you have one correct outcome in mind and anything else will be evidence of a refusal to confront reality. Fair enough I guess, but I would simply re-iterate, its simply the first bulletin and it really isn’t as if people are unaware that there is a bit of a problem.

    • Mark P said,

      November 4, 2009 at 12:03 am

      I tend to agree with you here.

      DRB seems to be mostly aggrieved that the SWP don’t think that the rump Respect is going anywhere. I can see why that would be irritating for a Respect reason but it’s not an inherently unreasonable line to take. Respect may well win seats at the next election, in which case it may well be able to achieve some momentum. But if it loses its seat, then, with all due respect (sorry), how would it be any more significant than the Wigan Community Action people or the Barrow People’s Party?

      • Dirty Red Bandana said,

        November 4, 2009 at 5:28 pm

        ‘Aggrieved’ is quite an amusing notion. Analysis rather than anecdote can be rather useful.

        The problem is not about teleology (more your area with the Leninist schemata than mine, John) but about the experience of the ‘Marxist left’ since 1945. There is a tendency to avoid serious reflection on strategic and tactical mistakes or even to question principles and the flowing methods of organization (which are surely linked to politics). The SWP is an example of a party dominated by the next short term tactical shift and rarely with reflection on the last one.

        The Respect debate is an enormous example and its ramifications in terms of the principles, organization, strategy and tactics of the party are equally enormous. The experience of the left groups in Die Linke and the NPA raise the issue as well.

        In this context, the claim that “recognising mistakes and reassessing the past can have different outcomes” is a bit cheeky when we all know the outcome of any internal debate in the SWP, especially when suspensions set the initial tone.

        Respect could be a left of Labour focal point and a broad party (Mark P is roughly right about the consequences of failing to win seats, though there are other factors at work that he misses). The RMT initiative could be the start of an interesting process leading to something similar (though it will take some years judging by the initial foray).

        This is why it is relevant to any debate on the left at the moment – the question is how does the left engage with a new audience radicalized by neo-liberalism, public service cuts, war and racism? The old Labour parties are no alternative so what does the left do? The question does not go away because we wish it. The European experience is that it grows in intensity and it poses major follow up questions in terms of how the left organizes.

        The problem is what lessons to learn from the democratic centralist experiments since 1945. Do we stick with it because it is comforting and ‘known’ but isolating politically?

        The more honest argument is about what it is to be left and how we should organize to maximize our audience in an age when we do not seem relevant.

  36. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Well if someone is expelled for persistantly disrupting meetings and refusing to stop (I know of no such case I hasten to add) then it would be a little strange if their expulsion made no difference to the situation. I’m a horses for courses person myself, but I just think if an organisation has the right to expel people it also has to have the right to exclude people. As good old Wittgenstein once said, discussion has to end sometime. Note that having that right does’nt neccessarily mean it has to be excercised. On the question of the Sparts we just disagree. I think they’re crazed and I think they are disruptive. Now you could have a situation where every time they show up there has to be a vote about whether to continue to allow them to disrupt meetings. I think institutional arrangements exist to waste less time. Our organisation had experiance with them, and we just prefer not to have them in our meetings.

  37. Mark P said,

    November 4, 2009 at 12:38 am


    Would you apply the same logic to Stalinist parties excluding Trotskyists from public events in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s? Or is it bad when done to people you approve of, but perfectly fine when you do it to people you don’t approve of?

    • Doloras said,

      November 4, 2009 at 1:14 am

      “is it bad when done to people you approve of, but perfectly fine when you do it to people you don’t approve of?”

      That’s a dishonest argument, in that it closes off the possibility of any kind of punitive action being taken against anyone ever. The real questions are not whether X group should have the right to kick Y group out of its meetings (and now I’m having flashbacks to the Anglicans and gay priests), but under what circumstances and for which values of X and Y.

      • Doloras said,

        November 4, 2009 at 1:20 am

        To clarify a bit, I think any group has the right to bar any other group who disrupts a meeting, as we all know Sparts love to do (and expelled ex-members might do, if they’re bitter and/or aggressive enough). The question really is whether it’s fair to ban a group in advance, or let them in and then chuck them out if they start acting like arseholes. The latter is no doubt more just, but more difficult.

      • Mark P said,

        November 4, 2009 at 1:37 am

        No, it really doesn’t close that possibility off.

        I’m comparing two situations where the people excluded have unpopular views, but where neither have made any attempt to disrupt proceedings.

        Let me put it this way: In the last decade I’ve been to dozens of public meetings with some combination of Sparts, IBT members and expelled members of the organisation holding the meeting present, I’ve never once seen an attempt to disrupt the meeting by any of those people. In fact the idea of the politically quite mad but generally very polite IBT trying to disrupt a meeting is borderline laughable.

        The closest I’ve seen to any of them disrupting a meeting was a Spart demanding to be let speak after the chair of a meeting called for speakers from the floor but wouldn’t let him speak when he was the only person with his hand up. Sometimes I’ve seen meetings get diverted into discussions the host organisation doesn’t want to have, but that’s a different issue.

        In my experience such exclusions are about steering the debate rather than any real fear of disruptive behaviour.

  38. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 1:40 am

    Well Mark I can only re-iterate that my experiance of the Sparts is different to yours, and I don’t have a problem with an organisation preferring not to have them disrupting their meetings, especially when they have a pretty appalling record of doing the same. In the end its a judgement call and people do have a right to make a collective decision about them. There are any number of quite serious issues people might have with the SWP. I don’t think excluding the Sparts from their meetings is one of them.

  39. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 1:52 am

    And I don’t see a lot of problem in a group of people wanting to have a discussion about one thing rather then the other. On the tomb there is a delightful chap who is obsessed by the idea that the leadership of the SWP are the labour lieutenants of capital. I think he’s a Spart. No matter what is being discussed he will bring this up, and an alleged headline celebrating the collapse of the Berlin wall togeather with some perfidy to do with the Korean war in the 1950s. Now bar the first point (which seems to revolve around a theory that anyone who unites with anyone who unites with someone who unites with a bishop is a popular frontist and therefore an agent of the bourgoisie, an argument not much less interesting then the argument against it, usually put foward by the IBT) I’m sure that the latter two points might merit an interesting debate. But not when that is ALL that this guy ever wants to discuss (well he does’nt want a discussion he wants to EXPOSE the labour lieutenants of capital who put forth the proposition, labour lieutenants who are also sometimes ‘church ladies’ now accomanied by ‘church lads’), I think its fair to conclude that he’s not really after a discussion at all. In Blog terms he is a troll. So is it really bad if a group of people decide they don’t want to take part in this discussion whenever they meet? And if this isn’t bad, is it really bad if, after a while, they institutionalise this decision? I don’t really think so. And there is a kind of moral economy involved. You have to behave pretty badly if groups of socialists are going to get away with excluding you without most objecting. And the fact that the Sparts are a by-word for sectarian nuttiness they must take some responsibility for. And most people don’t like sectarian nuttiness in meetings (on the internet it can occassionally be entertaining).

  40. Phil said,

    November 4, 2009 at 8:01 am

    You have to behave pretty badly if groups of socialists are going to get away with excluding you without most objecting.

    So if someone is being excluded from a meeting, and most people inside the meeting aren’t objecting, they must have behaved pretty badly.

    I’m less concerned with groups here than individuals, ex-members in particular. Thought-experiment: if Andy Wilson – or Andy Newman – turned up to see Weyman Bennett telling the local students Why They Should Be A Socialist, would they be stopped at the door? Would anyone in the meeting object?

  41. Liam said,

    November 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    While we are on the subject of anti-democratic practices what about the old favourite of putting someone into the chair of what is ostensibly some form of united front public meeting and refusing to call anyone who disagrees with the chair’s politics?

    It wouldn’t be so bad if the six people who do speak didn’t all say exactly the same thing.

    Mark – we didn’t see the same event but I’ve spoken to people who have seen similar.

  42. Andy Wilson said,

    November 4, 2009 at 11:25 am

    “if Andy Wilson – or Andy Newman – turned up to see Weyman Bennett telling the local students Why They Should Be A Socialist, would they be stopped at the door?”

    Kindly erase from your mind the notion that I’d ever willingly attend a meeting by Weyman Bennett: I make it a rule never to hang out with Weyman, even in thought experiments.

    I did, however, attend Marxism 09 for a few days earlier this year without any bother and was greeted cordially by a good number of cdes who know me. Those who know me and dislike me, particularly in the leadership, adopted their standard imperial pose of staring through me as if I didn’t exist – something which is quite disconcerting for the first few years that it happens to you, though you eventually get used to it.

    Returning to our theme, I even sat in on one of John Rees’s meetings for old times’ sake, to get the measure of how far his mind had unraveled of late. The result was quite gratifying.

    I’m sure Andy Newman wouldn’t have any trouble getting into SWP meetings – he seems harmless enough behind all his blather and hand wringing 😉

  43. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 11:31 am

    I was talking about one particular group the Sparticist League.

  44. Madam Miaow said,

    November 4, 2009 at 11:45 am

    #42″ to get the measure of how far his mind had unraveled of late. The result was quite gratifying. ”

    Oh, do tell.

  45. Andy Wilson said,

    November 4, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    #44: Predictably enough I went to his meeting on Lukacs. Whereas in past meetings on the subject he just talked nonsense, in a vaguely uncomprehending way, while (metaphorically) waving a copy of Cliff’s book on Lenin in the air, this time he was reduced to turning Lukacs into nothing more or less than a direct advocate for Cde Rees himself: the essence of Lukacs’s philosophy, apparently, is his idea that we need a firm and decisive leadership – perhaps a little like… (have you guessed it yet?)

    He was also keen to point out that Engels was a student of the military, and stressed the importance of the division of labour between the General Staff and the rank and file (hilariously, to me, as someone who spent time in the military).

    All in all, it was more like Dragon’s Den than a genuine debate, except that the Dragons had already thoroughly bought into the brand and the product, making the pitch itself a bit pointless and the manner of its delivery seriously overwrought, as he was preaching almost entirely to the converted. The truly odd thing was that many of the congregation seemed to like the meeting very much and subsequently trumpeted how brilliant and incisive it was, in much the same way that some punters will cheer more frantically than ever for the horse they’ve backed at just the point when it’s become obvious to everyone else that the nag in question is lame and exhausted.

  46. skidmarx said,

    November 4, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    45. I didn’t see you in the meeting on dialectics. Now that really was rubbish.
    The truly odd thing was that many of the congregation seemed to like the meeting very much and subsequently trumpeted how brilliant and incisive it was,
    Shouldn’t you have pointed out that the emperor wears no clothes, or were you worried they would tear you apart like rabid dogs?

    41. Liam – if you don’t give any details your allegation may appear vague and unsubstantiable.Personally I think that stopping comrades from taking leaflets is generally quite dumb, though dragging them away from unsavoury types for something more party-minded might be more correctly intentioned than the heart-rending friendship-breaking it’s being made out to be.

    42. Weyman has got less grating over the years.

    40. After your period of hilariously advising SWP members that they could apply to join Respect(tq) as individuals, might I suggest that if you want to attend an SWP organised meeting you’d be free to apply as an individual?
    Of course it was your faction that pioneered carving out the SWP in a meeting in Bristol, orgainsed under the Respect banner before the SWP had accepted the minority’s theft of the name. Feeding back into DRB’s suggestion that the Rump is on the rise again, it was reported at that time that the meeting in Bristol had been a great success at which six new members had joined. Are those members still in the organisation, or is it another case of every reported success being followed by an unreported failure?
    Incidentally I don’t think the SWP or any other political organisation is immune from the tendency to only talk about the things it wants to talk about. But it is that much more stark in Respect(tertium quid), probably because its USP at the time of the split was its claim to success, whenever the bandwagon stops rolling its raison d’etre falls apart.

  47. Phil said,

    November 4, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    might I suggest that if you want to attend an SWP organised meeting you’d be free to apply as an individual?

    I’m sure I would, but I’m not an ex-member of the SWP. Keep up.

    Of course it was your faction that pioneered carving out the SWP in a meeting in Bristol

    What makes you think I was a member of RESPECT at the time, let alone that I’ve got anything to do with what may have happened in Bristol?

  48. Andy Wilson said,

    November 4, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    #46: were you worried they would tear you apart like rabid dogs?

    Not in the slightest – I just thought it best to keep my head down and simply observe, in a ghoulish, road crash kind of way. Despite the personal friendliness of a few individual members I’m still barred for life from any and all SWP meetings and, having experienced in the past the stewards trying to eject me from the event, chose not to force the issue. I’ve done way more than my fair share of debating and disagreeing with Rees in public on (ostensibly) matters of philosophy. For all his influence in the SWP over the years, and even taking into account his taste for intrigue and unpleasantness, he is at heart an incredibly tedious and light-minded little man who, either alone or with his cohorts, holds no particular terror for me or anyone else not in hock to his clique. Frankly, he’s an arse, and it’s shameful for the SWP that such a person could cause them so many headaches. I do hope that the cdes deal him a blow before he finally lands the job as a journalist that he is so desperately chasing at the moment and disappears of his own accord – for old time’s sake, you understand.

  49. skidmarx said,

    November 4, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    47. I didn’t mean to suggest that you are now or ever have been a member of the SWP.

    What makes you think I was a member of RESPECT at the time, let alone that I’ve got anything to do with what may have happened in Bristol?
    I think this shows in several ways the poverty of thinking in Respect now, of which you are a better than average representative.Firstly “what may have happened in Bristol”- I’m sure you know damn well what happened in Bristol[www.socialistunity.com/?p=1974], the Galloway faction of Respect organised a meeting under the Respect banner, and then boasted of their refusal to let any SWP members contribute from the floor. I see your wording as typical of the disingenuousness with which Respect Rump members deal with their faults.
    In fact I stated explicitly that I was following on from what Dirty Red Bandana had said, not every question is all about you, though the “what makes you think I had anything to do with it” is yet another sign of the way members of your organisation are happy to take collective credit for any success, but deny any collective responsibility for failure. If you weren’t a member of Respect at the time (so you only joined afterwards, like a number of others who wish to take retroactive credit for Galloway’s election) it is cowardly to shy away from the practice of a faction you soon after became a member of the National Committee of. And not being there at the time would not prevent you from finding out the answer to what happened to the trumpeted new recruits from that time, the silence on which is a sign that any claimed growth now could well be transient glory. If the bookies are right and you get no seats at the next election (and are not “on course for three seats” http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=4657) are you (the collective you) still going to be claiming that Respect is still going forward, going forward?

    And I should have said that when the bandwagon stops rolling the wheels come off to properly make the pith.

    • Chris Williams said,

      November 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm

      Skids, do you know something about Phil that we don’t? I’m inclined to take his declaration “I am not and never have been a member of respect” {http://gapingsilence.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/take-or-leave-us/} at face value, and further to assume that if he’s joined since he made it, he’d probably have let on.

    • Phil said,

      November 4, 2009 at 4:25 pm

      it is cowardly to shy away from the practice of a faction you soon after became a member of the National Committee of

      I tend to agree, as a general statement. As a statement about me personally, WTF? Out of interest, what do you think my surname is?

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 9:43 am

        Edwards I think. My apologies if I have misidentified you as a member of Respect, it’s hard to think of a worse insult these days. Even so, you seem to have spent so much time defending them vis-a-vis the SWP it was an honest mistake to make. And if you can’t defend the Rump’s record of never showing any honesty about its activities, maybe someone else could give it a go,for once.

      • Phil said,

        November 5, 2009 at 10:47 am

        My apologies if I have misidentified you as a member of Respect

        Don’t sell yourself short – you identified me as a member of the National Committee, no less. Very silly, skidmarx.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 11:12 am

        Damn this reply system, please take it offline.This is intended as a reply to Phil’s comment of 20 mins ago:
        Rub it in, why don’t you? Yes I did think you were on the Respect NC, an even worse insult than suggesting that you were just an ordinary member (though given the relative size of their NC to the overall membership, there isn’t that much difference). I don’t know where I picked up that impression from , but accept that I was mistaken. Now do you want to get back to the discussing anything of any possible import? Perhaps now that you are shown to be a more independent observer, you might try answering the question of whether I am accurate in suggesting that the Respect Rump has never been at all honest about its failings,its changes in perspective or the details of its operation,and so anything it says now about its future should be rejected as self-serving bombast.

      • Phil said,

        November 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm

        I hate this reply system.

        OK, I’ll answer that. Call me a bourgeois liberal, but I think honesty is primarily a characteristic of individual people. The leaders of a political party with a really strong disciplinary system or a really entrenched culture of unanimity might be able to impose their view of reality on the rank and file, but I don’t think RESPECT has either of those things. So I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about RESPECT collectively being either ‘honest’ or ‘dishonest’. (I don’t believe what anyone says about the prospects for their own party, but that’s just elementary mental hygiene.)

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm

        Bourgeois liberal (but definitely not on the NC…blah,blah,blah).
        I only have a moment now to think about what you’re saying, but instinctively I disagree. First there is a difference between people’s honesty in their personal lives and their political honesty and it is the latter I think we are addressing (though writing this does call to mind an interview with R.D.Laing I saw once where he claimed that family members always lie a lot, or somesuch). I think it is clear from obsevation that Respect in the last couple of years has been more than typically unable to recognise any fault or failure in itself, and it seems reasonable to conclude that this is due to a collective need to keep the good times rolling. The disconnect between reality and the claims of Dirty Red Bandana on this thread, typical of Respect members, whereby there is a continuing belief that a faction of the SWP will emerge that thinks Galloway was right all along, founded in an unwillingness to consider that their group may ever do anything wrong,and presenting as fact the claim that they are always on the up without any supporting evidence and denying the existence of any evidence to the contrary,suggests that they are individually more politcially dishonest due to their membership.

      • November 5, 2009 at 8:35 pm

        The statement that “a member of Respect” is the worst possible insult imaginable is the most simon-pure example imaginable of why the British far left is considered a joke. Worse than “Fascist” or even “Blairite”?

        Skidmarx, to those of us who had nothing to do with the Respect/SWP split, your contributions to this thread seem devoted to nothing more than attempting to start fights with Respect members, through a combination of insult and innuendo. You (and similar people, like the “ll” creature from Socialist Unity) make the SWP look really, really bad, compare to sensible persons like johng.

      • Phil said,

        November 5, 2009 at 8:46 pm

        I think it is clear from obsevation that Respect in the last couple of years has been more than typically unable to recognise any fault or failure in itself,

        As I said, I don’t think there’s any reason to attribute RESPECT any kind of collective consciousness or unified group-mind. Obviously you can draw inferences about the underlying reality of RESPECT from things you notice RESPECT members saying, but what you inferred would depend rather heavily on what you were predisposed to notice (and, er, who you thought were RESPECT members).

      • skidmarx said,

        November 6, 2009 at 4:19 pm

        Phil – but what you inferred would depend rather heavily on what you were predisposed to notice (and, er, who you thought were RESPECT members).
        True but when you see the same thing over and over its reasonable to draw strong conclusions.
        One reason I thought you were a Respect supporter was that noone made any complaint when I made this comment at Liam’s Place:
        Here’s a quote from Phil. I believe he’s a “REspect” supporter:

        That thread’s development seems quite typical of the method of even leading Respect supporters. I claimed that they had downplayed the de Menezes shooting because of Livingstone’s candidacy, Kevin Ovenden called me a liar, I produced a quote from an Ed D to support my case, Andy Newman jumped in to point out that Ed D was not a Respect supporter, I produced quotes from a Phil [was that you] and from tonyc[who most defintely is a Respect supporter, now trading under the SWP-obsessed moniker of “external bulletin”], and there was no acknowledgement of fault of apology. Can you point to any examples of Rumpers admitting fault?

        Doloras – ever heard of hyperbole? As to your other point, your misjudged claim that I am engaged in insult and innuendo as well as your description of ll as a creature when he is no worse and frequently more to the point than Rumpers really discounts your point from being taken seriously, except as a desire to suggest like many Rumpers do that their organisation should be immune from criticism. I have simply been responding to the nonsense DRB put up earlier in the thread about Respect’s alleged revitalisation and pointing out that if they never admit fault their self-analysis can’t be trusted in the slightest.

        Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show[in another context]:”It’s as if they don’t care if what they say is true or not.” Rumpers don’t even seem to care if what they say is plausible [and on the putting science in science fiction hierarchy – if you can’t make it true make it plausible, if you can’t make it plausible make it funny – they don’t even except unintentionally make it to option 3].

      • Phil said,

        November 6, 2009 at 5:04 pm

        One reason I thought you were a Respect supporter

        I am a RESPECT supporter – just not a member of the party, let alone its National Committee.

        As for the de Menezes discussion, I can’t really help – I was paying a lot more attention to what we were talking about (including some fairly nuanced judgments about when speaking out might or might not be preferable to swallowing hard & keeping quiet) than to who was a member of what.

    • Dirty Red Bandana said,

      November 4, 2009 at 5:38 pm

      An almost elegant example of missing the target and tying oneself in knots while foaming at the mouth. You should write children’s stories!

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 9:45 am

        Given the fairy tale you came out with at 12. you’d be a good model.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 11:24 am

        Again you show the failings of Rump supporters. When I make a mistake I’m embarrassed, but honest enough to own up to it. That simply doesn’t happen with your lot. Again it may be somewhat endemic in political organisations,but with the Rump it seems to have been a necessary part of its make-up, because of the way the split was made out to be totally non-political in nature, and the Rump’s selling point was that it could reach the parts the SWP couldn’t, any admission that it was failing was likely to signal the end. If you want to have a serious discussion rather than hurling abuse then as we are ostensibly discussing a post about Reesent history then maybe you could admit that the reference of the OFFU cheque to the Electoral Commission was simply a tactical ploy to knife Rees, or that the use of Linda Smith’s position to take control of the Respect name was an utterly undemocratic man

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 11:33 am

        that last post was accidentally prematurely posted. The last word should be manouevre followed by a question mark.
        To continue, if that’s too difficult for you, what about telling us why you spend so much time poring over SWP internal bulletins, yet we never get see Respect NC minutes (which I now understand Phil is definitely not a member of). Or why Respect was making a mass appeal for candidates to come forward a few months ago, but is now backing Labour in most places. Or where the improvement in fortunes is supposed to be, when the was one held vote in Sparkbrook and the rest has been gloom since the split.
        Or if you can’t take things seriously, here’s Kabbalistic proof that Galloway’s sidekicks are together the Devil’s spawn:

      • skidmarx said,

        November 5, 2009 at 11:49 am

        R = 90
        O = 60
        V = 400
        E = 5
        N = 50
        D = 4
        E = 5
        N = 50
        So the neighbours of the devil at least.

      • ejh said,

        November 5, 2009 at 9:38 pm

        An almost elegant example of missing the target and tying oneself in knots while foaming at the mouth. You should write children’s stories!

        A children’s bookseller writes: which children’s stories did you have in mind?

      • skidmarx said,

        November 7, 2009 at 3:57 pm

        Dr.Seuss’ “Hoveman hatches a plot”
        “The Al(an Rickman) and the Pussycat”
        “The Indefatigabele Galls”

    • skidmarx said,

      November 6, 2009 at 1:17 pm

      Doloras – try looking up hyperbole in the dictionary. As to the rest of what you say I think it’s diversionary nonsense.I’m making a case here that the Respect Rump seems to be incapable of admitting error, individually and collectively, and therefore can’t be trusted to make any accurate predictions about its future or assessments of its past, responding to assertions made by DRB earlier in the thread. And your description of ll as a “creature” suggests that you are not impartial between the Rump and the SWP as you are trying to imply. And if you want to read a serious discussion about the SWP, try:
      I’m not trying to start fights with Respect members, merely trying to analyse what now seems like an obstacle to the development of the left, and your claim that I am using “insult and innuendo” when that clearly is not true, suggest that you are cast from a similar mould to those Rump members who use abuse and lies to substitute for socialist politics.

      Phil – I did suggest before at Liam’s Place that you were a Respect member:
      Here’s a quote from Phil. I believe he’s a “REspect” supporter:

      I think the “debate” on that thread shows further evidence for my point about Rumpers never being able to deal with things honestly. Kevin Ovenden accuses my of telling lies when I suggest that Respect members chose to downplay the de Menezes killing, I find a quote from an Ed D, Andy Newman pops up to point out that Ed D is not a Rumper, I find quotes from you (I think it’s you and not another Phil) and from tonyc( who is quite definitely a Rumper), and there is no apology from Kevin, no acknowledegement of error from any of his colleagues. Why they didn’t point out you weren’t in Respect (assuming it was you) I don’t know.
      Can you or Doloras or anyone else point to any occasions when Rumpers have admitted to mistakes?
      Incidentally I’ve had my own party affiliation repeatedly mis-identified, including one hilarious time when someone said I must be a Central Committee member of the SWP. I took it as a compliment rather than complaining. Part of the numbskullism that typifies Respect is their collective belief that noone could possibly think that the SWP could be right vis-a-vis them without being a hardened Reesite.

      Jon Stewart on the Daily Show:” It’s as if they don’t care whether what they say is true or not”. Respect members often don’t seem to care if what they say is even plausible. [And in the hierarchy of putting the science in science fiction – if you can’t make it true make it plausible, if you can’t make it plausible make it funny – they often fail, except unintentionally to even achieve the third].

      Andy Wilson – he may be an arse, but he’s our arse.And as fans of the most exciting club football in the world say, “Up the Arse”. I think it may be a sign of Rees’ failings that his enemies in Respect thought they could knacker him without a remotely plausible narrative.I remember a friend of mine saying a few years ago that he thought the SWP would split when Cliff died, my reasons for disagreeing much the same as yours above, they have too much in common. I don’t wish to comment too much on stolen IBs, but Rees’ contributions last year did seem the most Cliffish, but he clearly doesn’t have the authority to carry it off.

  50. skidmarx said,

    November 4, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    48. he is at heart light-minded
    Would I be right in thinking that you feel this is the worst of the insults you throw at him?
    Personally I don’t have strong feelings about Rees either way. Despite having studied philosophy a couple of times at universities I don’t know as much about the subject as you, and have never had a chance to read his Algebra book so can’t really judge his faults there.I did see him speak about Respect at Marxism in I think 2004 (it was the year some comrades were busy with by-election canvassing) and he seemed to make a lot of sense. I was talking to another ex-member shortly thereafter and mentioned that Rees had suggested that Respect might actually win parliamentary representation at the 2005 general election and my friend said that was never going to happen.

    Is it possible your life ban has expired? I realise the act of enquiring might always re-activate it.

  51. Madam Miaow said,

    November 4, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    #45 & 48. It just gets worser and worser, even. If there was anyone in need of a reality check … Surely they’ve read their Animal Farm.

    Oh, yes, while we’re sharing horror tales (very Halloween) another example of bullying exclusion was the poor chaps (Mudge and friends) who, “terminally naive” (TM Mark P) and inspired by the post 9/11 push of Stop The War, made a brilliant job of organising the Peace Not War double-CD with top names such as Chumbawamba, Ms Dynamite, Public Enemy, Alabama 3, Pilger, Tariq (and even yours truly). They asked for the CD, which was to be sold to raise funds for STWC, to be used as play-in music for the demo prior to the big Feb 2003 march. Certain parties in STWC refused and blamed the Muslims contingent for not wanting music. Yet what did we hear blaring out of the PA on entering Hyde Park? Bob Dylan’s awful god-bothering “Slow Train Coming album. The particular track — You Gotta Serve Somebody.

    Despite this, Mudge and co set up their stall in the park to sell the CDs TO RAISE FUNDS FOR the STWC and what happened? The “comrades” told them to move, even though they were in line with a load of other stalls, and then stood mob-handed in front of them so no-one could see them.

    What spiteful lunacy compels people to sabotage their own side like this?

    The upshot was that the shell-shocked CD organisers were put right off the STWC and resolved that any funds raised thereafter from their efforts would go to the “global peace movement” as a whole.

    • ejh said,

      November 5, 2009 at 10:00 pm

      I’ve always liked You Gotta Serve Somebody given the usual caveats that nearly anything Dylan wrote after the motorcycle accident is a descent from the heights he reached before it. Trick is to avoid the “Devil and “Lord” business and concentrate on the idea that no matter how exalted somebody is in the world, they’re still no better than anybody else.

    • milgram said,

      November 5, 2009 at 10:31 pm

      Wow. That explains why there were boxes & boxes & boxes of those CDs kicking around Glasgow in 2004. I thought CND / STWC had just fucked up…

  52. Andy Wilson said,

    November 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    #50: “Would I be right in thinking that you feel this is the worst of the insults you throw at him?”

    Good Lord, no!

    “Is it possible your life ban has expired?”

    nah – a brief check reveals that I’m still breathing

    As it happens, at my Control Commission meeting when they announced that I was expelled “for life” I did point out that the finality of the sentence put a rather arbitrary (and so, for them, uncharacteristic) limitation on their power to change their mind in future, but they did not find the argument persuasive.

    It’s true that s few months ago I contacted the member of the CC who chaired that meeting to ask about the possibility of the ban now being lifted but, mysteriously, they haven’t managed to reply. A.N.Other member of the IS Group (not the Thornett people) has rejoined the SWP in the last few weeks without experiencing any trouble whatsoever.

    • Redfox said,

      November 7, 2009 at 3:27 pm

      A.N.Other member of the IS Group (not the Thornett people) has rejoined the SWP in the last few weeks without experiencing any trouble whatsoever.

      That’s good to hear.

  53. Neil said,

    November 4, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Ok I know it’s a big blogland no no to cut and paste lengthy pieces from other pages but this is such 24 carrot pure gold I feel it deserves the honour.

    It’s from an anarchist site in australia called slackbastard. It quotes from an autobiography from (I presume) an ex-fascist. He discusses a bit about the left in Oz in the 70’s but this is what he had to say about the Sparts.

    David Greason (I was a teenage fascist, pp.244-246) on the Spartacists:

    “I wanted to join the Spartacist League. True, we used to laugh at them; in fact everyone laughed at them, but in their isolation lay their appeal. The Spartacist League was this bad-tempered Trotskyist group that had probably no more than twenty — no, make that thirty — members throughout the country mainly based on campuses like LaTrobe and Sydney. We occasionally had run-ins with them, although they tended to keep their distance becuase they imagined that we were out to kidnap them individually and dump the bodies in shallow graves off Rye backbeach. We wouldn’t have done; there were plenty of leftist groups clamouring for that opportunity.

    Since the early 1970s, the Australian left had been more gauche than sinister, despite what groups like People against Communism said. That was the appeal of the far-right, I guess: groups like the League and the Nazis were either nutty or offensive, both of which amused me no end; or it spoke such unambiguous commonsense (like the British NF or the Alliance) that you couldn’t help but identify with it. Well, at least I couldn’t. Most of the left, on the other hand, was dull and earnest and out of touch. You just had to read the left’s papers or, even better, look at the miserable faces of the people selling them. How they ever recruited was beyond me. I certainly didn’t fancy spending my Saturday afternoons in draughty meeting rooms discussing Marx’s Theory of Surplus Value. If I’d wanted to learn that sort of thing I’d have paid attention in fourth form economics classes.

    That was the beauty of the Spartacist League. They had this paper, Australasian Spartacist, and virtually every issue had at least one page devoted to sectarianism. Yes, they were Marxists, and yes, they also ran pages of boring leftist tripe that they no doubt thought had some appeal to the working masses — the very same working masses who would never buy their paper, week after week after week — but they specialised in airing the dirty laundry of all the other rival left groups around: the Maoists, the Eurocommunists of the CPA, the Send In the Tanks Stalinists of the Socialist Party, and all the other cheek-by-jowl rivals to the title of Trotsky’s heirs — the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Socialist Labour League, the Communist League (were they still going?), the International Socialists, etc. etc. No wonder they were generally considered to be police agents.

    And they had a great writing style — snotty and sneering and puffed-up. It was pretty much like ours, actually. If you could hear what you read, they’d be saying it from the corners of their mouths, then laughing at you. They insulted other leftitsts worse than we insulted other leftists. They insulted other leftists worse than they insulted us. That was no doubt why they kept getting bashed by other Trotskyists. Technically, though, we were the Great Satan, because we were Fascists with a capital F, and the other left groups were part of the workers’ movement.

    The politics would have taken a bit of getting used to, but that certainly wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility. I envied them. They knew what they believed. They knew who they hated, and why, and it was all footnoted and there was never any room for error and they could pick up deviationism from the most innocuous slip of the tongue and they were as hard onn their own people as they were on everyone else and by Christ they were hard on everyone else. No one was good enough for them.

    The line was laid down, probably in the US, and you’d know pretty much from the start what you could like and dislike and it would all be explained and there’d be references and cross-references in all the back issues of Australasian Spartacist so no one could just make it up as they went along…”


    Our Socialism event is this weekend. If any Spart even thinks of getting in my face about “the CWI standing with Yeltsin on the barricades” and waving copies of the Militant from 1991 they’re in for one hell of a shock 🙂

  54. November 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    @Neil … they will also wave a fotocopy of one particular issue of Voran from around 1989/90 which called for German unification 😉

    • Neil said,

      November 4, 2009 at 5:10 pm

      Really? They’ve kept that one quiet!

      Mind you there’s not much point in waving anything that’s done in forin’ lingo in the face of an Irish or British leftist. The Sparts might as well express our deviationism in the form of interpretive dance for all the comprehension they’d get!

  55. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 4, 2009 at 7:30 pm

    I was under the impression the SWP did welcome the collapse of the USSR. I remember International Socialism with “Communism is dead – long live socialism” on its cover c.1990. If it’s “Red Cloud” you mean, I agree with much of what he/she says (I am not “Red Cloud”).
    Socialism has lost a lot of its credibility since 1989-91. This is as much of a problem for the SWP as anyone else, it seems to me.

  56. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm

    My point was not that it would be wrong to have a debate about whether the SWP were wrong about the impact of the collapse of the Stalinist States it was the curious way in which the RC seems to hold the SWP collectively and individually responsible for these events and their aftermath. Even this might be ok (well its an interesting theses) but if this is ALL you can say, over and over again, then it becomes a bit of a problem. My hunch is that if Andy re-joined its probably true that he would have no trouble. But I suspect that this is a bit of an insult after all the fuss and in many ways I find this somewhat understandable.

  57. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    For those longing for a PROPER disciplinary regime here is an interesting propaganda film about the origins of the CPI(Maoist) in India. None of your half measures here:

  58. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 4, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    I found the SWP rather callow on the subject even in 1990, and nearly 20 years later, even more so.
    A prominent Belgian Maoist (Ludo Martens) opined that Hitler rose from his grave when the Berlin Wall came down. At the time I thought this was grotesque, but with a weak left and an increasingly dangerous far right, it seems a less grotesque viewpoint to me now.
    Re India, there isn’t much of a comfort zone, compared to, say, Western Europe. That has an impact on how the left behaves.

  59. johng said,

    November 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    Well I think it sounds perfectly potty to me (a strange kind of mystical position), as well as being in line with the thoughts of right wing realists at the time. And whilst its certainly true that the shape of struggle in certain parts of the world is determined by material circumstances I think there is room enough to discuss politics. Here is arundhati roy:


    and here is a blog with a very interesting discussion beneath. my own position is probably closest to Bhochka.


  60. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 5, 2009 at 9:21 am

    Martens comes from a country where the far right has long been dangerous. There was a significant amount of collaboration in Belgium during the Nazi occupation, and a monument to Flemish SS in Diksmuide who were killed fighting for Nazi Germany against the “Bolshevik menace” has been a pilgrimage site for Nazis from around the world. His view that the Berlin Wall’s fall gave such people a powerful shot in the arm, like I say, seems less grotesque in 2009 than it perhaps did in 1989.

  61. skidmarx said,

    November 5, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Yes a re-united Germany makes a Fourth Reich marginally more plausible. But still seems mystical and potty.

  62. johng said,

    November 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Damn. No-one wants to have a heated debate about Indian politics. Its the story of my life. I am the Red Cloud of Himmalaya’s.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm

      Don’t tempt me, or I may return to Netaji. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent a ten-hour journey sat beside a Bengali who wanted to talk about the nationalism of Subhas Chandra Bose, but you don’t quickly forget the experience.

      • Neil said,

        November 5, 2009 at 6:15 pm

        Surely the Foreign Office and Department of Foreign Affairs should issue warnings to tourists about these kind of hazzards? 🙂

  63. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 5, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Not so much the re-uniting, though it disturbed people of Thatcher’s generation (she was 19, going on 20, when WW2 ended). I am more referring to the weakening of the political left, which has been lasting, while the far right has been strengthened.
    Fascism didn’t die in 1945, unfortunately. Socialism didn’t die in 1989, but neither is it at all well.
    I don’t know enough about Indian politics to have a heated debate, though I do know that not all left environments are like ULU during Marxism.

  64. johng said,

    November 5, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Well I don’t know. In Germany the left seems to be doing better then it was before 1989. But I’m extremely worried about this allegation that not all left enviroments are not like ULU during Marxism. This can’t possibly be true can it? I feel my entire universe is about to collapse…

  65. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Re Germany, maybe, though some of that seems to be down to GDR nostalgia. Certainly Die Linke does better in the former East Germany than in the former BRD. There was a noticeable amount of far right activity in the former GDR right after unification, and there still is, in a place where far right politics were actually illegal before 1989. There was a rash of attacks on Vietnamese in the former GDR right after unification. Liberal commentators attributed it to disillusioned communists turning to fascism. The idea that the Berlin Wall’s fall might have been a Pandora’s Box as much as a liberating event is of course lost on them.
    The far right, and the neo-liberal right, have been going great guns in the world since 1989. Not specifically Germany. And their surge has unfortunately reached the UK.
    Re left environments different from the ULU, I have a little anecdote to relate. I was visiting comrades in a non-West European country years ago, and lay down to sleep. I had my digital watch set to beep on the hour. I found out later that they used the sound of my watch to change the guard – they were worried about a police or fascist raid, and had somebody on guard all night on hour-long shifts. Not a very British left experience.

  66. johng said,

    November 5, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I always thought that the revived fascist activity in a host of eastern european countries was above all a reflection on the nature of regimes which called themselves socialist. How on earth could such widespread bigotry have co-existed with those charming solidarity tours? It was like lifting up a stone. I think the notion that the revival of the left in Germany is down to nostalgia for the GDR is simplistic and a kind of wishful thinking. And hang on. Your suggesting that in some countries there is a lot of repression and that this makes political life different then in Britain?

    Who’d a thunk it. Some of this might be more compelling if you showed an inclination to read anything about these countries aside from publicity handouts from the official and by now, amongst most activists, largely discredited official stalinist parties. The link I posted above is a fair sample. But see no evil hear no evil.

  67. johng said,

    November 5, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    interview with someone active in GDR in 1989:


    Plenty of material there for RC to work himself up about. But on a non-political note. Its twenty years ago. Bloody hell.

  68. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 5, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I think the lesson is that ethnic bigotry doesn’t disappear just because the government flies the red flag. Long-time habits don’t disappear in a matter of years, perhaps not even decades. Not possible to prove, because an SWP-type or Trotskyist party has never held government, but 10 years into one, I would be very surprised if racism/xenophobia/the profit motive were eliminated, however much they were discouraged officially. The Bolsheviks certainly found the last motivation bursting into full flower under NEP.

    When the Reds repelled the Polish invasion of Ukraine in 1920, one of their newspapers referred to “the inborn Jesuitism of the Lyakhs” (“Lyakh”, related to the Polish name Lech, is an abusive Russian term for Poles). The paper was sanctioned in some way for its obvious lack of proletarian internationalism, but it does suggest that latent Russian hostility to Poles wasn’t magicked away by 1917, even among Party members.

  69. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I notice also that the BBC History magazine ran an article in its October issue, noting that the condition of the Roma has deteriorated quite radically since 1989 in these countries. The alleged minor transition from “state capitalism” to “private capitalism” does seem to have made a big difference to some people – a wholly negative one. Or did Jobbik stand in elections in Hungary before 1989 on an anti-Roma platform?

  70. skidmarx said,

    November 5, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I think the lesson is that ethnic bigotry doesn’t disappear just because the government flies the red flag.
    I think we can agree on that. But I think state caps would go further than you’d want to: any society where is held by a ruling class is likely to perpetuate divisions among workers, whether it is the stated policy of the government or not. So I don’t think we need to be pessimistic that a state which flew the red flag because it was the embodiment of workers power would not be able to reduce and probably eliminate ethnic bigotry over a generation, and the answer to your point in 69 is that yes in many ways the problem has got worse since 1989 (though there was plenty of prejudice against blacks throughout the “socialist” countries before then),partly because of the economic crisis but also because there was no longer a regime in power even partially committed to holding in back.

  71. Andy Wilson said,

    November 5, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    One of the most convincing parts of Cliff’s book on state capitalism is where he predicts how the break-up of the Stalinist regimes was likely to unleash national and ethnic conflicts. It is disingenuous to argue that state cap theory implied that the transformation / collapse of those regimes would be somehow peaceful or trivial.

    The collapse of the state cap regimes had a long-term, decisive demoralising effect on those who equated socialism and state planning, but I’d have thought that supporters of (various forms of) state-cap theory had the least to apologise for in that regard as they’d done more than anyone else to dismantle that argument, while most of the rest of the world, left and right, insisted on just such an equation.

  72. johng said,

    November 5, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    “Not possible to prove, because an SWP-type or Trotskyist party has never held government”

    Surely your forgetting the Bolshevik revolution? Obviously it degenerated but lets not write off the lessons.

    Seriously there are times when I prefer to forget that I have anything to do with the British left. Here is a serious discussion about the way forward for activists in India at present written by an activist who sadly died recently. Would that we were capable of having discussions like this in this part of the world, as opposed to the kind of fantasy politics some people seem to prefer…


  73. skidmarx said,

    November 6, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    71. Presumably why you’re worried about the possibility of the state cap tradition disappearing.

  74. Andy Wilson said,

    November 6, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    #73: yes. imho the IS tradition (in parallel with smaller groups such as , eg., Solidarity) represented an attempt to build Marxism outside of the Trotskyist-Leninist ghetto. The tradition has done a lot of backsliding over the last few decades but it contains at least the germs of a revolutionary marxist critique and organisation. I remember Cliff once saying that, with the decline of the Trotskyist groups the IS tradition could finally declare itself as the true inheritors of Trotsky hereabouts. I didn’t realise at the time the danger that idea contained (having differentiated itself in the market, the IS brand could now hoover up the competition and reposition itself as an orthodox, ‘essence -of-Trotsky’ brand – I think the SWP are currently paying the price for that particular attempt at repositioning.)

  75. skidmarx said,

    November 6, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    74. I too can remember the widespread belief in the party that its survival into the late eighties still growing in Britain and with an increasing international tendency when so many far left groups had bitten the dust meant that it would be the revolutionary party on its own. I wonder though if it was the lack of traditional class struggle that has brought it down rather than inflated self-belief.
    You say the backsliding has been over the last few decades. Does that mean you think part of the problem is Cliff’s alleged abandonment of Luxemburgism for Leninism? I realise your answer might be found in you writings at the time of your IS group, but I’ve never seen them, but if you have a link to it I’d try to take a look.

  76. Andy Wilson said,

    November 6, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    We published an article, The SWP vs Lenin, which discussed these issues, and Cliff and Harman’s concept of the party specifically:

    A more concrete criticism of the SWP regime at the time is here:

  77. John Palmer said,

    November 6, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    When a political tendency declines and/or degenerates, some explanations will always lie at the heart of its internal life. In the case of the Trotskyist movement it drew too deeply from the organisational model of Zinovievism in terms of its concept of democratic centralism etc. But no revolutionary organisation exists in a political vacuum. A key explanation of the chronic vulnerability to sectarian splits of the Trotskyist movement in the 30s to the 60s lay in the enforced isolation of the revolutionaries from the political life of the working class brought about not only by the ravages of fascism but also the hegemonic blocking role of social democracy and Stalinism in the trade unions and the “left” parties. Very particular circumstances in the 60s and 70s (which had much to do with the political decline of Stalinism and social democracy and the remarkable self confidence of working people and their organisations created by the long boom), gave a brief late flowering to the far left – primarily to different strands of Trotskyism. Since then the defeat of organised labour, the crisis and above all the extreme atomisation of the working class (measurable in terms of the decline of class consciousness) has left the revolutionaries beached and isolated in ever small ghettoes.

  78. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 6, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    I see little resemblance between the Bolsheviks of 1917-21 and the SWP, or any British left faction (most of whom are Trotskyists). Of course people can claim they stand in the tradition, like the Catholic priest can claim Christ is present in the bread and wine at mass.

  79. John Palmer said,

    November 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    MarkVictory – You are perfectly right: there is “little resemblance” between the SWP or other contemporary groups and the Bolsheviks. I never claimed or implied there was. My point was broader: there are complex factors which determine the fate of aspirant revolutionary socialist organisations. Some are indeed purely internal. But others directly reflect the external environment with which they have to react. My last sentence in 77 was an attempt to describe how that dialectic has led to the present state of the far left.

  80. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 6, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I was more reacting to johng’s last post.
    I am inclined to think the SWP (ironically) got some credibility from the USSR’s existence, even while damning it as “state capitalist”. The latter’s disappearance has undercut the SWP’s potential appeal as much as anyone’s.
    The Bolsheviks were products of their ruthless time. I don’t see the average member of the SWP (or any other left group in the UK) knowing one end of a gun from another, being able to confront an armed “White” movement on the battlefield and defeat it, or eliminating large numbers of unarmed “class enemies” by shooting them in the nape of the neck in a prison cell.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 6, 2009 at 9:17 pm

      Yes, in the sense of one of the major shibbolethim, even if it was something the party defined itself against, not being there any more. I can remember an old Militant head – it may have been one of the Silverman brothers – asking how, since Militant had left the Labour Party, could it justify being a separate body from the SWP, since all the major ideological differences between them were now moot. When SPers were asked that question they always mumbled something about the SWP’s bad methods, which may have been correct, but wasn’t an ideological issue.

      For what it’s worth, SWP people would always say the same about the SP.

  81. johng said,

    November 6, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    Well I don’t think the revolutionary tradition can be reduced to an ability to shoot people in the back of the neck in a cellar (its why I find debating with victory-stooge on these issues a surreal experiance). I think John Palmer is right that a number of factors produced a flowering the revolutionary left in the post-68 period (including it should be said the discrediting of Stalinist organisations both at home and in the socialist motherland for a new generation of militants). I also think he is right about Zinoviev etc, I don’t however think the continued decline of the far left is objectively fated, and believe this argument carries the danger of excusing serious mistakes which there is currently a move to address. Much of the left around the world faces not only difficulties in objective circumstances, but difficulties in their existing political tradition in dealing with those difficulties. But the problems created by capitalism remain and are growing. Its noticable that political disillusion does not today take the form of a comfortable retreat from politics. In large parts of the world there is nowhere to retreat to. So we are confronted with serious ideological problems and serious objective problems. I don’t believe a solution to these is to embrace either social democracy (where?) or to retreat to some variant or other of the pre-68 concensus.

  82. Phil said,

    November 6, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    I don’t see the average member of the SWP (or any other left group in the UK) knowing one end of a gun from another, being able to confront an armed “White” movement on the battlefield and defeat it, or eliminating large numbers of unarmed “class enemies” by shooting them in the nape of the neck in a prison cell.


    You say that like it’s a bad thing…

  83. ejh said,

    November 6, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I’d have thought that supporters of (various forms of) state-cap theory had the least to apologise for in that regard

    What has that got to do with anything? What kind of achievement is “having the least to apologise for”?

  84. Harry Monro said,

    November 6, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I’d approach Stooges argument slightly differently, any wanker can learn to shoot a gun and put a bullet into somebody’s head. Political argument and persuasion requires more intelligence and courage,
    Anyways, onto the Russian Whites. I knew an old RIC man, had is head half blown away in the War of Independence, had a big old plate instead of part of his skull.
    Fought on the Somme, after WW1 ended his regiment he said were sent into Russia to guard supplies going to the Whites, cos they could be trusted by the British government. The Reds produced leaflets in English (no jokes here about the fact they should have been in Ulster Scots please) about class struggle etc and women handed them to the soldiers or put them on their bayonets during demos against the intervention. After a while the Ulster lads started to get unreliable and were sent home.
    Mind you that was when this old boy joined the RIC so there were limits to the education he and his mates temporarily picked up

  85. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Well its important to have the least to apologise for if your trying to take part in arguments about the way foward for the left in situations where the tradition of Stalinism deeply scars peoples attitudes towards activism and organisation. Experiance with some of this for me, both puts the contretemps in Britain in some perspective, but at the same time makes me even more angry about it. Idiotic.

    • ejh said,

      November 7, 2009 at 9:24 am

      Well it’s important to have the least to apologise for if you’re trying to take part in arguments about the way foward for the left

      Is it? How in practice does it make the slightest difference?

  86. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Oh and the above is a self criticism incidently lest anyone misunderstands. In a collective responsibility sort of a way.

  87. John Palmer said,

    November 7, 2009 at 9:16 am

    johng is right: a rigorous analysis of the failures of the revolutionary socialist left should not become an excuse for political paralysis. That said, I believe the conjuncture we are at amounts to much more than a temporary setback to the self confidence and fighting spirit of a proletarian working class. I am more struck by some similarity with circumstances today and those which obtained in the crucial interim between the final decline of the plebian, artisanal, radical and revolutionary class after 1848 and the subsequent rise of the industrial proletariat. Of course precise circumstances and the rhythm of change varies greatly from one part of the world to another. But a different structure of employment, based on different kinds of occupation, is emerging alongside dramatic changes in the structures of finance capital (the latent power of workers’ pension funds is still barely understood). Moreover globalisation is transforming the role (even the basic relevance) of national states – yes, even the largest ones. This is a time for resistance to the drive to lower standards of life and erode civil and democratic rights. But it surely is also time for some fundamental re-think about the nature of the system and its contradictions.

  88. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:26 am

    “Least to apologise for”? Sounds like this is an attempt to spin a failure to win power and keep it as some expression of moral superiority. It could equally be read as a lack of credibility.
    “Stalinism” – a much abused term in my view, casts a giant shadow because it ran states and systems over decades. The types “with least to apologise for” (sic!) have trouble going beyond the level of the paper sale.
    Re violence, I bring that up because these were the events of the “Red Terror” and the Russian Civil War. The Communards had more intelligence and courage than the Versailles forces – it didn’t matter. The latter had more guns. Wasn’t it Trotsky who said something about the armed idiocy of the barracks being superior to the unarmed heroism of the masses?
    Deep down, I suspect Western lefties fail to win power because they don’t want it. Circumstances might force them to get dirt on their hands, maybe blood.

  89. ejh said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I suspect Western lefties fail to win power because they don’t want it

    Not an unhealthy impulse, as it happens.

  90. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Nor were the Communards ruthless with their enemies, until it was too late to matter. The Versailles forces were let into the gates of western Paris by a bourgeois engineer named Ducatel. The Cheka would have sorted this bloke before he had a chance for betrayal, but alas, there was no Cheka in the Paris Commune.

  91. ejh said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:53 am

    Incidentally I very largely agree with John Palmer at #87, but it’s too large and complex a discussion to have with the comments approaching three figures.

  92. John Palmer said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:57 am

    MarkVictorystooge: Your intervention has more in common with a kind of political pornography than a rational discussion in the marxist tradition. But, since you raise the ugly and abusive violations which occurred during the “Red Terror” and the Russian civil war they DID pre-figure Stalinism. But what happened in a panic response to the threat from White reaction – which was responsible for atrocities on an industrial scale – was done in a (valiant but vain) attempt to defend an isolated revolution was codified into the regular ideology and practice of the state under Stalin. As I have done on previous occasions, I recommend Sam Farber’s excellent book “Before Stalin” for some understanding of this.

  93. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 10:58 am

    “Not an unhealthy impulse”
    Then the class enemy will rule you forever. You will moan and whine impotently, but present no alternative, and anyone looking to you for inspiration will turn away in disappointment. and perhaps succumb to your obvious defeatism.
    It is, ultimately, your own mind and mentality that makes you a slave. The heaviest chains are always the invisible ones.

  94. ejh said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:12 am

    I thank you for your advice which I shall file under “internet rhetoric”. A bulging file.

  95. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:18 am

    “Political pornography” (!) I don’t think they were discussing Das Kapital volume three down in the Cheka cellars during this period in which you call for rational discussion of the Marxist tradition.
    Visiting Russia after the USSR’s collapse, I was handed copies of “Rodina” (“Motherland”) by one of the few Russian Trotskyists. Reflecting “glasnost” and “perestroika”, the magazine published things like long-banned pictures of Lenin after his stroke and before his death in Gorki. It also reprinted White accounts of the war, full of stories of Red atrocities, like a photo of a Jewish girl, reputedly in the Odessa Cheka, posing with the axe she used to execute suspected White supporters. You call it political pornography, “Rodina” probably thought of it as “glasnost”, as telling the White side of the story after decades of only the Red side being heard. I did find it odd that a Trotskyist was encouraging me to read this – you know, one of these types with “least to apologise for”.

  96. John Palmer said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:25 am

    MVss: You may imagine that you are – by some process of time travel or osmosis – still down in the “Cheka cellars”, but I have to tell you that in the real world this is not the case. But perhaps you do not really much care which side was using terror, because maybe you quite fancy both. Why else defend White terror propaganda (“Rodina”) as putative “glasnost?”

    Perhaps the rest of us can concentrate on where we are now and where and how best to proceed in future.

  97. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Like I said, it was a Russian Trotskyist who showed me this stuff, and I wondered if he fully realised what he was doing. I don’t know how much truth, if any, there was in the White stories recycled, but the literature of the period, even by Red Army soldiers, does not suggest the Bolsheviks were high-minded dialecticians with keen moral sense. Isaak Babel’s “Red Cavalry” might be a good starting point for your education. Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” also gives an idea of what revolutionaries of the 1917-21 period could be like.
    I am not down in the Cheka cellars, though I have some experience of the being on the receiving end of the bourgeois state’s nastiness (and know people treated even worse). I suspect that, if revolutionaries want to actually win, instead of persisting as “high-minded” losers, they will have to get down in the Cheka cellars too. Sorry about that.

  98. ejh said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Wherever we go, we shall be going without Chris Harman: I am sad to say that he died earlier today.

    • splinteredsunrise said,

      November 7, 2009 at 12:19 pm

      Oh no. I’m very sorry to hear that.

  99. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 7, 2009 at 11:43 am

    A few translated extracts of Blok’s poem, which imagines drunken Red Guards with Christ in the lead. It is subject to diverse interpretations but hardly suggests the revolution was made by peaceful Marxist rationalists:

    “Grip your gun like a man, brother!
    Let’s have a crack at Holy Russia,
    with her big, fat arse!
    Freedom, freedom! Down with the cross!

    Hell and damnation,
    life is such fun
    with a ragged greatcoat
    and a Jerry gun!

    So they march with sovereign tread…
    Behind them limps the hungry dog,
    and wrapped in wild snow at their head
    carrying a blood-red flag
    soft-footed where the blizzard swirls,
    invulnerable where bullets crossed –
    crowned with a crown of
    snowflake pearls,
    a flowery diadem of frost,
    ahead of them goes Jesus Christ.”

    The Twelve (1918); translation from Jon Stallworthy and Peter France (trans.) The Twelve, and Other Poems (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970) p. 160.

  100. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    terrible news.

  101. Andy Wilson said,

    November 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Very much agree with Johng at #85 and above.

  102. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I guess its a good time to re-read this pamphlet:


    As relevent as ever apparently.

  103. John Palmer said,

    November 7, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    I completely agree with the above. I can remember Chris, as a very young Leeds University student being recruited to the Socialist Review group (predecessor to the IS and much later the SWP) in the early 1960s. In later years we had our major political disagreements. But I always admired his tenacity and commitment. My sincere condolences go to his family and his comrades.

  104. skidmarx said,

    November 7, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    102. I think that was one of the pamphlets that convinced me of the state capitalist analysis. The last time I saw him he was having a conversation with someone analysing the class basis of Chavez’ government.

  105. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    There is an address here for condolence messages etc.


  106. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    condolences etc can be sent to the address here:


  107. Dirty Red Bandana said,

    November 7, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Agree with JohnG and Skidmarx here about the relevance of Chris H’s ‘How the revolution was lost’. An excellent concise and clear exposition of dialectical history and analysis that I found thoroughly convincing and led me to sign up to the tradition.

  108. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    This is also a good resource:


    I particularly liked his quote from Gramsci in the first review on African Socialism on the list. Gramsci stated that too often on the left people confuse theoretical argument with military tactics. This is a mistake because if in warfare it pays to attack your enemy at their weakest point in theoretical argument the reverse is the case. In many ways Harman was one of the few socialists I read who seemed to have fully inculcated that principle. Agree or disagree with his theoretical arguments they almost always proceeded with close attention being paid to the argument he was attempting to knock down. Its a great maxim most of us could learn from.

  109. johng said,

    November 7, 2009 at 5:10 pm

    Chris on 1968:

  110. ejh said,

    November 8, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Does anybody have the passage in Widgery’s The Left In Britain in which he recalls Harman addressing a student meeting at the LSE?

  111. johng said,

    November 8, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Is that the passage where he claims Alex and Chris would have competitions about who could put their audience to sleep quicker?

    Just found this old gem on the ‘crisis of the revolutionary left’ in the late 1970s:


  112. Dr Paul said,

    November 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Re Mark V at #78: ‘I see little resemblance between the Bolsheviks of 1917-21 and the SWP, or any British left faction (most of whom are Trotskyists).’

    Have you not read Alexander Rabinowitch’s The Bolsheviks in Power? I have, and the impression I have from the book, which I thoroughly recommend as a solid piece of scholarship, is it just like having the SWP or Militant in power. I don’t mean that in a nasty or flippant way, but not in a very appreciative way either.

    Now, I didn’t say that it reminded me of Gerry Healy’s WRP in power. There one would have had Mark V’s hoped-for death-squads on the streets. That didn’t happen until some time later, when the Soviet republic ended up with a paranoid psychopath in the driving seat.

  113. The Spanish Prisoner said,

    November 9, 2009 at 8:46 am

    I heard Harman’s death announced at an ISO meeting in Seattle. A great loss. I learned a lot from him. I remember reading “How the Revolution Was Lost” when I was just learning about socialism.

  114. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 12, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I wouldn’t say “hoped for”, merely that such a development would be inevitable, especially if you didn’t want to lose power and probably fall victim to the death squads of the right.
    Martov, Arbenz, Allende and Zelaya were nice guys. Didn’t do them much good, did it?

  115. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 12, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Anyway, if a revolutionary crisis hit, I think the best thing the British left could do is go into exile and wait for things to blow over. Bearing in mind that if it stuck around, its tactical grasp and steadiness would probably be on a par with Kerensky’s, and gaining on Mike the Headless Chicken.

  116. ejh said,

    November 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I think the best thing the British left could do is go into exile and wait for things to blow over.

    I did

  117. johng said,

    November 12, 2009 at 6:49 pm

    The fly in the ointment for victorystooge is that those with his kind of politics retreated from any idea of revolutionary politics in the here and now in western europe from the mid-1960s onwards. The ‘hard man’ rhetoric was largely a substitute for any serious hard left politics.

  118. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 19, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I doubt whether Western European conditions naturally produce revolutionaries anyway. (That might change, in conditions of a deeper crisis than the current one. I suspect a different type of left would be needed in such circumstances as the current one is not, I think, fit for purpose.)
    This is a subjective point, though valid enough for me, but the left-wing people I have admired the most have tended to be either Turks/Turkish Kurds or Palestinians. It may have had something to do with what they were/are up against.

  119. Mark Victorystooge said,

    November 23, 2009 at 6:09 pm


    A very recent example of a place where members of left groups can be gunned down in the street.

  120. December 31, 2009 at 9:13 am

    […] be whilst being devastatingly accurate, and in command of so many facts right down. The Catholic Church, or the nature of Anglican politics, for example. Splintered Sunrise is also a first class read for […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: