Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 8, 2013

Response to Gilbert Achcar statement

Filed under: Academia,British SWP — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

(My comments are in italics.)

On 5/8/13 2:42 AM, Gilbert Achcar wrote:


Gilbert Achcar

The campaign against the SWP is taking a regrettable turn. It now includes attempts at intimidating those participating in Marxism 2013, including myself, into withdrawing from the conference. The SWP is being described as a “socialist rapist party” and taking part in the conference as an “apology of rapism”.

You can call the SWP whatever you want but the fact is that a key leader of the party was protected from the consequences of the most brutal act of violence against women.

Whatever one thinks of the crisis in the SWP and the behaviour of its leadership, such terms applied to a whole party ­– the largest on the British radical left – and to the open forum that the party organizes each year are outrageous. They reveal the regrettable persistence of a certain mindset on the left, a mindset the origin of which is known all too well and for which anathemas and excommunication are substitutes for political fight.

Nobody advocates “anathema and excommunication”, as if that term applied. Instead, it is a reaction by some leading figures on the left to refrain from accepting invitations to speak at their Summer Carnival of Marxism because of the failure of the SWP leadership to clean up its act. “Anathema and excommunication” would instead describe what happened to the Trotskyist movement for most of the 30s through the 50s when it was routinely blocked from joining social movements, trade unions, etc. by a hegemonic Communist Party.

I do not recall any such attitude towards innumerable left parties the leaderships of which are guilty of much worse than what the SWP is accused of. To give but one example, I have accepted in the past invitations by the French Communist Party to their annual Fête de l’Humanité, as do regularly countless intellectual and activists who are deeply critical of that party. Had I regarded participating in such open forums as an endorsement of the party’s political, organisational or ethical record, which I deem to be incomparably worse than that of the SWP in all respects, I would have never accepted. Instead, I regarded my participation as an opportunity to engage with the public who attend such events, be they party members or non-members, and defend my own views, which differ from those of the party. No one ever blamed me for that.

This is a bogus analogy. The CP in France was not responsible for repression in the USSR. By the 1960s the CP’s in capitalist countries had evolved into social democratic type formations whose connection to the Moscow Trials, etc. mostly consisted of a refusal to disavow their own history. If the French CP, on the other hand, was as tiny as the SWP and had 9 rape investigations on its record, that might be another story.

I do firmly believe that the crisis in the SWP is a worrying symptom of a deeply-rooted problem pertaining to a vitiated conception and form of organisation. Regrettably, a few of the SWP’s opponents worldwide are taking this same vitiated tradition to extremes in the way they practice SWP-bashing. It is high time for the radical left to get rid entirely of that tradition if it is ever to regenerate.

8 May 2013

Sorry, Gilbert, the “tradition” we need to get rid of is thuggery on the left. When a minority faction in the SWP was formed to clean house, its members were shouted down and threatened with violence. Meanwhile, Alex Callinicos–author of 27 books–speculated that “lynch mobs” might arise if the minority refused to abide by the rules shoved down its throat by an anti-democratic majority. If that is the kind of gathering you want to attend, be my guest.


May 7, 2013

Guest speakers at the 2013 Socialist Rapist Conference

Filed under: Academia,British SWP,sexism — louisproyect @ 6:35 am


Paul Le Blanc
Paul Le Blanc is an author and activist flying in from the United States for Marxism 2013. His many books include “Lenin and the Revolutionary Party”, and “Black Liberation and the American Dream”. He will speak on “The history and future of Lenininism” [Is that anything like Troskyismism?]

Gilbert Achcar
His many publications include “The Arabs and the Holocaust”.  His new book “The People Want: a Radical Exploration of the Arab Uprising” is out this year.

Plus Alan Freeman and Radhika Desai who seem to live for these things.

May 4, 2013

The ISO, the British SWP, and threatening violence

Filed under: Academia,British SWP — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

heidemenPaul Heideman, ISO’er

petersonCharles T. Peterson, ISO’er

Paul Blackledge, SWP’er

Sebastian Budgen, Studio 54 bouncer

Over the past few days I have been castigated on Facebook by a couple of members of the International Socialist Organization pictured above for warning Vivek Chibber that he would “regret it” if he ever interrupted me at an academic conference again. Paul Heideman added that I was brimming with ressentiment because of my failure to be admitted to the exclusive club made up of posh journals like Historical Materialism, the organizer of the conference where the incident occurred. This term Heideman obviously picked up from one Sebastian Budgen, an HM and NLR/Verso editor. Budgen got it into his head for some strange reason that my main goal in life was to get past some velvet rope into the Marxist version of Studio 54.

I don’t think that it is a stretch to assume that the ISO played a major role in organizing the conference. Generally you can tell by the composition of the chairpeople and the speakers the relative weight that some group on the left wields in such gatherings.

Of the three workshops I attended on Saturday, all three had the ISO stamp in one way or another. Jonah Birch, who I subsequently learned was Vivek Chibber’s dissertation student, chaired the workshop on Neil Davidson’s new book on the bourgeois revolution. Birch took the tack that probably most ISO’ers take, namely that Chibber was wrong to interrupt me but that I was much more to blame for saying that I would make him “regret it” if it happened again. (This is the talking point that Charles T. Peterson took but not Heideman.) Aaron Amaral, another ISO member, chaired the SYRIZA workshop. I seem to remember Birch and Amaral from Columbia University years ago but I could be wrong. The panel on Lenin featured two top leaders of the ISO, Paul Le Blanc and Joel Geier. I could probably find more ISO footprints but you get the idea.

I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time but I noticed that Paul Blackledge was invited to speak at a panel on “PATHS OUT OF CRISIS: SELF-ORGANIZATION and the STATE”. Blackledge is a professor at Leeds Metropolitan and obviously well-suited to speak at such a confab. But one wonders if the ISO’ers involved in the planning of this conference did not pause to consider the appropriateness of including a leader of the British SWP in such an event. Did they stop and think about what this says to women in the movement? After all, the British SWP’s former national secretary Martin Smith was charged with raping a young female member. When she tried to substantiate the charges against him, the kangaroo court asked her about her drinking habits.

When a faction was formed to take on the sexism and lack of democracy that made such a scandal possible, what was the reaction of party leaders? A group of dissidents, including Richard Seymour, wrote:

Comrades across the party have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated at aggregates and branch meetings. When they have complained about this they have been heckled, shouted down and intimidated. Young comrades have received nasty messages from those much older than them. They have been threatened with violence.

And what was the role of Paul Blackledge in all this? Apparently the Communist Party of Great Britain, a small group with no connection to Stalinism, has a mole in the SWP. This is what they reported:

The discussion kicked off with some comrades expressing their intense anger.

Sheila Macgregor, for example. Paul Blackledge later on.

But they were not angry either that the SWP has dealt with something as important as sexual harassment with appalling ineptness (not to say a cover up) or with the way the CC attempted to shut down the resulting debate. Rather, they were furious at those of us who’ve been “making a fuss” about such matters.

But you see, it really doesn’t matter very much if Paul Blackledge is okay with covering up for rape and for throwing his weight behind Alex Callinicos who warned that “lynch mobs” would be formed if the faction refused to abide by party rulings.

As long as there’s someone you know who can vouch for you, it is a cinch to get past the velvet ropes and into the Marxist version of Studio 54.

February 22, 2013

Signs of deepening degeneration

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Simon Assaf

I started following British SWP member Simon Assaf’s tweeter page (is that what they call it?) after he signed off of Facebook.I thought that his posts on Syria and the Middle East were very useful (no surprise there.)

But recently he has taken to slandering Richard Seymour on twitter. Accusing him of aspiring to be the next Christopher Hitchens. Now he labels Richard’s girlfriend a “spook”.

This is exactly the trajectory of Gerry Healy. Sexual predation and now “snitch jacketing”. Most of you are too young to remember this but the Healyites alleged that Joe Hansen, an SWP leader who was one of Trotsky’s bodyguards, was a GPU agent and insinuated that he collaborated with the FBI as well.

You can bet that Assaf is picking up this bullshit from the SWP leaders. What a waste of humanity.

February 15, 2013

Callinicos threatens “lynch mobs”

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 12:46 am


The CPGB has been sent a copy of an explosive account of a recent ISJ meeting

Bureaucratic fury, not righteous anger

CPGB Intro

This report of a recent ‘International Socialism Journal’ meeting gives a taste of the bullying, intimidating atmosphere that is building in the Socialist Workers Party as the beleaguered central committee and its supporters feel the crisis escalating out of control and take out their rage on the opposition and its legitimate concerns.

Certainly, if the comments and general attitude the report attributes to the likes of Alex Callinicos are accurate, it lends credence to the claims from the Democratic Renewal comrades that aggressive, bullying behaviour towards oppositionists is widespread, including in some cases the threat of physical violence. (http://internationalsocialismuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/stop-bullying.html).

Such methods – and the people who promote them as a means to resolve political differences between comrades – should have no place in the workers movement.

All comments in brackets etc. are those of the orignal author. The report begins below.

ISJ Report

Alex Callinicos led off:

There are two types of group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli. The first group seeks to create external pressures. China, and I suspect Richard, encouraged Laurie Penny to write in the Independent. The letter from Peter Thomas and co, and interventions from ISO members, fit in here. PT and co are in part motivated by legitimate concerns about the case, but also it reflects the political ambitions of the Historical Materialism editorial board: it’s a repeat of ‘NLR syndrome’—Perry Anderson sought to profile himself as self-appointed generalissimo of the class struggle; these HM editors see themselves in a similar light. The ISO’s behaviour is particularly shocking: relations with them had been improving, but now their behaviour is threatening to “destroy” this.

The second group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli is the faction that declared this week.. I’m shocked by this. They have breached the long-standing principle that we do not have permanent factions.

The one-day special conference on 10th March will provide a full opportunity for discussion. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm the decisions taken at the January conference. Whatever comes out of it will have to be accepted by everyone. Anyone who doesn’t accept “will attract the righteous anger of the bulk of party members.”

[At the start of the discussion, incidentally, Alex barked at Amy Gilligan, insisting she stop taking notes. He, however, continued to cheerfully fill his notebook with copious notes throughout the meeting, as well as typing into his Blackberry. Alex tends to justify this sort of double standard with the term ‘political morality.’ Which seems to mean: whoever is trusted by the CC can do as they please, whoever is not, cannot. Are there echoes here of Gerry Healey’s catchphrase, ‘revolutionary morality’?]

The discussion kicked off with some comrades expressing their intense anger.

Sheila Macgregor, for example. Paul Blackledge later on.

But they were not angry either that the SWP has dealt with something as important as sexual harassment with appalling ineptness (not to say a cover up) or with the way the CC attempted to shut down the resulting debate. Rather, they were furious at those of us who’ve been “making a fuss” about such matters.

Sheila is “very angry”. We should not hold a special conference! We just had a conference, at which the issues were “all” fully aired! The present turmoil was started by party members. The SWP’s reputation is not in fact suffering damage in the ‘outside world.’

Paul shared Sheila’s fury and directed some harsh words at the ISO.

Gareth Jenkins made some general and unsubstantiated allegations that members of the faction were spreading lies and half-truths. He then defended the CC’s behaviour over Jamie Woodcock, noting that the CC had merely “suggested” that Jamie’s nomination be rescinded—unaware that to even call this a half-truth would be absurdly generous.

Jane Hardy: Any damage to the party has been the result of “the blogging”. She compared Richard Seymour to UCU leader Sally Hunt: both seek to push debate out of the branches and conference (she offered not a shred of evidence that Richard wishes to do this) and onto “email voting” and internet discussion.

Joseph Choonara: Why are the students in revolt? Because we made a mistake in 2011, when students joined around the Millbank etc movement. We should have made a sharp turn toward SWP theory in the SWSS groups.

Colin Barker: Defended his adherence to the faction, and insisted that we’re an organisation that welcomes heterodoxy, one that has the confidence to show tolerance toward comrades who take positions with which most of us disagree.

There were excellent contributions from Jamie, Simon Behrman and Neil Davidson, repudiating the accusations against our faction. (In Simon’s case though, he also took some swipes at those of in the Renewal grouping.)

Gareth Dale: Disagrees with Sheila’s argument that nothing’s changed in the outside world. First, it has. Generally, to the detriment of the SWP’s reputation, but not simply that. For example, anarchist friends of mine have congratulated us on the seriousness with which we’ve approached the issue, and mentioned that they—who experienced similar difficulties in dealing with sexual harassment—have found our campaign inspiring. But even if the outside world is oblivious, a special conference is still necessary, due to the tumult in the organisation etc.

Agreed with Joseph Choonara who argued that the resolution to this cannot be administrative but must be political and suggested these issues need to be fought out at the conference, but also developed in the pages of our publications over the next year or more.

Callinicos has taken a swipe at Richard over his enthusiasm for Poulantzas, but had not Callinicos himself been similarly enthusiastic for Althusser, in the 1970s? Linked this to a point made by Neil: the party has to be big enough to include the likes of David Widgery as well as Chris Harman. Sheila’s warning—at the last ISJ meeting—that Neil’s recent ‘revisionism’ on permanent revolution is an “attack on the IS tradition” is an example of precisely the wrong approach to drawing boundaries.

Talat: “Richard Seymour is a friend of mine. But he never goes to meetings. He and China think they’re above the rest of the party.” She then went on to express her disgust at those of us who draw comparisons between the SWP’s procedure for dealing with harassment allegations and that of institutions, such as trade unions, “which are part of capitalist society”—the implication being that the SWP is not.

Hannah Dee: Spoke up strongly for ‘the students’. They’ve been particularly attuned to issues of feminism, oppression etc. No wonder it’s they who’ve been at the forefront in recent weeks.

Adrian Budd, to Alex: At the outset, you said that the point of the special conference is “to reaffirm the decisions taken at conference.” That’s surely the wrong way to go about it—to present it as a way of rubberstamping decisions already taken. Surely it should be about airing the points of contention fully. To this, Alex barked a surly “That’s what you think!”

Alex then summed up the session: The crisis has been driven from within the party. Richard Seymour is the principal culprit. He is an eclectic thinker; he grabs ideas from everywhere—including even Bob Jessop!—and throws them into an “incoherent mess.”

Martin Smith must be allowed to fully return to political activity. Hannah’s analysis of the students is wrongheaded.

The students are not some vanguard on issues of oppression, as she implies; rather, they’ve lost their way as a result of our flawed approach in 2011—as Joseph outlined. There’s no way a 3 month discussion period before the special conference will be allowed. It would “destroy” us. If party members refuse to accept the legitimacy of the decisions taken at the special conference, “lynch mobs” (his words) will be formed. [He didn’t say whether or not he’d give a green light to such organisations.]

January 31, 2013

My Counterpunch write-up on the SWP crisis

Filed under: British SWP — louisproyect @ 6:19 pm


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