Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 21, 2008

The fight in the SWP, part two (John Rees)

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism,Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 10:22 pm

This is a reply to John Rees’s article “Where We Stand” that appeared on the Socialist Unity blog.

As many of you know, Rees was in the eye of the storm over Respect. The SWP assigned him to work in the party, where he became National Secretary. He also ran as a Respect candidate in the 2004 elections.

One of the main theoretical documents that underpinned the SWP’s intervention in Respect was written by Rees. Titled “The broad party, the revolutionary party and the united front“, it is deeply flawed by confusion over what Lenin and Trotsky meant by a united front. They never applied this tactic to electoral politics, but to specific actions that united socialists, communists and other left formations on a temporary basis. Since Respect did grow out of the genuine united front against the war in Iraq that involved George Galloway as a leading figure, it is understandable how Rees would make such a mistake. However, the British anti-war coalition was understood by its participants to be a bloc of parties who agreed on little else except the need to fight against the war. Turning that alliance into the more homogenous political culture required to build an electoral party is another story altogether as the ultimate breakup of Respect would indicate. Divided loyalties between the SWP and Respect would be the undoing of the SWP.

It is not surprising that Rees repeats the talking points of the SWP in his article, starting off with the proposal that Respect was a “coalition”:

Respect was always a coalition involving forces that came together in the antiwar movement. Much of the left including the Communist Party of Britain abstained from the beginning, as did other left Labour MPs. So we were left with George Galloway, a talented and high profile anti-war campaigner but one whose record historically was not on the hard left of Labour; radicalised Muslims; a number of other activists radicalised by the war and disenchanted with Labour, and the far left, predominantly ourselves.

Missing from this calculation is any understanding of the potential minefield represented by a disciplined “Leninist” party working in a party with people whose main loyalty was to Respect and not the SWP. When those “radicalized Muslims” had tried to persuade John Rees of the wisdom of this or that motion at a supposedly democratic decision-making meeting of Respect, they surely expected that he took their ideas more seriously than those of his comrades on the SWP Central Committee. When they began to figure out that the decisions had been worked out in advance at the CC meeting and presented to Respect as a fait accompli, no wonder they might have felt alienated.

These dimensions of the problem are of absolutely no interest to the SWP, which sees the fight in Respect in Manichean terms. They are the forces of Light fighting for trade union and woman’s liberation demands, while the “radicalized Muslims” come across as horse traders from a Mideast bazaar with little interest in politics.

After discussing the problems in Respect, Rees airs out the dirty laundry in the SWP, most of which involves money as you would expect. None of this really interests me at all. I did find the next section on “recruitment” to be of much more interest since it gets to the heart of the flawed party-building methodology of the SWP. Here’s how Rees describes the problem:

The first serious division on the CC was not over the crisis in Respect. But immediately  after the Respect split last November there was a discussion on the CC about SWP recruitment. It seemed obvious to us that party recruitment was lower than it should be and that the end of the Respect project and the interregnum in the ‘war on terror’ meant that we could launch full scale a recruitment campaign.

Ask yourself this: did Lenin ever write about “recruitment” to the Bolshevik Party? If you do a search in MIA, you will find virtually nothing except something like this from Lenin’s 1905 “New Tasks and New Forces” :

To sum up, we must reckon with the growing movement, which has increased a hundredfold, with the new tempo of the work, with the freer atmosphere and the wider field of activity. The work must be given an entirely different scope. Methods of training should be refocussed from peaceful instruction to military operations. Young fighters should be recruited more boldly, widely, and rapidly into the ranks of all and every kind of our organisations. Hundreds of new organisations should be set up for the purpose without a moment’s delay.

It is not clear from this whether Lenin is talking about getting people to join the Bolshevik Party or the mass movement instead. Indeed, one of the most striking things about all of Lenin’s writings is the utter inattention to “organizational” issues per se. Despite being regarded as a master organizer, Lenin never wrote anything remotely resembling Rees’s bookkeeper-like concern with membership numbers. This is because the Bolshevik Party was much more loosely organized than any party constituted as a “Leninist” party today. If today’s Leninist parties have to go through periodic purges to make sure that the integrity of the proletarian program remains intact, you have to ask yourself why so few people were ever expelled from Lenin’s party. Except for Bogdanov, I can think of not a single expulsion.

Furthermore, what springs to mind when you talk about recruitment? This is a term that obviously has a connection to the military. Young men and women from all walks of life get recruited to the military and are turned into fighting machines. Ex-members of the nutty American SWP used to be just as obsessed with recruitment as Rees. We assigned people to the mass movement in order to advance its goals (of course) but also to recruit “healthy independents”, in other words those people who had not been tainted by beliefs that were inconsonant with Trotsky’s profound insights. I was the perfect “healthy independent” since I had never read a single Marxist book in my life. After being recruited to the SWP and concluding a new members class, I was just like a young Marine who had graduated from boot camp: molded into a fighting cadre ready to do the party’s bidding.

In genuine mass revolutionary parties, there is no recruitment on this basis. Instead the party is formed out of the mass movement and includes the natural leaders of the working class who have clearly emerged as leaders on the basis of their mastery of class struggle principles, whether or not they have read the 18th Brumaire. It also will include Marxist intellectuals who have developed their own ideas about “the Russian question” through years of study and are not likely to give up their beliefs to conform to the expectations of a group like the SWP. If the SWP simply dropped the state capitalist ideology, or at least made it a back burner type question relegated to the back pages of their magazine along with discussion of the Brenner thesis et al, it will solve their “recruitment” problems. But that ideology serves to distinguish them the competition on the left just as some special ingredient in a detergent is designed to protect market share.

I should add that Rees’s ideas about recruitment were most likely influenced by the founder of the Trotskyist movement, which included SWP founder Tony Cliff in its earliest stages. In January 1940, Leon Trotsky wrote an open letter to James Burnham which stipulated:

The disintegration of capitalism, which engenders sharp dissatisfaction among the petty bourgeoisie and drives its bottom layers to the left, opens up broad possibilities but it also contains grave dangers. The Fourth International needs only those emigrants from the petty bourgeoisie who have broken completely with their social past and who have come over decisively to the standpoint of the proletariat.

This theoretical and political transit must be accompanied by an actual break with the old environment and the establishment of intimate ties with workers, in particular, by participation in the recruitment and education of proletarians for their party. Emigrants from the petty-bourgeois milieu who prove incapable of settling in the proletarian milieu must after the lapse of a certain period of time be transferred from membership in the party to the status of sympathizers.

God knows that I love Leon Trotsky, but it is this sort of thing that made me realize that the cultification of the SWP could not be blamed solely on Jack Barnes. What does this sound like? It sounds exactly like a Church doing missionary work. When the Trotskyist movement recruits “emigrants from the petty bourgeoisie” who then break completely with their social past, they are then expected to settle in the “proletarian milieu” and begin to recruit and educate proletarians. This is the formula that led to the disastrous “turn toward industry” in the late 1970s.

Trotsky could not be blamed entirely for adopting a party-building methodology that appears to have so much in common with the Mormons. He simply assumed that the Zinovievist version of Bolshevik history was valid for any revolutionary organization, including the Fourth International. As history has demonstrated, it has unfortunately led to nothing but a thousand and one splits.

14 Comments »

  1. I could be wrong, but my impression is that Respect did not have a newspaper of its own when the SWP was among them, instead using the Militant as the new party’s paper.

    The SWP acts surprised and disappointed over the fact that when it went in the same party with a bunch of social-democrats, they turned out to be …social-democrats, and were not swayed by the Scriptures to the ranks of the revolutionary left.

    Rees and the like are nobodies next to Galloway. He is Britain’s most brilliant public speaker of our time, and though not a Marxist, far surpasses Callinicos, Rees and the rest of the “vanguard” in that area. The best the SWP have is comedian Mark Steel, who can raise a few laughs with his jokes but won’t tell you anything worthwhile politically.

    So looking like third-rate amateurs compared to Galloway, they sought to grab supporters from him and felt hurt when they couldn’t. You don’t go joining other parties seeking to influence and eventually appropriate them from inside, especially when the comparison is so much against yours.

    We now have two Respect parties, guess which one is reffered to as the proper one, and which is as if it doesn’t exist: Galloway’s or Rees’s…

    Comment by Antonis — December 22, 2008 @ 2:00 am

  2. Whilst there are most certainly the most backward elements amongst prominent Muslims in the Respect membership, including prominent local businessmen such as restaurateurs in Asian (= South Asian in UK) areas, whose ambition had been thwarted in Labour and wanted just to build a alternative political machine, it would be completely wrong (if not outrageous) to dismiss its “Muslim membership as ““radicalized Muslims” come across as horse traders from a Mideast bazaar with little interest in politics.”

    Many of Muslim membership would share similar characteristics, indeed live in the very same streets, as the Jews who were such a prominent part of the British Left in the first half of the C20 (and of course, in the US Left).

    Such members would often be the sons or daughters of self employed immigrants who came to Britain in the 60s, maybe be students or in low paying public sector jobs, and have a much wider agenda than simply being anti-war not least though living in some of the poorest areas of Britain e.g. the East End or similar areas in Birmingham and elsewhere.

    It is true that a difference with the Jewish membership of the 30s is that I would imagine that relatively few of those marching against (the fascist) Mosley in the 30s East End, would have been religious but many of the young involved with Respect may have been observant. There has been a big swing to Islam amongst European Muslims since the near secularisation in the 70s with Islamic dress now common on women from Glasgow to Berlin prompted not least by an Islamophobic press.

    But the view of communists is that we don’t insist on only working with atheists; that would be absurd. Islam, like any other religion, is full of contradictions and will have people professing it from the far Left to the far Right. We care about building Left and working class coalitions against poor housing, for union drives or against the war not on the views of comrades on a private matter.

    So it was completely correct for the SWP to seek to work with a radicalised layer. But where they did go wrong was to not just work with those seeing their prime political motivations as their religion (which is perfectly fine when that interpretation is a Left one, and is just the same as the many radical Christians who have also been good Lefts) but instead the SWP did agree to work with the businessmen layer as well.

    In support of this move, the SWP also brought up the example of Jewish Lefts 80 years ago etc but my response to them was of course the Left was partly Jewish (Christian etc) then but that was with Jews etc, not with rabbis (priests, etc).

    Just a few technical corrections. There wasn’t a Respect paper when the SWP were with Galloway (although there is one now in the [Galloway] Respect) and the SWP would have sold ‘Socialist Worker’. The paper ‘Militant’ (in Britain) was the former name of the Socialist Party (US fraternal organisation is Socialist Alternative) publication and group and that organisation has not been involved with Respect.

    Mark Steel left the SWP a few months ago.

    The common criticism of the membership of Respect by Lefts (e.g. from the Socialist Party) was not the social democrats (e.g. Galloway) but those claimed to primarily take their politics from Islam.

    And incidentally there is a recent discussion on http://www.davidosler.com on whether there are any famous far Lefts in Britain. The most common view is that Galloway doesn’t count and there has been no-one since the death of journalist (and SWP member) Paul Foot a few years ago.

    Comment by Southpawpunch — December 22, 2008 @ 2:53 am

  3. Southpaw is correct, the appeal to Muslims should have been made on a class basis not on a religious basis, which gave the traditional leaders an undue weight and influence. Furthermore Respect was a political party and should have had a political programme that provided socialist solutions. Instead it was warmed over populism with concessions on abortion, lesbian and gay rights plus inadequate policies on challenging private property, afterall some of its backers were businessmen. Therefore you had a group of revolutionaries, and the SWP aren’t the only ones the Fourth Internatonal group was and is still with Galloway, being the mainstay of a political party that considers itself to be non socialist. Why socialism is ok for the SWP but not for the masses is never explained.
    If you add the Respect farrago to the earlier Socialist Alliance failure (in which Rees played a particular pernicious role) and the Scottish Socialist Party breakup, then you can see how the UK left has squandered opportunities for a left of Labour party that could have been with time and effort be an important revolutionary organisation. You can search for Respect here http://www.workerspower.com for a more developed critique

    Comment by keefer — December 22, 2008 @ 10:04 am

  4. I stand corrected, it is the Socialist Worker and not the Militant, that was a stupid mistake.

    Muslims are the most oppressed minority in Britain today, and have taken the place of the Irish of decades past, with the added plight of their majority’s skin colour that was not an issue for the Irish. Galloway is the only parliamentarian who openly supports Hezbollah and opposes the Israeli state’s policies, who has openly supported the Iraqi resistance as thoroughly justified; it is only natural that Muslims of all classes flock to him. He never made any pretensions concerning private property or revolution, he is a social-democrat after all, i don’t know why Keefer is annoyed by this.

    I keep seeing this bitterness over the fact that Respect, the most prominent political party to the left of Labour, is social-democratic, when it never pretended to be anything else. This bitterness should instead be reflected back to the multitude of Left-wing groups where it originates from, over their own inability to articulate their case as well as Galloway does to the British people, instead of wishing Galloway to be a Trot.

    I don’t understand why Respect is a missed oppoertunity, it never pretended to be the working class’s vanguard, it merely seeks to be a Left alternative to Labour, which i’m sure we all can agree falls VERY short of the Bolsheviks.

    I am unaware of any LGBT issues concessions: Galloway remains a supporter of full LGBT rights and Respect has passed resolutions to that effect. I don’t know his stance on abortion issues, yet these have been resolved in Britain long ago.

    Comment by Antonis — December 22, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  5. According to a 2007 statistical survey referenced on Wikipedia the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has 13,193,999 members.

    If Trotsky really had adopted the organisational structure of the Mormons I think the SWP would have a few more people in it than it does.

    Comment by Fellow Traveller — December 22, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

  6. Ha-ha!

    Maybe if Trotskyists had adopted Christianity or some other theology as their core belief, they’d be as big as the Mormons. In fact, that is the plot of Tariq Ali’s “Redemption”:

    Tariq Ali’s “Redemption” is a minor comic masterpiece that features thinly disguised Trotskyist leaders getting together for an emergency world congress to discuss the aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and related events. Written in 1990, the novel reflects the crisis of “existing socialism”. It also reflects the crisis of “existing Trotskyism”, a crisis that Ali takes pains to point out is recognized by none of these latter-day Trotskys.

    The congress is the brainstorm of Ezra Einstein, who nobody will have trouble identifying immediately as Ernest Mandel. “In his own person Ezra Einstein combined some of the qualities of a Old Testament prophet with the defects of a New Testament apostle, whose task was to interpret the words of the saviours in changing conditions.” In view of the developing situation in Eastern Europe, Einstein calls for an emergency World Congress in January 1990 “to discuss the changes necessary in our own theory and practice.”

    Ali takes the artistic license to imagine a situation in which Einstein sends invitations to all of his allies and enemies in the Trotskyist galaxy, including arch-rival Frank Hood, the leader of the “Hoodlums” in England. Hood, of course, is Gerry Healy. “At meetings of the Hoodlum Politbureau, the blood often rushed to his bald head and suffused the entire top part of his body. This was a sure sign that he was about to rant and rave. When he picked his nose, the other Hoodlums tried as unobtrusively as possible to remove all bottles within easy reach. The nose-picking was always a prelude to breaking a milk or a beer bottle and brandishing it suggestively before the face of a petrified colleague, usually a wimpish professor from the academy who was only to delighted to accept a proletarian rebuke.”

    The American SWP becomes the Proletarian International Socialist Party of American Workers, better known to the public as PISPAW. The PISPAW leader is one Jim Noble, who ex-SWP’ers like myself can take delight in recognizing immediately as the infamous Jack Barnes. Noble, like the character he is based on, is a detestable sort. “Noble was pacing up and down in his room. He was in a foul mood. Everything had been going wrong lately. Only the previous week, three PISPAW members who were all due for pretty big inheritances when the reached twenty-one had resigned and left the organization.” (I’m only glad I left the SWP before Barnes got his hands on my millions.)

    Another invited Trotskyist is Jed Burrows, leader of the English group nicknamed the Burrowers League because of its proclivity to deep entry work in the Labor Party. (Ted Grant of the Militant Tendency!) Burrows convenes a meeting of the Shadow-Shadow Cabinet to discuss Einstein/Mandel’s invitation. This cabinet was the “High Command which would seize power when Labour failed the nation for the tenth time and the working class moved rapidly from a General Strike to an immediate insurrection, splitting, in the process, the police, army, navy and air force.”

    Burrows’ bitter rival is fellow invitee Jimmy Rock, leader of the State Capitalist tendency in England. The resident intellectual of the Rockers is one Alex Mango, i.e. Alec Callinicos. “Mango, an extremely talented polemicist, made sure that he preserved his best material for the national press and the literary journals. He was the leading representative of Rockism with a human face, and his own features were extremely pleasing, even thought the hair which covered his forehead and came down to his shoulders was by now completely grey. This only enhanced his attractiveness to the young middle-class housewives in the north-western districts of the capital. His appetites were legendary. It was said that Alex used to disguise himself as a milkman and service most of North London in a day; but this was probably a vile slander spread with somebody less well endowed with bottle.”

    This gallery of clowns finally make their way to Paris for the emergency world congress. Each one has a plan to maximize his own sect’s personal interest out of the affair. In public they are all smiles and diplomacy. In private among their minions they conspire like cartoon versions of Macbeth.

    The important political point that Ali is making about the shortcomings of all of these sect leaders is that none of them has a clue how to react to the collapse of the bureaucracy, except to say “Now it is our time.” They feel vindicated that “Stalinism” has collapsed but lack the self-awareness to understand the reason for their own collapse.

    Noble, leader of the American PISPAW, has seen his own organization shrink from thousands to a tiny sect but can not understand why. Those who remain and who are comfortable in the claustrophobic milieu of this party have a mind-set similar to the FBI agents who continue to infiltrate their organization.

    Ali comments, “Whereas US and allied intelligence agencies infiltrate armed-struggle organizations by providing people who are expert in the use of weapons and who, for that reason, are rarely turned down by the guerrilla groups, the priorities for placing informers inside the sects are different. In fact the more monolithic the sect, the more authoritarian the regime, the more worshipped the supreme leader, the easier it is for an operative to enter and work his or her way to the top. All she had to do is work hard, pay generous financial dues, and inform on dissidents and anti-leadership elements, and promotion is not long delayed. The behavioral pattern of rising inside the FBI or a sect like PISPAW was not dissimilar. The language and goals were, of course, polar opposites, but the methods of organization shared a great deal in common.”

    It becomes the job of Ezra Einstein to set a new course for the world Trotskyist movement after the collapse of “Stalinism”, and in his opening address to the congress, he tells a stunned audience that the answer is in a new orientation to organized religion. He points to the growth of a Church-inspired Solidarity in Poland, the largest working- class mobilization independent of the bureaucracy, accepting the leadership of the priests Wojtyla and Gemp. This is the road the Trotskyists should travel. Einstein spells out his plans:

    “What then is to be done? The answer is obvious. We must move into the churches, the mosques, the synagogues, the temples, and provide leadership. Our training is impeccable. Within ten years I can predict we would have at least three or four cardinals, two ayatollahs, dozens of rabbis, and some of the smaller Churches like the Methodists in parts of Britain could be totally under our control.”

    After an initial shock over the proposal, the Trotskyist movement buys into the new approach. As you would expect the new orientation produces fissures almost immediately. A group that includes PISPAW’s Jim Noble decides that a better approach would be to form a new religion entirely and the splitters own way.

    Their new religion would be a synthesis of Freemasonry, Islam, Christianity, and Trotskyism as practiced by the members of PISPAW, the Burrowers and the Rockers. “The new creed would have its own places of worship, its own Holy Book, its rituals, its sacrifices and its evangelists. Its priests and priestesses would speak in the name of the Creator and accept Jesus and Mohammed as the two great ancient Prophets, but would challenge the legitimacy of both the Christian saints and Mohammed’s successors. In their place the new religion, Chrislamasonism, would create its own hierarchy of Popular Saints which would include some of the great figures of history, Hegel being an obvious example.”

    Ali knows the stupidity and arrogance of the Trotskyist movement >from the inside, having spent some years as the leader of the Mandelista group in England. Ali had the good sense to leave this movement in the 1970s and make the best use of his talents. He became a novelist and a producer for BBC. While he is unstinting in his bitter satire of this misbegotten movement, there is another element of the novel that demonstrates the serious concerns of Ali and his political milieu during 1990.

    This milieu of successful, left-leaning, highly educated writers and intellectuals reacted to the 1990 events with a high degree of consternation. They had been politically trained to expect socialist democracy in the Soviet bloc, but instead of that they got the spectacle of a pro-capitalist Solidarity in Poland and free market initiatives throughout Eastern Europe being led by former “anti-Stalinist” intellectuals like Havel. Trotsky had predicted that capitalism would be resisted violently in the workers states, but the opposite was taking place. Workers and bureaucrats alike seemed to jumping on board the neoliberal express.

    I recall the Socialist Scholars Conference in NYC at that time. A panel discussion on events in Eastern Europe included prominent Social Democrat Barbara Ehrenreich. She opined that it would be “elitist” for the left to reject the consumerism of the working-class of Poland, Hungary and elsewhere. If it took the free market to deliver these goods, then the job of socialists would be to tame the free market and make the transition to it as painless as possible.

    This confidence in the market was short-sighted. In a few years, Communists were being re-elected to office across Eastern Europe, Daniel Ortega stands a chance of being the new President of Nicaragua and even Castro’s Cuba remains standing as a monument to “existing socialism”. In all of these places, however, the socialists are making concessions to the market.

    The expectations of people like Ali and Ehrenreich was that the Gorbachevist perspective would hold true. All of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union would become social democratic: bland but beneficient. The reality has turned out a lot different. The former Soviet Russia starts to look more and more like Brazil each day, rather than Sweden.

    The value of Ali’s book is that it provides the definitive satirical deathblow to a movement that has become ossified and irrelevant. Those of us who are convinced that the free market can not deliver the goods will have to continue our discussion outside the framework of Trotskyism, Chrislamasonism, or any other dogma. This list happily describes new initiatives in that direction even as we are pestered from time to time by characters who seem lifted out of the pages of Ali’s novel.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 22, 2008 @ 7:06 pm

  7. Ali’s book is good and like a good satire, accurately reflects the proclivities of some of its targets but any suggestion that Respect is, or was, a primarily religious party or reflected a fusion of Trotskyism with Islam is wrong.

    It should, at best, have been a Left workers party that contained both the religious and the atheist committed to various forms of socialism, it did contain these elements but also was fatally flawed by the presence of businessmen and the like (who also just happened to be overwhelmingly Muslim).

    Respect, even now, doesn’t argue for Muslim politics or a Islam Trot synthesis but for a confusion of radical and reformist (and occasionally reactionary) Left policies hat reflects the small number of socialists – both from a traditional (white) Left background but also both secular and observant Muslims (near all of Asian origin) who remain members – but also the concerns of the businessmen wing who pay most of the bills.

    Antonis is correct in the way that Respect never claimed to be anything better but we could build such – the Socialist Alliance was (a very weak) start.

    Comment by Southpawpunch — December 22, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

  8. Thanks for the precis on Ali’s book. It sounds great. The comment on Callinicos reminds me of the song Milkman of Human Kindness by the English socialist songwriter-musician Billy Bragg, which features the refrain:

    I love you
    I am the milkman of human kindness
    I will leave an extra pint

    Comment by Fellow Traveller — December 23, 2008 @ 4:53 pm

  9. This was all going so well, really, until you ended it with a prejudiced attack on Trotsky.

    In the quote you use Trotsky was advocating working class self-determination and precisely not the missionary position. He was precisely saying that if the radicalised petty bourgeoisie enter the workers movement with their prejudices intact sects like the British SWP with their own seperate interests are precisely what you get and that is at times of long capitalist stability. During on-going capitalist disintegration which was the perspective during the run up to WWII and is again now, petty bourgeoise formations in the workers movement are potentially very dangerous as they can flip to the extreme right at a moments notice (witness the AWL in the UK which openly supports Zionist tyranny, imperialist occupations and a pre-emptive strike on Iran). Trotsky was just following Marx’s lead from his struggle with the Bakunin people some 70 years earlier. That the American SWP ultimately mis-read and mis applied him is not his fault it is the result of their petty bourgeois degeneration into a . . . sect.

    By the by, the British SWP rejected the Marxist analysis of the Stalinisation of the Soviet Union in favour of their own petty bourgeois empiriicist prejudices a long time ago. No wonder they couldn’t recognise a bureaucray or an apparatus with its own particular interests when they saw one or in fact were in one.

    Comment by David Ellis — December 24, 2008 @ 2:14 am

  10. “And incidentally there is a recent discussion on http://www.davidosler.com on whether there are any famous far Lefts in Britain. The most common view is that Galloway doesn’t count and there has been no-one since the death of journalist (and SWP member) Paul Foot a few years ago.”

    Surely Saffron Burrows would qualify as a famous far left?

    And Louis, with reference to Ali’s Redemption, it was Burroughs not Burrows. You were obviously thinking of the fragrant Saffron as well.

    Comment by Darren — December 24, 2008 @ 6:16 am

  11. PS

    Louis wrote:

    “Ali knows the stupidity and arrogance of the Trotskyist movement >from the inside, having spent some years as the leader of the Mandelista group in England. Ali had the good sense to leave this movement in the 1970s and make the best use of his talents. He became a novelist and a producer for BBC. While he is unstinting in his bitter satire of this misbegotten movement, there is another element of the novel that demonstrates the serious concerns of Ali and his political milieu during 1990.”

    Ali was an active leader of the IMG up until at least the early 80s. (Lefties of an older vintage than myself will remember the Debate of the Decade from that period involving himself, Paul Foot, and Hilary Wainwright debating Tony, Stuart Holland and Audrey Wise. The grandiosely titled debate pitched those advocating socialist change via working within the Labour Party versus those advocating socialist transformation.without. (I understand Ali sought to rejoin the Labour Party in an entryist fashion a few months after.))

    Maybe I’ve got my chronology wrong but I understand that it was the newly formed Channel 4 in the 80s that Ali was a producer at, rather than the BBC. Definitely working on the Bandung File series but maybe other stuff as well. Cynical British people from that era will remember that Channel 4 as a bit of a cushy gravy train for a certain group of lefties during that time. (Excellent channel, though.)

    PS – Always surprised that Ali didn’t have the self-awareness to include himself as a character in Redemption. By all accounts a haughty and patrician type, old comrades that I knew who crossed his political path at the time thought he came across as a bit of an arrogant and elitist wanker.

    A would be vanguardist leader coming across as an elitist and arrogant wanker? I can’t believe it myself. Maybe they caught him on a bad decade?

    Comment by Darren — December 24, 2008 @ 6:39 am

  12. Sorry for the typos. The two month baby in my arms who is refusing to settle down for the night insists that I type atrociously.

    Comment by Darren — December 24, 2008 @ 6:41 am

  13. Lindsey German, member of the SWP CC, is quite forthright on these radical south-asian muslims who turned “communal” once the SWP lost their lead within Respect, in her reply, which can be found at-

    http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=3210

    Interesting part is –

    “Accident also played a role: if I had been elected to the London Assembly in 2004 (as I very nearly was) then the balance of forces in Respect would have been very different. If white socialists had been elected in 2006 in Newham and Tower Hamlets (as they very nearly were) then the balance of forces and level of politics in those areas would have been raised.”

    With these “socialists”, who needs the BNP.

    Comment by Saif — December 25, 2008 @ 12:08 pm

  14. Slight correction: Bogdanov was expelled from the Bolshevik faction, not the RSDLP.

    Comment by Binh — November 21, 2011 @ 4:33 pm


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