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.