In an interesting review of Orwell’s public school memoir Such, Such Were the Joys, in today’s Graun, Francis Wheen is quoted on the subject of the disintegration of the Socialist Workers Party:
“[T]he party’s leader Alex Callinicos, grandson of the 2nd Lord Acton, was educated at a top private school and another senior leader, Charlie Kimber, is the Old Etonian son of a baronet. Also prominent in the brouhaha has been Dave Renton, an Old Etonian barrister related to a former Tory chief whip: ‘It sometimes reads like a conversation between Old Rugbeians and Old Etonians about the main British Trotskyist Party. It’s quite bizarre’.”
This reminded me of the latest cartoon strip from the pen that brought us the fabulous Billy Delta of Red Friars. This follow-up is not, perhaps, quite as hilarious (in part because the main characters are less well-known, and the plot-line more convoluted), but it’s still a good sectarian chuckle…
Above: Class Monitor Tim is showing the new boy Cuthbert Cringe-Renton around the school.
And on a (very) loosely related theme, for anyone with a lot of spare time there are tons of bulletins from the last four conferences of the American ISO (former comrades of the SWP), on this site: http://thecharnelhouse.org/2014/02/07/international-socialist-organization-2014-convention-bulletin/
Channel 4 News’ disgraceful, craven censorship of ‘Jesus & Mo’ on Tuesday night…
…has received a splendid response:
You can find more Jesus and Mo: here
I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.
When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950′s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.
As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…
The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.
The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.
I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and ”anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.
Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.
Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis Patriarchy and the capitalist state:
“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”
The death, reported today, of Pete Seeger, reminded me that he publicly broke with Stalinism back in 2007 (some say he’d privately broken with it some years previously).
I wrote the following at the time, in a deliberately provocative style intended to infuriate folkies. Nevertheless, I hope it’s suitably respectful towards a brave and principled man:
Pete Seeger changes his tune: finger removed from ear
I’ve never particularly liked folk music, with its whining three-chord “tunes”, its anachronistic and lachrymose lyrics and the sheer musical incompetence of most of its performers – including the famous ones like Bob Dylan.
Having said that, I have to admit that most of the folkies I’ve met over the years have been thoroughly decent people, often stalwarts of left-wing campaigns, strike-support activity and international solidarity. But for some unexplained reason, these admirable people almost invariably turn out to be Stalinists of one variety or another: what is it about the music or the “scene” that brings this about? Delightful, sandle-wearing, hirsute do-gooders turn out to be apologists for some of the most monstrous regimes and genocidal crimes in human history!
Pete “If I Had a Hammer” Seeger always struck me as the spritual progenitor of the finger-in-the-ear school of folkie Stalinism (the finger being in the ear to prevent the truth about Uncle Joe’s crimes ever being heard): he was (and is) a very good and brave human being, so far as I can judge. Certainly, he had the courage to defy the House Committee on Un-American Activities, rather than betray his friends and comrades, and spent a year in jail as a result. On a less serious note, I’ve also always harboured a sneaking admiration for his legendary attempt to take an axe to Bob Dylan’s microphone cable at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. But still, this admirable figure remained an unremitting, unreconstructed Stalinist [*]…
…Until now. According to Nicholoas Wapshott in the New Statesman, the 88 year-old Seeger says he has “‘been thinking what Woody (Guthrie - JD) might have written had he been around” to see the end of the Soviet Union. In a letter responding to (a) complaint that he had repeatedly sung about the Nazi Holocaust but failed to acknowledge the millions killed in Stalin’s death camps, he (Seeger) wrote: “I think you’re right – I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in (the) USSR”.
So now Pete has written a new song, ‘The Big Joe Blues’, which goes: “I’m singing about old Joe, cruel Joe./He ruled with an iron hand./He put an end to the dreams/Of so manyin every land./He had a chance to make/A brand new start for the human race./Instead he set it back/Right in the same nasty place./I got the Big Joe Blues./(Keepyour mouth shut or you will die fast.)/I got the Big Joe Blues./(Do this job, no questions asked.)/I got the Big Joe Blues”.
According to Wapshott, Pete now acknowledges that, “if by some freak of history communism (I think he really means Stalinism – JD) had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail”. So the finger’s well and truly out of the ear. At long last.
Above: despite my prejudice against folk music, I think this is great! Pete with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in the mid-60s
* Addendum: BTL comments (below) would seem to confirm that my statement that PS remained “an unremitting, unreconstructed Stalinist” (until 2007) was incorrect. It would also seem to be the case (sadly) that the story of the axing of Dylan’s electric cable at Newport in 1965 is apocryphal.
This project – a collaboration between the Cincinnati youth arts centre ‘Elementz’ and the (Reform synagogue) Temple Sholom – may seem a strange way of remembering the Holocaust. Some might even consider it inappropriate. But it’s clearly well-intentioned and seems to be raising awareness amongst these young people. It’s also in marked contrast to the trend in some “radical” circles these days to down-play Holocaust remembrance, or dismiss it as an “industry” or a pro-Zionist conspiracy.
Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.
Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.
The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:
Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.
“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”
As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”
“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”
As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.
“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism
“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”
Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)
Assad’s friends and supporters on the Stalinist and semi-Stalinist “left” have had little - in most cases nothing – to say about the report accusing his regime of the “systematic killing,” with photographic evidence of torture and starvation, of about 11,000 detainees.
When the Guardian and CNN broke the story on Wednesday, they made no secret of the fact that the report had been commissioned by the government of Qatar, which of course backs the rebels: I expected Assad’s western supporters and apologists to use this to attack the report’s credibility, even though the three authors are all former war crimes prosecutors with impeccable records, and their main source, “Caesar” provided photographic evidence that experts have pronounced genuine beyond reasonable doubt.
In fact, Assad’s UK supporters – the Morning Star, and the so-called ’Stop The War Coalition’ - have said simply nothing. One would like to think this was the result of embarrassment and shame. But these people know no shame. The truth is, they simply don’t care, and are betting on their man eventually winning. One doesn’t have to harbour illusions in the rebels (we at Shiraz certainly don’t) to be revolted by the degeneracy of a “left” that can give de facto support to this butcher, and turn a blind eye to killing and torture on an industrial scale.
One exception is the unabashed Assad supporter John Wight over at the miss-named Socialist Unity blog: this preposterous male model, jew-baiter and failed bit-part actor makes no secret of his panting, Gallowayesque admiration for tyrants and strong-men, and wallows in his world of conspiracy-theories. But at least (unlike his gaffer Nooman) he makes no secret of his love for the mass-murderer Assad, and – against all the evidence – simply refuses to accept the findings of the report.
The Lib Dem’s present shambles over Lord Rennard is the direct result of a botched attempt to fudge the issue of the sexual harassment allegations against this powerful and influential figure whose behaviour has been covered up by the leadership for years.
The inquiry led by Alistair Webster QC created total confusion – and gave Rennard and his supporters plausible grounds for crying ‘foul’ – by concluding that the case against Rennard was unproven, and yet also calling upon him to apologise in the light of “broadly credible” claims against him by 11 women.
Crucially, Webster’s report (though it hasn’t been seen by Rennard, or indeed Clegg, due apparently, to mysterious “data protection” concerns) seems to have blurred and confused two distinct standards of proof: Webster says the case against Rennard does not satisfy the “beyond reasonable doubt” (ie being at least 99% sure of guilt) standard required for criminal cases, and which is also, it seems, required before disciplinary action can be taken under the Lib Dem’s rules. But Rennard’s supporter and legal adviser Lord Carlile QC claims that Webster told him that even the civil “balance of probability” standard of proof could not be met. This seems incredible, given Webster’s statement that in his opinion “the evidence of behaviour which violated the personal space and autonomy of the complainants was broadly credible.” Remember, that the “balance of probability” test (ie being 51% sure of someone’s guilt) is considered sufficient for an employer to dismiss an employee for gross misconduct and is the test that employment tribunals apply when considering cases.
It turns out that what Webster meant was that he didn’t think there was a 51% chance of satisfying the “beyond reasonable doubt” test, which is, of course, not what the “balance of probability” test means – something that both Webster QC and Carlile QC must surely understand.
With Rennard threatening legal action, 100 women members signing a letter demanding “no apology, no whip” and the party split on generational lines, the Lib Dems are well and truly in the shit over this. Not only has their claim to be a party that takes equality seriously been destroyed: they’ve shown themselves to be a total shower who can’t even organise an effective fudge.
2014 came in badly as far I was concerned: checking old friend Michael Steinman’s Jazz Lives blog, I saw that Bobby Gordon died on 31st December.
Most of you will never have heard of Bobby, who was an American jazz clarinettist who came on the scene playing Condon-style jazz and swing, just as that style was going out of fashion. Nevertheless, he played some great music and, thinking about him, I realised he’d been on many of my favourite jazz CD’s of the 1980s and ’90′s, with Marty Grosz, Keith Ingham, Rebecca Kilgore and Hal Smith. His clarinet playing reflected his personality: modest, shy, understated, but intense and very, very beautiful. Back in the early 1960′s American Decca hired him to make an album with strings, in an attempt to emulate Acker Bilk’s UK hit ’Stranger On The Shore’ : sadly, it didn’t achieve the same kind of sales. The nearest Bobby ever came to fame and fortune was his time in the 1980′s, accompanying singer Leon Redbone – and even that brief moment of relative success involved an horrific air crash, from which both of them were lucky to survive.
Bobby was one of the many unsung greats of jazz: not many people remember him, but those who do will always appreciate his great soul and blue-tinged sad-happy improvisations. Bobby’s main inspiration and mentor was the 1930′s Chicago/New York clarinettist Joe Marsala, to whom he paid musical tribute on several occasions, including two ‘Arbors’ CD’s (Don’t Let It End and Lower Register). Another influence was Pee Wee Russell and here’s Bobby, in 2010, remembering him on Pee Wee’s Blues: