Tendance Coatesy

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Ian Birchall resigns from SWP: Central Committee has “heavy responsibly” for damage.

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A Greatly Respected Comrade.

Ian Birchall has resigned from the SWP.

Ian is one of the best writers and activists on the British left.

Recently his work on the review,  Revolutionary History, notably European revolutionaries and Algerian independence 1954-1962  Revolutionary History Vol 16, No4: Ian Birchall (guest editor), has made a great contribution to the study of the movement. The related, Third World and After New Left Review 80, March-April 2013 is another illustration of his exemplary intellectual activity, informed by his deep knowledge of the French and European left in particular.

I have not read his biography of Tony Cliff but it was well received even by those critical of the founder of the SWP.

Before putting his heartfelt explanation for this decision I would like to add a personal note to illustrate Ian’s role on the left.

About ten years ago Ian and I had a lengthy polemic in the pages of What Next? on Islamism after the publication of my In Defence in Militant Secularism. Ian wrote, So What is Secularism? and this was followed by my A rely to Ian Birchall.

Unlike many on the left, and particularly many in the SWP,  Ian was prepared to argue – properly –  his views out with opponents.

Ian Birchall’s resignation is therefore something of great significance  for the left.

It is perhaps a sign of the respect in which Ian is held that his critics, like myself, feel that we have to make our appreciation of him clear,

The events of the last year have changed everything. The monstrously irresponsible and self-indulgent conduct of a former leading member was bad enough. But far worse was the failure of the party leadership to deal flexibly and intelligently with the situation. The Central Committee has been at best obstinate and short-sighted, at worst grossly dishonest. The revolutionary organisation is a means to the end of socialist transformation, but for members of our self-selecting leadership it has become an end in itself.

As a result we have lost several hundred good activists, our student work has been badly harmed and our relations with our periphery have been seriously damaged. Last year’s Marxism was the smallest for many years. Good comrades have been treated shamefully, apparently with CC approval. In fifty years membership I have not seen a crisis remotely comparable to the one we are now going through. We are urged to be “outward-looking” and to commit ourselves to activity in the “real world”. Most of us would like nothing better, but when the leadership has broken down all relations of trust, effective action becomes impossible.

The Central Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they should seek re-election  en bloc reveals an arrogance that disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.

It is important to read the full letter.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 16, 2013 at 11:45 am

Posted in Communism, Islamism, Marxism, SWP

Tagged with , ,

9 Responses

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  1. […] Andrew Coates responds to Ian Birchall’s resignation. […]

  2. “The Central Committee bears a heavy responsibility for this situation, and that they should seek re-election en bloc reveals an arrogance that disqualifies them as a leadership. As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.”

    This paragraph alone is so striking. So few sentences showing up how corrupt the SWP leadership has become. Shame on anybody staying with ‘their’ incompetent ‘leaders’. ‘Incompetent’ is the word – not something you should associate with a leading socialist ‘party’. Leave them alone with their hobby.

    Pinkie

    December 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm

  3. I thought one of the most telling comments was this, “As senior CC member, Alex Callinicos bears a particularly heavy responsibility. (When a dog bites me I don’t blame the animal; I blame the owner that failed to keep it on a lead.) It is a small personal tragedy that his cowardice and dishonesty over the last year will overshadow forty years’ work as a significant Marxist theoretician.

    It is perhaps often true that the role of theoretician and politician are not easily combined, but this is a case that ought to get wider attention.

    It is true that Callinicos has been important as a writer about socialist and Marxist theory opn a wide range of topics, on the philosophy of equality, a critique of post-modernism, and an over-arching dissection of the Third Way, to cite but three.

    I personally have never felt his more directly political writing has been of equal value.

    It was, very noteworthy for example, that his early enthusiasm for the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste lurched into an attack on the NPA (and LCR) tradition of allowing ‘factions’ (open groups expressing disgreements) when things went a bit wrong.

    His principle other handle for criticising the NPA came from, (modesty forbids me from mentioning the translator of this line of thought, so transparently taken up by Callincicos), those in France who attacked the NPA founding principle that “between the Parti Socialiste and the NPP – nothing”.

    Now if we had really absorbed the lesson of this particular débâcle, it would be obvious that the whole present SWP line of drawing up the door-bridge and trying to sit out their crisis in splendid isolation would not work.

    There would have been no need for dissidents to write this (in retrospect valedictory) article,

    The politics of the SWP crisis”-a response
    Issue: 140
    Posted: 18 October 13

    ” it is the CC majority that is being driven by the imperatives dictated by sectarian voices in its own ranks. This approach is leading the party into further retrenchment and isolation from the broader movement. It will ensure that the cycle of splits that have occurred since 2007 will continue, not because of some hidden hand of movementism, but because the party leadership is incapable of looking reality in the face and dealing with it.”

    http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=931&issue=140

    Andrew Coates

    December 17, 2013 at 5:17 pm

  4. Thank-you for your generous comments, Andrew.
    My reply to your piece on secularism is now online at http://grimanddim.org/political-writings/2005-so-what-is-secularism/ . I’ve added a link to your first article. However, the What Next archives seem to have disappeared – if you give me a link to the second article also I’ll add that.

    Ian Birchall

    December 19, 2013 at 2:28 am

  5. Bob Pitt says that the server of What Next? wanted a lot of money to keep the site going, and that he was thinking of other ways of putting the archive up.

    I hope he does so because there’s a lot there.

    Andrew Coates

    December 19, 2013 at 10:56 am

  6. Ian/Andrew
    Here’s the new link for What’s Next:
    http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/index.htm

    Karmickameleon

    December 21, 2013 at 1:24 am

  7. Thanks, good.

    Andrew Coates

    December 21, 2013 at 11:24 am

  8. “Bob Pitt says that the server of What Next? wanted a lot of money to keep the site going, and that he was thinking of other ways of putting the archive up.”

    Making sure it’s archived by the Harvard web.archive.org (and the British Library) would be a good start, if he hasn’t done so already (I can’t connect to web.archive.org right now for some reason or I’d check)

    dagmar

    December 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm

  9. Thanks for this Karmickameleon. I’ll put the links up as soon as possible.

    Ian Birchall

    December 21, 2013 at 1:40 pm


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