Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Alex Callinicos Tells off Richard Seymour.

with 7 comments

Gives Seymour a Ticking off.

In the latest International Socialism SWP theoretician Alex Callinicos assesses Grangemouth.

The dispute at the Grangemouth oil refining and chemicals complex in Scotland,was the union face up to one of the nastiest bosses in the UK,Jim Ratcliffe.

In a frank interview in Le Monde 16.12.13. (without parallel in the mainstream  British Press), Ratcliffe poured scorn on trade unions, British workers, high European taxes, European social welfare charges, and the fact that people resisted his closure plans.

He remarked that in America or China nobody would even think of fighting the proposal to shut down  a loss-making plant.

Defeating the company run by such an individual, backed by the Coalition, the enitre business world, and most of the media,  would take more than Grangemouth

Callinicos imposes his Party’s way of looking at this industrial dispute.

I lost interest in this account when the learned Professor began talking about UNITE as a union “which centralised power in the hands of the general secretary.”

Not that I know of: UNITE is a “member led” union.

This was pure bravado,

But, as Jerry Hicks’s impressive performance in last year’s election for the Unite general secretaryship showed, a significant minority of activists are open to taking a more militant stance. Unite the Resistance has an important role to play in gathering these activists together and enabling them to fight more effectively, sometimes in alliance with left-wing officials, sometimes independently of them.

Hicks, as vain as the leader of his Party, Respect,  is unable to  gauge political reality.

He discredited himself during the Grangemouth dispute by slagging off UNITE to the Murdoch press.

Sources indicate Unite the Resistance seems to have died a death, and the SWP is presently engaged in its latest frantic front, Stand up to UKIP.

Still there are some gems in this article – about comrade Richard Seymour.

Richard Seymour, who, since breaking with the SWP last spring, has been working overtime to widen the gap separating him from revolutionary politics.

Seymour is apparently guilty of seeing UNITE’s side of the story.

Indeed he is culpable of worse,

Seymour’s apologia for McCluskey implies a fatalistic approach to history. For all his extravagances and ambiguities, Slavoj Zizek is much closer to a genuine revolutionary Marxist approach when he says that “authentic politics” is “the art of the impossible-it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation.

Now Callinicos then mounts a defence of “impossibilism”,. That is a matter of testing the limits of the possible.

Or, we would suggest, making impossible demands in the hope that your small Party will snaffle up recruits from those who fall for them.

Callincios – probably rightly – notes of the group Seymour is now part of, Left Unity, will “struggle” to get a hearing.

But one wonder who will hear this?

It is in any case important that the SWP will survive this crisis. The Gadarene rush by much of the radical left to find excuses for McCluskey underlines the necessity of sustaining an organisation that simultaneously works in a non-sectarian way with other forces on the left and bases itself on clear revolutionary Marxist principles. Indeed there is a strong sense in which Grangemouth settles the debate between Rooksby and Blackledge over whether there is a practical difference between left reformism and revolutionary social.

Even fewer is our guess.

Though this “non-sectarian” article in the same journal (Once more on left reformism)which attacks everybody on the left, from The People’s Assembly, Counterfire, the International Socialist Group and the International Socialist Network, Left Unity, Syriza, Die Linke, the Front de Gauche, Richard Seymour (” innocent of any sense either of how social movements are terrains of struggle”), and, j’en passe, does indeed claim that, “To work with people to our right is an elementary and fundamental aspect of revolutionary politics…”



Seymour’s reply.

Now, the ‘Seymour’ who appears in the pages of the ISJ may occasionally say fragments of things that I have said, but otherwise any resemblance to a real person is almost entirely coincidental.  That ‘Seymour’, it has been suggested to me, is a manifestation of the unconscious.  Against this, corrections and clarifications are futile.  Still, just this once, for demonstrative purposes, I will state a bit of the obvious.

You know, it really doesn’t take a professor of politics at Kings to remind me that the class struggle is a war.  Nor even that Thatcher instituted neoliberalism through brutal class and social warfare.  One is not – how do you mammals say? – ‘thick’.  I even wrote something about this for a small quarterly journal once.

But Callinicos’s last sentence is puzzling, in that it suggests he isn’t at all puzzled by my last sentence.  He gets exactly what I’m talking about.  Outbursts of struggle are not in themselves sufficient to shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class or the left; you have to work on building up the infrastructure, the material conditions in which outbursts of struggle will have more chance of success.  This is actually made clear in the cited article from The Exchange, in the paragraphs immediately following those quoted, in which I say, among other things: “We need to begin a process of reconstructing class capacities, articulated with an equivalent process of rebuilding the left’s political capacities.”  

Not that opaque, surely?  And is the point in any way rebutted or qualified by stating (whether accurately or not) that the relative importance and effect of these conditions can “only be tested in struggle”?

If not, then the reason for the feint, and the non-sequitur, ought surely to be obvious.

If anybody can make much sense of the last sentence (or indeed most of this) please contact a very large dictionary. We assume it was quickly translated from the original Etruscan.


Written by Andrew Coates

February 8, 2014 at 11:51 am

7 Responses

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  1. Thanks for posting that stuff Andrew, a useful read which confirms (for me anyway) the futility of the far left today. Callinicos remains (almost) in complete denial of the SWP’s standing (it is now a pariah) and Hicks (who PCS activists I know in Bristol tell me is a complete arse) has shamed himself with sour grapes over losing the election (after all those of us involved in unions know how difficult record keeping can be with limited time available to us all).

    Left Unity managed to have factions before it had it’s founding conference and the ISN split was beyond belief (you couldn’t have made that argument up!). Its not just in the UK, all around the world far left groups have shown themselves out of date and out of touch. Exactly how many “Fourth Internationals” are there these days (plus at least two “Fifth” ones as well). Pointless.

    Reformism (as the “comrades” call it) through the mainstream Labour Party (and trade union movement) remains the only viable option.

    Btw, the ISO (USA) now has its own “comrade daniel” crisis. Sigh these people never learn:


    Howard Fuller

    February 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm

  2. Is anybody interested in this bunch of losers? The SWP were out in the Bethnal Green Rd in Tower Hamlets this afternoon with what looked like a new, very young group of paper sellers. The old guard who have sold outside Tesco for years have gone.


    February 8, 2014 at 10:18 pm

  3. We do our bit to help this development Maddie, you know.

    Andrew Coates

    February 9, 2014 at 11:36 am

  4. Howard the whole idea that there is a “revolutionary” alternative in Britain is frankly bizarre in the first place.

    Rooksby (in the second SWP article linked to) cites this, from Alisdair MacIntyre,

    There is a, “law of diminishing socialist returns” according to which “everyone’s actions tend to be to the right of their principles” such that revolutionaries are limited to promoting “genuine left wing reforms”.

    Left politics are, and always have been about genuine reforms.

    The left has been at its strongest when it’s been able to promote a sense of constructive hope that goes with these changes.

    The tradition I come from talked about “structural” reforms |(Mandel).

    Perhaps one way of expressing the differences between some types of social democracy and democratic socialism – up its most radical forms – is the following.

    There is distinction between “exercising power“, after getting elected through an opinion poll centred campaign that assembles a voting bloc, and goes ‘with the grain’ of the right-wing/centre policies already in place, and “conquering” and “taking” power, winning deep social support and being prepared to change the basic structures of society.

    That distinction comes from the left wing of European democratic socialism, though it was also used by Léon Blum.

    Andrew Coates

    February 9, 2014 at 11:59 am

  5. I was watching France 24 this morning, the English language version, and they had an item about the rise of the Front National in ‘le France profounde’ (rural France). What struck me forcefully is that fascists and rightwingers hoover up all the disaffection that exists because the ‘Left’ is not presenting explaantions or programmes of action to deal with the genuine concrete problems of the vast majority of ordinary workers. Gossip about who did what to whom in the SWP or Galloway’s latest outburst is all very well, but ‘it is a thing of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ to the ordinary worker. Especially, when one lokos around and sees all the mayhem going on in the world today.

    Sue R

    February 9, 2014 at 2:35 pm

  6. Sorry, that should be ‘La France profonde’.

    Sue R

    February 9, 2014 at 2:36 pm

  7. The real tragedy, or farce if you like, is that these people can discuss the actually-existing struggles of ordinary people with the sole aspiration of fighting over the ‘correct’ revolutionary position. They are playing for some kind of rank within the tiny world of far-left sects. Workers such as those at Grangemouth are in a very difficult position and need to try and devise some form of radical solution. Callinicos and Seymour may as well be on the moon.

    Igor Belanov

    February 9, 2014 at 8:40 pm

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