Archive for the ‘Ultra Left’ Category
This is perhaps the moment to reflect on the European admirers, and active supporters of the Cultural Revolution.
One of the best known was the Gauche prolétarienne (GP) which existed from 1968 to 1974. As Christophe Bourseiller has put it, “Of all the Maoist organizations after May 1968, the most important numerically as well as in cultural influence was without question the Gauche prolétarienne”.
The GP was formed in October 1968. After a split in the Union des jeunesses communists marxistes-léninistes (UJC(ml)), several members – including Olivier Rolin, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec, Jean-Claude Vernier, the brothers Tony and Benny Lévy, Jean Schiavo, Maurice Brover and Jean-Claude Zancarini – formed the new party. In 1969 the former student union leaders Alain Geismar and Serge July joined the group.
One of these figures, Olivier Rolin, was not only in the leadership but directed the military wing (branche militaire) of the group, la Nouvelle résistance populaire. The history of the NRP remains highly controversial.
After blowing hot for armed action, they blew cold and abandoned the path of force. A botched – or futile it depends on one’s viewpoint – kidnapping of Renault manager Robert Nogrette in response to the killing of Pierre Overney in 1972 ended in his release. They abandoned other plans for ‘military’ vengeance, which included a plan to murder a former Collaborator. Rolin is amongst those who lay claim to the belief that this was responsible for the absence in France of left-wing terrorism – until the 1980s Action Directe that it is.
The Gauche Prolétarienne dissolved in 1973.
Rolin subsequently became a novelist. His works include the well-received, Invention du Monde (1993), Port-Soudan (1994), described a “brilliantly crafted”, that is, a finely written but slight tale of an expatriate functionary and his return home with hard memories, the picaresque Un chasseur de lions (2008) which has been compared unfavourably to a Tintin album – meaning, I enjoyed it.
Tigre en papier (2oo2) is the most political of his books. It is a thinly veiled account of life in the GP written, as critics has described it, with the marks of a thriller and lubricious descriptions of women. One of the said critics, F. Frommer (À propos de Tigre en papier d’Olivier Rolin), observes that it is hard to classify – if not to follow. Is it a novel, a tale, fiction about one’s self, autobiography, souvenir, memoir (Roman/récit, autofiction/autobiographie, souvenir/mémoire. To say that the ‘Aristotelian unities’ are not followed would not count of a point against Tigre en Paper, if it were not, as indicated, presented at points in the form of an airport spine-chiller, decked out in the grandiose language, Rolin employs to describe the ideological loadstars of of dedicated ‘Maoist’ activists: « La théâtralité de la Révolution », « La haine de la beauté », « La sacralisation du malheur ». La Cause is the object of masochistic self-sacrifice. The pages are also studded, as Frommer remarks, with old brand names, old songs, old films, and, if you haven’t got the message, other period details, which struck me, such as a explanation of the importance of duplicators for 1970s leftists.
The principal value of the book is as an account of the GP, the ‘military wing’ chief, Martin (that is, Rolin…), his comrade, the ‘sublime’ Marie , and, above all, of its leader, Benny Lévy, known at the time as Pierre Victor. In Tigre he is Gédéon, who is known from its abbreviation, DG, as the Grand Dirigeant. This identity is at any rate the view of, amongst others, Philippe Lardinois, who uses the portrait as a hook in De Pierre Victor à Benny Levy, de Mao à Moïse ? (2008). He incarnated the ‘L’Organisation’ of the novel – though it remains to this day a mystery why. Or indeed exactly what happened in mind’s of the participants in the escapades of the ‘military wing’ in the narrative to make them turn from playing at being revolutionaries to other games. Tigre en papier’s title suggest that they were made of flimsy substance. No doubt, but they certainly tried to look terrifying….
To call the Victor character a sour-faced arrogant shit would be perhaps enough, except that he managed to wreck the lives of (fictionalised but clearly real) characters as well. The GP, like all Maoist groupuscules, and some Trotskyist organisations, sent their members, particularly intellectuals (outside their Leading Cadres, naturally) into factories to become ordinary workers, or, rather, to turn into militant leaders of the proletariat. These “établis” were expected to follow the commands of the Organisation. A tragic story of one such ruined life is probably the best passage in the book. It is the affecting story of a stunning (how could it be otherwise?) young woman, Cosette, svelte, almost an elfin (see previous observation on Rolin’s sexist language) separated by Party decision from her partner, who is himself placed under the guidance of a ‘prolo’. Workers figures in the novel, if at all, as lugubrious figurants, if not, in the case of a police informer, a sexually unpleasant rough. No doubt anxious to indict the puritanism of the GP there is an episode in which Martin rebuffs a male cadre’s advances, and finds unable to talk about it.
Tigre en papier outlines one striking feature of the whole Gauche Prolétarienne experience: despite a brief reference to the anti-totalitarian Victor Serge, the total absence of any critical balance-sheet of the Cultural Revolution that inspired the movement.
This is how the leader of the GP washed up after years of Talmudic studies,
Benny Lévy embraced Jewish Orthodoxy, and began to study in a yeshiva in Strasbourg. He finally immigrated to Israel in 1997, where he established the Institut d’études lévinassiennes in Jerusalem along with Bernard-Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut, and learned with Rabbi Moshe Shapira. He died suddenly during the holiday of Sukkot in 2003.
(1) See also: Les Maoïstes. Christophe Bourseiller, Review and Reflections. Andrew Coates.
The book has been translated and received this notice (New York Times 2007):
PAPER TIGER. By Olivier Rolin. Translated by William Cloonan. (University of Nebraska, cloth, $40; paper, $17.95.) Martin, an aging French radical from the 60s, wonders where it all went and why. One night in 2000, when this rushing stream of a book is set, he broods out loud while driving around (and around and around) Paris with Marie, the 24-year-old daughter of his best friend from “the Cause.” Marie’s father died in an unexplained fall from a church tower 20 years earlier, and the excuse for Martin’s regurgitation of the past is to introduce Marie to her lost parent. At the same time, he is trying to understand his own father, a “colonialist soldier” killed carrying out “France’s civilizing mission” in Indochina. Through these histories, Rolin philosophizes about Big Ideas like aging, lost idealism and the weight of past wars on future generations. It sounds like heavy going, and it is. Rolin’s use of the second-person and the recurring shifts back and forth in time can be disorienting; but there are also treats that make the car ride worth taking, some serious (like Rolin’s observations — often pessimistic — about the human condition) and others delightfully comic (like the young revolutionaries’ many botched missions). When the journey to the end of the night is over, the impression left behind (at once comforting and disturbing) is that history will make a paper tiger of every high hope and feared foe alike, no matter how seemingly imperishable.
Comrade Toby Abse and myself has a long discussion about Tony Negri and this book recently.
We went through issues about his political background such as Negri’s unwillingness to accept political responsibility for the violent side of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia.
The resemblance between these two organisations’ refusal (and possible Bordigist influence) and the French Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB) group’s refusal to participate in any form of election (including voting in French works committees, comités d’enterprises) also came up. I mentioned that SouB had integrated a significant slice of the French ‘Bordgist’ (ultra-left anti-parliamentarian anti-Stalinist communists) movement, the Fraction Française de la Gauche Communiste Internationale. In Toby’s review another group, the Johnson–Forest Tendency appears to have influenced Negri – as indeed it did SouB.
We turned to the thorny issue of actual real violence.
It is worth citing this section from Toby’s earlier What Next Article, The Professor in the Balaclava: Toni Negri and Autonomist Politics. (2002)
The two concrete instances he gives of Negri inciting others to commit criminal acts on his behalf have a definite ring of truth; they are precisely the sorts of crime one can imagine amoral academics engaging in. Firstly, when Negri lived in Milan, he used to send the young autonomi he regularly received in his house out to the nearest bookshop to steal all the books that interested him. Secondly, and rather more seriously, he asserted his power in Padua University by getting his “reactionary” colleagues kneecapped, and then used to theorise in his usual jargon-ridden style that “the levels of the use of force of counter-power have been exemplified by the punishment of teachers who are particularly zealous in anti-proletarian initiatives: Galante, Santo, etc”.30
Somebody who behaved like this was not fit to hold a university post in Italy or any other country. Anybody who thinks that having your colleagues kneecapped by hit squads in balaclavas can be placed on a par with, for instance, Robin Blackburn offering verbal support to some students who tore down gates at the LSE in 1969, has lost contact with the real world. Autonomia may not have been a fully-fledged terrorist organisation like the BR or Primea Linea, but it was renowned for its systematic thuggery and intimidation. Professor Negri was far too busy writing to have ordered all the actions carried out by these half-educated young thugs whom he regarded as superior to the organised working class, but he dictated the general line.
Then there is this:
Negri led a double life, at least until his arrest in April 1979, but even in recent years there is a rather unnerving compartmentalisation or dissociation that marks his life and work, and perhaps helps to explain how a man who felt no compunction about leaving his long-time comrades and loyal disciples to face lengthy prison sentences in Italy whilst he lived it up in Paris can now have the sheer effrontery to present himself as a revolutionary theoretician for the new century and babble about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist”, as he puts it in the final words of Empire.
Now it’s worth noting, and we discussed this, that I personally was involved with a year-long (circa 1985) study group in Paris of about 7 people in which Negri was an important member. This circle, Dissensus, debated the new forms of market ideology that were gripping Europe and turning social democracy rightwards in the 1980s. was a spin-off from a larger club formed by Negri’s close friend, Félix Guattari , under the name of Papageno, itself part of the body with the title of a joint Gauttari-Negri book, Les Nouveaux espaces de liberté.
In my experience Negri was open-minded, wore his status lightly, was interested in serious discussion of left theory and practice in the wake of the rise of neo-liberalism and the failures of post-68 lefts. In post-meeting cheap meals and drinks in the Quartier Latin he would chat with others as equals. The only thing that stood out was his absolute undying hatred of the Italian magistratura (the magistrates), which was not exactly surprising.
Having read a number of Negri’s books, beginning with the one cited above, and continuing with (in French) Marx au-delà de Marx, to Empire, and the debate on this joint work with Michael Hardt), and beyond (see Wikipedia for more), right up to the writings and discussion in the on-line journal Multitudes, I dissent from Toby’s considered judgement that they are, with a few exceptions in his earlier autonomist attempts to reach out with some kind of practice to working class movements, utterly worthless tripe.
The Tendance does, nevertheless, adhere to Negrism, nor, in particular to spiritual babble, which in our discussion I considered to result from Negri’s debt to Christian phrase-mongering, about the ‘lightness’ of being a communist.
As I hope everybody else is, I am disgusted by academics’ efforts (which would include other academics, notably Alain Badiou) to refuse to own up to the violent consequences of their rhetoric.
Toni Negri, ‘Storia di un comunista’, Milan, 2015, pp 608, €18, reviewed by Toby Abse.
Toni Negri’s 608-page autobiography is a predictably strange, and in places virtually unreadable, document.1 The 82-year-old author is rumoured to be in declining health and is certainly obsessed by death (particularly pp9-15). He seems to have been assisted in unspecified respects by a named editor – Girolamo De Michele, a 54-year-old philosopher and novelist, who, as far as I am aware, has no particular connection with Negri’s autonomist circles.
This summarises the editing faults of the present work.
Given the vast number of both academic authors and political activists referred to in the course of this somewhat prolix text, it is a great pity that it has no index at all – not even the usual Italian Indice dei nomi (index of names). One would hope that, if an English-language edition ever appears, there might be some attempt to remedy this, in line with the editorial apparatus that seems to have been attached to the English-language versions of his earlier autobiographical works referred to below.
Whilst the overall structure of the work is conventional, leading from Negri’s birth in 1933 to his famous arrest on April 7 1979, with only very occasional and very brief references to the rest of his life, such as his friendly chats in prison with “the comrades of the Red Brigades” (pp476-77), the chronological flow is frequently interrupted by very lengthy summaries of the many books and articles that he wrote at various points in his first 45 years, including his tesi di laurea (final-year undergraduate dissertation).
I am not familiar with Italian publishing but I can say that this kind of sloppy editing is far from unknown in French books of a similar genre.
This is particularly important,
Negri himself first entered politics not as a socialist or a communist, which would have been the logical outcome of his family background as he chooses to present it, but in the Gioventu Italiana di Azione Cattolica and various Catholic youth and student organisations linked to the Christian Democracy (DC). Whilst the trauma of his brother’s death might have explained a totally apolitical turn towards detached scholarship, it does not account for Negri’s actual path of deep involvement with the DC – the overwhelmingly dominant political force in the Veneto during the 1950s – whose student affiliates, in which Negri played such a prominent role would generally have been stepping stones to a parliamentary career in the DC.
Negri now claims to have joined the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) in October 1956 (p128),5 although he does not claim to have been very active in the PSI until 1959, when he was elected to Padua’s municipal council, showing none of his later total abhorrence for any involvement in electoral politics. Negri claims that he lost his religious faith some time before abandoning Catholic student politics. He then sought, and succeeded in gaining a permanent university post at a very early age – as he puts it, “The Paduan chair is prestigious and Toni has conquered it early: he is the youngest Italian professor and he is good – friends and enemies recognise it” (p275). He consciously cultivated friendly relations with powerful academics and displayed no leftist inclinations whatsoever, so it seems reasonable to characterise the young Negri as an extremely ambitious opportunist and careerist rather than a ‘communist’ in any sense of that word.
Whilst Negri rapidly moved left after 1960, becoming involved with far-left journals – first Renato Panzieri’s Quaderni Rossi(Red Notebooks) and then Mario Tronti’s Class Operaia(Working Class) – even by his own accounts he seems always to have lived a strange double life right up to his arrest in 1979. He completely dominated the Institute of Political Science at Padua University, whose staff he filled with his own cronies in the manner of the classic Italian academic barone, whilst leading increasingly extreme political groups, which after 1969 were ever more deeply involved in illegal activities.
The contradictions of this double life have given rise to deep suspicion in some quarters – most notably on the part of the British journalist, Philip Willan, who suggests some link with both the Italian and American intelligence services.6 Willan infers that Negri’s intense hostility towards the PCI would have served the interests of the CIA during the 1970s. Negri’s book has very little to say about any American links – with the obvious exception of small groups that had emerged out of CLR James’s ‘Johnson-Forrest tendency’, whose ideological influence on early operaismo (workerism) has long been known.
Whilst one could put a sinister construction on Negri’s presence in autumn 1960 at an Italian conference organised by the Rockefeller Foundation, immediately after his return from a journey to the Soviet Union with some members of the PCI and PSI leftwingers, it seems much more likely this was pure academic careerism.
Whether there were links or not is unlikely ever to be clarified, and like so many murky features of Italian political life remains an intriguing though fruitless speculation.
This is of wider more directly political interest,
However, whatever praise has to be accorded to Negri’s tireless activity in the 1960s, his political role in the 1970s as the main leader of, first, Potere Operaio (1969-73) and then Autonomia Operaia (1973-79) were completely destructive in terms of the far left, let alone the general interests of the working class as a whole. Neither group would ever engage in electoral work of any kind, whether at the municipal or parliamentary level, and they increasingly moved away from mass action, as it might be generally envisaged in terms of strikes, workplace occupations or peaceful demonstrations, towards the advocacy of some form of armed or insurrectionary action without anything approaching majority support in the working class. Potere Operaio resembled the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) or the more putschist elements of the early Communist Party of Germany (KPD) involved in episodes like the March Action of 1921, whilst Autonomia was much closer to Bakunin, with its cult of rather pointless, almost random violence and idolisation of the lumpenproletariat.
Given the way Negri, in the mid-1970s abandoned the somewhat obsessively factory-based politics of operaismo for nebulous rhetoric about the ‘social factory’ and the operaio sociale (a phrase that is best not translated as ‘social worker’, as some rather farcical Anglophone accounts have done in the past), the poisonous venom with which he still writes about the groups that rejected hard-line operaismo in favour of a more community-based approach and became Lotta Continua in 1969 is astonishing.8 Discussing Lotta Continua or its predecessors, first he writes of “a populist tendency of Catholic and socialist origin” (p357) and then he polemicises even more viciously: “I had undervalued the presence in the coalition around Sofri at Turin of a profoundly anti-Marxist animus that was descended from a still deeper anti-communist tension of Catholic or socialist origin” (p357). Given his own dubious Christian Democratic political past, the sheer chutzpah of this attack on Lotta Continua beggars belief.
This religious legacy may rankle with some Negri’s supporters.But as somebody all too familiar with Catholic references – not just from the French left (which has its social catholic wing) but from direct acquaintance with Italian leftists from the very background just mentioned, it is a clear as day in Negri’s own writings.
Perhaps it is why he attacks Lotta Continua with some vigour. His own debt to this way of thought, studing his writings with its imagery, is hard to ignore. And not just through the references to Saint Francis. Me, I liked Roberto Rossellini’s Francesco, giullare di Dio, though find it rather fey. Fey is the right word for a lot of Negri’s slogans, which tend to disguise and distract from an otherwise serious analysis.
A critical balance-sheet of the Autonomist movement and those years – and there are many, and of these politics and theories, and there are many – has tended to be submerged in an uncritical celebration which began with the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, and no doubt continues in those quarters now in need of inspiration as their own ‘moment’ fades into historical obscurity.
Negri’s enduring narcissism and total lack of any self-awareness is best exemplified in his grandiose explanation of his own leadership role in Potere Operaio:
Why did I agree not only to construct Potere Operaio, but to be its secretary? I believe through a sort of ‘ethic of service’, through a strange lack of arrogance – very far distant from the presumed arrogance that they will attribute to me later on. I was 36, the others at most 25 … I had studied so much, the others who were much younger much less … I had studied a lot, always in an interdisciplinary manner, doing theory in the American manner – a little philosophy, much history, a fair amount of Marxism and political economy, a lot of political science, enough law. Moreover, I had behind me a university institute that could sustain a good part of the theoretical work that Potere Operaio required (p375).
One cannot imagine even the SWP’s ‘Red Professor’, Alex Callinicos – not a modest man by many accounts – making quite such hyperbolic claims.
Then again there is this,
When he indulges yet again in his now habitual rant against his colleague at Padua, professor Angelo Ventura, for having assisted the prosecutor and the Digos (special branch) to build a case against him in 1979 (p589), he refuses to acknowledge the kneecapping inflicted upon Ventura by the Paduan autonomi – presumably his students wearing the balaclavas he found so entrancing10 – in 1979. It would be hard to dodge any responsibility for it, given the way he ruled the roost in the university – doubtless what was really meant by “the objective is always singular and transparent”.
The article – which has to be read in full – in the Weekly Worker, written by an activist and intellectual who knows the subject inside out, comes highly recommended
See again here.
Further Note: a failure to acknowledge responsibility for the thuggery of your own thuggish student followers are also a feature of Alain Badiou’s career, ”
Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.
At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.
The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.
Negri, in contrast to Badiou, has never been a supporter of the Khmer Rouge and an uncritical admirer of the Great Cultural Revolution as one of the Communist Invariants.
Letters the Weekly Worker Dare not publish.
Defend Lindsey German and John Rees!
The attacks in the Weekly Worker against the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) must cease. The bourgeois onslaught against the anti-imperialist Iranian Republic is nothing but a cover for attacks on the anti-Zionist credentials of Jeremy Corbyn. As I have stated at my ward meeting of Brighton Labour Party, Cds Rees and German were right to refuse to affiliate the so-called Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) to the StWC. Had this happened it would have meant a de facto alliance with the worst elements of bourgeois chauvinist Nick Cohenite Eustonism.
Tony Vertespierre. Brighton.
We pledge our undying allegiance to the Caliphate. Death to the Kufur!
John T. Mark Anthony Smith, Momentum.
Liquidation of the Remnants of the Bukharin-Trotsky Gang of Spies, Wreckers and Traitors to the County.
The Trotskyite rabble, clutching their so-called Transitional Programme to their flaccid chests, are sabotaging the long and glorious road of the remarkable victories of the Baath Party in Syria.
Free from opportunism, irreconcilable towards the capitulators, and revolutionary in its attitude, Baathism is proceeding to a decisive triumph. Comrade Assad, the genius of the Syrian revolution, has nevertheless, perforce, received snivelling criticism by the so-called Trotsky human rights supporters, i.e. alien, wrecking and spying elements.
In a circular letter to all organisations dated December the 22nd 2015, on the subject of the registration, safekeeping and issuance of Party cards, the CPGB (Provisional Central Committee) it is stated that we must ensure the careful verification of the records of all Party members to ensure “Bolshevik order in our own Party home”.
As cde Mohammed Ali has said, “You looking at me, you spineless Trotskyite?”
John Wiight. Planet Venus.
The English republic of Southwark and Bermondsey, South Londoners Against the Corn Laws, must protest against the recent statements made by the Fourth International. James Connelly would have blessed himself with holy water to hear the carping views of Liam on the Thanksgiving Uprising. Did not Cromwell teach the Irish the lessons of socialist republicanism? The Fourth International and Left Unity should rename themselves socialist republicans forthwith.
Steve Freedman. Old Southwark.
The Walmington-on-Sea Workers’ Militia is appalled to learn that the People’s Assembly blocked all discussion of the arming of the proletariat at its recent conference.
Our battalion has been in training since the PA called for action against a possible Tory Coup last summer. We remain on high alert in view of coming referendum on Europe.
My men are as keen as mustard: ready to go to fight Jerry.
Plus and minus are dialectically related. Sometimes two plus two equals five.
O’Brien. Airstrip One.
Dear Weakly so-called Worker.
You are stinking poos and mingy moos.
Socialism in one Bedroom.
Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought: Aravindan Balakrishnan “Abused and Raped Followers” Court is Told.
Thanks Sarah Jones.
Guardian: Brixton commune leader locked up daughter and raped acolytes, jury told. Court hears Aravindan Balakrishman, 75, mounted campaign of ‘debilitating mental and physical violence’ against the women in his collective
Aravindan Balakrishnan: Court hears Maoist cult leader ‘raped female followers and imprisoned daughter for 30 years’
A charismatic Maoist revolutionary raped female followers and imprisoned his own daughter for 30 years after brainwashing them into believing he was an all-powerful and all-seeing leader, a court heard today.
Aravindan Balakrishnan, 75, ruled over a dwindling band of women supporters in his south London communist collective using threats and violence as he pursued his goal of overthrowing the “fascist state”, jurors were told.
His daughter – whose mother was another member of the collective – was beaten, bullied and rarely left the house with Mr Balakrishnan using her fear of the outside world to terrify her into submission, Southwark Crown Court heard.
She never went to school, played with a friend or saw a doctor during her childhood and the power that he held over her meant that she could not leave for the first three decades of her life, said Rosina Cottage QC, counsel for the prosecution. By the time that she left, she was ill with diabetes.
“She was hidden from the outside world, and it kept from her, except as a tool with which to terrify her into subjugation,” said Ms Cottage, opening the case for the prosecution.
“Her freedom of movement was restrained to the extent that even though she could have left physically, the power that the defendant exercised over her meant that she could never leave.”
Mr Balakrishnan, a charismatic and energetic speaker, was the organiser of a communist group in the 1970s based in Brixton, known as the Workers Institute, the court heard.
He is accused of raping and indecently assaulting two women members of the group, including one who was allegedly attacked seven times over a period of about 12 years from 1980.
“This case concerns the brutal and calculated manipulation by one man to subjugate women under his control,” said Ms Cottage. He bent them to his will using mental and physical dominance, violence and sexual degradation, she said.
The two victims of rape stayed in the collective too frightened to leave and hating to stay, said Ms Cottage. “They were forced into sexual acts over which they had no choice and were deliberately degrading and humiliating. He seemed to exult in his power over them.”
Background: Lambeth slavery case.
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: PETALING JAYA: As more is revealed about the activities of the cult-like group in Lambeth now being investigated for holding three women in slavery, other far-left groups in the UK remain bemused about what happened.
In the 1960s and 1970s, parties to the left of the Labour Party of UK Prime Minister Harold Wildon became increasingly disenchanted with his soft socialist approach.
They became heavily radicalised and also underwent many internal splits.
Larger groups of the time included the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain and a number of Trotskyist movements like Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Ted Grant’s group that eventually became the Militant tendency within the Labour Party).
However the tiny group led by Aravindan Balakrishnan (better known as Comrade Bala) was itself a radical splinter party of the Communist Party of England Marxist Leninist [CPB-ML) that was an oddity even within far left circles. Indeed his Workers Institute offshoot was described as “the most lunatic fringe of the lunatic fringe” by the London Times in the late 1970s.
Dr Paul Flewers first came across the Workers Institute group in the late 1970s. Now an independent Marxist he was then a supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Tendency, later the Revolutionary Communist Party, which is now defunct. He recalls competing for customers as they distributed rival paper newspapers and leaflets in Brixton.
“The WI was very hostile to other left groups. It had been banned from attending other groups’ meetings because of its disruptive activities (disobeying the chairman, shouting out and interrupting speakers, etc).” said Flewers in an email interview.
“We didn’t talk about brainwashing or abuse, we just wondered how people could genuinely believe its policies, which, when compared to even the most bizarre statements from left-wingers over the decades, were about the weirdest anyone had ever seen!”
“People do follow charismatic leaders, a person who can express with ease and confidence the overall view of the group to which one is attracted to. Even intelligent people can end up accepting illogical things if they are part of a broad package that they generally accept.”
“There often comes a time when something makes a person think that this or that aspect of the group’s policies or behaviour isn’t quite right; then the leader’s charisma looks less convincing, he now seems less omniscient. Group loyalists start to look as if they have stopped thinking creatively and merely accept by rote what the party leader and leadership declare.”
Like most others, Flewers recalls some major flaws in WI’s ideology, calling it “totally unreal, with no relationship with reality. Britain was a ‘fascist’ state in its eyes. China was going to liberate the UK from this by means of the People’s Liberation Army, China had indeed secretly established the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain — so the workers really ruled (if in secret) in a fascist state! Completely mad!
As more and more people deserted the group, particularly after a police raid on party premises in 1978, it eventually descended into more of a cult controlled by Comrade Bala and his wife.
“The WI’s offices were raided by the police. This sort of thing is a very rare occurrence in Britain, and I suspect that Comrade Bala, paranoid to start with, saw this as the start of a general clampdown so he and his depleted ranks went underground. The British police state actually existed in Comrade Bala’s mind.”
“They suddenly disappeared. After the early 1980s, there was not the slightest sign of them. I think that the two older women in this current case went voluntarily with Mr and Mrs Comrade Bala into clandestinity.”
“Eventually, despite being kept indoors with only limited contact with the outside world, these two women would begin to doubt Comrade Bala’s ideas about Britain as a fascist police state and along with a general feel that they’d like to get out, they finally decided to break with him. The younger woman, born, raised and educated in clandestinity, could see that there was a better life outside which she was being denied.
While familiar with the group by sight then Flewers did not know their names and can only affirm that most of Comrade Bala’s followers were women of Asian descent.
It has to be said that both the SWP and the WRP have also had their own scandals relating to allegations of abuse. Earlier this year, members of the SWP accused the party of covering up rapes and sexual assault by referring them to the party’s own committee which allegedly let offenders offer lightly.
Flewers adds “The Healy group — Socialist Labour League, becoming the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974 — was also very paranoid about state interference and surveillance; it was very intolerable of internal dissent; Healy was exposed as an abuser of his membership, physically assaulting members at times, sexually abusing female members as well!”
Meanwhile Socialist historian Keith Flett in a blog post commented on the broader effect that the slavery case might have on the small British Maoist community. “British Maoism is getting bad press, which considering how few adherents it had even at its peak is quite an achievement. Of course part of that is the media trying to conflate Maoism with anyone much to the left of Blair.”
“British Maoists like Reg Birch, an engineering union official who founded the first UK Maoist organisation the Communist Party of Britain Marxist Leninist, were largely good activists in trade unions and the wider move.” said Flett, characterising British Maoists as mostly good comrades and mostly harmless.
A poster Grim and Dim recalls Comrade Bala’s group somewhat amusingly. “I well remember the Workers Institute from the 70s. Their main slogan was “Did tunnels deep, store grain and never seek hegemony”. It didn’t seem terrible relevant in 1970s London (though it was rumoured one of their members worked on the tube. I am mystified by claims that they had 20+ members – we always reckoned there were three of them!”
This is more horrific than we thought.
All our concern and love to those seeking justice.
Glucksmann’s death was the first item on France Inter this morning.
Agence France Presse states,
Paris, France: French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, who rose to fame in the 1970s after supporting the Vietnamese boat people, has died at the age of 78, his son said today.
Coming to prominence in the glory days of French intellectual thought in the 1960s, Glucksmann, who died late Monday, famously broke with his Marxist peers and became increasingly right-wing in later years.
In 1979, he rallied the support of fellow philosophers including Jean-Paul Sartre to the cause of the Vietnamese who were fleeing the war in that country.
He later supported US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lobbied on behalf of Chechen Muslims during their civil war with the Russian government in the 1990s.
“My first and best friend is no more,” wrote Raphael Glucksmann on Facebook.
“I had the incredible chance to know, laugh, debate, travel, play, do everything and nothing with such a good and excellent man.”
This is an excellent, short but important, written, aural, and video, dossier on my favourite Radio Station, France Culture: Mort du philosophe André Glucksmann.
And here: Réécoutez André Glucksmann dans “A voix nue”.
In his student and academic youth André Glucksmann was associated with the left.His Discours de la guerre, théorie et stratégie (1967) and Stratégie et Révolution en France (1968) were translated into English and published in New Left Review.The first was an extended look at, amongst other aspects, classical military strategists, the second was a revolutionary Marxist call and skeleton programme for the French left to take power.
Not an orthodox ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Glucksmann was an active ‘general’ in the, Mao-Spontex’ Gauche Prolétarienne. After a dispute, in which he took the view that their campaign for “popular justice” in the Affaire de Bruay-en-Artoi (1972-3) was degenerating towards calls for a public lynching. He and other critics were dismissed as “vipers”. Glucksman distanced himself from the group, which dissolved in 1973.
For most people he will be remembered for the two books he published shortly afterwards, La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d’Hommes – Réflexions sur l’État, le marxisme et les camps de concentration (1975), and Les Maîtres penseurs (1977).
They expressed a fierce critique of Marxism, strongly influenced by the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It asserted that Marx has always despised the peasantry and the “plèbe” – the popular masses. The Gulag was a vast disciplinary machine to punish and reform, to break down the people.
The second, taking up a theme from the La Cuisinière, claimed that Lenin’s wish that every Cook could run the State was a disguise for a Marxist will to take control over all aspects of people’s lives. This drive for Mastery, Glucksmann alleged, was the real message of Marxism – not a desire for freedom, but a Will to control. Marx’s categories tried to encompass the world in their “general illumination” and ended up deforming it, Marx, he asserted, loathed the anarchy of the market not because it was wrapped in exploitation, but because it was “anarchy”. All Marxist regimes, he considered, had and would become nationalist, exclusive, intolerant, and murderous, in order to dominate the lives of the masses.
With these publications Glucksmann, as a critic of Marxism, became, along with Bernard-Henri Lévy, an ubiquitous public figure as one of the late 1970s group of ‘anti-totalitarian’ publicists, promoted as the Nouveaux philosophes. They extended their attacks from the Gulag to French politics. Nouveaux philosophes were active, as part of a wider “anti-totalitarian front”. They warned of the threat of the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français (PCF)), coming to power as part of the left coalition, the Union de la gauche – 1972 – 1977. Glucksmann’s anti-left fervour did not quickly die down. In 1981 he still feared a possible Communist influence on the Parti Socialiste and backed the independent liberal rightist candidate Marie-France Garaud against François Mitterrand in the 1981 Presidential election. She received 1,33 % of the vote. Mitterrand’s first government (1981 – 1984), headed by Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, drew on 4 Communist Ministers. Not many noticed the first signs of the Gulag.
Subsequent books failed to have the same resonance. They include Descartes c’est la France (1987), an essay on the Cartesian influence on French thought and culture, Cynisme et passion (1999), a free-ranging discussion of political feeling in democratic politics, Le Discours de la haine (2004), which took up, war, terrorism, religion, and ethnic conflict. More books, collections of journalism, and polemics, and earnest appeals to those in the Élysée followed.
In 1986 Guy Hocquenghen placed Glucksmann amongst a list of “renegades” from the left, above all ex-Maoists..He noted, Ma génération n’a connu qu’un seul type d’intello : l’intello flatteur du Prince.” My generation has known only one type of intellectual: the Price’s toady.” (Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passés du col Mao au Rotary)
Glucksmann was indeed better known as a media-intellectual aspiring to political influence than a writer or a philosopher.
Perhaps one of Glucksman’s best known moments was in 1979, when with Jean-Paul Sartre et Raymond Aron he helped organised support for refugees, the boat-people, from Communist Vietnam. Known as ‘Un bateau pour le Vietnam’ the centre-right president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing received their requests and acted upon them.
By the 1980s Glucksmann became one of the best-known figures in the drive for “humanitarian interventions”.
Glucksmann supported military action by the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was highly critical of Russian foreign policy, supporting for example Chechen independence.
He, however, was against the Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence from Georgia, arguing that Georgia is essential to maintaining European Union “energy independence,” vis-a-vis Russia, through access to oil and gas reserves in the former Soviet republics: “If Tbilisi falls, there will be no way to get around Gazprom and guarantee autonomous access to the gas and petroleum wealth of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan” . As proof of Russia’s plans to use energy blackmail, Glucksmann referenced a biting anti-Gazprom satirical song performed at the annual satirical award show “Silver Rubber Boot”, which made jokes like: If the Eurovision Song Contest denies victory to Russia again, we are going to drive to their concert and block their gas with our bodies!. Glucksmann described this song as proof that the Russian people want to cut off gas to Ukraine and Europe. He wrote: Consider a popular song performed by a military choir in Moscow. Its chorus depicts the “radiant future” that Gazprom is preparing: “Europe has a problem with us? We will cut off its gas… The Russian public loves the song.”
Glucksmann’s son, Raphaël Glucksmann is married to Eka Zguladze, is a Georgian and Ukrainian government official, currently serving as First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the position she assumed on 17 December 2014. She had served as Georgia’s First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from 2006 to 2012 and Acting Minister of Internal Affairs in 2012.
In 2007 Glucksman supported Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidential candidature. In Pourquoi je choisis Nicolas Sarkozy (2007), he cited the candidate’s backing for the Chechens and declared that Sarkozy represented the France of the “heart” (cœur).
He fell out with Sarkozy over the President’s apparently insufficient opposition to Russia’s President Poutin.
We dedicate this video to the memory of André Glucksmann.
New Workers Power’s Guru: Michel Pablo.
Extensive investigations by the Tendance Coatesy Central Committee have revealed the startling truth about Workers Power’s “Corbyn Turn”: dissolving and joining the Labour Party en masse (insofar as they are anything like a mass).
The erstwhile steel-hardened Trotksyist anti-liquidationists have taken a leaf out of Comrade Michel Pablo’s book and adopted “entrism sui generi., otherwise known as “deep entrism”.
“In entryism sui generis (“of a special type”), Trotskyists, for example, do not openly argue for the building of a Trotskyist party. “Deep entryism” refers to the long duration.”
Pablo, Michel Raptis, is best known for advocating this line, “To gain influence, win members and avoid becoming small sectarian cliques just talking to each other, the Trotskyists should — where possible — join, or in Trotskyist terminology enter, the mass Communist or Social Democratic (Labour) parties. This was known as entrism sui generis or long-term entry. It was understood by all that the FI would retain its political identity, and its own press.
This study, Christophe Nick, Les Trotskistes, (2002) contains all you need to know on the subject of entrism – the French Trotksyists make the British ones look like hopeless amateurs.
It is to be expected that internationalists like Workers Power have read and absorbed its message.
Review: Les Trotskistes. Revolutionary History
… its main theme is entrism (particularly Chapter 6, pp218-64), and the book’s very first words are that ‘the Trotskyists are everywhere’. Trotskyists, apparently, ‘identify themselves with the mole, and venerate this animal’ (p12), and ‘entrism is a technique peculiar to the Trotskyists, a case unique in the annals of politics, an ethnological curiosity’ (p217)
Chapter 6 of the estimable study, Cde Al Richardson suggests of some of the book, contains “much of real value“.
It recounts for example the case when one Trotkyist group (the ‘Lambertists’) set up an entrist current (the Ligue communiste internationaliste LCI, led by Daniel Gluckstein), inside another Ligue communiste révolutionnaire. It exited and fused with its parent as the Parti communiste internationaliste in 1981 .
Please ask for more information on ‘Lambertism‘ (and its present split)- it’s a hoot! (1)
Ian Birchall has written elsewhere that the next study by the Christophe Nick might be on the Rosicrucians.
Which makes him an even more appropriate strategic guide for Workers Power preparing for perhaps centuries of underground work inside the Labour Party.
Particularly in view of the fact that they have attracted this kind of debate (Thanks NN).
Exclusive: from Workers Power factional history (which is we emphasise for the unwary, is meant to be ‘satire’ – just).
Who Are Proletarian Democracy? A Historico-Theoretical Special
Posted on October 9, 2012
In spite of the strong liquidationist tendencies within a substratum of semi-Stalinist circles in and around Workers’ Power’s CC in the 1980s, Mark Hoskisson was productively correct to assert that Trotsky, had he lived to 1945 to see a nuclear bomb in action, would have revised his statements denouncing nuclear physics and nuclear weapons:
“Now with the reality of the boom, only an idiot or perhaps a charlatan like Gerry Healy, would describe Trotsky’s categorical declaration as correct. However we reject the idea that Trotsky’s error stems from an objectivist and fatalist methodology on his part. This charge, levelled at him by theoretical cheapskates like John Molyneaux – does not stand up for one minute.” – (Workers’ Power Theoretical Journal of Workers’ Power- no9).
BOURGEOIS MILIEU TO ITS CORE
Hoskisson is only partially correct to suggest “Had Trotsky’s epigones re-elaborated his programme in the 1950s many of the difficulties we face today would not exist.” The contradictory containment of post-war Trotskyism within the methodological confines of identary post-manufactured retopianism would have marked a bourgeois milieu to its very core even in the 1950s, hence Hoskisson would be wrong.
Although Paul Mason is now an erstwhile counter-Proletarian Democrat on Newsnight, his contribution to Workers’ Power as it was then, was insightful:
“Soviet power in reality had been enough to drive the Mensheviks into the camp of the bourgeoisie, to make centrists like Kautsky opt decisively for bourgeois-democratic counter-revolution. Conversely it had raised the political sights of the best syndicalist and anarchist militants who had hitherto rejected both the party and state power, by embodying in deeds the revolutionary essence of these words.” – (Workers’ Power Theoretical Journal of Workers’ Power- no9).
It remains our aim to drive Mensheviks such as the IRSP, Eirigi, the ICC, the SSP and the various sordid sub-party groupings around the journals ‘The Commune’, ‘Battaglia Comunista’, ‘Good Housekeeping’ and Lauren Laverne’s columns in Grazia into the camp of the bourgeoisie. We are as committed as ever to make centrists like Owen Jones and Caitlin Moran opt decisively for counter-revolution. And, we will, in time, make the best syndicalist and anarchist militants embody in deeds both party and state. The worst syndicalist and anarchist militants naturally will face a workers’ girder.
THE ‘MACE’ IN PAUL MASON
The crucial point: we were the ‘mace’ in Paul Mason’s words. We did what he preached, and began taking action to make the bourgeoisie crack from within. We knew better than to openly discuss our factionalisation in front of the WP CC, and to openly digress from their characterisation of the Labour Party as a bourgeois workers’ party would have been foolish. We knew they would never condone or support militant action and might even have acted as informers – so we acted in secret, in private.
Anybody who’d been comrades with that lot will be probably end up in Progress – out of sheer relief.
(1) See latest summary: Longue scission au CCI/POI : et maintenant ? (5th September 2015).