Posts Tagged ‘Marxism’
Ipswich Workers’ Militia: Ready for the ‘Actuality of the Revolution’.
“The actuality of the revolution: this is the core of Lenin’s thought and his decisive link with Marx. For historical materialism as the conceptual expression of the proletariat’s struggle for liberation could only be conceived and formulated theoretically when revolution was already on the historical agenda as a practical reality; when, in the misery of the proletariat, in Marx’s words, was to be seen not only the misery itself but also the revolutionary element ‘which will bring down the old order’.”
Counterfire publishes this:
While thousands across the country have been attending rallies for Corbyn, and while the Labour establishment is in unprecedented disarray, some “thoughtful” and prominent former supporters of Corbyn have succumbed to self doubt and pessimism. This article will argue that the arguments they use reflect a way of thinking that has – throughout the last century – meant that many movements with the objective strength to defeat the right have floundered and failed. We will call this way of thinking vertigo and we will show how the great Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs identified the cure for vertigo at the heart of Lenin’s thought.
In Corbyn: momentum meets vertigo Counterfire’s Dave Moyles has no doubt that the main problem of the left is those infected by “doubt and pessimism”.
Standing on the ledge of a great peak, they look at the abyss beneath and not upwards to the heavens.
The fears driving them can be easily summarised:
The waverers typically make two key points. First that when they backed Corbyn for leader last year they never expected him to win, but rather to “shift the terms of debate”.
Second, now that he has won, they argue, we are teetering on the edge of a precipice. The wave of enthusiasm could easily turn to despair. Just as defeat of Michael Foot laid the groundwork for Tony Blair (in a very telescoped, teleological view of history) so will this success be followed by defeat that could see the whole left destroyed. And the cliff on which we are standing is crumbling in the face of attacks from the media, the PLP and the Tories. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Take courage comrades! Look, he asks us, at the Russian Revolution! Or just The Revolution.
The Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs identified the cure to vertigo as the core uniting principle behind Lenin’s thought: the actuality of the revolution.
…seen from the perspective of the actuality of the revolution, the question is how do we maximise the level of political organisation, confidence and radicalism across the mass of ordinary people; how do we turn what has traditionally been the second party of British capitalism into a transformative force; how do we weaken the power of the British state to resist this movement. Then the answer is very clearly Corbyn – and the mass rallies, mass membership, organisation of resistance to the PLP that is going on as part of the Corbyn movement. Then a question like Scotland is easy to answer – don’t be so blinkered as to worry about numbers in Westminster – the Scottish question is about fundamentally weakening the British state.
No need to worry about the bourgeois SNP….nationalism…
It’s all about the ‘state’.
Where to to now?
Counterfire is there to help sort things out..
Counterfire today argues for its members to be at the heart of the movements at the same time as focusing on the big picture – and we ask our members to discuss and debate the best strategy for these movements. Our website and our paper connect the struggle and point to a socialist strategy within them. But it is clear an organisation of the sort Lenin envisaged would have to be far bigger and incorporate many activists who today are part of no organisation – as well as some who are currently part of other organisations. We will need this if the energy and desire for change captured by the Corbyn movement is going to be able to keep rising and achieve real transformative change.
Lukacs and Lenin teach us to be more ambitious – we should be storming the gates of heaven.
Counterfire’s long-standing strategic faults are laid bare in this lyrical article.
They have a common source, Lenin as read through Lukács.
Not just Moyles but their leader Rees has written that we need to grasp “the laws of historical development; to detect the part in the whole and the whole in the part; to find in historical necessity the moment of activity and in activity the connection with historical necessity.” (1)
This approach means that in every “concrete analysis of the concrete situation” one can trace the operation of an inexorable dialectic. Inside of which a revolution is about to burst reality asunder.
Rees has something in common with John Holloway’s views in Crack Capitalism (2010), that capitalism produces an endless series of ‘cracks’ in which revolutionary sparks fly.
The major difference is while Holloway is only too glad to let every sparkle shed its own light, Rees considers that it is the task of the Revolutionary Party/Network to gather them up. It is a kind of filter that collects together all the rational elements of revolt, binds them together, and hurls them against capitalism. It is the fuse that once lit enables the working class to become the ” absolute subject-object of history.”
It is, in short, a practical-theoretical embodiment of class consciousness.
Behind this is a fundamentally awry take on Marxism.
Whatever the merits of Rees’s magnum opus on dialectics, and his analysis of Lukács, from Lenin to History and Class Consciousness, the application of the ‘dialectic’ is not only barely ‘mediated’ by politics, (or more crudely, reality) it is “expressive” at every moment.
Moyles expresses this to the point of caricature: from Corbyn Rally to Revolution it is but a step.
Can we dismiss the weight of right-wing ideology, nationalism, the views of the general public, the rightward drift across the whole of our Continent, the decades long hegemony of conservative ‘neo-liberal’ ideas affecting social democracy itself , the present Tory Government, the lack of actually existing successful example of economic alternatives to capitalism, not to mention the Fall of Official Communism, the failure of ‘anti-imperialism’, the power of Capital?
Are they all about the vanish faced with the cunning of Proletarian Reason?
That the revolution is both actual (in the English sense, real) and ‘actuel’, in the sense used in many European languages, present?
Does anybody else seriously believe that the present disputes in the Labour Party will end with Jeremy Corbyn heralding the Revolution?
That “an organisation of the sort Lenin envisaged” is about to emerge?
People involved with the, the People’s Assembly, the anti-austerity alliance dominated by Counterfire leadership, not to mention the Stop the War Coalition in which the same group is heavily involved, should perhaps be informed of how Rees, German and Moyles consider their role in creating this “organisation”.
And no doubt the ‘Corbyn movement’ as well.
Although given that Rees and mates, echoed in the dwindling People’s Assembly, have claimed that the Tories threatened a “coup” during the last General Election, that the Brexit vote was a great “opportunity” for the ‘left”, it’s unlikely that there are many people around who take this lot seriously.
(1) Counterfire’s Jon Rees outlines his highly individual account of Lukacs in The Algebra of Revolution. The Dialectics and the Classical Marxist Tradition. John Rees. Routledge 1998. See the indulgent review by Alex Callinicos The Secret of the Dialectic (1998).
(2) John Rees (Extracts) Strategy and Tactics: how the left can organise to transform society. Counterfire’s Site). 2010.
Back to the Beginning…..
We were always too incompetent and self-obsessed to do damage. The real threat comes from the Gramscian legions of the dull
“My main aim as a university revolutionary at York was (I now confess) to do down the rival International Marxist Group…The difference was emphasised by the names of our newspapers — ours was Socialist Worker, theirs was Red Mole. Our contest once led us both to seek recruits at the Kit Kat factory, where they distributed (I am not making this up) a special publication called The Chocolate Mole. “
Hitchens sternly warns,
And so the real revolution in the Labour party, which most of Fleet Street has never understood, was inflicted not by Trotskyists, but by the legions of the dull — Eurocommunists who realised Bolshevism was obsolete, quietly captured think tanks and policy committees, and used the apolitical figure of Tony Blair as the front for a Gramscian cultural, constitutional, educational and sexual revolution, whose greatest triumph was to capture the Tory party as well as the Labour party.
Hitchens may be right. Hhis brand of illiberalism (and sovereigntism, a trait he shared with many an erstwhile leftist, here across the Continent), “embracing equality and diversity, the unmarried family, globalism and open borders,” may risk disturbing “thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, (who) chew the cud and are silent.”
.Whether there was a Gramscian struggle for hegemony that resulted in the defeat of his traditionalists remains to be seen.
One recent event may indicate that these forces have not won…er Europe…..er…Referendum.
One would have thought Hitchens would have embraced the anti-European Leave campaign, and, perhaps in an ecumenical spirit, found himself glad to be on the same side as the his former comrades in the SWP, not to mention the Militant – Socialist Party in England and Wales, rallying, like UKIP and the Tory Right to defend “our” land against the Globe. He should surely be bathing in the joys of victory.
Review: Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. Yale University Press. 2016.
“..we are nowhere near being able to understand what is ‘said’ in the brain. We have no idea how any specific concept, label, grammatical rule, colour impression, orientations strategy, or gender association is actually coded.”
Guy Deutscher. 2010. (1)
Chris Knight (Wikipedia) prefaces Decoding Chomsky with a literary alienation effect. “When I first came across Chomsky’s scientific work, my initial reactions resembled those of an anthropologist attempting to fathom the beliefs of a previously unknown tribe.” This will immediately echo with many who have endured seminars on Transformational Grammar, complete with charts. More persistent than the average person Knight is resolved to grapple with the mysteries at work. “The doctrines encountered may seem absurd, but there are always compelling reasons why those particular doctrines are the ones people adhere to.” (Page ix)
Knight’s intentions in this study, he announces, are to “serve justice on Chomsky without doing an injustice to Chomsky the conscience of America.” (Page xii) Before plunging into this forensic critique of the career and concepts of one of the world’s most celebrated critics of US foreign policy, it should be made clear that author is a long-standing activist on the radical left. Chris is a founder of the leftwing socialist monthly Labour Briefing, the Radical Anthropology Group, and a contributor to the Weekly Worker, recently on humanity’s ‘communist’ pre-history (palaeoanthropology). His academic career has included studies of this aspect of ant, and has won him recognition far beyond these circles.
Decoding Chomsky challenges some of the fundamental assumptions of Chomsky’s ‘Linguistic Revolution’, the belief that linguistics is a “natural science” concerned with the underlying basis of all the world’s tongues. From a background in the sixties’ inspired radical movements that challenged academic authority, Knight remains sensitive to the inflated “scientism” of social ‘science’. Chomsky and his supporters’ claim that their linguistic “cognitive paradigm” has reached the status of a “natural science”, would appear, in this respect, to have gone beyond a claim to university power, to a degree of scientific Majesty that places it above studies of society.
This, not unexpectedly, has failed to impress Knight. As one of the very few people still promoting sixties radicalism against the Academy, his Decoding Chomsky challenges these claims. The voice of Authority, of the kind that the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “authorised language”, “ the kind you need when performing speech acts, such as declaring war, consecrating a church, naming a ship and so forth. “ (Page 164). Chomsky’s authority is a central target of the book’s critique. Knight traces it to a kind of evocation of ancestral power. In this respect one Bourdieu is an excellent frame of reference, from his analysis of symbolic power in the “discours d’importance”, “le discours magistral” founded on the “l’autorité universitaire et l’autorité politique” (2)
Questioning the ‘neutrality’ of ‘science’ remains an important radical objective. Recognising that he has no training in theoretical linguistics Knight considers that he is perfectly capable of studying “the Pentagon-funded war science community clustered around Chomsky in the formative period of his career” (Page ix) We might equally say that as language users, we are all qualified to offer some comment about one of the most fundamental aspects of our nature and existence.
A Political Critique from the Left.
The book brings together a numbers of these threads, in which Chomsky’s linguistic theories, and their critics play a significant part. But it would not be unfair to say that it is principally a political critique. Knight offers a sustained argument against the view that Chomsky’s work as a linguistic scientist can be separated (compartmentalised) from the military and state ties of the institution in which he worked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was not only competition for academic authority but also the political objectives of the latter that moulded, Knight argues, the way that Chomsky’s ‘linguistic revolution’ took on its most egregious ‘scientific’ aura.
Chomsky claims to separate rigorously his ‘scientific’ work from any political engagement. Knight puts this in the starkest terms. The campaigner against Imperial abuse built “a firewall between his science and his politics, keeping each compartment of his life autonomous with respect to the other. Being free to say what he liked meant ridding his linguistics of any evident social content or meaning, and by the same token purging his politics of any obvious connection with his science.” (Page 73)
Decoding Chomsky is not a critique of ‘scientific’ ‘Western’ rationality’ or science’s ‘grand narrative’ of the type we have become accustomed to since the days when postmodernism was popular. Knight, still echoing the earlier ‘radical’ critique of scientific neutrality popular in the English speaking world in the sixties and early seventies, is not concerned with the undermining the universalist pretensions of the episteme at work here, or uncovering how ‘power’ shaped the formal ‘rationality’ of Transformational Grammar.
Decoding Chomsky is about the institutional environment that Chomsky worked within. ”. It is impossible for one to say, “Science in one compartment, politics and life in another” when, we are informed bluntly, that, “Chomsky was working in a weapons research laboratory.” (Page 11)
Knight suggests that Chomsky the scientist, who cracked the basis of how languages work, were deeply implicated in the life of that experimental workroom, and conformed to the objectives the arms developers, the American war machine, set themselves. Generative Grammar (rules that predict, ‘generate’, an infinite number of sentences in a language and specify their structure) owed a debt to American information theorist and “scientific bureaucrat” Warren Weaver and his 1950s project, the construction of a Universal Language Machine.
This is a hard proposition to prove. Despite the fact that the linguist had no direct interest in the idea of ‘machine translation’ in which Weaver was involved in, Knight announces,
Chomsky’s Universal Grammar was a sophisticated refinement of the central idea behind Warren Weaver’s ‘New Tower of Babel’ project, which was designed to secure US state supremacy over ‘communism’ in the post-war world. (Page 104)
Decoding Chomsky offers a memorable parallel to this dream in the early Soviet visions of universal humanity, symbolised in the projected monument to the Third International, the Tatlin Tower. This, never built, construction, was to symbolise the unity of humankind. In an ambitious claim Knight links this to another, utopian, dream of linguistic unity, “restoring that pre-Babel language was a project not only permitted, but explicitly blessed by God. This idea exercised a profound influence on Russian shamanistic and mystical poetry – one that remained very much alive when, beginning with Russian and other Slavic tongues, the mystic Khlebnikov made it his mission to restore to all humanity its pre-Babel lost alphabet of sounds, unleashing enough mutual understanding to launch a revolution and establish heaven on Earth.”(Page 106)
There was a direct connection,
The suggestion that Khlebnikov was behind the startlingly beautiful Tatlin’s Tower seems likely on various grounds. Khlebnikov imagined himself ‘besieging’ immense ‘towers’, central among them the ‘tower of time’ Apart from the fact that Khlebnikov’s Moon–Earth–Sun motif was explicitly built into the ambitious project, we know that he himself was an intimate friend of the monument’s designer, the former sailor, Vladimir Tatlin. (Ibid)
For Knight, we takes an optimistic, not to say, romanticised view of the early years of the Russian Revolution, “Tatlin’s Tower, then, pointed to a future in which all had at last come together, science now inseparable from art, poetry from mathematics, music from engineering..” (Page 109)
Christ Knight remains enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution, a “seismic events”. But one might say that the awe such a vision inspires, a feeling of wonder at unlimited vistas, the “immensity” of the concept was never separate from the terror that went with this version of the revolutionary sublime.
Decoding Chomsky discovers ‘echoes’ from the Bolshevik Revolution, ‘sparks’ that lit the research programme that became Transformational Grammar. One linguist, who had direct connection to this period, and the ‘Formalists’ who studied the structures of “literariness”, and – thus (?), Futurist projects like the Tatlin Tower, was Roman Jakobson. Jakobson soon left the USSR, and eventually made his way to the United States just before the Second World War during which he was engaged in the fight against the Nazis. Jakobson, Knight observes, inspired Chomsky with his view that language was indeed a universal human property, but also logical and mathematical. But the artistic side of this heritage was submerged in more rigorously ‘scientific’ assumptions. Language was part of the human ‘digital machine’ – that is an object – or rather a rule generating apparatus – that could be studied with the methods of pure science. The Revolution was betrayed. The Chomyskan “Cartesian Paradigm” reflected a quite different agenda. Sponsored by the US military, it was one more top-down project to combat egalitarianism and communism, wrenching the mind from the body, divorcing heaven from Earth, and preventing that tower of Tatlin’s from ever reaching the sky. “(Page 209)
Knight even speculates that Chomsky was consciously promoted in the Cold War. Chomsky’s writings, from Syntactic Structures (1957) onwards, were part of a wider ideological campaign as the Cold War replaced the struggle against fascism. The military “supported” Chomsky’s campaign (Page 18). Chomsky was moblised against Marxism, against its unity of theory and practice,
“To destroy Marxism, therefore, it was necessary to strike at this point, shattering the all-important junction between theory and practice. Chomsky’s intellectual status, perceived moral integrity and impeccable left-wing credentials made him the perfect candidate for this job. “(Page 193) Science and life are distinct. ‘The search for theoretical understanding pursues its own paths, leading to a completely different picture of the world, which neither vindicates nor eliminates our ordinary ways of talking and thinking.” (Page 194)
Science and Language.
The picture in Decoding Chomsky of the Cold War genesis of Chomskyan linguistics, not to mention its role in efforts to destroy Marxism, is bound to be a controversial. Does Chomsky behave as he does, stridently defending the autonomy of ‘science’, because of his own past, and reluctance to confront the ties his professional work brought him? The claim will certainly be challenged. Less disputable is that Chomsky has separated ‘science’ from his directly political pronouncements.
Yet as vociferous as his claim to scientific rigour has been there is little sign of widespread acceptance of the principles he has developed. Chomsky’s ‘innate hypothesis’ of a mutation in human pre-history which gave us the “language organ”, equipped to generate meaningful speech is often seen as a leap of faith. We might doubt that even within its restricted field (ignoring that the implications of the theory strays into philosophy not to say, the ground of social theory), that a stable paradigm has ever been established. Knight early announces that Chomsky’s continuous revisions of Transformational Grammar, up to the Revised Extended standard theory, indicate deep-seated difficulties.
These ‘auxiliary hypothesis”, as the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos called them, do not, critics allege, contain more empirical content, or predict novel facts. They make up an ever-expanding protective belt around an original set of assumptions. Above all Knight observes, “Chomsky’s interventions have immersed linguistics in tunnels of theoretical complexity, impenetrability and corresponding exasperation and interpersonal rancour without parallel in any other scientific field.” (Page 11) The new versions of the theory “have produced no sign of consensus or agreement, but instead unending controversy, uproar and incredulity at the implausibility of it all.”(Page 180) This, he argues, is hardly the sign of real “science”.
Those with an interest in recent literature for the wider public might think at this point might recall Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass. (2010) As cited in the epigraph to this review, the language machine, which Chomsky and his followers describe, remains a “Black Box”. As far as grasping how the brain works with language we can scan the mind, but the evidence is like seeing a big corporation from the windows of its headquarters.
“The sole evidence you had to go on would be in which rooms the lights went on at different times of the day.” We can see increased blood flow, and infer that neural activity is taking place. “But we are nowhere near being able to understand” what is happening. (3)
Language as a social relation.
At the heart of Decoding Chomsky are some alternative ideas. Knight uses his resources as an anthropologist to attack Chomsky’s view that language stems from a “limited repertoire of mental atoms (lexical concepts) in an infinite variety of possible ways.” In this respect it is a defence of the view that experience, social conditions, co-operation between people, is generative of meaning.) Language is bound up with social relations; it is a social product, with its own causal weight as a link between people.
An important aspect is that “Grammatical structures arise out of metaphor, grammatical markers being in fact metaphorical expressions which have been conventionalized and abbreviated through historical processes which are now well understood.” (Page 225) In other words grammar has a history. Those familiar with, say the story of Indo-European languages, know that change in declensions and conjugations, and other grammatical items (not to mention the emergence and extinction of whole grammatical forms) is aware that alterations cannot be explained as the result of universal principles: but, at present, can only be described. Nobody has offered a transformational grammar that explains and predicts the development over time of such basic phonetic and semantic units.
Knight offers his own special belief, that palaeoanthropology can inform the debate about how (pre-human) signals evolve from nature into language. In a talk reproduced in the Weekly Worker, he suggested that the basics might lie in the way these evolved into singing,
Turning now to human evolution, the articulatory apparatus for speech hardly needs to be explained. For millions of years, the basics were already in place among our ancestors, for the simple reason that possession of a flexible tongue, lips and so forth had long been essential for eating. Much more difficult was to establish something new – full volitional breath control and control over the larynx. The challenge was to develop the uniquely human ability to take a deep breath and make continuous vocal sounds, while breathing out and articulating at the same time. An intriguing theory now being widely debated is that our ancestors refined and developed these capacities by regularly resorting to choral singing. (4)
More broadly in the present work he notes, “the transition from a highly competitive, often despotic ape social system to a cooperative and egalitarian human one might have occurred. The establishment of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism was more than an evolutionary step – it was a revolutionary one that established a genuine kind of communism.”(Page 212) In other words the underlying idea is that symbolic culture emerged during a ‘major transition’ or ‘revolution’ (often termed the human revolution). We may leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of these claims.
Three points may be added. Firstly, that it may be, on the evidence of skeletal remains and those of symbolic activity, that the non-human Neanderthals were capable of speech. So the issue of the ‘language mutation’s single origin remains open. (5) Next, the structures of language as a social product are also formal. The trace of speech in writing has a life of its own. This is sometimes very visible, as grammatical forms in a number of languages only really exist on the page, as in the French passé subjonctif, not to mention the special ‘literary’ forms in written traditions. Finally, one of the possible side-effects of a too Universalist conception of language leads one adrift faced with demands for language rights. This is a key political issue in many countries today, and underlies concerns about the death of speech communities, particularly in ‘tribal’ societies. (6) If we take an extreme Chomskyan view, this hardly matters: all languages are basically the ‘same’.
Chomsky’s protests against the Vietnam War, to opposition to powerful states and secret bureaucracies, and his laborious efforts to unravel the “manufacture of consent” to imperial and domestic pro-business policies, have one ‘scientific’ mooring. (7) Chris Knight suggests that a belief in a feature of human nature, a “creative urge” underpins his politics. But it remains bound within the “modular” programming of the innate linguistic facility that shunts to one side the role of social interaction.
If he believes that “force and fraud” constrain the free development of the inherent liberty of the human spirit, he puts his faith in this bedrock trait this as a natural limit on “authoritarian control” (Pages 114 – 115) His libertarian ‘anarchism’ notoriously extended to his ill-considered defence of the Vieille Taupe a publisher/bookshop originally on the French ultra-left that became a promoter of Holocaust deniers, such as Paul Rassinier. (8) Chomsky also defended the internationally better-known Robert Faurisson. But if Chris Knight is to be believed, in this thought-provoking and lucidly written critique, alongside an “instinct for freedom” there is a gaping hole where the social and individual conditions for meaningful co-operation should lie.
(1) Page 238. Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. William Heinemann. 2010.
(2) Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistics. Pierre Bourdieu 1982
(3) Guy Deutscher. Ibid.
(4) Origin of language lies in Song. Chris Knight. Weekly Worker 28.01.2016.
(7) See Knowledge, Morality and Hope: The Social Thought of Noam Chomsky. Joshua Cohen Joel Rogers. New Left Review. First Series. No 187. 1991.
As journalists and others are now claiming to be experts in left-wing politics we set this short exam to test their knowledge.
In the 1953 break in the Trotskyist movement who was right?
- Michael Raptis- Pablo.
- Michael Raptis -Pablo.
Which side would you have backed in the mid-1970s IMG?
- Tendency A
- Tendency B.
- The Faction.
In the WRP who had the nicest bum:
- Gerry Healy.
- Vanessa Redgrave.
- Michael Ezra.
How many Fourth Internationals are there?
- One, the FI.
- The League for the 5th International is the only real Marxist international group.
- Gerry Downing.
When did the AWL and the Weekly Worker last engage in unity negotiations?
- Nobody can remember.
The Posadists are famous for their belief that flying saucers come from a Communist Planet. What is their position on Dolphins?
- Flipper is an excellent comrade.
- Flipper is a class traitor.
Which Trotskyist group were former French PM, Lionel Jospin and present General Secretary of the Parti Socialiste Jean-Christophe Cambadélis one-time members of?
- The Lambertists.
- The Lambertists are mortal enemies of Trotskyism.
What was the Varga affair?
(Anybody who can answer this question automatically passes)
The List of Shame.
Speaks on The American Empire and its Discontents Fri, 4.15pm
CAGE Outreach Director joins our opening rally.
The full list is too long to reproduce but these are particularly worthy of note in view of the post that follows:
Author of “Marxism and Womens Liberation” on fighting sexism today.
Panel to discuss fighting sexism and Islamophobia.
Leader of the Green Party debates “Where next after the EU referendum?” with Joseph Choonara.
Panel to discuss fighting sexism and Islamophobia
Full list: Marxism 2016.
This is obviously something the above chose to ignore:
Posted on 22/05/2016.
In 2010 a man called Martin Smith (“Comrade Delta”) was the National Secretary of the SWP, its day to day leader, the person who employs the other party workers. In July of that year, a 17 year old woman (“Comrade W”) complained that he had mistreated her. She didn’t use the word “rape”, but the people who met her and heard her knew what she was talking about.
From the start, Smith’s supporters (including Weyman Bennett,
(Weyman Bennet. Marxism 2016.
Analyses the state of the Nazis and the far right in Britain)
who worked with him on the SWP’s anti-fascist campaign) put pressure on the women who helped Comrade W, calling one of them a “traitor”, ostracising and dismissing them and forcing them out of the SWP.
The complaint was investigated by Charlie Kimber, who is now the editor of Socialist Worker. He met comrade W, told her that he believed her and that disciplinary action would be taken against Martin Smith. The extent of the punishment was as follows: Smith was demoted from his position as National Secretary but remained in the SWP’s full-time leadership on its Central Committee.
Smith’s demotion was eventually explained to the membership at the SWP’s 2011 conference, where it was introduced by Alex Callinicos who complained about outside forces reporting on internal difficulties within the SWP. He said there was a complaint, he didn’t explain its seriousness and he said that Smith himself had asked to be moved to a different role. The session ended with delegates clapping, stamping their feet in Smith’s defence and shouting, “The workers united will never be defeated.”
At the start of 2013, the SWP conference narrowly approved the disputes committee report; from then on large parts of the organisation operated a loyalty test: if you were willing to back Smith, you could remain in the party. if not, you were told to leave. The atmosphere, at its worst, was as hostile as could be. Members of Smith’s personal anti-fascist bodyguard, men in the late 40s, spat in the faces of a woman in her 20s who disagreed with them. Smith’s supporters threatened to beat up another young, male critic. People were silenced, jeered, told to their faces to leave.
The second complaint was eventually heard. It was in writing. It too, has never been published. In careful, painful detail, it described further improper sexual conduct by Smith. This time, and for the first time in the entire scandal, the SWP’s leadership decided that a degree of damage limitation was necessary. A fresh panel was convened and Martin Smith resigned rather than face investigation.
In the SWP, you will be told that Martin Smith was vindicated. He wasn’t. The last panel to investigate his complaint found that there was enough evidence of sexual harassment that if he was to ever seek to rejoin he would have to explain his conduct.
In the SWP, you will be told that the leadership’s critics were a few malcontents, people who were on the verge of leaving the organisation anyway. They weren’t. At least 700 people left, or around a quarter of the SWP’s subs-paying membership. Among those who left were people who had given twenty, thirty, even fifty years of their lives to that organisation.
In the SWP, you will be told that this incident belongs to history, that the SWP has learnt from its mistakes. It hasn’t, the party continues to have to discipline its prominent members for sexual harassment. The men who attempted to cover up a crime are all still in leadership positions.
Former ‘Maoist’ Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Joins Farage, UKIP and Galloway in Grassroots Out Campaign.
‘Communists’ Against Mass Migration.
The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist–Leninist) (CPB(M-L)) is an example of the development, post-Mao, of ‘Marxist-Leninist’ groups towards nationalism.
The party was formed in 1968 by Reg Birch as a split from the Communist Party of Great Britain, siding with the Communist Party of China. The party published The Worker from 1969 until 2000, when it became Workers. The CPB(M-L) sided with Enver Hoxha in theSino-Albanian split, and came to support the Soviet Union for a period in the 1980s, before dropping this line over Mikhail Gorbachev‘s reforms.
A key part of the CPB (M-L)‘s case against the European Union is that weakened national sovereignty and borders has let in too many migrants into Britain.
The role of mass migration and “free” movement of labour in undermining wages and union organisation was contrasted with the assertions (or lies) that EU legislation protects workers.
They backed this recent meeting,
7 April 2016, 7 pm
Hunter Halls, University of Glasgow, University Avenue, Glasgow G128 QQ
With speakers Nigel Farage MEP, Dr Liam Fox, Peter Bone MP, Eddie McGuire (trade unionist), Mike Gold (CAEF), David Coburn and Brendan Chilton with more to be announced.
The way this group works is easy to trace: Eddie McGuire, ‘Trade Unionist’ turns out also to be:
And (CPB- ML site): Composing British unity
Draw your own conclusions about which political party he backs….
The New Communist Party (a member of the Labour Representation Committee) has, according to Wikipedia, also signed up.
The NCP has endorsed in March 2016 Grassroots Out the cross party movement launched to campaign to leave the EU.
If this is not the case we will be happy to post a correction.
Another one of the anti-EU alliances has just formed:
A new left-wing anti-EU campaign group dubbed Lexit has been set up following a meeting in London.
The new alliance formed on Monday night from rail union RMT, Trade Unionists Against the EU, the Communist Party of Britain, the Indian Workers Association (GB), the Bangladeshi Workers Council of Britain, Scottish Left Leave, Counterfire and the Socialist Workers Party.
Other trade union, socialist and workers’ groups are expected to join Lexit in coming weeks.
Lexit will hold a series of rallies across Britain in the coming weeks and produce films and other publications to promote what it calls the “working class, left-wing and internationalist case” for voting to leave the European Union in the referendum on June 23. Some Labour MPs and prominent trade unionists have also indicated a willingness to appear on the group’s platforms.
Lexit chairman Robert Griffiths said that the EU debate until now had been “dominated by pro-big business and anti-foreigner arguments” on both sides.
“It’s high time that the interests of working people, their public services and their common aspirations regardless of race, religion and nationality were heard,” he said.
“The reality is that from Ireland and Portugal to Cyprus and Greece, the EU has been spearheading the drive for ruthless austerity and wholesale privatisation, dividing people and creating the conditions in which racist and fascist groups can thrive.”
Mr Griffiths said it was no surprise that most of the City banks and big companies that fund the Tory Party wanted Britain to stay in the EU.
These groups are on on the fringes of the labour movement.
Far from being left-wing or working class their actions help those who wish to build a “bonfire of rights”, as Jeremy Corbyn has put it.
And please, let’s have less of these phony words about “Internationalism”.
With the CPB-ML we can at least see the real direction where this stand leads them.
Badiou: raves against ‘Machinations’ Behind Spoof of his Oeuvre.
Alain Badiou et le réveil de la farce (1) was published over a full page in Le Monde des ideés yesterday (full article only available on-line to subscribers)
It explores the amusing – we are still laughing – hoax carried out on the prestigious Badiou Studies by two genial pranksters Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (see: Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou).
Mediapart, reports Badiou being struck by « l’ignorance totale de [son] œuvre que révèlent les manœuvres de deux ratés de la philosophie qui s’égarent dans leurs minuscules machinations » – the complete ignorance displayed in this work, which revealed the manoeuvres of two philosophical failures engaged in nanoscopic machinations.
The Le Monde article cites one reaction: that the jape was a way of avoiding a serious debate on Badiou’s august philosophy.
It would indeed be a mighty task to do so, but the parody was targeted at the respectful attention ‘cultural studies’ (as Le Monde puts it) gives to anything spread with enough of Badiou’s speculations.
We will simply ask: by what ‘truth procedure” can anybody impose as a “grid” this ontology, as cited by the admirable Retraction Watch)?
Sets are what gendering processes by reactionary institutions intend to hold, in contradiction to the status of the multiplicities proper to each subject qua subject. This tension between subjectivity and gender comes to the fore through the lens of the ‘count-as-one’, the ontological operator identified by Badiou as the fluid mediator between set-belonging and set-existence. After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count-as-one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman.
Badiou is said to have originated his ideas in Althusser’s anti-humanism.
So, regardless of his later use of set-theory (rather than, say Athusser’s ‘Spinozist’ monist ontology of substance) it is “useful” (quotation marks) to ask in what sense is there a “theoretical practice” at work? What raw material do Badiou and his acolytes employ? Or to put is more clearly: what are their ’empirical’ (more quotation marks) material – their data?
The underlying impression is that Badiou uses a picture of who the world is structured – the ground of existence – which comes from his own head. Assuming that he is not a new Pythagoras and sees numbers in stones and stars (and perhaps refuses to eat beans) one would like to know how this theory relates to the central aspect of Badiou’s politics: not the structures of Events (though we would like to know how their uniqueness is more unforeseeable hapexes, (that is wholly new occurrences, from apparently ‘nowhere’) that is Humean aetiology), but how set theory operates in history, and in the Idea.
Badiou’s “‘pure doctrine of the multiple” (with very obvious echoes of Mao-Tse-Tung’s writings on ‘Dialectics’) presents exactly the problems – that it can be simply imposed on material – that the parody of Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non) Being (Benedetta Tripodi) was designed to illustrate.
That is, a group of ideas that can be spread without any rigour or regard to reality, in an academic text which ‘consecrates’ the authority of the Master, Badiou.
In case anybody does not believe that Badiou’s ideas are deeply problematic see the Wikipedia entry.
Badiou uses the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory to identify the relationship of being to history, Nature, the State, and God. Most significantly this use means that (as with set theory) there is a strict prohibition on self-belonging; a set cannot contain or belong to itself. This results from the axiom of foundation – or the axiom of regularity – which enacts such a prohibition (cf. p. 190 in Being and Event).
These sets are, in line with constructible ontology, relative to one’s being-in-the-world and one’s being in language (where sets and concepts, such as the concept ‘humanity’, get their names). However, he continues, the dominations themselves are, whilst being relative concepts, not necessarily intrinsic to language and constructible thought; rather one can axiomatically define a domination – in the terms of mathematical ontology – as a set of conditions such that any condition outside the domination is dominated by at least one term inside the domination. One does not necessarily need to refer to constructible language to conceive of a ‘set of dominations’, which he refers to as the indiscernible set, or the generic set. It is therefore, he continues, possible to think beyond the strictures of the relativistic constructible universe of language, by a process Cohen calls forcing. And he concludes in following that while ontology can mark out a space for an inhabitant of the constructible situation to decide upon the indiscernible, it falls to the subject – about which the ontological situation cannot comment – to nominate this indiscernible, this generic point; and thus nominate, and give name to, the undecidable event. Badiou thereby marks out a philosophy by which to refute the apparent relativism or apoliticism in post-structuralist thought.
Let us jump from this can ask: how can we ‘decide upon the undecidable event’, tied by a kind of Sartrean commitment (fidelity) to the supreme Events of Communism? What indeed are the Events in question, their concrete structures which leave such deep traces that the furnish the material for his “hypotheses” – of Communism?
In the extremely clear dialogue in Que faire ? Dialogue sur le communisme, le capitalisme et l’avenir de la démocratie, d’Alain Badiou et Marcel Gauchet, (Philosophie Editions 2014) All the set theory, all the set of dominations, all the generic sets, fall away. Badiou simply repeats that, er well, the Revolution and specifically the Chinese Cultural Revolution (given or take some minor quibbles about this or that decision taken at the time), remains a fixed point of reference and hope for Communism.
Since many would strongly dispute that the Cultural Revolution was a Communist Event, the basis on which he elaborates his “communist hypothesis”. That by contrast it was created by a faction fight between various nationalist and Stalinist bureaucrats , and the highly dubious ‘communist’ Mao, Badiou has to answer on the terrain of History. As illustrated at length in the writings of Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, and who had an enormous effect on the European radical left in the 1970s, though apparently not on Badiou. (1)
A settling of accounts with that blood-stained History is something Badiou has never done.
All he can do is to repeat, when presented with these and other facts, is that, “la démocratie, sous sa forme parlementaire, interdit tout changement d’ampleur ” – parliamentary democracy banishes all form of substantive change.”
Many leftists would not see the commands of the Great Helmsman as an alternative to democracy tout court.
Anouk Barberousse and Philippe Huneman are therefore right to highlight the abstract absurdity of a system based on a system based on an ontological system.
If anything they are too kind about Badiou’s groupuscule’s past.
The second comment in the article comes from le Monde’s Julie Clarini. She asks whether the hoax is not part of a fight within the radical left (gauche radicale).
Indeed it is – here. Badiou decides on the ‘Event’ of the cultural revolution. His practice (which Wikipedia registers only in his ephemeral L’organisation politique) goes back to the subject of this Blog post below – not to mention the Tendance’s own political background as a Marxist and leftist opponent of the kind of ‘Maoism’ Badiou stood for.
(1) Laurent Joffrin, (Libération) with whom we do not always agree, probably almost never agree with, makes this salient summary of this appalling position,
On se permettra donc de rappeler, sur le même ton de légèreté, que cet amusant «bond en avant», lancé par Mao pour mettre en œuvre son «hypothèse communiste», a déclenché l’une des plus terribles famines que la Chine ait jamais connues, pendant laquelle, sans doute pour se donner un air d’anticonformisme révolutionnaire, les familles affamées mangeaient des écorces, des rideaux ou des excréments et, dans certains cas, encore plus distrayants, mangeaient leurs jeunes enfants pour survivre. Au total, on estime que la politique de Mao à cette époque a causé la mort de plus de vingt millions de personnes, sur lesquelles on passera rapidement dans le souci de ne pas gâcher l’ambiance. Comme le dit Badiou en parlant de Mao et de son régime, «les caricatures sont tellement faciles».
Put briefly Laurent remarks that the jolly old Great Leap Forward alone resulted in intense suffering and countless millions of deaths.
So here is a look at the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ past of Badiou:
Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.
Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.
Alain Badiou’s political philosophy is, apparently, grounded on singular situated truths and potential revolutions. Fidelity to the invariant truth is a matter of procedure. What he calls an ‘Idea’’ has three basic elements, “a truth procedure, a belonging to history and individual subjectivation”. Authenticity, we might say were we admirers of Sartre’s philosophy, hangs in there.
This has a range (to put it as its most modest) of applications. But Badiou is best known for his politics (which are not renowned for their modesty).
On the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’, the professor has aroused controversy time and time again by giving a positive, glowing, account (“at any rate from 1965 to 1968” although he does not give the exact day of the week in this time-span) of this “political truth”. (1) These have had local, indeed spatial, moorings, no doubt, for example, in Maoist re-education camps as well as some time in Shanghai. There is the also the possibility of becoming a “militant for the truth”, perhaps, one might hazard, exemplified in the acts of the Union des communistes de France (marxiste-léninistes), the UJM (M-L) founded in 1969 by Alain Badiou and others whose names, sadly or not, few can recall or care about.
On the issue of Communism the professor has declaimed that the “Idea of communism, subjectivation constituted the link between the local belonging to a political procedure and the huge forward march towards its collective emancipation. To give out a flyer in a marketplace was also to mount the stage of History” (2) In the light of, er, recent and not so recent events, Badiou is not enthusiastic about the State’s ability to deliver Communism. A True Communist Event occurs only when it is “subtracted from the power of the State. “ Yet he notes with pleasure that Mao “had begun” to deal with this issue, incarnated by Stalin, “in a number of his writings” – which Badiou has commented on “guided by the eternity of the True.” (3)
Alain Badiou is perhaps reticent, for reasons which will become apparent, to mention that he too has mounted History’s stage. He too has experience of the “vigorous subjective existence of the communist hypothesis.” Indeed as Francis Dosse’s biography Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée (2009) illustrates in a fascinating snapshot, it was indeed “vigorous”.
In the journal of the UJM (M-L) Cahier Yénan (No 4. 1977) Badiou attacked the celebrated joint work of Deleuze and Guattari, L’anti-Œdipe as “vulgar moralisers”, and for ignoring the scientific teachings of Marxism-Leninism. The second piece under the pseudonym of Georges Peyrol, was titled, Le fascime de la pomme de terre. Badiou observed that the pair were “pre-fascists”. Badiou frothed at the metaphor of the “rhizome”, to grasp the tentacles of multiple being, the proliferation of social shoots (most celebrated in their Mille plateaux1980). The Ontologist detected a parallel with Lin Biao’s revisionism, the One that dived into Two, had subtly become the One that symbolised the Tyrant. (4)
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.
When Deleuze passed away in 1995, Badiou, Dosse recounts, gave him a “vibrant homage.” He considered himself a “worthy successor” of Deleuze in his present Chair, on condition that one read him in the light of the “bonne philosophie” (the right philosophy). According to Dosse Badiou revealed that in 1991 he had proposed to Delueze to hold a public exchange of views (at the time when one of the Deleuze’s best-known works, What is Philosophy, was published). This was refused but as the resulting correspondence, giving reasons for this refusal, was apparently important. He equally refused to let this be published, which left Badiou with material he could not render public.
The book which did get to the printers, is Badiou’s, Delueze. La Clameur de l’Être (1997). It no doubt interests those fascinated by the obscurity of a (until very recent) apologist for the Khmer Rouge, and a conformed admirer of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. What rankles Dosse is that Badiou baldly repeats a much earlier idea: that Deleuze’s philosophy centres on the ONE, “C’est la venue de l’Un, renommé par Delueze l’Un-tout, que se consacre, dans sa plus haute destination, la pensée.” (5) In other words, he repeated, at the core of this ‘study’ the ridiculous claims he made back in the days of Cahier Yénan dressed up in more elliptical and pretentious language. He further – we note ourselves – charged that Deleuze was something of a Stoic – which to many people has more than w whiff of his old ‘cultural revolution’ or more exactly Gang of Four thinking about attacking ‘Confucius’.
Still, at least he didn’t call him once more a ‘pre-fascist’.
That’s Badiou for fidelity, hein?
(1) Page 2. The Idea of Communism. Alain Badiou. In The Idea of Communism. Edited Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Žižek. Verso. 2010. (2) Page 4. Badiou. Op cit. (3) Page 10. Badiou. Op cit. (4) Pages 432 – 434. Francis Dosse Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée La Découverte. 2009 (5) Page 435. Dosse Op cit.