Thursday, 7 February 2013

On accusations of heresy

Enter Nick Grant, defending his leaders from the ravages of socialists who disagree with them. His role, and that of others of his ilk, as a bullhorn for CC insinuations is clear. The CC's traducing of its internal critics in Party Notes consists of nudges: no names are given, details are scant, hints are urgent but en passant. The CC wager that the faithful, whose investment in 'official' positions is unshakable, as libidinal as theoretical, eager for diktats to keep them safe from nuance, will parse these nuggets. Thus here. We respond to Grant not because he is an interesting figure in himself - he is not - but because he is a function, a meat-exemplar of the worst kind of loyalism. We argue not with Nick Grant, but with 'Nick Grant'.

'Nick Grant''s pugnacious if incoherent rhetoric involves barking questions as if their implied answers are damning, whether or not they are. We focus on his attacks on individuals, not least ourselves.

'Nick Grant''s accusations are rote. The SWP's external critics are suddenly motivated by 'default abhorrence of bolshevism', their motives questionable. This despite both figures so scowled at, Laurie Penny and Owen Jones, having worked closely with the SWP, spoken at our conferences and to our publications, never making any secrets of their disagreements, but engaging in the kind of non-sectarian debate we could hope would characterise disagreement on the left. Of the growing number of our other critics in the trade union movement and among sympathetic left-wing academics, 'Nick Grant' has nothing to say. They, presumably, also have 'questionable motives'. This is, after all, a given: it needs no proving. They disagree with the leadership who provide 'Nick Grant' with his opinions. This is definitionally questionable. To cite their disagreements with the CC is to invalidate them. Job done.

And us, internal critics? 'Nick Grant' imputes three positions to us, and further, insists they suggest 'a pattern', though of quite what, beyond that unconscionable disagreement with the CC, is unclear.

The heresies are as follows:

i) 'Political disagreement with conference decisions'

We confess, 'Nick Grant' has us bang to rights. It is indeed in the nature of disagreeing with decisions made at a conference (and elsewhere) that one disagrees with decisions made at a conference.

ii) 'A disenchantment with working-class agency in revolutionary strategy'.

In an epigoneal echo of the line of attack launched by the CC in Party Notes, 'Nick Grant' suggests that because of our opposition to the bullying top-down bureaucratic methods of the CC and its clique, we (whose combined membership of the SWP runs to thirty years) have given up on working-class self-emancipation. This contention demands to be read symptomatically. It is, clearly, prima facie both insulting and preposterous, yet 'Nick Grant' seems to expect it to be taken seriously. This expectation bespeaks simultaneous political debasement and self-aggrandisement. Its straw-person slander of opponents and the fetishistic equation of CC decisions with working-class self-activity should provoke nothing but embarrassed laughter.

iii) 'A very partial assessment - because they earn a living from it - of the value of online "debate" and its organizational importance'

We do consider debate - or "debate" - a good thing, whether that debate occurs online, offline, in branches, or anywhere. Unlike the CC, we think a) serious, respectful, open-minded and far-reaching debate is not only necessary but invaluable, and b) that the CC's internetophobia is a pathetic absurdity, an online stable-door bolting while the discussion-horse canters happily away. (Not only is the fact of online discussion now a given; it is overwhelmingly a good thing.  The years-long sluggish and suspicious response of the CC to the internet, exemplified by the embarrassing inadequacy of SWP websites and online resources, is a political dereliction. But we digress.)

'Nick Grant' insultingly implies that our current opposition is motivated by our wallets, though in fact neither of us 'earns a living' from online debate (it is unclear what that would even mean).

There is perhaps a subsidiary implication: that we are effete literati who swan about without getting our hands dirty and have no notion of party building or proper actual honest sweat and toil. This has more traction, not least because of its kernel of truth: we do both make a living writing, and our milieu does include such things as book launches. There is, of course, no contradiction between working as writers and being committed revolutionary socialists.

We contend that the failure to apply our politics of women’s liberation, evident in the cover-up of serious sexual allegations and the utterly inappropriate questioning of the women making them – and notably occluded in ‘Nick Grant’’s list of accusations – is the real source of our crisis, as well as the symptom of a deeper crisis of party democracy.  We contend that the SWP is in profound crisis, is being boycotted by comrades, haemorrhaging members, alienating our best young activists, because of disgraceful and appalling dereliction of leadership, of accountability, of sexual politics, of democracy, for which the CC scandalously refuses to accept a scintilla of responsibility.  We contend this because that is what we, activists and SWP members of many years' standing, see when we survey the political terrain. If 'Nick Grant' disagrees, the onus is on him to prove that the SWP is not in crisis, or even that it is but that the best way out is the ostrich arrogance of the leadership. It is inadequate to do as he does instead, to point out that we are writers, and to raise an eyebrow as if to add so they would say that, wouldn't they?

 - China Mieville & Richard Seymour


  1. Nick Grant slightly misjudged his defence of the leadership on the Socialist Teachers' Alliance e mail discussion list. (I hope I don't get him into trouble by revealing that he was discussing party matters on an external list.) He coyly referred to rumours of a recent unpleasantness and linked to the excruciating "Is Leninism finished?" article by Alex Callinicos saying that it made any further reference to the matter on the list superfluous, even though no one had mentioned it before him

    This extract from one reply is an indication of how persuasive his line of argument was to anyone not willing to trash their reputation for Delta. It would have been much less humiliating for him, Delta and Alex Callinicos if he hadn't tried to be helpful

    "Very, very few women ever make false allegations of rape. What then is the probability of a woman who is a class conscious revolutionary marxist doing so, and against a leading national figure of her party??? I would say it is infinitesimally small and that as a general principle, and in the absence of any compelling evidence that the woman is deliberately seeking to damage the accused, that our response should be to believe the woman. In pretty much every abuse scandal from Cyril Smith to Jimmy Saville the common thread has been that the victim has been disbelieved while powerful men have abused with impunity. How is this case any different? And why should we collude in keeping quiet about it? "

  2. Jesus man put your thesaurus away! You can make your point without the verbosity. And you're less likely to win potential comrades over to your perspective when you carry on like such a pompous git.

    1. It's a small point, but Verbosity is not the same thing as sesquipedaleanism.

    2. That's easy for you to say.

      I find the poetic diction a bit of a pain, but I'm quite glad to see it - it suggests you (and the Faction of Doom) are in good spirits. More power to you.

    3. Here's hoping comrade Taner never reads that pompous git, Rosa Luxemburg:
      "In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus – the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute – c.o.d, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders – serious offers only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up."

      or that other pompous git, Leon Trotsky:
      "So long as those malicious tailless apes that are so proud of their technical achievements—the animals that we call men—will build armies and wage wars, the command will always be obliged to place the soldiers between the possible death in the front and the inevitable one in the rear."

      Or other pompous gits still, like Marx...
      "The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation."

      Moral of the story: more poetry, less sniping.

  3. Why the hell is the SWP leadership being so negligent in not expelling Richard Seymour and his science fiction consultant? You are clearly working hand-in-glove with everyone who wants to destroy the entire organisation, based on nothing more than unsubstantiated smears and the lies of all supporters of capitalist parasitism against Lenin's democratic centralism? The behavior of you people is utterly contemptible.

    1. Odd, isn't it. That in itself must tell you something, such as that your interpretation of their actions is hysterical, and if the party is to survive and renew itself short of another ugly, unproductive split, people will have to learn new interpretations of 'party,' new perspectives on 'class' appropriate to workers' actual experience today, and new ways of reading Lenin, feminism, and each others' blog posts.

    2. What's going to be hilarious is if the IDOOP faction carries the day, and (assuming that Alex C and his friends don't leave to start the Real SWP With Blackjack and Hookers) Derek Thomas here will happily announce that he was on their side all along.

  4. Well your mileage may vary, but I am loving the language, e.g. "discussion-horse"

    Hippo-heretics v. hippo-crites

    It is/should be possible to discuss this using something other than tired jargon.

  5. The notorious 'Grim and Dim' sent us a comment, which we post here, and reply to below:

    I really don't think this style of response is useful. You tell us: "We respond to Grant not because he is an interesting figure in himself - he is not - ". Now I have known Nick Grant for thirty years, and I am well aware of his record as a trade-union activist. Whatever one may think of the letter you cite (and I suspect Nick himself will not look back on it as one of his finest achievements) there is no excuse for the sneering contempt you reveal for a longstanding SWP activist. Indeed, despite your combined claimed thirty years of membership, you seem to know relatively little of the party's trade-union work.

    The current situation is a difficult one, but it would help greatly if comrades on all sides of the dispute were to recognise that those who disagree with them are doing so out of a genuine concern for the party, and, even more importantly, for the socialist cause. If all sides could adopt a less confrontational tone it might help us get out of this mess.

    I do not greatly like China's novels (sex with giant cockroaches holds no appeal for me personally) but I have always recognised him as a serious intellectual figure. I have visited Lenin's Tomb over several years, contributed comments and even made a very modest financial donation. I have always regarded it as a very valuable service to the whole of the left.

    But I have to say that a number of people who are deeply concerned about the present crisis do not like the style of intervention you have made in recent weeks. Perhaps if we could all adopt a rather more sober language and respect the sincerity of our opponents unless we have very good grounds for not doing so, we might begin to make some progress.

    Grim and Dim

  6. And the reply:

    Hi Grim,

    Speaking for myself, and just off the cuff, I honestly don't think your response gauges the situation correctly. It is one thing to regret our pugnacious tone, but your reply doesn't take note of the tone, content and context of what we are replying to. Far from it, this is bracketed as if it was of no relevance to the tone we adopted.

    Nick Grant's letter to the ISO constitutes a smear. It accuses us, in brief, of being motivated by money and of having given up on the agency of the working class. At no point does it deal seriously with the concerns that we have been raising, which range from a cover-up at the 2011 conference, to bullying of the women who raised serious sexual allegations, to undemocratic manipulation and bullying, and more. (I would add, incidentally, that all of these terms are used soberly). Grant's letter also indulges in outrageous sectarianism toward people whom the SWP has worked within the very recent past. We think that all this is something to be angry about.

    But it might not have been worth a post if it was just an aberration. It is not. I have seen Nick Grant's abusive comments on Facebook characterising the opposition as 'toxic' or a cancer. I have seen him belittle comrades as people who have no lives and tell people worried about rape apologia to 'get over it'. I have no doubt that the smear was deliberate. Nick Grant is a political bruiser, who is more than capable of dishing it out; and has done so. Therefore, I am certain he can take it.

    Further, this is part of a series of such smears being distributed internally. The rationalisations, smears and misdirections spewed by Nick Grant are not happenstance, but are part of a wider culture which we abhor. They are part of the same culture wherein members whom we know - often young, often students, often female - are being bullied in an intolerable fashion. The students in Sheffield have been particularly badly treated. The fact is that the CC is driving an incredibly hostile, intolerant atmosphere for people who disagree with them on this. One of the few reasons why many more people haven't simply given up and left the party, as I know from the messages I've had, is because of a visible, organised and uncowed opposition.

    As important as all that, however, is that I think you may be fundamentally mistaken about the basis of this dispute. You say you think that if we only adopt a more sober and respectful tone, we can begin to make some progress. That you think so implies that what needs to take place is for rival perspectives on a thorny problem to be somehow reconciled.

    I think, sadly, the problem runs far deeper than that. I don't think the CC's refusal to make even the most minimal concessions to reality, and their insistence on amping up a culture of intimidation, is simply a screw up. I think they are behaving like this because they have nothing else to offer. They can concede no fault on their part and take no responsibility for the resulting debacle. I believe their intransigence derives from the fact that they have invested two years in an attempt to variously suppress or minimise these allegations, and punish and bully comrades who disagreed with this, rationalising what they were doing as a defence of democratic centralism the whole time. I simply don't believe they are capable of rational engagement at this point.

  7. FWIW from across the pond, I agree with you entirely but I think what Grim is basically saying is that someone, somewhere has to take the high road. Not because virtue is its own reward (I've heard reliable rumours that it most definitely is not) but because it can help to bring down the temperature - not with the Nick Grants, who are thoroughly wound up, but with the vast majority of comrades who are precisely not behaving as he is. It is also tactically useful to be the ones who don't resort to personal attacks in terms of winning the argument with comrades who want to move forward and are open to arguments - even sharp ones - but don't want to touch nasty personalized stuff. Overall, you've done impressive - unprecedented - work in shifting the party and the CC (even as they deny it and hiss like cornered animals). Lots of people are watching this battle for the future of the SWP (and frankly, the Tendency).

  8. I was deeply angry and upset by the characterisation of me in Nick Grant's letter, and I consider it a wholly unjustified slur. However, provocation is not an excuse for letting my anger get the better of me, and I regret the tone of my response above, and apologise to Grant for it. In such a spirit of reflection, I invite Grant to reconsider his evidence-free accusation that I have, for money, turned my back on the working class as the agent of change. I hope he sees fit to withdraw it, though this apology is not conditional on his doing so.