Saturday, 13 April 2013

Comrades, crises and cults

An interesting article has appeared on the website of the breakaway International Socialist Network by science fiction writer and former Socialist Workers Party member China Mievelle on "Cult like thinking". He begins:

It's disarming to a socialist when a rote canard of the right, that the far Left - let alone the group to which that socialist until recently belonged - is 'like a cult', is persuasive.

That accusation has been regularly levelled against the SWP during its ongoing crisis. It's easy to see why: the CC's and loyalists' panicked and bullying responses to perceived heresy; the faith in an infallible leadership (in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary); the argument by citation of holy (Cliffite) writ; the almost unbelievable refusal, even now, to admit to any mistakes; the growing sectarianism. But underlying all this, and perhaps the most damning and extraordinary component of such mentality, is a fervent idealism.

The thing is the accusation that the SWP (and others like it on the far-left) is a cult is nothing new. Neither are many of the criticisms that recent former members now find themselves considering. China continues a little later that:

Given the CC's lies about a perfidious 'witchhunt', and/or 'hostility to Leninism', it's worth recalling that this catastrophe unfolded when a large section of the SWP was aghast at the initial cover-up of, and subsequent shameful, sexist and indefensible 'investigation' into, allegations of rape and sexual harassment within the party.(1) A scandal in its own right, this episode also illustrated a deep cultural rot,(2) that shocked even those of us in the party who had long argued that there was a democratic and accountability deficit in the organisation. Things were, simply, much worse than we had thought.

But the truly extraordinary shift was from what one might decry as 'everyday' Machiavellianism - reprehensible but hardly unusual behaviour like packing meetings, lying about membership numbers and so on - to this cult-like idealism.

What's new other than the handling of a specific serious allegation against "comrade delta"? The deep cultural rot that he refers to has been the subject of (at times) quite vociferous debate outside the SWP, principally by its' direct competitors, but also elsewhere by those who disagree with the type of politics that the SWP represents.

There has been a long standing joke on the left that the largest organisation to the left is "the ex-members of the SWP". There are literally thousands of activists who have gone through the SWP in what even one of their own was forced to describe as a "revolving door" recruitment strategy. In one of their Internal Bulletins one "comrade" finally asked the question about "why is it that most ex-members end up hating us so much".

Its' not as if no one noticed the huge turnover of members that the organisation has had in the decades it has been in existence. The authoritarian nature of the internal regime has been visible to those people outside the organisation, so why have people like China Mieville and Richard Seymour been so oblivious to what has been going on under their noses for so long?

China continues in this vein when looking at the nature of the SWP leadership and the politics thereof:

Normally one might associate such arrant Marxist determinism with the most mechanical materialism: here, however, it is inextricable from that idealism of a pure-souled priesthood. This Overcoming Of Division is an eschatology, a Rapture.

The crude materialism in fact serves and justifies the moralist idealism. There are two tiers: a few have the magic of Political Morality to efface reactionary detritus in their souls; and by their intercession, the cunning of history will do the job for the rest. There is, therefore, no need to detain oneself too long on these awkward theoretical issues of psychology.

Not good enough. Despite such philosophical predations Mieville never once considers whether it is in fact the very basis of Marxism-Leninism that is in fact at fault. The SWP, like all organisations of its' type runs on the basis of "democratic centralism", which supposedly allows for free internal debate but unity in action. Except it doesn't, nor does it even reflect the way the Bolsheviks organised within their own organisation before the revolution.

Lenin could not even get his way to expel a couple of opponents who publicly spoke out just before the Bolshevik coup. And he did try, his own authoritarianism was quite visible on any cursory reading of his writings and actions. The "democratic centralism" that most trotskyist groups follow is the product of the Stalinist foundations of the Soviet state and their desire to retain power. The next step was always going to be the gulags no matter what the comrades tell us.

The corollary has always been that differences of opinion within the Marxist-Leninists has at best led to continual splits every time their is a disagreement or at worst mass executions or cultural revolutions of the Stalin & Mao eras. It still goes on in North Korea today under the "Great Larder".

A more recent observation of the SWP is that they are the "scientologists" of the far-left. Here we return to the question of whether the far left are cults. The "blind obedience" and loyalty shown to the Professor by his supporters is quite disturbing. This isn't the first time we have seen this even in the myopic world of the British far-left. The Workers Revolutionary Party is the most prime example of the degeneration of idealism.

I will never understand the need of people to totally subjugate their individuality to an organisation. In my view that is the antithesis of being human. We are all individuals, with very human needs and concerns. That does not negate the need for social responsibility, but in my view reformism will always trump extremes of ideology on the left because it is more likely to see and treat people as individuals rather than some kind of amorphous mass as the neo-religious practitioners of Marxism do.

Even after all that has gone on in recent months, large parts of the far-left have not learned the lessons (of basic humanity and humility) as we now discover a new atrocity, this time in the Socialist Party.

Go to:

Despite all Sarah Mayo writes she still has some faith in the organisational and ideological model that the SP/CWI represents as she opts to think about moving abroad and joining another section of their "International".

I have many many friends and supporters in the SP and they too will be speaking out and are discussing it in their branches. We will battle for women’s safety in this party until this is achieved.

It remains to be seen whether there is an eruption within the Socialist Party on the scale that the SWP faced as this group has always been quite secretive about it's internal affairs.

The time has come for those who seek a better world to rethink their "commitments and prejudices" and move away from the tired old ideas of Marx, Lenin and the rest. The socialism that these ideologues sought to create has not only ended in abject failure but led to some of the worst regimes in history.

The cults of the far left are in the way and must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

If we are to create a better world than the rights of the individual must be at the centre of new thinking. Anything else will lead to more failures, more suffering.

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