Dead Men Left

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Kamm bamm thank you, ma'am

In attempting last week to smear Paul Foot, Oliver Kamm asserted he was a supporter of a "red fascist" organisation, the Socialist Workers Party. I dealt with Kamm's "case" to my own satisfaction elsewhere, but the following has been brought to my attention. Kamm claims that:

Regular readers of this blog may recall a long series of posts last year in which I discussed the neo-Nazi ideology of the terrorist Left associated with the Red Army Fraction in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s. Again, I mean 'neo-Nazi' literally: there are few other terms adequate to describe those who bombed a Berlin synagogue on the anniversary of Kristallnacht in 1969 in order to protest against Israeli policies, or who supported the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games three years later. The principal leftist spokesman who extolled the Munich massacre, Horst Mahler, is these days a spokesman for the far-Right party National Democratic Party, which the German government recently (and unsuccessfully) tried to ban on suspicion of its being implicated in the firebombing of the homes of Turkish immigrants.

I made clear the SWP's distance from the Baader Meinhof gang, but Paul Dunne at Shamrockshire has quite rightly picked up on me for both not clarifying the nature of that disagreement, and to challenge Kamm's version of events (as it might be called). Dunne presented a devastating challenge to Kamm's peculiar history of the German radical Left some time ago, and it's well worth a read. Paul notes in his email, "Kamm's claims about the RAF e.g. that they fire-bombed a synagogue, are demonstrably false, and his persistent libelling of the dead is disgusting." Far from being murderous antisemites, as Kamm alleges, "the RAF never killed or targeted any Jews... If no-one challenges this nonsense, the risk is that it comes to be treated as 'common knowledge'. The assertion that the German ultra-left was and is 'anti-Semitic' should be exposed forwhat it is, even though you don't agree with them politically." A sentiment I share; whilst I think the RAF had fairly disastrous consequences for the German left, there's a world of difference between that disagreement and the libels that Kamm consistently offers.

On a similar theme, in an extended and rather futile exchange of views with Kamm in his comments boxes after the Paul Foot smear, he repeatedly claimed that the SWP has attempted to ban Jewish Socieites at various universities, citing Manchester in 1996 (and covertly later on) and Sunderland in 1985 as examples. I am quite certain this is nonsense; as a student in the SWP I am entirely unaware of even any hints that this should be done. However, at the do immediately following Paul Foot's funeral, I met a couple of people who were in a position to explicitly deny the allegations about Manchester. Sunderland merely drew blank looks; no-one seems to have heard of the incident cited. (Kamm later accused me of not checking. He, again, is quite wrong.) Whilst their ignorance hardly constitutes a refutation, it is hardly indicative of a consistent and long-standing party policy that we should all be so unaware of supposedly its only successful implementation. Kamm, from his previous writings on the subject, presumably thinks that to be anti-Zionist is to be necessarily antisemitic. Why, then, can he not openly state as much? Surely it would be enough to point out that the SWP has argued for boycotts of Israeli goods, or has fairly persistently campaigned for Palestinian rights, to leave it condemned? I assume it is because this case is now so discredited by the Israeli government's own actions as to be unacceptable - and so Kamm has to dress it up with a libel or two.

Two further bits: Kamm attempts an "assessment" of Paul Foot's Red Shelley. Literary criticism isn't really my thing - but then again, it doesn't seem to be Kamm's, either: Lenin (of Lenin's Tomb) tears his argument apart, coming to the not unreasonable conclusion that Kamm hasn't actually read Foot's book at all. Something that vaguely approaches being my "thing", however, is economics: Kamm chooses not to say much about Paul's statements on economics, offering instead a hasty dismissal based on Alec Nove's The Economics of Feasible Socialism and the work of Friedrich von Hayek. It may be worth returning at some point to this issue, but I'm inclined at the moment to be similarly dismissive: how, precisely, does Kamm attempt to construct an anti-planning case based on two authors who not only diametrically opposed each other in their general political conclusions, but also (critically) in their underlying methodological framework and epistemology? I'm assuming Kamm would accept the standard point about the necessity of solid (theoretically-grounded and consistent) microfoundations being put in place before such broad claims can be made about the economy, so why this eclectic mix? Without providing some suggestion as to why Hayek and Nove can be roped together in this fashion, the whole assembly looks absurd.

Kamm's claims, then, seem threadbare. No - they are ludicrous; it is only his cod-erudition (or pompous verbosity) that allows them a minimal chance at life. He is either knowingly misleading his readers, or he is grossly misinformed.