Dead Men Left

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Kamm: SWP obsession

(With apologies to Mark...)

Oliver Kamm affects an omnicogent tone to his postings, as especially designed to impart all thoughts therein as if developed following years of learned studies and immense intellectual effort - or, failing that, a preordained acquaintance with The Truth, before which we duly prostrate ourselves. As his website description has it, "Politics, economics and culture": like the News of the World, truly all human life is here; although Kamm's is a funny old Truth, at times, for it tells us the invasion of Iraq verily did bring peace and harmony to the world; or that verbally assaulting the wholly destitute is merely "robust" politics: but such miserable sinners as ourselves may perhaps place our trust in these, his claims, as manifestations of a higher order of Truth that remains unsullied by trifling matters of mere fact. And yet a small piece of grit in Kamm's all-seeing eye appears to have driven him quite to distraction. It is flattering, perhaps, to be regarded with such scrutiny, as the SWP have evidently managed to drag Kamm down from lofty consideration of higher matters to sullying with an organisation he chooses to label "left-wing fascists": the SWP is mysteriously at once both insignificant, and quite extraordinarily dangerous.

Take the sudden death of Paul Foot. In a flood of kind words - left, right and centre - about Paul, Kamm attempts to introduce a sour note.

I have not yet commented on the death of the journalist Paul Foot, but shall be posting in due course a review of his writings. As my conclusion is hostile, I'll leave more time to elapse before doing so...

There follows a brief suggestion that Paul's 1969 trashing of Enoch Powell, The Rise of Enoch Powell, was not entirely worthless; mysteriously, Paul's allegedly "totalitarian ideology" (his support for the SWP) at this point fails to be quite totalitarian enough, leaving a work Kamm admits is "prescient and valuable". Kamm's real concern is, of course, not with a "stylish" writer (his word), nor even with Paul's rightly lauded work on miscarriages of justice, his investigative journalism, or his personal integrity; it is with this "totalitarian ideology". His treatment of Paul is thus entirely evasive: if Kamm has already "reviewed" Paul's work, he should post his conclusions, not fling some mud, and then pretend that a concern for the deceased ("...I'll leave more time to elapse...") means he is not doing so. This, surely, is hypocrisy: either Paul Foot was a vehement and unapologetic supporter of a "totalitarian ideology" - in which case he should undoubedly be condemned outright, with no piffling "politeness" involved - or he somehow transcended his "totalitarian" ideology, in which case condemning him on those grounds is baseless. And why not condemn someone, if they support something as foul as the SWP is to Kamm? I cheerfully admit, for example, that Reagan's death would have brought a smile to my face, had it not occurred thirty years too late. Why not condemn a tireless propagandist for a "totalitarian ideology"? We shall all await Kamm's "review" with bated breath, though he has rather spoilt its ending for us. (Addendum: I've just checked - several people have commented on Kamm's post to precisely this effect. Good.)

This pettifogging hypocrisy aside, Kamm moves onto the meat of his post: that the SWP are "left-wing fascists". Naturally, the evasions involved here are quite impressively large, and depend on Kamm's authorial style to smooth over the rougher edges. The case is nonexistent. This is, I think, a fair summary of his major points:

1. Assorted politicians or organisations of the left or ex-left supported fascism at various points in the 1930s. Kamm names the Japanese Communist Party's adoption of "race and nation" doctrines and the German Communist Party's support for the Nazis in the referendum of 1931 and the 1932 transport strike. (He starts by throwing in a couple of ex-socialist French politicians, but as all decisively broke with left politics of any kind before turning to fascism, they appear to be simply making up numbers.)

2. The Baader-Meinhof gang's various terrorist acts, including firebombing a synagogue; one its leaders moved on to become a leader of the far-right National Democratic Party.

3. The SWP's invitation of Gilad Atzmon, jazz musician, to Marxism 2004, and a preceding interview.

4. Gilad Atzmon's claims about "Jewish power" and influence in the US.

Let's take these in order:

1. As I suspect Kamm well knows, the SWP stands in a broadly Trotskyist tradition, formed precisely in opposition to both the degeneration of Communist Parties abroad, and Stalinist counter-revolution within Russia. Trotsky's own criticisms of the German Communist Party at the time are well known, and have been reprinted by the SWP as guide to combatting fascism. (As Stalinism, Fascism and the United Front, available from Bookmarks.)This is not mere semantics: opposition to Stalin cost Trotskyists (and of course Trotsky himself) their lives. Kamm claims he is opposed to "totalitarianism"; I will quote from just one description of Russian Trotskyists opposition to Stalinist totalitarianism:

In the Verkhne-Uralsk prison the Bolshevik-Leninists [as the Trotskyists called themselves], to the number of 450, began a hunger strike to protest against the despotism of the local administration...

They began to feed us forcibly. Unspeakable violence was the result, the voluntarily famished men battling with the jailers. Our comrades, of course, were trounced. At the end of our strength, they crammed rubber hose down our mouths and throats. The famished men were dragged to the "feeding cell" like so many dogs. Nobody gave in. On the fifteenth day we decided to suspend the strike because the attempts at suicide were becoming too numerous...

(Victor Serge, Russia Twenty Years After, 1996: pp. 72-73)

2. The Baader-Meinhof gang - and indeed the entire strategy of individual terrorism - were explicitly criticised and rejected in the SWP's magazine, Socialist Review, as recently as April this year. (Perhaps Kamm does not find the condemnation thorough-going enough. Allow me to offer my own, as an SWP member: the Baader-Meinhof gang were absolutely bloody awful.) Again, the tradition in which the SWP stands was partly formed on the basis of opposition to such tendencies: the classic statement is Trotsky's "Terrorism and Marxism".

In both cases, Kamm attempts to make an argument by a form of elision, hoping the reader will not notice that he is comparing two types of politics to which the SWP is clearly opposed.

3+4: Atzmon's music was good. His incoherent statements about politics were by all accounts dire. Meetings at Marxism are generally taped, so I invite Kamm to listen to the contributions to his meeting and hear Atzmon clearly criticised by SWP member after SWP member - prominent members, too, like John Rose.

Once more, an explicit attack by the SWP on a particular view is ignored. Personally, I think it was a mistake to invite Atzmon to speak, simple as that, but I am glad that once there he was given a rough ride. As to the SW interview: Atzmon has conducted many others, on similar lines, many of which also note in passing his website - or are we to also condemn Jazzdimensions, Jazz CDs and Jazz Views as "antisemitic" or "left-wing fascists"? I await correction, if needed, but I doubt either charge would carry much weight; similar charges against the SWP carry still less.

All this is flimsy stuff on Kamm's part. If set against the SWP's work in combatting fascism in Britain; if set against its tradition of opposition to any kind of racism, it is clear just how weak his case is. Nick Griffin, Holocaust-denier and leader of the fascist BNP, does not now occupy a seat in Brussels because the SWP works - and has always worked - along with many others to defeat such people and their organisations, must recently in Unite Against Fascism. Beside that, Kamm's nonsense matters little.