Sunday, 22 January 2006

Why The British Left Sucks In 2006: episode IV - A New Hope

What is your name!? The Communist Party of Great Britain.

What is your quest!? In the words of perennial Stalinists alpha-male Harpal Brar, "a group of Trotskyites who run a gossip rag". But what Trots...and what a rag!

How many of you are there!? About 20. Considering the group's been around for as many years - initially as a Stalinist sect within the 'old' CPGB - this is poor showing. What puts them above the parapet is that they efficiently seized the CPGB name after the latter's reformation into a toothless third-way think-tank, and also the 'gossip rag', Weekly Worker, which enjoys a total circulation, including the online edition, of around 10,000. to put it in perspective, if the SWP could make a proportionally similar claim, Socialist Worker would outstrip all of the mainstream broadsheets put together.

You might remember me from... You almost definitely don't. There's 20 of them, for fuck's sake. They're in Respect, but i can't really see why, since I've never seen a WW article expressing support for a Respect position, ever.

Pros: Weekly Worker, the best Trot rag in the whole wide world - it's half Morning Star, half Popbitch. Basically 70% of its articles are catty critiques of the SWP, and frequently chucklesome - for the right reasons. Hell, even their appeals for money are smartly written, and pleasingly free of messianic exhortations about the great task of building a proletarian party blah blah blah...the actual analysis and so on, the other 30% isn't so good - but they have a policy of printing replies to controversial articles, and are one of the only Leninist groups to put their money where their mouths are in terms of democracy and debate.

Cons: They'll never amount to much. (I say that, hoping I'll appear in the same bit of history as Einstein's physics teacher.)

Overall: it will suffice to quote an email exchange published in December between them and luckless grumbling Swerp Dave Crouch (original article

"Original statement from comrade Crouch

On the front page of your November 24 issue you published my contribution from an internal SWP document. You did so entirely without my permission. I wish to make it clear that I am not a member of your party, I share none of your criticisms of the SWP, and I never read the Weekly Worker - unless forced to by a circumstance such as this.

Dave Crouch
SWP, north London

Manson to Crouch

Further to our telephone conversation, I would be happy to publish the statement below. However, as you know, the contribution itself was not published on the front page, as your statement says. Would you like me to change the wording in the first sentence to read: 'In your November 24 issue you published my contribution from an internal SWP document and carried my photograph on your front page'?

Peter Manson

PS: Tomorrow (Wednesday) I will be at the Weekly Worker office (020 8965 0659; weeklyworker if you wish to discuss this further.

Crouch to Manson

Drop dead.

Manson to Crouch

Dave, I know you're upset, but I'm trying to help by publishing a statement that both expresses your feelings and is technically accurate.

Crouch to Manson

Get a life.

Manson to Crouch

I take it you no longer want the statement published. If I am wrong, please let me know some time today.

Crouch to Manson

Go fuck yourselves."

Why The British Left Sucks In 2006: episode III - Revenge of the Stalin Society

What is your name!? The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist Leninist).

What is your quest!? Where does one start? I already accused the 'official' Communist party of being stuck in 1964, but these guys haven't made it past the Moscow Trials. Generally, they want to institute a stalinist state in Britain - a goal I think we all pursue in life with equal vigour.
What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow!? Whatever Joe Stalin says it is!

Dude, he's dead... IMPERIALIST LIES!!!

How many of you are there!? Not more than a hundred. The party is young, in the sense that it's actually only been around for a year or two, but old, in the sense that it's a bunch of extremely old people. People like Harpal Brar. (update Feb 07: actually, there appears to be a secondary constituency of British-Asian teenage girls. Double-u, tee, eff?)

You might remember me from... You almost definitely don't. Their views tread that line between hilarious and terrifying which guarantees almost no exposure from anyone, ever. Their leader, the aformentioned Brar, edits a journal called Lalkar, which is so stalinist as to be illegal in parts of India.

Pros: Comedy value, pretty much.

Cons: I'd write something here, but I'm sure Harpal Brar would attack me with an icepick. You know, I'm beginning to think that someone should adapt one of those "Chuck Norris facts" things for him. "Harpal Brar does not shave with knives - he sharpens knives on his beard."


Why The British Left Sucks In 2006: episode II - Attack of the Bores

What is your name!? The Communist Party of Britain.

What is your quest!? Officially, to continue the legacy of the old CPGB (as opposed to the 'new' CPGB, whom we shall discuss in due course), adhering to its classic program "The British Road To Socialism", which was
ultimately revealed to be the work of Uncle Joe. Unofficially, to be the most boooooooring party ever. The only way a party could be more boring than the CPB is if it were composed entirely of clones of Neil Kinnock, and every party political broadcast was dubbed with the voice of Henry Kissinger.

How many of you are there!? About a thousand. Mostly aging tankies, although there are a surprising number of youngins too. Honestly, who are these people?

You might remember me from... You probably don't. Their split from the CPGB in '88 was more or less the final nail in that party's coffin. The Stop The War coalition - nowadays dominated by swivel-eyed trots (see episode 1) and muslim groups with thousand-yard stares - was formed by leading Communist Andrew Murray, who still officially leads it. Maintains the sort of *wink*nudge* relationship with the daily Morning Star that the IRA has with Sinn Fein, only neither side looks interesting enough to have hidden arms deposits.

Pros: Errr...Harpal Brar's not involved? They're studiously sane, which is always a plus (and quite common among the former Cominform parties, humility and soul-searching being a natural consequence of the sort of personal and political catastrophe these people endured in '89-'92.)

Cons: They are pretty much still reformed and semi-reformed Stalinists, of the Khrushchev/Brezhnevite schools. Also, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Overall: To be honest, I'm surprised that they have any support at all. They're ideologically ossified in the post-Hungary pre-Prague era. They're undead. Except the undead normally do cool shit like drink blood and eat brains.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

Why The British Left Sucks in 2006: Episode I - The Not So Phantom Menace

In the first of what will undoubtedly be a series profile of the myriad factions that make up the left-wing of the rorschach nightmare of grass and concrete we call the UK, the focus turns to perhaps the biggest trot sect ever, the Socialist Workers' Party.

What is your name!? The SWP.

What is your quest!? To flog copies of their reliably incandescent weekly tabloid to teenagers who should know better. er, I mean, the SWP differs from most Trotskyist factions in two main ways. Firstly, it calls itself a Party. This is important for a particularly stupid reason: as heartwarmingly nutty as they invariably are, trotskyist sects are painfully aware that they can normally count their membership on the fingers of the Central Committee's hands. So they do not call themselves Party, because the Party is the mass movement which will lead the workers to power, not fifty angry professors from Islington arguing about the class nature of the USSR. The Swerps, however, set out with the ambition to be that party, and astonishingly, have had some measure of success.

How many of you are there!? Which brings me to distinguishing feature number two: there's thousands of them. Yes, they're in four figures.

You might remember me from... They're everywhere, you know. Whenever there's a protest, it's them organising it, or if it isn't, they're planning a hostile takeover (as was the case with the Stop The War movement, Respect, the list goes on...). They're in every town centre regularly, pimping Socialist Worker and collecting signatures ostensibly for some petition, but really to get your address, all the better to PESTER YOU FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

Pros: The range, visibility and fervour of their activism has an allure of its own. Also, Mark Steel, motherfuckers!

Cons: Give or take a couple of welcome deaths, their leadership has remained essentially the same since the party's formation. Fine, if your group has 50 members. when it has two or three thousand, you expect some degree of internal democracy to assert itself, but no. This arrangement has led to hubris of the most terrifying kind, and a near-stalinist paranoia regarding dissenting views. This is all the fault of one Tony Cliff, the chief figure in the Party's formation and its de facto leader until his death, who, shall we say, took criticism very badly. Also, their previous incarnation, International Socialists, gave the world Christopher Hitchens, which in fairness probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Overall: The 'gateway drug' to hard-left politics for more or less everyone, but rarely the lasting addiction. Perhaps it would be, were the leadership less batshit insane.

For people with too much time on their hands, I heartily recommend you take a look at More Years For The Locust by Jim Higgins, which is a mischievously funny account of where they came from, and why they aren't necessarily good news, from a figure once at the leadership clique's heart - and just a generally good laugh at the absurdities of life as a leftie.