Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 8, 2013

Response to Gilbert Achcar statement

Filed under: Academia,British SWP — louisproyect @ 2:00 pm

(My comments are in italics.)

On 5/8/13 2:42 AM, Gilbert Achcar wrote:


Gilbert Achcar

The campaign against the SWP is taking a regrettable turn. It now includes attempts at intimidating those participating in Marxism 2013, including myself, into withdrawing from the conference. The SWP is being described as a “socialist rapist party” and taking part in the conference as an “apology of rapism”.

You can call the SWP whatever you want but the fact is that a key leader of the party was protected from the consequences of the most brutal act of violence against women.

Whatever one thinks of the crisis in the SWP and the behaviour of its leadership, such terms applied to a whole party ­– the largest on the British radical left – and to the open forum that the party organizes each year are outrageous. They reveal the regrettable persistence of a certain mindset on the left, a mindset the origin of which is known all too well and for which anathemas and excommunication are substitutes for political fight.

Nobody advocates “anathema and excommunication”, as if that term applied. Instead, it is a reaction by some leading figures on the left to refrain from accepting invitations to speak at their Summer Carnival of Marxism because of the failure of the SWP leadership to clean up its act. “Anathema and excommunication” would instead describe what happened to the Trotskyist movement for most of the 30s through the 50s when it was routinely blocked from joining social movements, trade unions, etc. by a hegemonic Communist Party.

I do not recall any such attitude towards innumerable left parties the leaderships of which are guilty of much worse than what the SWP is accused of. To give but one example, I have accepted in the past invitations by the French Communist Party to their annual Fête de l’Humanité, as do regularly countless intellectual and activists who are deeply critical of that party. Had I regarded participating in such open forums as an endorsement of the party’s political, organisational or ethical record, which I deem to be incomparably worse than that of the SWP in all respects, I would have never accepted. Instead, I regarded my participation as an opportunity to engage with the public who attend such events, be they party members or non-members, and defend my own views, which differ from those of the party. No one ever blamed me for that.

This is a bogus analogy. The CP in France was not responsible for repression in the USSR. By the 1960s the CP’s in capitalist countries had evolved into social democratic type formations whose connection to the Moscow Trials, etc. mostly consisted of a refusal to disavow their own history. If the French CP, on the other hand, was as tiny as the SWP and had 9 rape investigations on its record, that might be another story.

I do firmly believe that the crisis in the SWP is a worrying symptom of a deeply-rooted problem pertaining to a vitiated conception and form of organisation. Regrettably, a few of the SWP’s opponents worldwide are taking this same vitiated tradition to extremes in the way they practice SWP-bashing. It is high time for the radical left to get rid entirely of that tradition if it is ever to regenerate.

8 May 2013

Sorry, Gilbert, the “tradition” we need to get rid of is thuggery on the left. When a minority faction in the SWP was formed to clean house, its members were shouted down and threatened with violence. Meanwhile, Alex Callinicos–author of 27 books–speculated that “lynch mobs” might arise if the minority refused to abide by the rules shoved down its throat by an anti-democratic majority. If that is the kind of gathering you want to attend, be my guest.



  1. Louis, you don’t really answer Achcar’s central point that this (doomed) attempt at quarantining the SWP just avoids political debate – which is a very good one. All in all, it has been the SWP itself that has been adept at ‘isolating’ and ‘shunning’ its critics on the left, over the years. It is a shame to see its critics adopt the same apolitical stance.
    You say that a leading member of the party was protected from the consequences of a brutal act against a woman – but you do not know that to be the case at all. You don’t know if the woman was raped. She was not prevented from going to the police. If you think their internal investigation flawed, that’s one thing, but they did investigate. Did she leave the SWP? Did she join the ISN?
    The French Communist Party might not have been responsible for the repression in the Soviet Union, but it did support the French presence in Algeria, attack the student revolutionaries in 1968 and in 1980 a PCF mayor led a crowd attacking an immigrant hostel in a bulldozer. There is no question that the record of the SWP is much preferable to the PCF.
    You know as well as anyone that Callinicos ‘lynch mobs’ was a rhetorical statement, about as meaningful as your own threat to Vivek Chibber. The minority lost the vote at conference, demanded a recall conference, got it, and then lost the vote at that one.

    Comment by James Heartfield — May 8, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

  2. James H., always the contrarian!

    I should update this post with the comment made by James Pitman on Marxmail: “It doesn’t help that Gilbert and Callinicos are best of friends either.”

    Comment by louisproyect — May 8, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

  3. I personally think anyone who could stomach the Cliffite SWP to the point that could get up and speak at one of their conferences (without the aid of a mask) deserves to be shunned from proletarian movements and thinking people in general on the basis of their wretched politics alone. But I can’t get behind stuff like calling the organization “Socialist Rapists.”

    It’s also a bit rich seeing you whinge over the SWP’s “thuggery” when you wrote an open letter a few days ago that could easily be viewed as a thinly veiled threat of physical violence.

    The SWP leadership is full of scum bags. I make that assertion on the basis of things like their support for the Mullahs and Khans in Afghanistan who threw acid into the face of female school teachers, their support of reactionary gangsters like Hezbollah, and the cult-like atmosphere of the organization they are in charge of. But the truth is that we don’t what happened in regards to the allegations, even if their actions later make the whole thing smell to high heaven.

    We do know about some real thuggery. The CP attacks on Trotskyists, the LaRouchites and “Operation Mop Up”, the sexual abuse and assaults in the Healy cult and their selling of information and photographs of protestors to the Libyan and Iraqi regimes, etc.

    I don’t think the SWP is at that point yet, but the fact is that I simply don’t know yet, and neither do most other people. Lucky for me, I haven’t had any use for them for decades.

    Comment by A Book by Dostoyevsky — May 8, 2013 @ 6:11 pm

  4. It’s also a bit rich seeing you whinge over the SWP’s “thuggery” when you wrote an open letter a few days ago that could easily be viewed as a thinly veiled threat of physical violence.

    Yeah, but don’t ever forget that I don’t give a flying fuck what people think of me and especially what impact my open letter has on my speaking at an HM conference. This blog is my plenary session. What’s more, I hold forth here without any expectations of a speaker’s fee.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 8, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  5. Achar’s statement is hypocritical. The SWP has no problem trying to “no platform” women who disagree with them:

    Comment by Richard Estes — May 8, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

  6. LP: ‘…the fact is that a key leader of the party was protected from the consequences of the most brutal act of violence against women.’

    I wasn’t aware that the rape allegation had been proven. If it has not, then it would be more accurate to say that a key leader of the party was protected from having an allegation of rape being properly investigated.

    Comment by Max — May 9, 2013 @ 3:33 am

  7. If it has not, then it would be more accurate to say that a key leader of the party was protected from having an allegation of rape being properly investigated.

    It might be more accurate but it hardly serves to legitimize Le Blanc and Achcar’s misguided appearances.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 9, 2013 @ 5:20 am

  8. `You can call the SWP whatever you want but the fact is that a key leader of the party was protected from the consequences of the most brutal act of violence against women.’

    Or at least from having them seriously investigated which probably amounts to the same thing.

    I could forgive this `error’ if serious steps had been taken to put matters right but they have not. The accused remains `cleared’. That’s not good enough. Until they take serious steps then Marxism 2013 should be off limits to anybody with the inclination to call themselves a feminist let alone a socialist.

    Comment by Paul Mabbot — May 9, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

  9. Calling someone a rapist in definitive terms before the case is proven is a pretty terrible thing to do in general, more akin to the “family values” law-and-order right than the left. I wonder how you feed about Assange.

    Comment by A Book by Dostoyevsky — May 9, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

  10. Nobody’s calling him a rapist. Trouble is nobody knows because of the way the SWP handled it whichappaers to be a way that can only benefits people who are rapists rather than victims. Comrade Delta might have been innocent but we’ll never know which is how this little stunt has backfired on the CC boys club.

    As for Assange he had the right to fight extradition and to seek asylum and he should be supported in that.

    Comment by Paul Mabbot — May 10, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  11. Seeing as the link with the SWP case and the Assange matter has been raised here is a link to a good piece from the Redscribe blog.


    Comment by Paul Mabbot — May 10, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  12. “Trouble is nobody knows because of the way the SWP handled it ”

    Totally agree with that. That’s the thing we know and the thing we can get at.

    Don’t agree with calling the SWP “the socialist rapists” as Louis has done on this blog.

    I also don’t agree with the SWP jumping on the bourgeois bandwagon calling Assange a rapist, but that doesn’t think I want to give them a “taste of their own medicine.” Anyway, what else would you expect from people who have been lining up with this or that branch of the bourgeoisie throughout their whole existence?

    Comment by A Book by Dostoyevsky — May 13, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  13. On recruitment I do not accept John’s arguments at all. First I don’t accept that this is what the argument is really about. I am sure that when Sheffield, Tower Hamlets and Newham, Hackney, Birmingham, Glasgow, Portsmouth and Southampton aggregates came out for the CC majority the issue of recruitment had nothing to do with it. Second if I had been on the CC at the time I would have been opposed to Lindsey’s recruitment campaign proposal. This is not because I am against recruitment (I’ve recruited six people since Marxism 2008) or recruitment campaigns when the time is right (in the past some have been fruitful) but because I think a campaign with organisers and targets etc would have been counter productive at that time.I would have judged that a lot of the members were fed up with such campaigns from a few years ago, especially when there was no proper accounting for them. I remember one such campaign in the late nineties when it was boldly proclaimed that every branch should recruit five members in the next month (If that could be done by order each branch would grow by 60 in a year and we’d have had a mass party long ago) only for it to be silently dropped when branches manifestly failed to do so. I also remember when splitting and ‘abolishing’ the branches effectively derecruited large numbers of members and I seem to remember John having something to do with that. In short I think it was better just to get on and do it rather than have a formal campaign and also I think that since Martin Smith has been National Organiser the state of party branches has improved and real recruitment (with proper figures given) though modest has at least been taking place.

    Comment by Wilburn Pope — May 13, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  14. Stalinicos’ use of the phrase “lynch mob” is telling – a brutal threat, akin to the KKK, and a term that can never be dissociated from its racist roots.

    Comment by Mark — May 14, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

  15. There are two types of group that are trying to change the party by fait accompli. The first group seeks to create external pressures. China, and I suspect Richard, encouraged Laurie Penny to write in the Independent. The letter from Peter Thomas and co, and interventions from ISO members, fit in here. PT and co are in part motivated by legitimate concerns about the case, but also it reflects the political ambitions of the Historical Materialism editorial board: it’s a repeat of ‘NLR syndrome’—Perry Anderson sought to profile himself as self-appointed generalissimo of the class struggle; these HM editors see themselves in a similar light. The ISO’s behaviour is particularly shocking: relations with them had been improving, but now their behaviour is threatening to “destroy” this.

    Comment by Douglas Lewis — May 15, 2013 @ 6:08 am

  16. Nothing screams classy and thoughtful like caps lock in the subject line of a defensive email.

    Comment by Pham Binh — May 17, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

  17. Calling the SWP a rape party is simply a retreat away from serious analysis and a leap in tabloid fear mongering, hysteria and smearing.

    By doing this you tivialise the whole subject and use the issue of rape for ideological purposes.

    Scum doesn’t begin to describe this method.

    Shame on you all.

    Comment by SteveHar — May 18, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

  18. You may have a point. I went overboard when I called it a rape party. It would be much better to call it a rape cover-up party.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 18, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

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