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January 10, 2013

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sf reader

Lovely defense, he's sure they're not " cynical cultists" - well, phew! Was worried there for a minute! Naive cultists so much more palatable.

ajay

Worth noticing that he's on the Central Committee, and for the CPC (and the CPSU for that matter) having a steady supply of disposable women to abuse is generally regarded, at Central Committee level, not so much as a crime, more as a perk of office. (Beria, Mao etc).

Richard J

I do have to give them some grudging respect for sticking to their principles of opposition to the bourgeois state. Everything else, however, was literally jaw-dropping.

Phil

He was on the CC - getting him to resign from it is the best thing the leadership's managed to do, and on Tom Walker's account they seem to have botched that.

Reading the leaked transcript of the conference session I was struck by the sincerity of the CC's defenders: they really seem to believe there was no alternative to finding the guy not guilty. OTOH, being who they are and him being who he is, there was surely an element of the "appalling vista" in their decision - if someone like him could be brought low by allegations which at the end of the day haven't been proven...

As I've commented elsewhere, in this case "bourgeois law" may actually be ahead of the comrades' thinking on this one. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, if a defendant accused of rape is going to claim that the victim consented, he needs to show that he had, not just an honest belief in consent, but a reasonable belief - and he can be asked what specific steps he took to establish that this belief was reasonable.

Phil

On the point about forgetting about it and working harder for the revolution - I was once a member of a group which was playing a key role in catalysing a realignment of parts of the far left, which (under the right conditions) was going to lead to the permanent establishment of a far-left electoral party, which would be a real alternative to Labour and a pole of orientation for working-class struggles and radical movements; that was fun, but subjectively it was quite a responsibility*. What it must feel like to be part of a party that's ultimately going to bring about the liberation of the whole of humanity, I shudder to think.

*Objectively, not so much. Who would have thought the Tories could win outright in '92? Bastards.

JamesP

On a geek note, I'm interested to see if there's a response by China Mievelle (moderately prominent SWP member) to this, given the rather smug passages in PERDIDO STREET STATION where the semi-utopian bird-people are not bound by your bourgois concepts of legal fairness in responding to rape charges.

Strategist

having a steady supply of disposable women to abuse is generally regarded, at Central Committee level, not so much as a crime, more as a perk of office. (Beria, Mao etc)

Gerry Healy?

Richard J

and on Tom Walker's account they seem to have botched that.

It was interesting to note that he wrote the SW editorial on Assange, which the DC explicitly referred to in the transcript as a way of credentialising its pro-woman's right stance.

ajay

Oh, nice catch JamesP. I didn't know Mieville was in the SWP. Explains why his books are so humourless, though. (There are magical water spirits in the rivers. They work as dockers. Halfway through one of the books they form a union, appoint shop stewards and go on strike. They do this by using their water magic to dig a big trench in the river so that ships can't get past. And all this is described entirely seriously.)

CMcM

Strategist: I think this sounds different from the Healy situation. He was a megalomaniac who has some claim to be British Marxism's very own Jimmy Savile - a man who 'hid in the plain sight' of his apparently very public life to pursue a deeply 'private' existence of systematic abuse.

The SWP, on the other hand, seem to me to be utterly trapped in their own conception of themselves as not just a party but as a [post revolutionary]proto-state.

They may or may not have a internal culture of unremitting sexism, I've no idea. Such accusations are sometimes thrown about on the left in a general mudslinging way. But what seems to have done for them here is simply their utter inability to even conceptualise the separation of powers and functions and how important that separation can be in dealing with things like rape or sexual abuse - or indeed, criminal activity per se.


I'd say the SWP's fuck up arose from a classic Leninist political error.

jamie

ajay @9 there's a genuinely interesting description in the first Sjowell and Wahloo procedural of the procedures involved in renting a dredger from the Swedish inland waterways board. Sets the mood really nicely for when the dredger finds the corpse. But the crime genre generally is a good fit for hard Marxism.

dsquared

None of the unintentionally hilarious SWP agitprop intrusions into Mieville has ever surpassed the debut in "King Rat", when the protagonist, having overcome all obstacles to claim his birthright as the shamanistic half-human[1] spirit-god of all ratkind, decides to make a speech telling all the rodents that they are free and equal comrades and declaring himself "Citizen Rat".

[1] thinking about it, there's a not entirely comfortable dealing-with-rapist bit in that one too.

belle le triste

Elsewhere on the net yesterday I was idly chatting with friends about "child prodigies we have known" -- what they can be very good at (maths, music, the usual), and what despite being bright they're often very bad at (and remain bad at when they grow up), which is (unremarkably) the wisdom you gain from experience, especially from being aware you're not at good at yet.

The committee of judgment here strikes me this way: they come across like pretentious, deluded children -- the "revolutionary" phrases and indeed many of the "feminist" phrases they may have down pat, but there's no awareness at all that what they're doing is failing to come together into a just and useful process as regards an extremely serious conflict within their own community, let alone as a process the outside world will (in any manner whatever) admire and be impressed with. Look how effectively those guys dealt with this very thorny problem ill-tackled in the world at large: let me study their pamphlet on the crisis of accumulation under neo-liberalism: really really not going to happen. In fact what's now occurring is that their traditional foes, left, far right and nick cohen, are seizing on this stupidity to pillory and vex them (and frankly serve them right).

For as long as I can remember, the rule-of-thumb crit of the SWP has been tactically opportunist, strategically nowhere -- and with almost all the first-generation grown-ups passed on, it's more like The Cement Garden (if not quite yet Lord of the Flies). Awful.

Phil

How does digging a trench in a river work?

I haven't read any Mieville, but he's an interesting guy - he's got a doctorate in legal philosophy & has published papers on international law.

After the revolution (if we assume that's a meaningful phrase) we would expect an awful lot of things to be decided collectively, in terms of what's best for the community, instead of in terms of an individual with rights to defend him/herself against accusations by another individual. This side of the revolution, those bourgeois liberties and safeguards and procedures are pretty damn important. The fact that the state can and does dispense with those liberties &c fuels a lot of critiques of bourgeois law, but to me that's a criticism of the state, not the law.

Richard J

d^2 - what about the scabbing pixies, gnomes, and other minor spirits in Kraken?

blt - there's a lot in that, I think - as someone who was a child smartarse, I know to my cost how long it can take, and how many blunt conversations people need to have with you, to get the point across about looking at the big picture.

(If there's one thing that UK accounting standards get right, it's the overriding requirement that your accounts are 'true and fair'. Anyone who's ever had the misfortune to speak with a US auditor may be able to tell the difference this makes.)

Phil

One other thing. CMcM's point about separation of powers is an interesting one, inasmuch as the party apparat could argue that separation of powers did obtain: the CC wasn't directly involved, as the offender had (been) resigned; the case was heard by the Disputes Committee. The obvious point has been made, more than once - the DC consisted largely (entirely?) of time-served SWP hacks who knew the accused personally & had worked with him for years. But, given that democratic centralism gets everyone in the habit of agreeing (or 'agreeing') with the leadership, and given that the CC is elected en bloc (preventing the existing CC being replaced by gradual turnover), and given that there's a ban on 'factionalism' for most of the year (effectively preventing the CC being replaced in one go), who else could the DC possibly consist of? And of course, in normal times the total, enforced univocality of the SWP's various organs has been seen as a feature, not the bug it evidently is. Leninism FAIL.

JamesP

I should note that I like Mievelle's books very much, and disagree that they're humorless - large elements of them are parody, the dialogue with Hell in Perdido Street Station is a delight, etc. IRON COUNCIL is the best Bas-Lag book by some distance, though, partially because of its ambivalence toward the revolution (which I think Mievelle means in a difference sense than it reads to me, but that's another discussion.)

KING RAT is pretty crap, however. dsquared's point reminds me a little of the cringing atheist-piety of the last volume of Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS - ideas implemented much better in the final books of EARTHSEA, though.

ajay

How does digging a trench in a river work?

You do it by magic, obvs.

Not the same as the British Army engineer colonel who actually proposed seriously that the way to get shipping under a particular low bridge was to deepen the river bed below the span. (I cannot remember where I read this.)

the crime genre generally is a good fit for hard Marxism.

This reminds me of the best line from Gorky Park: someone asks Arkady why he became a homicide investigator, and he says it's because it lets you take the front off people's lives and have a look inside at how they live.

Richard J

I feel a touch uncomfortable in these discussions, I have to admit, being conscious that at the root of it all is a very personal and human tragedy, that can be obscured in the systemic analysis, fascinating as it is.

(This isn't a dig at anyone here, just a rare attack of personal scruples.)

That said, the main fascination for an outsider to leftist groups is the way all of the flaws in the investigation are precisely those that have been, as much as can be possible, ironed out of the actually existing judicial system. There's something depressing about watching all the old mistakes being independently reinvented before your very eyes.


dsquared

what about the scabbing pixies, gnomes, and other minor spirits in Kraken?

Oh but in that one, as JamesP says, he was definitely joking. I liked Kraken (nearly all Mieville fans hate it with a horror usually reserved for the works of Martin Amis). It's what Alan Moore used to call a "list story" (ie, a list of extrapolations from an initial premis, usually published in the "Tharg's Future-Shocks!" series in 2000AD), but it rattles along.

dsquared

deepen the river bed below the span

I once convinced (briefly) a gullible colleague that Coniston Water was the steepest-sloping lake in the British Isles, which is why it was used for water speed record attempts. I had moved onto the subject of water-skiing before succumbing to the giggles.

Richard J

Of course that wouldn't be true. It's got roughly a north-south orientation. You want Loch Ness for that - the east-west alignment means all the water piles up at the west end owing to the centrifugal force.

Richard J

About 20 metres or so, on a bag of a fag packet estimate I've just done now.

ajay

No, no, you want a lake that runs north-south. Equatorial bulge, remember? The sea is actually highest (furthest from the earth's core) at the equator.

I don't know which would be the steepest. Either Loch Ness or Loch Awe has the biggest difference between its north and south ends and thus presumably the greatest total drop. But that's not the same as being the steepest. What you want, I suppose, is the lake with the most north-south orientation. Awe and Ness are both kind of diagonal. Loch Lomond might be better.

ajay

I once convinced a fellow student that Henry IV Part I had indeed abdicated in favour of his successor, Henry IV Part II. (He didn't get a new regnal number, because his predecessor was still alive, you see.)

Richard J

I once had a man in charge of liasion with the ANP knowledgeably nod along as I observed that moose followed the pattern of ox, and hence the plural was moosen.

ajay

Afghan National Police?

Richard J

couldn't possibly say.

ajay

I thought you were an accountant or an auditor or something. Now you're telling us you're some sort of counterinsurgency ungulate consultant?

Richard J

A lot of the wife's university friends went into the civil service. The ungulate knowledge is required for the job. Different VAT treatment, you see.

ajay

There's a different VAT treatment for cloven-hoofed mammals? What is this, kosher tax law?

Richard J

What? Have you never heard of the VAT issues caused by Sami importing reindeer into and out of the EU across the Finno/Norwegian border?

ajay

Reindeer don't come under VAT. They're elkscluded.

Richard J

"I h-ain't a h-elk. I'm a g-nu".

chris y

The ungulate knowledge is required for the job.

What a wonderful vision of the civil service - an entire bureaucracy dedicated to making taxation conform to taxonomy! My wife is also a civil servant and neither she nor any of her colleagues could tell an artiodactyl from an artisan cheese. Or whether VAT would be payable on either.

Phil

I saw the word 'Troon' on the window of a tailor in Edinburgh and convinced my girlfriend that it was the Scots for 'trousers'. She still married me.

CMcM

Meanwhile,Penny Red in the Staggers quotes China Mieville saying almost all the right things: he just leaves out "& you can stuff your party card up yer jacksey"

Richard J

And Richard Seymour, who's always struck me as the more dogmatic SWP bloggers, has come out likewise.

belle le triste

Hard to read Mieville and Seymour breaking cover like this, Seymour in so witheringly scornful a fashion, as anything but the first public move in a full-on battle for control and the ouster of the current Central Committe, as well as an open debate about the nature of the party and the changes it needs (or doesn't need, as presumably the other side will say). M&S are both significant assets to the party in regard to the outside world -- in the sense that they each have many readers & admirers who are unaware of, indifferent to or even hostile towards the party at large -- and both have been, how can we say this diplomatically, pretty canny in the past about being seen to run athwart the partyline too publicly. Nothing in this situation is new, after all -- except the vulnerability of the ruling clique. Both explicitly use the phrase the "democratic deficit"; Mieville says he is part of a group that has "openly" struggled for a better party structure (not sure how to interpret "openly" there, given the ubreachable veil of democratic centralism). Both will be only too aware their words will be seized on by those who wish the party ill, on left and right -- which means both must therefore believe they are in a strong enough position to make this risk worth it; a strong enough position, in other words, to win the day when battle commences, as they very much mean it to.

(Laurie Penny's piece contains at least one rather credulous element: the SWP surely only has "several thousand members" if "several" is allowed to mean "less than two", or perhaps she's counting former members, which rather begs a question.)

Cian

Or possibly there are some lines that neither of them want to cross. It doesn't have to be quite so mercenary.

My question would be, as a fairly indifferent outsider, what would be the point of a coup. The SWP is dying. They had a chance during the last decade to be a significant force on the left and they blew it. And now this.

Cian

Actually that Richard Seymour piece is very good. It's also pretty a public challenge. Either his faction wins, or they'll have to kick him (and I'm guessing China) out. Those are some pretty high stakes to be playing with on both sides.

chris y

the SWP surely only has "several thousand members" if "several" is allowed to mean "less than two"

I wondered about this too, but it may be that the SWP these days allows people to hang onto party cards as long as they pay their dues, even if they never actually do anything that identifies them publicly with the group, much as the CPGB did in the 70s when it was claiming 20K members or however many it was.

Alex

Either his faction wins, or they'll have to kick him (and I'm guessing China) out.

The nice thing about having the given name "China" is that it makes any political activity you get involved in sound so much more significant. "China is on our side." "China seems a little concerned about it." "I mean, we've got to keep China sweet to have any chance of getting this passed."

Meanwhile, does anybody know what they were planning to do if he was guilty?

Alex

After the revolution (if we assume that's a meaningful phrase) we would expect an awful lot of things to be decided collectively, in terms of what's best for the community, instead of in terms of an individual with rights to defend him/herself against accusations by another individual

"....love. So I'm afraid you'll have to forget it."

Phil

After the revolution, there will be far fewer sexist jerks, and the general abolition of separation and hierarchy will make it much easier to spot - and agree on - those who remain. But yes, it's quite a long-term project, and in the mean time (as I specifically said myself might I add) we individually need all the bourgeois protections we can get, particularly those individuals who are lower down the totem pole.

If he was guilty, they were planning to... brace yourselves... expel him from the party. Strong stuff you'll agree.

As for the 'membership' numbers, I think the length of time that elapses before you're considered an ex-member is surprisingly long - to the point where the party internally distinguishes between actual members and paper members, although without using those terms.

Richard J

Looking at Richard S.'s comments in the thread below his post is good support for Belle's theory. It's all a bit Game of Thrones right now.

Alex- I believe he would have suffered the dire fate of being expelled from the party. (And I think the most interesting thing about the framing of the transcript was that it was entirely discussed in terms of the Party - the idea that any body (corporate or singular) other than the Party could have had any valid input on the topic is, well, worrying.)


dsquared

the strange things to me are that a) the original party had decided that she didn't want to report the attack to the police, but that b) decided that the SWP Disputes Committee would be an appropriate substitute judicial body (ie, that everyone involved in this thing thought that explusion from the SWP might be a suitable penalty for rape) and that c) the Disputes Committee agreed that yes, that would be a sensible thing for them to do. It seems like a colossal multi-sided failure of common sense, and the fact that the investigation was then a parodically unpleasant fuck-up is kind of an amazingly predictable consequence.

Alex

But yes, it's quite a long-term project, and in the mean time (as I specifically said myself might I add) we individually need all the bourgeois protections we can get, particularly those individuals who are lower down the totem pole.

I quite agree. However, I suspect that this entire story is an object lesson in how much "an awful lot of things to be decided collectively, in terms of what's best for the community, instead of in terms of an individual with rights..." can look like "what, you can't possibly mean treating High Mucky-Muck Comrade Yankee X-Ray like a criminal?"

they were planning to... brace yourselves... expel him from the party

Well, I was concerned they were planning a term of re-education through labour in a secret camp in the wilds of Tooting...

Alex

Also, the real answer to "what would they have done if he'd been found guilty?" is of course "don't be silly, they were as likely to find him guilty as West Yorkshire Police were to catch Jimmy Savile."

CMcM

Seymour has a sub text of rejecting, on grounds of alleged Islamophobia, the accusation that the whole procedure was akin to extra judicial Sharia law.

IMO,this is just a way of him cordoning off discussion about whether the party was the right vehicle for investigating this in the first place.

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