Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pot, kettle ....

Since I'm not much of a fan of Ken Livingstone, it pains me a little to defend him against Nick Cohen. But we at AW always put truth and fairness ahead of our personal likes and dislikes, so here goes. Much of Nick's column is a rant against the foul Gerry Healy and the WRP. It is hard to deny that Nick is right about Healy and his organization and that Livingstone's association with them is a serious mark against his judgement. But all noise about the distant past is rather irrelevant to Nick's central charge against Ken, namely:

"you have to grasp that he has never moved away from the grimy conspirators of the totalitarian left, who have always despised the democratic traditions of the Labour movement."

Nick's central evidence for this claim is that Livingstone has employed, on large salaries, some members, or former members, of a group that used to be called Socialist Action. Nick mentions John Ross, but there are others such as Redmond O'Neill. Socialist Action is, historically a splinter from what used to be know as the International Marxist Group, and Ross was its main theoretician. I've no idea whether SA still exists in any proper form, nor whether its members (or former member) still espouse anything recognizable as revolutionary Marxist politics. I rather doubt that Nick, intrepid investigative journo that he is, knows the answers to these questions either. My best guess is that these former IMGers are, for all practical purposes, social democrats like Ken (though they may kid themselves otherwise on special occasions).

Ken is, therefore, no more unfortunate in his associations than Nick is. Since whom do we find Nick hanging out with but a bunch of former Trots turned social democrats who vary somewhat in the extent to which they still deceive themselves they are Marxists. I'm referring of course to Geras (like Ross, ex-IMG), and the various folks around Alan NTM Johnson and Jane Ashworth (ex-Socialist Organiser). (Having been around the block a few times and met some of these people, I can tell AW readers that the psychological and personal characterists of Ross are not dissimilar to those of SO-guru Sean Matgamna, and those of O'Neill closely resemble Ashworth's, but ymmv.) And of course we could add to the list Marko Attila Hoare who was at least a fellow traveller of the WRP, Hoare's parents who were in the IMG, and sundry others from Engage who were in SO (Was David T from Harry's Place an SO member? I think so, but I'm not sure).

There's no doubt an uninteresting book to be written about how little bands of comrades, re-badged and with different ideas, have spent the middle and later years of their lives sniping at those they formerly hated but for entirely new reasons. The Socialist Organiser people end up in Engage and Euston; the RCP end up droning on about "the culture of fear" and rooting for Slobbo; one faction of the ex-IMG end up working for Ken, some of the others end up in Respect (Galloway faction) and some end up at Euston. Or possibly Mornington Crescent. But whether the ex-members of the Judean Peoples front still think that their former opponents in the Popular Front of Judea are bastards really has little bearing on the electability of Ken Livingstone.

8 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

the democratic traditions of the Labour movement

I'm not sure what these are, but I'm pretty sure that the development of aforesaid movement over the last generation or so has been neither towards the far left nor towards a more democratic way of conducting internal politics. This goes for the Party itself but also for quite a lot that's gone on in trade unions. That's not the whole story, of course, but the trouble with Cohen (as indeed with most media coverage of the labour movement) is that the story is pretty much writen in advance and leaves most of the contradictory evidence out.

1/20/2008 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

The problem with all this WRP and Gerry Healy stuff from Nick is that presumably all of this was known about Ken Livingstone in 1999, yet Nick Cohen was urging him to stand against the Labour Party.

1/20/2008 05:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I guess for some people it's just become more important to dissociate yourself from anti-semitism - and to endorse the idea that anti-Zionism is permanently under suspicion of anti-semitism. I mean, which side are you on, and so forth.

1/20/2008 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Griffin said...

The history of the Labour right also has a bearing here:
http://www.tomgriffin.org/the_green_ribbon/2008/01/theres-a-huge-a.html

1/21/2008 07:46:00 AM  
Blogger David T said...

No, of course I was never a member of SO. In fact, I spent three years fighting the SSIN, who struck me - correctly - as a party-within-a-party.

The only political party I have ever been a member of is the Labour Party. As such, I objected to another party - SO - pretending to be the Labour Party, when it was in fact a different party.

I am also not a revolutionary socialist. I think revolutionary socialists are profoundly in error.

That said, of all the revolutionary socialist groups, most of the SO-ers I knew then, and know now, are nice people.

1/21/2008 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

There's no doubt an uninteresting book to be written about how little bands of comrades, re-badged and with different ideas, have spent the middle and later years of their lives sniping at those they formerly hated but for entirely new reasons.

Well, if you mean all the ex-lefties in New Labour (Hi, Peter! Hello, Margaret! Howay, Alan!) then I disagree; it would be interesting in terms of political philosophy/Labour party history. If you mean instead, who gives a flying one about Nick, then yes - though the playwright David Edgar pretty much covered this in his play Maydays (think of it as the Judean People's Front' skit, without the jokes).

1/21/2008 10:16:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

That said, of all the revolutionary socialist groups, most of the SO-ers I knew then, and know now, are nice people.

Well, they do share your habit of slinging charges of anti-Semitism based on statements and positions that are not anti-Semitic.

1/21/2008 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Nick is talking about the "democratic traditions of the Labour" he's presumably not thinking about the way in which Blair tried to stop Ken being Mayor.

1/21/2008 01:44:00 PM  

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