Friday, April 30, 2010

Strange News from Another Universe (apologies to Herman Hesse)

Spock in the Mirror Universe.

For the second month running, Nick shakes his stick at the wireless. This month's effort seems vaguely familiar. As before Nick and I disagree on the intended meaning of words. Nick thinks 'idealism' means something good while I think it's gentlest possible term for 'utterly impractical'. Nick suggests that calling someone 'passionate' in the context of politics rather than sex is a compliment to fire in the belly; I think it's code for "shouty nutter: avoid."

Nick spends the first four paragraphs on his ostensible subject: Radio Four's art programmes (Front Row and Last Word) tributes to Corin Redgrave. He spends five longer paragraphs talking about the WRP (Workers Revolutionary Party), a comparatively minor splinter group which I've certainly never encountered. Actors are known for their attraction to charismatic figures. It's not really surprising, if someone needs the praise of others for self-actualisation, that they are drawn to people who will flatter them all the time. But, well, Trots and that. Since the rise of the Left, possibly when Nick was at uni in the 80s, actors, who used to be such fine citizens, have suddenly adopted dodgy political ideas. Oh, for the old days.

Radio 4 pretended to take Corin's life in full, however, and proved that it is incapable of honestly reporting the failings of the upper-middle-class Left.


Hooray for the new right wing logic. Nick listened to two programmes on Radio Four and concluded the above. Meanwhile, I watched a whole season of Top Gear and deduced that the BBC all think nasty things about Gordon Brown and can't help themselves...

In return for funding from Arab dictators, the WRP led the charge of the far-Left into the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the far-Right...


Sorry, I thought the WRP were utterly unimportant. But Nick is right, prior to Gerry Healy there was no anti-semitism on the left, no none at all. As Brownie from Harry's Place complained in our comments, this sort of thing legitimises anti-Semitic discourse which just didn't exist before.

But perhaps history is different in Nick's universe.

(Knocked off before I go to work. Usual apols for typos, spelling, solecisms &c. I like the Leonard Nimoy theme.)

48 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It's an interestingly self-revelatory piece, I think, though I doubt that's occurred to Nick. In one of his typically less-funny-and-less-perceptive-than-he-thinks-it-is observations, he says the following:

Rather than engage in small talk, the [inteligentsia] denounces the immorality of others. Everyone else is either gullible or wicked while only their motives are pure. This unbending self-belief ensures that self-satisfaction trumps self-examination and the self-improvement that goes with it.

I still think that Islington-dwelling, 70k-a-year-earning, junket-attending Nick thinks of himself as some sort of working class voice outside both media and political establishments, but still, that's a very perceptive description of almost everything he's written in the last 7 or so years.

Judging by this and other pieces too, Standpoint increasingly seems like a vanity publishing exercise for various cranks to mouth off, usually in a fairly recycled manner, about whatever takes their fancy (see Nick's other piece this month where he spends two paragraphs detailing the plot of Good-Bye Lenin, for some inexplixable reason). The TV piece is just a bunch of things that were too tangential even for What's Left, and it has precisely nothing to do with either the BBC or indeed its supposed subject, TV. Any ordinary magazine would at least ask its TV critic to write about TV.

Meanwhile in 'not the minister' news, it looks like 'Gene' at HP Sauce (kerching) has managed to make that mistake again! as with the Cohen mess, it's a pretty self-revelatory article, seeing as it's all about 'listening to the anxieties' of people as opposed to calling them bigots. Now, where have I seen Decent responses to that kind of argument before...?

4/30/2010 08:00:00 AM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

I'm not sure what your point about anti-semitism is supposed to be. Is the wikipedia link supposed to show that Marx was at it, or do you "agree with Nick", or perhaps the Chief Rabbi, who is quoted thus: "Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, regards application of the term "antisemitism" to Marx as an anachronism"? Personally I'd tend to go with the latter, and of course the former is a common theme at Brownie's Place.

The bit that caught my eye in Nick's piece was:
A fleet of vehicles waited in the car park outside so that Workers Revolutionary Party militants could make their escape if the oft-predicted fascist coup came.
Without wanting to downplay the lunacy and thuggery of the WRP, is it possible that cars were parked in the car park because that's where cars are parked?

Addendum: after a feeling of deja vu I tried googling the above phrase and discovered that one result had been removed for legal reasons.Curious.

4/30/2010 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

real revoutionaries would park their cars on the LAWNS OF THE BOURGEOISIE

i have to say this kind of piece is what causes me to doubt cohen spent much time on the far left in his youth: where could he have spent it and not known that the WRP were a standing joke among the rest of said far left, because sui generis in their in-looking mentalism

4/30/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Quite. The idea that the WRP "led" anything* would have baffled anybody who'd had anything to do with the far left in, say, the last fifty years.

Mad, mad stuff.


[* with the possible exception of a couple of car strikes at the Cowley plant, if I'm being exceedingly generous]

4/30/2010 12:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Well, a group of trade unionists who were members of the SLL led strikes at Cowley - they were expelled less than a year after the SLL turned into the WRP, which seems to have been around the same time that Healy lost contact with reality.

Individual WRPers, in my experience, were perfectly decent sincere leftists, pretty much like individual members of most other parties, although the "actually" package* they had to swallow was a bit unusual: I remember being told that the Red Brigades were actually an international counter-revolutionary conspiracy, and that if the Italian Communists won a majority in 1976 the CIA would stage a coup just like they did in Chile. But the party was always a joke.

*Common effect of party education. You know how sometimes you get talking to someone about politics, and suddenly their eyes light up and they start using a lot of phrases that begin with "because actually" or "whereas actually"?

4/30/2010 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

if the Italian Communists won a majority in 1976 the CIA would stage a coup just like they did in Chile

Was that wrong then?

4/30/2010 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judging by this and other pieces too, Standpoint increasingly seems like a vanity publishing exercise for various cranks to mouth off, usually in a fairly recycled manner, about whatever takes their fancy

Well that would explain both Julie Bindel and NC in the same mag. As for NC on Corin Redgrave - another example of his inability to 'get' the arts (esp. theatre)?

[redpesto]

4/30/2010 02:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you've used the wrong character from science fictions.

The vast majority of the left saw the WRP as a paranoid cult whose leader, Gerry Healey was known - not affectionately - as 'The Mekon'.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/liverpool/fun/2003/11/dandare/mekon.jpg

http://www.marxists.org/francais/4int/img/healy.jpg

ps re Nick's informant on the Balkans

http://neilclark66.blogspot.com/2006/02/oliver-kamm-is-not-son-of-god-or-is-he.html

Marko-Attila Hoare has left this comment at Harry's Place:

'I was never a member of the WRP, though I would be proud to admit if I had belonged to the WRP of Workers Press and Cliff Slaughter, as these were among the best and most honourable Trotskyists in a Trotskyist movement that was otherwise largely morally bankrupt.'

4/30/2010 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Skidmarx - it wasn't a particularly well thought out post. I can't take what I know of the WRP seriously, and I think that besides a few devotees and the Daily 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' Mail, nobody did. My point, rather ineptly made, was the WRP certainly didn't lead anything, and IF anti-Semitism is apparent anywhere in the left, it's certainly nothing new: unsurprisingly, most leftists accept the dogmas of their time, which for most of the industrial age anyway have included prejudices against foreigners, different belief systems, women, GLBT people etc, etc.

On which subject, if Gene of Harry's Place and NTM think that the there is such a thing as the "fraying of the relationship between the Labour Party and the working class" then they haven't got a bloody clue about either. And, holy cow, NTM doesn't half write some bollocks. Everyone I consider sensible (including me) who has expressed any opinion on 'bigotgate' seems to think that, basically, she is a bigoted woman. My estimate of Gordon Brown went up! Actually, Brown did confront her argument (he didn't meekly agree with her; he just refrained from verbally destroying her, which was probably for the best). It's not that I'm unsympathetic to "the anxieties of ordinary people" it's that I think, in this case, they're utterly irrational. (OK, I am unsympathetic.) NTM quotes Walzer, without comment, although Walzer talks about the 'European political class'! When France and Holland rejected the EU constitution the European political class more or less just re-presented the constitution as the “Lisbon Treaty.” This is demented.

Oh, the Italian coup thing is almost topical now. Timothy Garton-Ash was v good in the Grauniad yesterday about hung parliaments (esp in Germany). Any party winning a majority in Italy is unlikely. You may as well say, "If aliens had landed, the CIA would have covered it up." Can't really be proved wrong, either.

4/30/2010 03:04:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Speaking as someone who was born in 1977, I couldn't give a damn what some Trotskyite micro-sect did back then or why they did it. It might as well have happened on Mars, for all the urgent relevance.

The fact that Kamm, Cohen and HP are still openly celebrating the death of an actor whose politics they didn't like, weeks after the fact, is just another sign that they're primarily nasty, small-minded and vindictive, long before any political principle hoves into view.

4/30/2010 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I think what really annoys me, perhaps more than anything else about Nick Cohen, Alan Johnson and the whole crew is that they seem to think that there was a time when left wing politics was simple, and everyone agreed. But neither of these is remotely close to the truth. The Labour Party's always had an uneasy relationship with the working class. The working class, once they had the vote, rather stubbornly kept returning Tory candidates. And they never liked immigration. (See Powell, Enoch and who 'that speech' appealed to. IIRC, dockers, mostly.)

Wikipedia really is a wonderful aid to memory. This seems appropriate.

That evening, Nigel addresses a local Labour Party meeting and discusses his concerns about the campaign; conflict immediately ensures between Nigel's image-based brand of politics and the old socialist values of the committee. Jack is castigated for making Nigel "apologetic" about his left-wing ideals, while Nigel is accused of masking his politics to bolster his public persona. The meeting ends with all assembled singing "The Red Flag" in an act of solidarity, spoiled only by Nigel not knowing the words.

New Labour? No, a Dennis Potter play about standing for election in 1964.

4/30/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Also, what FR said.

4/30/2010 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I really wish I could wash out my brain after reading that Harry's Place thread. Joseph K: The likes of Mandelson and Ed Balls, of Tristram Hunt and “BevaniteEllie” – these are the faces of the modern Labour party. Moneyed, middle-class and totally removed from life as lived by its [rapidly shrinking] core vote. He also talks about the "white working class" - always a bad sign (he says round his mouthful of bruschetta. How unlike Herbert Morrison, Harold Wilson, Denis Healy, Michael Foot, Michael Young, HG Wells, etc.

4/30/2010 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Not sure I understand that list.

There's a legitimate point to be made about the near-disappearance of working-class political representatives from Parliament, thoug it wouldn't have the term "white working-class" in it. And what that point would precisely be is problematic.

4/30/2010 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Fair enough. There has been a disappearance of working class MPs (both those who held blue-collar jobs before being elected and those who grew up working class as Potter did but went to university). But you can't demonstrate just by reeling off names like Ed Balls and Peter Mandelson. They've had plenty of counterparts in Labour history. I think that what distinguishes Mandelson is his greed; otherwise he's very like his grandfather. There's nothing new about New Labour; it's a strain which goes back to the party's earliest days. It just never had the hegemony it enjoys now before. (Again, this is me being coalitionist, if that's a word - and my spellcheck allows it - I think the Labour Party was best when it was a broad church, had several wings and conflicting points of view. Now, it's much less open to debate and even discussion.)

4/30/2010 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Any party winning a majority in Italy is unlikely.

That, and the Communists winning a majority is doubly so - they never got much more than a third of the vote in a national election; the entire political system was organised around keeping them out of power, making any sort of Communist-led coalition highly implausible; and the long-term programme they were committed to meant that they didn't even want to take power except in coalition with the Christian Democrats.

Lots of people in Italy were worried about the possibility of a military coup, so that part of it wasn't entirely barmy. But I don't think it was ever going to happen, any more than it was going to happen in the UK (where there were also rumours of coups (which the WRP also took up and amplified to anyone who would listen (which was hardly anyone))).

4/30/2010 06:47:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Having spoken up last week in defence of Colonel Gaddhafi, I feel I should say a few words for Gerry Healy. In terms of implantation in the militant sectors of the industrial working class, the Healyites were certainly a good deal more successful than their competitors - playing a leadership role in a workplace like Cowley is hardly negligeable, and there were other disputes in areas like construction (Shell Mex strike in 58 or so) and the docks where the Healyites played an important role. Worth remembering, too, that a quarter of a million workers followed an SLL inspired call for strike action against In Place of Strife on Mayday 1969. Of course Healy was always adept at destroying what he had built. though.
But state intelligence seems to have seen them as a threat also, and I think they were quite well infiltrated, though that may have reflected more a fear of links to radical Arab regimes and armed groups. Certainly Blake Baker's book, The Far Left in Britain, published in the 1970s and probably reflecting M15 thinking fairly closely, identifies the Healyites as the most dangerous far left group - and don't forget their fearsome apparatus and daily newspaper which made them look much more important than they were by then.
I don't believe incidentally that Nick has any far left background - he never displays the kind of basic knowledge or street wisdom that anybody who had even spent six months on the student far left of the time would have acquired.

4/30/2010 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Phil. Of course a military coup was possible in Italy - isn't that what Garibaldi tried? (One does rather thrill to the idea of Italian tanks reversing out of cities at top speed, like a film played in reverse; and what would happen if the army changed sides? I'll stop now.) But well, it was unlikely. And while I think the CIA is actually a better than average intelligence gathering organisation (claims that it missed 9/11 are unfair), it's a very crap one at military action (Bay of Pigs, anyone?) It did have some success in Latin America, but Italy? Get serious.

This sort of brings me back to Belle's point. I can't decide if Nick just discovered the far left recently (in which case, what the hell was he doing at Oxford?) and was genuinely unaware of how ineffectual fringe Left groups are, and thus bought Oliver Kamm's theories about the WRP and SWP infecting (for want of a better word) the left with anti-Semitism (some of which is, IMO, the real thing, but is mostly spin for 'critical of Israel' - which I am), or if he was a member of a splinter group and feels the need to assert their importance where he can.

I just can't fathom Nick's philistinism. I didn't listen to either program, and yes of course Corin and Vanessa Redgrave are/were good actors. As far as I can tell, that's what the focus was on, but given that CR has died, some attention was paid to the man, and some of that was he was vocally political. My (admittedly second hand) impression is this: his politics were daft, with an obscene measure of vanity, but obituarists skip that sort of thing out of taste. And here's the Torygraph obit which mentions politics, and expects the reader to be sceptical if not outrightly unkind, but manages to be generous.

Such publicity did not help Redgrave's career – he claimed that his connections with the WRP got him blacklisted at the BBC for about 20 years.

Would Nick mention this? Bonkers, perhaps, but didn't our man complain about Labour lacking passion recently? That's what it looks like. If true, and given Healy's well-documented misogyny, point to the BBC. MI5? Possibly, as Nick's friend Richard Littlejohn would say, 'political correctness gone mad.' (Or, to repeat myself, point to the BBC.)

Just seen Saucy Jack's comment. True: but Nick seems strangely amnesiac about everything. He wrote a column slagging off the Lib Dems, and then he likes them. I'm clearly alone in this, but his economic ideas and his attacks on New Labour ('Pretty Straight Guys', 'Cruel Britannia') seem to come from the left to me.

4/30/2010 07:47:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Yes, obviously, but not from "having experience of being part of the far left". And to be honest, despite his bizarre failings of perspective in that area, the single most convincing argument against his having been personally involved is that nobody remembers him. Because they would.

To me, everything points to him having missed all this at the time, and having quickly genned up on it, from dubious and ill-motivated sources with grudges to settle, a generation later. Probably starting about 2003.

4/30/2010 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm not sure why anybody thinks that the CIA assisiting in a military coup in Italy would have been unlikely. The Communists winning elections, yes - but if they had, why would I think for a moment that the CIA would have let them get on with it?

4/30/2010 09:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Oh, last posting befoe I knock it off for the night, but does anybody have any idea, specifically, what Marko's on about? I'm guessing that "best and most honourable" is code for having taken a position unusual among Trotskyites on one international issue or another, but which one? Israel? Yugoslavia?

4/30/2010 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

but which one? Israel? Yugoslavia?

Surely the latter. MAH rarely makes mention of Israel, and only then it is with respect to 'Islamofascists' - never missing the opportunity to conflate them with 'Serb-Chetnik-Orthodox-fascists'.

4/30/2010 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous saucy jack said...

Yugoslavia, undoubtedly. No Healyite fragment ever turned towards support for Israel, apart from one guy in Belfast who got there through an affection for Serbia.

4/30/2010 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marko's involvement with the ERP is detailed here

http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/apr1999/balk-m07.shtml

5/01/2010 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger frunobulax said...

From Kamm's blog:

Now it turns out that Blair Peach was probably killed not in a riot of political extremists but by a police officer, who with his comrades then covered up the facts. I speak for myself in this, aware that I may be quoted out of context. But when I come across such callousness, violence and dishonesty by public servants in a democratic society, it's no longer quite such a mystery to me that some people accord, say, Noam Chomsky an entirely unwarranted respect as a social critic.

Cracking display of faux naivety. Doubtless his Chomsky obit is well past the outline stage.

5/01/2010 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'm not sure why anybody thinks that the CIA assisiting in a military coup in Italy would have been unlikely.

The WRP weren't entirely divorced from reality - lots of people thought the Communists would do a lot better in 1976 than they did, and lots of people were worried about the possibility of a military coup (that's how the first armed struggle groups got started in the early 70s). But the Communists were never, ever going to take power (partly because they would never be allowed to in the first place); a military coup in response to this vanishingly unlikely event would have been an absolute last resort (even in 1976 the EEC wouldn't have been too chuffed); and even if there were a military coup, it wouldn't be anything as straightforward as a CIA military coup. There is good and bad parapolitics, and that's the bad kind.

5/01/2010 09:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

The 1980 Bologna train station bombing which was blamed on the communists, but later found to be a Gladio false flag job was an attempt to destroy the Italian Communist party.

As for Marko and Israel, he has mentioned it quite a lot, but in that decent way of making all kinds of demands and offering ways of resolving conflict they know aren’t ever going to be implemented.

Take "is it time for a Israel-Palestine Ramouillet?" Marko's understanding of negotiations is to come down like a ton of bricks on any side that doesn’t except, which in normal circles is called an ultimatum, and of course he can't help but look at it through a Yugoslavia lens.

5/01/2010 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

The 1980 Bologna train station bombing which was blamed on the communists, but later found to be a Gladio false flag job was an attempt to destroy the Italian Communist party.

Well, maybe, but if so it didn't have the desired effect. In any case, by 1980 the Italian Communist Party was already in long-term decline, having done a grand job of destroying itself over the previous few years (this is part of what my book's about). Obviously the strategy of tension was a reality (although by 1980 it had more or less run its course), but I think choices which the Communists themselves were responsible for, and which they took in plain sight, are more interesting and actually more important (if we think the Left can learn from its mistakes) than covert attempts to stitch them up.

5/01/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

it wouldn't be anything as straightforward as a CIA military coup

But nothing is, is it? Not even Guatemala was straightforward.

Military governments weren't entirely out of fashion by 1976, though they were perhaps beginning to go that way. Greek democracy had been restored the year before: Spain was still a year short of democratic elections, although it had an appointed civilian government - and it was still five years short of its last coup attempt. Latin America was almost entirely run by the military.

I suppose it depends what you mean by "last resort", but I wouldn't have thought a military coup, in a country with a long fascist tradition, in circumstances of communist election victory, would have seemed, or been, at all implausible in 1976. And as with Pinochet a few years before, nobody would believe that the CIA had played no role.

5/01/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

There were a few military coups in that period, Argentina in 1976, Pakistan 1977, Iraq 1979, Turkey in 1980, the CIA had a role in those. The so called "cocaine coup" in Bolivia was in 1980 as well.

5/01/2010 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

But nothing is, is it? Not even Guatemala was straightforward.

That's one of the points I'm making - "the CIA staged a coup" is (almost?) always a simplification, and very often an over-simplification. The same necessarily goes for "if X happens the CIA will stage a coup". "If X happens the US government will be seriously unhappy about it, and can be expected to take a mixture of overt and covert measures" - that's sustainable, but it doesn't have the same sense of drama.

As for the prospects of a military coup in Italy in the mid-70s, I just don't see it. There wasn't the level of traffic between politics and the armed forces that you tend to see in countries where coups take place, and I don't think anti-Communism was ideologically strong enough (Christian Democrat Italy was nowhere near as right-wing as it is now, ironically enough). It might have been a runner if the neo-Fascists had been brought in from the cold; the Christian Democrats did try this in the early 60s, but there was so much resistance that they gave up.

5/01/2010 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Now it turns out that Blair Peach was probably killed not in a riot of political extremists but by a police officer as was quite clear from the start to anyone vaguely interested and not utterly blinkered; no 'probably' about it, then or now.

'The SPG them a murderers; we can't let them get no furtherer. Them kill Blair Peach, the teacher; them kill Blair Peach, the dirty bleeders.' etc.

5/01/2010 01:40:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

ejh seconded (whether he likes it or not!) regarding Italian CIA coup.

I imagine those asserting that conditional might well have added ' not that they are likely to get that far - thanks to the CIA bankrolling DC.' If you make it less trivially true by weakening the antecedent - say to 'If the PCI and PSI combined were to dominate the parliament, the Socialists were to get cabinet seats and the communists were agitating for similar treatment' then you have the conditions for Piano Solo - which seems to have been a coup, judging by the meeting between Moro and Di Lorenzo and the subsequent change in the govt's composition (esp compared to the counterfactual situation in which the coup threat is absent), and appears to have been closely supervised by the CIA. A military coup doesn't have to end with a tinpot general installing himself as absolute dictator.

I am as irritated as anyone by oversimplifications that play into the hands of the powerful anti-CT contingent. But it's also pretty annoying when a substantially correct statement is perfucntorily dismissed, subsequent argument gradually teasing out concessions showing the headline dismissal to be dependent on some very fine distinctions or estimates of probability. Especially when the unguarded wording was in fact supplied by the critic themself. ('Them' as ungendered singular pronoun here, as in collq speech. Will it catch on?). It's not a million miles from Aaro's true 'there is no all-powerful conspiracy', which is obviously meant to mean a lot more than it actually says.

On my own account:

The BR remarks are also - in substance - quite plausible, but this argument has been touched on in more detail before (as has the Italian coup topic), in that long Voodoo Histories thread (btw sincere apologs if, as I suspect, it put 'Phil D'Bap' off commenting here).

Also, as other comments suggest, the WRP may have been ineffectual, directed primarily at the aggrandisement and sexual gratification of its leadership (not exactly a shocker if so), but any suspicions of attempted infiltration or surveillance would have been entirely justifiable - and probably justified, and probably substantially true.

Oh yeah, and being blacklisted by the BBC is not a bonkers idea (not quite clear if CC's saying it is; in fact that whole para is a bit obscure to me, but...) - Michael Rosen was sacked and excluded for years at MI5's direction, as were many others.

5/01/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

'And another thing...'

The point, not unnoticed by others, is of course that Nick's shrieked 'antisemitism' payoff comes from nowhere and lacks any substance. I think CC concedes, by omission anyway, a bit too much: what are the 'antisemitic conspiracy theories of the far right' propounded by the WRP; where is the 'headlong rush' of the Left towards these theories, where "the propensity for Jew-baiting and conspiracy theory [neat cross-smearing conflation there] in the bloodstream of the wider Left"?

In the absence of any indication of what he's talking about, let alone any actual substantiation, this stuff is to be disregarded - especially since (to impinge on Sybil Fawlty's specialist subject) there is a clear propensity at Standpoint/HP/etc, etc to assimilate complaints implicating people who as a matter of fact happen to be Jewish (the IDF, neocons, some bankers), with antisemitism. (I know very little about the WRP: for all I know they might have been virulent, racist, antisemites. But Nick doesn't give me any reason to think anything of the sort, still less to draw any further conclusions.

Standpoint increasingly seems like a vanity publishing exercise for various cranks to mouth off, usually in a fairly recycled manner, about whatever takes their fancy

Well, a purpose-built neocon rag dedicated to the Israel v. Islamohorror narrative. That is no exaggeration (or 'conspiracy theory', to use Nick's terminology). Is there really serious doubt about that?

The cranks involved have to add some padding, though it doesn't amount to much more than a figleaf (mixed metaphor; actually a padded figleaf might be rather a good analogy for something or other). This piece isn't a bad microcosm - equal measures of personal preoccupation (padding from an editorial perspective), smearing Teh Left, and vague but strident antisemitism accusations tacked on.

It is very tempting to make concessions to this kind of thing, though - which is what makes it so insidious. Brownie's stuff about legitimating antisemitic 'discourse' (cf 'tropes') has some force to it - the shameful thing being that it's Brownie and his comrades who have set things up in this crudely polarised way. The ultimatum 'you're either with us or with the antisemites' is untrue, but the antisemites are quite happy to believe it. And it's tiring, boring and rather distasteful to be constantly refuting accusations of antisemitism - especially when they are exaggerated rather than wholly invented. And after all, 'why are you always going on about antisemitism?' is not a particularly pleasant question to be subject to, especially when rhetorical.

5/01/2010 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

Phil

The Italian Communist party did come to power in the Lazio region in 1976, so it had not totally destroyed itself by the late 70s. I think im correct in thinking it didn't dispand until about 1991, as most European communist parties did, or form splinter groups.

I didn't mention last time that Bologna was known as the Communist capital of Italy in thoses days, so thats why it was chosen.

5/01/2010 02:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

it's also pretty annoying when a substantially correct statement is perfucntorily dismissed, subsequent argument gradually teasing out concessions showing the headline dismissal to be dependent on some very fine distinctions or estimates of probability. Especially when the unguarded wording was in fact supplied by the critic themself.

The "unguarded wording" was supplied to me by a WRP member, which is where we came in. (The point here is, or was, that the WRP in that period were very coup-minded - their position in the 1974 election was that the Tories were preparing for a coup.)

As for 'fine distinctions', what I'm saying is that the wording matters. "We could expect a range of measures to be taken, including covert measures building on existing contacts within the local political system" is a different statement from "the CIA would stage a coup".

If the PCI and PSI combined were to dominate the parliament

But the PCI and PSI were never going to join forces in parliament once the PSI had entered government as an ally of the Christian Democrats, in the early 60s. The PSI had spent years edging away from the PCI - understandably on a number of levels - and under Craxi they effectively broke with the Left altogether.

Asteri - both the PCI's vote and its membership declined every year from 1977, barring the sympathy vote when Berlinguer died.

I don't know what happened in Bologna in 1980; the simplest explanation is that it came from the same matrix as the earlier terror bombs, but the timing is odd - the political situation wasn't anywhere near as volatile as it had been before.

5/01/2010 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

the PCI and PSI were never going to join forces in parliament once the PSI had entered government as an ally of the Christian Democrats,

Which is why I agree with Tim about the importance of Piano Solo, which took place precisely at the point where the PSI's inclusion in government was still challengeable. Exactly what took place is another question - certainly military (and neo-fascist) involvement in government, but I think calling it a coup stretches the meaning of the word too far.

5/01/2010 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Just realised I've misread Tim's comment - "If the PCI and PSI combined were to dominate the parliament", etc, was actually a reference to Piano Solo. I'm not sure the PCI figured in the calculations around Piano Solo - at that stage the Right was still worried about the PSI under De Martino and Nenni - but I will agree that something involving at least the perceived threat of a military coup did happen in 1964. (I still think it was wildly unlikely in 1976, but you knew I was going to say that.)

5/01/2010 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

On a personal note, this discussion is currently devouring my time and attention & making me feel rather miserably obsessive, so I'm going to attempt to bow out. The problem is that any statement I make about Italian politics in the 1970s has got, essentially, nine years of my life invested in it - and the thought that at the end of all that I might have missed something important (or even got something wrong) is deeply unsettling. It does mean I tend to defend trivial points like a dog with a bone, and I apologise for that.

PS Buy my book! It doesn't do the conspiracy theory thing, because I got interested in other things, but it really is quite good.

PPS Other books on Italy in the 1970s are available.

5/01/2010 04:43:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Since Phil is knowledgeable about the Italian electoral system, I'd like to ask his thoughts on PR. I meant to comment on this in my most recent post -- Harry's Place readers seem to be anti-PR. MoreMediaNonsense: ts insane for the Guardian to want PR – that really will give the extreme Right a boost, I reckon under PR UKIP and the BNP would do very well. You could end up with the three biggest parties being UKIP, Conservatives and the Liberals while Labour scraps with the BNP for the working class core vote. Not much hope of a progressive front there.
Judy:
Yeah, and let’s not forget that ***Proportional Representation*** has enabled the BNP to acquire huge funding and a good few sinecure jobs for handpicked lieutenants by enabling Nick Griffin to gain a seat in the European Parliament.

I realise that that's just a couple of comments (naturally, I get snipped at for pointing out that Israel has PR and hasn't collapsed into fascism), but my immediate thoughts are that this opposition to PR is spiteful, undemocratic, and quite possibly harmful to those on the left (as I imagine Phil and Justin are) who would like to see left-wing alternatives to Labour. So: good thing or bad thing? My impression is that most leftish people I know are now broadly in favour of PR.

Oh rats, Phil posted his 'bow out' comment while I was writing this.

5/01/2010 04:57:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

the propensity for Jew-baiting and conspiracy theory [neat cross-smearing conflation there] in the bloodstream of the wider Left

yes this is where I find Cohen incredibly hard to take seriously. He fronts as a rationalist who loves science but his core ideas about everything boil down to this bizarre idea of a 'wider Left bloodstream'. It's genuinely embarrassing to read, not least given his throwawy mention of conspiracy theories.

the HP Sauce argument for PR also includes, iirc from Brett Lock, the standard 'sacred relationship between an MP and their constituency' argument beloved of the tories, something I've never relaly understood given that my MP lives nowhere near my constituency and is never here, and given that this is what we have councillors for. The existence of party whips more or less automatically negates the 'special relationship with an MP' thing too.

The whole 'giving the extreme right a boost' thing is also totally meaningless - surely it's totally wrongheaded for the core argument against PR to be the suggestion that a section of the population should be more or less intentionally excluded from the democratic process purely on the basis of who they are likely to vote for; and that's before we get to the whole 'safe seats' thing which has always struck me as totally wrong in a democratic country, be it this one or indeed America.

fish in a barrell but still:

You could end up with the three biggest parties being UKIP, Conservatives and the Liberals while Labour scraps with the BNP for the working class core vote. Not much hope of a progressive front there.

Aside from the UKIP idea being lunacy, what about a progressive front including 'the liberal party'?

Israel serves as a useful guide on how you can implement PR in a relaly poor quality way, but it's still a much more democratic solution than first past the post.

5/01/2010 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

Speaking of MPs who are never around and dont live in their constituencies, my old MP was Maggie Thatcher, and she never set foot in the place, except when an election was happening.

also

The Grauniad has come out in support of the LibDems, who'd of thought it.

5/01/2010 05:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

CC - I'm still here, just lurking on that bit of the thread (if it revives). As for PR, the Italian system's got less and less PR-ish since the fall of the First Republic, without much effect on the representativeness or the quality of the government. The nadir (so far) was the 2008 election, when the Democratic Party leader announced that his party was going to run alone and govern alone & challenged Berlusconi to do likewise with Forza Italia. Predictable wackiness ensued, as neither the DP nor FI had any prospect of winning a majority on their own; Berlusconi, however, had an almost equally large party which was willing to merge with his own & promptly did. Leftist voters, whose parties had just been consigned to opposition at best, deserted them in droves to give the DP a chance of winning; it didn't. Meanwhile the Left coalition fell below the 4% threshold and got no seats in Parliament at all. Despite losing the election, the DP was actually over-represented in Parliament relative to its share of the vote, because of massive (i.e. 100%) under-representation of the Left parties.

Basically, the brokenness of the political system was blamed on the electoral system, and 'fixing' the electoral system has broken the political system even more badly.

As for the justification of FPTP in terms of keeping the BNP out of Parliament, I'm not at all convinced. Apart from anything else, competition from a party actually designed for racists would surely concentrate minds in the other parties. I'm with Louis Macneice - If you break the bloody glass, you can't hold up the weather.

(That's 'glass' = 'barometer', for anyone who doesn't know the poem.)

5/01/2010 06:58:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Phil: I'm not sure the PCI figured in the calculations around Piano Solo - at that stage the Right was still worried about the PSI under De Martino and Nenni

This is rehashing the argument on the long thread a bit, but the issue is the CIA's calculations, not those of the domestic right (though the latter might of course provide obstacles to fulfilment of US policy.

And I do agree about words mattering of course - no doubt the quote was, in your case, not strawmanned. But the Piano Solo 'coup' thing is maybe a good illustration of my wider point - that slightly dramatic lagnuage should be corrected rather than treated as an achilles heel.

Otherwise a rejection of the coup thesis looks to the casual observer like 'this is utterly without foundation, nothing happened, ignore this nutter', rather than 'I don't think that should count as a coup because there was no shooting and the overt political influence wasn't radical enough.'

(General point about invisible influence of actions that arises from their deterrent effects, too. Which I have rather reluctantly concluded undermines certain generalised arguments about the inefficacy - thus unjustifiability - of deterrent punishment. Observed failures of deterrence are one thing - successes are in most cases entirely invisible.)

On PR: I think OC (+ Phil) has it pretty well covered. The system of national parties is the de facto organising principle of governmental politics. That's what we're voting for, so count every vote. Duh.

There is some point to 'constituency representative' idea
as one (not the only) way of getting people to vote for actual people, based on character, opinions, and integrity. But it doesn't do that because party whips.

Separate (s)elections for the legislature might help - perhaps with political parties cut out of the picture altogether (somehow). Radical, but I imagine it could be done. Party influence, whipping being treated as a form of corruption...sseo

5/01/2010 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Just on the offchance anyone might spend any time puzzling over it, the 'sseo' at the end is meaningless. Mouse-jump leading to misplaced word verification.

5/01/2010 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

Why people always look to Italy for PR systems and not, say, The Netherlands is a mystery.

Other than Italy in chaos is a perennial favourite with tabloid editors of course.

The Dutch system has no requirements for winning a seat other than that you should get enough votes for it (voters / number of seats) and leads to a parliament that's splintered into 2-3 big parties, 2-3 medium parties and several smaller parties, with parties in the first two categories trading places regularly. Getting coalitions together can take weeks, if not months and it's not untypical for a government to fall midway through its mandate.

Despite all that Holland still isn't an ungovernable hellhole.

5/03/2010 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Martin, for me any recent reference to Italian PR is a sort of joke - see this which inspired Timothy Garton Ash.

5/03/2010 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Someone mentioned the Netherlands first. Warning quite long. About 4 minutes in, IIRC. I was looking for this before...

5/03/2010 06:51:00 PM  

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