Monday, March 27, 2006

Kamm, Respect and fascism

There are many derogatory epithets that can reasonably be applied to the Socialist Workers' Party and Respect. But 'fascist' isn't one of them, despite the remarkably cheap argument advanced by the expensively-educated Oliver Kamm to this effect:

'Look closely at the organisation, its methods and propaganda, and you find what is, alongside the British National Party, the most prominent racist and fascist organisation in Britain today.'

The post this quote comes from cites the political peregrinations of obscure French micro-groupuscules of the 1930s to butress the case that the path from Marxist left to fascist right is well worn. In fact no organisation of any meaningful size has ever - in all of political history - moved from the classical expression of one pole to the classical expression of the other.

Kamm is not unique in such stupidity. Harry's Place, Johann Hari and Nick Cohen - all linked to in my sidebar - have made similar charges, presumably with a straight face.

One might just as well start from the obvious point that Oswald Mosley was once a Labour MP, and argue that mainstream Labourism is therefore somehow incipiently fascist. Don't think so, comrades.

Essentially, Kamm & Co rehash the all-too-familiar cod liberal 'politics is horseshoe-shaped' thesis, which contends that the revolutionary left and the fascist right are more or less the same thing.

Then they throw in the stupid Stalinist caricature against 'Trotsky-fascism' last seriously propagated 70 years ago. Somebody really needs to send these people back to resit political sociology 101. Fascism either has a specific meaning, or it has no meaning at all and becomes simply an insult to be flung around freely at anyone any two-bob writer or orator considers reactionary.

In the early eighties, a section of the British left seriously debated whether or not Thatcherism represented 'creeping fascism'. But the concentration camps never materialised. Drink and drugs have done over more lefties in the last two decades than the Tories ever managed to execute. Today there are those in the US that maintain that Dubya is fascist. They make the same mistake. Both Thatcher and Bush are parliamentary democrats.

Saddam Hussein ran a reactionary and oppressive regime. Even opponents of the US invasion of Iraq should frankly state that it is a positive thing he is no longer in power in Baghdad, instead of brainlessly chanting 'Victory to the Iraqi resistance!'. But Saddam wasn't a fascist. Nor was General Pinochet. They were military dictators.

Anti-semitism, in and of itself, isn't fascism either. If it was, Russia in the 1950s and Poland in the 1960s would have constituted fascist states. They were Stalinist.

Nor were the Iranian revolution or Afghanistan under the Taliban 'Islamofascist', for that matter. They were ugly theocracies.

If you want clarity on what fascism is and what fascism is not, turn to Trotsky's theoretical writings on the question. For my money, they are the best work he ever produced. Fascism is a specific means of mobilising and organising the petty bourgeoisie in the social interests of finance capital, specifically as a counterweight to a working class on the political offensive. It is not a catch-all buzzword expressing disapproval of a given political formation.

I'm no lover of Gorgeous George, of course. My extensive criticisms of Galloway are on record here and here and here, and a fair cross-section of the far left isn't on speaking terms with me any more, precisely because of these articles.

Despite two brief periods of membership, these days I'm not a fan of the SWP, either. By premising so much of their politics on their new-found alliance with political Islam, they forfeit any claim to be considered revolutionary socialists. But not even that heresy makes the SWP in any sense fascist.

Respect is lots of things. It was hatched in secret, without any internal democracy or any real support in the labour movement. It's an unprincipled abandonment of secularism. It is an opportunist collapse into communalism for simple electoral advantage. But fascist? Really? Where's the backing from any section of the ruling class? When has Respect ever attempted to smash up a trade union meeting?

If Respect were truly fascist, the self-styled 'decent left' should logically be arguing for physical confrontation with the organisation, along the lines of the Battle of Cable Street, and the disruption of its 'fascist' gatherings. ¡No Pasarán!, remember?

They should be insisting that no Respect supporter hold any position whatsoever inside any democratic trade union. They don't, of course. All mouth, no trousers.

Or perhaps they believe their heroine Oona King shared a platform with a fascist when she debated Galloway? No, that would actually be politically consistent of them. And we simply can't expect joined up thinking from this crew.

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