I have to admit at being amused by the factional fallout within Socialist Fight between Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan, but am also kicking myself for not making use of a previous opportunity.
I had a letter published in March 2018 calling out Downing and Donovan for being genuine anti-Semites, for trying to cover this with their general obsessions with Jews, Zionists, Nazis and Israel, and for deliberately mixing these labels up to try and make their racism a little more concealed.
I wish at the time I had put in writing my prediction that in due course these two would inevitably fall out and would start to take verbal lumps out of each other and rip each other to shreds. We now have the ‘great split’ within Socialist Fight, and Downing and Donovan on opposite sides, played out in public and in the pages of the Weekly Worker. I can see what excited the crowds in the ancient Roman Colosseum...
I had assumed that Socialist Fight had consisted of just two individuals, but I see in the wider press that Downing tried to tip the internal scales by attempting to recruit his daughter and we have Donovan’s admission (Letters, March 5) that three individuals by raising both hands managed to outvote all the other members of Socialist Fight on some “critical” issue of principle. So, more than two, but somewhat less than double figures.
We are now treated to the ‘great debate’ about which is the ‘real’ Socialist Fight, which one has expelled whom. This is an absolute absurdity, a complete farce. I am reminded of an old bad-taste joke about Richard Nixon, who allegedly required an arse transplant, but unfortunately the arse rejected him. It seems Donovan and Downing have had a personal falling out and are rejecting each other. This was entirely predictable - it goes with the poisonous territory of micro-Trotskyite sects fracturing, dividing and subdividing and ultimately approaching point zero net total mass.
Donovan in the same letter quotes Andrei Vyshinsky in his public prosecutor role on the so-called Moscow Trials in the 1930s saying: “I demand that the dogs gone mad should be shot - every last one of them.”
Mm ... I couldn’t possible comment ... apart from saying I am very happy for Donovan to describe himself and be described as the “Trotskyist Faction”. Genuine Trotskyists will, however, be horrified ...
Seeing as Ian Donovan has chosen to traduce me in public, and seeing as the Weekly Worker for some unfathomable reason chose to publish this screed, it seems I have no choice but to make some sort of reply.
Donovan’s argument is thoroughly dishonest. For example, he claims that the allegations made of Atzmon’s sympathy for fascism come from Dave Rich and the Community Security Trust. And, while it is true that an article by Rich was brought to bear, it is by no means true that Rich’s view, or the evidence he uses to support that view, is unique to him. In fact it is an opinion widely held, the material is widely cited and Rich’s piece was merely useful for bringing it altogether.
Indeed, the very reason the piece was resorted to was because Donovan claimed to be wholly unaware that Rich or anyone anywhere thought Gilad Atzmon was a fascist sympathiser. When it was pointed out to him, by myself and others, that Atzmon’s topic of argument, style of argument and even sometimes jargon are directly reminiscent of both the Alt Right that we have been dealing these past few years and even Mussolini himself, Ian accused us of imagining things. When supporting evidence is produced, he reverses course immediately and now claims not that we are jumping at shadows, but that we are the manipulated pawns of some nefarious agency.
Ian’s accusation of my supposed “Islamophobia” follows a similarly tortuous route. It relies on his affected outrage that I refused to accept the infamous forgery, The protocols of the elders of Zion, as a legitimate source on the basis that some Islamic figures had done so. Any criticism, or even mere refusal to approve, of such figures is in Donovan’s eyes a betrayal of the Palestinians and active collaboration with Israeli apartheid. He demands that the most vile anti-Semitism be embraced in order to stand in solidarity with the victims of the Israeli blockade. This is an absurd and fatuous proposition, which I am pleased to reject.
Donovan’s more direct allegations rely on a similarly imaginative reinterpretation of reality. The point I in fact made was that Atzmon cannot be excused from responsibility for the Nazi lies he spreads, and neither would you or I if we did the same. The defence offered for Atzmon is that his own heritage excuses him responsibility of his role in initiating stochastic terrorism, but it does not. No appeal to identity exempts you from responsibility for the propagation of the very racist lies that are deployed to justify racist assaults. If you make it your business to validate racist myths that portray other groups as malevolent enemies, then you cannot claim innocence when people act against the enemies you have agreed exist and pointed them towards.
Donovan’s defence of Atzmon here is doubly fraudulent, because it is not only the fact of Atzmon’s enthusiasm for classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories alone that is indicative of his embrace of fascism, as he attempts to imply. Donovan knows perfectly well that Atzmon has explicitly approved of fascism by name, and has paraphrased Mussolini to boot, that he consorts with luminaries of the racist right, and that he writes for far-right publications and is openly embraced by them in turn, Yet Donovan would have us believe that it is so mysterious that anyone could possibly think that Atzmon was a fascist sympathiser just because he says he is, and fascists say he is, that only a racist mind could think so. Indeed, Donovan invites us to consider Atzmon’s anti-Semitism as evidence in defence against the charge of being a fascist sympathiser. How unfair it would be if a poor innocent anti-Semite was tarred as being a fascist without cause. Despite the fact there is in fact cause, as he well knows.
This tiresome regression into who said what and when is unseemly, and frankly none of this dispute should be going on in your publication. None of Donovan’s arguments are made in good faith, because he cannot defend his central thesis. Every argument must be an elaborate diversion, digression, ‘whataboutism’, well poisoning, or artfully rationalised slander. Every argument requires that we forget every other argument he made - a classic gish gallop.
Donovan declares he has no wish to associate with me, and I wholeheartedly reciprocate. Relations between the ‘factions’ are clearly irreparable, so why won’t he just go? Why is he fighting so hard to remain associated with people he now affects to deem “race-baiting Islamophobes”? The whole thing smacks of territoriality rather than principle. The differences are not reconcilable, there is no prospect of collaboration whatever, the very discussion is pointless. It should not go on in these pages or anywhere else.
I wonder why
So Ian Donovan has gotten the boot from yet another left organisation over his anti-Semitism, and once again he’s certain he is the utterly innocent victim of a scandalous conspiracy (the maudlin, self-exonerating minutiae of which he is only too happy to bore you to death with).
This differentiates it, one supposes, from his having gotten the boot from Left Unity for his anti-Semitism despite his being an utterly innocent victim of a scandalous conspiracy (the maudlin, self-exonerating minutiae of which he is only too happy to bore you to death with), and also from Labour Against the Witchhunt’s decision to give Socialist Fight the heave over his anti-Semitism, despite him being an utterly innocent victim of a scandalous conspiracy (the maudlin, self-exonerating minutiae of which he is only too happy to bore you to death with).
It seems to happen to him a lot. If only there were a simple, consistent explanation for why nearly everyone on the left Ian Donovan allies with sooner or later concludes he’s an anti-Semite.
Comrades Gerald Downing and Ian Donovan - both as individuals and as representatives of the two sides within that sawdust-and-sinew-strewn dog-pit otherwise known as Socialist Fight - might want to consider this. Whilst they’ve all been committing intellect, time and energy to tearing lumps out of each other over their densely developed attitudes and positions, the world at large has been continuing to spew its outrages and atrocities without interruption - needless to say, with the working class of each and every capitalist country as the primary sufferers or victims. That being the self-same global working class for which Marxists - even those within ultra-micro-sects such as Socialist Fight - purport to be both current-times champions and emissaries of a wonderful futurescape.
No doubt it could be countered that ‘polemical debate’, the sometimes fierce hammering out of differences and comprehensions between those engaged on the revolutionary left, is mere grist to the mill for achieving any progress in ideas, and thereby the securing of valuable and vibrant organizational programmes. But have those particular comrades lost all sense of proportion, not to mention any notions of simple common sense? Do they have no concept of what the effect of their spectacle will be upon any potential new supporters, or even upon more seasoned participants on the hard left? A spectacle of monomania, chronic introversion, bizarrely inflated self-importance, involving self-mutilation and probable self-destruction - indeed, of utter pointlessness: nothing whatsoever more nor anything less.
Comrades within Socialist Fight, together with the wider readership of the Weekly Worker, could easily choose to raise their eyes and thereby their ambitions above such levels. In doing so, I can recommend the following sort of thing - not only as an immediate antidote, but as a longer-term remedy: ‘Female filmmakers’ on BBC introducing arts available on the BBC iPlayer.
The short films featured in this item originate from young and dynamic minds - a next UK generation to be investigating pathways for creativity, enlightenment and liberty outside the mainstream of capitalist confines. That’s to say, attempts of theirs at disobeying the mythologies, fairy tales and lullabies that are peddled. In any event, these are the youthful co-citizens 21st-century Marxism should be facing out towards in its efforts and policies and political behaviours.
After all, as prominent culturally and aesthetically and even ethically aware elements within society, any upcoming generation of thinkers and creators constitute important building blocks for that communistic future we’re working towards; and then, to an almost infinite degree, that everyone will benefit from.
As a former member of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, I was very interested in the news in The Socialist (March 11) that Hannah Sell has become the new general secretary. Veteran Trotskyist Peter Taaffe will remain on the executive committee and will take up the new position of political secretary.
Whilst the ageing comrade Taaffe is now officially taking a back seat, it remains to be seen if in reality he will still be in charge.
Steve Freeman is a one-trick pony (Letters March 5). He attacks Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales. It is certainly true that this demand does not feature anywhere in the programme presented to the founding conference of the Left Labour Alliance in Sheffield. But then nor do women’s rights or the fight against austerity.
On the other hand, it is a fact that John Bridge did explicitly raise this demand in a short speech, which defended the motion opposing Scottish independence moved by Matthew Jones. True, that was not mentioned in the Weekly Worker report. But, on the other hand, comrade Freeman was there - he was a visitor at the conference.
However, comrade Freeman now opposes the Marxist perspective of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, in which Scotland and Wales have the right to self-determination. Instead he supports a separate Scotland, a separate Wales and a separate England.
Apparently, this break-up of Britain would be progressive. Rather like the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
In all probability such an outcome would result in a carnival of reaction, as workers are divided along petty nationalist lines.
Surely the task of Marxists is to warn against that possibility and seek the maximum unity of the working class that objective circumstances permit.
The March 11 budget was a real opportunity to reach out to the poor and the vulnerable, whilst providing the funds to cope with the coronavirus.
In reality, it did neither: it does nothing to lessen the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor, and it is limited in terms of provision to deal with the threatened pandemic. In his budget speech, Rishi Sunak said, “We will get through this together”, referring to coronavirus. While the Tories said we are all in this together, when referring to austerity, the reality has been so different, with the wealthy actually getting richer, as the gap between the rich and the poor has considerably widened.
The measures announced to alleviate the suffering caused by coronavirus will only help those in permanent work. Those on universal credit, zero-hours and temporary contracts will lose out if they have to take time off work, as, unlike salaried staff, they will not get paid their normal wage for up to six months. They will only get sick pay of £94.25 a week if self-isolating - and even then you have to be earning at least £118 a week to qualify for it.
There were no fundamental changes to universal credit announced in the budget, despite its failings. The minimum five-week delay in receiving your first payment remains. This delay, which can be for several months, is the biggest single link between UC and increased poverty, evidenced by the massive increase in the use of food banks, rent arrears and evictions. Removing the income floor for UC, announced by Sunak, whilst being positive, will only benefit self-employed workers - and then only if you are gainfully self-employed and your business has been running for more than 12 months.
There is nothing in this budget to help local councils like Warwickshire or Rugby provide improved public services, let alone reverse some of the cuts Tory austerity policies have forced them to make. Youth clubs, care homes and libraries will remain closed. People in rural areas will remain without a bus service.
The situation could get even worse for working class people. The emergency £30 billion package that Sunak announced suggests that the treasury is preparing for the possibility of a recession - he actually announced that growth had been revised down. It is always the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer the most in such an economic downturn, and this budget does nothing at all to address that.
Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition