Bookmarks, the socialist publisher associated with the Socialist Workers Party, are currently facing massive legal costs as a result of a libel case. Ian Donovan reports
Bookmarks, the socialist publisher associated with the Socialist Workers Party, together with its leading comrades Lindsey German (editor of Socialist Review) and Alex Callinicos, are currently facing massive legal costs as a result of a libel case.
A lawsuit has been taken out against them by Quintin Hoare, former editor of New Left Review, and Branca Magas, a socialist and author who comes from the former Yugoslavia. The case relates to statements made in a 1993 essay by comrade Callinicos, included in The Balkans: nationalism and imperialism, published in 1999 by Bookmarks.
According to Paul Foot, who is acting as spokesperson for the Bookmarks Libel Fund, “Hoare and Magas complained that one passage in the article meant that they were both ‘apologists’ for Franjo Tudjman and his regime in Croatia.” Bookmarks and the named comrades have not contested the libel suit, but have rather sought to settle the matter as soon and as cheaply as possible. As comrade Foot points out in his appeal, “After much correspondence they agreed to make a statement in open court apologising for the article and agreeing to pay each of the plaintiffs £1,500.” The lawyer’s bill for these proceedings, however, which Bookmarks and the SWP will be forced to pay, is likely to be over £10,000.
What is particularly disturbing about this is that, in the words of comrade Foot, “It has been a long tradition in the labour movement that arguments between socialists should be conducted openly and should not, except in extreme circumstances, be tested in the courts by the libel laws.
“The reason for this tradition is simple. As soon as lawyers get involved in these arguments, the expense of the action in almost every case far exceeds both any damage done by the libel and anything a socialist publisher can possibly afford.” In this case, it appears that the lawyers, Carter-Ruck and Co (who have a long history of acting on behalf of litigious capitalists out to discourage criticism, including notoriously the late Robert Maxwell), were hired on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis. Meaning that the unfortunate socialist publisher gets landed with the bill, whereas the bringers of the action pay nothing at all.
We in the CPGB believe that the capitalist courts should not be used to intimidate socialists from publishing their views, whether correct or incorrect. Nor should they be used to land socialist publishers with enormous legal bills. We believe that the labour and socialist movement in general, and all defenders of democratic rights, should stand up and oppose this damaging legal attack on a socialist publication, and should contribute to the comrades’ legal fund.
Please make donations payable to ‘Bookmarks Libel Fund’ and send to: 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE. Donations by debit and credit card can be taken by phone on 020 7637 1848.