26/11/2015 by socialistfight
Though the material relating to the Sparts is apolitical and uninteresting, and really only serves to illustrate that they have long since become a megalomaniacal cult obsessed with alleged personal failings of those who left them to the point of absurd demonology, and evasive about anything that is really political.
This is a reply by Ian Donovan to slanderous attacks launched on him by John Holmes on the Leftist Trainspotting elist. In discussing the ‘Sparts’ and their off shoots we got this:
PS: Oh yes, forgot one splinter. The infamous woman-beater Ian Donovan and his one man band, now also gone Zionist I hear. Does he still have a group, formally at least?
Oops! Serious blunder about Donovan, sorry!
He was not a Zionist but was accused of anti-Semitism when expelled by Communist Platform. That Donovan defends Atzmon gives that some credibility.
Of course, some argue that is ultimately the same thing.
ian donovan recently joined the editorial board of Socialist Fight, the British section of some latin american-based version of the FI (life’s too short to remember exactly which one). I think it’s in the Morenoite tradition though.
It’s surely slanderous to call him an infamous woman-beater. And pandering to the new feminism which is unworthy of the spartacist tradition. He was driven to one blow against a tirade of political lies on a Bloody Sunday commemoration march. This was all documented at the time and is no doubt available online for anyone who cares.
It is good to be defended by Geoff C, who is (or maybe was) an SWP member and seems like a decent guy. Though the material relating to the Sparts is apolitical and uninteresting, and really only serves to illustrate that they have long since become a megalomaniacal cult obsessed with alleged personal failings of those who left them to the point of absurd demonology, and evasive about anything that is really political.
Holmes is an idiot, and appears ignorant even of the events he is ranting on about. There are several factual inaccuracies in Holmes’ rantings about the 1999 punch thrown in anger, and in fact what Geoff C says is more or less accurate.
But what Holmes says shows he is aware of the underlying issues behind the incident, even though his attempt to construct a factual narrative is peppered with lies and/or ignorant errors. So here are some relevant facts.
(1) In August 1983 I, along with 5 other SL/B members, got a job in London Underground with a view to doing trade union work.
(2) In early March 1984 the miners’ strike began. It lasted for a year pretty much to the day, ending in March 1985. By the end of the miners’ strike, there were (I think) only two SL members still working in London Underground. I was one of them.
(3) I ceased to work in London Underground in August 1986.
(4) I resigned from the SL/B on Jan 18, 1987, during its national conference, nearly 2 years after the end of the miners’ strike.
Those are all facts known to members of the SL/B who were active at the time. They show that Holmes’ contentions about my supposed conduct during the miners strike are outright lies, pulled directly out of his posterior. I will not dignify them by calling them accusations, as they expose his sociopathic nature and vindicate me.
The dates are very clear. I did not resign from the SL/B during the miners strike. Nor did I cease to work for London Underground during the miners strike, but rather over a year later. So John Dewey Holmes, who claims to know all about my history, either does not know basic facts, or chooses to lie about them.
Knowing the SL and its cult mentality, I suspect it is a rancid mixture of mendacity and pigshit-ignorance that is involved. Holmes lies because in his own demented mind he believes that this kind of bilge will appeal to his fellow cultists and show how in tune he is with their pathology. I am not interested in appealing to his intellect or his better nature, as I do not believe he has significant intellect and his nature is unremittingly corrupt and foul. I only make these points as to draw others’ attention to this.
According to Holmes, the offending blow was struck in Jan 1999 because the ‘victim’ shouted at myself about something that allegedly happened 15 years earlier (but in fact did not happen, see chronology above).
This begs a rather important question: what kind of a person would it be who, on a demonstration in 1999, were to start ‘shouting’ at an ex-member of their political organisation about something that supposedly happened 15 YEARS EARLIER. Particularly when, as demonstrated in the above chronology, this ‘something’, in the form Holmes renders it at least, is provably, obviously untrue?
The answer to that question as to what kind of person would be shouting about such a thing is also quite clear. Such a person would be regarded as an insane maniac by any normal person.
In fact, however, MacDonald’s shouting was not about that. It was as Geoff C says, about accusing me of being an ‘RUC supporter’ on a Republican demonstration. It was aimed at fooling others to take physical action against me on the grounds that I was some kind of communal-sectarian enemy of the march. That was the aim of the provocation and much more dangerous therefore. If MacDonald had been shouting about something to do with the miners’ strike this would have been outlandish and incomprehensible, rather than dangerous.
Holmes’ narrative is a fantasy. However it does contain one element of truth when it states the following:
“The Spartacists were dead serious about trying to spread the miners strike to a general strike, vastly more important than his personal health considerations, and Donovan, in a position to try to do something about it, finked out at the key moment. Why shouldn’t she have shouted at him?”
The reference to ‘personal health considerations’ shows that Holmes is aware of the underlying issues, but is trying deliberately to distort them. They also show that he, like MacDonald, is a sociopath.
Let us examine why. First of all, at the time of the miners strike beginning, our people had only been employed in that industry for a matter of a few months. The idea therefore that a few rookies could lead workers on the Underground out on strike in solidarity with the miners by sheer voluntarism, is simply insane. It could only be put forward by people completely ignorant of how trade unions work. It takes decades of patient base-building to even be able to consider the possibility of doing something like that. So the whole idea is fantasy politics: anyone who claims to believe in such thing is either a naive fool, or a cynical fraudster.
It is true that I had ‘personal health considerations’ during the time I was employed on London Underground. In particular, for reasons of unsuitable sleep patterns and metabolism regarding swing-shift work, I was unsuited to be working in that industry. However, for reasons of political duty, I kept up with this not only during the strike, but quite a long time afterwards. I became for a few years addicted to prescription sleeping tablets as a result. Organisational pressure was applied, most centrally by MacDonald and Len Meyers, the two leading figures in the SL/B there, to keep me there. This was not only done to me.
There were a number of other comrades in the SL/B at that time, including several women, who had health problems of various sorts and who were being ‘run’ extremely hard, too hard, by that leading duo, and had those health problems exacerbated as a result. One particularly notorious incident happened in late 1986 when a woman comrade who was head of the circulation department resigned from that position for reasons of ill-health. A special meeting was held in which a succession of Spart hacks got up one after another to denounce her, and in some cases (MacDonald being a case in point) to actually SCREAM ABUSE at her for daring to resign her internal post. This led to her being driven close to suicide.
It is also a fact that I was the person who exploded with rage when this incident happened (in Nov 1986) and basically went into factional warfare mode against these lowlife, writing a series of angry and very damning attacks on this conduct which actually forced Robertson to intervene and reshuffle the central UK leaders (MacDonald and Meyers) out of Britain, in effect sacking the British leadership. This all happened at the end of 1986/beginning of 1987, not during the miners strike. The severe stress in running such a single-handed political struggle certainly had an impact on my personal health, since virtually all of the other cadre were either too weak and cowardly to fight about these things, or too degenerate to care about them,
I had a nervous breakdown after this episode and left the SL/B in Jan 1987. In took me several years to get back on my feet after this, but I have remained politically active as a Marxist and I consider I have developed considerably further politically since breaking with the Spartacist League, rather a long time ago now.
In the light of the above, people can judge what is signified by John Dewey Holmes’ contention that my ‘personal health considerations’ really did not matter in the light of the importance of the SL/B’s supposed fight for a general strike in support of the miners in 1984-5. It certainly was true that the miners needed a general strike to support them to defeat Thatcher’s attacks; it is also true that the SL/B’s chances of leading one were totally non-existent as it had no roots of any significance in the rail industry and in fact only one moderately rooted trade union militant in the entire country (Pat Sliney) who was in a realistic position to even try to deliver any solidarity. And he was sacked after signing his name to a leaflet that would have been better issued anonymously or under a collective banner, basically on the say-so of the same SL/B leadership that had a callous disregard for others’ ‘personal health considerations’.
So actually, far from being something laudatory, these people were incompetent, pathetic and brutal both during and after the miners strike, setting up their own people to be victimised by the bosses, or actually worse. The idea that my health considerations were worth nothing, while saying that it is so terrible that MacDonald was ‘injured’ when trying (in a more subtle manner than the idiot John Dewey Holmes makes out) to exploit this years later on an Irish demonstration in 1999, shows his real view of ‘leadership’ – that the leadership has the right to abuse the ranks and basically do what they like to them.
Gerry Healy had a similar conception. He thought it OK to beat people up internally who criticised his leadership. The Sparts generally prefer psychological abuse to physical violence. But actually, some forms of psychological abuse are worse than physical violence, more destructive and more insidious and long-lasting. Anyway, there is a reason why Gerry Healy employed a full time heavy as his bodyguard. It was never to protect him from the state, but to protect him from angry people his abusive ‘party’ had damaged and brutalised, or in some cases even raped (apparently), and/or their friends and relatives.
So tough, if you ill-treat working class people and damage their lives, there can be blowback. You might get a punch in the face (perhaps). In other countries the abuser might have reason to fear something much more severe. The moral is very straightforward: if you do not do as you will be done by, there is a danger that you might be done by as you did.
As for the Sparts’ politics, I do not consider myself in any sense part of their diaspora or extended family. Their claim to be the ‘continuity’ of a revolutionary tradition is nonsense. They are a chauvinistic, deformed sect not really organically linked to the labo(u)r bureaucracy in the US, but rather to ‘declassed’ sections of the petty bourgeoisie, something they have actually produced psuedo-Marxist theses to rationalise and make a virtue out of. Their origins are in Shachtmanism, but with their own further petty-bourgeois twist.
And here I have to abstract from what conventional wisdom would have it as the main feature of Shachtmanism; its rejection of Trotsky’s position that the USSR remained a ‘degenerate workers state’ after the core of the Communist Party and the Red Army’s officer caste were physically wiped out in Stalin’s Great Purges/’preventative civil war’ in the late 1930s. What distinguished Shatchmanism was not particularly rejection of Trotsky’s view of the defence of the USSR and political revolution after this. In fact, even the partisans of the Left Opposition in the labour camps in the USSR were deeply divided on this: read the article on ‘Trotskyists at Vorkuta’ published in Workers Vanguard for the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution in 1977.
No, the main problem was not the Shachtmanites’ heterodoxy on the USSR under Stalin, It was that they were a chauvinist tendency in a fairly straightforward way, and not their lack of clarity on the USSR (in my view only Walter Daum and the US LRP have come close to providing a coherent analysis of this question), which drove them to the right.
But on a key question, the SL shared the Shachtmanites’ chauvinism and never broke from it. That being over the Middle East. Their support for the Israeli side in the 1948 war was a position they maintained until 1973, when Yossi Schwartz wrote a series of Workers Vanguard articles on the ‘Birth of the Zionist state’ that de-facto committed the SL/US to repudiate Shachtman’s position of support for Israel in favour of the US SWP’s view, that of neutrality between the Zionist armed colonists and their Arab nationalist opponents. Unfortunately, neutrality, or even ‘defeatism on both sides’ between the ethnic cleansers on the one hand, and the Palestinians being ethnically cleansed (and their treacherous half-hearted Arab bourgeois allies), is not a principled position, as I have concluded from years of reading and studying around this question. Neutrality between the oppressor and the oppressed is never a principled position.
Anyway, the Spartacists claim to represent ‘revolutionary continuity’ in the post war period, apparently uniquely. Yet they hold a position on what it is now becoming clear is a central question of our epoch, the Middle East-Palestine-‘Israel’ question, that is chauvinist and neutral between the oppressor and the oppressed. For over a decade, they inherited from Shachtman/Draper an even worse position that supported the Zionist oppressor against the oppressed, and basically amounted to support for the Naqba, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, only renouncing it in 1973.
From this flows many examples of the Sparts anti-Muslim chauvinism. Robertson’s original remarks about Albanian ‘goatfuckers’ come from this chauvinism; he attempted to blame Marx for having said something like this, but was never able to produce the reference.
In fact, he may well have been referring obliquely to a remark by Engels I came across a while ago that referred to Montenegrins, not Albanians, as ‘sheep stealers’. No sexual slur there, just a social commentary which may or may not be justified. The fact that Montenegrins are changed to Albanians is significant, as Albanians are Europe’s only Muslim nation, and the depiction of Arabs and Muslims as goat-fuckers is a classic racist Western slur.
Yet they claim to represent ‘revolutionary continuity’ uniquely. Their claim is crap, and hypocritical, megalomaniacal crap at that.
Meanwhile in 1970, as part of their search for the Holy Grail of being ‘uniquely correct’, they adopted a position on the relationship of bourgeois workers parties and popular fronts that really makes it impossible to carry out Marxist tactics such as entrism and critical support for reformists either within such parties, or against class enemies in the external world, or even in most cases to draw a meaningful line against popular frontism in any case. See my original Revolution and Truth article on this from 1998.
Taken together, the political deviations of the Sparts make their claim to represent ‘revolutionary continuity’ a sick joke.
Regarding ‘Zionism’, it is typical degeneracy for Holmes, who defends the ‘right to self-determination’ of the ‘Hebrew speaking people’ in the Levant, to attack Gilad Atzmon as a Zionist. Atzmon has on the contrary declared himself to be a ‘Hebrew-speaking Palestinian’ and is utterly opposed to any ‘self-determination’ of the Zionist oppressor. Self determination of this artificial non-nation can only mean the maintenance of the Palestinians’ forcible exile, and is utterly anti-democratic. This support for Israeli ‘self-determination’ is itself either an American chauvinist position, or else a Jewish chauvinist position, or likely a blend of both.
As to my work on the Jewish question, I have it is true been witchhunted for it by anti-communist Zionists, semi-Zionists and their ‘left’ lackeys. For Holmes to solidarise with this is natural, But if anyone has anything substantial, political and Marxist to say, some of my most important material is now available as part of a Socialist Fight pamphlet, which can be read here. And there is more on the website Communist Explorations, http://commexplor.com.
And finally, Socialist Fight has nothing to do with the Morenoites. Both SF, and its co-thinkers elsewhere, aspire to build something better than such centrist figures as Moreno.