05/04/2019 by socialistfight
Is this working-class democracy or student union bureaucracy?
UPDATE: Since this article was published, Rox Baker, speaking for the Bolshevik Tendency officially, has dissociated the BT from Gregory’s outrageous behaviour with the following comment:
“Michael Gregory is a political independent who has his own views on various questions, some of which correspond to our own. The Bolshevik Tendency is not responsibile for his activities or political positions, nor is he for ours.“
This is good to know, since he does aggressively promote himself as a BT supporter
In the words of Wilhelm Speklin, a recently won supporter of the Socialist Fight Group and the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, who was for years a supporter of the now-split Bolshevik Tendency in the Netherlands, our polemics against the Bolshevik Tendency and the Spartacist ‘family’ tradition on the Popular Front in particular constitute an ‘existential threat’ to their entire self-conception as the unique representatives of authentic Trotskyism internationally. Their claim has been looking rather moth-eaten lately, as after over three and a half decades, their organisation, before the split known as the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) basically shattered into three small fragments.
Much discussion on the left these days is taking place on social media, on Facebook pages, in Facebook groups, and the like. This has its useful features as it does allow people who would not easily meet to debate and clarify ideas. But it also has its drawbacks, as bureaucratism, suppression of dissident views and overt hostility to workers democracy that often occurs in the offline world finds its way online.
We in the SFG run an open Facebook discussion group, with publicly available articles that are open to the public to comment upon. Not only that but we frequently invite others on the left, even supporters of other left tendencies, to join our Facebook discussion group with the right to post their own material, including material at odds with our perspectives or even critical of ourselves. This complements our own website, socialistfight.com, which also is open to public comments on all of our articles.
It does appear that this combination of circumstances has upset some people in and around the BT. We have had prolonged debates with a couple of close IBT sympathisers/supporters for the last year or so, particularly in the aftermath of their three way split in the last year. We have now an experienced supporter in the Netherlands, who used to support the pre-split IBT, and some periphery. This came from some fierce debates over the BT’s abstentionism over in the face of imperialist proxy wars such as in Ukraine, Turkey, and Brazil, later consolidated with our prolonged polemic against the entire Spartacist tradition over the Popular Front, which they are self-confessedly unable to reply to. They eventually attempted to hit back against us by echoing the CPGB/Third Campist accusation of ‘anti-Semitism’ against SF, both for our own position on Zionism and our defence of the Israeli Jazz musician Gilad Atzmon against Zionists and their capitulators on the left.
One of these two sympathisers, comrade Alan Gibson in Ireland, even though he is not a formally a member of the BT, in effect acts as their webmaster outside of Facebook, as his blog revolutionaryprogramme.wordpress.com published two recent statements by them, their first outside of Facebook. This gives him something of an official status, and we treat him as a BT representative. He has withdrawn from all debates with us, but does not appear to have participated in the hysterical purge itself.
It is not clear if the tirades against us below have the support of the fragment of the IBT centred in Canada, or any other fragment for that matter. But it must be somewhat embarrassing for a tendency that historically has formally claimed to stand for opposition to bans and proscriptions on the left, in the Labour Party, and for workers democracy, to openly purge former members and supporters of its own tendency, some of whom have had associations with the BT and its predecessors going back 30 or 40 years, from ostensibly open forums of the left; to join in denunciations against leftists who have been the target of witchhunting in the Labour Party, at the bidding of a Tory Prime Minister no less (!), and from open third-campists like the CPGB, for its anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism; to exclude former supporters/fusion partners of its own tendency of Jewish-Israeli origin from such forums for allegedly supporting ‘anti-Semitism’.
This is bizarre behaviour from supporters of a tendency that claims to be opposed to the bureaucratic and cultist practices of its Spartacist League political parents. We should explain that Dov Winter is a supporter of Socialist Fight in the USA. He was formerly the main leader of the Left Trotskyist Tendency, which briefly fused with the Bolshevik Tendency in 1987. Ian Donovan was a former member of the Spartacists in much of the 1980s who was a member of the IBT from 1996-8. He authored a detailed critique of the Spartacist tradition on the question of Popular Fronts and sectarianism, which the IBT leadership refused to properly debate. Wilhelm Speklin was a sympathiser of the IBT in the Netherlands until late 2018, when he was won to the SFG. Gerry Downing is a leading member of the SFG and expelled Labour Party member.
And then we have David Walters, an ally of BT supporter Gregory in this purge, who is a supporter in the United States of one of the factional remnants of the deeply Stalinophobic and pro-imperialist French Lambert group. And Cameron Woodford, who Gregory also mentions as a participant in this pathetic and childish purge, is a supporter of the Nordenite Internationalist Group/League for the Fourth International (or so he says).
This is a real example of a centrist swamp, as the Bolshevik Tendency frequently accuses its critics of inhabiting.
On the question of our supposed ‘anti-semitism’ the comrade does not define whether he is baiting us in some way as Nazis, which really would be bizarre and absurd and reminiscent of Stalinism given our collective experience in the left (amounting to well over a century); or whether he is attacking us in the manner of Dave Rich, of the ‘Community Security Trust’ in the UK, or the CPGB’s Jack Conrad, as ‘left-wing anti-semites’. The latter formulation really doesn’t get them off the hook, since as a concept, ‘left-wing anti-semitism’ is deeply anti-communist, implying that racism is not a reactionary trait at all, but something that comes from ‘leftism’ itself, as Dave Rich explicitly argues.
Nor do they define ‘anti-semitism’ itself, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as “hostility and discrimination against Jews”. Nowhere have we exhibited such traits. Indeed one of the comrades excluded is a comrade of Jewish-Israeli background who has been active on the left since the 1970s. There are however other definitions in use, such as the one adopted by the Labour Party for its purges, from the Israeli-backed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which defines criticism of Zionism as a a ‘racist endeavour’ and denial of Israel’s ‘right to self-determination’ as anti-Semitic.
One more clarification is in order on this. We were actually excluded from something called the ‘International Marxist Discussion Forum’, which Gregory runs. But the funny thing is that most of the discussions that he was complaining about did not take place on that forum at all, but on our own public group, which he is not excluded from and is still allowed to post articles on to this day. Other exchanges took place on something called the ‘Marxist Discussion Group’ run by classic phoney left academics who booted one of our comrades out as ‘anti-Semitic’ for arguing our line on Zionism, that so offends third-campists and the like. But virtually none of these exchanges took place on Gregory’s own group.
Anyway, with this introduction, the tirades below, which go from ranting about ‘name-calling’ and ‘dick-waving’ in discussion, to banning the discussion of whole subjects, like Palestine and the (alleged!!!!) witchhunt in the British Labour Party, to an open purge of named individuals, former members and supporters of his own organisation, and the very bans and proscriptions against leftists that Trotskyists are supposed to be opposed to tooth-and-nail. Thus a supporter of the BT betrays its putative programme on workers democracy in front of the socialist public. Where does the Bolshevik Tendency itself stand on this?
“Moderators Note: As some of you may know there has been a really nasty silly show between Ian Donovan and I, in this group as well as other groups I admin along with other groups that he admins, along with groups neither of us admin. He has continued to smear and defame me as a Zionist, Pro-Israel, Anti-Arab and a supporter of a Zionist witchhunt. He continued to make up false allegations, and attack the false allegation he made up. I made numerous attempts to disengage but refused to back down. He continued to tag me in shit posts and went on a tirade on numerous groups defaming me.
“Ian had violates numerous rules in this group including the rule again bigotry (his ranting about Jews ruling world and his defense of Gilad Atzmon who blamed the Jews for the holocaust). He broke the no trolling rule and no spamming rule along with the no slander and personal attack. Whenever I informed him on the rules, he would get very combative.
“He also defended Nigel Singh who made icepick jokes (i.e. thinly veiled threats of violence).
“I have been busy with school (as I have already) and need to focus on that. I have not time for pissing matches. I am all for debate and discussion but not mudslinging. If people have to shit post me, they can at the very least, refrain posting in groups I admin and refrain from tagging me. I really have better things to do with my life.
“I will be mandating a week long, non-negotiable, cooling off period of on several issues. They include:
* Gilad Atzmon
* Socialist Fight versus the Bolshevik Tendency/International Bolshevik Tendency
* Whether or not Socialist Fight should be mentioned in people’s articles.
* The alleged witchhunt in the British Labour Party
* Wilhelm Speklin’s disputes with Cameron Woodford.
* Ian Donovan’s and Wilhelm’s relationship with the IBT/BT.
* Nigel Singh.
* The icepicking of Trotsky
* The Moscow Trial
This is not permanent but I think there needs to be a weeklong recess on these issues. This have already entered the namecalling and dickwaving stage.”
(This from Michael Gregory, BT supporter).
After this highly subjective tirade we have Gregory’s later escalation:
“”Ian Donovan was kicked from this group. Cameron Woodford removed Wilhelm Speklin as moderator and I removed Gerry Joseph Downing as moderator (which Woodford backs me on). I actually agree with Cameron on Wilhelm.”
Followed by another edict from Gregory:
“Moderators Note: I recommend people read the rules in the description. Rule one makes a clear distinction between anti-semitism and anti-zionism. The latter is a allowed but the former isn’t. Socialist Fight’s line on Jews crosses the line into anti-semitism. Defence of Gilad Atzmon amounts to defence of anti-semetism. People who peddle anti-semitism WILL be banned.”
After which he commented:
“Dov Winter Wilhelm Speklin Gerry Joseph Downing I suggest reading the rules in the description before posting (namely the first rule).”
Dov Winter was himself excluded from the group. However, as part of a counter-offensive that led to his reinstatement he wrote to David Walters:
“There have been some suggestions, in particularly from Michael Gregory that Ian Donovan and Socialist Fight are becoming Anti-Semite. I am attempting clear the poisonous atmosphere that surrounds the issue.
“We really need to distinguish between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism. The ruling classes in the big imperialist countries, the Zionists, the right-wing, and some fascists (interesting allied of the Zionists, aren’t they?), claim that Anti-Zionism is the same as Anti-Semitism. Of course, this is propaganda by the ruling classes to boast Israel. To accomplish this, they victimize those in the Left that expose Zionism. Ian’s ‘crime’ is his assertion that Jews’ have bigger representation within the ruling class than the Jews’ overall number within the population. He is correct. As Marxists we should know that this is not an insult. There are historical reasons for this.
“Until Second-World-War and the establishment of Israel, Jews occupied a central role within the upper petty bourgeoisie in Europe. The establishment of Israel, and the total support for the Zionist project by the big imperialist countries, increased the important role Israel plays in the imperialist’s subjugation of the masses in the Middle-East. The imperialists have been rewarding the Zionists, by letting more pro-Zionist Jews into their inner circles. So, why Ian is an Anti-Semite for stating these facts? His hatred toward the Zionists is completely understandable. Displaying his contempt for Zionism does not make him Anti-Semite. WIth such criteria, myself and other Trotskyists should also be classified as Anti-semites.
“I did not read the exchange on this between Ian and Michael Gregory. If Ian used terms in describing Jews, such as ‘Inferior people’ or the ‘scum of the Earth’, that would have made him Anti-Semite. But he does not and he will never use such terms. Ian’s disgust and anger in regard to the Zionists’ brutality toward the Palestinians is healthy,
“While Israel is not a fascist state, the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel is not significantly better than the fate of working class vanguard and the Jews under a fascist regime. Those who are offended by strong words that expose the Zionists should re-examine their position on Zionism. If they are honest, they should be disturbed by their defense of Zionism against those who expose Zionism harshly. (in my book, being offended by strong words against Zionism is a defense of Zionism, whether the person is aware of it, or not)” (31 March)
Dov summed up the entire sordid spectacle thus, very fittingly:
“These are the petty bourgeois bureaucrats. who congratulate themselves for undermining workers democracy, by excluding their opponents … What can I say, it is pretty brazen statement that can come only from a very rotten petty bourgeois elements.” (1 April)
The only question that remains is to ascertain where the Bolshevik Tendency stands on this puerile betrayal of what the BT itself has claimed to stand for over decades regarding workers democracy and free discussion within the left. Will they repudiate Gregory, or will they endorse his childish student-union bureaucrat-like online despotism?