Monday, December 15, 2008

New Statesman Dec 15th 2008

New Statesman Dec 15th 2008

The cover feature is about the power of oratory illustrated by Barack Obama and an article by Dominic Sandbrook saying that time will tell. James Pilger continues to be one of the lead nay-sayers about Obama, putting him in a Groundhog Day framework as a 'continuity' president for the system described by Martin Luther King as the 'greatest purveyor of violence in the world today'. James Macintyre reports on what's going on inside the Labour Party, ruling out a general election for 2009, but speculating on the return to office of 'big beast' David Blunkett. Richard Reeves from Demos continues his argument for a grand political realignment. Soumya Bhattacharya reports on the sombre mood in Mubai after the bombings. Mehdi Hasan from Channel 4 provides a guide to Islamic finance as a model for better banking practice.

However it turns out that the most interesting and controversial thing in the mag is the review by Owen Hatherley of Richard Seymour's Liberal Defence of Murder. It's a good review. Seymour is identified as the Lenin of Lenin's Tomb. I think I'd replace the word 'gall' with 'chutzpah'. There is what seems to be (I haven't read it yet, so I'm just going on tacit knowledge and expectation here - forgive me) a solid account of the book. Pertinent criticisms are made, although I wasn't sure what it meant by saying it was more useful as history than 'polemic'. It certainly added to my desire to get the book and give it a look. For a short piece it is a good and useful account. However, the review doesn't mention the SWP. Should it have? Yes, I think so, to help place the work and for intellectual honesty, but not mentioning the SWP doesn't particularly damn the book or the review. First thing I did on seeing the author's name was to google it, to see if he was in the SWP and that produced the link to his own blog Sit Down Man You're a Bloody Tragedy. The magazine is at fault not mentioning this, but it's only a minor issue. Checking the blog showed that even if the author has written on cultural matters for the SWP he is clearly not a member. Does it matter. Well to a certain extent, yes. Books by the SWP are of interest and don't get that widely reviewed, except for those by Professor Callinicos, who is an important Marxist intellectual heavyweight. They get reviewed in SWP publications, usually with pertinent criticisms inside a context of support. If they get reviewed elsewhere and an SWP author is reviewed by another SWP member I think, 'what a shame they couldn't find anyone outside the SWP to review the book, says a lot about the SWP and the intellectual currents of the time'. However we all know there is a lot of back-scratching and mutuality in the reviewing inustry and usually decry it - somewhere in the massive and mostly fruitless debate referred to below somone lists the reviewers of Nick Cohen's book and it is a hoot. For the same reason that The Economist prides itself on not reviewing books by its own authors, there is a taint about all this.

Is it McCarthyite to point this out? Can be, but not necessarily. However this is where the fun and controversy starts. Harry's Place didn't like the review and carried an attack focussed on the accusation that Hatherley as a member of the SWP couldn't write an honest review of the book. They've had to back down on this, but are still happy to call him an 'SWP activist' and insult him for his associations with the party. This does seem pretty McCarthyite to me, but we are in a period when the SWP's spurious cries of McCarthyism against itself in the context of its late factional tussles inside Respect and the accusations of them as 'Russian dolls' from George Galloway are fresh in the mind. That Harry's Place can use Richard Seymour's disclaimerless but useful (and mildly critical) New Statesman review of Harman's People's History of the World is an indicator of the problems that the faux naif review leads to. Hatherley justifiably calls all this McCarthyism, although the point that a libel action would depend on him arguing that being associated with the SWP was detrimental to his reputation is funny. The discussion on Harry's Place is typically unpleasant and McCarthyite and goes on and on in an insane manner - actually you could go back further and say it's like the pre-slavery bullying of abolitionists and ex-slaves. Bullying is the key word. Not surprisingly Hatherley eventually comes back to give them a strong and deserved rebuke. So I've ended up thinking that although there is a problem with the SWP's economy of openess and honesty (which is not an accusation against Hatherley), this is hardly anything when set against the nasty bullying McCarthyism of Harry's Place, which far exceeds the annoying and depressing 'hunt in packs' mentality of contributors to blogs like Lenin's Tomb. Hatherley is a victim of some of the worst childish ragging I've seen, but I'm sure he can look after himself and if it gets more people to look at his excellent blog so much the better. And, on top of all this, Oliver Kamm has launched into the tussle (here as well) - which after the wading through the sticky mess that is the Harry's Place discussion - starts to turn the affair from a s torm in a teacup into a farce. My Aunt Minnie is lost in here somewhere.

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