Friday, January 18, 2013

Leninism in the Age of Social Media, Part 1

I have something in common with China Miéville: Not only do we both write science fiction--he far more than I--but he and I both have a history of being active militants in far-left cadre organizations. There are differences, however, and they are important ones: He remains an open supporter of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, which may well be the largest such organization in an anglophone country. The group that I formerly was with--which I decline to name out of deference to the preferences of my former comrades--is in the U.S. and is very small. (Though until recently it had a literary output disproportionate in volume and seriousness to its size, to which I contributed somewhat, under a cloak of anonymity.) The small size of that group meant that I had no time or energy to pursue creative writing over and above that which I contributed as part of my militancy, whereas China--due in part to the SWP's size and advanced division of labor, but also to his own intellect and self-discipline--has made a name for his fiction even as he contributes to his party.

Over on the Lenin's Tomb blog, China is now speaking out about the crisis in the SWP, provoked by their botched handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a leading member of the party. In it, he states that "these are extraordinary times and require extraordinary measures." Because of the SWP's relative significance in Britain, and the extent to which it has served as a model for similar organizations around the world, China's contribution has prompted an urge to break my self-imposed silence and speak out about the way that slavish adherence to inherited models from another historical epoch have contributed to the far-left's failure to build upon an economic and political situation that should be conducive to the growth of its influence and significance.

In point of fact, much of what China describes as "extraordinary measures"--such as the call for the SWP to end its limitations on the formation of internal factions, or the creation of a regular internal bulletin--are routine in Leninist formations much smaller and with far fewer resources than the SWP. (And, contrary to the routinized slander with which the SWP and organizations like it seek to insulate their members from the rest of the far left, many such groupings are not at all "talk shops" but are active and interventionary in nature.) All that such reforms would accomplish would be to bring the SWP closer to the method of operation of the Russian Communist Party prior to the Tenth Party Congress of 1921, albeit at an absurdly reduced scale. What is genuinely "extraordinary" about China's pronouncement, and those of the Lenin's Tomb host Richard Seymour, is performative in nature--namely, the fact that it is being made at all, in a public forum. One suspects that they have done so knowing that their relative fame makes it difficult for the current SWP leadership to move against them--should either of them be expelled, anyone who cares at all about the SWP would know it immediately, and this would immediately deepen suspicion of the cover-up. Further, however, China makes an explicit call for SWP members lacking such protective coloration to take public stands against the leadership: "Members’ usual – and usually understandable and honourable – instincts to show discretion and to trust their leadership are not only inadequate, they are counterproductive. This leadership does not deserve our trust, and our discretion now only serves them."

What I submit is that the situation is not quite so extraordinary as China believes, and that what once was honorable and understandable behavior is now peculiar and bizarre.

Let us try to think about our present moment "science-fictionally," as Samuel Delaney might put it. In the year 2100--whether our descendants are en route to a classless society by then, or living in some rapidly warming dystopian hell--when those who are children today are dead or in their dotage, what will they find more scandalous? That Martin Smith raped members of his party, or that the far-left as a whole, in a period of massive uprisings in the Arab world, worldwide economic crisis, emerging worker militancy in China, etc., remained largely tangential to the proceedings--functioning for the most part either as cheerleaders or kibitzers, but either way, sidelined? What will they make of the pretenses to secrecy and discipline under which we operate, based on various ways of parsing a 112-year-old book about the importance of newspapers?

They will think it absurd.

Smith's actions, and those of his colleagues who have aided in the cover-up, are horrendous, and I wish Richard Seymour, China Miéville and those of their comrades in the SWP who choose to "stay and fight" the best of luck. But, as I have already commented to Nick Mamatas in another venue, the SWP leadership is acting as if Gerry Healy never existed, and as if the internet does not exist. Their critics, to their credit, recognize the ridiculousness of both these delusions. But the shameful conduct of Smith et. al. is just one symptom of an outmoded praxis with all the revolutionary potential of cosplay. It would be a shame if all they thought of to replace them, however, were slightly more honorable means of carrying on steampunk dress-up parties.

(I have labeled this as part 1, and there will be a part 2, with some more constructive suggestions, but I am suffering some limitations in network access, so it may be some time before it is posted.)

No comments:

Post a Comment