The Liberal Defence of Murder

Derek Wall on Richard Seymour’s (Lenin’s Tomb) new book, The Liberal Defence of Murder

It looks really interesting, there is a moral panic being constructed by some because it has been reviewed sympathetically below in the New Statesman.

Even if the review is biased, don’t we have plenty of pro war bias in the mainstream media.

Well, some liberals are probably upset because it portrays them as warmongers, even though they just wanted a kinder, gentler invasion and torture and are anguished, just anguished I tell you, at how things turned out.

Liberals, they want to apologize after they torture you. At least that’s how it seems sometimes here in the States. Am looking forward to reading the book.

  • UJ

    After decades of “liberals are godless pussies” books I can’t say I’m exactly offended by this one, but it does however get right the core of our “barbarian civilizing” sins (Monroe Doctrine, Neoconservatives, etc) as opposed to the other mindless trash that doesn’t even understand what liberalism is (dropping Karl Marx, Franklin Roosevelt and Michael Moore into the same sentence.)

    However, just the same as the tabloid tomes from Coulter, Limbaugh, et al, you’ll have just as much luck pinning the Vietnam War or the Global War on Terror on my liberalism as you would pinning the Crusades on Billy Graham or the Exterminism of HG Wells on Howard Dean. It’s a looong way to go just to land a cheap shot, y’dig?

    Just with any cheap shot, though, it’s easy to ignore. What’s difficult to ignore is the histrionic and provocative design of the book. I haven’t read it, but I imagine it doesn’t go far to highlight the crimes of other ideologies, the narcissistic terrorism of socialism or the back breaking racism of conservatism for instance. Everyone, not just liberals, are working to remake the world in their image, and they’re all guilty of spreading violence, misery and destruction in their wake.

    We each choose our own poison, our own ideology to subscribe to. I prefer the enlightened audacity of liberalism, responsible for aggression and tyranny, yes, but it’s also responsible for things like peace on the Strait of Malacca or the International Space Station. Whaddaya want from us? It’s not like the resilient-community-anarcho-hippy thing ever worked out much better. I mean, thanks for the drum circles, but what about Somali pirates, Nicaraguan death squads, or the Taliban?

    In other words, this guy can bitch about liberal crimes all he wants, but we’ll see you in Hell.

  • DJ

    “Everyone, not just liberals, are working to remake the world in their image, and they’re all guilty of spreading violence, misery and destruction in their wake.”

    Not everyone. Some of us want you to remake your local neighborhood in your own image, whatever that may be, and leave everyone else’s local neighborhood to them.

  • Michael Pugliese

    Richard Seymour being a Trotskyist is good about Stalinist genocide and repression. But, Richard Seymour being a ultra-left anti-imperialist is also sad to say in such a bright young chap, one who for a Trot mirrors the STALINIST tropes about liberals/liberalism/social democrats/democratic socialists being stooges of the Empire. wing richard up and he’ll defend any and all revolutionary thugs/regimes/movements esp. if they target Jews, oh excuse me, “zionists.’ Harry’s Place blog is a better place to chew over these issues than the polemical cesspool found on Lenin’s Tomb. “We Are All NOT Hezbollah!, ” thank you.

  • michael pugliese
    On conflicts of interest

    NsIn January 2006 The New Statesman published a review of a book by the Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis. The book was a succint account of The Cold War, intended for the general reader. The NS’s reviewer, Richard Gott, was unimpressed. The book was, he said, “an unashamedly American and triumphalist version of the long US-Soviet quarrel that broke out after the Second World War”. Against such simplicities, Gott identified a more sophisticated approach, to which he subscribed: “A third group, to which I have long belonged, thought that the entire contest was a huge mistake, totally misconceived and possibly fabricated, both expensive and dangerous.”

    Nowhere in this review, or in its authorial byline, would you have learned a notable fact about Richard Gott’s behaviour in the Cold War. Gott was not the disinterested observer of the superpower struggle that he now claims: he was a partisan on the other side. In 1994 he resigned as Literary Editor of The Guardian after acknowledging that he had received money from the KGB. This information was patently material to the subject of Gott’s review, yet neither Gott nor the NS editor (at that time, John Kampfner, who was certainly aware of Gott’s background) thought it worth revealing to the readers.

    Last summer, the NS carried a review of a book called A People’s History of the World by Chris Harman. Harman is a longstanding member of the Politbureau of the Socialist Workers’ Party, a Leninist organisation with a recent record of alliance with unabashed antisemitism. Being a member of the SWP is not necessarily a bar to writing a good book: the economist Nigel Harris, who was at one time (though I don’t know if he still is) a prominent figure in the SWP, wrote an excellent book some years ago on immigration. It was a reasonable editorial decision for the NS to run a review of Harman’s book.

    But the reviewer that the magazine chose had no claim to historical expertise: his sole relevant characteristic was that he too was a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party, a blogger called Richard Seymour. This matters, because the SWP – being a Leninist sect – is not a normal political party, such as Labour or the German SPD, in which disagreement is an accepted fact of life. The guiding principle of Leninist organisation, as established by Lenin in 1906, is the contradiction in terms “democratic centralism”. As one political theorist has succinctly described it (Joseph Femia, Marxism and Democracy, 1992, p. 136):

    ‘By “democratic”, Lenin meant that the elected Party Congress was to be supreme over policy. By “centralism”, he meant that once general policy was agreed, the everyday decisions of the central bodies were absolutely binding on all members, who were expected to march in step, whatever their private reservations.’

    In the circumstances, it was inconceivable that Seymour would fail to praise his leader’s work. Harman’s book, sure enough was “a dizzying tale of change ‘from below’, with political, economic and cultural narratives interwoven, and occasional pauses to point out intriguing theoretical vistas”, so Seymour told readers of the NS. At no point in the review did Seymour disclose his common membership of the SWP with Harman, nor did the NS reveal it either. That information was material to evaluating Seymour’s review.

    As I mentioned last week, the NS has now run an enthusiastic review of Seymour’s own book, entitled – seriously – The Liberal Defence of Murder. It often happens that when I fail to display sufficient respect for one of the elect, and in this case one of their own, a sinister and ridiculous organisation called Media Lens starts ululating about the unfairness of it all. So it is in this case, where a few judicious observations on my part have elicted the wrath of the comrades. My comments are, according to an aggrieved Seymour on the ML bulletin board, “a signal to [Kamm’s] associates who work in the media and share his overall outlook … that they need not even read the book, much less seriously engage with the arguments”.

    That’s not far wrong, as it happens. From my reading of a volume that I did not ask to be sent but am happy to give a view on, Seymour’s grasp of recent political history falls short of the general knowledge that I would automatically assume would be held by, say, the audience that I write for at The Times. I don’t recognise from the book the judgement proffered by the NS reviewer, Owen Hatherley, that Seymour “overwhelmingly manages the transition from blogger to historian with great assurance”.

    And here’s an odd thing. I had not come across the name of Owen Hatherley before. My comrades at Harry’s Place maintain that Hatherley is a member of the same Leninist sect as Seymour: the Socialist Workers’ Party. I do not know if this true, but HP link to a long list of contributions made by Hatherley to the party’s newspaper. Socialist Worker is not like, say, The Guardian or the NS itself, where there is a left-of-centre editorial view accompanied by a range of signed articles from various standpoints: it is the organ of a party founded on Leninist principles, and thus presents a view on all issues that is consistent with the party’s position. Even if Hatherley is not formally a member of the party, his status as a contributor to the newspaper is an indication of his acceptance of party discipline.

    When I posted my sceptical remarks about Seymour, Hatherley posted this comment underneath my post, in response to a charge by another reader that Seymour and Hatherley were friends:

    “Just for the record, I have spoken to Seymour three times in my life. Seems nice enough a chap, but ‘friends’ would be pushing it. I also have friends who signed the Euston Manifesto, yet I would not hesitate to say in print that their ‘send in the marines!’ approach to humanitarianism was a tad superficial.

    “Still, gotta love the idea that the New Statesman, publisher of said Euston Manifesto, is a hotbed of Trotskyite entryism. Still, at least I assume they aren’t responding to [the other commenter’s] pitches.”

    If it is true that Hatherley has some affiliation with the SWP, then I regard this comment as misleading in what it leaves out. It is clearly material to Hatherley’s review of Seymour’s book if he, Hatherley, is bound by party discipline to express the same views in public as Seymour. I therefore invite Hatherley to state here whether he is indeed a member of the SWP, as my comrades at HP claim, and if not then what his history with that organisation is. If he has a formal link with the SWP, either as a member or as a contributor to the newspaper, then I’d like to know why he didn’t reveal it either to the New Statesman’s readers or to mine. I should also be interested to know from the New Statesman’s editor whether, in the event that Hatherley is indeed aligned in some way with the SWP, the magazine was aware of this when it commissioned Hatherley’s review and – if so – why an apparent conflict of interest was not disclosed to the readers. It is a matter of interest if a book by a member of a Leninist party is reviewed by an apparently regular contributor to the party’s newspaper, and it ought to stated.

    UPDATE: Hatherley has written to Harry’s Place to deny that he is a member of the SWP. I naturally take his word on this. My point remains, however, that he is a contributor to the newspaper of a Leninist organisation, which is not a normal democratic party even of the radical Left, and in which he urges “a foundation for genuine class politics”. This is a material point in evaluating his review, and as such I consider he ought to have disclosed it both in his piece and in his comment on this blog. Not to have done so gave a misleading impression that he was a disinterested observer of the SWP and (his own example) the Euston Manifesto.

    Posted by Oliver Kamm on December 14, 2008 in UK media | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0) | Email this post

  • Re Stalinism and the Left

    Been there, done that. Found it deeply flawed and as messianic as any Christian cult. Will check out Harry’s Place. Thx.

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