Since its clampdown on dissent a few years ago, I haven’t been a regular reader of Socialist Unity. From an outsider’s perspective, there always seemed a bit of a gap between SU’s two stalwarts, Andy Newman and John Wight. Whereas Wight seemed irredeemably awful, Andy Newman occasionally wrote something half decent.
Recently there’ve been some signs of tension between the two editors. They had a BTL spat on the topic of Sadiq Khan, and apparently one of Wight’s pro-Putin pieces has been pulled. However yesterday Newman quickly came to Wight’s defence after he was criticised by Louis Proyect for sucking up to Putin. (Proyect, incidentally, came under attack from Jews Sans Frontieres last year – and while I don’t think many of us will take our political cues from that site, on this issue they seem to have a point.)
Newman first sidesteps the real issues at stake here in order to quibble over Proyect’s enthusiasm for the avant-garde, an enthusiasm which draws him to performers such as Pussy Riot. Andy Newman is perfectly correct to point out that avant-garde artists are by no means always politically sound – several had fascist leanings.
How Louis can see anything progressive in the jejune antics of Pussy Riot gratuitously offending the views of Russian Christians is a mystery to me.
But this really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about whether you happen to care for Pussy Riot’s way of doing things. Newman completely glosses over the fact that some of its members received two-year prison sentences, and were designated prisoners of conscience by Amnesty. If their performance was really so ‘jejune’ how can such harsh punishment be justified? And their ‘antics’ were not ‘gratuitous’.
Unless I’m missing something, it seems that Newman doesn’t even have a problem with ‘social conservatism’.
It is also worth reflecting that collectivism and social solidarity is not only delivered by forces like the trade unions, and the social democratic left, but also from churches, Mosques and other faith organizations. While Louis fulminates against “social conservatism” it might be worth reflecting why Ted Cruz is supported by many blue collar voters, and how it is that GOP has managed to exploit culture wars to build a base among what Americans would call “middle class” voters.
Newman invoked fascism in his warning against an enthusiasm for the avant-garde. He might also note that the left doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘collectivism’ and ‘social solidarity’. And there is nothing inherently positive about the kind of collectivism associated with faith groups. Religion (like avant-garde art) can be used for good, bad or neutral purposes. I’m not sure quite what point Newman wants us to take away about Ted Cruz – that Bernie Sanders should follow his socially conservative stance on LGBT and abortion issues? (For a reminder of the alliances which can be forged between the far left and socially conservative forces see this interesting post by Andrew Coates – John Wight gets a look in here too.)
The Russian Orthodox Church, presumably viewed by Newman as a site of ‘social solidarity’, is led by a man who blames the rise of ISIS on the godless world’s acceptance of homosexuality:
The head of the Russian Orthodox Church has partially blamed an increased acceptance of homosexuality for the rise of Isis.
Patriarch Kirill claimed he was not surprised that some Muslims are flocking to Isis’ quasi-religious state as a way of escaping the “godless civilization” that celebrates events such as Gay Pride.
In an interview published on the Church’s official website, Kirill said: “[Isis] is creating a civilization that is new by comparison to the established one that is godless, secular and even radical in its secularism.”
Kiril also appeared to controversially support Isis’ widely dismissed self-declaration of an Islamic caliphate by claiming that many who have flocked to live under the terror group are “honest” people who did so on “truly religious grounds”.
Rather than investigate, say, Louis Proyect’s troubling report of a Russian dissident being committed to a psychiatric hospital, Newman next turns his attention to Proyect’s prose style. I’ve read far more turgid stuff than the brief paragraph Andy Newman picks out as ‘pompous and prolix’:
Remind me to bring that up at my union meeting next week.
is – just about – earned. However then Newman comes out with some pretty prolix stuff of his own:
While Louis has consciously broken from the organizational forms of Trotskyism, he still holds with the essentially Trotskyist project of promoting and defending a counter-hegemonic belief system and interpreting the world through a largely self-referential and textually based polemic; which is resilient at ignoring aspects of reality that contradict it.
Getty and Naumov discuss the peculiar nature of Russian Marxism in the pre-revolutionary period. They reject the conceit of Michel Foucault that the language, patterns and interactions used in “discourse” create meaning – whereby language becomes the mediation through which historical reality is created as a social reality independent of physical reality. Nevertheless, while rejecting this specious and fashionably technical usage of the word “discourse”, Getty and Naumov nevertheless locate the historically specific experience of the Bolsheviks in creating a sub-culture of discourse, within the everyday meaning of that word: debate and discussion creating a particularly text-oriented belief system.
So it amused me that Newman, earlier in the post, referred to a ‘hilarious comment from someone called Pete Glosser, who seems to utterly lack any sense of critical self awareness’.