"What-ism" in the 21st century?

Submitted by martin on 16 March, 2010 - 4:17 Author: Martin Thomas

Someone has put a lot of time and money into the new Counterfire website launched by the sixty people who recently quit the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP) with John Rees and Lindsey German. It's very slick, and frequently updated.

Money and time in? And what comes out? That is less clear.

A launch announcement is entitled "Leninism in the 21st century", but says nothing about Leninism, or indeed about the 21st century, unless coverage of "the crisis in capitalism" or "alternatives to the discredited and failing policies of the political elite" were unthought of in the 20th century.

When the website was first launched, the article nearest to offering a "political perspective" was one on the "new workers' party" question. That article has since, as far as I can tell, been removed from the website.

It was not written by a Counterfirer, but cut-and-pasted from the blog of a writer who once contributed to the Weekly Worker, then joined the Socialist Party, and has recently moved over to the Labour left. "Power has shifted in the Labour party... The best place for rebuilding the labour movement and renewing working-class politics is inside Labour".

Some Counterfirers are looking that way? Or a website worker cut-and-pasted the item with no thought beyond that it would "add an element", and soon got slapped down by the Counterfire group's leaders? I don't know.

Most of the website is news and comment cut-and-pasted from elsewhere. There is no announcement of meetings or activities initiated by the Counterfire group itself. The site promises a weekly e-letter: either it hasn't happened yet, or they have someone sifting out and deleting subscriptions to it from "undesirables" like me.

The parent body, the SWP, has been edging away from its attempts to ally with Islamism - including outright Islamic clerical-fascism in its "soft" Muslim Brotherhood form - but the site suggests that the Counterfirers still look that way. It announces a meeting, apparently organised by a local group of the Stop The War Coalition (whose office is largely run by Counterfirers), where Counterfire honcho Chris Nineham will speak alongside Anas Altikriti of the British Muslim Initiative and a speaker from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.

John Rees, the Counterfirers' leading ideologue, is described in the website's blurbs as "writer and broadcaster", presumably a reference to his recent TV presentations for the Islam Channel. Leninism? Can you imagine it? "Vladimir Lenin, pamphleteer and raconteur".

The ostensibly-weightiest item on Counterfire, apart from the "feminist manifesto" they're pushing, is a review by Nineham of Peter Thomas's new book, The Gramscian Moment. The review is anodyne, notable mostly for an attempt by Nineham to smooth over the differences revealed by Thomas between Gramsci and Georg Lukacs (the author whom John Rees made his "intellectual" reputation by writing about).

Thomas explains that much of Gramsci's writing on "hegemony" was informed by a drive by Gramsci to deepen what he had learned about the united front tactic from Lenin and Trotsky. But Nineham offers no account of why Counterfire (and the SWP) have replaced Lenin's, Trotsky's, and Gramsci's idea of united fronts based on class policies and open criticism by "Munzenbergist" fronts, "broad" concoctions designed to put on a show but to blur class lines in politics and stifle criticism.

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