Smears on social media

Submitted by cathy n on 2 April, 2019 - 11:28 Author: Cathy Nugent
Or else

[An abridged version of this article appeared in Solidarity 501]

After RMT activist Eddie Dempsey's denunciations of the liberal left were criticised, he was defended by the Morning Star, the General Secretary of the RMT Mick Cash, prominent Lexit activists such as Marcus Barnett, and, of course himself. Dempsey was also backed by rank-and-file Stalinist friends and associates.

The worst elements of the new Stalinist milieu are ingrained internet trolls, people whose standard operating method is to lie about and abuse people they disagree with. We have been unfortunate to encounter this phenomena in last few years. A long-running campaign by the Stalinist Facebook group, Red London, has tried to smear us as apologists for paedophilia. This campaign has been documented here and analysed here.

More general comments about how these methods poison the left are in the article 'The inverted pyramid of fake politics', showing how the techniques of twisting ideas for factional purposes has spread to the wider left. And, of course, social media has become a site of much of this activity.

This "defence" of Dempsey is worth showing for its shocking attempt to mobilise bigotry:

  • Normal?
  • Further, after Clive Lewis defended himself over calling out Eddie Dempsey, and posted that defence on his Facebook page, Dempsey’s friends “dog-piled” Lewis, commenting on the post in quick succession.

    Lewis was told he was aligned with the AWL by some commentators. The method here is smear one group (the AWL in this case), then you can successfully smear other people (here, Clive Lewis) by an association.

    Dempsey has himself encouraged the line of “guilt by association” by tweeting: “Can’t believe ...Marcus Barnett is being attacked by a strange coalition of AWL cultists and Clive Lewis...”

    One example. On Lewis' Facebook page Danny Jennings comments, “I wonder, do you consider your participation in imperialist war to be part of your commitment to anti-racism” (whataboutery, another of the methods). To which Robbie Bryan then usefully replies, “The AWL like bombing muslims though.”

    What are we saying here? That Lewis’s service in the British Army is down to the AWL? That both Lewis and the AWL have, literally, bombed Muslims? It doesn't have to make sense to be emotionally effective.

    But for anyone who is unsure, judge for yourself - read about our opposition to war in Iraq, defence of Bosniacs and Kosovars, defence of Rohingya and Uighur minorites, and opposition to Israeli bombing of Palestinians in Gaza.

    What, then, about the "AWL cult" notion?

    It is easy for us to demonstrate how our ideas and organisational principles are not dogmatically derived, but are argued for, analysed, critiqued and so on (all things that are the basis for the opposite of cultishness). But people who call us cultist are probably more interested in targeting is our founding member, Sean Matgamna, who happens to write a lot; that in itself makes him a convenient target. Sean has had the misfortune to have lived a long time, read a lot and has consequently written a lot.

    But, unlike the Stalinists, we don’t make memes of Sean threatening everyone to behave, “or else” (see picture above). No one in the AWL is going to be dog-piled for criticising Sean and equally no one feels obliged to defend Sean with contentless statements about what a good bloke or writer he is. We engage with his ideas; we agree, and we disagree; we use those debates and many, many others, sometimes with Sean, sometimes without, to develop our political collective.

    But we do defend Sean and all our comrades from bullying. For example against a sick April Fool’s joke published by Red London, claiming Sean was dead, repeating and elaborating on all the wild fabrications we've seen in their campaign against us. The comments on this amount to adolescent swearing for shock-value:

  • Swearing
  • On 12 April Sean was due to speak in Dublin debating Rayner O'Connor Lysaght on Socialism, Ireland and Permanent Revolution (a re-run of a debate we held in London in November 2018). An Irish offshoot of Red London, the Red Society, posted on their anonymous Facebook page, warning people not to attend saying, “absolutely no place on the left for any person or group that condones paedo apologism.” And, in an attempt to intimidate Rayner, “Shame on any 'socialist' who knowingly promotes an event featuring a member of such an organisation."

    In the end the meeting was abandoned because, as is also the pattern, others, who are not Stalinists, and who intended to come, were intimidated by the bullying. As Rayner wrote to us, “The combined Stalinist hordes were too much for us. Nothing direct, you understand, just an influence over the broad milieu. It wasn't the paedo thing, by the way, it was the Borochovism*, at a time when there is a bill in Dail Eireann banning import of goods from the Israeli settlements. Anyway, people outside the organised friends of Jugashvili declared that they had better things to do on the night. Finally, we lost our chairperson, and that was that. I apologise to you and Sean for the trouble.”

    It's a great shame that left-wing people in Dublin felt unable to say that it was fear, rather than their political differences, that steered their actions. It is also utterly self-defeating. The way to tackle bullying is, in the first place, to acknowledge it.

    But we surely all can see the shift to the right in the world. Some of us think that is being driven in the UK by the political processes tied up with Brexit. You don't have to agree with us to see those threats but it should be blindingly obvious that those threats don't come from any over-relaxed immigration regime. Nor will they be warded off by removing EU-wide freedom of movement.

    If the left is to survive at all, it is surely time to insist on civilised and reasoned debate, as robust as you like, but reasoned - including holding each other to account for the things we say - without resorting to threats and abuse.

    *Borochovism here is a short-hand term Rayner is using to refer to the left's view of us and our position on Israel-Palestine. Ber Borochov was a Russian Marxist Zionist. There was a "Borochov Brigade" in the Red Army during the Civil War.

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