Is Subversion Sane?

"But the concept of Black power can, in its search for 'ideology', go in an opposite direction - it may ignore or reject an historical and class consciousness and may see "black" as pigmentation per se, rather than in the context of white racist civilisation, and that would be tragic: for a "Nigger" is a nigger first and black second."
Black Mask #10, May 1968

In Subversion #20 the editors mentioned our leaflet In Defense of Revolutionary Organisation as "Continuing the attack on the ICC. A good Read." However they failed to even mention that the text made substantial criticisms of Subversion themselves, far less respond to these criticisms. These revolved around two points. I shall leave, for a moment, how their criticism of the Bolshevik practice of the ICC as Stalinist serves as an apologetics for bolshevism. Rather I intend to deal more fully with Subversion's defence of a 'common sense' notion of reality.
Subversion have recently adorned their magazine with headlines including references to madness - "If you're not miserable then you must be mad" (#20), "Class Struggle hits the road ... Motorway Madness" (#17) and conclude their article 'Visit to the Planet ICC' (#18) with the remark that "Analysis of the ICC has moved out of the realm of polemic and into the realm of psychopathology". It would seem that they see incipient madness behind a whole range of phenomena, but yet have failed to seriously address the issue of 'madness' itself.
The key to understanding psycho-pathology is to see it is as a discipline dominated by political economy. The mental patient is to a greater or lesser extent denied bourgeois subjectivity. In this they constitute a kind of psycho-niggertariat. At the depths of the mental illness system, the victim is denied any social existence and may be enslaved by the medical profession. At a less severe level, the mental patient is like a 'free black' in the ante-bellum U.S. south. Subject to enslavement at the will of the sane, should they offend, particularly if the use physical force to defend themselves. Survival often requires the cultivation of friendly sanes, who are prepared to vouch for the mental patient in times of crisis.
I must stress that I am not using the term psycho-niggertariat simply as a metaphor. I used to work in Prestwich Hospital, Manchester in the seventies, where the patients were subjected to slave labour. Deep within the bowels of the hospital was the Annexe where long-term patients were obliged to close the plastic lids of washing-up bottles under the guise of "occupational therapy". Their benefits were drawn 'on their behalf' by the hospital, which accumulated thousands of pounds. Occasionally some of this money would be spent for some luxury, such as a colour TV on the wards, but these would often mysteriously disappear. These patients were completely at the mercy of the hospital administration and most would never have any visitors.
Aside from this direct exploitation of labour, their bodies are used for countless experiments. Those familiar with the film 2001, may recall when the astronaut removes the memory banks of Hal, the computer. The mechanical voice is reciting a nursery rhyme until it grinds to a halt. Would that this were just consigned to a work of fiction. However, the world famous psychiatrist Ewen Cameron performed just such an operation on a conscious mental patient, scraping away the parts of the brain responsible for speech with a scalpel whilst she recited a nursery rhyme. (See Journey into Madness: Medical Torturers and the Mind Controllers by Gordon Thomas, London & New York 1988) Apparently this greatly advanced 'our' understanding of how the brain works! This is perhaps the most vile example of experimentation on mental patients, but the abuse is widespread.
Statistical studies reveal that groups traditional denied bourgeois subjectivity - e.g. Black people and women - are substantially more likely to be diagnosed as mentally ill. The dominant 'common sense' follows traditional patterns of racial and sexual domination. Resistance to such domination often remains inarticulate and as such is vulnerable to such classification.
Nevertheless mental patients have a long history of resistance. rather than cataloguing countless examples, I would like to procede with a discussion of the Socialist Patients' Collective (SPK) a book about whom was published last year (SPK: Krankheit im Recht, English translation published by AK Press). This group was active in Heidelberg in the seventies. Unfortunately it is often known simply as being a source for Red Army Fraction recruits. In fact the RAF dismissed those remaining in the SPK as crazies.
However they theorised "sickness as at the same time the prerequisite and the result of the capitalist process of producing production surplus value" . . . "Unlike the unemployed, it is not easy for the sick person to realise a causal connection between the misery which has stricken him as an individual, so it seems, and the process of exploitation under capitalism". They also presented a critique democratic centralism, called Multi-Focal Expansionism.
As I pointed out in In Defense of Revolutionary Organisation
Subversion end up defending a 'common sense' notion of 'reality", as if such a thing ostensibly existing outside the realm of human discourse could be faithfully rendered within any discourse. That the ICC seek to dissociate themselves from any consensual reality should be recognised as the first step for any group aiming to become revolutionary, as all the dominant discourses are the discourses of the ruling class. Our counter-discourses seek to disrupt these discourses metered out to the rhythm of one jackboot clapping down upon us. Subversion fail to understand either how dominant discourses are structured, or how the ICC's ritualised behaviour at their meetings is appropriate to a group whose understanding of counter-discourse consists of constructing a competing paradigm.
When groups like the SPK have set out to tackle the construction and manipulation of modern individuality (a work which the Luther Blissett multiple name project is extending), it is shameful that Subversion simply uses words like 'mad' and 'madness' in a completely derogatory and unscientific manner. It is all very well for Subversion to plaster slogans like 'Building Claimants' Counter Power' across #19. Do Subversion not realise that the mental patients they despise constitute a major section of claimants? In the leaflet Screen of the Bosses, Not the Claimants (reprinted in Subversion #20), the CPSA is quite properly criticised for setting Employment Service workers and Claimants against each other. Subversion must now be criticised for trying to erect political screens to partition off the mentally ill.
The other side of the politicised resistance of mental patients, is the dismissal of socialists and revolutionaries as insane. (Indeed when I launched the London Psychogeographical Association, there were even some idle prattlers who circulated rumours that I had myself gone mad.) Here, however, I would like to spend a little time dealing with the recent revival of attacks on the sanity of John Maclean which have been spearheaded by R.Pitt in his hateful pamphlet John Maclean and the CPGB. Maclean had been imprisoned during the first world war for his opposition to militarism. During his second spell inside (1916-17) Maclean complained that his and other prisoners were being administered drugs in their food. The top quack in the prison service, Dr James Devon, described these as "insane delusions of persecutions" (p7). Maclean might have been wrong, but it is very clear that he was being persecuted. Pitt claims that "there is no question" that Maclean was deluded, even though they admit Maclean suffered diarrhoea and constipation alternatively. This is naïve in the extreme. Is it surprising that Maclean could find no proof that he was poisoned? Does Pitt also want us to believe that Colin Roach shot himself? Maclean may have been wrong but that's another matter.
Dr. Devon and Dr Watson attempted to undermine Maclean's savage indictment of capitalism during his trial of May 1918 by denouncing Maclean as insane, and attempted to have him certified. That two prison doctors should use insanity as a pretext for removing a revolutionary from circulation should come as no surprise, but this refrain was taken up by Bolshevik loyalists when Maclean resisted the policy of affiliating the evolving British communist party to the Labour Party. In 1920 Maclean also denounced Lieutenant-Colonel L'Estrange Malone as a government spy. Malone was an MP who had been deeply involved in anti-Bolshevik propaganda, denouncing Maclean by name. He visited the Soviet Union in 1919, where he chummed up with Trotsky. He then popped up as a leading Bolshevik apologist, until after a spell in jail he moved to the right of the Labour Party. Again Maclean might have been wrong, but it is clear that Malone was a shit attracted to the Bolsheviks for precisely the reasons that communist revolutionaries like Otto Rühle denounced them. This professional soldier stood in a review of the Red Army, shoulder to shoulder with Trotsky, soon to become the butcher of the Kronstadt revolutionaries.
Maclean remained a prominent member of the Scottish Communist Left, who resisted parliamentarianism, affiliation to the Labour Party, and was active in showing solidarity with Cockney Communist Left, when representatives of Poplar Councillors who had called the cops on the Unemployed Workers Organisation, tried to pass themselves off as friends of the unemployed. He also rejected the policy of the Hands Off Russia call for strike action to force withdrawal of British troops by arguing that it was through developing the revolution in Britain which would save Russia.
New Interventions, an otherwise tedious Leftist rag ran a review of Pitt's pamphlet (Vol 7. No.1) by Paul B. Smith, who writes:
"The author [i.e. Pitt] is worried that as a consequence of the recent disintegration of the Soviet Union, workers and intellectuals might be attracted to the ultra-left sectarianism of Maclean, Sylvia Pankhurst and Guy Aldred. These worries inform his defence of the orthodox Communist Party line that Maclean's isolation from the party was the cause of his mental illness. The pamphlet is a powerful warning of the personal consequences of 'ultra-leftism': isolation and madness. The reader is left wondering whether Maclean was an exception or whether Pitt thinks that all forms of 'ultra-leftism' are symptoms of insanity."
Without sanctioning Smith's various Trotskyite illusions (he is involved with Critique, who have been dealt with in Swamp Thing , Summer 1994, which is available from me for 2 First Class Stamps), his response to Pitt reveals how Subversion 's combined use of the critique of Stalinism and madness, actually work together in defending a diffuse form of leftism whereby the door is being held open to rag-bag of refugees emerging from the collapse of Trotskyism. Thus Subversion headlines an article 'Reclaim the Future', the name used by the more populist split from the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party. Subversion is keeping its cards close to its chest here, as it prepares to launch its recruitment drive. Far from heralding a new social movement, the collaboration between Reclaim the Streets and the Liverpool Dockers is another stage in the degeneration of leftism. In no way do such developments indicate the green shoots of recovery for the class struggle. Compared to the French lorry drivers strike, it's nothing.
In the final analysis, it was not isolation from 'the party' which Maclean suffered from, but, alongside the rest of the workers' movement, the defeat of the revolution. However, he did not jump on the leftist bandwagon, and stood out against the reconstruction of reformism. Looking again at Maclean's The War After the War (written in late 1917 when he was allegedly 'mad'), I noticed that he warns "that the government intends to use the workshop movement in the interests of the capitalist class" through the increase in the intensity of exploitation, i.e. through the transition from formal to real domination of capital, as predicted by Marx in Capital. In Britain, where the class struggle had not developed to the same extent as Germany, the Scottish Left, Cockney Left and Welsh Left remained dispersed (which is why I use these terms) and did not develop the same clarity as arose in Germany. Once again it is the level of the class struggle which is the barometer, rather than how this or that individual gyrates around this or that organisation.
The problem which revolutionaries of those days had to face was that the Bolshevik regime was more concerned with developing a new phase of capitalism rather than in spurring on world revolution. It was hard for them to face this fact as it meant that the prospect of revolution has receded for the foreseeable future. After all they had suffered, for some this was simply too much to bare. Even the strongest revolutionary groups, such as the German General Workers Union (AAUD) were soon to collapse. Maclean may have been wrong about the poisoning and whether Malone and others were conscious tools of the state, and he was certainly wrong to spread his accusations without offering any evidence. But this weakness should not simply be laid at the door of a proletarian fighter whose health had been undermined by prison. What has to be challenged is the way workers put up with a sleaze bag like Malone for two minutes. It would be as if Teddy Taylor responded to an increase of class struggle by dismissing his career in the Tory party, polished up the working class credentials of growing up in the Gorbals, and was accepted as a leader.
"The demise of the Soviet Union has meant that leftists have become more critical of Leninism - not because they suddenly saw Bolshevism as a counter-revolutionary weapon against the working class, but because the 'Soviet' Union failed to provide a 'material basis' for their arrogance and elitism." (Swamp Thing) Both Subversion and the ICC hope to attract these elements, but in different ways, Subversion offering the fellowship of the broad church, the ICC the doctrinal certainties of the ideologically elect. Subversion refuse to resolve contradictions, but on the contrary promote the tensions these create as evidence of political life within their organisation. Contrariwise, the ICC seek to resolve such contradictions, but at purely idealist level - resulting in them caving in on themselves within ever decreasing circles.
Our leaflet was what it said it was, In Defense of Revolutionary Organisation , was what it said it was: as much a critique of Subversion as an attack on the ICC, and in no way a 'continuation' of Subversion s attack on the ICC, anymore than the ICC's formulation of their reified notion of 'parasitism' is a continuation of our critique of Trotskyists as parasites (Swamp Thing). We used the term to specifically refer to "counter-revolutionaries who directly collaborated in the Imperialist war effort during the second world war - smashing strikes and grassing up revolutionaries (for execution)." We did not use the term to simply attack anyone who criticises us.

Luther Blissett, December 1996

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