marxism-digest V1 #5911

Richard Harris rhh1 at
Tue May 27 17:19:08 MDT 2003

You have previously read:

Date: Tue, 27 May 2003 16:52:08 +0100
From: "James Daly" <james.irldaly at>
Subject: John Cleese (was "letter of resignation")

The Life of Brian is an extended satire on anti-imperialism by a team
of British social chauvinists. Ironically, the real John Cleese is a
master-splitter. He was a PR icon and a bank roller for The Gang of
Four (David Owen et al) who split the British Labour Party after it
had moved significantly to the left (with deselection of candidates
etc) and formed the right wing Social Democratic Party (only after
they had prevented Tony Benn from becoming deputy leader of the Labour

Cleese's sitcom Fawlty Towers is a miasma of prejudices. The idiot
waiter Manuel is repeatedly explained away by saying to all and sundry
"He's from Barcelona" [-- one of the most sophisticated cities in
Europe.] The idiot, whose English is of course pathetic, refers
unintelligibly and (of necessity)(was hilariously to the scam-artist
jerry-builders as "orrelly (O'Reilly) men" (the Irish element).

I have seen the famous Cleese speech from The Life of Brian "What have
the Romans [sc. British] ever done for us?" quoted in a British
academic journal as an illustration of an argument for imperialism
worthy of Bill Warren -- the answer is of course sanitation, etc. etc.
In my own personal experience, again in an academic setting, the
version of the argument put forward was, in an unconscious masterpiece
of irony, that the English brought the Irish "the rule of law". The
speech could be summed up in words relayed in Arland Usher's enjoyable
autobiography. This descendant of the 18th century Church of Ireland
Archbishop of Armagh who calculated the date of the origin of the
universe as October 4004 BC reported that it was a common saying among
his "class and creed" that the Irish had no word for gratitude in
their language.

In another film appearance Cleese ponderously explains a joke of his
to two small harmless old German professors with (approximately) the
words "He was Irish". When after hearing that repeated they still and
quite understandably look baffled he snorts [the Germans apart from
goose-stepping, notoriously have no sense of humour], turns on his
heel and stalks off.

But of course, I forgot -- he's on our side! Am I BLIND?


James Daly

Now I understand what is meant by an ad hominem argument.  It is much easier
to do that than dealing with the live and difficult issue of the divisions
in the left, isn't it?  That is the key issue that we must struggle with.
The present left is like the early Christians - on the correct formulation
of homoousion or homoiousin lies everything, & those who disagree are worse
than the pagans, pace the phenomenal Hypatia.

And we all know that this is wrong, divisive and a cross on our movement (to
continue with Christian images.)  That is what Tom O'Lincoln said.  What a
decent comrade he is.  He did not say you should not be humorous, but that
the split in the ISO is a serious business - the 101th split in our
movement - what can we do?

My experience?  The only party I have ever been in was the British CP, for
about twenty years until it was pronounced dead (long after it had stopped
breathing.)  I joined as a student & later realised the horror of the
history of the Stalinist parties.  But I was in a party packed with the
militant leaders of British trades unionism.  To my mind, it was the place
to be - even when I rejected the programme (as did a large minority.)

When I look at Marx's own political activity, it is quite unlike the
politics of the sects (in Hal Draper's sense.)  Internationalism is central,
but not a world party.  The organisation is thrown away if it is of no use,
rather than being seen as a goal in its own right.  To me, those two points
are two killer punches that tell us we are on the wrong path.

I wrote to Marxmail several times during the Iraq invasion.  I asked
comrades to help me and my comrades better campaign with the local working
class.  Michael K made a number of very helpful points.  They were useful
not just as tactical ploys, but Michael also made us realise that we  had
drifted into moral arguments and away from the issues that would rouse the
class.  No one else replied.  No one else ever described their campaign
tactics, their work with trades unions, with key groups of workers and so
on.  That is, mirrored the contributions I made that I thought were about
the struggle within the class.

And now I have read all this stuff about Matrix.  So that's the thing that
gets you going?

Well, isn't that a surprise?

How naive of me to think it would be swapping campaigning tips about how
best to fight the invasion.

Canterbury, Kent.

More information about the Marxism mailing list