(hat-tip to John A. Lee
for the title)
At the time when John Rees was losing a power struggle in the Socialist Workers Party (Britain)
of which he'd been a central if not the
central leader for more than a decade, and consequently quitting to start his own socialist party
, with blackjack, and hookers, stories started being openly spoken of about a pattern of terrible behaviour on his part, going on for ages. (But isn't that always the way? Sometimes the only time a victim can kick their abuser is when they've lost a power struggle with someone else who's not necessarily any better. And then the New Boss uses the victim stories to justify the purge of the Old Boss. Witness the kangaroo trial of Bill Logan
by the Sparts, 1979.)
So anyway, the brilliant if eccentric Irish-socialist-Catholic blogger Splintered Sunrise spoke of Comrade Rees thus:
I stick to my position that he’s basically a high-functioning sociopath, and would further point out his tremendous vanity, which explains the explosive reaction when (George) Galloway suggested he could do with someone to work alongside him. His ability to switch from being utterly charming when you’re of use to him, to petulant and spiteful if you get in his way, gives you some clues as to why he’s quite good at putting an alliance together, but a fucking liability if you want to keep one together. So his eventual defenestration shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
Emphasis added. Note also that one of Rees' biggest blunders was accepting a dodgy cheque from a Dubai construction firm, then he or his allies suggesting that people who complained about this were "submitting to the bourgeois legal system" and going on about Lenin taking gold from the Kaiser. In other words: it's okay if you're a revolutionary socialist
. (There are also rumours about atrocious behaviour towards the women in his life, which I won't comment on because I'm far outside the loop on that issue.)
Anyway, The issue I want to discuss is "high-functioning sociopaths", or people of similar personality traits, who feel entitled to burn humans as fuel in their personal quest, either because they really think we're in wartime and the stakes of survival are so high that issues of decency no longer apply, or because that's just the way they roll. I am in particular thinking of a prominent figure on the NZ radical left who used to be in the same organisation as me. A man of quite massive political talents - once described as "one of the top 10 agitators on the whole planet". This guy could start a picket line in an empty room.
This was also the man who would invite me out drinking with him, and then turn into what can technically be described as a raging asshole, boorishly gatecrashing parties he hadn't been invited to. I remember once when I tried to stop him doing this, he fixed an unsteady gaze on me, and said with the deepest contempt: "I don't care about you." "Never thought you did," I muttered resignedly as I turned around and went home.
There was also the time this comrade let out a screaming tirade of abuse to me, in the car in which I had just given him a lift home, for "acting the victim" when I was complaining about a sharp "turn" in our organisation's tactics which made me feel stupid for having spent the last year or three doing precisely the opposite. Funnily enough, I spent the day miserable for having "provoked" him, and felt huge relief when meeting him later that evening, he didn't seem to remember the incident at all.
Let me explain the thought patterns which went through my head: this man is a great revolutionary. You are weak and useless. Even though you try to be friendly and helpful, you're a social outcast. In contrast, this man is a drunken boor and yet he's incredibly popular and respected because he's so good at what he does. You don't have any rights to judge this man. Be quiet and maybe you'll be allowed to be in his presence some more.
Quite soon afterwards, this man went on a drunken rampage (at a party I'd left, so this is second-hand) and was reported to have acted violently towards both male and female comrades. Our leadership voted to suspend him from his position, a decision which he accepted. To his credit, this man no longer drinks and I have never heard of him behaving in a personally abusive way ever since.
(I should also notice, though, that another member of our leadership, who had been out of the country at the time, criticised us for "witchhunting", saying "this man has done more to bring women into the organisation than anyone else!" This is the kind of "ethics" as practiced by the Church of Scientology - L. Ron Hubbard said that a staff member who was doing great business could literally get away with murder, while someone whose stats were down wouldn't be allowed to sneeze without written permission.)
And yet ... this man is now the leader of a political organisation involving a number of leading comrades who - credible testimony suggests - have acted in atrocious ways towards women. The "internal" position of his organisation is apparently that these are politically motivated slanders; and they have acted to exclude comrades who didn't buy that explanation. It does not seem far-fetched to argue that this "soft-pedaling" of macho abusive behaviour may be related to the organisation's adventurist, confrontational, every-demo-is-The-Battle-Of-Wherever politics. I remember one conversation I had with this group's leader, who was amazed to hear that I wasn't a natural rebel, that I had spent my whole life trying to conform but failing. (Indeed, perhaps I only got into revolutionary politics looking for a new peer group to submit to.)
To be 100% clear - it should be obvious to everyone on the Auckland left, at least, whom I'm talking about. I am not actually accusing this person of being a sociopath. I still consider him a comrade and a valued acquaintance, if not a friend. But I am worried at the pattern of behaviour of his organisation; and I am extremely critical of myself for having taken so much shit because I thought that that was my place as "not as good an activist". This is not me trying to start a witchhunt - this is me, looking in horror at how many times I sold out my personal integrity because I wanted to be liked, I wanted to be good.