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Friday, 31 May 2013

Christopher Hitchens Through The Looking Glass: Review of Richard Seymour's 'Unhitched: The Trial of Christopher Hitchens'

My wife Susan says that I am increasingly given to quoting myself. So, this morning I start with a long quote from me. It's from an essay review of Richard Seymour's vituperative book length assault on the corpse of Christopher Hitchens. The review appears in the just published issue no. 52 of Red Banner magazine. 

Hitchens was upfront about his previous political associations. In the aforementioned memoir he goes into some detail about his recruitment to and membership of “a small, but growing post-Trotskyist, Luxemburgist sect [the International Socialists which became the Socialist Workers Party]”. Hitchens was an active member of said small, but growing sect while a student at Oxford University and for some years after. Until earlier this year Richard Seymour was also a long-standing member of the aforementioned sect. It is true, certainly, that anyone who has followed Seymour’s blog Lenin’s Tomb could not but be aware of his political affiliation. But it would be possible for a newcomer to read his indictment of Hitchens from beginning to end and not be exactly clear about that. 
         A number of the leaders of this political tendency—including one who was apparently recruited to the group by Hitchens—are presented as witnesses for the prosecution in the chapter ‘Christopher Hitchens in Theory And Practice’. Ironically, Seymour has since fallen out with said Hitchens recruit because of a serious scandal which saw a leading member of the group accused of raping a female comrade. The leadership have been accused of covering the issue up, and Seymour has bravely taken to an oppositional barricade. One result of this has been that he, and many of his co-oppositionists, have found themselves outside the fold.
         But when Seymour wrote this book, he was still a true believing member, and happy to quote as reliable witnesses people whose word he clearly, in the light of recent catastrophes, no longer accepts as gospel. The testimony of a serving member of a far left group against someone who has departed the fold is, quite simply, never to be believed. Particularly when it is based in any part on warmed-over anecdotes by old-timers who, dammit, always suspected that deep down he/she was an incurable bourgeois hound from the get-go. It is not enough to say that the ex-member is no good now: it must be proved that he/she was always dodgy. In such a campaign of reputational revision, no smear is inadmissible. The converse is also the case, as Seymour would now no doubt have to agree: if you are a serving leadership loyalist in such a group—and the one in which Hitchens and Seymour served their time is not at all unique in this regard—then even if you happen to have dead children buried beneath a conservatory which you are forever extending when you’re not out selling papers or attending branch meetings, this will not be spoken of. Until you resign your membership. I exaggerate… perhaps. 
          Once the reader knows that the Richard Seymour who wrote this book is several rungs below the jilted ex-husband on the reliability as a witness league table, you can give his case against Hitchens its proper weight.”

You can find out more about Red Banner magazine here http://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/left-archive-red-banner-a-magazine-of-socialist-ideas-issue-1-november-1997/

To obtain a copy of the magazine (and read the review in full) see here http://www.redbannermagazine.com/gettingyourcopy.htm

Back in 2008 a seriously aggrieved member of Galway Alliance Against War described me as: "a poor man's Hitchens", which presumably made the (then) very much still alive Christopher Hitchens a rich man's Kevin Higgins. I consider this description entirely unfair, to Christopher Hitchens; I cannot at all hold my alcohol to the degree that he could. This description, however, did subsequently gain currency with some of the more excitable members of The Socialist Party, god rest their souls, who last Autumn - on a variety of online forums - took occasional breaks from talking about Independent  T.D. for Wexford Mick Wallace, to instead fart on about my favourite subject: me.

Hitchens famously debated the Iraq War with George Galloway M.P., pictured below.

Don't be fooled by the bulge, ladies (and those gentlemen so inclined); almost anything would look substantial in that outfit.