Notes From the Margins…


  • December 07, 2015
  • by

Some last thoughts – from me anyway – on the International Brigades debacle.  As I have tried to make clear since I wrote my piece about Hilary Benn last Thursday, I never meant to suggest any moral equivalence whatsoever between Daesh and the International Brigades.  I continue to believe that the overall context of the article makes it clear that I intended no such thing, and that nobody who is familiar with my writing could ever believe that I would make such a suggestion.

That said, I recognize that the controversy which has resulted from the piece is not simply due to deliberate bad faith readings by those who wished to exploit it for their own particular purposes.    I also bear some responsibility for the misinterpretations that have been placed on the piece.    Many of those who have expressed outrage and disgust at the sentence in question are not familiar with my blog or my writing, and such familiarity should not have been required.

It should not have required a subsequent rebuttal from me to make my meaning clear. As a writer, I always strive to be clear and straightforward.   In my reference to the International Brigades and the jihadist movement, I failed to achieve either.  In my haste to attack Hilary Benn’s gross misappropriation of the International Brigades, I referred in passing to a difficult idea that required far more explanation and precision than I gave it, and left myself open to accusations of an equally gross misappropriation.

Of course I didn’t think that a paragraph from my blog would have been highlighted in the way it was, but I should have taken greater care, particularly in these difficult times, when a stray word or sentence taken out of context can easily acquire entirely different meanings to the ones you intend.

By not doing so,    I inadvertently provided ammunition to those who are seeking to use the Stop the War movement to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and the movement itself.  Such people will always use whatever they can find, and they have played the hand I gave them well.

But  I also recognize that I gave genuine offense to people who have no such agenda, who were outraged  by the comparisons they believed I was making.

To these readers,  and to these readers alone,   I apologize.

You may also Like


  1. Rachel

    7th Dec 2015 - 10:07 am

    Hi Matt – so sorry to read about what you’re going through at the moment. You shouldn’t be having to write anything to defend yourself. It wouldn’t occur to anyone with any moral compass that you support Daesh. Hilary Benn is a disgrace and the use to which he put the International Brigades was highly offensive and it was right for you to point this out. This is an example of how there is no real freedom of speech in this country. If your comments are used to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s position you are in no way responsible. As Steve Biko said, “The greatest weapon of the oppressors is the mind of the oppressed.”. Where they’ll have won is when they get to the point where no-one dares say anything. It’s all very well for me to say this since you’re the one suffering, but I hope very much I’ll be able to continue to read your considered, intelligent and enlightening articles. Jeremy Corbyn will not be allowed to lead the Labour Party in the next election. The thing he can do is show he is strong enough to stand up to the relentless bullying and not compromise his principles. That takes a great deal of courage and is extremely inspiring.

    With my very best wishes, Rachel

    • Matt

      7th Dec 2015 - 11:43 am

      That’s very kind of you to say Rachel, and I very much appreciate the effort you’ve taken to write this. Stuff happens unfortunately, especially in the highly-charged and dangerous times were are living through, and I hope I’ve clarified my position now and apologized what I think I have to apologize for, and shall now move on. And it’s certainly made me more aware, not that I didn’t notice before, of the incredible viciousness directed at Corbyn and the lengths his enemies will go to in order to destroy him. All best, Matt

  2. Rilke

    7th Dec 2015 - 12:16 pm

    Rachel and Matt,
    How is it that when Hilary Benn was subjected to online attacks using his dead father, many from Left Unity, STWC and Ken Livingstone stated blandly that this was the ‘way of things now’ and he would have to get ‘used to it’ – yet when slurs are aimed at a fellow-traveller then it is somehow very wrong, even pitiful?
    I am against the area bombings and airstrikes but these have to be rejected on ethical, logical and historical grounds used to present a concrete political case. The world of analogies and equivalences does none of this and simply represents the flabby and manipulated categories of commodified thinking.
    When a Tory makes jokes about a child rapist it is to be denounced, but when Frankie Boyle, the new STWC poster boy does it, it is fine? No my friends, you stand or fall on the ethical foundations that ground your politics. All else is waste and fatigue.

    • Matt

      7th Dec 2015 - 1:25 pm

      Oh dear, you’re determined to have an argument with me about something, aren’t you David? Firstly, i don’t know what attacks you are referring to. I only mentioned Benn’s father in my piece, because I thought it was another example of his incredible bad faith and political cunning that he would draw on Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn’s own political traditions to undermine Corbyn and justify a Tory war. Benn doesn’t have to be like his father, of course, and his father’s politics shouldnt be used as a stick to beat him, but he deserves to be called out when he used those politics for blatantly politicized ends, in my opinion. Secondly, I have seen nothing to suggest that Benn & his fellow rightwingers have received anything like the sustained attack on Corbyn by the media and political class, and from members of his own party, including Benn. Nothing ‘pitiful’ or ‘commodified’ about recognizing that. No, slurs should not be met with slurs, but the campaign against Corbyn is ultimately intended to destroy any hope of a left revival in this country. It is vicious and completely amoral, and it is only natural that Rachel & others on the left would condemn it.

  3. Rilke

    7th Dec 2015 - 1:35 pm

    Not interested in an argument ‘with you’. My point was a general one related to moral equivalences and the use of analogous thinking in political debate. My point is that this kind of thinking and writing ends by debasing all those who use it. By your own admission, your use of analogy and equivalencies without due care and attention tends to prove this.

  4. Douglas Carnall

    7th Dec 2015 - 2:21 pm

    No apology required from this quarter.

    Like you, I found M. Benn’s speech last week to be of shoddy stuff, and the “offensive comparison” between jihadists and the International Brigade struck me as an original and valuable insight which invited the reader to a greater understanding of youth lured into foreign wars by their convictions. In other words, that was the best bit.

    No reaction, no traction! Wishing you every liberty in your future effusions…

    • Matt

      7th Dec 2015 - 2:36 pm

      Thanks Douglas. That was the essential point I was trying to make. Glad to hear that you got it!

  5. Rilke

    7th Dec 2015 - 3:40 pm

    Those poor ‘youth’ ‘lured’ into ‘foreign wars’ by devious oratory. If it did not ‘lure’ you into ‘a war’ why assume that these ‘youth’ are more gullible than you?
    ‘No reaction, no traction’ is a phrase from a second-rate eighties advertising executive booklet. Why bother thinking when a slogan will do! The word ‘lured’ reveals the condescending nature of your thought. As Goethe has it, ‘when ideas fail a word can always step in to help out’.
    By the way, the people who volunteered to fight Franco and his fascists in Spain were not ‘lured’ to do so, quite the opposite, they saw clearly what was emerging.Your supermarket analogies will not account for this essential difference of course. Trade in your cut-price analogies for some bargain basement moral equivalences, I hear you can you can get two for the price of one.

    • Douglas Carnall

      7th Dec 2015 - 6:09 pm

      The phrase “devious oratory” is yours, dear Rilke, not mine. People may be convinced of the justice of a cause for any number of reasons, well-founded or otherwise. I attempt no moral judgement of any such ideology, only note the validity of comparing the behaviour.
      I can assure you that no advertising agency was involved in the production of the phrase “No reaction, no traction”; it is merely my (doubtless questionable) attempt to summarise the constructivist theory of knowledge in few words. As I understand it, constructivism holds that it is only through presence in debate that knowledge arises. So I thank you kindly for your remarks.

  6. Rilke

    7th Dec 2015 - 8:02 pm

    Excuses implicate the guilt they seek to exonerate.

    • Matt

      7th Dec 2015 - 9:26 pm

      Ok David. Douglas’s only ‘guilt’ appears to be that you don’t agree with him. I don’t mind disagreements on my blog, but I will not allow self-righteous arrogant trolls to gratuitously insult people who contribute here in good faith. You said goodbye previously, so kindly go elsewhere to vent your spleen, otherwise you will be blocked.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


  • No events