An email this morning brings a copy of a begging letter from Guardian columnist Paul Foot, on behalf of his Socialist Workers Party (British version) comrades Lindsey German and Alex Callinicos. (Full text below). The letter arises because said “comrades” accused Quintin Hoare and Branka Magas, long-time scholars of the Balkans and, as it happens, friends of mine, of being apologists for the government of Holocaust revisionist Franjo Tujdman. Not unreasonably, given that the accusation was wholly false and a grave libel disseminated by the several thousand sellers of the SWP’s literature, Hoare and Magas sought the advice of m’learned friends. German and Callinicos have had to back down and apologise for thus damaging their reputation (apology here ). Foot’s letter appeals to the convention that disputes on the left should not be taken to the lawyers (a very convenient convention for a an influential and powerful organization which resorts to tabloid-style smears against its opponents). He also claims that “The publisher, Lindsey German and Alex Callinicos cannot possibly afford these sums.” Since the sum involved is about £13,000 and Foot and Callinicos at least are reasonably affluent, this claim is plainly untrue.
The text of Foot’s email:
This is an appeal to all socialists and free thinkers to contribute to the enormous costs of a case brought against socialists by socialists. In August last year, the editor of Socialist Review, Lindsey German, and Bookmarks Publications, the socialist publisher, got a letter from the well known libel lawyers Peter Carter-Ruck and Partners on behalf of their clients Quintin Hoare and Branca Magas.
The letter complained about an article written in 1993 by Alex Callinicos (who also got a letter) and included in the book The Balkans, Nationalism and Imperialism, published in 1999 by Bookmarks. The details of the complaint were spelled out in a statement read in open court recently. Hoare and Magas complained that one passage in the article meant they were both
‘apologists’ for Franjo Tudjman and his regime in Croatia.
This letter is not concerned with the allegations in the original publication. It has been a long tradition in the labour movement that arguments between socialists should be conducted openly and should not, except in extreme circumstances, be tested in the courts by the libel laws.
The reason for this tradition is simple. As soon as lawyers get involved in these arguments, the expense of the action in almost every case far exceeds both any damage done by the libel and anything a socialist publisher or author can possibly afford. This history of this case vindicates that tradition. Quintin Hoare and Branca Magas are well known in British left wing circles. From the outset Bookmarks Publications and Lindsey German made no attempt to justify their article. They sought to settle the matter as soon and as
cheaply as possible.
After much correspondence they agreed to make a statement in open court apologising for the article and agreeing to pay each of the plaintiffs £1,500. Carter-Ruck’s bill for these proceedings is likely to be over £10,000.
This means that the total bill for bringing the action and pursuing it, though it was undefended, is more than three times the payment made to the two people who made the complaint. And this for an item in a book whose total sale at Bookmarks and other bookshops in the year before the
complaint was less than 50!
At no stage did Mr Hoare or Ms Magas approach Bookmarks Publications without their lawyers. They went straight to their lawyers, at no expense to themselves, since Carter-Ruck were operating on a “no win, no fee” basis.
Bookmarks Publications is a small left wing publisher with very few funds, all of which go into developing new publications. The publisher, Lindsey German and Alex Callinicos cannot possibly afford these sums. Hence this appeal to anyone in the socialist and labour movement who would like to express their disapproval of pursuing political arguments through the law courts.