From New Laddism to Raunch Culture: the far left versus Lucy and Michelle


So I’ve been wanting for a while to write about this “raunch culture” debate, but, having recently covered the lad mag circulation crisis and the culture of sexual hypocrisy on the left, now seems as good a time as any. This is something that you associate on the left with our old friends in the SWP, and can be seen as a revival of their campaign against “New Laddism” in the late 1990s. Their championing of Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs (a real curate’s egg of a book – there are sharp insights alongside half-developed ideas and some outright silliness) provides the official logic for the current line. I direct readers to this excellent treatment by Anne McShane, but there is more to this than meets the eye. The SWP, of course, are not straightforward puritans, as you might gather from the swinging lifestyle of many of their leading cadre, and their ultra-libertarian defence of Tommy Sheridan. Nor are they simply adapting to their conservative Muslim allies – there is a bit of that, but they still attack Catholic moral teaching with what can only be described as gay abandon.

The root, I think, is to be found in the organisation’s uneasy relationship to popular culture. This is encapsulated as well as anywhere in a 1996 Pat Stack column in Socialist Review. Unfortunately, it’s not one of Pat’s better articles, and tends to make him sound like both a humourless git and a puritan, neither of which he is. But Pat does cover the main bugbears of the New Laddism period: Loaded, Men Behaving Badly, Fantasy Football etc. Over to Pat:

The new lad is apparently harmless. Unlike the traditional ‘working class lad’, the new lad is not violent, nor is he racist. He is an educated, middle class, witty character who is only reclaiming parts of harmless masculinity from the horrors of feminism and the terrible wimpishness of the ‘new man’ era.

The new lad is, according to his defenders, only reaffirming the fact that men like a pint, like their sport, and find women sexually attractive. The new lad is still ‘alternative’ when it comes to comedy, but is free of the sexual prudishness of the original alternative comedy scene.

In fact, Pat’s description sounds a bit like, well, your average straight man. There is an interesting idea here struggling to get out about the embrace of faux blokishness by a layer of middle-class youth, but Pat quickly leaves that aside to bang on about the political virtue of the alternative comedy scene in banishing demons like Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, who thought that minorities were fair game for comedy. New Laddism, apparently, was rolling back these gains.

Now, I’m not sure about this. We don’t often like to admit today that Terry and June regularly got three or four times the audience of The Young Ones, but I’ll go along with the idea that the alternative comedy scene was massively influential in terms of comedic fashion. Where I take issue with Pat is that he’s assuming a list of taboo subjects and arguing in favour of a good, progressive comedy that takes aim at the right targets. I find that profoundly problematic. It seems to erase the context and nuance that a lot of humour depends on – for instance, an ethnic joke from Sanjeev Bhaskar or Jackie Mason will be rather different than one from Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson. Besides, only very strange people will listen to a comedy routine while preoccupied about whether it is PC to laugh at this or that joke. To someone who didn’t know the SWP in the flesh but only from its press, the long-running debate on the letters pages about Ali G would simply have appeared insane.

Then we have the dreaded “irony”. Often this was amped up to “postmodern irony”, but since Alex Callinicos doesn’t know what postmodernism is, and most comrades never got past page four of his little book, we can assume PoMo in this context to be an all-purpose intellectual swearword. The line was that New Laddism was all about “using postmodern irony to rehabilitate sexism”. This was deployed particularly in relation to the SWP’s official Most Evil Show On TV, Men Behaving Badly. If you watched the show, you might have noticed the traditional sitcom device (you find this also in Till Death Us Do Part, Love Thy Neighbour and Home Improvement, to name a few) of showing the men as idiots and the women as the sensible characters. How could a show portraying sexist men as idiots be endorsing sexism? You see, comrade, this is merely a cunning use of postmodern irony. Portraying the men as idiots is just a sly ruse to allow them to talk about Kylie’s arse.

Maybe this is just me, but I find this a paranoid mode of thought. I’m reasonably sure that, when Loaded was launched in 1994, it had a business plan rather than an intellectual manifesto. And I’ll lay money that, when Frank Skinner writes his routines, he does not say to himself, “Hmm, what bit of patriarchal ideology can I sneak in under the guise of postmodern irony?”

I think, and I’ll stick my neck out here, that there is a certain amount of class-biased thinking involved. As Des Fennell likes to point out, the working class is more concerned with how things are and the middle class with how things appear. An anecdote from Mark Steel’s autobiography springs to mind. The young Mark has heard middle-class comrades talking about “sexism” and, while he knows what racism is and why it’s bad, he isn’t sure about this sexism. A comrade explains that pinups and Page Three girls are sexist, to which Mark’s response is “Thank God I wasn’t a socialist when I was fourteen.”

Women face plenty of material obstacles in society. The absolute worst feature of the Dworkin-MacKinnon school of feminism was its idealist assumption that the major obstacle women faced was “sexist” imagery, extremely broadly defined, and this was the logic in Dworkin looking to the Reagan administration to “liberate” women from porn at the same time as it was gutting equality legislation, slashing social programmes and restricting abortion. Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, which is a good deal better, nevertheless has a strong streak of this idealist thinking.

But this sits rather well with a milieu saturated in middle-class PC thought, where it is considered sexist for men to find women physically attractive (I suspect too much reading of Jane Austen is a factor here) and where working-class women who wear revealing clothes are damned as suffering from alienation and false consciousness. Consider Judith Orr’s interview with Levy in SR. Some of the most interesting comments are to be found in Judith’s editorialising, as in “the sexual freedoms the women’s movement won have been swallowed up by capitalism, commodified and sold back to young women as boob jobs and push-up bras”.

Well, commodity fetishism is basic ABC Marxism. But the sneering tone is the key here. I suspect the push-up bra has become a symbol of evil because it’s a garment you associate with the slappers on the estates. At its crudest level, this becomes the argument – which I actually heard at an SWP public meeting a year or two back – that capitalism is forcing women to have boob jobs. No it isn’t. Yes, cosmetic surgery is a profit-making enterprise, but women have boob jobs because they want bigger breasts. That can be explained with reference to psychology, media images of women or what have you, but the capitalist system does not require women to be lugging around big plastic breasts.

It’s all quite delicious, isn’t it? Of course you need to stand by “the sexual freedoms the women’s movement won”, or it might begin to cramp your own lifestyle, but the deity forbid that anyone might express these. You have an opposition to legal censorship combined with horror at what the plebs are reading and watching. Nudity in art-house cinema is perfectly fine, but Michelle Marsh in her undies on the cover of Nuts is the death of civilisation. What we end up with is a sort of systematic doublethink, perfectly mirroring the Orwellian template in that its skilled practitioners don’t even notice the inconsistencies.


  1. ejh said,

    August 31, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    I think there’s a certain amount of unjustified inference here, like this, for instance

    “it is considered sexist for men to find women physically attractive”

    or this

    “its idealist assumption that the major obstacle women faced was ‘sexist’ imagery”

    and it’s pushing the boat out more than a little to suggest that finding Loaded deeply dubious and unpleasant is class-based thinking. There are plenty of working-class women who would feel the same (my former partner, a trades unionist who left school at 16, comes to mind) and they might very well say to you that they, too, thought that women who had boob jobs, or for that matter who think that it’s necessary to be as thin as you possibly can, are “doing the rest of us no favours” (as I recall a colleague of aforesaid former partner observing).

    It’s a bit of an old fallacy to suggest that there’s a contradiction between opposing censorship and disagreeing with, or even disapproving of, what people then choose to read and see. What are people supposed to do? Agree with the legalisation only of what they like? Approve of everything which is legal?

    The trouble with saying this:

    Portraying the men as idiots is just a sly ruse to allow them to talk about Kylie’s arse.

    is that this is precisely what happens. “We know we’re rubbish, but unfortunately we’re built that way”. Well, part of the feminist critique was always a critique of male behaviour and a demand that men behave not badly, but better. (As it happens, you’d probably find that this was one area where the SWP disagreed with feminism.) And why are they not right? Campaigning against pin-ups at work, for instance, was really quite important many years ago, in allowing a working environment to evolve in which women didn’t feel uncomfortable as women. No doubt sometimes this could appear as puritanis and no doubt sometimes it derived from a personal uptightness (I’ll plead guilty) as well as a laudable goal. But Christ, much rather than than Loaded, and Spearmint Rhino, and pole-dancing clubs amd all the tacky dishonest justifications you see for them to the effect that they liberate women to exploit men.

    Some things are stupid even though working-class women do them and it really needs to be OK to say that. Nudity in art-house cinema really might be different to the front of Nuts and that, too, may be true even if the people watching the films are from profssional backgrounds. And if you or I can talk about commodity fetishism then so can the SWP, surely.

    I don’t know if you’ve read Thomsa Franks’ book What’s The Matter With Kansas? (or With America?, over here). He makes a point, late in the book, that I very much agree with, when he says that the Kansas Republicans he meets deplore the increase in crassness in the media but then call for more of the free-marketry which fosters it. I think there was a sizeable increase in jerk behaviour in the Nineties and after, in screw-you attitudes, in considering anything fine as long as there’s a market for it. You might also look at Big Brother and similar freakshows and the often-made justification “well, they agreed to be on it, so why shouldn’t I say what I like about them” as if the fact of other people taking decisions freed us individually from the obligation to try and behave well. (Curious, actually, how a system which purports to put an emphasis on personal responsibility actually tends to try and escape it.)

    It’s populist capitalism and it is precisely the ideoogy of that system to cry “elitism! snobbery!” whenever it is criticised. I think this is a bad road to go down. I think it’s important that we defend the concept of trying to behave well and respectfully of one another: I also think we should not engage in populist defences of behaviour which is crass and stupid. It might be worth asking whether the people who actually make money out of Nuts and Loaded aren’t actually cynical people, with a lot of money, who think that working-class people are stupid.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 31, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Well, you’ve a good point, but I don’t think the entrepreneurs are the only ones who think working-class people are stupid. IIRC the original campaign against New Laddism had a big element of “Shock! Horror! Look at what the plebs are buying!” Even though I’m not myself a fan of the Loaded culture, I’m yet to be convinced that the theory of New Laddism was anything more than something Lindsey came up with after reading the Guardian one morning.

    I suppose what I’m trying to do is locate this argument in rhetorical terms, and within a political culture that’s riddled with sexual hypocrisy. One thing that strikes me is that a Catholic or Muslim could come up with plenty of moral reasons for opposing Spearmint Rhino, but the SWP can’t. They are tied up in a formal libertarianism that actually mirrors their own lifestyles, plus a rhetorical puritanism that can’t appeal to any moral standard, so we get a lot of smoke-blowing about PoMo, alienation and false consciousness.

    Some things are stupid even though working-class women do them and it really needs to be OK to say that.

    Quite. I think anybody who romanticises the working-class woman should be forced to watch Jeremy Kyle. But I do think there has to be a distinction drawn between actual discrimination and what we find distasteful. At certain points in the New Laddism debate you could have been forgiven for thinking that women were being oppressed by Men Behaving Badly on the telly rather than actual men behaving badly.

    I haven’t read Franks, but I’ll make a note to.

  3. ejh said,

    August 31, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    One thing that strikes me is that a Catholic or Muslim could come up with plenty of moral reasons for opposing Spearmint Rhino, but the SWP can’t

    I don’t think this is true and I think, as before, that it may depend on inference.

    I’m yet to be convinced that the theory of New Laddism was anything more than something Lindsey came up with after reading the Guardian one morning.

    Well I think she would have got it from the Guardian rather than having made it up herself! I suppose, by the way, that one should observe that the actual behaviour of men towards women hasn’t changed much in some respects during the period of feminism (though it has in others, and for the better) but I do seem to remember noticing around a decade and a half ago that a certain crassness of language had come back in – the word “bird” being used again, and so on. Maybe it never went away and I didn’t notice (obviously it never went away entirely) but I don’t think so. And I also recall that it was accompanied by a lot of references to it being ironic, or rendered harmeless by overuse, or what you will. I found this largely unconvincing and it didn’t surprise me when Loaded turned out to be just as crass and provocative as it did.

    I’m also sure that “cunt” gets used rather more than it did, and I don’t much like that either.

    But I do think there has to be a distinction drawn between actual discrimination and what we find distasteful.

    Yeah, and I doubt that I draw that line very well: but you can never know, anyway, can you? How much of what we argue, as if it were on principle, is actually self-justification on a deeper level? There’s a related point to be made about smoke-blowing, which is that it’s hard to be precise, and to use precise language, when we’re talking about issues of psychology, of taste, of the mind. But also because whoever does attempt to sketch out principles in this area is always going to be open to charges of hypocrisy, because we all are to a degree.

  4. Madam Miaow said,

    August 31, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Why have Lucy and Michelle stuck their footballs down their bras?

    The SWP is appallingly sexist in practice, no matter what their rhetoric, so using them as some sort of yard stick is ludicrous.

    Most of the young women who are drawn to the Nuts and Loaded path to fame, fortune and platinum credit cards are of working class or lower middle-class origin. You tend not to see Oxbridge candidates choosing between being a brain surgeon or a WAG.

    This is not liberation for women. However, if I was young and attractive with no qualifications (waddya mean “if”?!!), I might well decide that this was a better prospect than a life of drudgery. Coz, believe me, painting your toenails and waiting to be summoned for sex is a whole lot better than waiting tables until you’re old, grey-haired and bitter and tripping over your own varicose veins.

    Treating these women as human beings and appealing to them using persuasion appears to be beyond the “comrades” who, for a variety of reasons, prefer to bully and cajole, especially if those on the receiving end are attractive. Just think how hot they must feel, standing outside these establishments, waving their huge banners and shouting at women who wouldn’t piss on them even if handed a large wodge of cash. Mmm, better than Viagra.


  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    August 31, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Frankly I find porn vastly less offensive than Loaded etc, which I guess I don’t find offensive per se, just rather juvenile (Mark Thomas at 14 comes to mind), probably because porn is what it is whereas Loaded builds much more… well ‘loaded’ assumptions about gender relationships, etc, etc [interesting my own response to the image at the top of the page – I’m always intrigued by how some of your readers take them, ironic, serious?]. Cosmetic surgery. Hmmmm… tricky one. Not much of a problem in principle, but can’t help feeling that there’s a certain dictatorship of body forms at play there, which oddly enough feeds into an outward puritanism about sex in the PC middle classes.

    As for people being contemptuous of the working class, well, when one considers the supposedly central role of that class to many of the formations we give greater or lesser allegiance to, and the disturbing lack of allegiance by the working class to thsoe self-same formations one can imagine that within many activists that might lead to a degree of conflictedness. Incidentally that draws us into a different debate about whether the culture of the working class is considered to have any real value by some leftists or is it just the instrumentality of the class…

  6. August 31, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    Well, my talent is bullshit, not revolutionary politics, but I’d like to strongly echo Justin’s comments on capitalism and crass culture.

    If I can bring the idea of culture war back to Britain, I can recall Aaronovitch sternly telling us that we needed to rethink liberalism – I paraphrase, but he complained that his innocent internet searches were returning pictures of women with spunk on their faces.

    Now, call me nuts, but I’m guessing that woman was after cold, hard cash rather than making a political statement – from what I know of the world, pornographers and TV execs alike are more interested in the bottom line than debauching the culture.

    So I never fail to chuckle when small-c conservatives sternly tell me that violent video games and rap are corrupting the nation – hell, what do you want me to do about it? Go ask the CBI to cut it out.

    I suspect I’ve wandered off topic – if so, apologies.

  7. splinteredsunrise said,

    August 31, 2007 at 8:01 pm

    It’s all context, isn’t it? I mean, I think there is an excellent case for not allowing pinups in the workplace, and I’m not mad about post-watershed Channel Phwoar, but that’s much more intrusive. Even though I don’t like the Loaded culture, if you don’t go into the newsagent and hand over your three quid, it’s easy enough to avoid.

    Trouble with context though, is it’s hard to work up into a one-size-fits-all theory…

  8. Ryan said,

    August 31, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    There really shouldn’t be anything wrong in discussing Kylie’s arse, as it is built like the space shuttle.

    Great post.

  9. ejh said,

    September 1, 2007 at 8:12 am

    pornographers and TV execs alike are more interested in the bottom line than debauching the culture.

    Even though I don’t like the Loaded culture, if you don’t go into the newsagent and hand over your three quid, it’s easy enough to avoid

    Both these statements are true enough, but (as I’m sure both of the posters would agree) they don’t fully deal with the problems on which they comment. Re: Loaded, for instance, of course you don’t individually have to buy it, but you do have to come across the attitudes which it embodies and to which it panders, and those attitudes are unpleasant for women, sometimes disastrously so.

    Now they would, of course, exist whether or not Loaded or Spearmint Rhino did. But what is one to do? Not say anything about Loaded? Say “that’s what people are like, deal with it”? Say “how dare we criticise working-class people for their tastes”? I think those approaches avoid addressing the problem and, additionally, involve a sort of populist flag-waving (where whoever does it is always berating a largely imaginary middle-class critic who, if they resemble anybody, probably resemble our flag-waver).

    But I don’t have either a one-size-fits-all theory, or a means of talking about Loaded and sexism which necesarily avoids puritanism, lecturing other people or charges of hypocrisy. For that reason (and a number of others) I don’t think it’s a good idea to address the field by way of attacks on other leftists, however keen we may (or may not) be to have a go. There’s no approach, other than letting it all go without commentary, which doesn’t risk exposing itaself to precisely the same criticisms.

    Oh, on what the Rodent was saying – I meant to say that while it’s true, the same is true of, say the Sun. And I think there’s more to the Sun than simply whatever sells the most papers, just as (well, not just as, perhaps) there is more to the Church than whatever fills up the collection plate. There is a decided preference for whatever is crass, whatever is stupid, whatever tries to damage and bring down anybody who tries to do better than that. I think it partly involves liking the idea of people being stupid and partly involves a sot of playground reaction whereby if you’re behaving badly you need to get everybody else to jeer at anybody who doesn’s join in. Threat of a good example, say.

    I dunno, I think as time goes by I become more and more a protestant. An atheist protestant, of course, and not a puritan, but someone who hates crassness as well as greed and bullying. I think that’s not a bad attitude to combine with some sort of socialism and probably a better one than the sort of libertarianism which actually means that the bullies and loudmouths get what they want.

  10. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 1, 2007 at 10:29 am

    Oddly enough I was looking through a magazine this morning – Computer Arts Projects, which is about design and illustration. They had a selection of about 20 contemporary illustrators. Of that 20, 10 based much of their work on imagery of women in the 18-28 years old bracket in various stages of undress. Now some was, admittedly fashion oriented, but a lot wasn’t. Since most of those producing the work would be in that age range or a tad older it’s not unreasonable to consider that that might reflect at least some influence of the softcore imagery of the lad magazines over the past fifteen years – certainly it wasn’t a feature of my experience of art and design college back in the 1980s. How one responds to that is a different issue, is it crass as ejh suggests? Well, I’d certainly think some of it is. But taking the point a bit further isn’t it essential that people can critique – or as ejh puts it – provide a commentary on this, not in a ‘censor the lot’ way, but rather as a means of pointing up contradictions implicit in much of it. And I’m far from puritanical, just it worries me that – for example the imagery I note ignores even the hint of an idea that women (or men) older than 28 might be sexual, or that that sexuality might be enormously complex…etc, etc… (although that may well feed into a meta-narrative in the society about youth, but then again maybe it doesn’t).

  11. ejh said,

    September 1, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Another of the many complexities involved is that people may find it liberating (or think that it is so) to do something which is actually very stupid. Or can’t discover that it is not liberating until they’ve found out by doing it. Etc etc etc.

  12. Andy Newman said,

    September 1, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I think that whereas the SWP has been very influential practically and ideologically in the anti-war movement (including internationally) and in the anti-fascist movement – and they have an intellectual legacy in the unions – the area of sexual politics is one were they have made little dent on political opinion outside their own ranks.

    The most coherent and infleuntial position on women in Britain is probably the policy of the SSP (which I disagree with on this issue)

    So discussing this question in terms of reference to the SWP maybe not the point. I think the SW themselves struggle a bit that the parameters of their understanding were developed in a factional atmosphere during the Women’ Voice debate, that itself contained elements of a deflected argument over the “downturn” and the launch of the SWP out of IS.

    The bigger context would be that there certainly has been a general retreat on the left over basic understanding of the oppression of women, and the right of women to self organise, etc. And a retreat over the responsibility of the left to empower women to take part, via creches, childcare, avoiding sexist language, etc. Also, the left being particularly uninterested in issues like campiagning for maternity services – which do directly affect working class women.

  13. Louisefeminista said,

    September 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I think, firstly, that Madam Miaow makes a good point about having an option of selling your body as opposed to taking some other grinding job looks attractive. It is contradictory and not very liberatory for women but so is being screwed by capitalism day after day. Clearing tables, working in a coltan mine or fucking? Take ya pick!

    The position the SSP holds on sex work is wrong and supporting a “Swedish model” on sex work is not some legislation socialists should be campaigning for.

    Sex is full of contradictions and the way it is commodified under capitalism. Capitalism as well feeds off patriarchal norms. Inside of using “idealist” substitute it with “moralism” ‘cos that’s what Dworkin/MacKinnon were subscribing to (and violence against women has been around far longer than The Hustler), it is the same with Ariel Levy’s bk and for a very good analysis see Lynne Segal’s Comment is Free

    It is isn’t just the SWP who has not taken women’s liberation seriously and been downright hostile to socialist feminism (there is very little developed good analysis of feminism on the left instead much of the time we get caricature and “wait for the revolution, babe”!). Majority of the groups on the left are fecking lousy and the hostility thrown at feminism is appalling (no, I am not petit bourgeois, I think socialism should encompass socialist feminist ideas).

    It is ok to have a shopping list of demands from creche facilities to reproductive rights to equal pay but the left has to understand the power relationships (and the left aint immune to sexism and oppressive behaviour)that exist in this society. Indivdual and collective responsibility/accountability as well. Any political advance is made through material gains (shopping list) and an understanding of why we needs those things.

    Feminists have been battling away for better provisions including maternity services. Unfortunately, feminism rather like the left is in a weaken state but there are pockets of feminist activity (though radical feminism has still a strong pull unfortunately)it may be uneven but the left still needs to engage with this activity.

  14. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 1, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I’ve mentioned my own experience in the WP back in the late 1980s when members of womens groups who went along to a women’s conference of the party returned complaining that it was all about childcare and welfare services and provisions. That was real, although an exaggerated form of the problem. To be honest though I think it’s difficult to get a clear read on what approach is right in any of these issues. Broad areas tend to devolve to single issues.

    As louisefeminista notes stuff like the Swedish model seems intuitively wrong on many different levels (quite apart from being utterly patronising to everyone involved).

  15. ejh said,

    September 1, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    I don’t think the majority of groups on the left are “fecking lousy” at all, except possibly in the way they discuss one another’s ideas….

  16. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 1, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Just read the Lynne Segal piece. Rather brilliant in it’s clarity.

  17. ejh said,

    September 1, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I don’t know about that – which is not to say that I necessarily disagree with much that she says. But on the question of the teenage girls – if Levy thinks that they behave in such a way as to endanger or to cheapen themselves, what is she supposed to do? Not say so? To my mind feminism is a critique not just of the way men behave but of the way women find themselves behaving.

    I also think that “class-ridden” is the ‘populist flag-waving’ to which I objected above.

  18. Louisefeminista said,

    September 1, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    “That can be explained with reference to psychology, media images of women or what have you, but the capitalist system does not require women to be lugging around big plastic breasts”.

    The media impacts upon us massively whether consciously or unconsciously. We are saturated with images of the “perfect” woman. Perfect boobs, arse, legs, face, hair and preferably between sizes 0-6. These images feed on womens insecurities and makes us acutely aware of attractiveness. Attractive= thin. Women mags regularly use words like “curvy” to describe a woman with hips and a stomach though again they operate in this contradictory way, one page will be opining the obsession with weight (a kinda, “be happy with your size woman” philosophy)and the next page will be praising Ginger Spice’s washboard stomach and abs (“hey woman, you too could get a bod like that eating nowt but fresh air and dust” philosophy).

    Capitalism pushes agressively shallowness and insecurity and that impacts upon us. It affects self-esteem and confidence esp. in women.
    Lynne Segal (in the piece I referred to) rightly asserts the need to build confidence in young women being imperative. Women feeling more empowered with their sexuality without the trappings of guilt. Feeling good about themselves whatever size or shape. That for me is liberatory in itself.

  19. Andy Newman said,

    September 1, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    BTW louise – nice to see you commenting in the blogosphere after a break :o)

    I think the shopping list of demands does have to be integrated into an understanding of power relationships, but to a certain degree the left groups are better at discussing the theory of power relationships (and why everyone except them is wrong) than on getting stuck in to campaigning over the concerte manifestations of oppressions.

    I largely agree with ejh that the problem is not that the left groups are bad per se on this issue, but rather that society has shifted considerably to the right and all critiques of patriarchy or women’s oppression are much more marginal

    the left groups have been to small and marginal to prevent that, and have as a result adapted to the cultural shift to a certain degree.

  20. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 1, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    Part of the problem is that much olf the left critique seems to run against the grain as regards relationships. This is a significant issue in terms of how this plays with people beyond the left. Again the point is not that raunch per se is wrong or bad, but more that if it only encompasses one group (mainly women) and their response to another (mainly men) then there is a problem. Frankly though as I get older I also tend to see this as yet another manifestation of ‘yoof’ culture – lovely, hermetically sealed, excluding all over a certain age ‘youth’ culture. Which is probably part of the reason I’m cynical about the various proscriptive arguments of those beyond that culture.

  21. Andy Newman said,

    September 2, 2007 at 11:39 am

    That is a good point WBS – certainly the practical issues of childcare, and the undeniable importnace on parental love are absent from the discussion. These become very imprtnat factors in relationships for those of us who are older.

    I also think the connundrum that makes lousie’s point difficult that people should feel good about themselves whatever their size and shape is that it is hard to feel good about yourself unless other people also think you are a good size and shape – we after all social animals and our collective consciousness of what is and what is not attractive is not simply a product of magazines.

    I don’t think the SWP were particularly good or bad over this ut they happen to be my personal experience. During the 1980s there was a pretty swinging lifestyle on the SWP (which if I am honest is partly what attracted me to rejoin in 1986), but there was a hypocrisy of a very PC approach in words – talking about all men and women being equally attractive, and the idea that it is the media that constructs social ideals of thin women etc, whereas in practice it was the thin and good looking comrades who were popular.

    And I am highly sceptical that it is media images and magazines that create the consciousness that Ginger Spice has a hot body. Isn’t is equally plausible that for example someone like Ginger Spice has had a successful-ish media career because she conforms to a much more complex cultural, and collectively constructed socialconsciousness of what is attractive to most men? That is a prevailing consciousness that most men seek to self identify with of conforming to societal norms of attractiveness.

    Now to a certain degree, in the 1970s and 1980s there were alternative sub-cultures that sought to create alternatives consciousness about attractiveness, somehow inexplicably linked to wearing dungarees. But it was avalid objection from the SWP/IS and thr Militant at the time to that approach that it set the left apart from mainstream working class culture.

  22. ejh said,

    September 2, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    Is there such a thing as “mainstream working-class culture”? If there ever was, is it still?

  23. Andy Newman said,

    September 2, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Possibly not, ejh ;o)

    I was employing a shorthand or abreviated argument, I think you knew what i meant.

    The working class, the same as all other strata of society, are subject to both their own individual ideas, but also identifictaion to the complex, socially constructed forms of consciousness of group identity.

    For example, national consciousness, class consciousness, prevailing ideas of sexual attractiveness, fashion, etc.

    For the left to seek to create a counter-consensual or counter-hegemonic consciousness of physical attractiveness is beyond our resources, and may in any event be impossible as we simply don’t know what creates the prevailing consensus, and wether for example there is any degree of biological determinism.

    To engage on such a project would make most working class people think we were weird. Which is the point I was trying to make.

  24. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 2, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I think Andy (#21) hits on the point I’ve been most interested in, which is the ingrained rhetorical hypocrisy. So ingrained that long-serving comrades aren’t even aware of it.

    There is a stock character in the SWP, and anyone who’s been in that movement will know at least one of them, of the male apparatchik who is extremely PC in words and uses puritanism to beat the rank and file over the head. But should an attractive young woman join his branch he’ll immediately set to work getting his leg over.

    Physical attractiveness though is something that can be a big advantage for a woman, but it really condemns her to being dependent on male patronage. (Hence another stock character, the woman who gets a position by shagging a leading comrade.) For men on the other hand, unattractiveness or advancing years or both can be offset by holding a leading position. It seems Kissinger was right…

  25. Louisefeminista said,

    September 2, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    “Isn’t is equally plausible that for example someone like Ginger Spice has had a successful-ish media career because she conforms to a much more complex cultural, and collectively constructed socialconsciousness of what is attractive to most men? That is a prevailing consciousness that most men seek to self identify with of conforming to societal norms of attractiveness.”

    Hmm. Andy, well yes I take your points and maybe I placed too much emphasis on the role of the media, but at the same time the media does exploit and feed on our insecurities. I am not just arguing that it is the media that is at fault. But it also churns out what is attractive and what we should conform to.
    Surely, as Lynne Segal, argues we should be building confidence so people, esp. women feel happier with themselves.
    I emphasised the role of the media because as the left I think we should analyse how it does impact on our consciousness. I am just not focusing on the media or seeing it through a vacuum but the fact it does play a part in how we relate to each other and another way capitalism commodifies.

    Yes, the point you make about Ginger Spice is relevant and correct but media can and does influence what we perceive as attractive. And again, this plays on insecurities and confidence.

    All of this connects with commodifying sex and power relationships between men and women. It is also contradictory ‘cos yes, we should be happy with what we have but we aren’t (well, many people aren’t). The womens mag industry is worth millions so someone must be buying these mags.

    Oh, and finally the double-standards and hypocrisy ever present on the left. I think it is obvious that the left isn’t immune to power relationships and sexism that exists in this society. You come up against defensive male comrades who can’t handle any criticism about behaviour. And the bloke who is utterly right-on one minute and consciously aware about the oppression of women and the importance of liberation and when you get home with them they beat you up (believe me it has happened!).

    I may be giving an extreme example of male behaviour but there are other subtle and less overt forms of power. It is one area amongst many that needs to be understood if we are ever to get dynamic and vibrant women comrades and for starters, taking responsibility, respecting and treating women equally would be a start.

  26. ejh said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:22 pm

    There’s also a view that inconcistencies of personal behaviour are inevitable and that taking them as evidence of political rather than personal shortcomings is unlikely to achieve anything. it’s also worth asking whether the investrigation of leftists’ personal lives for evidence of inconsistent behaviour isn’t a popular manouevre of the Right and one we should perhaps view with suspicion rather than pursue with enthusiasm.

  27. Louisefeminista said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    ejh: the personal is the political. Famous feminist mantra that damn well holds today.

    In politics you should be able to discuss anything and that means sometimes your personal life. All I am asking is that we treat people with respect, equal basis, be transparent and accountable. And that means open to criticism when need be. There have been far too times very bad behaviour is covered up. If we are to engage people in left wing ideas then we have to be accountable.

  28. WorldbyStorm said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    I’m not sure that concepts of ‘attractive’ body types are set in stone. Consider Marilyn Monroe, who was actually quite plump and vastly different to the extremely slender bodytype which is now reified. Then cast your mind back a further fifty years. Ginger Spice is really just representative of todays culture of ‘attractive’ and as time progresses I’m certain that will change (although talking about fashion magazines I have a personal pet peeve against them, I suspect they’re vastly more influential and argualy vastly more pernicious in their shaping of ‘attraction’ than the topshelf). So for me it’s not so much the type as the form of the relationships.

    Splinteredsunrise, I think that’s a fascinating point you raise about the apparatchik who will be overtly PC but then covertly legover. Something that always strikes me about party structures (or political structures for those of us who campaign for Indo’s) is that they’re a curious mix of the voluntary and the disciplined. Parties have no legal force over an individual, all is by example, internal hierarchies, peer pressure and so on. It’s not work, so one can’t be fired. It’s not school/college so the structure is different, but yet it winds up operating in certain respects not entirely differently to either of those in terms of dynamics. One of my most cherished experiences recently was seeing how an Independent TD managed to ‘herd cats’ as it were with a vigorously diffuse group of people who supported him for a variety of reasons, political, personal etc. What was most entertaining was seeing how power relationships developed even there, with orders couched as requests, etc, etc. In a way, maybe party structures are worse for this sort of thing than work environments precisely because they’re so diffuse on one axis and they then have to be quite dominating on another.

  29. ejh said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Indeed: but that seems to be answering a different point to the one I made.

  30. ejh said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    (#29 was of course a reply to #27. By the way, does anybody else see a tiny smiley right at the bottom of the screen? Why is it there?)

  31. Louisefeminista said,

    September 2, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, World by Storm, I agree, attractiveness isn’t set in stone and funny enough I was thinking about Marilyn Monroe.

    There is a number of strands to this issue of attractiveness as it does put people, esp. women, in a double-bind. Certainly, I do believe there is an aggressive push about what is attractive.
    There is also an emphasis on “staying young” and holding back the wrinkles, grey hairs and the saggyness.

    Yes, body image has changed over the years (Reubensque) and it can also be connected with fashion trends (Kate Moss, skinny skins emphasis on the skinny frame)Sophie Dahl was a size 16 but even she admitted that she felt under pressure to slim down. Another thing to throw in the mix is that eating distresses have increased (anorexia and bulimia)though there are no official stats kept and these figures come from agencies such as the Eating Disorders Assoc.

    Btw: unfortunately, it is embarrassing to admit to but I do have a penchant for womens mags. I blame the contradictions inherent in this society and all social phenomena (including womens mags) should be analysed. That’s my defence.

  32. ejh said,

    September 2, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    Well, concern for my body image obliges me to go for a run, after which I shall prepare and eat a salad. However, if I survive until morning I shall perhaps add an indispensible word or two on the cult of success, which affects most younger people to a serious degree and which is, I think, part of the root of the problem here.

  33. Andy Newman said,

    September 2, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    good discussion.

    With regard to ejh’s point #26

    I think that the inconsistences of personal behaviour in this area are more because the political ideas being put forward are probably wrong, and cannot be lived up to.

    Yes, yes, I agree that attractiveness changes over time, but it is a social and collective concept and not an individual choice – although there is individual variation within it.

    I would argue that sexual identity is a form of ideological construction, and following Voloshinov the forms of consciousness available to individuals are those that have been collectively developed, and with which they interact.

    You can’t just choose to opt out of societal norms of attractiveness, unless you identify with an alternative consciousness of sexual identity, and these things are also not deliberate choices – few people (nowadays – there was of course the phenomenon of political lesianism that seems less fashionable now) delibertately choose to be gay of straight, for example.

    The PC vibe that was coming from the SWP in the 1980s was largely dissmissive of the idea that some people are just better looking and very moralistic if anyone said that such and such a comrade was hot.

    I remember one woman in about 1988 (who I will irrelevantly mention is now on the national steering committee of Respect – definitely through Splintered Sunrise’s architype #2) lecturing a young black man that he was sexist for doing body building in the gym, becasue he was trying to get a better figure. Such lunacy would only have been possible where there was a yawning gap between professed ideology and practical experience.

  34. Louisefeminista said,

    September 3, 2007 at 9:40 am

    ‘Cos of this debate I am shamelessly plugging an article I wrote a couple of years ago about sexual politics,feminism, women and the Left for the site The F Word. Just thought it might further provoke discussion.

  35. ejh said,

    September 3, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Right. The cult of success and celebrity culture, the two essentially being the same thing. It’s stating an often-stated obvious to say that this has exploded over the last generation or two in the Western world and that many people now spend half their time gawping at and talking about people who are famous or even who just want to be famous. Which is all based on the desire to escape the lives that they themselves lead, which is why (¡Hola! / Hello! apart) most fascination with celebrities involves those from working-class backround.

    As an aside, this gives people the wholly false impression that wealthy people are people who have “made it”, whereas in fact, they are overwhelmingly people from wealthy backgrounds. Most rich people, and their stories, are essentially invisible to the media.

    Another odd thing about this phenomenon is that it has become more powerful without the aspiration on which you’d expect it to be based – the dream of working-class people becoming rich – actually being more real than before: it’s more a function of the proliferation of media than anything else, I think, though presumably this has the effect of enabling the gawping and dreaming to take place practically full-time.

    Anyway, one part of all this palaver is admiration of the celebs and psychologically rthis manifets itself in a desire to emulate them, to play their roles, to buy the products they endorse, to copy their choices that they make. There’s no doubt at all that the desire to look like famous women inpacts on young women to such a degree as to be indistinguishable from a need: and that while it is not normally possible for a young woman to become rich and famous, it is possible for her to try and resemble somebody who is. Which means that the choices made by women who have become famous for their looks reverberate throughout female society (if I may use such a phrase). They make a choice, you and everybody else can see the choice immediately and everybody is talking about it. It’s all-pervasive. Dominant images and all that.

  36. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I am not 100% convinced, ejh.

    How much impact does celeb culture realy have except on the very young and impressionable? How many women really aspire to be Jodie Marsh!

    And do women really make choices to look like the rich and famous, or do they (and we blokes too, to a lesser extent) make choices to gain approval within their own circles of acquaintances, and in the communities they actually live in.

    If it is the latter, or even if that has a big influence, then how can we determine whether it is magazine popular culture that influnces society, or society that influences what the magazines promote?

  37. Louisefeminista said,

    September 3, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    “If it is the latter, or even if that has a big influence, then how can we determine whether it is magazine popular culture that influnces society, or society that influences what the magazines promote?”

    Well, that is the thing isn’t it. Popular culture reflects the dominant ideas that are prevalent in this society. They all bounce off each other. We are influenced by a multitude of ideas. I am not just blaming it all on the media but my belief is that the Left needs to have an analysis of what role it does play in shaping ideas like all social phenomena.
    Hope that makes sense.

  38. splinteredsunrise said,

    September 3, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    It makes perfect sense… when a woman dresses a certain way, is she emulating an image, or trying to attract men, or trying to compete with/score off other women?

    Probably some combination. And maybe the media can influence what we want, but they can’t sell us something we absolutely don’t want.

  39. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    Yes it does make sense Louise, but the analysis must also be linked to what, if anything, we can do about it. That is if popular culture cannot seel us something we don’t want, then how even less potent can the far left be in doing so.

    If sexual identity is a form of collective consciousness – Voloshinov: “individual consciousness is not the architect of the ideological superstructure, but only a tenent lodging in the social edifice of ideological signs” then we cannot create our own individual sexual consciousness, we can only interact with the avialable socially constructed options. A good example of a viable sexual and sub-cultural identity is goths, who look bloody awful from my point of view, but within their own sub-culture they fuck like rabbits.

    So perhaps i am saying the double standards of the left are not so much a mark of hypocrisy, as a measure of their powerlessness.

    That is not to say that counter-hegemonic alternatives cannot be created, but they can only be created by the left seeking to work through mass popular and cultural media.

    A good example of a counter-hegemonic sexual and sub–cultural identity are goths, who look bloody awful from my point of view, but within their own sub-culture they fuck like rabbits.

  40. ejh said,

    September 3, 2007 at 2:55 pm

    they can’t sell us something we absolutely don’t want

    No, but they absolutely can sell us something that we didn’t.

  41. chekov said,

    September 3, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    I like where Andy is coming from – it’s important to acknowledge that there’s all sorts of stuff that we can’t change at all, regardless of how much we’d like to. Even within the alternative sexual subcultures, there are still people who are generally considered ‘hot’ and others who are ‘not’ and these categories still correlate closely to the universal basic biological indicators of attractiveness (symmetry of features, body shape, etc).

    I reckon the sort of doublethink that Andy is refering to in the SWP is a consequence of the fact that most of the left adopted a position against ‘biological determinism’ and in favour of “social construction” in the science wars of the 70s and 80s. Seeing as pretty much nobody was arguing that stuff like attractiveness, promiscuousness and intelligence were entirely biological, this meant in effect that the left took a position of being against all biological influence and in favour of these characteristics being entirely socially constructed on arbitrary grounds. We now know that the left was just totally and utterly wrong and thus it’s easy to understand why there was such a difference between behaviour and theory – the loins retained a position of correctness in the face of the brain’s mistaken theories.

  42. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Chekov: “We now know that the left was just totally and utterly wrong”


    I remember around 1990 arguing within the SWP that homosexuality might for example have a biological component and that we couldn’t simply assume that it was entirely socially constructed on the basis of social theory, if the physical scientific evidence was pointing in a different direction. This caused quite a shit storm, with comrades telling me I was consorting with facists, and my position was caricatured as saying that I was arguing that gays were mutants (literally the words used).

    And in answer to ejh’s point that they absolutely can sell us something that we didn’t – I am not at all sure that is true. I am 100% sure for example that even if I was saturated exposure with kiddie porn I wouldn’t become a nonce.

  43. ejh said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    the left took a position of being against all biological influence and in favour of these characteristics being entirely socially constructed on arbitrary grounds.

    Did it?

    We now know that the left was just totally and utterly wrong

    Do we?

  44. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Oh yeah – I repeat here that i don’t single out the SWP as being particularly bad – they were just my personal expereince.

    By far far worse were the RCP. One RCP member in Bristol had a partner who was HIV positive and they were arguing with him that they nevertheless shouldn’t use condoms / safe sex becasue AIDS was all a moral scare, etc. This is true, and he left the RCP over it.

  45. ejh said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:05 pm


    “something” and “everything” are not the same “-thing”.

    I am not sure that paraphrases of conversations people had with lefists many years ago are of much more value that Nick Cohen’s accounts of what people have said at dinner parties.

  46. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    ejh regarding #43

    You know full well that the position the SWP took in the 1980s was that all sexual preferences were socially constructed. I am sure that you were in the organisation then, so why deny it?

  47. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    ejh – regarding #45

    So the interesting question is what things can the media create a demand for, and what can they not.

    Which brings us to the idea that the media is only one component of a complex socially constructed consciousness of sexual identity, and maybe not even a dominant one.

  48. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    and ejh: ‘ am not sure that paraphrases of conversations people had with lefists many years ago are of much more value that Nick Cohen’s accounts of what people have said at dinner parties.

    Ok – I admit it lacks the rigour of social anthropology, but the things is – and I hope you recognise this as well – that given the gap between the ideals and the reality, and the fact that witin the sub-cultures of organisations they hold to a number of consensual positions that are only verbally communicated, or in some other cases are just much cruder versions of more cautiously expressed theories published in journals, then the verbal evidence is of some value.

    Unless of course you dispute that those were the sort of ideas being peddled in the SWP – in whoch case argue your own possibly different experience.

  49. Louisefeminista said,

    September 3, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    The problem with biology is that precisely it has been used to oppress people. And using science as a political axe to grind. The objectivity of research can be questioned. Biology is used sometimes as way of blaming the indivdual, look at the history from eugenics to mental distress. Isolating the “gay gene” and the schizophrenic gene” all this sends a chill down my spine as I wonder what the purpose is.

    What about a dialectical understanding of the social and the biological?

    oh, and yes of course analysis needs to be linked to what we can/can’t do about it, goes without saying, comrade.

    Btw: The RCP were indeed bloody awful about the use of condoms.

  50. ejh said,

    September 3, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    verbal evidence is of some value

    It is, but one might sometimes wonder what the other side of the story would be, no?

  51. Andy Newman said,

    September 3, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Well what was the other side of the story from your expereince of sexual politics in the SWP at that time?

  52. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 7:20 am

    I mean the other side of the story of the particular anecdotes, Andy.

    Incidentally, leave off the “you know full well” and “why deny it?” business, eh? If you want to interrogate or to argue things aggressively, please waste your time on somebody else.

  53. chekov said,

    September 4, 2007 at 10:50 am

    ejh: easily the rudest comment on this thread is #43 and it’s by you.

    If you don’t know full well, say so. If you have a reason to deny something, say it, but your continuing resort to criticising the tone of others’ comments looks more and more like a way of attempting to suppress points that you don’t want to deal with rather than anything approaching a genuine principle. I mean, you’re easily the person most prone to fighting on this blog.

  54. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 11:07 am

    That’s a content-free posting, isn’t it? There is, of course, nothing whatsoever rude in posting #43.

    And don’t be so bloody silly. “Suppress points”, indeed – what control have I got over what you post? How is it doing that if I criticise your tone, but not if you criticse mine?

    Why should I “deny” anything? I shouldn’t be asked to. It’s a debate, not an interrogation. “Do you deny…?” is a way of going about things that I abhor. I don’t like sniffing about after people to see what’s behind what they say. I believe in dealing with what they actually say.

    I’ll tell you what, though, if you tell me again that I’m not doing that out of genuine principle, you’ll give me no option but to call you a liar. If you don’t like it, blame yourself, since you’re the one who chose, groundlessly, to cast doubt on my honesty.

  55. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 11:24 am

    ejh – I am not arguing agressively. I am offering my own personal experience of being in the SWP, which can obviously only be from my own point of view.

    However, on the question of what the SWP’s position in the 1980s of sexual preferences being entirely social, this is not a question of my personal expereince, this is a question of historical record, so when you challenged Chekov #43 implying that you thought otherwise, then it is surely reasonable to ask you what you own personal and different expereince of that is.

    And entirely reasonable to point out that as (I think) you were also in the SWP at the time, what did you think about it. And was your experience different. You seem to be implying that the SWP did not hold that social preference was entirely social – but I rememeber meetings at Skegness where exactly that position was explicitly argued by – for example – Lindsay german. My memory isn’t perfect but I believe this was all connected with the big row that broke out about cottaging in the toilets during thr Skegness rally, and the subsequent big row over whether gays were self oppressed – that led to a delegate national council meeting discussing this very question of whether sexual preference are socially constructed.

    With regard to the particular anecdotes, feel free to ask other comrades who were in Bristol SWP a the time. The comrades who accused me of saying gays were mutants was Bethan Bateman, the comrade who said I was consorting with facsists was Eammon Kelly, and our “full timer” at the time was Helen Shooter.

    The question of the credibility of my anecdote is dependent on whether you recognise that sort of internal culture as being representative of the SWP in the late 1980s or not. And perhaps it wasn’t everywhere, but it was in Bristol, South Wales and other districts I was acquainted with.

    I could also give you a load of anecdotes which illustrate that culture where i was in the wrong, both in terms of my behaviour and my political position – after all I was part of the culture as well.

  56. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 11:39 am

    this is not a question of my personal experience, this is a question of historical record

    Then it should not be impossible to demonstrate it rather than state it, surely? With quotes or something? But one simply can’t take anecdotal evidence as definitive and nor can one taken capsule-descriptions of complex ideas simply as a given.

    As for whether and when I was in any given political organisation – to be frank, Andy, it’s not your business. Nor anybody else’s.

    The views I express are the views I hold and they should be addressed as such. If you want to disagree with my views you’re entitled to do so and so say why if you wish. But I’m entitled also to say that I think the main problem with the left is people not doing that and choosing, instead, to chase after people, put pejorative lables on them, distort and exaggerate their opinions. It’s that which leads to leftwing politics being a small number of people all quarrelling with one another and taking no notice whatsoever of what they look like from the outside (which ,these days, is where I am).

  57. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 11:55 am

    ejh: The views I express are the views I hold and they should be addressed as such

    Then what are your views? It is you who challenged chekov in rather an aggressive way, without staring your own position.

    Anyway – quite aside from whether or not you are correct about the marginality of left wing views – which I think personally has more to do with the hegemony of Trotskism on the far left and their vanguardist, “crisis of leadership” type ideas. And the subsequent use of bureaucratic means to acheive political objectives.

    The problem with asking for referenced sources is that much of the culture and politics of the left groups is actually orally transmitted. And at the coalface of life in the SWP branches the political positions were and presumably still are more exagerated than nuanced. My argument would be that the interpreteation of political positions that matters is more the interpreation held by the rank and file, than the nuanced public positions of the red professors.

    For example, within the SWP the most importnat factor of what the organisation actually does , would be the telephone converstaions between the national secretary and the full time organisers. And the full timers often have a different, organisationally driven agenda from the SWP’s public position.

    The long and interesting accounts from Sue Blackwell and Rumy Hassan of their experience in Birmingham SWP are very good and truthful, and 100& match my experience.

  58. chekov said,

    September 4, 2007 at 1:10 pm

    ejh: the appropriate answer to #43 would be “yes…yes” – I’m sure you wouldn’t have any problem with spotting the basic pointlessness and rudeness of such argument free two word responses had I made such a response.

    The rudeness stems from the fact that you didn’t bother to flesh out your implied disagreement beyond two rhetorical questions which implicitly demanded that I flesh out my point. Demanding that I flesh out a point, while not making anything like the same demands upon yourself implies that my time and energy are less important than yours are. That’s rude.

    You are also quite incorrect in dismissing Andy’s ‘anecdotes’. We’re dealing with the social sciences here, not physics or medicine and due to the inherent subjectivity of the domain the personal anecdotes of those involved are known as ‘primary sources’ and considered to be valuable evidence to the extent that those recounting the anecdotes have integrity. I’m always interested in hearing anecdotes from members or ex-members of left wing groups, simply because they form by far the best source of evidence if you want to assess the internal culture of these groups – something you simply can’t do from reading their publications and so on.

    Oh and, in case you’re wondering, my points in # 42 do not depend on anecdotal evidence and I can back them up real well.

  59. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    i agree with that question of promairy sources Chekov, and for example Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson’s very useful books about early British Trotskism “Againat the Stream” and “War anf the international” were both based upon extensive interviews with the original protagonists much more than from the extant documents.

    Of course people have different takes on the same issues, depending upon their different understanding at the time and also how that have subsequently reinterpreted their experience.

    This is why it is useful to have corrective accounts from different points of view.

    It is also why it is a bit of a cop out for ejh to say it is none of my business when and where he was in the SWP – he has made it my business by challenging the integrity of my personal recollections. Especially as it covers a period when (I believe) he was also in the SWP.

    It is relevent to the credibility of his criticism of me, whether he had different or similat experiences in the same organisation at the same time.

  60. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    It is hardly challenging anybody’s integrity to make the straightforward point that different people involved in a single event will normally have different viewpoints and interpretations. I am sure everybody understands that. Appreciating the fact would be fundamental to the work of any social historian.

    But here we are again: once more, instead of discussing the extremely interesting topic, the leftists divert themselves into an discussion of the SWP interesting to nobody but themselves. I wonder if this is why I no longer take part in this stuff?

  61. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    But ejh – I went out of my way to point out that the SWP were in no way unusual with regard to this issue. In fact i earlier pointed out that the SWP and Millies quite correctly in the late 1970s and earlier 1980s were sceptical about lifestylism as setting them apart from more mianstream aorking class experience.

    Those from the MIG tradition were worse and took it into the labour party, and those from the RCP ultra-bonkers.

    There was also considerable life-style double standards from the CP.

    This started when Chekov made a generic comment which you objected to about the left in the 1980s, and I responded that what Chekov said matched my particular expereince in the SWP – but I went out of my way to stress that was only because the SWP were my own personal experience, not because they were any worse than any others.

    This was in fact relevent to the substantive topic under discussion, of whether it is possible or desirable for the left to seek to create a sexual sub-culture, which in itself was related to the issue that the left generally (not just the SWP) subscribed at that time to social determinism. And this related right back to Splintered Sunrise’s original post which is where the SWP were first introduced.

    I don’t know how we can discuss the left unless we discuss the actually existing left groups.

    Nor – to be honest do I think it is true that a discussion of the left groups is relevent only to a small number of people, given that for example the SWP are influential enough to shape initiatives such as the anti-Iraq war campiagn, Respect, Unite Against facsism.

  62. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I don’t know how we can discuss the left unless we discuss the actually existing left groups.

    Because those groups are tiny in number and make almost no impact ideologically on the world as a whole. I don’t use this fact to criticise them, I merely observe that if you want to relate leftwing ideas to the population as a whole, it’s basically a waste of tiem and its effect, as I observe frequently, will just be to repel people who will see the left as a small set of hostile and angry groups furiously denouncing one another.

  63. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Well firstly I don’t agree that they have no impact ideologically, becasue in Britland of the lack of mass popular participation in the labour party, and the lack of a CP, the far left groups do have an ability to shape events – as I argued in #61.

    But of you feel that discussion of these issues in relationship to the left groups is a waste of time, then why did you engage with this debate at all, given that Splintered Sunrise’s whole post was about the SWP and their take on new-laddism?

    Indeed in the early part of this thread it was me who pointed out that discussing the issue in relationship with the SWP might be the wrong tack.

    It seems to me that you are excessively rude in debate, and have a tendency to criticise how oter people are debating. If you want to steer debate back to the substantive issues then just do that – there is no ned to criticise, especially in the superior no-all way you do.

  64. Andy Newman said,

    September 4, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    that should of course be “know-all” not “no-all”

    Anyway, yet again ejh i am goinf to abandon discussion on this blog for a while becasue i cannot be arsed with your sniping.

  65. ejh said,

    September 4, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Oh, give us a break up Andy. You spend half your time writing critiques of other people and how they approach politics but you don’t want to be criticised yourself. That’s the problem, y’see: everybody wants to be the one to pronounce but then when it doesn’t work out like that.

    I engaged with the debate because there are many ideas involved in it: where the ideas have been discussed, then the discussion has been fruitful. Where they have not then it has not. That’s why I prefer discussion to a process of taking poit-shots at one’s rivals. Being a bit detached, I have enough perspective to do that. People heavily engaged in leftist infighting often do not.

  66. September 22, 2007 at 10:18 pm

    […] any. This is something that you associate on the left with our old friends in the SWP, source: From New Laddism to Raunch Culture: the far left…, Splintered […]

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