The jabbing finger

PW_Botha_finger_pointing

The other day, as I was making my breakfast, I turned on GMTV. Usually I don’t register breakfast telly all that much – at that time in the morning, my brain can just about process Hi-5 or Elmo’s World – but this time I was brought up short. Who should be sitting on the sofa holding forth but this blog’s bête noire of the moment, Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society. (An enormous groan rises up from the broad masses.) Now, bear with me, because I’m not going to bash the NSS here. What interested me was a stylistic issue.

As far as I could figure out – I evidently switched on halfway through the segment – this was a discussion of PC councils rebranding Christmas as “Winter Festival”, or some such tabloid cobblers. Terry was banging on about how bad it was that schoolkids were being drafted into nativity plays. What struck me was how soft-spoken he was being. From his occasional TV or radio appearances, obviously I didn’t expect him to be shouty, but nor did I expect him to be quite as emollient as he was. Perhaps that’s because his argument was weak – Commercemas has so little religious content these days that it would take a supreme effort for him to find something to get upset about. Perhaps it was an environmental issue, as being lightly grilled by Emma Crosby on a comfy sofa is not the same as having Paxman barking at you across the Newsnight studio. Perhaps it was because he was debating with the Rev Joanna Jepson, who projects such an air of overwhelming niceness that it must have felt like being mauled to death by a cute ickle bunny wabbit. Or perhaps it was just too early in the day for a full-on rant.

What I mean was that the Sanderson on the TV screen, talking for all the world like a reasonable human being who is capable of seeing the other guy’s point of view, is a bit of a jolt if you look at all regularly at his written output, because he writes like Jim Denham on steroids. I assume that he’s not that bad in real life, when he isn’t sat in front of his keyboard emitting steam from his ears.

I was thinking about this in connection with what Andy was writing there about keyboard rage:

Face to face human interaction generates hormonal response, with the generation of low levels of Oxytocin that makes people like being with each other. Human interaction mediated by technology lacks that aspect of social bonding, and people become excessively rude.

What is more the rudeness generates a self-referential culture, where people are rude because other people are rude – it is a learned social expectation.

There’s a lot of truth in that. Sometimes people get into flame wars and forget that there’s a real person on the other end. But that’s on a basic level. There is also an aspect of how the internet has democratised writing, where the blogosphere doesn’t require any professional training nor submission to an editor – which is not an unmixed blessing. And of course political subcultures and the learned behaviours within them contribute as well.

Firstly, there’s a clear disconnect in attitudes between those who are engaged in politics with a big P, and single-issue campaigners. What to me most commonly distinguishes single-issue campaigners is an overwhelming self-righteousness. This isn’t meant as an attack on the characters of single-issue campaigners, it’s an observation based on the nature of their activity. Big-P politics is not merely about the art of the possible; perhaps more to the point, it’s holistic in nature, with its starting point being society as a whole. Even Marxist politics starts from the working class, conceptualised as being the majority of society. This inevitably means compromise. By way of contrast, the single-issue campaigner only has to plug away relentlessly on that particular issue – compromise is not only unnecessary, but is a positive hindrance. I’m sure there are plenty of Burma solidarity campaigners whose first instinct would be to denounce Aung San Suu Kyi if they thought she was going to compromise.

One interesting feature, though, is the inherent expansiveness of liberal rights theory. For instance, the NSS, which is supposed to be about separating church and state, makes detailed pronunciamentos on all sorts of issues like abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, usually on the tenuous basis that, since lots of religious people are against these things then secularists must support them. And at this year’s Gay Pride march in Belfast, a platform speaker lambasted the Dublin government for its civil unions bill, demanding no less than fully-fledged gay marriage. The speaker was a representative of Amnesty. Bearing in mind Amnesty’s traditionally narrow remit around prisoners of conscience, and its former self-denying ordinance about getting involved in domestic politics – during the Troubles, it was nearly impossible to get Amnesty to say anything about Ireland – this was quite striking.

In extremis, you can get single-issue NGOs broadening their remit so they almost function like small political parties, only without the obligation to seek votes, and retaining the single-issue modus operandi, which is something the single-issue campaigner brings with him into party politics. A good example of the MO is Peter Tatchell. Since recent catfights on SU demonstrate how fraught it is to mention Peter in other than glowing terms, I should start by putting on record that, though I don’t always agree with Peter and I think he could choose his company better (if you don’t want people to think you’re Islamophobic, posting on Harry’s Place isn’t the brightest idea), I do admire his courage and salute his indefatigability. No, the thing about Peter, as I keep saying, is that his strengths and his weaknesses are bound up so closely. He’s incapable of seeing a case of oppression without setting up a solidarity campaign, and has enough nervous energy to run about a hundred of these at any one time. Some of them are perforce quite obscure – the canonical example being Peter’s solidarity campaign for gay Rastafarians – and, while you’re glad somebody is doing something around these issues, and you would sign a petition if asked, it would take some convincing to get you to do more. But Peter tends to assume that his hobbyhorse of the moment should be everyone else’s top priority, and no sooner has he set up a campaign than the raised voice and the jabbing finger are deployed, as he demands to know why the left isn’t dropping everything to campaign for the gay Rastas. Eh? Eh?

Perhaps it’s unfair to single Peter out, because there are plenty of other examples. One example of the clash between holistic and particular views of politics came about over the embryology bill, when Labour MEP Mary Honeyball got stuck into Catholic MPs who either voted against or abstained, using some unfortunate Guy Fawkes rhetoric about how it was intolerable that MPs should be guided by “the Pope’s whip”. This drew sharp responses from some Labour MPs such as Jon Cruddas. Now, the point here is not that Cruddas is a Catholic and Honeyball a militant secularist – that figures, but it’s not the whole story. Rather, it’s a question of whether you view the Labour Party as primarily a coalition of social constituencies or as a vehicle for progressive causes. Cruddas, who knows a fair bit about psephology, can give you the crude statistic that, at the last election, Labour secured 34% of the total vote but 53% of the Catholic vote. A lot of that is a function of class and ethnicity, but it’s also the case that the teachings of social Catholicism – anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-greed, communitarian – are rather a good fit for traditional Labourism. So you have an important part of the Labour base who don’t necessarily expect to have their concerns on issues like abortion written into the party manifesto – but they would like to feel listened to, and if you tell them to bugger off and take their custom elsewhere, they just might.

And the worldview ties into one’s experience. Cruddas is basically a party man, with close links to the union apparati. Honeyball was a feminist activist before she was a politician, in much the same way that Sanderson was a fulltime gay liberationist before he was a fulltime secularist. I don’t say that these backgrounds are illegitimate, just to point out that they bring with them a particular approach. Where the professional party man can appear like a chiselling opportunist, the single-issue campaigner finds it much easier to hove to the biblical injunction of come ye out from among them and be ye separate.

You find a similar tendency to separatism in the left-sectarian milieu. Which is odd, because of the holistic aspirations of Marxism, but it probably isn’t surprising that smallish far left propaganda formations without any real chance of achieving power have a culture that’s much more akin to the single-issue NGO than the mass party. The other factor is a stylistic thing, in that the Russian Marxists of a hundred years ago were great at giving the impression of absolute certainty in their own correctness and in the scoundrelly opportunism of their opponents – which creates a small problem for the Church of Latter-Day Trotskyism in that Lenin and Trotsky violently disagreed with each other much of the time, and they couldn’t both be right. But what’s much worse is when you get these group gurus who aspire to be Lenin or Trotsky, or journalists in the left press who want to write like them. Then factor in a culture where much of the left cadre is trained up in what can only be described as hate speech. Those people with almost the same views as yours? They aren’t basically sincere people you happen to disagree with on some minor matters – they are traitors, sell-outs, lundies, apostates, enemies of the people fit only to be smashed. The watchword is no compromise under any circumstances, and woe betide you if you leave yourself open to attack on that basis.

And internet keyboard rage only magnifies this. Take a look at the comments box here, below a fucking death notice. The double act of Father Jack and Morality Blog is especially obnoxious, but the same thing can be found elsewhere in milder form.

And again, one can find much the same thing with the Decent Left. There you get the single-issue aspect, some bad habits from the left milieu, and exacerbated by the fact that the Decents are not activists – few of them are even members of the Labour Party – but are extremely voluble pundits. This is what leads you to people like Cohen, Toube or Attila the Hun doing their perpetual Mr Angry routine, which gets enervating very quickly. I’ve never been as angry about anything as those guys are about everything. And here is where, for once, I’d like to praise Professor Geras. If Normski was just banging on about Israel and Zimbabwe and Human Rights Watch seven days a week, not only would it be intensely boring for his readers, but it wouldn’t be much good for him. That Norm goes off regularly to write about cricket or literature or country music shows that he, unlike most of his Decent comrades, has understood the importance of the mental health break.

There is a lesson here, you know. It’s that stepping back, taking a deep breath, perhaps having a cup of tea before you hit that “send” button is rarely a bad strategy. I try not to blog when angry, because it usually just comes across as peevish. Occasionally you’ll get someone who does anger well, though I hope young Laurie is sensible enough to know that you can’t only do anger. Approaching something coldly and calmly helps; and the odd bit of frivolity doesn’t hurt either. Too much anger and self-righteousness will just end up giving you aneurysms. And it confirms the prejudices of those (particularly women) who read the comments boxes of the left blogs and come away with the overwhelming impression that the left is just a Sargasso Sea of mentalism.

33 Comments

  1. Doloras said,

    November 9, 2009 at 12:49 am

    I’ve asked sectarian headbangers elsewhere why they don’t seem to realise that their “hate speech” approach to political polemic makes their group in particular and socialists in general look like arseholes to ordinary working people. But then I realise that these people are just like the Sparts, in kind if not in degree – actually building a mass movement is not the issue, it’s being the Tough Guy in the Left Ghetto – biting the heads off the other goldfish in the extremely tiny bowl. That’s not politics, and I doubt it’s even a satisfying and fulfilling lifestyle.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 9, 2009 at 1:01 am

    Evidently it satisfies some people. At least, if you can’t achieve what you set out to achieve all those years ago, biting the heads off the other goldfish might look like an alternative way of passing the time. But it isn’t much fun for those who get their heads bitten off, and yes, it does make us look like arseholes.

  3. tgmac said,

    November 9, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Death to all level headed people! Oh, and to keyboardists! Down with that sort of thing, Ted.

    Actually, if I may be indulged, you’ve created a well thought out article imo, and well written to boot.

    While I’ve always had the Socialist genome, it’s only during this crisis that I really thought through the ramifications of what’s happening around us and started to review this old Socialist thing from the begining point. I knew I’d forgotten more about Marx et. al. then I remembered.

    What surprised me was the reception I met when I asked what I thought were fairly innocuous questions or made a statement of some sort on Irish or English web sites. I’m often met with a strange mixture of superiority and fury. I suppose this mixture manifests itself as contempt.

    I quickly retreated and sought out help and insights from further afield. Australia’s good for a wee bit of interaction but, surprisingly, I’ve found an untapped pool of information and dialogue in the US. There’s a site that analyses the current crisis from various Marxist perspectives, brings in “Classical” analysis and Keynsian analysis. There are sites with entire webcasts of lecture series, and when one makes contact with US Marxists
    they’re pretty open minded and fairly creative.

    I’ve been pondering why this situation, vis a vis, the US versus English speaking Europe exists. I think your article goes some way to explaining this situation. The Americans just don’t have any pre-packaged baggage to tote about. They have to be realistic, for want of a better word. They tend to take the view that Socialism and Marx’s writing are a starting point for exploration. I’m sure there are some rotters in the US. However, I’m heartily tired of the dogmatic and doctrinal approach of the “one an true path” philosophy so often adhered to in this part of the world.

    Surely, the Hegelian/Marxist notion that we see the world differently for a variety of reasons requires greater dialogue and the need to create common grounds for cooperation if we truly want to transform society. Isn’t dialogue and the dialectical technique supposed to be the very basis upon which Socialism rests? We need to experiment more and argue less.

    Now, where’s my tuppence?

  4. skidmarx said,

    November 9, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I tend to think that the level of invective has not risen with the internet, it is just that it brings those with sharply diverging views together much more frequently, and whereas before they would have found fewer occasions to debate rather than shout at each other, the change of medium itself doesn’t encourage a shift to the former.
    And as I said on the comments thread referred to above, I would rather see someone abusive to the recently dead than be a hypocrite. As I feel that some of those talking about keyboard rage and headbangers might just as easily be talking about themselves.

    • Georgier said,

      November 10, 2009 at 2:28 pm

      Disagree
      It is far easier to fire off an abusive e-mail than to write a letter. The technology has altered the way we engage in debate but it has not changed the fundamentals of the debate itself. The way disagreements are framed reflects the political tradition of the writer so in that sense the nature of differences has not changed, But the speed and immediacy of e-mails means that not only the immediate participants but a far wider audience can intervene.

      In the ‘good old days’ selling SW to WRP members meant a ‘conversation’ (read shouting match) which was all but meaningless to anyone not steeped in the post war divisions of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The audience was smaller and far less engaged. It is now quite different as some of the very unpleasant posts on other sites demonstrates.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm

        Sorry if I’m being dim, but I don’t see what the disagreement is here. My point was that interaction between different groups used to consist largely of shouting matches, and that the internet may bring them together more often, but the medium doesn’t determine the message. Which seems to be what you’re saying.

  5. Dave Semple said,

    November 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I suspect, tgmac, that there are a few answers to your points, not the least of which is that you may have been unlucky in your choice of websites in the UK or Ireland. There are plenty, like Splinty – and he has more in his blogrolls – who are not quite so narrow minded.

    I try not to be, but often I do come across as hostile, or contemptuous. Mostly I reserve that for two groups of people – the odd nationalist or BNP member who arrives on my blog, or the paid-up London-centric liberals whose lives are based around meetings with other London-centric liberals in similar charity/NGO jobs. Not very hospitable I know, but there it is.

    What I’m grateful to Splinty for is in pointing out how the tendency to be hostile, or single-minded, extends far beyond the extreme Left. Anyone who has ever read the most popular blogs in the blogosphere – which tend to be Right-wing – will know their odd combination of personal vitriol and politics.

  6. ejh said,

    November 9, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I would rather see someone abusive to the recently dead than be a hypocrite

    They could just shut up though, couldn’t they? De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is a good rule for good reasons.

  7. ejh said,

    November 9, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    By the way I’d like to write a lot about how much I agree with this, but I’m basically on snatch-a-few-minutes time most of this week. Hopefully it’ll still be going – courteously – when I’m back….

  8. Andy Newman said,

    November 9, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    Splinty, this is an all round xcellent piece, but then i am a push over if someone quotes me approvingly.

  9. skidmarx said,

    November 9, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    They could just shut up though, couldn’t they?
    Possibly not, logorrhea seems to be endemic in many places.

    De mortuis nihil nisi bonum is a good rule for good reasons.
    With my lack of latin I’m going to have to guess this translates as “Don’t speak ill of the dead.” I think I’d like to see those reasons laid out.

    When Robert Maxwell died, I remember encountering happy strikers from his Pergamon print works and an Oxford United fanzine editor then being sued by the one then bob,bob,bobbing along,while I think it was Anne Robinson in The Mirror produced a glowing tribute for him, only to turn around when the pensions robbery emerged to say she never liked the man. That exerience tended to make me think that the rule is like those never to disparage the armed forces or the church, designed to keep discussion within the bounds considered acceptable by polite society. It never seems to apply to those outwith polite society in the same way (I don’t expect a period of silence should news come through of Osama Bin Laden’s death), and so however much respect I had for Chris Harman, I don’t support such selective rules.

    One might say that the family should be given a period of peace, but making bitchy comments on the internet is not the same as picketing the funeral:
    http://www.godhatesfags.com/

    Call me a liberal if you want,but I’d rather there were fewer rules telling people how they can and cannot behave rather than more.

    • ejh said,

      November 9, 2009 at 5:04 pm

      think I’d like to see those reasons laid out.

      Well, the reason is that there’s a time and a place. When somebody’s just died you’re talking about a period where there’s shock and grief and in normal circumstances it’s just not appropriate. Making bitchy comments on the internet isn’t really necessary: it’s nasty and self-indulgent and it really doesn’t hurt to give it a miss for a few days.

      I think half the point is that it doesn’t apply to the powerful. It’s traditional to celebrate at the death of a tyrant and that, too, is a good rule. It’s appropriate where people have done great evil and it’s appropriate where people have tried as hard they can to suppress all criticism while they were alive (and for that matter, where they have got away with it because of that). Such would be the case as regards the late Robert Maxwell, for instance, though for the sake of historical accuracy I should point out the fanzine editor was never actually sued.

      None of these apply to Chris Harman, even though plenty of people disliked him and perhaps had good reason to. You really have to have exceptional circumstances before you start shouting “hurrah” when somebody’s dead – or at least, you have to if you want discussion to proceed in a civilised fashion. That’s the rub. You can do what you want – nobody’s laying down any rules. But what sort of discussion do you want?

      • WorldbyStorm said,

        November 9, 2009 at 9:47 pm

        Very true ejh. And splintered too.

        It comes down to communication. I have no axe to grind one way or another about him, but how does it progress anything in the days after his death to be attack him? It’s not exactly a persuasive way forward, not least because at such times the tendency to take criticism by those close, or not even that close but supportive of him, is understandably minimal. Sure, in the future no doubt there’ll be time to assess his good, bad and indifferent points. But today? This week? To what point?

      • skidmarx said,

        November 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

        I’m not saying that having a go at the recently departed is a good idea, just that those AWLful people have said far more offensive things about the living. I wouldn’t prescribe it or proscribe it.And I’d like a civilised discussion.

        WbS, again I had a great respect for him. But its not surprising that anyone would talk about someone when they are current news, thus on a thread reporting their death.

  10. Dirty Red Bandana said,

    November 9, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    The technology is not the key factor here. It does allow for pretty instant regurgitation and anonymous assault on others without social consequence which undoubtedly frees some from their sense of constraint in much the same way that pornography drives the technical development of the internet.

    If you read Draper’s book on the development of US Communism, there is a common issue that Splintered describes in a different context. The role of the revolutionary purists, at the time located in the Foreign Language Federations, was steeped in imitation of the perceived notion of the Bolshevik method and the cult of ‘illegal party’ political methods. Maintaining purity and splitting were considered axiomatic to revolutionary zeal and dedication. Equally, the notion of mass influence was considered ‘liquidationist’ so those that spoke in a manner designed to gather new supporters were frowned upon. The maxim was if we maintain the clarity and purity of our politics, the masses will come to us at the right moment. Needless to say, there was a catastrophic decline in Communist membership (lots of tactical issues involved but they weer underpinned by this position).

    It is more a sign of political immaturity and lack of a grasp of the key dynamics of creating a mass support that are the problems. Of course, we could proceed to push these problems in various objective and ideological trends within British society but I would not wish to absolve culpability. For me, the issue that turns my stomach (of which I used to be quite a nasty proponent) is the idea of ‘selection of cadre’ that drives good people away from the movement essentially because they are not pure enough. The religious analogue is obvious.

  11. skidmarx said,

    November 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    That Norm goes off regularly to write about cricket
    Shows that he is a crazed lunatic. Didn’t CLR James end up a couple of feet short of a full-length delivery?

    Then factor in a culture where much of the left cadre is trained up in what can only be described as hate speech.
    Unless you have some viable statistics, perhaps a weaker argument should be made with “much replaced by “some”.Maybe some people in groups are intolerant, but the common belief of those out side them that they themselves are objective and free from prejudice is as often misguided as the belief that it is being in a group that produces badthink.

    I’m sure there are plenty of Burma solidarity campaigners whose first instinct would be to denounce Aung San Suu Kyi if they thought she was going to compromise.
    I think there has been quite a bit of compromise.

    the NSS, which is supposed to be about separating church and state, makes detailed pronunciamentos on all sorts of issues like abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia, usually on the tenuous basis that, since lots of religious people are against these things then secularists must support them.
    Or on the basis that these are basic human rights or medical advances to which the only significant oposition comes from those you think that God is against them.

    a fucking death notice.
    Now don’t swear,that’s rude.

    • Doloras said,

      November 9, 2009 at 9:34 pm

      Maybe some people in groups are intolerant

      You’re the same commenter who said that “member of Respect” was the worst insult imaginable, right?

      • skidmarx said,

        November 10, 2009 at 10:14 am

        Hyperbole:
        1. Rhet. A figure of speech consisting in exaggerated or extravagant statement, used to express strong feeling or produce a strong impression, and not intended to be understood literally.
        http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50110302?query_type=word&queryword=hyperbole&first=1&max_to_show=10&sort_type=alpha&result_place=1&search_id=wCoy-lsPxyv-1262&hilite=50110302

        The fact that you make this comment makes me more convinced that you are a headbanger. A little surprising after a quick glance at your own website and seeing it full of magic.

        But if you would like more of the same, might I ask if after Andy Newman on internet etiquette we might get Eugene Terreblanche on racial sensitivity, the Two Johns (Knox and Calvin) on religious tolerance, and for dessert Hannibal Lecter on table manners (I apologise if I’ve misspelt Mr.Lecter’s surname, perhaps his family could get a payout from the Sun newspaper to assuage their grief), and for desert perhaps Stormin’ Normblog on the consequences of war in the Middle East.

      • November 10, 2009 at 7:03 pm

        You continually fail to get the point. Your “hyperbole” makes you look bad and discredits what you have to say, and ad hominem attacks on people who call you out on it doesn’t change that. And by “you” above I mean the blogwarriors of the entire British radical left.

      • skidmarx said,

        November 11, 2009 at 5:42 pm

        You continually fail to get the point.
        Maybe I do.
        Your “hyperbole” makes you look bad and discredits what you have to say,
        No , it shows I have a sense of humour and the discredit is on such as you who want to pick up on such remarks to avoid having a meaningful discussion.
        and ad hominem attacks on people who call you out on it doesn’t change that
        Let me get this clear: I’m making ad hominem attacks on those calling me out on my use of hyperbole? So presumably referring to yourself as “those who call me out? As far as I can see the only negative comment I’ve made here is to suggest that by by being picky about one throwaway exaggeration made in a jokey way to Phil you are showing more of a predilection for sectarian headbanging than sensible debate I am making a substantive point about your conduct, not an irrelevant one about your personal behaviour.
        In fact if you trawled through threads on Andy Newman’s site, you would find no end of ad hominem attacks by him and his minions on anyone sympathetic to the SWP, including most egregiously against Michael Rosen.These included vulgar abuse , printing people’s names, mentioning people’s relatives and questioning their individual behaviour rather than answering their points.I may have responde a little in kind, but there is no comparison to the torrent unleashed by what are laughably called members of Respect.

  12. Neil said,

    November 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    “And it confirms the prejudices of those (particularly women) who read the comments boxes of the left blogs and come away with the overwhelming impression that the left is just a Sargasso Sea of mentalism.”

    I’ve always thought one of the biggest problems in the Left blogsphere is the bullying tone often taken towards female contributors. Of course that’s common to the whole of the internet (some of the trolling that goes on in feminist blogs is simply shocking) but blokes on the left should really know better.

  13. Liam said,

    November 9, 2009 at 7:15 pm

    Part of the responsibility lies with those who facilitate the discussion. There is nothing like a ding dong with some rude arsehole without social skills to drive up the viewing figures, at the expense of the quality of discussion.

    The writer of The Wild Rover put good advice into the words of the landlady: “such a custom as yours I could have any day” before telling Rover to clear off. A similar rule strictly applied would either teach a few idiots some manners or at least clean up the lefty blogosphere.

    • ejh said,

      November 10, 2009 at 2:23 pm

      Part of the responsibility lies with those who facilitate the discussion.

      ….my eyeballs are protruding….

  14. bensix said,

    November 9, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Take a look at the comments box here, below a fucking death notice. The double act of Father Jack and Morality Blog is especially obnoxious, but the same thing can be found elsewhere in milder form.

    This merely demonstrates that ultraleftists, modern-day SWPers and their politico allies, despite their University education, grasp the wrong ends of sticks. In conclusion: Taliban.

    On a hypocritical note, you’re right about “anger and self-righteousness“. I think – Jeez, I know – though, that it springs from a very hollow place: the ability of the angry party to defend their chosen argument. A nice cuppa’s unlikely to help them, then – what’s needed is a shut-down, and a think.

  15. tgmac said,

    November 10, 2009 at 4:39 am

    David Semple, thanks for the reply. I checked out your website and read a couple of articles on how you envision being able to work within the Labour Party to advance a leftist agenda. It’s seems to be a big project. I suppose that’s why its called the struggle. The best of luck.

    I wasn’t making the Americans out to be super Socialists. But I’ve been thinking about what attracts me to their way of approaching Socialism. It’s their positive attitude. They think they’re the good guys.

    When watching some of their vidoes, they crack jokes about the contradictions and asburdities in Capitalism. Yeah, they know their Marx and their history but they seem to be genuinely more interested in helping people, full stop. Their only enemy, as far as I can see, is the current system

    Just this weekend I listened to some excerpts from a so-called meeting on uniting the left in Ireland. One speaker, who genuinely seemed to accept the notion, could only mention a couple of parties by making a snide joke about them. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been taken seriously by the rest of the attendees. This is the difference. The US Socialists see the foe in Capitalists. More often than not, European Socialist see other leftists as the enemy. There’s always too much suspicion. Too much bickering. Too much dogma.

    This seems to be changing, but changing far too slowly imo. The current crisis in Capitalism is revealing just how resilient this system is. (It does help to have Central Banks that print money for the rich fellas, mind you.)

    Also, the left, imho, is very negative in its orientation. It’s anti this, stop that, opposed to other thing. Why all the neg vibes? Socialism is the most positive political-economic philosophy I’ve come accross. Time to accentuate the positive? Time to implement a few grass root policies that prove the positive? Maybe work beyond govt dictats in the meantime?

    The postal strike message doesn’t just have to be about postal issues – disliking bully boy management or the safety of wages. The message can be more appealing and more direct. It’s about the dignity of working people. It’s about the message that when they screw the postal workers, they will screw every worker. (I’m sure someone else could state this far better. But there is a positive message in Socialism that can strike a cord across superficial boundaries of difference between workers.)

    Anyhow, my tuppence. Good luck on your efforts within Labour.

  16. November 10, 2009 at 8:03 am

    # 18 “the left, imho, is very negative in its orientation. It’s anti this, stop that, opposed to other thing. Why all the neg vibes?”

    That’s a good point there. I remember the old Socialist Worker promo line – “full of protests and picket lines”. But I don’t find either of those things enjoyable or fun. Necessary, but they’re not the foundation of the new and better world I want to get into. I think one further indication of the sectarian mentality is that they actually enjoy all the negative protest stuff, and recoil from the idea of putting forward a positive radical programme.

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    November 10, 2009 at 8:12 am

    I remember the old “Stuff, Wreck, Kill, Smash” poster put out by SWSS. IIRC it went Stuff the grant cuts, Wreck the pay freeze, Kill the Criminal Justice Bill, Smash the BNP. Necessary things maybe, but God forbid we should actually be in favour of something.

    • skidmarx said,

      November 10, 2009 at 10:24 am

      Did you prefer Steve Bell’s version:
      ALL OUT TOMORROW FOR EVER?

  18. sonofstan said,

    November 10, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Very good point on the Honeyball/ Cruddas spat and the position of Catholics within Labour in Britain. i was trying to teach a class on Rawls yesterday – not, by any means, a favourite of mine – and in particular on his notion of an ‘overlapping consensus’ and it occurs to me that, as Rawls considers such a thing necessary n a ‘liberal, plural democracy’ so must it be in a mass ‘left(ish) of centre’ party such as labour or the Democrats. Catholics (or Muslims ,or Dawkins-esque Atheists) are never going to find what Rawls calls their ‘comprehensive’ moral viewpoint reflected in a political party (or in society as a whole) but, rather than simply look for a set of common denominators, or strike a balance of power between opposing forces, you need to build a positive framework that all (or most) can support from within their comprehensive frameworks – even if for different reasons. So, Muslim or catholics in Britain will recognise that, as permanent minorities, no society will ever enshrine their moral views, but that a tolerant society that strives towards fairness and equality of opportunity is the one in which they are likely to thrive, rather than one in which a majority view is oppressively insisted on. The majority, on the other hand, which in England at any rate, is probably the non-religious, will understand that a society that suspects every Muslim (or, as in the 70s, every irish catholic) of being an enemy will eventually foster just that instability, and so will want to work towards creating a society in which everyone feels they have a stake and that can command some kind of positive identification and not simply passive obedience.

    even more, a society in which a majority can be put together of people who agree with each other on everything may actually be scarier than one on which people can agree on most things concerned with the organisation and preservation of that society, without necessarily sharing a common ‘comprehensive’ framework.

    I’ve made the point before, elsewhere, that Labour in ireland needs to look at its overidentification as the ‘liberal’ party – if members of Opus Dei can sit in Labour cabinet in Britain, why does that seem so impossible in an Irish context?

  19. ejh said,

    November 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    considering the subject, the discussion was good-tempered; for those present being used to public meetings and after-lecture debates, if they did not listen to each others’ opinions (which could hardly be expected of them), at all events did not always attempt to speak all together, as is the custom of people in ordinary polite society when conversing on a subject which interests them. For the rest, there were six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented, four of which had strong but divergent Anarchist opinions. One of the sections, says our friend, a man whom he knows very well indeed, sat almost silent at the beginning of the discussion, but at last got drawn into it and finished by roaring out very loud, and damning all the rest for fools; after which befell a period of noise

  20. moofaeTAE said,

    November 11, 2009 at 10:42 am

    interesting post and some good comments all around, esp #15

    I’m glad others really don’t care for the over the top aggro you see in many left sects

    I’ve always thought of America’s pragmatic, empirical, un-theoretical approach to politics (as well as nearly anything) to be a weakness, but that just might explain why they’re not nearly as dogmatic. I know of comrades in the Socialist Party and World Workers Party who will work together, despite having fairly different political lines

  21. Tim said,

    November 13, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Bless you.

  22. Gregor said,

    November 13, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Interesting post I am in large agreement with especially re Amnesty.

    As a Christian myself, I do find that there is a lot of silly bigotry in the left. For example there is the belief that anyone who thinks that an unborn child is a human being must be a knuckle dragging misogynistic ogre who wants underage girls who’ve been raped by blood relatives to die in childbirth. On a personal note when I’ve politely debated this with friends, they have sometimes come around to my way of seeing things and usually concede that their position is no more rational or humane than mine, but on the internet that never happens.

    However, I think the problem isn’t merely nastiness but also the self-righteous narcissistic ‘look at me’ attitude that pervades left-wing causes in my 20-something contemporaries. Maybe it is a concession the left has to make to ‘the generation that refuses to grow up’, but it is painful.


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