If there is anything like a progressive alliance in May, or at the next General Election, it’s going to have to be based on something better than party politics. Last week, I wrote a piece calling for independent candidates for next year’s council elections (well, any elections that happen next year really) because it seems to me that whilst party politics becomes an increasingly opaque scrum for individual gain, the vast majority of us see vital, urgent issues being neglected.
Party politics has failed us
We need people to stand up for the NHS, for public services and transport, for action on the unbelievable pressures on our kids, to stand consistently against poverty and deprivation, and for the urgency of addressing the climate crisis. We don’t need whole swathes of people wasting their time canvassing and leafletting for a bunch of tribal party types who might stand up for us, but only when it fits in with their inter-party and intra-party wars.
Since I left the Labour party, I had been pondering whether I’d vote red or green, locally. We have a pretty solidly socialist bunch of Labour councillors at the moment and, although they’ve struggled with financial issues as local government funds drop away, and baulked at dealing with the more vitriolic identity politics issues that concern many, I suspect they are exponentially better for us than a Tory council would be.
Tory councils in less affluent areas have a worryingly consistent record for doing nothing but serving their own business interests, and we all know now that voting Lib Dem always comes out as voting Tory really, so it would have to be red or green.
Scandal! Drama! Defection!
Or so I was thinking when the latest denounce-and-defect scandal hit my town.
Three councillors have walked out of Labour in my borough during my time in the Labour Party. I think I had the most sympathy for the one that raged out at the start of the Corbyn era – although I utterly disagreed with him politically, the scene had changed dramatically and from his point of view unexpectedly. If all the other Corbyn deniers had done the same instead of staying in and rowing with their ‘comrades’, we’d probably have a Corbyn government in office now.
The other two defectors though, were elected into a situation they were well aware of, then raised hell and walked out. The first ‘suddenly’ discovered the Labour Party was ‘rife with anti-semitism’, and wrote a lengthy diatribe accusing just about everyone, including our town’s two most prominent Jewish socialists.
The most recent one did something almost identical but in relation to the ‘trans rights’ situation rather than alleged anti-semitism. (Personally, I see that as trans demands v women’s existing rights – it should be a respectful negotiation, not endless cries of ‘transphobia’ but anyway….) In both cases, they were referring to well-known situations, and not adding a jot of evidence to suggest anything new had actually happened.
The most recent even refers to ‘something’ (she didn’t say what) said on Facebook several years ago, along with a couple of other pieces of demonstrable nonsense so why the sudden outrage immediately after she was safely elected? Seems to me that has to be planned drama – sabotage tactics.
Identity v solidarity
Identity politics does famously work against class politics and as a result, against group loyalty so it’s not surprising as a human phenomenon, and councils survive worse but for me now, as a non-party person, where does it leave my voting intention? The first two defectors went independent but the most recent was immediately welcomed into the arms of Green Party – they are clearly laying the ground to use it against Labour in the May elections. She says their values suit her better and I could sympathise with that had she not ridden into office as a Labour councillor a mere few months ago, and immediately upon election, turned and accused the entire Labour group.
Bearing in mind that most people do have a pretty well-developed sense of fair play, I see comments around the issue on social media suggesting these events are not going to play well for red or green, and I also see that the fallout is going to take up a lot of hard pressed council workers’ time for a while yet.
Well I certainly won’t vote for the manipulators and operators I’ve seen in action lately, so here’s hoping for some strong, independent candidates in my town ready to devote their time to things that matter to us, as the best of our Labour councillors have been doing (often thanklessly) for a long old time. One thing I definitely won’t be doing is supporting people who rode in on the back of other party activists’ efforts, nor for a party that tries to worsen, and take advantage of, the resulting troubles.
There are millions of people in this country who, like me, have used the phrase ‘politically homeless’. They have been thrown out of, or lost faith in, their ‘natural’ choice of party. There are also increasing numbers of people who, like me, have realised there’s more to politics than the competition between red, blue and any other party colours that choose to challenge the tyranny of red and blue. We know the ‘minority parties’ won’t get far, though, and many of us are having trouble believing we can magically agree on yet another new party, and get them into a realistic position before the next election.
There’s a better way
There are millions of people, if you put them together, who have thrown their efforts into the anti-austerity movement, perhaps via the People’s Assemblies, or through their unions. Others have chosen one of the big issues our survival depends on, and started working with XR, or Stop the War, or the women’s movement.
It’s become obvious to most that the main political ‘opposition’ known to the establishment is Keir Starmer’s Labour, despite the fact that Labour’s willingness to defend basics is minimal. By basics, I mean things most of us agree that we need – like the NHS, water, power and transport services, housing and workers’ rights. Many people also value women’s rights, anti-racism and of course the environment, and that means millions won’t sit easy with a party that neglects or worsens those issues.
You are being taken for a ride
Starmer’s Labour is cheerfully dancing to the right, confident that they don’t have to be much different to Johnson’s Tories now. They think a few familiar names from the last century, a few professional looking politicians who handle themselves better than Johnson, is all they need. The Greens are still too absorbed in arguing with each other over whether women exist to come anywhere near XR in environment-defence campaigns let alone on any other issue that matters to real people. The Lib Dems are still as pointless as they have been ever since Nick Clegg demonstrated their ‘beta Tories’ stance. There are other options in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, if you’re Welsh, Labour may seem less of a lost cause to you but for English voters, no other party is going to get a nose into Westminster politics unless we force our politicians into a complete overhaul of the voting system, and indeed, many have joined vote-reform pressure groups.
Great – we need that. Join a vote-reform pressure group, but that isn’t very exciting, and doesn’t feel like the whole of an answer, does it?
Get mad AND get even
The politicians you shout at on the telly are all completely confident that you’ll choose red or blue or give up and do nothing. It’s time to prove them wrong. In the next election, there will be a lot of people who will need to be persuaded to vote at all. This is the situation where inspiring independent candidates have a really good chance and, if those independents want to win, now is the time to be planning and organising. But they need to have something most maverick independents don’t have. They need an organisation, and some informed supporters.
If you’re a member of a campaigning group of any kind, on any issue, national or local, that has natural justice on its side, get talking now about whether you have someone who’s real candidate material – someone your group would rally round with enough enthusiasm to inspire others. You should be preparing now, to offer your own Refugee Support candidate, or Housing is a Human Right candidate, or Anti-Austerity candidate, or No Shit candidate (the latter has become a popular slogan in my town, since our water company was taken over by a shameless, profiteering polluter).
Take back control
In the last two general elections, independent candidates were often unpopular because the main parties had a lot of passionate support. In one of those elections in my town, an independent candidate won a mere 400 votes but they were votes that could have toppled an unpopular MP. Although that maverick candidate raised some important issues and gave the unpopular MP some nasty moments in the hustings, he was seriously considering leaving town after voting day, for his own safety. The situation has changed now. In most constituencies, no-one would weep for the loss of main party offerings.
Consider both council and national elections. Don’t let the reds and the blues choke our politics. If every council had a range of experienced, specialist independents, if every hustings at the next GE had a range of candidates speaking knowledgeably on the real issues, seasoned activists from those pressure groups we all support, like We Own It, Defend the NHS and the rest – if that happened, the major parties would have to pull their socks up, start doing real politics, or lose seats big time.
That will make them listen to you. Think about your groups and campaigns, talk the issue through with fellow activists, and get organised now. It’s a big job, but it’s far, far more satisfying than sitting around feeling bullied by lousy politicians. Find a well known campaigner on an important local issue to put up for council, and an effective activist on a big national issue to put up for the next General Election. At the very least, your candidates will raise the level of the debate and make the big party politicians work but it’s perfectly possible that if enough groups did this, we could make lousy politicians a backward-looking minority on your council and in Westminster.
Doesn’t that idea just bring joy to your heart? Who are you going to talk to? Which of your local groups could do this? Let’s get to it, now.
This week on the BBC, we saw a stand off by the two sides of the deepest and most harmful split I have ever seen in left politics, one that I am still waiting for many on the left to even acknowledge.
I believe that the resurgence of the establishment wing of the Labour Party re-establishes their inability to see what most people see – that we are once again faced with a Labour Party that can’t communicate with ordinary people. I also believe that the lines in the sand are not where they appear to be. All those lefty unpaid interns and academics who were brought into the limelight by Corbyn and MacDonnell a few years ago really do not count as ordinary. They were popular because they brought in ‘the new economics’ that we needed, to challenge the corporate stranglehold on our economy, but they were not ‘ordinary’ people so no, this dreadful split is not about left and right, but it IS about class.
The trendy left who had such a good time during the Corbyn movement era are every bit as off-key on this issue as the ‘centrists’ who are now in charge. It shows up painfully in the interview with Rosie Duffield and Ellie Mae O’Hagan, which many lefty commentators have automatically responded to by rushing to defend O’Hagan’s side of the debate.
Ellie Mae O’Hagan is a member of ‘CLASS’ but, as the average working class person does not get to expound their views on the telly, I think wherever she started from, she now belongs with the ‘trendy left’ rather than the working class. This would explain why she completely misses anything that could be understood by a class analysis of the point in question.
Rosie Duffield is also a maverick here. The perfect example of the misfit who by their very existence flags up hidden problems, Duffield rode to victory and became an MP (well-paid middle class professional by definition) on the wave of the Corbyn movement. When she says that before that, she was ‘just normal’ it is far more true than it is when most MPs say that. She can remember having an ordinary job that didn’t easily cover ordinary needs. I was among many who were underwhelmed by her in 2017 because she did not acknowledge the movement that carried her to victory, so one would expect to think of her as on the ‘establiishment’ side of the debate. It feels odd to be fighting her corner, but here’s the thing:
It all hinges on whether you’re willing to pretend you don’t know what the vast majority of people mean when they say ‘woman’, and if you follow the currently fashionable mantra that trans women are women (TWAW), or whether you are one of those who think sex matters, and real women – vulnerable, ordinary women, can suffer terribly if you sit in a well-protected, middle-class professional space, and pretend it doesn’t matter, that it’s all a case of applying good drawing room manners and being ‘nice’.
Duffield can see what her constituents experience, and therefore does not think that TWAW is sufficiently captivating as a progressive idea that she can forget what ordinary, unprivileged women go through when women’s spaces and services are inadequate.
Here’s the interview, with its groovy, trendy header quote and my comment and transcript below:
Let’s look at (my attempt to produce) a transcript, with some interpretations added, then I’ll say a bit more about why I think Duffield is the way she is.
The unasked and the unanswered
It’s not unusual to listen to TV interviews and hear yourself squeaking in frustration because the interviewees are not answering the questions asked but this is a particularly strange case because there is such a hammered-on script for the TWAW stance that I found I could hear the unasked questions O’Hagan was actually answering, so I am going to reproduce that conversation, and try to shine some light. At the end of this commentated transcript, I will say a bit about the situation we are in, and why mavericks like Duffield are appearing.
The video cuts in slightly oddly, but I think we can imagine how it starts. Interviewer: “… views that are expressed by Rosie that are held by many in society and yet they seem to be unacceptable to express, certainly in some forums – why?”
Ellie Mae O’Hagan: “Well the first thing to say is that the majority of women actually do support transgender rights and they do say that a trans woman is a woman and so actually it may be held by some in society but it’s not the majority view of women I think that’s the first thing to say.”
My response: The question O’Hagan actually answered was ‘do you think we should support people’s right to live and express themselves as they choose?’ O’Hagan is being extremely rude to Dufflield by assuming that Duffield’s opinion is that they should not. I suspect O’Hagan knows perfectly well that most of us, including Duffield, accept trans women as women socially, but she is stretching this to assume most of us accept them as women legally, which is what self-ID, and gender-identity theory, require, and what the ‘trans rights’ campaign is actually asking for. Duffield has not rejected trans women socially. I can’t believe that O’Hagan doesn’t know that, so why is she answering a different, unasked question? I suspect because neither published polls nor experience in the real world support the idea that a majority accept trans women as women legally. People like O’Hagan prefer to fudge the issue, and just make the social argument (which really is a ‘no brainer’ in most cases, and is covered by ‘be nice’).
The interviewer realises this, and tries to sort it out by asking: “But what about the definition of woman as by your biological sex rather than as by your preferred gender identity?”
O’Hagan answers: “You know I actually don’t know why some people are women and some people are men. No-one on this panel does and anyone who claims to know the answer to that question is a liar. All I care about is the principle of live and let live, and showing one another respect, and if a person says ‘yes I was born a man but I am a woman and this is how I live my life’, I want to respect that person as who they are because I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong and they are certainly not bothering me in any way so I think the ultimate important principle here that we should all share who want a free and accepting society is ‘live and let live’.”
My response: Although it was not asked, the question O’Hagan actually answered is ‘do you think it is dangerous to pretend we don’t know the physical difference between men and women?’ This is the key point because O’Hagan’s answer is that it is not dangerous to her. She is not a sportswoman, or a young girl in a badly managed, mixed school. She’s not likely to end up in prison, or a hostel, or insecure housing in a dodgy area, and her answer therefore is ‘I don’t care about women in those situations.’ That’s why I call her TWAW stance a luxury belief.
She has already negated her claim that she believes in ‘live and let live’ by dumping the fears of vulnerable women, in effect saying ‘live fashionably and let them take the hit’ and she has negated her claim to value ‘showing one another respect’ by telling Duffield to her face, and viewers by default, that they are liars.
Duffield then explains who the women are who are at risk: “if you are a woman who has been abused all of your life and ended up in prison you may not feel quite that liberal towards someone in a male body …. It’s usually working class women who haven’t necessarily had the best start in life or the best experience that are really worried about this, and are the ones that are having to deal with it, rather than politicians.”
O’Hagan retains her claim that “the majority of woman actually agree with me on this issue” She hasn’t answered the point at all, so I suppose we must take that as a re-iteration of ‘I don’t care about the women who are vulnerable.’ But the interviewer does stop her and press for a proper response, and Duffield manages to get in an important question – is she “talking about self-ID particularly?”
O’Hagan answers: “No, I’m talking about the broad, um, the broad principles of supporting people to change gender which they’re legally allowed to do.”
My response: so she does know she’s not really answering the issue Duffield has presented. She then busily talks over Duffield’s “so do I”, and pushes on before we get a chance to think about the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, which is the smokescreen she is using. She is now answering an imaginary question along the lines of ‘why is Duffield so old fashioned, when we are so progressive?’
Then she goes on to answer a second imaginary question … “So let me finish my point. Um, I think you know, we’ve seen other issues like um, abortion for example where, er people who oppose often use the most extreme er cases to argue against in principle against what are positions we could all agree with which is people should be respected for who they are, and actually when we’re saying that a small group of people should not be allowed to live as they are because other people might be upset about it well that is the very essence of discrimination and I don’t think that most of your viewers watching this would support that.”
My response: So O’Hagan has now re-imagined Duffield’s position completely and appeals directly to the viewers not to support people ‘being upset about’ an ‘extreme example’ – that is, ‘please forget about the very real and present danger to a vulnerable woman of being confined with a male sex offender’.
Can you imagine the horror of that situation? Because it is happening now, in our prisons. In the face of that, why should we do as she says? Because in her view, recognising a male as a male makes you a liar, even if he is a violent, in tact, male. In this situation, says O’Hagan, standing by your legal right to recognise sex as reality is ‘the essence of discrimination’.
She has now turned the law, and our lived experience, completely on their heads. If I was that interviewer, I would now ask O’Hagan if her trans friends would really thank her for persistently confusing them with self-IDed male sex offenders.
Duffield is asked if she agrees. She pulls the conversation back to the real point by saying: “I fundamentally disagree that we should impose male-bodied people on single sex spaces and if that’s called discrimination I think that ‘s really unfortunate. I think we need a conversation about…”
O’Hagan interrupts: “I’m really glad you said that because I think you’ve hit on exactly what the problem is there. So instead of saying, first of all there are transgender men which don’t seem to be part of this conversation, but what you’ve said there is ‘male bodied people’ and I want the viewers at home to really think about why it might be upsetting for a transgender woman who has suffered a lot – I have a few friends who are transgender women, who have had periods of their lives where they have not been able to leave the house because they are abused in the street and where the process of changing gender has been quite distressing and difficult and to go through all of that and to have somebody in public life who is a representative of the public and has a big public platform and a lot of responsibility to call them male bodied people, I think what is being communicated there is ‘I don’t accept and respect you for who you are, I am not interested in your journey’.”
My response: This is a baffling response by O’Hagan, but one I have seen many times. Duffield is talking about male-bodied people – that is, people whose only concession to ‘transition’ has been to say ‘I am a woman’. That is self-ID, and it is what is happening in prisons, and it is why Duffield and others are objecting. These self-ID males arrive in prison with all their bits, and a history of sexual violence, and cause dread, fear and danger. It seems to me very obvious that they are the people Duffield is talking about.
But O’Hagan’s answer doesn’t address this. In effect, she says: I have friends who have transitioned, who have taken every step available to them to leave the estate of men – they’ve had surgery, they’ve taken hormones, they have no history of sexual offending, and they will be very upset when I tell them you have called them male-bodied people.’
But Duffield did not say that. It is trendy lefties like O’Hagan here who are creating the fear and hatred her friends felt in the street, by pretending they have so many ‘anti-trans’ enemies. Thankfully, the interviewer interrupts at that point and says “Rosie, is that what you mean? And does Rosie have rights that she is also trying to protect here?”
Duffield replies: “51% of the population are physically female and have the right to at least debate or talk about whether people in a male body are allowed in single sex spaces without any debate or discussion.”
I say well done Duffield. If you cut through all the crap that went before, you have the key issue there in her final statement. Women currently have legal, sex-based rights that are being infringed by people who try to claim that sex does not exist, or is not evidencable. Women who have harder lives, who live in the real world, understand the dangers. Those women could answer O’Hagan’s point about why trans men are not mentioned in the context of prisons. They are not mentioned because trans men (who are female) are not queuing up to be admitted to male prisons, because they simply and obviously would not be safe there.
Why can’t MPs and celebrities see why so many women are rebelling over ‘TWAW’?
I wrote about Duffield once before, along with J K Rowling. Do you know what those two have in common? Something that comes before the somewhat overplayed rags-to-riches stories? If you don’t, here’s the story. They both started out in a sufficiently ordinary place that they can remember being truly vulnerable.
And here’s another clue. Afshan Arad is pretty much the only member of the cast of the Harry Potter movie who chose to stick up for J K Rowling, and the reason would appear to be that Arad understands all too well the fear and the danger women encounter, when there is no getting away from a violent male.
I once had an apparently useful conversation with John MacDonnell about this. He seemed genuinely concerned but men of the left, like the privileged, protected women who reach political circles, are not in the firing line on this, and can easily disregard the fear and the danger. I’m sorry to say that he’s lost it. On seeing this interview, he immediately took to twitter to join the charge of the blind, encouraging women to address this real, legal threat to their safety by ‘being nice’.
Women who are actually using their brains responded thusly…
That era when we thought ‘the many’ would take over party politics has passed. Very few MPs, left right or centre, are going to get this. They all live in protected space. The left has deserted working class and other vulnerable women. It’s up to the rest of us – ordinary women with no special privileges, those of us who have experienced, or have been near enough to imagine, the fear and the dread of ending up in a prison or hostel, facing a violent male. We must drop party factional politics and fight this on behalf of those women who are facing that fear and dread right now.
The government are robbing us blind, and you know it. While every single one of us watches our climate slipping to the no-return stage of climate crisis, we are each of us spending a large proportion of our energy fighting against the slipping away of our personal income and opportunities as bills go up. the ways organisations have of giving us the tasks and someone else the money proliferate, and forever overtake our attempts to hang onto a livable income. We can’t win without drastic change, you know this – however near or far from the edge you personally are. You also know that many people fall over that edge into destitution every day.
Hundreds of thousands of us tried to fight back by joining the Labour Party a few years back. Before that, people joined the Green Party, or trade unions or whatever, looking for a way to solve these attacks on everyone and everything.
The Labour Party betrayed us – most people realise that now. Many joined other organisations, looking for an alternative solidarity group to fight back with. I was one of hundreds of thousands who saw the push-back from the my-money-my-power element in the Labour Party establishment, and understood the nature of the beast. I’ve personally seen dozens of my comrades who are socialist Jews and/or working-class black activists kicked out of the party, or leave in disgust over the treatment of their friends. I saw the party’s energy and resources draining as they left. At least most lefties understood that, and helped with the fightback, but their attack had another weapon that many didn’t understand, that many were complicit with.
I saw thousands – no, I’m not exaggerating, I’m a member of several numerous groups – I saw THOUSANDS of women bullied, frustrated and hounded out of the party, its energy and resources draining as they left, because women have an issue with the government over the way it is seeking to CHANGE THE LEGAL STATUS OF WOMEN by legalising ‘self-ID’ or ‘gender identity’ and prioritising those over laws about sex.
I have been doubly, triply frustrated by so many apparently intelligent people responding to the women’s campaign to protect our sex-based rights by saying ‘why are you obsessed with the trans issue’? For us, it is not a ‘trans issue’. It’s been a huge campaign to get the government to acknowledge that messing with the sex exemption in the Equalities Act, or making new laws that trump the sex exemption, matters to women.
Many politicians do see that now, but it’s taken vast amounts of energy by vast numbers of women to break through the smoke and mirrors of ‘stop going on about the trans issue’. That’s vast numbers of women slogging away on a campaign that makes them tired, anxious, and depletes their earning opportunities. In many sectors, it makes them ‘unemployable’, because they have been branded ‘transphobes’, and their organisations branded ‘anti-trans hate groups’ – but they did it, those brave, activist women, because you CANNOT run a political campaign in polite silence, and no politically literate women, once she’s seen the seriousness of the legal issue, is going to politely ignore it. It is, finally, in the news as a legal issue. Those women who spoke out have succeeded but in many cases at much cost to themselves (NOT just Kathleen Stock – that’s NOT a one-off story, it just happens to be the one that broke through).
All this while we watch our planet reel into irreversible change, and our incomes and our resources stolen away by bad government.
If you haven’t helped the women, if you haven’t stood up for them, take your share of the blame. If you are still asking women to please pipe down about ‘the trans issue’, take your share of the blame.
We need – all of us – the 99% – we need to be working together against the forces that are progressively impoverishing every single one of us. Think about this every day, as you watch YOUR income and opportunities go down, your bills go up, the climate clock ticking to zero, and the number of women who can no longer find the patience to work with you increasing.
Speak up for gender-critical women, as you should for all the groups bad government demonises, and then maybe you can start talking about ‘solidarity’ and ‘democracy’ and ‘socialism’ and ‘community’, and all the rest of those things we are going to need, if we are to save a world worth living in for our grandchildren.
I believe people are allowed to join in politics. I joined the Green Party when the BBC said Nigel Farage could be all over the telly all the time because his then party had more members than the Greens. So did around 60 000 other people – people want to have an effect in politics.
I joined the Labour Party along with hundreds of thousands of others because Ed Miliband let people join in, and then Jeremy Corbyn gave them hope of honest, humane government. The establishment responded by pulling every trick in the book to make sure nothing like the Corbyn years ever happens again.
Dear Labour Party,
The Labour Party is the most toxic, abusive, dishonest and disabling organisation I have ever had the misfortune of being a part of. You – and when I say ‘you’, I mean your administration and most of your MPs have lied, cheated and bullied your way through every situation I have experienced as a member. You fluffed the EU referendum debate by failing to believe people were capable of being given information and making a decision for themselves. Jeremy Corbyn tried to give us a proper debate. You called that ‘indecisive’. You made the ‘left, right or broad church’ debate about the party itself impossible to resolve. You made it impossible for socialist Jews to do their politics at all, and you have bluffed and blustered on the undeniable conflict between women’s rights and Stonewall’s demands for trans people, gaslighting and frustrating members, whatever their views, so utterly and for so long that many can no longer get along with each other at all. You have done serious harm to a large swathe of the population – and that’s without even getting into government.
This week, you expelled one of my constituency’s delegates, a politically experienced, honest, honourable socialist Jewish woman, slap in the middle of conference. Here she is at the 2017 conference, reacting to the scheming and manipulation our CLP faced that year…
…and here she is at this year’s conference.
Apparently, you have expelled Leah retrospectively, for having dealings in the past with an organisation you have just proscribed. Well, let’s see if *that* works both ways. I am resigning retrospectively. Please return all the subs I have paid since Kier Starmer and his team screwed the General Election with their Brexit means Remain manoeuvers, instead of allowing the people a clear choice.
Here is the General Secretary Starmer imposed on us, explaining why he abandoned the principles he claims he has to get rid of socialists, especially Jewish socialists ( Recording via Vox Political ).
Now, I know you think it doesn’t matter, you think we’ll all have to campaign and vote for you because we want to get rid of this lousy government. Well, you are wrong. Many of us have noted that, in effect, you are a part of this lousy government. There are other ways a population can express itself and get its way, and we will find them. You can’t break the hearts of millions of people and expect to get away with it. For a start, if you continue to be anything but a force for good in this country, there will be hundreds of thousands of members, ex-members and ex-supporters seeking to provoke by-elections against you at every opportunity.
Please examine your conscience – yes, even if you’re only a casual worker disinterestedly doing a stint in the Labour Party office, skim-reading this letter. Examine your conscience, ask yourself if your kids have any hope of a future. You could give things a good hard shake and give the Labour Party the dose of honesty it needs, and we could be comrades once more.
I have cancelled my direct debit and await the return of the subs you took whilst pretending to be our Labour Party.
A Red Green Non-Party-Political Person
A reminder to my friends, comrades and sisters everywhere: keep doing politics, keep networking. We are many – they are few.
List A: Things you can do without being a member of a political party
Set up and promote petitions
Go on demos
Organise political education and film nights
Write to your MP
Get up delegations to go and visit MPs for discussions
Write blogs, make videos and pod casts
Join an affiliated union and vote through policies they’ll support for you at party conference
Campaign for decent councillors and, come election time, parliamentary candidates
Go to hustings and question parliamentary candidates
Go to political meetings and lectures that interest you, *whoever* is organising them
Meet with the local branches of political parties, and tell them what you are doing and why
Talk to members of all parties without appearing to be ‘the enemy’
Get up campaign groups of your own from amongst your friends and colleagues, to campaign on topics that matter to you
Contact anyone – *anyone* who has an idea that interests you, and ask for a coffee and a chat
List B: Things you don’t have to do if you’re not a member of a political party
Sit through weekly or monthly meetings that go on for two hours or more even if no-one has anything constructive to say/do
Pay subs, only to receive endless appeals for cash anyway
Stand by policies you don’t really agree with
Try to support the party candidate, even if they are a parachuted-in disaster
Put up with abuse from partisan evangelists just because they are in the same party as you
Avoid being seen with, or being caught talking about, proscribed people and organisations, such as Ken Loach, Jeremy Corbyn, Julie Bindel, Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker, Chris Williamson, Julian Assange (yeah yeah, there are probably people there you don’t agree with but you know, if you’re not a party animal, you’re allowed to question/debate with/learn about *anyone you want to*.)
Give up on having any political influence when your party’s not in power
Spend whole days delivering leaflets that, as far as you can see, say nothing useful at all
But here’s the really good bit
You can do all the things on list A even if you *are* a member of a political party – it’s just that you don’t have to do list B, and are not *limited to* working with party members and/or within the limits of party policy if you understand that being kicked out isn’t the end of politics for you.
Don’t fret if you want to leave your political party, don’t fret if they’ve thrown you out or bullied you out, and don’t feel silenced if you’re still in, and they’ve told you what not to say. There is life – and politics enough to change our world – beyond the party meeting.
Solidarity to all the socialists, environmentalists, feminists and others who are worried about being ‘politically homeless’ – it’s a mirage! See you at conferences, on demos, in the pub, all over the place, doing politics. You are not politically homeless. The whole country is your home!
Please feel free to add more ideas in the comments.
Socialism A, socialism B, and why everyone who was paralysed by despair on 13th December 2019 should be back in action by now...
The Ministry of Truth
We’ve always been very keen on throwing the term ‘Orwellian’ at anything we consider less than honest but in recent years, the term seems to apply more and more often. Last week (April 2021) a story broke which qualifies 100% – a firm of UK lawyers get the job of doctoring textbooks to suit the Israeli market
And reading that, I remembered that during the compilation of the recent report on racism (that found there wasn’t any) there had been talk of providing ‘the real truth’ to schools. Just trying to imagine what such a scheme would look like under our current government made my toes curl.
The impossibility of agreeing ‘the truth’ with the average citizen you meet in the street was a constant burning problem for Labour activists during the 2017 and 2019 election campaigns, not to mention during the nightmare of the Brexit referendum. The enormity, the impossibility, of that task in the face of a government and a mainstream media drifting ever further from reality is beginning to be discussed by relatively mainstream reporters and academics now, two years after That Terrible Day…
But, having had two years to get over the reeling horror of what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, most socialist activists are probably beginning to see, as my comrades do, that we already knew we’d been beaten by 2019. We’d run the campaign in a state of denial, based on the fact that the media had spent the last two years telling us we’d lost when in fact we hadn’t, and so we completely failed to acknowledge reality when we really had lost.
So what happened to real socialism? Why could we not see the wood for the trees? There’s hardly anyone in the Labour Party who doesn’t claim to be a socialist: from the very best paid and most privileged members of the plap (as we took to calling the Parliamentary Labour Party after some of our more bruising experiences), right on down to the lowliest of activists out on the street between DWP maulings, ‘the grassroots’ helping out with Unite Community campaigns against Sports Direct and other exploiters — all insist that they are socialists. How can so many, so very different people, people absolutely at each other’s throats, think they’re socialists?
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of socialism – or at least, there’s socialism, and a very convincing faux socialism that often takes its place. I found a good, clear definition of the distinction in Snakes and Ladders by Selina Todd. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Great British Social Mobility Myth’. Todd makes extensive use of the personal accounts collected in endeavours such as the Mass Observation Project
She demonstrates a change, over the generations, in the publicly perceived aims of socialism. She looks at early socialist projects, pre-Second World War, which tended to be local subscription schemes, co-ops where communities banded together to solve problems and help each other, thus reducing their reliance on the ‘power people’, the oppressors. Then she looks at later ones which tended to be more individualistic efforts to lift ‘high achievers’ into the middle classes. She follows the developing clash of these two ideas via conflicts in the Workers’ Education Association, over whether their work should centre community education projects for everyone, or whether they should focus on creating scholarships for ‘achievers’.
The problem gradually comes into focus. Clearly, lifting individuals out of the oppressed, working classes into the middle classes isn’t really socialism – you can’t lift everyone into the middle class. If that is your aim, what does ‘the middle’ rest on? Who is going to scrub the floors and wipe the arses? Do we discuss this thorny issue, or do we close our eyes and trumpet ever louder the catch-phrases of socialism B….?
Tony Blair was one of the more notorious proponents of ‘meritocracy’, enthusiastically espousing ‘equality of opportunity’, and mixing meritocracy with the wide-ranging benefits which generally come with a Labour government in a very enticing agenda which, for one-and-a-half terms of office, successfully covered a creeping privatisation that left us with our hospitals deeply in debt, school grounds being sold off and a range of other troubling developments including the over-riding horror of the Iraq War. A loss of socialist vision that more than justified Margaret Thatcher’s statement that New Labour was her greatest achievement.
But Blair was a socialist – and initially a very popular one. What happened?
A good source of detail on how ‘meritocracy’ works is Miseducation, by Diane Reay, which surveys stats and experiences of UK education from the very start of mass education, and discovers an unchanging strategy of using the majority of children as a buffer (collateral damage is the term she uses), the contrast that allows those bright achievers to be ‘top of the pile’. There were only ever so many grammar school places back in the 11-plus days, and middle class parents were always good at making sure their children got them. The few working class people who clawed their way into grammar schools often felt lost and defeated when they got there, cut off from their working class roots, not quite good enough for the alternatives… Comprehensives looked, for a while, like a solution to that but there was, eternally, the private school system sitting on top, limiting their efficacy; and even within those comprehensives, streaming systems recreated that hierarchical ladder for the ‘achievers’ to climb… and the corresponding snakes for others to slide down.
The now-proliferating academy businesses appear to be even more focused on this idea, with their competitive, motivational, aspirational straplines, and their quiet assurances to teachers that no-one will have to handle more than one of those problematic set 3 classes, where the kids all seem to have SEND or mental health issues: the latter translates, in some opinions, to kids who are angry, depressed and/or distressed – the ‘collateral damage’ – the necessary foil of the class system.
Those kids need rescuing – or they need to learn to rescue themselves. Is that a skill they’re going to learn in those schools?
Corbyn – a return to socialism A?
It was extremely hard to sell Corbyn’s version of socialism to everyone – it sold itself to pretty much everyone who actually met him but, strangely enough, it didn’t get an honest airing in the mainstream media, and the high-salaried, high-achievers in the Labour Party didn’t take to it too well. Nevertheless, team Corbyn kept him out on the road, meeting people in their tens of thousands, and good instincts led many, many people to recognise that the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn was something different, something that provided redress – as some analysts noted, Corbyn’s acknowledgement of ‘the left behind’ was key.
Corbyn wasn’t cheering people on to ‘rise above’ the herd, he was constantly calling for them to ‘stick together’, to ‘build the community’ and make socialism happen.
The one big Momentum call-out
Initially, the organisation Momentum became the instrument of the mass movement. When the plap made their first major attempt to nip Socialism A in the bud (an exercise now known as ‘the chicken coup’) they found the House of Commons surrounded by tens of thousands of – well, people – just people – responding to Momentum’s call to hold the line for Corbyn, chanting ‘for the many, not the few’ and ‘no-one left behind’.
It was instinctive, it was right (I think) but, as many lefty commentators said after the Terrible Day (13th December 2019) the majority of the movement lacked background knowledge, it lacked political nous, and was completely un-leadable. It scared the heck out of Jon Lansman who, at that time, considered himself to be in charge of Momentum. It gets very personal here but it seems to me that from that day on, Lansman back-tracked furiously, aiming for his own natural home which was most definitely Socialism B. His methods came from the secret weapon of the right at the time – Identity Politics.
The Politics of Divide and Rule
Where Socialism A always centres the class struggle, aiming to unravel the ‘meritocracy’ view in favour of community and class action, Socialism B will reply with divide and rule – sometimes centring the ‘high achievers’ to create an elite, other times centring a minority competing in ‘the oppression Olympics’ – for example, look at who was getting kicked out of the Labour Party during the struggle to get Corbyn into number ten – top of the list was Jewish Socialists – especially black and female Jewish socialists – accused of anti-semitism.
Were there really hordes of anti-semites in the Labour Party, or was this an attempt to use one section of the Jewish community against another? And then came the leaks, and the signs of racism and sexism running through backroom party bureaucracy.
It was Momentum that scuppered the CLGA left slate system that the new, mass membership relied on to compensate for our lack of political experience and literacy, and it was Momentum in general, Jon Lansman in particular – who did the damage, first by throwing the anti-semitism bomb at Pete Wilsman in the middle of an NEC election, and more recently by making sectarian demands of CLGA candidates that exacerbate the divide between gender-critical feminism and the trans rights movement.
Lots of lobbying or lots of people?
How do you heal those divides? The two styles of socialism can be seen in the choice all political movements make between foregrounding community- and movement-building or foregrounding lobbying. The lack of experience of many of us newcomers to party politics led to an expectation that if only we could get our particular case in front of Corbyn or MacDonnell, all the problems would fall away. Many sections of the movement attempted to build and lobby, but there was always too much belief in the ‘Corbyn will sort it out’ feeling. I suspect that it is, even now, slowing the development of the current Corbyn Project, as too many sign-ups sit at home waiting for Jeremy to work his magic.
It was the failure of that misplaced faith that led us all to slump into despair as the election results came in on 13th December 2019, and Corbyn resigned as party leader. It was the same failure of faith that led so many campaigns to wander off down their separate, and often antagonistic, paths since then. Failure of faith in ourselves as a collective. It’s time to pull those paths back together – we need to recognise truth speakers such as Corbyn, to listen to them and honour them, but not expect them to work the magic. We need to know that we can campaign side-by-side with people of different opinions, but we need to be politically literate enough to know whether they are real socialists. I don’t know if the Labour Party itself is any use to us now, but nor do I expect Mr Magic Corbyn to start a new party.
What we need to do is a lot more homework, then we need to get out there and make sure more people really understand what happened, and what is happening. Keep the conversations going until enough people understand… and as so often happens, I was just trying to work out how to say all that, when I realised someone just had.
I’m not sure how long the share token for ‘The Truth’ will stay live but, if it’s stopped working when you get to this point, try searching for Caitlin Johnstone and the-problem-isnt-human-nature…
Sorry for the bar room tone of the title, but it seems to me to match the level of thinking we have been getting from our government.
I have huge sympathy with the people who have been agitating all along to keep/get the schools open.
I have huge sympathy with the people who want the schools shut until we’re sure we’re safe.
I have huge sympathy with the people who think the whole idea of schools should be torn up and re-invented.
What we have found out
Open the schools, fund the schools
Many communities, especially those that have become pits of social and financial deprivation due to the degradation of local authorities and funding, were depending on schools to keep children fed, healthy and safe. There are horrendous reports now coming out of the dangers and disasters that are befalling children in these areas during lock-down. If we are going to go on like this, we need to provide schools with the funds and the specialist staff to deal with all the community problems that have fallen into their laps because no-one else is dealing with them.
Keep the schools closed, fund everything else
It’s obvious that we need to close schools, and as many other institutions as possible, until the experts in *that* field have worked out how to deal with the virus and related problems so, having learned what our kids are going through, a responsible government would be urgently and actively re-funding and re-staffing the NHS, social services, community police, housing officers and all the other departments (not private contractors please, they have proved to be useless and expensive) – government or local authoritydepartments that would, if they had the resources, be dealing with the problems those children are facing and – obviously – we need legislation to assure that wages and working conditions are functioning in a way that allows young adults to set up home, and find the time and resources necessary to bring up their children properly.
But it would appear that the only thing concerning the government is how they handle a cohort of kids who are all in different places on their national education data sheets, kids who are not in the habit of functioning in a group and following orders. Faced with a situation that doesn’t fit on their spread sheets, government ministers flip-flop between micro-management and hand-waving laissez faire in a way tailored to guarantee rage in teachers and parents alike.
Catch up with what?
Or – why school culture is bad for your kids
Closing schools made precious little difference to home-educating families. Those who aren’t familiar with the idea probably formed their notions of what home-schooling is long before it became something desperate parents resorted to when schools could not provide for their children. No longer middle class ‘hippy’ types, most home-schooling parents hauled their lives into a new shape with great difficulty because their children have special needs and their schools were poorly resourced to respond. Many of those who home-school now, whether by choice or because of special needs say the term itself is somewhat outdated. ‘Community education’ would be a more appropriate description. They band together, join local gyms, libraries and arts and science projects, and endeavour to teach their children what they are capable of learning in a way they are capable of learning it.
The biggest problem I see with such education is that it’s often impossible for people who don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, or who have to work long hours, to take part.
When the schools closed, the children in those families who were engaged in non-school education carried on their education pretty much as before, except that their group work had to move onto zoom. The problems they do have went right on as before – the difficulty of getting officials who contacted them to understand what education was, the difficulty of securing places and facilities for the kids to sit exams and the complete irrelevance to them of government guidance and directives – but overall, home-schooling proved itself during lockdown to be far, far better adapted to the modern world than most schools were.
For one thing, it’s a large part of why the government we weren’t allowed to have had free broadband for all as a headline policy, and it’s another area in which I really wish we had a government with the ability to look and learn.
What ‘home-school’ kids are suffering though, is the same thing all kids are currently suffering. They urgently need the time and the opportunity to rediscover and rebuild their social networks. I seriously hope the government doesn’t pursue that recently mooted idea of extending school hours so kids can ‘catch up’ – what, catch up with an imposed GCSE regime that has little to do with their actual lives? – they, just as much as their home-schooling friends, need time to catch up with their friends, their lives.
Through the portal
If only – If only we had had the government the majority of us did our best to bring in in 2017 (yes, majority – go find out, if you don’t know) we could take away the fines and the social pressures (poverty, overwork, inadequate housing etc) that force parents to send kids to school, and we could completely make over our schools, so that they were our hubs of community education: so that they provided shelter and routine every day to kids who needed those things, but also provided exam resources and sittings, labs, dance and recording studios, IT centres, libraries, orchestra, choir and team sports opportunities and above all, professional teachers, to everyone in the community who needed them (free at the point of use, naturally – because we believe in free education for all, don’t we?) Such schools would of course be staffed by experts on education, child development and safeguarding, but they would not have to be experts in health, social care, housing, social control and all the rest of it because we would have proper local authority departments assessing and doing the necessary in those specialities.
The biggest lesson
Above all, I think the lesson all of us – parents, teachers, kids, politicians, the voting public – need to take from this is that we won’t get given what we want, we won’t get told the whole truth – unless we take action, take responsibility, and start making the world we want to pass on to our children.
There’s no shortage of passionate criticism of Starmer and Rayner’s phone bank rewards system out there – but let’s try and stop swearing and explain our frustration properly, because there is an important lesson here for these politicians and their followers to learn.
When this image of the Labour Party’s idiot scheme did the rounds, many of us thought – or maybe hoped – that Team Starmer’s offering was a spoof. As our country plummets into disaster, with the latest failing public school brat at the helm trying to look as though he can handle the gargantuan problems of COVID-19 and Brexit, with no credible opposition in sight, what is the incentive to campaign for the Labour Party…?
…but it wasn’t a spoof. They thought – really thought? – or desperately wanted to believe – not sure but anyway… They thought Corbyn was a celebrity, who’d filled the party with his fans, or cult followers. As a result, having scuppered him, they thought all they needed to do to mobilise that vast army on their behalf was get the PR right, and they could have the same success. It would appear that the majority of the MPs and staffers think the same.
The True Story
It really matters now that they, and the beleaguered people of this country, know the true story so please keep telling it. You often hear people brush off political stories with the stinging comment ‘they’re all the same’ and it’s easy to believe. Certainly, the media tend to paint them all alike. Most politicians and party staffers are careerists, PR people, seeking to be whatever will make them popular. But not all of them. This is the vital bit.
Probably, the majority are incurable but there are a fair few who went into politics out of a genuine desire to improve things. Some of them only wanted to improve things for their kind of people, or for their constituencies but among the frowned-upon back benchers, there are some who seriously strive to improve things for everyone – or, as Corbyn put it, ‘for the many’.
They aren’t necessarily very good at it, but having their hearts in the right place is enough to keep them on the back benches. A few years ago, the manipulators had a bit of an accident and one of those genuine people, Jeremy Corbyn, won a leadership contest. The confirmed careerists immediately set about a fierce sabotage campaign that eventually forced him out. Maybe it was inevitable, or maybe Corbyn didn’t have enough front-bench experience to tackle them. Some say he was too soft on those attacking him.
On behaving badly
I have criticisms of Corbyn too, but being too soft is not one of them. He was working on the assumption that where a culture is well and truly corrupt, people who could potentially be okay will be in there ‘being normal’ – ie, behaving badly.
Humans are social animals, and are happiest when conforming to the group. Think about it – how many of the things you do, say and believe are just ‘common sense’ – ie, in tune with the people around you? Just how uncomfortable is it, when you’re sitting in a group with one idea and quietly thinking ‘actually, it’s possibly more like this…’
Corbyn believed that the only way to get people to grow up and be honest is to treat them as though they are grown-ups, and give them a chance to step up. It might have worked, but it was a long shot. The point is, he didn’t have much choice. There were precious few genuine, politically adept socialist MPs to call on, so he had to build his cabinet with people who he could only hope would improve. They were not necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer. So we are left with the Keiths and Angelas (sorry, but I’m trying not to be *too* rude – now Corbyn’s civilising influence is gone, we’re back to being rude and cynical. ‘Keith and Angela’ is one of the more polite terms for the current party leadership.)
Keith and Angela
No-one likes a story where they are the bad guys, so those pushing Corbyn out preferred to believe he was a heart-throb, a cult-leader, wrecking the party with the help of his hordes of simple-minded fans. And that is why our new leadership team, having successfully replaced him, are trying to be the celebrities they thought Corbyn and Co were.
They really, truly do not know that hundreds of thousands of people who really don’t like politics or politicians much put down what we were doing, and got behind Corbyn because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and all that playing out to the sound of the climate clock ticking, whilst our politicians prinked and preened and played at being celebrities.
There is another aspect of the true story that really needs clearing up. Keith and Angela’s phone bank reward scheme comes straight out of the Tony Blair ‘targets for success’ playbook. A way of going on that demonstrably failed as his initial results dwindled and dwindled, and ambulance drivers complained bitterly that the target set for them left them in a position where they could (in theory – I’m sure they did not) charge around, do everything wrong, arrive at the hospital with a dead patient and, as long they arrived within their twenty-minute target, be logged as a success.
But it wasn’t just the inefficiency of Tony’s targets that led to his downfall, it was the extraordinary insult to public service workers of all kinds, the demonstration that our glorious leader thought they’d be better motivated by approval and silly prizes than they would be by the satisfaction of doing their jobs properly, and helping to make our country work.
Translate that to the phone bank scheme. It’s no fun at all being a part of a local party phone banking session. You sit there phoning people you don’t know from Adam, and try to get them to listen while you explain the Labour Party’s plans for your constituency, and where and how to vote, and why it matters. You might get some good conversations, if you’re really patient. You might win a few more votes. You also get quite a lot of earfuls from people who’d rather be watching telly – but you do it because you believe a transformative Corbyn government is what we desperately need, and you give each call as long as it takes.
But if your target was to get in 4000 calls so you can get a celebrity prize, just how much patience are you going to have for each call? What kind of air-head would even be there making the calls? As we all already knew. Tony’s targets do not work. They just demonstrate that the politicians hold us in contempt. That’s why the Blair-style politics stopped winning elections.
What they need to know
We will not easily forgive the Keiths and Angelas in this story. Their phone-bank reward system, a blatant illustration of their utter contempt for us and what we tried to do, feels like the final nail in the coffin. People are saying this will be the end of the Labour Party. The thing is, they aren’t saying it in triumph, they are saying it in despair – I repeat, for those at the back – they were in the game because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and the climate clock ticking.
Well, here we are, comrades. We are still the many, and we can, and we need to, force the Labour Party to up its game, and take us seriously. Don’t worry about the unfair suspensions and the garbage they’re spouting now. Just keep doing socialism, in, out or in spite of the party. Once they realise how unpopular, how unelectable they really are, even the careerists will have to become more serious about actual issues. After all, they are there to be successful.
We need to make it absolutely clear that only good, honest socialists are going to be taken seriously. We will not be happy with better PR, or an improved ‘rewards scheme’. We can and will do our politics for the many, with or without the approval of the Labour Party. Maybe, when they lose a few seats, maybe even another election, the Keiths and Angelas of this world will begin to learn the truth, and do some growing up.
PS (yes, I got a request for a PS from some distressed activists!)…
If you’ve got some decent councillors, or a real socialist MP to defend, I suggest you do the phonebanking, but stop at 2999 calls (a scribbled note is easier to ignore than a visit from the Keiths and Angelas).
If you don’t have anyone you want to campaign for in your LP, join the Corbyn Project, or Counterfire, or one of the activist trade unions, (if you don’t have the right kind of job for an industrial membership, there’s always Unite Community ) and get on with your socialism there.
PPS Written New Year’s Day – oh look, the government had an attack of ‘Tony’s Targets’ and messed up the vaccinations plan. Link to Independent article.
In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.
This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.
It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.
Are books better?
Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).
How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.
From Ely to South America and Back
While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.
And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.
Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.
Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?
And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.
That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.
And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.
And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.
Think global, act local
Many of our Circaidy Gregory and Earlyworks Press books are now available to buy online at bookshop.org