Sunday, 10 December 2006

A Guilty Pleasure?

Me ode mucker Paul Hunt from Coventry posted this little gem to the UK Left Network a couple of days ago:
Yeah this group is a bit strange, but there are hell of a lot of closet lurkers who read it avidly.

A few years back when I used to post more regularly on this list, quite a few of my comrades would take the piss out of UKLN and the fact that I went on it. Seconds later they would then proceed to tell me about all the arguments and debates taking place - proof that they read it all the time.

The same with the Weekly Worker, the people that say they never read it but do are basically repressing themselves unnecessarily.

Thats why I invite all comrades to join with me in my new campaign- 'LeftOUT', a campaign which seeks to unmask the hypocrisy of all those closet spotters, sect watchers and lovers of left sectariana.
Bourdieu has noted us sociologists have an interest in appearing disinterested as a means of securing the prestige of the discipline (sociologists in Britain might be tempted to ask what this "prestige" is he speaks of?)

Surely something similar has to be going on with leftists and their relationship to leftist trainspotting.

A couple of weeks ago Stoke Socialist Party branch was visited by one of our better known activists. But what brought him here? Was it a desire to view first hand the progress Stoke branch has been making, listen to comrades' experiences of Socialism 2006, or was it to hear the report back from the International Bolshevik Tendency's fringe meeting? Well I don't want to prejudge the comrade but of all the topics that got him most animated, this was it. And yet ask him and I bet he will admit to nothing more than a passing fancy.

Then there is one leading SP activist. He absolutely adores sectariana but for him it is very much a guilty pleasure. One suspects he'd be more comfortable to be seen with a copy of Razzle than Workers' Hammer. Does he think confessing his passion for Trot minutiae will take away from his standing as a prominent militant?

It's interesting. Perhaps it's got something to do with the older comrades joining the organisation when it was a more closed outfit than it is today. Back in the days of Militant perhaps sectariana was frowned on as a petit bourgeois distraction from the class struggle.

But there is a serious point in all this. I know a lot of leftists who don't see this as a harmless bit of fun. Some organisations really take a dim view of it. Their logic goes a bit like this. If you haven't got the time to sell papers/study the revealed truth then you haven't the time to read rival publications. Or, even worse, there's always the danger of being contaminated by different ideas. Scary stuff!

But hold on, it shouldn't be like this. The point is isn’t it unhealthy for socialists not to take an interest in what other socialists are saying and doing? Isn't it a bad thing when dedicated activists become little more than a transmission belt for the ideas of the leadership? How can we hope to hold leading members to account, let alone understand and intervene in the world around us if we don't seriously look at the theory and practice of others? Just look at the works of Lenin and Trotsky. Strip out the polemics with other activists and tendencies and you would be left with very little, and yet no one dares to suggest these two were wasting their time penning screeds against opponents.

It's time this nonsense was left behind. Reading and discussing ideas of other trends in the labour movement shouldn't be a guilty pleasure. Provided it doesn't become the be-all and end-all of activism, it is in fact vital to the health of socialist politics.

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