8 Aug 2008
I went to the horse hospital in Bloomsbury for Mark Steel’s book launch yesterday. On the face of it the premise of the book is a bit sad in both senses of the world, all about his mid life crisis, he is now 48.
But don’t let this put you off, it is very funny and honest and good to read, I would challenge anyone to put it down. it’s a best seller already but seems squarely aimed at readers of Socialist Unity blog. The premise is that 99% of us have had a bad relationship break up and that political parties are a bit like relationships.
Mark was in the Socialist Workers Party from the age of 18 and divorced them last year. Bad break up but who hasn’t been there. I certainly can’t say it has been orgasmic bliss every day from the last nearly 30 years of my life with La Verde. In fact in 1990 I walked out the door for an extended liason with Earth First!
Obviously I need my next book to be a humour filled account of the internal politics of the Green Party, SOC and the vegan freemasons of Gaunts House included….well no, not really but no party is perfect all the time and pretending perfection is worse than being honest about potential faults.
Mark is obviously well aware of how hard it is to break up with close comrades and I guess a lot of people have at one time been in the Socialist Workers Party and gained friends and inspiration from it but at some point eventually come away frustrated and angry. I don’t want to get into the particulars of the SWP, in different ways think of how horrible it must have been to have been in Party X and to feel it is not longer what you joined. There are a great many examples that don’t need spelling out.
I think the big danger is that people can leave political parties and stop doing politics. I was surprised when I asked him to find that Mark is no longer a member of any political party. But hey when E.P.Thompson left the Communist Party in 1956, was he down hearted (probably!) but he wrote some of the most important books on socialism, kick started ecosocialism with his work on William Morris and was a main mover in the peace movement.
Mark is certainly active, he did a recent gig for Respect Renewal. In February he was the second most exciting speaker I have heard at party conference, the first of course was E.P. Thompson who spoke in Malvern in 1982 to the Ecology Party conference. His books, broadcasting and stand up are all putting forward the socialist message. Well I am not sure which out of ‘Contempt’, ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Burn’ is my favourite Marxist movie but Mark gains the award for best socialist stand up from me.
I think it is important to build political parties, I believe in ecosocialism without apology so I am a dedicated Green, however in an era where political parties are weak and the grassroots is strong (at least at climate camp), Mark’s message of activism even if it is not in a formal political party is one that needs to be heard.
He notes, ‘the very worst course of action in these circumstances would probably be to start up a new far-left socialist group […] apart from anything else, there are no names left as every permutation ot the words socialist, communist, worker, power, party and group has been taken. So a new group would need a random word thrown in and have to call itself something like the ‘Socialist Perpendicular Party.’
The personal stuff includes Mark’s ill fated attempt to understand enter the world of grime:
One sign that, despite being 40 or over, you're still in touch with today's youth to a certain extent, is to realise you're not in touch with them at all. For example, because I have some flimsy knowledge of contemporary rap, I conducted this conversation with the teenager who works in my local grocery shop. "Ah, you listen to hip-hop, don't you? Have you heard the latest Lowkey album? And the first Plan B?"
"Man, I never knew you play that shit, right. Yeah Lowkey bruv, he's sick. He was wiv Doc Brown's crew init, but you feel Lowkey man, you must know Cuba Ranks you get me, you know who had beef wiv Fat Joe?"
"No. No, I don't know Cuba Ranks."
"You know bruv, he produced for Kalashnikov, used to MC at the Brix Club init."
"Eh, oh I think I know, no I don't."
"You don't know him? Bruv you must know, he left Asher D's label saying he didn't check for him when he mixed wiv Skinnyman's crew."
"I'll just have a box of Weetabix and some hummous please."
Lots of thought here on the RESPECT split but it is a problem wider than any one political organisation.
The road to this madness involves a thousand incremental steps. You accept that the most important issue of the day is to win this localised feud, so you justify making outlandish accusations, no matter that they’re starkly opposite to everything you said six months earlier. Then if some people wonder what on earth you’re doing, they have to be denounced in glorious prose, possibly involving monkeys and anyone who objects must be unmasked as a stooge. Until eventually you’re like those warring next-door neighbours on television who insist it’s obviously utterly reasonable for them to poison the other one’s fish’
No ecosocialist would use the term 'monkeys' in the above manner, we love monkeys and believe they should have human rights, poisioning fish would be inappropriate on environmental grounds...may be sicking up in breakfast cereals would be a more acceptable metaphor.
Well can we do politics withour poisoning the fish, etc, I hope so.
Posted by Derek Wall at 3:20 pm