"If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry." --- Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms
“Very often, optimism is nothing more than a defence of one’s laziness, one’s irresponsibility, the will to do nothing. It is also a form of fatalism and mechanicism. One relies on factors extraneous to one’s will and activity, exalts them, and appears to burn with sacred enthusiasm... It is necessary to direct one’s attention relentlessly towards the present as it is, if one wishes to transform it.” --- Antonio Gramsci The Prison NotebooksMy themes for this edition are optimism and pessimism. You all know Gramsci's adage, "optimism of the intellect, pessimism of the will" (actually, he took it from Romain Rolland). Gramsci was condemning the anarchists for their intellectual optimism about human nature and about the masses' capacity for self-emancipation, which for him was a key justification of the need for a Leninist-style vanguard party to tell the masses what to do.
Other bloggers and columnists thinking about optimism and pessimism include Emma, at Scarlet Standard, Ken McLeod, and Mick Hume at Spiked. Myself, these days, I oscillate between hope and despair, and in this edition I sum up some of the reasons, based on some of the top socialist blogging of 2011 so far.
As one recent victim of the government’s slash and burn approach to the public and voluntary sectors writes, 2011 is going to be a very bad year. Not a week goes by when I don't hear from a friend or acquaintance that they've got their redundancy notice or, if they're lucky, just a cautionary redundancy notice. And these people, in Hemingway's phrase, are the "very good, the very gentle and the very brave" - while the un-good, un-gentle and un-brave in the world of finance are rolling in it once more. Or, as Norbert puts it, "Britain today is akin to living three hundred thousand fathoms under a sea of wealth, that’s if you consider that we have the highest levels of income inequality for over half a century. Household and personal wealth of the top 10% of the population is 100 times greater than that of the poorest 10% and 30% of children live in poverty." In this context, the struggle against the austerity regime is surely the highest priority for blogging and non-blogging socialists in the UK, and in the other countries where the social sector is similarly being eviscerated.
Paul in Lancashire has written a number of useful posts on focusing the fight against cuts. This long one is a good example. Boffy's blogposts are so long and involved I generally print them out and read them on long train journeys, but they repay the effort. Not having had any long train journeys lately I didn't know which of his latest posts to read, but the recent batch all look worth reading.
Clouded Outlook is excellent on the economics of the current age of austerity - although Jams has the simpler version for people like me. Left Foot Forward is consistently good on the issue of public services. Here's Lawrence Shaw on Cameron and employment law, Jon at Third Estate on inequality and Don Paskini on evidence-based policy. Sue Marsh at 10% enumerates some of the cuts that will affect us.
On the Tories' partners in crime, the Lib Dems, check out this great graphic at friend in the North's place, Andy Newman on them steering even further to the right, and this video at Stroppy's.
Council cuts are local issues as well as national issues, and the way that blogs can be simultaneously locally focused and globally hyperlinked makes them good vehicles for promoting local actions to local readerships while also connecting up the struggles. River's Edge, for example, based in Preston, Lancashire, has good coverage of the campaigns in that part of the world. Infantile and Disorderly reports from loveable Manchester, Transpontine from Lewisham and Southwark, 853 from Greenwich, Adam Bienkov from London, Paul Cotteril from Bickerstaffe Lancashire, and Red Iron from Scunthorpe's steel industry.
From the unions, here's Johnny Lewis on Unite and the United Left; congratulations are due to Janine Booth in the RMT; Charlie Pottins reports on the National Shop Stewards Network; David Osler has an obituary for a reactionary scab.
So, now we all know what we're up against, but how do we go about it? Is Labour a lesser evil that we should support? Can we put our hope in the resurgence of third parties like the Greens? Should we build the theoretically pure revolutionary socialist party? Who should be building alliances with?
Tessa Jowell, South London New Labour MP, has been the focus of a lot of left-wing blogging and twittering ire. The Fat Man at his keyboard weighs in on what she eats for breakfast. Other New Labourites irritating bloggers include Jack Straw, irritating Chris Dillow and Harry Barnes, and Ed Miliband, irritating Harpy.
There have been some interesting posts about Labour recently. Here's Peter Ryley, and, from slightly before our timeframe, here's Martin in the Margins on “blue Labour”, Maurice Glasman’s term for conservative socialism, and on its relationship to “red Toryism”. Carl Packman, the Raincoat Optimist, has some interesting posts on sectarianism, actionism and Labourism, in the context of the renewed militancy of the fight against cuts: A fight without sectarianism, is not a fight without arguments (what’s that comma in the middle all about?) and Internal bickering versus “whistling in the dark”. More: The Independent Labour Party and the scourge of left wing politics; Jim Jepps replies; Carl back at Jim. Harpy also sets out why she is in the Labour Party.
From more or less the opposite side of the argument from Carl, Waterloo Sunset, a libertarian communist rather than a socialist, lists five things that irritate him about the liberal left, provoked by Sunny Hrundal. Meanwhile Latte Labour reminds us of Sunny's foolish communalist call for a Tory vote. Raven asks if left unity is possible or even desirable.
I recommend the SPGB blog, Socialism or Your Money Back. Here's an enjoyable demolition of George Galloway. Meanwhile, Andrew Coates writes on the strengths and weaknesses of the SPGB. Unlike Gramsci, the SPGB believe "that working class people are quite capable of making up their own minds about their struggles and actions, and making their own decisions". The SPGB are often known as "impossibilists", and Andrew notes that, "Unfortunately one has to ask, what exactly has the SPGB done politically to advance the cause of socialism?" I think that, unfortunately, one has to ask how the cause of socialism has been advanced much by any socialists in the last few decades, but there you are. My own view is more or less that put forward by the sadly extinct Socialism in an Age of Waiting back in the Jurassic age of blogging:
Like the SPGB, and as indicated in the very name of this blog, we're waiting for the majority of workers to come to the conclusion that socialism is worth building and worth fighting for (and only then actually get on with the task). However, unlike the SPGB, we don't think that there is nothing worthwhile that anyone can do in the meantime to shorten the age of waiting. The obvious fact that the world is - on the whole, and even taking into account all its enduring horrors and injustices and inequalities - a better place, for many more people, than it was in 1904 seems to us to show that some progress is possible even within (some forms of) capitalism. We'd even argue that such progress - albeit it is limited, distorted, corrupt and, often, made for the wrong reasons by the wrong people - itself contributes to the eventual building of socialism, by educating and galvanising those who will build it... To be even briefer: we accept the doctrine of the lesser evil, and the definition of politics as the art of the possible; the SPGB don't. Then again, they're the genuine article, a Marxist party that has not changed its stance or diluted its principles over the years - and that has to make the[m] a whole lot better than all the pseudo-left sects put together."
The German-based but multilingual blog Entdinglichung is essential reading for socialists and is the go-to place for internationalism. Among the issues covered there in January are CPI(M) cadres firing on civilians in West Bengal and a call for freedom for Iranian intellectual Fariborz Raisdana. Another great internationalist in the blogosphere is Modernity, who looks at Lebanon here and racism in Canada here. Shiraz Socialist looks at magnanimity and hope in Israel/Palestine. A Johnstone looks at inequality and private security in China. Charlie Pottins remembers Hrant Drink. And there's lots more from around the world here.
Terry Glavin, Canadian social democrat, is also blogging about Iran, from the perspective of working class solidarity, in a post entitled “Will you be a lousy scab or will you be a man?” While my location in inner South London gives me cause for pessimism, Terry's more global perspective gives him cause for optimism. He sees a coming convulsion led by the youth, things getting better, and an "anti-totalitarian surge". Kellie Strom also highlights the same anti-totalitarian wave in the Mediterranean.
Other bloggers with good posts on Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" include River's Edge (on the socialist role), Latte Labour (on the UK media coverage), James Bloodworth (on the American connection), Terry again (on the Islamists), Mick Hall (pessimistically hoping it won't be more of the same), The Commune and Phil. A choice phrase from Phil: "Saudia Arabia, long the Costa Brava of forcibly retired tyrants". The (over-optimistic?) conclusion: "With sustained struggle and determined action, the dictatorial obscenities of the Middle East could be entering their final days. Let despots everywhere tremble as the revolutionary gale howls about their ears." Probably the best blog for resources on Tunisia is Airforce Amazons, although Entdinglichung is also good of course. And from Phil I see Tunisia Scenario. Oh, and Egypt is the next one to watch.
Here are my nominations for the worst socialist blogposts of the carnival period: David Seymour comparing Cameron to Pol Pot and wondering if self-immolation is the way forward, at Labour Uncut. All the posts at Socialist Unity giving a platform to Tommy and Gail Sheridan and George Galloway.
Finally, I want to highlight some socialist blogs that I don’t think feature that much on the radar of the British leftie blogosphere (if they actually do, I apologise). Anti-Illiberal is a very un-prolific blogger, whose first post in months is on Neil Clark's leotard moment. New Appeal to Reason is the blog of a democratic socialist trade union activist in Kansas, with great taste in books and music. Arguing the World is the trans-Atlantic blog hosted by Dissent magazine, with great contributions from Mark Engler for example. Steve Hanson is a northerner displaced in Wales who posts found objects and whimsical reflections on various scholarly and popular issues. Little Richardjohn hasn't blogged yet in 2011, but his blog is hardcore and dripping with attitude.