My political influences (Meme #2)

I managed to inveigle a tag from Jams for the My political influences meme. So, here are five key political influences. I decided not to steal Jams' idea of negative influences (e.g. Margaret Thatcher) or JRD's of personal influences (I might get tempted into an embarassing Oscar moment). The order is more or less chronological.

1. Karl Marx
Unusually, I think, the first Karl Marx I really read was the Eighteenth Brumaire, on the shag pile carpet of my ex-Communist grandparents' bungalow. I think it's the best place to start with Karl, and worth going back to again and again.

2. George Orwell
We had to read George Orwell at school: Animal Farm and 1984. Even then, it had a big impact on me, and probably helped shape my democratic socialism and revulsion at Stalinism. A little later, as I became a leftist activist, I read "Politics and the English Language", which helped me navigate a good way (I hope) through the murky sea of real politics. A little later, I read Homage to Catalonia. By then, my sympathies would already go straight to the POUM and the anarchists, so I can't say it changed my perspective, but it certainly helped clarify my anti-Stalinism. More recently, Hitchens' Orwell's Victory has helped me make sense of the post-9/11 world, while re-reading 1984 made me appreciate Orwell as a great artist, and reading his essays on anti-semitism have been influential for me too.
Extra link: Hitchens on Orwell on Radio 4.

3. CLR James
At a lonely time in my life, when I was around 18, I systematically went through every library in South West London (where I was living then) devouring everything I could find by or about CLR James, except, for some reason, for Beyond A Boundary. James taught me a lot about Marxism, helping me to turn my revulsion against Leninist "democratic centralism" into a coherent Marxist theory.

4. Bill Hicks
I saw Hicks live a couple of times towards the end of his life. I started thinking about him after reading V's post on him. I think what Hicks taught me was a politics which equally has a place for rage and a place for love. Hicks was misanthropic, and did not love "humanity" in the abstract, and was full of anger - the sort of anger that's driven me to continue to be passionate about politics. But he was also a person who truly loved real humans: "It's just a ride, and we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money, a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one."

5. Hannah Arendt
Hannah Arendt is a more recent influence for me. This post explains why I love her.

Now I'm going to tag five bloggers to post about five of their influences: Courtney, Andrew, Noga, The New Centrist and ModernityBlog. (Don't feel obliged to write anything about them - feel free just to list!)

P.S. Check out Harry Barnes' great list here.


Your wish is my command...
JRD168 said…
Hi Bob.

It's strange that however far this goes, people never seem to stray far from George Orwell. His writings remain, pure, inspirational, challenging, and relevant. Thanks for your contribution to what is a fascinating insight into where people are coming from.

ModernityBlog said…
lucky I dropped by!

if you had asked me anything, I would have gladly told you, hard one that.
bob said…
Thanks for the quick responses, Modernity and Contentious. Great lists, and very different approaches.

JRD: Yep, Orwell. Most people whose thinking I relate to have been touched by Orwell somewhere along the way. Your list (substituting my grandma for your gran) could almost have been mine. EP Thompson has been an inspiration to me since I read The Making around the same time I read CLR James. Vonnegut taught me some of the same things Bill Hicks did. Benn was my hero when I joined the Labour Party aged 15, before I moved way, way to the left for a while (partly under the influence of CLR and EP).
JRD168 said…
EP Thompson was very closely ahead of Eric Hobsbawm in my list. Hobsbawm is the better historian in my eyes, though EP has the working classes thing nailed down. EP's politics appealed more to me, as he seems to understood the failure of a Stalinist brand of communism earlier than Hobsbawm. His move away from communism, towards a radical left agenda appeals to me more than Hobswbawm's stubborn communist thinking.
And the chain goes on...
Bill Hicks rocked. I saw him live early on in his career, and he was absolutely hysterical.

BTW, I have added you to my blogroll! :-)

Anonymous said…
Here it is: