Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Sideline cynic (1983)

Book Review from the December 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard

Go Fourth and Multiply — The British Left in 1983 (Dialogue of the Deaf, 60p).

This thirty-page pamphlet is a review of the various factions of the Left. In its descriptions of the pretensions and self-delusions of the would-be vanguards the pamphlet is historically accurate and frequently witty. Indeed, as a piece of light reading it is to be recommended, especially to sneering, politically inactive, non-aligned radicals who think they are cynics because they rejected the fallacies in their 'A' level sociology syllabus. Anyone who likes the "humour" of Private Eye will wet themselves reading this.

The section on the Socialist Party of Great Britain is to be found on pages 21-2. The first sentence gives a clue to the accuracy of the piece: "The SPGB, in some ways the most extreme of all left organisations, is the exclusive brethren of the labour movement". What is this supposed to mean? Within what spectrum are we extreme; what is a "left organisation"; in what sense are we exclusive? The fact is that the Socialist Party is neither "extreme" nor "moderate" (according to the third paragraph, "the SPGB can be seen as moderate") because we present a case which is opposed totally to capitalism and committed unequivocally to socialism. We are not part of the Left, which is merely a statist tendency within capitalism; we are not "exclusive" because we make clear that until the overwhelming majority of workers are included in the socialist movement there can be no revolution. How can the only party standing for democracy be called exclusive?

The superficial references to our history are reasonably accurate and the summary of the Socialist Party's political position is as good as one could expect from a writer who has clearly received her ideas as part of a journalistic exercise rather than as a serious political inquiry. As a result, she stresses points about the Party which can be picked up from anecdotes and omits those which need to be emphasised in order to distinguish the Socialist Party from the Leftist factions described on the other pages.

The political pundit or opinionated scribe on the sidelines is always a distasteful character in politics. It is very easy to giggle at those motivated to try to change society; do nothing and you will never be criticised.
Steve Coleman 

2 comments:

imposs1904 said...

All things considered, a rather po-faced review.

A couple of points:
"The superficial references to our history are reasonably accurate and the summary of the Socialist Party's political position is as good as one could expect from a writer who has clearly received her ideas as part of a journalistic exercise rather than as a serious political inquiry."

The reviewer was obviously unaware at the time of writing that 'Prunella Kaur' was, in fact, a pseudonym. John Sullivan, better known for writing a similar themed pamphlet, entitled 'As Soon As This Pub Closes', was also the author of this pamphlet.

Sullivan had a long involvement in 'left' politics in Britain, which explains how he was best placed to write such a pamphlet. I don't think a jobbing journalist could have written such a pamphlet. It had to be an inside job.

And:
"The political pundit or opinionated scribe on the sidelines is always a distasteful character in politics. It is very easy to giggle at those motivated to try to change society; do nothing and you will never be criticised."

Oops, a lack of self-awareness on the part of the reviewer. We've always received the self-same gibe from other political parties. Those opponents of us were wrong to take such a position against us, and Coleman was wrong to thrown the same gibe Sullivan's way.

imposs1904 said...

More information on John Sullivan here:

http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext27/Sullivan.html