Things were so much more simple back when I wanted them to be. Solutions were easier. Socialism was the answer and what THAT was was plain to see – to me. Until I met the left organisations that call each other “comrade,” but hate each other’s guts.
- Sorry granddad, I should have listened to your story about your day of being a member of the post war Communist Party. How you treat your activists really does show the change you want to be in the world.
This piece will mention various wee groups (because they are wee – but some have inordinate power because of how they insert themselves in unions, campaigning and professional bodies). I apologise to you for that. If you want to continue reading this and don’t want to be confused by their names, think Monty Python. Think “SPLITTER!” And think “Enemy of the Party…” If you don’t know what they are, they will have a label for you. You are either a neo-lib, a Blairite, a Tory or a traitor or worse. Or a potential member with money and newspaper selling capacity. When you begin selling those newspapers, expect praise, and condemnation in equal measure. And whatever you do, don’t ever believe giving the papers away is a good way to get your message out. Taking that pound from that wee woman on her way to get her fivers worth of groceries is part of the bigger picture that will save that wee woman from the hell of not being able to afford Friday’s tea.
Politics at present are odd, and I’m not sure of where we go. Trump draining a swamp, to replace it with a huge hole filled with shit; Brexit; a Scottish government with no credible opposition, plus a UK party in power that is dead but floating like a sparkling turd in the mire and actual seig-heiling Nazis on our streets, smashing up bookshops AND with power…
Don’t read this for answers. It’s about questions. And if you are happy in your cadre, this isn’t for you either. To be honest, if you are happy with your corner in the current polity, stop here. And if David Icke, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon etc hold some truths for you, please go join one of the groups I mention below and have your head at least sorted to move to my level of cynicism. It took me 13 years in one. You never know, if you join, you might find some level of comfort. You might find answers in local campaignsg (as I did) and you might find a parent who will make the tea while you sell papers.
For years I wouldn’t join a political party (I dipped in to a couple and promptly got my coat). I never joined a left faction either. I joined the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 2002 because it seemed to be bringing factions and left individuals together. That was smashed of course, by the Sheridan show, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the “Bambury – ites” (those who worked with Chris Bambury within the Socialist Workers Party and then split from that party to form a small Scottish Trotskyist faction), 2005-07. I stayed with that party and probably should have left in 2011, but a combination of a great active local branch and the promise of the up coming independence referendum kept me there and by 2015, had me crushed between machinations of two groups of splinters from the oldMilitant Tendency and the SWP. I left, sanity almost intact. Almost.
- After the war which he spent in a factory in Lisburn County Down, building amphibious aircraft wings and being radicalised, my granddad decided to join the Communist Party and help at the 1945 election. The party at that time had a decent membership of over 1000 people. He and his comrade were given the task of monitoring a polling station and were told by a party official, importantly for poor working class people, that they would be supplied with lunch.
Labour in Scotland and the dreadful way the UK Labour Party have dealt with the anti-semitism row has ensured I stay clear of that mire. And personality politics, and the meeting of right and left in one party has kept me away from SNP and Greens (though both have got a lot of positive things going for them, and Im sure given their current message/ makeup etc, I’ll vote for them at the next election).
The left as defined by the original SSP of the early 2000’s I joined no longer exists, and can’t exist under the conditions created by vociferous mini-groups on the left with inordinate power in the press and within movements (and fronts) here, and the strength of theSNP. It cant exist now as one of the original factions that shared power controls it completely. The passion of some individuals within it is there, still, but they are voices that whisper distrust even when they herald comradeship. And all of them either accept the current long term parentage, or are enthusiastic for it.
At present, I don’t feel the parameters of the existent, proactive left in the Scottish “Yes” movement work for me, or for that matter a positive vision of a better Scotland. I also feel the activities policed by a wider Yes movement dependant on money from rich SNP members, and organisations “ok’d” by the new unknown Central Committee (ie who decide who can officially take part in the nextindependence referendum), and a movement almost incapable of self criticism levelled at the pursuit of being better than what we are supposedly fighting against, ensure strife amongst those of us really not interested in replicating a Scottish version of late 20th century UK.
You may not be familiar with a lot of what I say regarding Yes, or left movements. Some of you will be. If you have any questions, ask them below. Or on twitter. Or Facebook. Dont expect definitive answers on everything. But I’ll definitely get back to you. Though I’m not your mum, dad, leader, or person with all the answers. Subjectivity is understood by the right wing. The left tries to erase it from all they do, so objectively, conditions are better or worse for all when measured using their particular metre sticks. My 30 cm ruler is mine, and has measured a lot of rooms of people sagely nodding that one faction or another’s meter stick is a metre and not just clever guesses at distance.
This whinge isn’t, of course, just about the left Yes movement. It is about much more. It is, I suppose about how people interact with each other. And how some seize narratives and sew truths that pull people down rabbit holes that are new or established. It’s about how “the bigger picture” becomes “means to an end,” and “casualties of war,” and “collateral damage.”
I think there are good people with good intentions across left groups in Scotland, and the UK, but I feel the present our “Yes” movement and the left in general, is going to be walled in by self-righteous, mostly well meaning, middle aged men. The butterflies have all been painted grey and pinned to a baize covered ply board. This also goes for the left in England, Wales and Ireland. Subtleties are lost. People are lost. People become collateral damage. Enemies of the party; their faces ground into the mud are a means to an end. An unavoidable stepping stone to a better Scotland and a better world.
I’ll still vote Yes in an independence referendum here, but I don’t know what that, as a progressive, means now. Yes, no more shitty Westminster Tories, but it can’t JUST mean what the Bambury – ites say in their columns in The National, The Herald, etc; it doesn’tJUST mean what the SNP say, Labour say, the SSP say, or the SWP, CWI or Solidarity/Sheridan/Hope Over Fear. And it doesn’t mean what my analysis is either.
- My Grandfather voted Communist in 1945. I wonder how unusual that was for someone perceived to be of the Unionist community at the time? Was the Unionist community different in those days? He wanted a better world for his young wife and his two wee daughters. He wanted a world much better than the poverty and death of his father. Were the CPNI a unionist party, promoting the British Union as the way to socialism/communism? They obviously offered hope to workers like my Granddad. And I don’t doubt there were many who thought the same as him. It cant have been a bad organisation.And the “good” press the Red Army got when it entered Berlin MUST have had an effect on working people. He and his comrade sat and counted voters in and out of the polling station, their heads buzzing with the new society the Communists would bring. Modernity, and scientific production that meant no-one would go without. A management of the means of production by those concerned with meeting demand rather than creating it… Simple.
A new Scotland and world is possible, but as others have been saying lately, reliving and repeating by rote, lessons learned from failures of the old left/national/other movements, and almost universal agreement on what we did right (when results of movements are, in reality, dependent on something more than binary results of activity) does not move us into our new world. We celebrate anniversaries. We celebrate glorious defeats. We stand in solidarity when there is injustice. We rail against dystopia.We don’t design utopia.And at present the left seem to be debating just how high the floodwall on this safe space for the middle classes should be. They are debating just how devoted some of those w”on our side” rally are. No one is really talking about raising all boats. No-one is really analysing if the alternative to perpetual Tories is the best alternative.
Listening to Labour, listening to the “Yes Scotland” left within and without the SNP, and seeing a hard left churn out the same things they have for decades and expecting different results, I am confused by what our demands are. I’m confused at what our movement is. I’m confused at what organisations that fear off message questions, the internetand leaked minutes can offer today’s world of multiple personalities, identities, and vast networks.
I have little to say to those on the left who tacitly approve continuity Assadist fascism, or those who feel the Rothschilds /Zionists /Jews control the world/the Tories /New Labour. They aren’t on my side, nor the peoples, but for some reason have found themselves through odd deformed analysis, supporting antisemitism, racism, torture and police states. They believe that there are baddies whose analysis is death. They don’t see the grey – the inability to analyse the huge deluge of information an interlinked, fast moving and densely populated world brings. Syria and the subtleties of anti-Semitism are two examples in a world where some on the left are making odd alliances. A Tower built on analysis that cant possibly be wrong, can it? Yet all of these people want a better Scotland and a better world, don’t they? They seem to be preaching revolution for us, but not those trapped in Assad’s totalitarian state.
I have little to say to those waving Marx around like preachers did with filtered excerpts from the bible on street corners in Northern Ireland all through my life there, and selling their pamphlets and papers that reveal the opening of the seals. Nor do I have much to say, any longer, to those who urge people to sign petitions in order to get them to part with a few coins.
Standing on a cracked paving stone, shouting “LAVA!” at those walking, crawling, shovelling, bleeding by, really doesn’t cut it.
In a political world contracting behind corporate leaders, walls, fractious self absorbed /self aggrandising left leaders etc, what unites us? Is it just what we are against? What is the progress we aim for that is new? What is this new world? The new world of 19th and 20th century philosophers or of left groups who are scared of discussion, argument and agreement outside their ossifying, smoke stained walls (via the Internet they say they distrust so much) ? Or does a world of self imposed, self condoning, filter bubble, echo chambered confirmation bias suit them?
I read monthly, the new fronts created by those “with an analysis,” sagely repeating each others step by step breakdowns of what has happened that week, and how this signifies further proof that capitalism is dying (as it has for more years than anyone reading this can possibly remember). And I read “what the class can do,” and sigh. And I read, incredulously, the wobbling towers of analysis built on shaky foundations that support people shouting from on high.The organised left created confirmation bias well before Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica.
I, like a huge amount of those on the left, will not be joining organisations as they exist at present. All left organisations at present replicate capitalist society anyway. “Be the [democratic] change you want to see in the world,” has totally passed them by. And listening to “analysis” from these people is like having your head drilled by politically correct, bible flapping street preachers. And none of them care much for the activists who can’t keep up with the super activists or “CC’s/ EC’s”, important meetings and large volumes of paper sales by comrade X who will within two years, fall from activity, broken, exhausted, jaded and damaged.
Their filter bubble world, created before Eli Pariser wrote about Internet algorithms, is
“A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn … (since there is) invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.” Wobbling Towers.
So, beyond “smashing the state,” and various slogans, selling newspapers and grabbing pound coins as people sign petitions to no-one, what can we do? What is our vision? Where does this fit in to a virtually/e-connected, yet disparate, impoverished, walled off world?
- The lunch never appeared. The new world of Uncle Joe’s Communism, in which everyone was looked after, crumbled in front of my Grandfather’s eyes that day. He and his friend left for home, disappointed and disillusioned. My grandfather told me, “I was a member of the Communist Party for one day. I thought, “if they cant even organise a lunch for us, how can they organise society?” He voted Labour, and what that became, for the rest of his life.And he was right. Sorry Granddad. I heard your story, but I was not listening at that time. I thought YOU didn’t understand. I was wrong. It was me who didn’t. I had found easy answers, and analysis that confirmed my bias. It had seemed so simple. Good people doing good things is all it took. But I had forgotten about the Irrational in politics. I forgot we are all looking for a parent. An authority. Someone who knows. And I had forgot that some will do anything to be thought of as that leader. That parent. And lies, mistruths and briberies are all part of the means to an end, which is usually the means to keep them in their position of parentage within a family group chosen by them. And I forgot that some, in order to be that parent on a pedestal, will never apologise and in fact, can never be wrong. The next analysis, built on the previous, will explain what some thought were errors. Or the previous analysis will disappear from the history. Nothing online mentions the communist party of Northern Ireland’s inability to get tea to their activists at polling stations in 1945. But it was something, a material thing, that was probably a factor in their immediate decline. How they treated people. How they preached bread for all, but couldn’t organise tea for the activists.
What is this better Scotland/world that is possible if disagreement and “online” can’t be part of it (as proved in my walled world in Scotland by ssh! SSP 2007/ssh! Rise 2015/ssh! SWP 2005)? The SWP proclaimed twenty years ago, that the internet would destroy them. Why? Because information was easily found. Information was easily shared. So the comrades baptised by Thatcher advised / advise activists NOT to share information. Misplaced Managerialism at best.
Is a better Scotland/world just being anti-Tory? If so, isn’t that just self defeating and ensuring we give Tories time to rethink their next image and message of “making Britain Great again?” Is it just supporting Corbyn/ the SNP, the great parent? Is it being uncritical until “it” fails, unapologetically?
If Labour win an election, and don’t make material, measurable, obvious change to lives, are we not just awaiting the next idealogical ultra capitalists to tear down more of the post war settlement and sell it off to the cartoon fat cats and imaginary, rabbit hole dwelling Anti-semetic cartoon bosses?
If we win the next Scottish independence referendum, and our lives stay the same, what have we won? The right to replace a flag?
And really, lefty Scotland, what is our vision for Scotland outside the UK? What is our vision for the EU? How do we practically get the tea on the table after next year? What is our vision for the world and our part in it? The lexit of the columnists has proven to be a sham that is further impoverishing communities they really have never lived in and the columnists and front leaders have never been elected. Or do we just sit and shout, “wrong!” ?I’m not berating anyone in particular in this piece. Its self flagellation, so sorry to the reader, if none of this is part of your world. Sorry, if you are satisfied with the current polity, or your particular part in that. You see, I want change. I wanted change from the moment I realised we are still living in feudalist societies, with Kings, racism, sexism and poverty. Its borne on disappointment and the realisation that people are still starving, people are still imposing their bigotries across the world and all we seem to do is change flags and parents.
I no longer want declarations and seven points of agreement etc. I want to know how my children’s children will survive, thrive and live in peace and abundance in an eco system that supports them and in a fair, free world. I no longer want to “foother” at the legacy of pensioners, middle aged men’s and middle class columnists analysis of 1968, 9/11, Stop the War or Yes Scotland. I don’t want to flag wave or pat myself on the back for marching. I really don’t want to listen to ego’s making demands, or shouting into microphones, or telling me I could have sold more pamphlets. I want to work for something.
If we’ve learned anything from the twentieth century it should be that utopia was lost when we set its parameters and fell for those who loved applause.And trying to reimpose those parameters, in a world where everyone has a high tech machine that punches holes in those parameters, really does not work. And creating imposed filter bubbles ossify and dessicate. And jumping from one surrogate parent and false prophet to another really doesn’t cut it.
So how high is the sky we are trying to reach? Or are we merely pointing at a branch as the current shit swamp pulls us under?Or are we all going to be left sitting waiting until someone delivers tea they had no intention of delivering?