Saturday, December 30, 2006

Who's counting?


Kendrick Smithyman

Evening calm, blown up in
slow motion from white horizon glare
to eggshell blue, in the relapse between
afternoon and nightfall. Already, thumbnail
paring, the moon tends westward
unwarranted silver. Death is
the end of another working day
in Marama. It all goes dead.

Businessmen lock up their faces.
They steer home for dinner who know how
to be active at Round Table lunches,
do good for the Junior Chamber, wheel
with Rotary, roar like Lions – all their badges
which testify good conduct they display
on a pole at the onset of their town.

Roses along the sidewalk by the baths
fatten themselves venially, at expense
to community conscience? Someone
across the road has forgotten
to close the Court House windows.


Heat of one plain’s day is heady. Here goes
last day from this unparticular year.
New Year’s Eve. Nobody requires of me
my parole. Necessity is conscious
that to be free in a manner of speaking is
possible as a moon only a paring bent
westward without a star, above any plains.

The verb to be is not a verb,
merely a copula, but willy-nilly
you go involved across these amicable flat lands.
Imagine, living in some small
Wisconsin town is like living in Marama.
Prematurely involved – wasn’t it Wisconsin
which gave us Babcock’s test for butterfat
and a tithe of populist doctrine, or example?


Imagine, settled in Spoon River, tending
further east, for a share of wisdom.


Half-past five, the baths drain away
their children. A blue-faced learner
pool looks back at highest parts of a sky
not troubled much by satellites.
If you tilt your head
you may see space as not mere property
of technology, science fiction, or fantasy.


Conjecture: Irresponsible precedent has
us incongruously by the tail or by our shortest
hairs. Community is not tidily beset
about, by barberry hedges’ convenient limits,
lines of non-communication.

I sweat uncomfortably, towelling after swimming,
musing: Their Firth Street may
sardonically memorate the Lion.
Not the Lion only, if one were given
to signs, portents, conjunctions.

What rough beast in some frame house now
to the dinner table slouches, to be fed?


Roads spread generously wide.
Houses squat, clean and bright as though slightly
oiled like working parts of well maintained
machines. In one, a freckled mechanic
(he likes to think people speak of him
as an automotive engineer) sprawls with cassettes
contented beside his stereo tape unit
giving out with Big Bands of the Thirties.

Our social history is always catching
us by the tail but is not singularly ours.
Only what we make of it.

If I choose to stop over, tonight
at the picture house along their Broadway
I could see Elvis in Jailhouse Rock
on re-release.


Irresponsible. Incongruous. Therefore,
potentially comic; therefore, dangerous
neighbour to pathos.
The varieties of
religious experience available
in Marama are evident. I stare
stupidly at the shut face of a Gospel Hall,
succession of house fronts (shut)
and business houses (shut), shining
amiably congregated, amiably independent.

No late shopping this New Year’s Eve.


Closing time. Its speed, of emptying.
As in the City, in London. In Harrogate,
or Cheltenham. In Huntingdon –
there’s illsorted memory,
connecting this unlike end of year
day’s end in antipodean high summer
with a shut down wintry day in another
provincial town on another small plain.

Huntingdon’s main street draining, going
empty, going dead all faces turning
indoors to a blue-eyed televised
evening. Oliver Cromwell was schooled
in Huntingdon, into zeal for the commonweal,
a unicorn beast who beat the lion low
on another flat earth, at Marston.

What rough beast of conscience mooches
testily from a stud farm’s stable even now
pathetically cuddling his fantasies
out of town? His animus dreaming
to reform, where does he hesitate
guiltless of country blood, by what
highway where pass – longhaired, boards up –
kids for the Mount, and a new year

Cavaliers, ah cavalier!

1. 1. 71
Editor's note
Intersecting Plains : first published in Poetry New Zealand II (1974), 96; also in Dwarf With a Billiard Cue (1978) and Selected Poems ; KS’ note in Dwarf reads: ‘Marama is thinly disguised [Matamata in Waikato], but also fictionalised. The Babcock Test for butterfat was a technique I had to learn at school. ‘Spoon River’ refers to Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology which is located east of Wisconsin, a work which I taught for a while. For some remarks on Populism, see Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand [1959]. J.C. Firth, known as The Lion of the Plains, features in various Studies’. Edgar Lee Masters (1869-1950), American poet; his Spoon River Anthology was published in 1916; What rough beast : alludes to Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’; Huntingdon is a town in Cambridgeshire, U.K.; Marston : The Battle of Marston Moor (near York) resulted in a victory for Oliver Cromwell against the Royalists/Cavaliers in 1644<

EP Thompson, Leon Trotsky, and the first New Left: a Response to Paul Blackledge

This post draws on some of my PhD research - the quotes from Dorothy Thompson, John Saville, and Raymond Challinor come from conversations conducted in 2005, and the letters from EP Thompson I refer to are preserved amongst John Saville's papers in the archives of the Brynmor Jones library (that's right - Larkin's old haunt) at the University of Hull. Hyperlinks are in lieu of the footnotes I'm presently too lazy to write.

EP Thompson, Leon Trotsky, and the first New Left

1956 was one of the most important years of the twentieth century, and its dramas created political crises and opportunities on both the left and the right. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary and the near-simultaneous Anglo-French attack on Egypt raised fundamental questions about political systems on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

The invasion of Hungary had a calamitous effect on the Stalinised Communist Parties of the West. One of the organisations most affected by Hungary was the Communist Party of Great Britain, which lost a third of its 21,000 members in 1956 and 1957.

The dearly departed included some of the most outstanding intellectuals in Britain, people like EP Thompson, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, John Saville, and Doris Lessing. Others like Eric Hobsbawm remained inside the party as 'internal émigrés' furtively hostile to the party leadership. The Communist Party Historians Group, whose work in the decade after the Second World War transformed the study of English and world history and still inspires reverence today, never recovered its lustre after 1956.

But out of the ruins of 1956 a New Left, hostile to both Stalinism and NATO, was able to emerge in Britain and in a score of other countries, as dissident communists teamed up with a generation of young people disgusted with the hypocrisy represented by the neo-imperialist adventure in Egypt. The massive movements against war and capitalism which were such a feature of the late 1960s had their real origins in 1956. It is hardly surprising, then, that the fiftieth anniversary of 1956 has been marked by the left in many parts of the world.

Paul Blackledge’s New Left

In Britain, the anniversary of 1956 has been marked by conferences and by a flood of essays and articles in academic journals and the media. International Socialism, a journal linked to the Socialist Workers Party, the largest far left group in Britain, has made a contribution by including a series of texts on 1956 and its aftermath in its Autumn 2006 issue. One of the most interesting pieces in the issue is Paul Blackledge’s ‘The New Left and the Revival of Marxism’. Blackledge is a young lecturer at Leeds Metropolitan University who has already published well-received books on Perry Anderson and on the Marxist theory of history, and he brings a good deal of research to his essay.

Blackledge argues that the New Left opened up a new space on the left between the moribund traditions of Stalinism and social democracy. He contextualises the movement, and the remarkable year of 1956, by reminding us of the economic boom that had taken hold in Britain and the rest of the West in the aftermath of World War Two. Economic prosperity and the growth of the ‘consumer society’ had taken the sting out of the class divisions that had haunted Britain in the interwar years. By 1956, the General Strike of 1926 and the Hunger Marches of the 1930s seemed a lifetime away.

The boom had emasculated socialist politics, because it had encouraged political apathy amongst much of the population. Trade unions became less like campaigning political organisations and more like bargaining agents, as workers found they could achieve improvements in their income and working conditions relatively easily, through isolated short-lived instances of industrial action that were related only to narrow economic questions.

Both the social democratic leaders of Labour Party and the Stalinist leadership of the Communist Party adapted themselves to the atmosphere of economism and apathy. The Labour Party ceased to talk about a future socialist society; the Communist Party still talked vaguely of socialism, but insisted that change could be achieved peacefully, without the suffering and tumult seen in the Soviet Union. The Party’s masters in Moscow had bastardised and vulgarised Marxism, until it seemed as stale and politically irrelevant as the faded Fabianism of the Labour Party. Trotsky had tried to keep the flame of Marxist thinking alive, but he had been killed and his followers had been marginalised. Against Stalinism and social democracy, the New Left would raise the banner of ‘socialist humanism’.

Blackledge identifies four events in 1956 which together opened up the political and intellectual space in which the first New Left would thrive. In February, Krushchev made his famous denunciation of Stalin to a conference of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Although Krushchev’s speech was supposed to be secret, summaries of it quickly reached Britain and the rest of the world. In Poland and Hungary, mass movements soon began to challenge the repressive regimes that were Stalin’s legacy.

The third key occurrence of 1956 was the Soviet invasion of Hungary in November, which showed the limits of Krushchev’s attempts to reform the system Stalin had established. November also saw the invasion of Egypt by Britain and France, an event which brought home the fact that the bourgeois democracies of the West did not represent a particularly progressive alternative to the Soviet Union. By the end of 1956, an unlikely but dynamic mixture of dissident communists and angry students had emerged to oppose both the neo-Stalinism of Krushchev and the neo-imperialism of the Eden government.

Having given the first New Left some sort of context, Blackledge moves on to a discussion of the ‘socialist humanism’ which he believes characterised the thinking of most of the movement. EP Thompson’s two-part essay ‘Socialist Humanism’ is identified by Blackledge as a key expression of the ideology of the first New Left.

According to Blackledge, Thompson saw the Soviet Union and its satellites as societies which were both socialist and deeply oppressive. The fact that such societies were possible showed that, contra some of the cruder expositors of Marx’s ideas, the correct economic ‘base’ did not guarantee a satisfactory cultural and political ‘superstructure’. The Soviet Union and its satellites were evidence for Thompson’s contention that Marxists had to treat the superstructure of a society as more than some simple, automatic ‘reflection’ of that society’s economic base.

According to Blackledge, Thompson argued that the Soviet Union of Stalin and Krushchev was the product of bad ideas rooted in the weaker parts of the Marxist canon, and reinforced by the desperate military and economic circumstances which the Bolsheviks had faced during their first years in power. Certain anti-democratic and mechanically materialist ideas of Marx and Lenin had become a ‘material force’ in the Soviet Union, to the detriment of that society.

Blackledge is unimpressed by the positions he finds in ‘Socialist Humanism’. He argues that Thompson was wrong to call the Soviet Union and its satellites socialist states, with socialist economic systems, and wrong to believe that Lenin and to some extent Marx paved the way for Stalin. Blackledge believes that, because of the way he traced Stalin back to Lenin and Marx, Thompson mistakenly thought he had to reject aspects of Marx’s theory of historical materialism, as well as Lenin’s ideas on party organisation.

In the section of his essay called ‘From Theory to Practice’ Blackledge considers the implications for the first New Left of Thompson’s supposed rejection of Marxism. Blackledge finds Thompson guilty of the anti-Marxist beliefs that British socialists could take power without a vanguard party, and without a 1917-style revolution.

Examining Thompson’s 1960 essay ‘Revolution’, Blackledge finds what he believes is a faith in the possibility of a peaceful, gradual road to socialism in Britain. Overly impressed by the reforms to capitalism introduced by the Attlee government in the 1940s, Thompson thought that ‘radical change could be instituted relatively easily’ under the influence of a loosely organised movement like the first New Left. In thinking this way he underestimated the entrenched power of Britain’s capitalist class, not to mention the conservative bureaucracy that dominated the trade unions and the Labour Party.

According to Blackledge, Thompson’s ideas on organisation were tried and found wanting in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a movement in which the first New Left played an important part. CND enjoyed some success in the late 1950s, mobilising tens of thousands of protest marchers and winning the 1960 conference of the Labour Party to a policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. By the early 1960s, though, the movement was ebbing. The reversal of the 1957 decision at Labour’s 1961 conference created huge disappointment, and turnouts for anti-nuclear protests fell.

In Blackledge’s view, the decline of CND and the lack of a revolutionary party at the head of the first New Left meant that many disillusioned young radicals turned to the Labour Party as a possible instrument of change. When Labour won office under the leadership of Harold Wilson in 1963 many of the remaining members of the first New Left rejoiced, because they had come to believe that he would implement some sort of peaceful socialist revolution. A once-promising movement had degenerated into a small group of bystanders cheering on a Labour government that was always bound to disappoint their expectations.

There is one ray of light that shines through Blackledge’s essay. The ‘International Socialism’ group led by Tony Cliff was able to draw on the resources of revolutionary Marxism to plot a course for the first New Left and CND which avoided both the Scylla of Stalinism and the Charybdis of social democracy:

Cliff was able to lay the basis for a powerful theory of the post-war boom… [he] immunised his followers from the worst excesses of ‘Third Worldism’…Cliff’s model of the post-war boom informed his analysis of the changing locus of Western reformism…this perspective allowed the International Socialism group to explain apathy…without dropping their revolutionary politics…This standpoint laid the basis for IS’s long-term orientation towards the working class.

For Blackledge, the fact that only a small minority in the first New Left were inclined to accept the guidance of Cliff’s group only proves the correctness of its prescriptions: had the offer of leadership been accepted the first New Left would have flourished rather than floundered. As it was, Cliff gained a few recruits from the first wave of the New Left, and the increased size of his organisation helped it play a more central role in the revived New Left that appeared in the last years of the 1960s.

For Blackledge, the true value of the first New left lies in the way it inadvertently played a part in the growth of the International Socialists, who in turn laid the foundations for the Socialist Workers Party of today:

it was left primarily to the International Socialism grouping to begin to realise the hopes of 1956: of building a socialist current independent of both Labourism and Stalinism…[International Socialism] was indebted to the New Left for creating a political space within which an independent left could begin to gain a hearing.

Blackledge thus sets up a dichotomy between a dominant reformist section of the movement, represented by Thompson, and a revolutionary minority represented by Tony Cliff’s International Socialist organisation. The reformist majority rejected key tenets of Marxism and Leninism and led the movement to disaster, while the revolutionary minority kept the flame of Leon Trotsky burning despite being vilified and marginalised.*

The dangers of symmetry

There are a number of nice things that one can say about Paul Blackledge’s essay. It is clearly written and scrupulously footnoted, and it has a pleasingly symmetrical feel, balancing as it does the errors and inanities of Thompson and his reformist followers with the theoretical triumphs of Cliff and his revolutionary minority. Unfortunately, though, Blackledge’s schema bears little relation to the real history of the first New Left, and the real meaning of texts like ‘Socialist Humanism’. Blackledge has a very Whiggish tendency to airbrush out textual and historical details that contradict his attempt to retrospectively vindicate the views of Tony Cliff and his followers.

Blackledge greatly simplifies the theory and practice of the non-Trotskyist parts of the first New Left when he conflates them under the label ‘reformist’. He underestimates the complexity of Thompson’s New Left texts, and overestimates the influence they enjoyed over what was always an amorphous and chaotic movement.

It is worth counterposing the messy reality of the first New Left to Blackledge’s Manichean image of the movement. The most important fault line in the first New Left ran not between the followers of Tony Cliff and everyone else, but between the dissident communists who published the New Reasoner and the London and Oxbridge intellectuals who founded Universities and Left Review in 1956. Thompson and other stalwarts of the New Reasoner were mostly based in the industrial north and had a long-established orientation toward the labour movement; the young Turks of Universities and Left Review were more familiar with the student movement and took a sometimes cool view of trade union politics. The northerners were most interested in the revolt against Stalinism in Eastern Europe and industrial conflict in Britain; by contrast, the Universities and Left Review circle was preoccupied with the social and political changes that the post-war boom had brought to Britain.

The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review fused to create the New Left Review in 1960, but the tensions between the two groupings haunted the new journal’s editorial board and the New Left Clubs that had sprung up around Britain. EP Thompson played a major role in hostilities between the two factions. In a slew of internal documents and several published articles, he attacked what he saw as the dilettantism, disorganisation, and lack of class politics of the Universities and Left Review circle. In his study of the first New Left, Michael Kenny spoke of Thompson’s ‘extravagant moods and opinions’ and accused him of ‘self-righteous and petulant behaviour, likely to worsen rather ameliorate fraught situations’.

The divergence between the New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review was not the only source of tension in the first New Left. Both factions were themselves divided by all manner of arguments. Important members of the New Reasoner circle were frequently at loggerheads over both theoretical and practical questions. John Saville and Dorothy Thompson, for instance, argued over the meaning of the welfare state Attlee’s Labour government had given to Britain. Dorothy Thompson saw the welfare state as a conquest of the working class and an embryo of socialism, whereas Saville saw it as little more than a bureaucratic sop to workers. The debate, which was fought out in the pages of the New Reasoner and in a series of letters, caused considerable tension between the Thompsons and Saville. On the last day of 1959, at a time when the first issue New Left Review was being prepared and major efforts were being made to unify and organise the New Left, Edward Thompson wrote to Saville to accuse him of being ‘dogmatic’ because he was refusing to prioritise a discussion of his views on the Labour Party and the welfare state. For Thompson the conflict in the New Reasoner circle over these issues was a ‘crucial’ one which could not be ignored.

The circle around Thompson was also racked by tensions about what attitude to take toward the other main faction of the New Left. A number of members of the New Reasoner grouping were upset by what they considered excessively aggressive behaviour by Thompson towards the Universities and Left Review circle. Doris Lessing and her partner Clancy Sigal were strong critics of the behaviour Thompson showed when he ‘came down to London’ for meetings with the southern comrades. In a letter written to Thompson in April 1958, Sigal made some of the tensions within the New Reasoner circle clear:

I saw and heard, before and after your meeting with Universities and Left Review, attitudes redolent of condescension, suspicion, and overbearingness.

In 1959 and 1960, Thompson attempted to create a base for his own ideas inside the Universities and Left Review circle by advocating a leading role in the New Left for a talented Oxford undergraduate named Perry Anderson. Within a couple of years, though, Thompson had begun a bitter dispute with his former protégé, who was showing an unhealthy interest in continental Marxism. By 1963, Anderson and his supporters had taken control of the New Left Review and marginalised the New Left Board. Thompson and the rump of the New Reasoner circle were forced into the wilderness, and Anderson inherited the much-diminished resources of the first New Left.

It should be clear that the first New Left was a nest of infighting and factionalising, and that EP Thompson was intimately involved in both activities. Thompson’s partisan and often divisive role in the movement invalidates Paul Blackledge’s attempts to read texts like ‘Socialist Humanism’ and ‘Revolution’ as de facto manifestos for a monolithic ‘reformist’ majority of the first New Left.

Thompson the contrarian

It should surprise no one that Thompson did not play the role of the great uniter inside the first New Left. Throughout his career, the author of ‘The Poverty of Theory’ made a virtue of opposition to the prevailing currents of both the left and the right. Thompson sometimes seemed to see disagreement as a necessity. Writing to Ralph Miliband and John Saville in 1972, he admitted that ‘it is reading something I disagree with that gets me writing’. Whether he was writing about the details of English history, the outrages of Stalinism, the threat of nuclear war, or the poetry of Blake, Thompson was an inveterate polemicist who took pride and pleasure in staking out and defending fiercely idiosyncratic positions.

Yet, despite what Bryan D Palmer called a ‘streak of contrariety’, Thompson frequently showed great assiduity and skill in synthesising diverse ideas and arguments to create his idiosyncratic interpretations of historical and political events and literary texts. The Making of the English Working Class was a powerfully original work that shifted the axis of the social sciences, yet it also incorporated attitudes, concepts, and insights from a whole range of earlier thinkers and scholars, from William Morris to Lawrence and Barbara Hammond to Dona Torr. Amongst scholars of history and literature, Thompson was notorious for the obsessive thoroughness with which he read not only primary sources but also the historiographical literature on subjects that interested him. In order for us to appreciate EP Thompson’s thought, then, we have to recognise both its originality and its diverse sources. Paul Blackledge recognises neither.

Rereading ‘Socialist Humanism’

By looking carefully at some of EP Thompson’s key texts from the late 1950s and early ‘60s we can undermine Paul Blackledge’s account of his thought, and of the meaning and trajectory of the first New Left as a whole.

Subtitled ‘An Epistle to the Philistines’, EP Thompson’s thirty-eight page essay ‘Socialist Humanism’ was published in the first issue of the New Reasoner in the spring of 1957. We have noted that Paul Blackledge criticises the essay for supposedly maintaining that the Soviet Union and its allies are socialist societies, despite being blighted by Stalinism. In Blackledge’s view, Thompson does not trace Stalinism to material roots in Soviet economic and social relations, but rather considers it as a system of ‘false ideas’ that became ‘a material force’ in its own right. According to Blackledge, Thompson believes that the ideas of Stalinism were ‘rooted’ in important parts of the classical Marxist tradition, so that Marx and Lenin ‘led to Stalin’.

A careful reading of ‘Socialist Humanism’ calls Blackledge’s claims into question. Thompson begins his essay by arguing that the wars and revolutions of the first half of the twentieth century indicate that ‘mankind is caught up in the throes of a revolutionary transition’ to a new, socialist form of society. The new societies in China, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe are harbingers of this transition, but because of the desperate circumstances of their birth they have ‘features blackened by pain and oppression’. Thompson worries that British socialists, who have never experienced the agonies of war and White terror on their own soil, could become disillusioned by some of the negative features of the new, post-capitalist societies. He hopes to prevent this sort of disillusionment taking hold by differentiating socialist humanism from Stalinism.

Thompson chides socialists who treat Stalinism as nothing more than the self-serving discourse of the layer of bureaucrats running the Soviet Union. While he accepts the association of Stalinism and the Soviet bureaucracy, he denies that Stalinist ideology can be reduced to a simple reflection of the bureaucracy’s social interests. He insists that Stalinism has an ‘inner logic’ and consistency that makes it a compelling creed for millions of people who do not share the privileges and cynicism of the Soviet bureaucracy. The task of ‘Socialist Humanism’ is to explain this ‘inner logic’.

Thompson suggests that Stalinist ideology has three distinctive features: anti-intellectualism, moral nihilism, and denial of individual agency. Thompson believes that the revolts in Poland and Hungary began as a reaction by intellectuals against ‘Zhdanovism’, the philistine cultural policy imposed by the Kremlin upon both Western and Eastern Communist Parties at the beginning of the Cold War.

Thompson connects Zhdanovism’s contempt for free thought and scientific inquiry to the indifference of Stalinism to morality. Moral consciousness is a defining feature of humanity, Thompson argues, yet Stalinism replaces morality with political expediency. Morality is considered a bourgeois luxury, not a necessity:

political judgment is not envisaged as the – unattainable but approximate – summation of those moral, imaginative, emotional processes which are carried on throughout a society; but as the adjustment of human beings to the dictation of expediency or of ‘economic necessity’.

Thompson turns to Stalin’s writings to show how Zhdanovism and moral nihilism are related to a radical denial of human agency. Stalin’s claim that ‘the rise of productive forces’ takes places ‘spontaneously’ and ‘independently of the will of man’ fits nicely with his denial of the importance of morality. If the individual can have no influence on the supposedly all-important factor in history, the development of productive forces, what use is there in the individual thinking freely, or making his or her own moral judgements?

Thompson argues that ‘the ideology of Stalinism cannot be laid at the door of Stalin alone’. A few of Stalinism’s features can be traced to ‘ambiguities’ in Marx’s writings and certain ‘mechanistic fallacies’ in Lenin’s texts. Coining an argument he would use at length twenty years later in ‘The Poverty of Theory’, Thompson claims that Marx’s base-superstructure image is ‘a bad model’ with which to explain society, because it suggests a simple, one-way determination from the base to the superstructure, and ignores the myriad ways parts of the superstructure like culture and political ideas can influence the course of history. The base-superstructure model encouraged a type of mechanical materialism which reached its zenith in Stalin’s absurd claims about the ‘spontaneous’ growth of productive forces.

The ‘reflection’ theory of consciousness that Lenin promotes in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism is open to the same objections, because it could be used to deny the creativity of human thought. In language that would be at home in Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, Thompson emphasises that the human mind does not merely receive reality in a passive, reflective manner, but actively shapes the world it perceives by deploying an armoury of interpretative concepts.

Thompson emphasises that the occasional link between Stalinist ideology and the weaker texts of classical Marxism does not invalidate Marxism as a set of ideas or socialism as a political movement. Thompson may criticise Lenin’s philosophical juvenilia, but he also acknowledges the ‘rich harvest’ of the Bolshevik leader’s thought, and suggests that the errors in his thinking would have been corrected by his comrades if it were not for the degeneration of the revolution in the 1920s.

In the final section of ‘Socialist Humanism’ Thompson suggests that the lesson of Stalinism is that in a period of historical transition the appearance of certain false ideas claiming to be socialist is inevitable, and that careful analysis and critique of these ideas is necessary if they are to be contained. Thompson warns against reacting to Stalinism by returning in a ‘fetishistic’ manner to the revolution of October 1917. He believes that Britain’s relative prosperity and long history of labour activism mean that revolutionary change will have to take a different form on ‘our parochial island’.

We can see that Blackledge’s interpretation of ‘Socialist Humanism’ includes three important mistakes. Nowhere in his text does Thompson call the Soviet Union and its satellites ‘socialist’, as Blackledge claimed he did. Thompson merely refers to societies ‘of a new type’, reserving the term ‘socialist’ for the insurgent opponents of Stalinism in Hungary and Poland.

Blackledge is also wrong to suggest that Thompson denies that the ideology of Stalinism arose from a material base. Thompson cites the economic backwardness of Russia - a backwardness that was exacerbated by the Civil War – as a key condition enabling the rise of Stalinism, and he identifies the bureaucracy of the new society as a key agent of Stalinist ideology. It is true that Thompson emphasises the ‘internal logic’ and ‘power’ of Stalinist ideology, and demands that Marxists take seriously the analysis and description of this ideology, but doing these things need not mean taking the idealist view that Stalinist ideology is autonomous from the economic foundations and social relations of the Soviet Union.

Blackledge makes a third mistake when he grossly exaggerates the blame Thompson assigns to the ‘classical Marxist tradition’ for the rise of Stalin. Thompson does not believe that ‘Lenin led to Stalin’, or that Marxism is invalidated by Stalinism. He makes the far more modest argument that Stalinism was able to seize on a few fallacious or ambiguous formulations of Marx and Lenin and use them as justification for his tyranny, and that these formulations therefore have to be rethought.

To criticise Blackledge’s reading of ‘Socialist Humanism’ is not of course to suggest that Thompson’s essay is without flaws. Thompson’s confidence in a ‘historical transition’ to socialism in the near future, his rose-tinted view of a British labour movement marked in the 1950s by apathy and economism, his failure to consider the strong element of voluntarist idealism in Stalinism – all these aspects of ‘Socialist Humanism’ have been deservedly criticised. But by simplifying the positions Thompson stakes out in his essay, Blackledge makes useful criticism impossible. He has made Thompson into a reformist, anti-Marxist Aunt Sally with whom he can contrast the authentically Marxist and revolutionary credentials of the New Left tendency to which he wishes to give retrospective support.

Rereading ‘Revolution’

The pattern of distortion continues when Blackledge discusses Thompson’s 1960 essay ‘Revolution’. According to Blackledge, Thompson argues that ‘radical change can be achieved relatively easily’ in Britain, and looks forward to a ‘peaceful revolution’ like the one envisaged in the Communist Party of Great Britain’s programme ‘The British Road to Socialism’. Blackledge quotes a few sentences from the essay in an effort to prove his point:

the Establishment appears to rest upon an equilibrium of forces so delicate that it is forced to respond to determined pressure…if we nationalise…if we tax…if we contract out of NATO… At each point the initiative might provoke repercussions which would necessitate a total transformation of relations of production, forms of power, alliances and trade agreements, and institutions: that is, a socialist revolution.

Blackledge has misunderstood this passage, along with the rest of ‘Revolution’. Thompson is arguing not that radical change will be ‘relatively easy’ for an elected government to institute, but that even a programme of left-wing reforms will destabilise British society so much that the necessity of revolutionary change will become clear to a majority of the population. In ‘Revolution’ as in ‘Socialist Humanism’, Thompson rejects the insurrectionist model of revolution associated with 1917, arguing that the peculiarities of British history and society mean that the election of a radical left-wing government based in the labour movement can be the starting point for radical change.

But Thompson had no illusions that the path to socialism would be straightforward in Britain. His correspondence shows that the problem of transition was a constant preoccupation during the years of the first New Left. In a letter written to John Saville in the first week of 1959, Thompson makes a typical complaint:

The trouble is…no-one has yet clarified and pinpointed the crucial issues: how far it is possible for the capitalist class to continue making concessions without weakening the whole basis of their political and economic power: how far this is already weakened: where reformist and revolutionary views really diverge.

These are not the words of a complacent Fabian socialist. Unlike Fabians or certain left-wing Labour MPs like Tony Benn, Thompson does not believe that a radical left-wing government can pursue a programme of reforms without provoking a revolutionary crisis in British society. Considering the possibility that the CND might win more successes, he imagines the fight for reforms turning into revolution:

Should the protest in Britain gain sufficient strength to force our country out of NATO, consequences would follow in rapid succession. The Americans might reply with economic sanctions. Britain would be faced with the alternatives of compliance or far-reaching re-orientation of trade. The dilemma would agitate the conscience of the whole people, not as an abstract theory of revolution but as an actual and immediate political choice, debated into the factories, offices, and streets…Ideological and political antagonisms would sharpen…Stringent controls would have to be placed upon the banks and finance houses…intrigues by members of the ruling caste might raise the question of ‘smashing’ the military-bureaucratic institutions. One choice would disclose another, and with each decision a revolutionary conclusion might become more inescapable.

Thompson believes that, in order to survive, an elected radical government would have to reorganise British society from top to bottom, and in doing so transcend both capitalist property relations and the institutions of bourgeois democracy. And although he rejects a new October Revolution, Thompson does not reject the type of direct democracy that Russia’s soviets represented.

As ever, Thompson’s views refuse imprisonment in the pigeonholes of lazy polemicists. Paul Blackledge is forced to ignore some of the more eloquent and suggestive passages in ‘Revolution’ in order to condemn its author as a naïve reformist.

Beyond Blackledge’s Dichotomy

We have seen that Paul Blackledge is determined to create a dichotomy between on the one hand a revolutionary Marxist tradition that flowed through Trotsky to Tony Cliff and his International Socialists, and on the other hand a reformist left that consists of those members of the first New Left not fortunate enough to see the necessity of joining the International Socialists. In Blackledge’s schema, Trotsky and Thompson represent two sharply divergent traditions of left politics. Trotsky is the great representative of embattled revolutionary Marxism; Thompson symbolises those members of the left who naively reject Trotsky’s thought in favour of a warmed over social democracy. But a less biased reading of ‘Socialist Humanism’ and ‘Revolution’ is capable of complicating Blackledge’s schema by suggesting some intriguing points of contact between Trotsky the revolutionary and Thompson the reformist.

Thompson’s view of the nature of Soviet society in ‘Socialist Humanism’ bears more than a passing resemblance to the view that Trotsky developed in a series of articles and books over the last decade and a half of his life. Like Thompson, Trotsky insisted that Stalin’s Soviet Union was a post-capitalist society, not a new type of capitalism. Thompson and Trotsky agreed that Stalin represented a bureaucratic caste that had taken control over the Soviet Union, but both denied that the bureaucracy had become a new class. Thompson may have put forward an idiosyncratic view of Stalinist ideology in ‘Socialist Humanism’, but he was ready to invoke the authority of Trotsky and Trotsky’s disciple Isaac Deutscher when it came to the economic and social features of the Soviet Union and its allies:

In understanding the central position of the Russian bureaucracy, first in developing and now in perpetuating, this ideology, we have a great deal to learn, from the analyses of Trotsky and even more from the flexible and undogmatic approach of Isaac Deutscher…

Paul Blackledge is silent about a sentence that reads like an explicit endorsement of one of the key tenets of Trotskyism.

‘Revolution’ does not include any such nods to Trotsky, but there are some intriguing similarities between Thompson’s and Trotsky’s views on the transition to socialism. Thompson may have rejected a 1917-style insurrection as a route to power, but his notion of a series of radical reforms that both meet the immediate needs of workers and show the necessity of going beyond reforms to revolution recalls the transitional programme developed by Trotsky in the second half of the 1930s. Both Thompson and Trotsky reject the minimum-maximum programme of classical, pre-1914 social democracy, which isolated immediate demands for reforms to capitalism from the long-term goal of the transformation of society along socialist lines.

Thompson retreated from the optimism of ‘Revolution’ in the 1960s and early ‘70s, but in the mid-70s he once again became enthusiastic about the prospects for radical change in Britain. In 1975 he sent Ralph Miliband a list of reforms which he felt the left and labour movement should demand from capital and the state amidst Britain’s deepening economic crisis. Thompson entitled his document ‘A Transitional Programme’.

It is not only in explicitly political texts like ‘Socialist Humanism’ and ‘Revolution’ that intriguing similarities between the ideas of Thompson and Trotsky can be found. In her obituary for Thompson, Eileen Yeo noted that the great historical essay ‘The Peculiarities of the English’ owed one of its key arguments to ‘Socialist Humanism’.

In ‘Peculiarities’ Thompson criticises the famous argument of Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn that England had experienced only a very incomplete bourgeois revolution in the seventeenth century, and that the aristocracy, or elements of the aristocracy, had for this reason controlled the British state well into the nineteenth century. Thompson insisted that England had experienced a genuine bourgeois revolution, and that the ‘Old Corruption’ that had controlled the state until the reforms of 1832 was not a distinct class, but merely a parasitic faction of the capitalist class that had managed to attach itself to the state.

Yeo notes the parallels between Thompson’s interpretation of ‘Old Corruption’ and the view he advances in ‘Socialist Humanism’ of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and its satellites. ‘Peculiarities’ is considered a classic defence of English historical particularism, but it may have as one of its key sources Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union.

Trotsky, Trotskyites and Healyites

It may seem far-fetched to suggest the influence of Trotsky on EP Thompson. A number of commentators on Thompson have asserted that he had little or no interest in Trotsky’s life and work. In his thorough and usually insightful Arguments within English Marxism, for instance, Perry Anderson convicts Thompson of a damaging ignorance of Trotsky:

The few careless allusions to Trotskyism that can be found [in Thompson’s writing] are uniformly trivial and pejorative, generally conforming to…the off-hand suggestion that Trotskyism is really no more than another version of Stalinism…[Thompson’s] repression of Trotsky is at first sight…surprising, for not only did Trotsky provide the first and most durable Marxist theory of Stalinism – the prime object of Thompson’s concern after leaving the Communist Party, but he was also the first great Marxist historian...

In a review of Persons and Polemics, a posthumous collection of Thompson’s occasional writings, Chris Harman suggested that the work of Trotsky always lay ‘well outside the orbit’ of Thompson, even after he left the Communist Party. When he wrote the first of his two books about Thompson, Bryan D Palmer felt compelled to add a final chapter chiding his hero for his supposed neglect of the pre-Stalin Bolshevik tradition represented by Lenin and Trotsky.

Perry Anderson is only exaggerating slightly when he claims that Thompson’s references to Trotsky and Trotskyism are ‘uniformly trivial and pejorative’. Even ‘Socialist Humanism’, which contains Thompson’s most positive published comments about Trotsky, finds space for a passage of what looks like withering criticism:

There might be the danger, in certain conditions and countries – and if the fall of the Soviet Union is long delayed – of the Trotskyist ideology taking root…Trotskyism is [like Stalinism]…a self-consistent ideology, being at root an ‘anti-Stalinism’ (just as there were once anti-Popes), arising from the same context as Stalinism, opposing the Stalinist bureaucracy but carrying over into opposition the same false conceptual framework and attitudes…

This passage and others like it might seem to settle the question of Thompson’s attitude towards Trotsky. There are three reasons, though, why we should be careful not to take them as the final words on the matter.

In the first place, it is notable that Thompson’s negative remarks are usually focused on Trotskyism and Trotskyists, rather than on Trotsky himself. In ‘Socialist Humanism’ Thompson argues that, because it has the same ‘conceptual framework and attitudes’ as Stalinism, Trotskyism is characterised by:

the same desperate expectation of economic crisis, denunciation of movements – within the colonies or in the West – which find expression through constitutional forms, attacks on the worldwide movement for coexistence…

If we read this passage carefully, we can see that it is really aimed at a part of the British Trotskyist milieu, not at Trotskyism as a whole or Trotsky himself. Thompson seems to be turning his guns on the group of Trotskyists often called ‘the Healyites’, after their undisputed leader Gerry Healy.

Under the name The Club and (from 1959) the Socialist Labour League, the Healyites were a vociferous minority in the first New Left. The Healyites soon became known for their aggressive attitude toward other groups on the left and for their political and economic catastrophism. Healy and his followers became notorious for denying all evidence of the post-war boom and insisting instead that capitalism was on the brink of meltdown and that Britain was on the brink of revolutionary crisis.

In 1957 the circle publishing the New Reasoner ran into trouble with the Healyites after refusing to publish an article by one of their leading members. The Healyites published the text in their press, along with an article called ‘An Unreasonable Reasoner?’, which accused Thompson and his comrades of Stalinist censorship. In a letter to John Saville Thompson refers to the criticisms, in language which shows a weary familiarity with the Healyites’ modus operandi:

Am not too worried about Labour Review: we can discuss at our leisure. It’s comical how much they resent me.

Thompson and Saville replied briefly to the Healyites in a ‘Letter to our Readers’ at the back of the Summer 1958 issue of the New Reasoner. Lamenting the Labour Review’s ‘long editorial attack, written in a prose style distilled in a Petrograd cellar in 1905’, Thompson and Saville condemned the ‘heresy hunting’ characteristic of Healyism, complaining about its ‘implicit assumption that he who deviates this or that way is a traitor to the Good Old Cause’.

In an article for the Summer 1959 issue of the New Reasoner called ‘The New Left’, Thompson again turned his guns on the Healyites, calling them the ‘newest offspring of the Old Left’, and damning their ‘demonism, economism…and factionalism’. The similarity between these words and the criticisms of ‘Trotskyism’ in ‘Socialist Humanism’ is unmistakable.

Some of the practical reasons for Thompson’s antipathy to ‘Covenanting sects’ became clear in ‘Revolution Again’, the response to critics of ‘Revolution’ that he published in the New Left Review in 1960:

I am getting bored with some of the members of ‘Marxist’ sects who pop up at [New] Left Club meetings around the country to demand in a money-or-your-life tone of voice whether the speaker is a Marxist, whether he ‘believes in’ the ‘class struggle’, and whether he is willing to give instant adhesion to this or that version of the Creed…most Clubs have suffered from one or more of the hectoring prophets…At the worst, such people…can be an active nuisance within the socialist movement, with their jargon, their conspiratorial hocus-pocus, their discussion-hogging, their dissemination of suspicion, and their willingness – for whatever reason – to wreck any organisation they can nobble.

Significantly, Thompson explicitly excludes the International Socialists from these criticisms. It is tempting to believe that Thompson’s criticisms of Trotskyism in ‘Socialist Humanism’ are really criticisms of the Healyites’ peculiar version of Trotskyism. There is certainly no reason to grant the Healyites a monopoly on the interpretation of Trotsky’s ideas: during the period when first The Club and then the Socialist Labour League were appealing to the authority of the great man to justify their absurd predictions and sectarian behaviour, the International Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist League grouping led by Ted Grant were insisting upon the reality of an economic boom and the post-war stabilisation of the West. It is hard to see the accusations of catastrophism and hysteria in ‘Socialist Humanism’ applying to either of the Healyites’ main rivals on Britain’s Trotskyist left.

We must also ask ourselves whether there might have been ‘tactical’ reasons for EP Thompson to be reticent about an influence by Trotsky on this work. Thompson liked to present both his political thinking and his historical research as the fruit of a distinctively English radical tradition running from groups like the Levellers through the likes of John Thelwall and William Morris into the twentieth century. He was fond of contrasting the supposed indigenity of his ideas to the alien doctrines of the Kremlin and of fashionable Parisian intellectuals like Sartre and (later) Althusser. Acknowledging an important debt to a Bolshevik leader who had written contemptuously of Britain’s radical tradition might undermine such a contrast.

It is worth noting, too, that Thompson could be less than forthcoming about the sources of some his arguments. In ‘Outside the Whale’, his great essay against the slide of WH Auden and George Orwell into political ‘quietism’ and then acquiescence with the Cold War, Thompson borrowed his interpretation of the development of Auden’s work from the American poet and critic Randall Jarrell without acknowledging the debt.

Trotsky on loan

We have seen that there are intriguing similarities between some of Trotsky’s ideas and some of Thompson’s arguments in his New Left writings; we have also seen that Thompson’s occasional expressions of hostility towards ‘Trotskyism’ should not preclude an investigation of the possible influence of Trotsky on his thought. If Thompson was influenced by Trotsky, though, what were the sources by which Trotsky’s ideas reached him? To answer this question we must examine some of Thompson’s private correspondence, and hear the testimony of some of his friends and comrades.

There is a common view, reflected in Chris Harman’s review of Persons and Polemics, that members of the Stalinised Communist Party of Great Britain were ‘outside the orbit’ of Trotsky’s thought. Dorothy Thompson has disagreed with this opinion, insisting that Trotsky’s writings were well known to members of the party, even before the crises of 1956 opened up more space for critical discussion of Stalinism. Dorothy states that she and Edward and their circle within the party had read and discussed Trotsky well before 1956.

For his part, the Thompsons’ old New Left comrade John Saville has said that Trotsky was little-known even to intellectuals within the party in the decade after the war, but that ‘after 1956 we were all trying to catch up’. Dorothy Thompson’s and Saville’s memories may not actually contradict each other: before opposition to the party line brought them together in 1956, Saville and the Thompsons had not known each other well. Edward, who still considered himself first and foremost a poet, had been heavily involved in the party’s organisation for writers, and had thus moved in a milieu unfamiliar to Saville, who spent most of his party time working with the local organisation in Hull. In any case, Saville and Dorothy Thompson certainly agree that Edward was reading Trotsky’s work by the time of the first New Left.

An undated letter from the late 1950s confirms that EP Thompson was reading Trotsky during the era of the first New Left. Writing to Thompson from Newcastle, where he had a job as the local Labour Party Education Officer, Raymond Challinor requested the return of several books:

I was agreeably surprised by the current issue of the New Reasoner. It is definitely making a useful contribution to socialist thought as well as helping to break down the avid factional barriers…I believe you still have some literature of mine, including Trotsky’s ‘New Course’…perhaps you’d send them back?

Challinor was a supporter of Tony Cliff's tendency who wrote extensively about the history of the British left and working class movement. He admired Thompson greatly, and the two men seem to have enjoyed a rapport. In a 1957 letter to John Saville, Thompson praised Challinor as a ‘Trot of the milder persuasion’. In 1993 Challinor wrote to the Socialist Review to object to some of the remarks in an obituary Duncan Hallas had written for Thompson. Rejecting Hallas’ claim that Thompson had ‘been an enthusiastic Stalinist up until 1956’, Challinor cast his mind back four decades:

In the early 1950s, when I edited Socialist Review, I had a number of long discussions with him. Unlike other members of the Communist Party, he was not arrogant or aggressive…he already had doubts about the latest Stalinist encyclicals on subjects like Lysenko and linguistics…as his knowledge of the British working class grew greater and greater, he found it an increasing problem to reconcile the wisdom he had acquired with the inanities of Stalinism. The thought control the Communist Party sought to impose was deeply repugnant, a violation of his very being.

Speaking in 2005, Challinor confirmed that he had regularly supplied Thompson with writing by Trotsky in the 1950s. ‘He took it, read it, and always found it interesting’, Challinor remembered.

It seems, then, that Challinor was a conduit by which Trotsky’s ideas reached Thompson. It should not be assumed, though, that Challinor’s support for the International Socialists meant that Thompson absorbed that organisation’s brand of Trotskyism from him. During the 1950s Tony Cliff and his supporters espoused a highly idiosyncratic interpretation of Trotskyism which involved the abandonment of Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union, his transitional programme, and most of his theory of permanent revolution. Many Trotskyists outside Cliff's group felt it had rejected most of what was distinctive about Trotsky’s ideas. We have detected the influence of Trotsky on Thompson’s analysis of the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc societies, and on Thompson’s ideas about the transition to socialism. Yet Trotsky’s views on both these subjects were rejected by the International Socialists.

Isaac Deutscher may well have been a second conduit by which the ideas of Trotsky reached EP Thompson. A veteran of the early years of the Trotskyist movement, Deutscher emigrated to Britain in 1939, where he wrote his famous three volume biography of Trotsky. Deutscher became a sort of godfather to the first New Left, and published frequently in its journals. He was a close friend of Ralph Miliband, one of the most active figures in the circle that published the New Reasoner.

Thompson’s opinions about with Deutscher were not always positive – in 1958 he blocked Miliband’s plans to publish the Pole’s review of Doctor Zhivago in the New Reasoner, claiming that the piece reduced literature to politics. As Thompson’s view of the Soviet Union and its satellites hardened in the early 1960s he may have felt critical of Deutscher’s analyses of events in the Eastern bloc, as well. Nevertheless, Dorothy Thompson remembers that she and Edward ‘always got on well’ with Deutscher, and frequently had long discussions with him. Thompson’s recommendation of Deutscher’s ‘flexible and undogmatic’ view of the Soviet Union at the beginning of ‘Socialist Humanism’ testifies to the respect he felt for the exiled Pole.

It is also worth noting a passage near the beginning of ‘Socialist Humanism’ where Thompson asserts that ‘Stalinism has now outlived the social context within which it arose, and this helps us to understand the character of the revolt against it’. This argument, and the optimism that runs through the whole essay, seem strongly influenced by Deutscher, who believed that the distortions of Stalinism would fall away in the face of popular protest, as the increasing material wealth of the Eastern bloc societies made the repression of the Stalin era unnecessary and impossible.


Paul Blackledge is determined to make Thompson the standard bearer for a naïve reformist faction of the New Left ignorant of the revolutionary Marxist tradition represented by Trotsky and his followers. In doing so, he ignores the originality and syncretism of Thompson’s thinking, as well as the diversity of the first New Left. Blackledge’s simplifications seem designed to valourise the role played by the International Socialists in the first New Left and thus, one suspects, help justify the Socialist Workers Party’s claims to be the ‘true’ representative of revolutionary Marxism in Britain today. But teleology and real history are two very different things. A look at some of Thompson’s writings from the late 1950s and early ‘60s and an examination of his political contacts and reading in that period make it difficult to avoid the conclusion that certain key ideas of Leon Trotsky exerted an important influence over him. This is not to say, of course, that Thompson was in any sense a Trotskyist. To say so would be as absurd as claiming that he never read Trotsky. Instead of accepting or inverting Blackledge’s categorisation, we need to break with the Manichean approach to intellectual history that it represents.

*To be fair, Blackledge does discuss a number of other minority factions of the first New Left – the ‘orthodox’ Trotskyists led by Gerry Healy, the semi-anarchistic Solidarity tendency – and he does explain some of the differences between the New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review circles. He also attempts to throw a bridge up over the chasm that separates EP Thompson and International Socialism by discussing Alasdair MacIntyre, the philosopher who was one of the few members of the first New Left to join Cliff’s group, albeit briefly. Blackledge believes that MacIntyre’s rejection of the notion that the Soviet Union was in any sense post-capitalist represented an advance over Thompson’s more contradictory viewpoint, and pointed towards Cliff’s theory of state capitalism.

But Blackledge’s occasional acknowledgements of the heterogeneity of the first New Left do not really impact upon his reading of Thompson, and his dichotomising of Thompson’s supposed reformism and the authentic Marxism of the International Socialists. Some of the asides in his essay look suspiciously like window dressing.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Mr Chick (another bloody 'proem', sorry)

When I was eleven and still a part of Mrs Bateman’s class I had a Bible in Schools teacher called Mr Chick. Mr Chick had worked as a gas meter man until an explosion peeled most of the skin off his body. Half his face had been grafted off his left buttock, and he had to walk on the spot when he lectured our class because the soles of his feet were still tender.

When he was twenty-eight, Mr Chick had gone camping on Mt Pirongia with his wife, who was called Mrs Chick. After they had fought over whose turn it was to boil water Mr Chick had walked alone to the summit of the mountain in the late afternoon sunlight, humming the chorus of 'Paint It Black' under his breath. When he reached the top he was exhausted, and sat down for a long time on a small bench somebody had built with him in mind.

Eventually Mr Chick began to admire the view before him. To his left, in the amber glow of the sunset, he could see the Waikato district, which was all smooth green fields, straight sealed roads, and tight little towns; to his right the crumbling hills and gorse plantations of the King Country flowed into the darkness of the Tasman Sea. Suddenly an angel with flowing white robes and motionless wings floated in front of Mr Chick, just beyond the edge of the summit. ‘It can be like this’, the angel said sternly, motioning toward the King Country, ‘or it can be like this’, she whispered, waving a hand at the Waikato. Mr Chick walked quickly down from the summit. Without first conferring with his wife, he boiled three billies of water and washed out the little latrine they had dug.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Frosty Christmas in London

My friend in London sent me this pic and msg....
"I went for a walk the other day in the forest and you could only see for a few meters and then it was just WHITE. It felt like being in a magical fairytale. All the trees and grass and twigs and leaves and spiders' webs were covered in glittering white frost and the lake was half frozen with birds standing on it."

Posted by Skyler

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Party time in Venezuela

Venezuela's recent Presidential election was about as riveting as the awful Ashes series winding down across the ditch in Australia. Like Freddie Flintoff's hapless squad, the Venezuelan opposition has been overwhelmed by a determined, confident, and very well-organised foe. Hugo Chavez's victory had been forecast by numerous polls, and his margin was so big that not even the most febrile sections of Venezuela's lumpen oligarchy dared to raise the cries of fraud that had greeted previous electoral victories of Bolivarianism.

But if the election followed a predictable course its aftermath has not. After previous triumphs, Chavez has tended to set aside some of the radical rhetoric he uses on the hustings and make overtures to his humiliated opponents, using sugary phrases like 'national unity' and 'reconciliation'. Apparently oblivious to the sheer size of the victory of December the 3rd, some of the bigwigs in the Venezuelan government and the Bolivarian movement have been recommending the same course of action this time around. In his first major speech since the election, Chavez has confounded them by calling for the creation of a new 'United Socialist Party' and by claiming that, for his new government, 'the most important issue' will be the building of socialism in Venezuela. Michael A Leibowitz, who seems to be becoming the Regis Debray of the Bolivarian revolution, has written an eyewitness report of Chavez's address:

Last night, there were cheers in the back half of the theatre and in "the gods" -- but few in the high-priced seats. And, it had to do with Chavez's message...The new party...will be there for all the parties to join or, alternatively, to separate themselves from the government. But this, he stressed, will not be a party that combines the existing parties. Rather, it will be a party that can only be built from the base.

In your communities, in your patrols, battalions, squadrons, identify your neighbours who are supporters of the Revolution -- you know who they are, he proposed. Do a census, build the party from below. Make it a party that is not built for electoral purposes (although able to engage in electoral battles); make it a party that can fight the Battle of Ideas, one that can fight for the socialist project, one that allows us to read and discuss the way forward. Make this party the most democratic in the history of Venezuela...the real dagger came with a message which summed it all up succinctly: "The new party cannot be the sum of old faces. That would be a deceit."

Only a few weeks ago, Leibowitz was agnostic about the question of whether a new party was necessary in Venezuela. Not unreasonably, he feared that it might simply become a new vehicle for the 'Bolivarian bureaucracy' which has emerged as a key obstacle to the progress of the revolution in his adopted country. Now Chavez's speech seems to have enthused him:

Chavez said to those representatives of the old parties: we don't have the time for endless debates about this. We have to build this new party from below now. So, you decide what you are going to do because there's no time to lose. Small wonder that there were glum faces at this celebration. The battle for a new party of the revolution and to build socialism is underway.

Chavez's re-election campaign was backed by an unwieldy coalition of about twenty-five political organisations. The largest and most important was the Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), a party established by Chavez himself. Older members of the pro-Chavez coalition include the Communist Party of Venezuela and its 1970s offshoot Homeland For All, which was known for many years as La Causa R. Smaller members of the coalition include the Tupamaraos, a militant group influenced by Maoism as well as the Guevaraism of its famous Uruguayan namesake, and Trotskyist outfits like the Revolutionary Marxist Current.

Many observers have detected an uneasy relationship between the leaders of the larger pro-Chavez parties and grassroots participants in the Bolivarian revolution. The Fifth Republic Movement has attracted millions of members since being founded in 2002, but it has failed to create mechanisms by which these members can influence the policies of the party, let alone Chavez's government. In many cases, the grassroots movements of the Bolivarian revolution - trade unions, occupied factory committees, peasants' organisations, urban land committees - have bypassed the party altogether, and addressed their demands directly to Chavez.

The Fifth Republic Movement took a step in the right direction when it held primaries in the leadup to 2002 elections to local government and the National Assembly, but last year the party leadership angered many members when it unilaterally drew up the slate for new elections to the Assembly. The low turnout in those elections was attributed to an opposition boycott, but some observers also believed that undemocratic methods had led to a failure to mobilise the base of the Fifth Republic Movement. The recent Presidential campaign was marked by a very vigorous mobilisation of grassroots supporters, using institutions outside the pro-Chavez coalition, and Chavez seems to want these 'electoral battle units' to be building blocks of a new party.

The establishment of a mass party under the democratic control of the Venezuelan workers and peasantry and committed to socialism would be a major step forward for the Bolivarian revolution, and a further sign that Chavez has evolved from a wannabe Bonapartist to a leader who sees that the workers and peasants are the only force that can defend a progressive policy programme in a Third World country like Venezuela.


Tis the season for alcohol-fuelled self-satisfaction, so I just thought I'd mention that this blog is about to record its twenty thousandth visitor since tracking gear was installed back in April. Frankly, it amazes me that so many people are interested in dodgy poetry, EP Thompson, the minutiae of Marxist theory, and photo essays about the less glamorous corners of the Land of the Long White Cloud. What's wrong with you folks? The incomparable Trevor Loudon seems willing to offer a diagnosis...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas gift ideas from Venezuela

The workers at Sanatarios Maracay and their allies are asking for socialism for Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas from Keira

This is my mate Keira Arnold at St Lukes shopping mall, about to demand peace in the Middle East as her Xmas treat. Rumour has it that the Santa in question is the unscrupulous Richard Taylor, who informed St Lukes of his willingness to work for beer.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Zealand and Globalisation

Reproduced below is the outline of the second of the Continuing Education courses I'm offering at Takapuna Grammar next year (you can read the other outline on this page). If you have nothing to do on week nights in February and March and would like to a) contribute to my beer fund for 2007 and b) give me an excuse not work on my PhD for a few weeks, then please sign on the dotted line.

'Globalisation' is a fashionable word, but what exactly does it mean? This introductory lesson examines the competing ways that social scientists like Anthony Giddens and Noam Chomsky, journalists like John Pilger, and politicians like Tony Blair have used the concept of 'globalisation' to try to make sense of the increasing integration of the global economy and the rise of supra-national institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.
Key lectures include:

New Zealand and globalisation

A quarter century ago New Zealand had one of the most protected economies and culturally homogenous societies in the world. Today, the economy is mostly owned offshore, by American and Australian companies, and immigration has changed the face of the population dramatically. How did it all happen?

New Zealand and the Pacific in a globalised world

New Zealand once boasted a Pacific Empire that included Samoa, Niue, and the Cook Islands. Today it is once again heavily involved in the internal affairs of small island neighbours, thanks to its role in the RAMSI mission in the Solomons and repeated military interventions in East Timor. What is new and what is traditional in this country's present-day role in the Pacific region? Are we recolonising the Pacific, or doing something new and more positive?

Globalisation and immigration

Immigration has become a hot topic in New Zealand, as immigrant communities make an increasingly noticeable contribution to our cultural and economic life. This lesson looks at the ways that new communities have organised and expressed themselves, and examines the discussions their increasing visibility has prompted. The debates over Islamic head dress and the supposed pressure of immigration on Auckland's infrastructure are considered.

Kiwis and Yanks in the twenty-first century

New Zealand has enjoyed an ambiguous relationship with the United States. New Zealand has longstanding defence ties and increasingly close economic ties with the US, but the issue of nuclear ship visits and disquiet over some aspects of US foreign policy have sometimes strained relations between Washington and Wellington. The prospect of a US trade deal has divided New Zealanders, with some believing the deal will be an economic bonanza and others fearing US economic domination and the 'Americanisation' of Kiwi culture. This lesson considers how close the relationship between New Zealand and the US is today, and where it is headed.

Kiwis and Aussies in the twenty-first century

The recent controversies over the parentage of members of the Kiwis and Kangaroos rugby league teams reflects the close contacts between Australia and New Zealand. Like many people on both sides of the Tasman, a number of league stars have deep connections to both countries through family, residency, and work. But increasing economic integration and two-way immigration have not obliterated the sense of rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, in sport and in many other areas of life. What is the future of trans-Tasman relations? Does the integration of the Australasian economies make political union inevitable? Is the relationship between the two countries one of equality, or are New Zealand complaints of Australian domination justified?

Entering the Cave (pt 2)


Kendrick Smithyman

Guides ask for silence, and have
no difficulty in getting their parties
to go quiet. At a dollar a head, nations
file underground. All shapes of age bow
their heads, step carefully after.
Go deep, go down to silence.

Bridal Chamber, and Cathedral,
play of fancy which wants to discover
limestone making metaphors, shadow likenesses
and shadow play. Here is Dog, there is
Camel. We call this the Modern Art
, but go down
further, one more, a couple more flights.
A boat at a landing stage idles,
another will carry us, silently
animated through the grotto
where cannibal worms hunt, breed, age,
consume their partners, are consumed.

How this would have pleased Coleridge,
riding a verbless river, the dome,
darkness, glowworm haven
generously imitating, freely outdoing, stars.

I have been here before, without words.
After their climax of love people lie thus,
as though drifting dark waters, caverned.
If you speak, all the lights will go out.
Say nothing. She reaches for his hand,
he presses her finger. The boat slides
curving back to its landing.

A guide at the stage sweeps his lamp
over a pool. What is he looking for?

from Stories About Wooden Keyboards, Auckland University Press 1985, p.69.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Entering the cave

Entering a cave means stepping from a sunlit, noisy world into a cool, dark underworld full of strange echoes and hidden dangers. Waving a torch about only heightens the mystery of the cave, because it makes us aware of how little we can see, of the corners and crannies that go unilluminated by flame or flashlight. Because of the way their darkness, dry air and layers of earth preserve bones, tools, and paintings for millenia, caves can be called nature's museums. The best man-made museums have the mystery and menace of caves: they are full of dimly-lit chambers, inexplicable artifacts, and the distorted footsteps and voices of other explorers.

In recent decades, strenuous efforts have been made to 'popularise' museums, so that they seem 'relevant' to the gangs of tourists and schoolkids that now troop through them daily. Te Papa, the new national museum built in Wellington in the 1990s, is drenched in light, full of bright colours, and stuffed with computers offering games and quizzes. When the exhibits have captions, they seem to have been written with slightly slow six year-olds in mind. Te Papa is, the experts tell us, an 'interactive' museum.

I wonder whether the kids dig Te Papa as much as the experts might want them to. Sure, they might run excitedly from floor to floor, fight over who gets to play the computer games, and lick their lips at the classic cars that seem to be a fixture in the twentieth century history section of Te Papa. But are museums really supposed to be fun, in the sense that nintendo is fun? Isn't there some deeper feeling -some feeling of awe, or fear, or disgust, or intense bewilderment - which the museum is supposed to conjure, by showing us the treasures and rubbish bequeathed to us by pasts we never knew?

When I was a boy, I loved Auckland Museum because it seemed so radically unfamiliar. Everything about the place - its cold marble walls, its long echoing halls, its interlocking rooms cluttered with dimly-lit exhibits, the half-legible scripts and impossibly long Latin names on the captions under the exhibits - created a sense of displacement. Wandering through the innumerable rooms of the cave, I began to understand that there were other worlds - worlds that existed in the past, over the sea, on the other side of my city - radically different to the one I inhabited. The languid gaze of a God's carved head, rescued from a swamp in Northland a century ago; the still bodies of Anzacs on Gallipoli beach; the dry blood on a special policeman's long baton; the fierce grimace of a New Guinea mask: all of these were invitations into new worlds.

Three decades later, after extensive renovations, Auckland's museum retains its mystery, for me at least. A couple of 'fun areas' designed specifically for kids represent concessions to the new, politically correct model of museum, but the rest of the place retains its old atmosphere. A glass dome has been built over the building's inner courtyard, creating a sort of miniature version of the famous atrium in the British Museum. A number of new wings have opened - I can't tell you how many, or where they are, because I kept getting lost - and there are at least half a dozen exhibitons running, including the heavily-promoted and unreasonably expensive Vaka Moana: Voyages of the Ancestors show, which celebrates the epic deeds of the Polynesian navigators who explored the Pacific many hundreds of years before Cook and Tasman.

With visitors fussing over the atrium and queuing up to see Voyages of the Ancestors, there's a danger that a very fine exhibition called Encounter: New Zealand Design and Decorative Arts might be overlooked this summer. Encounter features everything from Crown Lynn ceramics to tobacco jars to postmodern tikis, but the objects that caught my eye were two handmade clocks. There's a bafflingly complicated astronomical clock which was built in 1948 by George Bolt, the pioneer aviator who lived in Auckland. Bolt's clock features an ornate frame complete with tiny golden spires, and it records the movement of the sun, moon, and stars as well as the passage of time in this city. In the dim light of the museum's marble cave Bolt's creation looks like a magical artifact.

Less eye-catching, but more historically significant, is the temperature-compensated, mercury-regulated longclock built in 1869 by AG Bartlett, one of Auckland's first horologists. Bartlett's clock records the times in London, Wellington, and Auckland with an accuracy unprecedented in the 1860s. We often assume that time is something 'natural', like oxygen or water, but its ebbs and flows are in important respects man-made. In his great essay 'Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism' EP Thompson showed how the industrial revolution and birth of capitalism brought to Britain radically new conceptions of time. The imprecise times kept by an agrarian society dependant upon to the cycles of the seasons were replaced by the rigid rhythms of machine-time. The train and the factory required the precise keeping of time, and not only horologists but the new industrial working class had to adjust.

The caption to Bartlett's clock describes it as evidence of 'the growing establishment of a public time infrastructure in New Zealand'. Bartlett's clock was made six years after the invasion of the Waikato, at a time when the vast amounts of land confiscated from Tainui and other iwi were being made available to British-born capitalists. The old Polynesian garden economy, which had combined some progressive elements of capitalism with socialistic features of traditional Maori society, had been pushed to the margins of the North Island, and an alien, large scale dairying and sheep farming economy was being established. New Zealand was on its way to becoming 'Britain's farm', with all the deference and dependency implicit in that self-identification. Along with the musket and the theodolite, Bartlett's clock is a charmingly old-fashioned symbol of imperialism.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Seeking a 'different reality principle'

The Rotten Elements was the second part of the trilogy of autobiographical novels that Edward Upward called The Spiral Ascent. Published in 1969, the novel looks back to the late ‘40s, when Upward and his wife Hilda were driven out of the Communist Party of Great Britain because of their hostility to key policies adopted by the party leadership at the end of World War Two. The Upwards were hostile to the party’s post-war programme, The British Road to Socialism, because it claimed that the revolution could be achieved peacefully through parliament, and they were sympathetic toward the government of Yugoslavia, which had broken from the orbit of Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1948.

The Rotten Elements is perhaps most remarkable for the sheer dourness of the prose in which Upward tells his all-too-familiar story of dissent and bureaucratic excommunication. The man who helped to bring surrealism into British literature with the wild stories of his youth fills this novel of his middle age with plodding compound sentences and banal imagery. He deliberately avoids sensationalising his story, passing over several opportunities to stage dramatic confrontations. Upward refuses to simplify or even summarise the controversies in his novel, and is thus forced to subject readers to page after page of explanation of the minutiae of Communist Party politics. Scenery is avoided: almost all of the action – I use that word guardedly – of the novel takes place in meeting rooms and shabby working class homes. (Upward does allow his characters a visit to the seaside near the end of the book, when all the important events in his narrative have already occurred.)

Like Orwell’s 1984, which shares some of its targets, The Rotten Elements can be read today as a portrait of the run-down, austere Britain of the years immediately after World War Two. Rationing remained in force, rubble still lay in the streets, and nobody could have anticipated the long economic boom that lay ahead. For many readers, though, The Rotten Elements symbolises the damage that Edward Upward’s political commitments did to his writing. The swirling fantasies that had inspired Auden and Isherwood in the 1920s and ‘30s had been replaced by a dour, didactic realism, as the apolitical public school aesthete had given way to the convinced Marxist.

And yet The Rotten Elements and The Spiral Ascent did not mark the end of Upward’s development as a writer. In a series of novellas and short stories published in the 1980s and ‘90s Upward brought the two previous phases of his career together to create a very English instantiation of magical realism. Late Upward stories like ‘An Unmentionable Man’ and ‘The Coming Day’ are characterised by carefully controlled but nevertheless unnerving transitions from almost naïve political tubthumping to intricately described fantasy:

Mary often daydreamed of a future in which all discrimination against women was brought to an end. When her three children were grown up and had left home she felt she had the time and the duty to do something to help the cause of women's 'liberation'. She found several local women who were willing to co-operate with her in arranging public meetings. Their heroine was Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
Andrew was entirely in favour of Mary's work, but he thought he'd better not show this, because some patients if he did might suspect him of caring a bit less for them than for politics.

And what about Clem Marsden? Did he still say wars would go on till most humans were extinct? Yes, but his wife found out he was daydreaming of being in a space vehicle travelling far faster than light and arriving outside the supposedly finite 'universe' at a place where life existed in a physical form much less disadvantaged than the human body, and where he would be far happier than he ever could have been on earth.

At the age of 103, Upward has outlived famous friends like Auden, Isherwood, and Spender, and it is beginning to look like his work might outlive some of their productions, too. Where The Spiral Ascent was ignored by most critics, the late stories have garnered considerable attention, most it favourable.

Perhaps more significantly, a gang of Bolshie young British writers have set up an online journal and blog named after Upward’s most austere novel. The co-founder of the journal, who goes by the name 'the poet duster' (what does his mother call him?), explains the connection:

I started reading Edward Upward in 1997. He wrote a book called The rotten elements. Bits of him are in us, but probably more me. He’s still alive in a nursing home. The Guardian wrote nice things about him being friends with Isherwood and Auden but they don’t know. The ‘rotten elements’ were the pus, the canker in the Communist Party 1950s-style. They sat in meetings and said the wrong things. They asked too many damn questions. They fucked it up. Upward had tried. Cauterised himself. Fred West patio over surrealist corpse. Zhdanov jelly-tot for kiddies. Joined the Communist Party to escape from suicide because couldn’t write but ends up with nervous breakdown from Communist Party that wouldn’t let him write. So if you want threads for us, you can find them here in abundance. The rotten elements live to write another day while it all hangs in the balance as the left puts another gang of surrealists on the gibbet. I went to a Communist Party meeting last week. I said the words “Jimmy Saville will be fucked”. Peck my eyes out now.

I'm not sure I understand all that, but I think the title of the journal is appropriate: like Upward, the proprietors of The Rotten Elements are asking important questions about the relationship between politics and art. The journal’s homepage poses the question: ‘Art and revolutionary politics – married, single, or divorced?’, and asks each visitor to provide an answer, ‘in the form of a critique, a poem, a play, a story, photoshopped, a rant, a film, sound paintings…’

In a recent article for The Rotten Elements, Lawrence Palmer ventures his own answer to the question by discussing Land and Freedom, Ken Loach’s 1995 film about the experiences of British fighters in the Spanish Civil War. Parker’s article, which was also published in a recent issue of the Weekly Worker, argues that Loach produced a historically accurate film that works strongly on viewers’ emotions, but which lacks intellectual depth:

[W]hen I get down to analyse exactly why I like this film, I find that it appeals to my emotions. In other words, its reception primarily revolves around a spontaneous reaction...Land and freedom is...a film that brilliantly constructs a series of spontaneous outbursts of emotion - reaching through its characters and on to its audience - beneath a surface veneer of revolutionary politics. As indicated above, this either (cynically) suggests that Loach (just re-elected onto Respect’s national council) and scriptwriter Jim Allen know the contemporary left rather well and are feeding it what it wants to see; or, more probably, that Loach’s art is the product of this background.

Incidentally, no one is suggesting that anger, emotion and gut feeling are not important in changing the world. But if they are an overriding motive for action, they become abstract, brittle and burnt-out (as with the Socialist Workers Party, which has to cope with this lack of intellect by cynically inventing its own and others’ self-righteous ‘anger’ at whatever the government is doing this week). Emotion only truly becomes a force when it is riddled with pertinent questions.

Reading these words we may recognise the same dilemma that Edward Upward tried to face up to in The Rotten Elements. We might perhaps see Upward’s novel and Loach’s film as offering opposite – and oppositely flawed – solutions to the problem of how to bring the difficult and dense world of political analysis and debate into artforms which have traditionally relied on dramatic action and sensual detail for their success. To put it more bluntly: how can one make a film or write a book about politics without either patronising or boring the audience?

Of course, the increase in apathy and decline in the sophistication and scope of even bourgeois political discourse since the end of the Cold War makes the task of politically committed artists like Upward, Loach, and Parker even harder, because it means that audiences will have even less interest in ‘political lectures’. In a review of The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Loach’s recent movie about the Anglo-Irish and Irish Civil wars, the New Zealand Herald’s Peter Calder takes Loach to task for putting too little emotion into his art. Calder bemoaned what he considered an excess of political detail in the film, picking out a scene where characters thrash out their political differences in a meeting room as a low point of the film. For Parker, a similar scene was a high point of Land and Freedom:

The difference with this passage is that it is one of the few parts of the film that is intellectually compelling, as we hear the arguments for and against collectivisation - it basically boils down to the issue of whether the protagonists are for or against revolution. The decision for collectivisation carries the viewer, because Loach makes us feel that it is the outcome of a living process, a debate, where difficulties have been looked squarely in the face. Yes, the actors are impassioned in the debate, but this passion feeds off their intellectual coherence and vice versa.

It seems to me that both Lawrence Parker and the Edward Upward of The Rotten Elements have been victims of an unrealistic conception of the relationship between art and politics. Both seek the fusion of the discourse of politics and the discourse of art, without asking whether that fusion is either possible or desirable in the world they inhabit.

In The Aesthetic Dimension, his last and best book, Herbert Marcuse argued that the fusion of politics and art was a fool's game, and a dangerous one at that. Marcuse inveighs against any form of 'socialist' realism, insisting that art should always be out of sync with reality, because it showed up the gap that exists between our real lives and the lives we can imagine living. This gap is the place where a critique of reality, including the reality of capitalist society, can begin:

art is 'art for art's sake' inasmuch as the aesthetic form reveals tabooed and repressed dimensions of reality: aspects of liberation. The poetry of Mallarme is an extreme example; his poems conjure up modes of perception, imagination, gestures - a feast of sensuousness which shatters everyday experience and anticipates a different reality principle.

Or, as EP Thompson was known to say, 'a poster and a painting are two different things'. A lot of the writing in The Rotten Elements seems to rely on 'a different reality principle'. With its lower case fetish and fast unpunctuated lines, the poetry of Anne Eade recalls the work of earlier Brit scribblers like Tom Raworth and Bob Cobbing, but activists and hapless postgraduate students unfamiliar with avant-garde lit will be able to identify snatches of the sacred texts of Marx and Lenin:

thought a war machine minces inorganic state
act rushes empty secret distinct intuition
apercus cluster hollows force split from within
rational kernel from mystical shells
mothers teat forms a kind of crime whoosh
watch out fucking cynic statement
as he dies bomb barges in take the mask off
can’t hear you surgeon operates on private advantage
slum drives optimistic imperialism eclipse of reason
basically on our side that is all
we should expect explosive young men
recruit powder kegs exploding fellows
who follow demolition experts
empires twinned prophylactic
tears tiers of vivid excess cognition
between you & me today utter instant
fuck nose trumpet in ear wakes up daddy
as he rolls off mummy
brain picked fundamental multinational entry
into national back waters
the cut & thrust ripped up cordoned off
hairy arsed hybrid overload
motherload rimes polonium life

One problem with Marcuse's argument against realism is the way that it can be used to give automatic 'progressive' credentials to any artwork with a radical style or a fantastic setting. I think that some of the defences of the Lord of the Rings that have been discussed here recently make this mistake.

In the stories of his old age, Edward Upward seems to be searching for a balance between fantasy and realism. The juxtaposition of political polemic with outrageous fantasy discomforts the reader, and perhaps keeps Upward out of the pigeonholes that imprison more orthodox writers. The politics in Upward's late stories are there as part of the text - as an ingredient in the composition - rather than as some interpolated party political broadcast. In their different ways, both Upward's flights of imagination and his Marxist lectures must elude the comprehension of most of his potential readers. Placed alongside one another, though, they 'charge' each other, in the way that two individually incomprehensible lines in a poem can somehow resonate with one another, without exactly making sense. Ask Mallarme or Anne Eade how it happens.