Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The lifestyle block socialist

Yesterday Skyler and I received 'personal messages' from both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. The epistle from comrade Key was not very surprising - he was using the resources of the state to try to sell National Educational Standards in a glossy brochure filled with intimidatingly recondite flow charts and graphs - but the message from Phil Goff intrigued us. Labour's leader is trying to rebuild his party and its poll ratings, and he invited us to send him our advice on how best to win the 2011 election on the back of a postcard. Skyler has shown her usual good faith in human intentions by replying to Phil in some detail.

Chris Trotter and several other commentators have divined a leftward turn in the policies of Labour since the election loss of 2008 and Goff's assumption of the leadership. For Trotter, Goff's attack on the Maori Party's alliance with National as a betrayal of ordinary Kiwis is a sign of a return to class politics, and not a cynical dog whistle. Trotter has backed calls for Labour to rejuvenate itself by dispensing with the tight top-down control of the Clark era, and by building up its membership. Goff's call for feedback on his party policies might seem, superficially at least, like a move in that direction.

Isn't it notable, though, that the party chooses to make contact with the masses not through the door knocking and town hall meetings of the good old days, but through glossy 'personal messages'? Why isn't Goff, or at least one of his supporters, joining the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and Sky TV salesmen in the queue outside our door?
The paradox of the Labour Party is that it has maintained a mass electoral base without a large organisational base. After fronting the first part of the neo-liberal 'reform' programme that devastated New Zealand in the '80s and the '90s Labour deservedly lost its mass membership. For a time the party looked like it might have lost its vote too, as the breakaway Alliance made large strides in opinion polls. Labour eventually won the voters back, and then held power from 1999-2008 by tinkering artfully with the status quo that had been established by the reforms of the '80s and 90s. The nastiest manifestations of neo-liberalism, like charges for hospital beds and market rentals for state houses, were dropped, and a few progressive measures like Paid Parental Leave were adopted after vigorous lobbying, but Helen Clark's government worked well inside the parameters set by the previous, neo-liberal administrations.

Although it retains the electoral loyalty of the urban working class, Labour has never regained the activist base it had in the early eighties, when its membership rose to close to one hundred thousand. At election time, the party often relies on paid organisers working for sympathetic trade unions and the extended families of candidates to get its vote out in areas like South Auckland. The party's MPs are generally middle class professionals with university degrees. Although some trade unionists graduate to the parliamentary team, they generally do so by converting themselves, culturally and politically, into middle class technocrats.

The content as well as the delivery of Phil Goff's 'personal message' reflects the conflicted nature of the contemporary Labour Party. Although Labour's greatest strength lies in the poorer suburbs of Auckland, Goff's message deploys imagery drawn from the city's posh southeastern fringe. Behind the pohutakawa tree which has replaced Labour's traditional red banner we can see the estuary of Whitford Creek, and the pleasant hills around the 'lifestyle villages' of Whitford, Maraetai, and Clevedon.

In the area the photograph shows, dairy farms and horticultural operations have been replaced by five or ten acre 'lifestyle blocks' whose owners can simultaneously seclude themselves from the crowds of the city and pretend to be indulging in the wholesome rural practices - erecting fences, stocking paddocks, and setting up TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED SIGNS - that have traditionally played such a part in the self-definition of Pakeha New Zealanders.

Whitford and the areas that surround it have become much more heavily populated in recent decades, as real agriculturalists subdivide their properties and depart, and pretenders relocate from the cities to toy farms, yet the photograph is almost uncontaminated by any sign of humanity. There are no cottages, or corrugated iron sheds, or septic tanks leaking through mud. Only a couple of puriri posts from a pleasantly decrepit fenceline are allowed into the view. Why should people and their doings spoil paradise?

Phil Goff may well have supplied the photo that accompanies his epistle - he lives in Clevedon, on a ten acre block, close to a new marina and several upmarket restaurants, and a good forty-minute drive from his constituents in the working class Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill. Perhaps Phil's glossy 'personal messages' are his only way of staying in touch with the people who vote for him?
This marvellous leaflet (click to enlarge it), which I discovered recently at the cafe in Swanson's gentrified train station, lacks the production values of Goff's 'personal message', but offers an equally sumptuous vision of utopia.

The first of the two texts on the leaflet comes from an ancient issue of the fearsomely dreary journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, an organisation which was long ago dubbed the 'Small Party of Good Boys' because of its resolute refusal to tarnish its message of the moral superiority of socialism with anything so coarse as political activism. For over one hundred years, the SPGB has contested parliamentary elections using the slogan 'World Socialism Now', whilst condemning the 'opportunism' of leftists who organise protest marches, stand on picket lines, and volunteer to fight fascism in Spain or pick coffee in Nicaragua. For reasons that are perhaps not mysterious, no SPGB candidate has ever come close to winning a seat in parliament.

The anonymous author of the Swanson leaflet has enlivened the SPGB's rhetoric wth an annotation that must have been produced on one of the last manual typewriters in New Zealand. The annotator's talk of socialism existing 'intuitively elsewhere' in the universe reminds me of Juan Posadas, the Argentinian Trotskyist and UFOlogist. Posadas believed that aliens regularly visited the earth, and insisted that these aliens must be socialists, because only a socialist system could bestow the levels of technology, productivity and cooperation necessary to the development of long-distance space travel. Posadas repeatedly called on the pilots of UFOs to intervene in human political affairs by overthrowing the rulers of the United States and the Soviet Union.

The demand for 'Intuitive Universal Socialism' may seem a trifle abstract, but I don't find it any more bewildering than Phil Goff's use of Whitford and Clevedon to illustrate the merits of twenty-first century social democracy.


Anonymous BookieMonster said...

Are you sure that's Whitford Creek? It doesn't look quite right to me. Made me think of Manaia on Coromandel Peninsula, Firth-side.

3:55 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Perhaps you're right! I thought those bush-covered things in the background were the Hunua Ranges! But I think the point might be allowed to stand even if the landscape was found further east.

4:04 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

"Posadas repeatedly called on the pilots of UFOs to intervene in human political affairs by overthrowing the rulers of the United States and the Soviet Union."

Also known as our best chance.

I'm with you generally on Goff, but if you look at the electoral material of all parties that are currently represented in Parliament, they all seem to vie for the same electorate, don't they? I mean the shot of Goff and the missus is positively proletarian compared to the Aryan Missoni-clad girl that looked disapprovingly at us from those dreadful, dreadful posters of the Greens in the last election, no? "Why should people and their doings spoil this paradise" indeed.

Being working class is distasteful, having mass representation, antiquated. Trotter may be operating under some decerebrated notion that Goff is the paladin of the blue collar worker, but when he talks about ordinary Kiwis he means the lifestile blockers, there's no question.

4:04 pm  
Anonymous BookieMonster said...

Absolutely - I enjoy reading your blog but am nowhere near politically minded enough to feel like I could make intelligent comment on your actual point.
So I am reduced to trying to recognise landscapes. :D
It was one of those "dang, that looks familiar" moments.

4:12 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

Here are the questions they asked (and my more detailed answers):

Q. Are you concerned that the new Auckland super-city will make it easier to privatise the region's assets?
A. I am not too worried that the new super-city will make it easier to privatise the region's public assets but I am in principle against privatisation. I am concerned that the new super-city will have an effect on democracy in the region and people's needs could get lost in such a big bureaucracy.

Q. Has the Government done enough to make public transport in Auckland affordable?
A. No. I think public transport in Auckland is a bit of a joke - in Te Atatu Peninsula for example the only public transport we have is buses and they run unreliable only every hour and it is expensive (cheaper for me to use my car!).

Q.Do you agree with the Government's increases to you ACC costs and cuts to your ACC cover?
A. I oppose any cuts to ACC and/or our public health system. I think public health and education should be fiercely guarded and strengthened. I also oppose any move towards a hybrid public/private healthcare system.

I feel the same way about education - I am against league tables and national standards. I am currently the Vice President of the Auckland University branch of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) and I am very concerned about the direction the government is going in our sector. I believe, especially in a recession, that more money should be invested in education not less. My fear is that the government will start only funding courses that they believe will lead to jobs or supporting specific industries (University's purpose will become to support business and not to create critical thinkers and strengthen culture and knowledge) - this is a dangerous move for a society.

The current government's proposed tax cuts (and increases to GST)will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer - so I am unhappy with the current government!

I used to be a labour voter and I then moved to the Greens as I felt they had more progressive policies on social justice issues. I have now left the Greens as I am not happy with the direction they are going in (quite individualistic and eco-business orientated) and I also feel they are out of touch with the average Kiwi.

I would like to believe that Labour is moving back towards the Left (but I doubt it!). I need to see labour re-connecting with the grassroots labour movement.

Currently there doesn't seem to be a left wing party that is there to represent the average worker and stand up for social justice issues. What can a person on the Left do to make a difference? At the moment I believe that working within the communities you are involved in and building unions is the only answer. All the political parties seem to have lost the plot!

4:28 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Currently there doesn't seem to be a left wing party that is there to represent the average worker

What's one of those? Do we have a notion have any more than a vague idea of what it even means? I've asked on my blog in the last couple of weeks the question of what the working class looks like, if we have an image of it. I'm not convinced that we do. My partner is a childcare worker, she doesn't make very much money. But she's also a small business owner. Is she working class / an average worker? I'm a translator, and so long as there's work it pays well, but in two decades I haven't had as much as a single day of paid holidays or anything by way of protections or benefits. Am I working class / an average worker? We could decide that the average worker is a person that works average hours for average pay, but I think it oversimplifies what work has become, and the difficulties that exist in protecting and valuing different kinds of work.

In the absence of this image, we can either cling to more or less anachronistic ones (Rob Stowell last week reminded me of Glen Busch's), or opt for the image of the Kiwi struggler dreamt up by the political strategists of our major parties.

4:47 pm  
Anonymous Keri h said...

Self & whanau have been Labour voters since we became entitled to vote. We have become steadily alienated from the Parliamentary reps, a process that
began in the 1980s.

None of us have been Labour Party members, but a lot of us have been members of various unions: we think of ourselves as workers. Some of us have been to a university - only 3 completed degrees. We have had a startling range of jobs, and only 3 of us have ever been on an unemployment or sickness benefit ( we are talking of over 30 people as immediate whanau.)

But - what's a worker? I'm self-employed, a soletrader writer. 2 of my remaining siblings are also self-employed, as are 2 of the in-laws. None of us are inclined to a Labour party renewed as Chris Trotter would prefer - and none of us are interested in ACT (forfend!) Nats, Greens ( a few of us dabbled with giving them a party vote, but not for a while) or Maori party - let alone some of single-person bandwagons.

Over the past 5 elections, not one whanau can remember ANY contact with ANY Labour politician or party member. O, except for the glossy pamphlets...and the suggestions to donate to the election campaigns.

I think Labour has basically lost 2 generations of working families, and they're doing buggerall to recruit the 3rd & 4th generations.

5:12 pm  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Average worker can mean many things. It may be a statistical average, but it loses the median and mode which are more useful. It may be an abstraction of all workers to their essence, wage-labor, which has more point since it isolates the common basis of exploitation and unity.
As for the diversity of workers, for Marx wage-labor extends to all those who are dependent on a wage to subsist. Some can be small owners, but if they employ people on their behalf they become petty bourgeois. Many can be self-employed like tradespeople, or the 'subcontrators' of this age of precarity.
Many are educated professionals earning a salary. Perhapse they live confortably but the reason they do that is that they can sell their skilled labor power at a better price. In the end they remain dependent on the price of their labor power.
In addition, today Marxists incorporate other forms of labor such as unpaid domestic labor as part of the wider working class.
We are the vast majority, whatever our differences we share a class. If we decided to think clearly we could remove the fat bastards with our united little fingers.

7:53 pm  
Blogger maps said...

As Dave says, how you define - or, in Marx's language, 'abstract' - the working class, or indeed any concept, will depend on the context of your discussion.

If you were discussing the government's wage and salary bill, and the question of whether it can bring in tax cuts without cutting wages and salaries for some in the public sector, then it'd make sense to treat the police as part of the working class. After all, they do sell their labour power, and they are paid salaries by the state.

If you were dicussing the possibility of winning support across the working class for an upcoming strike by a particular group of workers, then it wouldn't make much sense to include the police in your discussion as part of the working class. They'd be likely to be on the wrong side of the picket line, and their consciousness is, well, not exactly 'advanced'.

In the two different hypothetical discussions, the boundaries of the working class are different, as different aspects of the concept are abstracted.

New Zealand has for a long time been notable for the relatively low class consiousness of its workers. Arguably, the phenomenon goes back to the nineteenth century, and the dream of many settlers of being self-sufficient on their own 'estate'.

Miles Fairburn has argued in his massively influential book The Ideal Society and Its Enemies that colonial New Zealand was characterised by individualism and loneliness.

The collectivist reforms of the Liberal and Labour governments in the first half of the twentieth century were arguably popular with workers because they seemed to bring the dream of autonomy closer. The first Labour government attempted to build state apartments for workers, but was quickly forced to shift to creating state houses, because workers wanted quarter acre sections with backyards where they could 'farm'.

A survey done in the '70s found that nearly half of New Zealand's freezing workers wanted to own their own business. The number would probably be higher now, in the wake of the atomisation of the traditional working class by neo-liberalism in the '80s and '90s and the relative decline of collectivist institutions like the unions. A lot of Goff's constituents probably don't object to the fact that he's moved out of their electorate and set up a toy farm on the blue ribbon fringe of Auckland. He might simply be living their dream.

The apparent support of sections of the public for the survivalist small farmer who recently blocked access to the power pylons on his property shows that the nineteenth century attitudes discussed by Fairburn are alive and well.

It's interesting to compare the consciousness of Kiwi workers with that of British workers. Perry Anderson coined the term 'negative hegemony' to describe the way British workers were at once conservative and intensely class conscious.

They didn't want to revolutionise society and replace their bourgeoisie as the ruling class, but they did have a strong identity as workers, and they defended their 'turf' tenaciously when bosses wanted to cut their wages or conditions.

We could contrast both the Kiwi and the Brit workers with a working class that sought to assert 'positive hegemony' over a society, by taking it over. Perhaps the working classes of Bolivia and Venezuela currently have this sort of consciousness.

9:37 am  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

As Dave says, how you define - or, in Marx's language, 'abstract' - the working class, or indeed any concept, will depend on the context of your discussion.

Yes, well, I was the one gunning for a totalising metanarrative, for once.

9:54 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We did have a new workers' party here for a while, the New Labour Party/Alliance...

10:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

skyler. do you openly deny the obvious?


10:40 am  
Blogger Skyler said...

anon, what do you mean when you ask if I "openly deny the obvious"?!

1:18 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I think Giovanni raises an interesting point when he talks about the recomposition - or the decomposition! - of the working class as a result of the deindustrialisation of the West over the past few decades.

There are today far more people who are ostensibly self-employed who are all too all intents and purposes workers.
The 'contractors' who used to work for Telecom, and thus receive various benefits and protections, but who were forced to become 'independent' after the company's privatisation are a classic local example. How are people like this to be organised?

In a recent post Louis Proyect linked the decline of the industrial working class in America to the insipid performance of the Obama administration: massive industrial unions were able to pressure Roosevelt to adopt progressive policies during the Great Depression, but today's labour organisations are far weaker

2:28 pm  
Blogger maps said...

PS Giovanni, on the question of defining class, I think it could be argued that there has been a split in the Marxist tradition (if indeed there is such a thing as a Marxist tradition!) over whether or not to give the concept, and concepts in general, a simple, static, necessary and sufficient conditions-style definition, of the sort we often find in mainstream Anglo-Saxon social sciences, or whether to take the provisional, context-dependent approach I outlined.

Marx talked of writing a chapter defining classes for the third volume of Capital, but he never produced this chapter. In some parts of Capital he talks of a single 'capitalist class', and in other places he talks of (for instance) a 'class of bankers'. Perhaps Marx himself was torn between the desire to 'pin' concepts like 'class' down and the awareness that pinning them down would be a denial of the complexity and fluidity of reality.

In recent decades we in the Anglo-Saxon West have had to put up with the school of 'Analytic Marxism', whose dreary devotees have tried to achieve respectacle bourgeois definitions for class and all sorts of other subjects. Their work is a dead-end, in my opinion.

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am NOT anon...i am apodicla

...and if you don't know what is obvious...

...well then that just proves my point...

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

how do you explain the spgb is still going after a hundred years then? if it is boring?

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Monument: The Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain
Robert Barltrop
Pluto Press, Price £3.90

The book gets its title from a comment made about the SPGB, that ‘it was not so much a movement as a monument’. A monument to what? The author, who was himself for many years a leading member of the Party, lets us guess. It could be what he
regards as the SPGB’s ultimate justification for existence, as ‘the only custodian of the vision of socialism’. But Barltrop’s narrative honesty allows
the reader to draw less charitable conclusions. Indeed it could be seen as a monument to that sectarian purity which leads some revolutionaries to remember
everything and learn nothing, and to uphold doctrinal rigour to the point of political rigor mortis.

An offshoot of the Social Democratic Federation, the SPGB began in 1904, and has
remained true to its founding Declaration of Principles. It emerged out of the reform versus revolution debate that rocked the Second International at the turn
of the century. In political terms it saw this choice; either a minimum programme of immediate demands, or the maximum programme, the demand for socialism. It chose the maximum programme. It was ‘Impossibilist’. Absent was
any notion of transitional politics, of relating reform to revolution, as Rosa
Luxemburg had argued. For the SPGB reform meant compromise. Reforms were seen in terms of their objective consequences, as a sop to the working class, thereby
delaying the revolution.

The struggle for them was not seen in terms of its subjective effects on class consciousness. Thus the Party had (and has) no conception of building a movement through agitation over immediate demands that could make the maximum
programme a reality. Activity was confined to propaganda, to enlightening the working class about the need for a socialist society. The Party saw no way of
connecting the future with present, except through talking about the future. Struggle as a class educator was ignored.
Not only did this aspect of its political orientation prevent it growing beyond its high-point of 1,100 in 1949, but the war it declared on other parties as a
result of its conclusion that, since the SPGB alone represented the true interests of the working class, all other parties must represent interests
hostile to the working class, prevented it doing any united front work.

The book itself is written in an easy straightforward manner, and contains some interesting and amusing anecdotes, such as expulsion of a member for signing a
petition to a Liberal MP, or a member who thought vegetarianism was a capitalist plot to get the working class to eat grass. And members of the SPGB come across
as extremely pleasant if politically ineffectual people.. But it is not an exciting book, probably because the SPGB’s politics prevented it getting
involved in struggle. The book will interest students of left exotica. It is a Document about a Monument.

3:36 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

And how many members does the SPGB have?! Maybe 150?! Not exactly going ot lead to a mass revolution of workers is it?

3:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the absence of anywhere else to ask, can anybody tell me how Judith Binney is doing?
Sorry to interrupt.

Chad C Mulligan

8:09 pm  
Blogger Imposs1904 said...

"And how many members does the SPGB have?! Maybe 150?! Not exactly going ot lead to a mass revolution of workers is it?"

Hello Skyler,

I think at the last count - January of this year - the SPGB's membership was around the 350 mark.

I don't think it ever claimed it was going to lead a mass revolution. I think you've got them mixed up with the generals without armies that make up the vanguardist left.

The writer of that review of the Barltrop book, Jules Townshend, was once upon a time one of those generals. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Funny clicking on that pic of the leaflet featuring an old Socialist Standard article by Pieter Lawrence. A couple of us just set up a Pieter Lawrence page over at the Marxist Internet Archive:

Pieter Lawrence archive

He was a really excellent writer and speaker in his time.

8:29 am  
Blogger maps said...

Chad: I don't know, but I'll try to find out. I've been wondering myself.

According to Carey Davies, who seems reasonably - perhaps worryingly - well-informed about these things, and who is staying with us at the moment, the SPGB has all of twenty active members.

But the point is not really about membership. Surely it is possible for a left-wing group to take part in protests and other attempts to address the injustices of the world we find ourselves in, without losing all claims to integrity? Why does a group's decision to bring a banner to an anti-war demonstration or a picket line a sign of some sort of subtle moral corruption?

I remember seeing an old issue of the magazine of the New Zealand affiliate of the SPGB which was published in 1981, the year that weeks of massive protests about the visit of the Springbok rugby team shook New Zealand.

These protests were not ignored in South Africa. When protesters broke onto the pitch of Hamilton's Rugby Park and forced the abandonment of the first match of the Springbok tour, crowds poured onto the streets of Soweto to celebrate. Nelson Mandela said that, when news of the abadonment of the Waikato game reached him in Robben Prison, it 'was like the sun had come out'.

The SPGB's Kiwi allies happily condemned the protesters who were putting their bodies on the line at places like Rugby Park.

According to the SPGBers, the anti-apartheid protesters were 'only' addressing one injustice in the world, rather than calling for the replacement of capitalism by socialism. Therefore they were 'sowing illusions' in the present system. The SPGB's Kiwi mates boasted about how they were taking a 'principled position' by avoiding anti-apartheid protests.

It seems to me that the men and women who invaded Rugby Park, braving the batons of the police and the bottles of the crowd, had a much better insight into how the world actually operates - and into how the world can be changed - than the the Small Party of Good Boys.

There's a separate argument that can be made about how little these self-described 'scientific socialists' actually understand about Marx. Their stuff owes a lot more to the economistic, teleological Eurocentric socialism of the likes of Karl Kautsky.

3:42 pm  
Anonymous Term paper said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

8:27 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

PS Giovanni, on the question of defining class, I think it could be argued that there has been a split in the Marxist tradition (if indeed there is such a thing as a Marxist tradition!) over whether or not to give the concept, and concepts in general, a simple, static, necessary and sufficient conditions-style definition, of the sort we often find in mainstream Anglo-Saxon social sciences, or whether to take the provisional, context-dependent approach I outlined.

That's analysis though, I was interested in the imagery, which is after all central to your post. Chris Trotter found his way to the question I posed on my blog, presumably via here, and offered a reply in a post entitled "What Does A Worker Look Like?". A worker, not work, so he shifted the terms of reference a little, which is quite appropriate since I suppose these days more than ever our image of work must perforce be a composite. Perhaps it always ought to have been. Yet I think of the hammer and sickle and the kind of claim it made as to what the working class was, and boy was that a unified image, and powerful. So was this painting. Now I get the sense that instead of trying to represent post-industrial work and workers and the current class fissures we've simply given up and chosen instead to define people for what they do and who they are outside of work - their 'lifestyles'. The image on Goff's postcard bears me out. And of course this failure or unwillingness to represent work has major poltical implications.

9:14 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

"It seems to me that the men and women who invaded Rugby Park, braving the batons of the police and the bottles of the crowd, had a much better insight into how the world actually operates - and into how the world can be changed - than the the Small Party of Good Boys."

That is or can be very true. I recall that day vividly. My neighbour called in his son to watch the rugby on TV. So I went in to watch the TV to see if there were any protest. I didn't expect to see much as the TV people at first tried to down play any protests.. It turned on the TV and couldn't understand why the game hadn't started - usually nothing much was said about protests...but after while it was all about the protest. The whole drama unfolded and it was fantastic to see live! It was enormously exciting to see that! It was people power in action.

Now the protest movement was well organised, but after that I think there were even many many more who were impressed by the resolve and courage of the protesters - some were nearly killed by rugby enthusiasts (all of them working class) who called them "Jews, blacks, niggers, bungas, scum, communists ..." and much more as they pulled battered and bleeding people (women) in some cases (they attacked anyone) from ambulances and beat them up. It heartened many people - I then joined in protest at Eden Park. (I had been on other protest marches but I didn't go to Hamilton) - in fact in those days it was very frightening. I was battened in the face at the Eden Park game, which was also a very violent protest.

Minto had been dragged from his house and beaten up at least once but he fought on. Now who knows if that was all politically correct according to Marxism (I think Marx would have been there)? One went by instinct and a sense that not all was right in SA.

It divided the working class and (other "sides" of) NZ but that had to happen. Fanatical rugby people were not impressed - but remember this:

"Notable exceptions
Most New Zealand rugby players viewed playing the Springboks as the pinnacle of their career. In 1981 two notable exceptions were test incumbents Bruce Robertson and the then test captain Graham Mourie. Both declared themselves unavailable for selection against the Springboks. Robertson had toured South Africa and was 'embittered by the experience, both for the non-award of penalty tries for Springbok offences and his personal abhorrence of apartheid'."

To take a theoretical stand is good. But it can be an excuse for inaction. Not always wrong, and not always insincere, as theory is important, but theory can outweigh the practice.

11:51 pm  
Blogger Imposs1904 said...

"According to Carey Davies, who seems reasonably - perhaps worryingly - well-informed about these things, and who is staying with us at the moment, the SPGB has all of twenty active members. "

That's actually amusing. Thanks for giving me a genuine chuckle after a sleepless night with my 16 month old.

The last branch of the SPGB I was a member of in Britain - Central London Branch - would have branch business meetings with 13/14 people in attendance. I wonder who the other six active members were in the whole of Britain?

You mentioned elsewhere that Carey's a supporter/member of the CPGB/PCC. An organisation that loves to speculate on the membership figures of other groups on the left but will always fight shy of giving details of their own membership figures in their own paper.

A ex-member of the CPGB/PCC told me their membership was around the 25-30 mark. I'll concede that this was a couple of years ago and that they've since added a layer of youth to their ranks but if they've got more than 45 members and supporters I would be genuinely surprised (and if I'd have to say that they're probably bullshitting.)

I do concede however that they do have about 6o Party pseudonyms , which makes them a wee bit bigger than Permanent Revolution but a wee bit smaller than the recently discovered Left Platform.

Your anecdote about the WSPNZ response to anti-apartheid protests in New Zealand in the early 80s? Well, in light of your 'knowledge' of the SPGB tradition in your original post, I have to take it with a pinch of salt. I mean, 'condemning' workers for going on picket lines? Really? I thought the myth was that SPGBers go along to picket lines and demand to abolish the wages system?

Maybe you and Carey should get together and pool your knowledge on the subject?

And the Small Party gibe? In light of Carey being a member of the John Chamberlain club and your involvement in the Communist Workers Group, are either of you in a position to make that daft gibe?

Generals without armies, and nothing more.

4:34 am  
Blogger maps said...

I'll hunt out the article in question and scan it for you, Darren. What would your attitude have been to the '81 protests? Would you have joined in or abstained in the name of purity?

2:37 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

And the Small Party gibe? In light of Carey being a member of the John Chamberlain club and your involvement in the Communist Workers Group, are either of you in a position to make that daft gibe?

Generals without armies, and nothing more.

Ah, sectarianism... where would we be without it?

Seriously, I'm not being rhetorical here, I'd love to know.

2:40 pm  
Blogger Carey said...

All left groups in Britain are small and marginal in terms of their influence on wider society. The 20 people figure was a guess I made to Maps in one of our conversations, but I don't want to get into some petty argument about it. 20 or 200 - Membership figures are not the real concern.

The real questions are things to do with general outlook, politics and practice. The SPGB has existed for 100 years in dreary isolation, notable primarily for the inability and unwillingness of its members to engage positively with anything outside of themselves, preferring to condemn it for not fully advocating (their particular vision of) socialism.

Arguments about numbers are one thing, but the real definition of sectarianism exists in creating shibolleths and points of purity in order to maintain a pristinely constructed sect vision. That's how organisations like this reproduce themselves. The whole left does it, in fact - but the SPGB goes further than most in terms of their distance from the real world and the extent to which they understand politics in complete terms of abstraction.

3:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The SPGB boyoctted the big anti-war demonstrations in the UK in 2003 because these demonstrations did not demand the immediate abolition of socialism. That's sectarianisnism in its most extreme form.

5:16 pm  
Blogger Jake said...

From what I've heard, which is admittedly secondhand, Judith Binney is doing amazingly well, and has been since a few days after the accident. When I last got news a month ago, she was expected to make a full and fairly rapid recovery.

7:52 am  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks Jake. Great news.

10:54 am  
Anonymous keri said...

Jake - that is truly excellent news. The local bookseller has just got in "The Encircled Lands" for me, and I am really looking forward to reading it.

11:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jake for that update. Pleases me no end for some reason. Thanks also to Maps for allowing me to ask.

Chad C Mulligan

4:20 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Judith Binney is doing so well she's filling her slot at Readers and Writers week as scheduled.

7:15 pm  
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10:29 pm  

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