On taking a break

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I have decided to take a break from this blog; I don’t know how long it will last – the gap may be a matter of a few days, it could easily be several months. I have had a blog or a website now for just under 20 years. Inevitably that means there is a danger of the quality degrading. When I started I would post lengthy pieces based on original research, but given my day job, which is often exhausting, I have less and less time to do the necessary reading, and there is the danger of slipping into a kind of automatic “comment”, where you are repetitively saying nothing new at all.

I also have a particular problem with this blog. When I started it, one of my principal motives was to publicise a memoir I had published about running; and for the first few months many of the pieces were “tasters” based on that book. It was a personal albeit left-wing running blog. Very soon afterwards there were the Olympics Games, and I posted effectively a whole book’s worth of new material based around the Counter Olympics Network and the broader campaign against the Games. This first transition – from running to interest in the intersection of Marxism and sport – was relatively modest and I didn’t ever properly pause and think to myself whether I needed to keep the blog going or what I would use it for.

By the end of the same year, the SWP crisis had begun and it suited me to have a blog ready to hand where I could post directly without having to go through the – tight – censorship that operates in the SWP’s internal “pre-conference” publications. The previous focus on sport was lost altogether, rightly and necessarily. But for 15 months now I have been outside that party, and neither my writing nor my political activity have made the transition I had hoped.

When I left, I spoke of having comrades in both “any party” and “none”, and this title was not accidental. I was inspired by the number of people outside the SWP who were following our internal battles and enthused by their support, and felt an intense comradeship with them.

One of my hopes was our generation of departees would construct a left culture in which the lines dividing the various left groups would become much more permeable. We would still have our differences of course and our different groups, but there would be an extent to which we co-ordinated ourselves without rancour and it would become relatively common for (say) a person principally associated with group X (say, RS21), to be invited to speak on a platform by group Y (say, the ISN, or the SP, or whoever else) and be trusted by group Y to be at that moment, their representative, bringing people into the left through the medium of group Y on behalf of whom they were then speaking. If this kind of mutual trust sounds naïve, it is worth saying that it was relatively common among much of the pre-1914 left, both in Britain and throughout Europe. (And it is not very difficult to do  – in my own local RS21 group, we have managed to sustain a pattern of nearly 50% outside speakers over more than a year, without in any way diminishing the coherence of our group).

Yet, if I am honest with myself, I do not believe that my writing has made the transition that I hoped to see in my own and other people’s political practice. Since leaving the SWP I have continued to write about the partisans of the old IS libertarian fringe, and even when talking about events far from home, I have on at least one occasion fallen into the trap of reading them through the black hole of ideological conservatism created by the dying star of the SWP.

There is a recurring debate between and within the SWP diaspora which pits those who would rather we kept on criticising the SWP against those who would ignore it. My own view is rather the orthodox Hegelian one that we need to supersede it by constructing a left which has different, more effective, reference points.

A writer can do little to build a party, still less the sort of broader political movement that I am describing, but one modest task to which they can contribute is the creation of a new political language of metaphors which capture the relationships of oppression on which capitalism thrives, and the distilled, century-long activist learning behind such seemingly-simple as ideas as revolution.

I would like to reorient my writing towards that task; it may never happen; my attempts may fail. But it will not happen unless I take a break, and (if or when I return) try something new.

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4 responses »

  1. Brave decision – I hope it works out.

    The thought that the left needs a new language has occurred to me from time to time over the years, but I’ve tended to shy away from it because the implications are so huge. On one hand, what do people outside our tradition(s) hear when they hear, for instance, the word ‘revolution’ – or the word ‘Marxist’; do we even know? On the other, what do we actually mean when we use that vocabulary? Do we have a clear idea of what revolution would look like in the twenty-first century? Much more to say on this, but I think I’ll say it in a blog post of my own.

  2. I knew about David long before I began following this blog, which was only just after links to his articles on Syriza began appearing on FB. I truly hope that he begins writing on the net again before very long, either here or somewhere else.

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