Tag Archives: Inside Left

Lives; running – A Hack Review

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running-cover.jpg

By Gareth Edwards
David Renton’s book lives; running, released in the summer of last year, received little coverage in the Party’s publications. We should have paid closer attention. While a book about running may seem an unlikely allegory for factionalising, lives; running is quite clearly, to use a lamentable term, a prefiguration. As the immortal David Frost once opined on Through The Keyhole, “Look closely, comrades. The clues are there.” Carefully read, the book reveals how plans to establish permanent factions have been festering away far longer than anyone expected. For those of us who have lived through the last year, watching as the “opposition” embarked upon its wilful destruction of our party, reading lives; running is like discovering the road-map to ruination. You will wish you had read it much earlier.

Although the book claims to be about running, it is patently obvious that David Renton has written a book about David Renton. Claiming that it is, in part, an autobiography – a personal account of his own running experiences – is simply excuse-mongering, a convenient cover for his own egotism. One need not be surprised; this is the same exercise in self-justification that oozes from his blog (which even has the same name as the book!). Online Renton presents his writing as an attempt to “re-think” our politics when in actual fact it is nothing more than a capitulation to feminism. And, while we’re on the subject – what is his obsession with the semi-colon? It lies somewhere between the steely determination of the full stop and the half-hearted gradualism of the comma; truly the centrist of the punctuation world.
Of course Renton’s drift from Leninism has been a long term development: more of a long-distance race than a sprint, if you will. As he makes clear in the book, not only has he been running since the 1980s, he has actually liked it. To secretly enjoy watching a bit of football is one thing. It is quite another for a “comrade” who claims to be a revolutionary to openly state that he happily participated in competitive sport. There is not a word of regret or remorse on this question. Blatantly the cold winds of reformism have been blowing through Renton’s life for a good long while.
At various points in the book he ponders on the rivalry between middle-distance runners Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Renton would have us believe that, during their clashes in the 1970s and 1980s, the two athletes came to represent something more than simply a couple of blokes running around a track. Ovett was the worker; Coe the Tory. To suggest that Ovett and Coe were some sort of proxy for the class war is, of course, a ridiculous assertion. What Renton struggles to comprehend is that no matter how many races Ovett won it had no bearing on the real world. Already at this early stage Renton was seeking someone to win victories on behalf of the working class, rather than seeing the class itself as the agent of social change.
Indeed, it is noticeable how the organised working class plays very little role in Renton’s book – in particular, public sector workers who run are conspicuous by their absence. With a major part of lives; running set in the 1980s Renton is forced to reference the miners’ strike.  It is illustrative of his general pessimism that the one time he makes mention of the working class is during a defeat, rather than choosing an example of successful industrial action. In part, one suspects that the absence of optimism in lives: running is the result of a flawed understanding about the relationship between party and class on the part of the author.
To use our own analogy: think of the class as a running race. Some workers are at the back of the pack, others nearer to the front. The Party is represented by the runner at the very front – constantly pushing the pace on, finding new gears, re-doubling their efforts to stay in the lead. Round and round we go, more and more laps of the track completed, until eventually we win. In Renton’s view, running is most fun when people are bunched together, a mass of arms and legs and rightward shifting reformist ideas.
In another attack on the concept of the revolutionary party, Renton returns to the cases of Ovett and Coe, exploring the role of their parents in fostering and nurturing their talents. Here I think Renton is, quite simply, wrong. Time and again he teases out how mothers and fathers can impact negatively on runners, without ever accentuating the great value and wisdom they can impart as teachers. It is as though he neglects completely any sort of paternal guidance. As you progress through the book you begin to wonder if he will ever end his criticisms of athletics from the past thirty years. Renton clearly believes that the 1970s were some sort of golden, democratic age for running and at times one expects him to reveal that Peter Sedgewick, Dave Widgery and Duncan Hallas were the founding members of the Socialist Democratic Jogging Society.
Towards the end of the book Renton finally comes clean. He talks of how he once gave up on running, and how it lured him back with its promises of fulfilment, activity and expression. But it has come at a price. When he now runs he tires quicker, finds he is more susceptible to injury, has to run at a slower pace than before. No doubt to a casual observer these references will seem innocent enough. But who in the Party could miss their real meaning? David no longer takes the same joy in revolutionary activity that he once did, moaning that long-standing comrades have caused him injury. His conclusion is to run (i.e. do politics) at a different pace (i.e. a reformist pace). Renton would do well to remember that in the marathon of socialism, the bottles of distilled Leninism on the pasting tables of struggle, laid out at the side of the road of revolution, give us the strength to reach the finish line.

Originally published at: http://inside-left.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/lives-running-hack-review.html

Ain’t Got No Highs: How the Olympics are Changing London

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It’s the small things you notice. Getting ready to board a train from Waterloo station, I see six police officers with semi-automatic pistols. There were of course policemen carrying guns in London before the Olympics; just now, there are more of them. In Stratford, an ugly red observatory tower is built and named after Britain’s richest man, Lakshmi Mittal. There were plutocrats before; somehow this seems more brazen.

A guest post I’ve written for Inside Left. More here

Olympism

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As London 2012 rolls ever closer, one theme which will become more prominent is the abstract internationalism of the Olympic Games. The Olympic Charter promises “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

I am grateful to Gareth Edwards of the Inside Left blog for pointing me towards John Hoberman’s Towards a Theory of Olympic Internationalism, which sets out a compelling theory of where this internationalism comes from, and how we get from the waffling idealism of Baron Coubertin to the fascism of the 1936 Olympic games and of the postwar Olympic administrators (including, but not only, Samaranch).

Hoberman points out that the early twentieth century saw a number of movements that promoted a message of international fraternity and that their politics ranged from conservative nationalism (eg the Scouts) to socialist internationalism (eg the second interntaional) with all sorts of intermediate positions (eg Esperanto).

The 1936 Olympics stands as a first moment of crescendo in this story; with a group of French nationalists (including Coubertin himself) using the event to promote a reconciliation of France and Germany on the basis of the latter’s politics. In the aftermath of the Games, Hitler paid Coubertin a grant of 10,000 Reichsmarks and put the Olympic founder forward for the Nobel Peace Prize.

There are lots of other treasures in the piece, including an account of the pedigree of the fabulously corrupt Kim Un Yong, about whom I’ve written before, who turns out to have been a Moonie with an interesting backstory in Korean “anti-Communist” circles. But I can’t do better than encourage any readers of this blog to read Hoberman’s piece themselves.