Why does blogging continue to feel insufficient?
I made the decision to set up a blog with its own domain name in 2007. Actually the second anniversary of this blog is not too far away – September. My decision was influenced in two ways – first, to collaborate with a friend on writing and critiquing both our own and others’ work. That hasn’t turned out how I thought it would but there are similar rewards from having such a dedicated and intelligent coterie of very regular visitors (Paul, Charlie and Mil, to name a few). Secondly, I wanted to opt out of Members’ Net and Labourhome.
For those of you who don’t know what those are, Members’ Net was a site set up in 2006 by the powers that be in the Labour Party. It seemed to attract a really bad group of people – either the genuinely and despicably right-wing, or the hopelessly vague and wilfully ignorant. Only a few good eggs were to be had. As for discussions of political theory or even labour history, there was little room – some regular commentators even prided themselves on just how anti-intellectual they could be. I was part of Members’ Net for about a year, but rapidly got bored.
Labourhome was a different kettle of fish. I posted there only rarely, but the sort of discussions which were going on either took in the sort of trollishness which one finds on Comment is Free or would have involved the sort of conversations I got really bored having when I was about fifteen. If you are vaguely political, you’re bound to know the one; someone likes to think of themselves as an authority on politics and almost immediately you get into a conversation taking in the broadest possible generalities. This conversation ends up with arguments about semantics (e.g. whether fascism is Left or Right wing) or with me beating that person over the head with a chair.
Not to say that there aren’t some good articles on Labourhome, just as there are on Comment is Free. It just wasn’t for me. Similarly, except to post the odd comment when I feel someone’s arrogance is just getting too much, I have stayed off the new Labour List site. That said though, I still feel there is an element lacking as regards the blogosphere. Sites like Liberal Conspiracy exist to discuss issues du jour, such as this superb attack on Tory ‘family fetishism’ by Laurie but there’s still no generally accepted area for explicitly discussing the theory of politics.
It’s a fair question to ask how necessary such discussion is.
Well, most members of the blogosphere are also political activists. Our very actions are shaped by theory, whether the theory is explicit or implicit. To give an example from the only Tory blog I regularly read, Blimpish Tory in his most recent blog article states, “I’m with Paul [Evans] – for politics before any ideological principle”. This is a subject which practically begs for a discussion of political theory; doesn’t the statement elevate ‘politics’ to an ideological principle? Or better still, isn’t the notion of ‘politics’ (however conceived by Blimpish and Paul Evans), both ideologically conditioned and itself profoundly ideological?
There doesn’t seem to be much room for discussions of this manner in the blogosphere – outside a very few blogs, such as Phil at AVPS, who is doing a Sociology PhD, which gives him something of a leg up.
All of this occurs to me because I noticed the site of the London Socialist Historians Group. I know next to nothing about the group apart from that its convenor is from the SWP and they had Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb speaking there recently. What I do know is that they hold seminars and have a newsletter, and they have an annual conference. Papers are delivered on various subjects and questions are fielded and then everyone retires to the bar. All quite genteel really, but probably more useful than diatribe and counter-diatribe between the SWP and SP on the subject of Left Unity. At least those involved are in the same place and could talk to one another.
Surely some equivalent of this could encourage more political activists to be more reflective, which can only make them more rigorous as they question each of their assumptions, and those assumptions displayed by others – both in our ‘tribe’ and not?
Paul Cotterill will be writing a paper himself on the usefulness of political theory to the practice of politics at local government level, and I look forward to reading it. Yet that was a result of a one-in-a-thousand chance meeting on a blog between Paul and some chap who organises the conference in question. I’m not content for us to wait around to be asked by our academic betters. It is my feeling that those of us, especially the ones who consider themselves Marxists, should be actively pursuing better understanding.
From the point of view of party politics in the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers’ Party and elsewhere, I think it there is a compelling case to be made that organisational democracy depends upon it.
Every Party member should be armed with enough theoretical knowledge to critique the practice of theiry own Party. For example, theories such as the difference between a ‘Popular’ and a ‘United’ Front have direct relevance to modern political practice – taking in such varied bodies as the Convention on Modern Liberty, RESPECT and Unite Against Fascism. I work around the Labour Party milieu, and I’ve recently been discussing potential changes in the demography of party membership. Just how important that is revolves around the theory of class.
It’s fairly obvious that I am talking from the point of view of a Marxist, but on the other hand there are some Liberal Democrats over at Liberal Conspiracy who clearly believe the default position of any socialist should be membership of the Lib-Dems, and they conscript JS Mill to their defence. I may not agree with the argument, but it has clear implications for the organisation of “the Left” and therefore deserves to be discussed. After all, individually we are responsible for the vague grouping known as ‘the Left’ and what strategy we adopt can have ramifications for future success or failure.
So, the First Annual Socialist Bloggers Conference anyone?