Home > Miscellaneous > Why does blogging continue to feel insufficient?

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?

Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. leftoutside
    July 15, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Count me in! Political Theory (it deserves two capitals) so vital but so difficult to get into the blogosphere.

    I like to check out MR, NLR, ISJ or even part of the The Economist (know your enemy). However, there’s not an equivalent blog I can turn to, for debate and discussion.

    LibCon offers left theory occasionally but it’s mainly a liberal/centre-left/left policy forum.

  2. July 17, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Absent but not dead, a brief (but friendly) reply…

    I’m not sure if it’s Engels’ or Eagleton’s fault, but we should be careful of falling into the (ideological) grip of ideology-baiting. We do better to understand that all of us interpret the world through concepts and assumptions – psychological, sociological, anthropological, ontological – and work to understand them. (My use of ‘ideological’ in the line quoted in the narrower sense, of elevating specific values/ideas about human society to an absolute priority.)

    My view of politics (and everything else) depends on a set of prejudices. Further more, those prejudices are not wholly (if at all) of my authorship – quite consciously so. We live in history, after all. But who isn’t in this same state? It is surely worse to exclaim that the fog around us means that everybody else can’t see while ourselves blundering on until we walk into a brickwall.

    Now, if your appeal to discuss more theory can accommodate my request for less ideology-calling and more discussion as to concepts and assumptions, then I am in whole-hearted agreement. Although mainly for fun. A mistake made by many people on the Left (and by some on the Right post-Thatcher) is that political parties need a philsophically coherent intellectual doctrine with which they can engage the public. The reality is somewhat more prosaic – political irrelevance is typically the price for intellectual purity.

    But theory may at least help us personally to better understand the world and make our case within it. Just don’t make the mistake of only seeking out theory to explain your own prejudice – engage with some which you know you’ll disagree with.

    (Incidentally #1, in the political activist stakes, I’m whole of the ‘in’ variety, as in ‘inactivist’.)

    (Incidentally #2, despite the view of most of my fellow Rightists online, fascism is a species of the Right. Fascism surely at its heart stands for the use of raw power to create inequality and hierarchy in the face of modernity’s erosion of difference. This can only ever be a cause of the Right, if ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have any meaning.)

  3. July 17, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Incidentally #3 (I have work to do, but it’s not inspiring me)

    That Laurie Penny article, which you praise and which seems to be getting such raves among the blogging Left, is just weak. It’s written like a foam-flecked GLC-era screed – as if Section 28 were being legislated all over again and actually going to be used this time, and the Tory Party have commended the Republic of Gilead as a new social model. In unreflective stridency, it is matched only by its sheer whineyness.

  4. July 17, 2009 at 11:30 am

    Well, I don’t really know what you mean by ideology baiting. Concepts and assumptions deserve challenging, which you seem to agree about. Certain theories grow up on the basis of how the world is and was in an attempt to understand the processes which underpin everything – including those concepts and assumptions, whether ‘common sense’ or the most byzantine of academic prose.

    We should challenge all of them, and our challenge must relate them back at every point to the real world – because ultimately we’re using them as a guide to actions. I think this can accommodate your request for less ideology-calling, if by that you means less denunciations of people for being “Thatcherite” (etc) without actually discussing why that’s a bad thing.

    On the other hand, as you say, we live in history. Terms like “socialism” and “Thatcherism” are loaded terms in popular consciousness, and using them is a means to influence debate. Which is fair, I think. The problem only arises when people use them too easily when they should stop and think for a moment, or when the use of the terms defies all rationality (such as the Fascism=Left wing thing).

    As for Laurie’s article, I think that most of the substantive criticisms are valid – it’s just heavily wrapped in sarcastic rhetoric. You’re right, some of it is unreflective; the bit about Tories waiting to sink their teeth into Labour social reforms made me laugh, bearing in mind just how many Labour MPs are more socially conservative than a good number of their opposition.

    By and large, though, the article seemed fair enough and I laughed at some of the imagery. It wasn’t exactly meant to be anything other than polemical, and okay it might be offensive to some spinsters. But the idea that marital breakdown is a symptom and not the cause of social breakdown is spot on, and is being ignored.

  5. July 18, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    You don’t really need a conference in this day-and-age.

    An ‘unconference’ would be just as useful – I just actually doubt if lefty bloggers would come to it.

    I’d be happy to organise one using the PICamp list if you like? There’s a site here: http://www.picamp.org – and I could talk to a few people I know that have mailing lists of lefty bloggers.

    But I’m really not convinced that there’s much demand for it….

  6. July 18, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    What is an ‘unconference’?

  7. July 18, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but Clare Solomon and Jim Jepps organised the Internet for Activists Conference. It was well attended and could easily have been expanded upon (i.e. had more subjects and greater attendance) if there had been a ramp up in promotional work. Slotting this into that seems like a good idea.

    Paulie, is it something you’d be up for?

  8. July 19, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Yep. Probably too late to do now before September.

    I’d be happy to see if I could find a venue and push it out, but I’d need some evidence that there is a demand for it first – but in principle, yes.

  9. July 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I think a good start would be to set up a lefty bloggers group on Facebook – invite people like Sunny Hundal, Tim Ireland and Dave Osler (among others) to be co-admins of it.

    These things work only if there isn’t any perceived ‘ownership’ of them. Put the idea out there and see where it gets you.

    If you set it up, I’ll join and invite others.

  10. July 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Dave: partly, as you say overwillingness to attempt to categorise all utterings (rather than understand them as such), but more something else. A bigger danger to genuine dialogue is that we begin to think that [my argument] is from facts and [your argument] is from ideology, and so I win because not only am I not as brainwashed as you, but also I can see through your brainwashing, so na na na na.

    Re “But the idea that marital breakdown is a symptom and not the cause of social breakdown is spot on, and is being ignored.” Isn’t it possible that it’s both symptom and cause, that structure and agency come into play here? Even on a structure-only account, isn’t Laurie’s analysis just simply shallow? i.e. “‘capitalism’ creates inequalities which unless alleviated by redistribution causes stresses and strains which break up marriages”. The change in our material situation and its consequences are not so simple – the increase in inequality can hardly be dissociated from our becoming a more individualistic society (greater meritocracy, declining unionisation, etc.), and equally becoming a more individualistic society (demands for equal opportunity, I-gotta-be-me, etc.) makes established-model marriage a more difficult-to-sustain commitment.

    Good luck with the (un)conference on theory. Feel free to invite me if you want some disagreement…

  11. July 20, 2009 at 12:01 am

    I have been unblogging for a few days, but will try to give this idea a considered reply, having already done some considering in relation to the apparent failure of LNM to get off the ground despite initial warmness to it all, my general distrust of all things conference, and my more recent experience of seeking to critique helpfully the ‘their recession’ shindig organised by LRC (which was sadly all too traditionally top-down in approach) and being non-too-politely utterly ignored.

    I am when it comes down to it, an organiser, not a blogger or theorist, and the conference format of yore frustrates me no end – so much wasted energy.

  12. July 20, 2009 at 12:43 am

    I’d not be interested in an ‘unconference’ about theory or to unpick disagreements. They’re useful as a means of either sharing knowledge or promoting collective action. You meet people you are likely to agree with and negotiate the terms and division of labour on some voluntary joint endeavour or other.

  13. July 20, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Blimpish; indeed that is a danger. However, on this blog I and several others like me are never happier than when being explicitly ideological. I don’t apologize for deploying Marxist theory, assumptions, prejudices and so forth. I don’t make a distinction between ideological (therefore brainwashed) and not. What I would say is that there’s no point to political theory and debate unless one person believes that they are right and is prepared to substantiate their opinion. This isn’t the O’Reilly Factor, so such a state doesn’t mean we have to retreat from the word ‘ideological’ like it’s a dirty word.

    Regards marriage, I don’t know that society has become more individualistic. And if it has, I don’t know that inequality is what drives it, rather than the other way around. After all, such rising inequality was not possible until the agents of equality had been solidly beaten.

    To then relate this back to marriage, we’d have to look at divorce demographics and so on. So yes, I accept the argument is much more complex than was laid out in Laurie’s article. That said, none of this is an argument for the Conservative 3 month waiting line policy. It doesn’t change the fact that some marriages should end, and that the state should have no role in the decision.

    Paul. I didn’t notice your recession shindig critique – I’d actually like to read that. I’ll pop over now to BR, but if you’d dig out the link in case I can’t find it, that’s be appreciated.

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