A message of support

Be young and shut up has written an important post about the hard left and the student movment.

I prefer community organising to ideological activism, so I had been out of contact with this part of the population of Glasgow until last year, when I was heavily involved in the campaigns at Glasgow University through personal interest in the matter. I experienced what she is describing first-hand and am publishing this to give public support to her, and – of course – to throw in my own tuppence.

She is quite right that on the hard left there is a very aggressive culture, where being arrested is a badge of honour, and violence is exalted by people who have generally lived very sheltered lives. One might blame the hubris of youth, but I have seen people fantasise publicly about throwing molotov cocktails at police officers. When I was a young and first involved in politics, I too engaged in this kind of braggadocio, because it is very much encouraged by the culture.

Being a pretty peaceful man it scares me to call that male, but she is quite right that these values are more typically masculine. While I have seen aggro from both sexes, the left selects for people who can live with that kind of angry competitive environment, which is one reason it is majority male. In geek feminist work, we see getting male-dominated projects to replace their culture of aggressive willy-waving debate with a calm professional tone as a key step to including more women.

She is completely right that valuing aggro forms of debate and valorising arrest privileges men. Because of the value placed on knowledge of critical theory and other relative obscurities, privilege is also handed to middle-class activists over working-class activists. The arrest issue also privileges the young and childless, full-time activists, and people who don’t have to work, usually thanks to being middle-class.

Common to a lot of other examples she gives is a sense of quickly defining an in group and an out group. There are goodies (Palestinians! All of them! Geroge Galloway!) and baddies (Israel! Anyone who is not a communist! All police officers ever!!! And most of all: THE REST OF THE LEFT!!!1!)

Goodies can be identified by never saying the wrong thing, unless they are already our pals, in which case they can say anything they like. Baddies can be identified because they say wrong things or hold wrong opinions. Once we have purged the baddies from our midst and the world, the goodies will triumph. This is an odd position to take – don’t we, following Foucault, say that there are people who commit criminal acts, not “criminals”?

It is, I think, about defining individual identity rather than changing the politics of the world. There is no political reason for a person’s opinion of a far-off conflict to effect working with them on anti-cuts in the UK. There is no reason for a person’s belief about what an ideal society would look like to effect any work at all, when we are so far from such a society. When I was young I initially worked in the anarchist movement, where people would happily refuse to work with the “Trots” and “Stalinists” because of what they might theoretically do come The Revolution (TM). This is clearly group identity and group bonding placed above political aims.

As she notes about liberal feminist organisations, they are simply better than the left at gender, lgbt, race… so are public sector employers and TUC trade unions for that matter.

A female friend of mine worked for the TUC for some years, and makes the point that although many of her colleagues were ageing Stalinist men, they were simply not allowed to be sexist while on business or the HR department of the organisation would have waved goodbye to them. The STUC’s council now has a majority of women and I think the left could learn lessons from that.

To take another example, at one public sector workplace of mine there was sometimes homophobic banter in the office. The moment I expressed discomfort at that, it stopped: people knew that in a professional environment, they should not be making those jokes. Because of the policies in place I, as the token bi guy on the team, had all the power on that issue. I couldn’t make the people not-homophobic but I could shut them the hell up.

For my part, I departed the part of the left that enjoys shouting about being the left years ago. I returned because the Hetherington campaign was close to my heart, and even then I could only stomach it a few months.

I’m working with some friends to build an NGO working to empower people in deprived areas of Glasgow. We’re still putting the formalities together, but is such a relief to work in a professional manner. I am looking forwards to imposing the kind of straightforward equality policies that many large companies have as a matter of course.

It’s also indescribably brilliant to work with loads of ‘ordinary’ people, who are concerned with bettering their communities more than what someone believes about x, y, or z abstract political issue. I meet a lot of left-wing people who are more interested in organising than bigging up how left-wing they are publicly, so I think the real left is a lot lot bigger than the visible hard left.

Aye, so, solidarity to the blogger, and massive respect for her bravery in writing the blog post.

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