I remember as though it was yesterday what I spoke to Mark Steel about that evening we had a few pints together at Paisley University Students Union: https://derekthomas2010.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/mark-steel-and-me/. Before I say something about what that was, let me tell y’all what I didn’t tell him.
I never told Mark Steel that I didn’t think he was funny. I guess that makes me kind of a liar, doesn’t it? I lied by omission. It was a white lie. I prefer to think of it as me being diplomatic. Why hurt Mark’s feeling when there was no need?
Mark might think I only pretend that I never found him funny, that I’m doing that out of spite. If he wants to believe that he’s welcome to do so. But the truth is that I have never found him that funny. For the record, I shared this with other members of the SWP. As far as I can remember no one agreed with me, at least not publicly. I sat in audiences of SWP members laughing their heads off. I wondered if this laughter wasn’t forced: “He’s one of ours, so fake it, comrade.” That sort of thing. Sorry, but the best I could manage was stifling a long string of yawns.
Jeremy Hardy, on the other hand…. I had been familiar with his comedy long before I’d heard he’d joined the SWP, indeed before I knew he was seriously political. He had always been one of my favorite comedians. I hope he hasn’t joined Richard Seymour’s witch hunt. If he has I will find that gut wrenching, but I won’t pretend I never found him funny. Anyway, back to that evening after his Paisley student gig when we shared a pint or two.
I asked Mark if he remembered a gig he did for those who had bought a ticket for that year’s Marxism festival. My guess is it was probably 1987. He did remember it. I told him I had been there. I remember one joke in particular about sex crimes that I found quite nauseating. I decided to share with Mark something that happened later that evening.
When I returned to the house I was living in London that week, I told the couple who were also being put up about this Mark Steel’s gig I’d just seen. The woman told me that she had heard about this gig. She told me that several women (she never said how many) walked out in a deliberate act of protest. I never spotted any coordinated boycott, but this woman had heard about some of the humour from those who did walk out and she was also offended by it.
When I asked Mark about this he didn’t seem to care. That is not the reaction I had expected. I thought he’d want to discuss this at some length, to see if maybe there was some problem with his material that he might need to think about. That is not what happened. He said he’d heard of no complaints. He told me he thought it had been one of his best gigs ever. I guess feminism is only something you care about when it suits you, eh Mark?
So I have passed on my deep indifference to Mark Steel’s sense of humour, which I have never shared. Having said that, I accept most SWP’s members used to find him funny. At any rate, most claimed to. What about his politics? What do I think about Mark Steel’s politics?
Well, he was an SWP member. So I assumed we shared similar politics. However, given what he wrote in his blog yesterday, it appears he never believed in the core values of the SWP. What do I think about that?
I think that Mark Steel was always a problem. I think this is why he has attached himself to the project of Richard Seymour. Mark is a comedian. And as such he never saw any need to do any reading, apparently. At least not about the politics of his political party. As for Richard Seymour, he is a professor. And professors do have to read. The problem is that he reads all the wrong stuff.
Richard Seymour poses behind a Lenin mask on Twitter, pretending to support Lenin’s politics. But his ignorance of the ABC of this politics is quite breath-taking. I am genuinely wondering if he has read more than a handful of pamphlets.
Everything Seymour says and does suggests that not only is he unfamiliar with what Lenin actually wrote, and with the transcripts of his speeches; Seymour is every bit as unaquainted with the summaries of these writings by the SWP’s senior intellectuals and polemicists.
The fact that Seymour in all seriousness had expected John Molyneux to back his pathetic faction proves he had no business being in the SWP in the first place. And what goes for Seymour also goes for those students he lead out of the party a few days ago. These individuals didn’t know anything about the politics they had signed up to. And that has to be at least partly their own fault.
Mark Steel was given a party card. But he never conducted himself like a member of the SWP, the way he should have if Lenin’s democratic centralism was imposed equally on everyone. Can I blame him for this? To be frank, I think the SWP leadership had always been a bit too accommodating when it came to signing up big names, trying to use their ‘celebrity’ to sell the party to us mere mortals. The British SWP is not the first party to have done that. Trotsky discovered during the witch hunt against the American SWP that pretty much all their celebrities and petty bourgeois intellectuals scarpered. This is not uncommon. But the students who have left the British SWP have done so in great numbers, and they’re not celebrites. The problem is that they seem to have been allowed to think they were entitled to honorary celebrity status, then granted the same leeway, the same contempt for collective responsibility.
The students seem to have been told very little about the politics of their party until it was far too late. Who bears responsibility for that? Mark Bergfeld, clearly. He more than anyone else let the students get away with it.
And now these students want to abandon any kind of Marxist organisation, prefering instead a loose network? And Mark Steel supports that? Fair enough, comrades. No one can stop you. However, this has been tried before, you know? And it is not going to work. Had you actually read any books while you were a member I might not have to explain to you why it won’t work. Check out Chris Harman’s The Lost Revolution to find out why.