How To Be A Far Left Polemicist


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One of the most encouraging signs in these days of a fractious, fractured Left is the success of a small number of websites devoted to fraternal discussion among socialists. These include Dave’s Part, Socialist Unity, and Liam MacUaid‘s web page as well as at least one fan site.

This could surely be a momentous moment for the Left. So in the spirit of the new but guided by the wisdom of the old, let ILR provide you with eleven theses as guidelines for those of you – those many of you – considering taking up the historical torch. Don’t let it be Year Zero when you begin. Learn from the very best our class has been able to produce.

  • 1. The purpose of polemic is political clarification. This means exposing the bankrupt politics of your opponents. Your opponents are the people who sound a lot like you but are in fact completely different. Stress these differences. Always. And then a bit more.

  • 2. Your most important ideological tool is the concept of hegemony. This means “although my opponents are not only wrong in every way but also treacherous and morally repugnant, they have more supporters than I do”. It is crucial to realise and explain – always – that your opponents are the main reason why your own ideas are not more widely accepted.
  • 3. Always see things from the perspective of the international working-class. The perspective of the international working-class is – regardless of superficial appearances – the same perspective as your own.
  • 4. Observe that your opponents are incapable of fulfilling this role, being students and members of the middle class. It should not trouble you that attacking them on this basis may appear – but only appear – to be endangering yourself. Your politics are working-class, and theirs are not.
  • 5. Your contributors are important to you. They possess an enormous range of knowledge and experience – especially about one another. Collectively they possess an enormous quantity of knowledge. Indeed, many of them, individually, know almost everything there is to be known.
  • 6. Because you represent the most advanced section of the international working-class, you have a great, indeed historical, responsibility. This responsibility is the responsibility to be always in the right. This must be your guide. To ever admit that you are in the wrong would weaken your political authority among the working-class. Fortunately, you are never in the wrong, because you have a correct political analysis.
  • 7. Your opponents are dogmatic and sectarian, unless they are not, in which case they are opportunists. Accuse them of creating illusions in whatever it is they are creating illusions in.
  • 8. Moreover, being anti-working class, your opponents always act dishonestly, in bad faith and with a hidden agenda. You must be sure to expose that agenda in your replies to them. Any point they make on any subject will be accompanied by their silence about another. Always refer to something they are not talking about and ask them why they are not talking about that instead. Find their silence very revealing.
  • 9. What people say is less important than what they imply. What they imply is what the correct political analysis leads you to decide that they imply. Don’t take their account as to what they are saying: tell them what they are saying. Be abusive if necessary. You have been provoked.
  • 10. Welcome the new audience for socialism and always remember what they find of interest. What they find of interest is minutae, because they are interested in political clarification and to that end the smallest details are important. Do not neglect the political ferment inside Skegness SWP, a council byelection in Oxford or what was on the front of Socialist Worker in 1969. This should fascinate a younger audience who missed the discussion the first time around (or the first two hundred). Nothing can do more to encourage new people to join the left than to see far leftists screaming at one another: they will surely understand that we need to achieve political clarification before we can really achieve anything. And political clarification, like tomorrow, never comes.
  • 11. Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to shout at it.
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16 Responses

  1. Wally

    June 17, 2009 2:11 pm

    And if you can’t convince ’em confuse ’em. They’re all wrong except me. As the good book says, Lord make me proud of my humility. Or as Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley said about loving one’s enemies: I have hated God’s enemies with a righteous hate.

  2. Obnoxio The Clown

    June 17, 2009 2:49 pm

    “It is crucial to realise and explain – always – that your opponents are the main reason why your own ideas are not more widely expected.”

    I assume you mean “accepted”. I find your silence on the importance of accuracy very revealing. :o)

  3. modernityblog

    June 17, 2009 2:54 pm

    Very funny, and you might think that the students, ex-students, lecturers and assorted academics which comprise a large chunk of the Left would know better than to argue in bad faith or assume everyone else is, but no.

    Probably explains why, in parts, the British Left are not too good at connecting with real peoples’ existences?

  4. ejh

    June 17, 2009 4:22 pm

    Obnoxio — thanks for that. I’m sure I used to do that sort of thing a lot less before I entered middle age.

    I also used to be (re: Andrew’s link) a little better at reading small type…

  5. Mick the Lecturer

    June 17, 2009 9:27 pm

    Lecturers have a hard enough life. Where do these ‘real people’ live?

  6. Liam

    June 17, 2009 10:43 pm

    er, I think you are mixing up the people who leave comments with the humble scribes who give them somewhere to express themselves.

  7. ejh

    June 18, 2009 6:05 am

    Somtimes, Liam, sometimes not. But as I always say about the Harry’s Place comments boxes, it can be worth asking oneself why these sort of people choose a given place to come.

  8. D_D

    June 22, 2009 2:31 pm

    ‘A Few Words Before We Go’ uses a few words like ‘socialism’, and ‘working class’, which we have not heard from this ‘alliance’ before. This is a new and welcome departure but it still remains to be seen if the PWS which controls this Popular Front has really abandoned electoralism and opportunism and their pursuit of the middle class vote. However, this is not quite a momentus moment for the left as the objective conditions have not yet arrived.