Not long after I published my recent article praising Laurie Penny, the very same Penny wrote an article published by the Guardian where, to my amusement, she referred to “cockroaches and sour-faced vendors of the Socialist Worker.” The key point that she was making was that “The young people of Britain do not need leaders, and the new wave of [left-wing] activists has no interest in the ideological bureaucracy of the old left.” The message provided to the SWP and the other Trotskyist parties is clear: we, the young who occupy Top Shop and get caught in police kettles on student demonstrations, do not need you to tell us what to do. We know what to do without you and your outdated papers; we have Twitter and Facebook, tools of much more use than your newspapers.
This caused the SWP to get upset: how dare this young upstart tell the SWP that their style and organisational structures, ones that they learned from their hero, the mass murdering V.I. Lenin, are irrelevant! The aristocratic leading SWP member Alex Callinicos wrote an article in response. Unlike Penny’s article that was published in the print edition of the Guardian as well as on line, the Hon Alexander Callinicos had to make do with an Internet only article that was published on the Guardian CiF web site. Of course the SWP is relevant to today’s students, he screamed, his party was there “with the dockers in 1972.”
Penny responded to Callinicos at her blog at the New Statesman. She felt a response was needed but noted that publicly arguing with Trotskyists is appealing as “discussing venereal disease at a children’s birthday party.” She informed Callinicos that she had found a use for copies of Socialist Worker: burning them to keep warm. She has a point. I cannot think of much else that they are useful for. I certainly advise against reading the vomit that regularly appears in the pages of that rag.
By now Callinicos was wallowing in the attention. He provided a new response to Penny. Not having access to a New Statesman blog, and because no mainstream news journal would publish his garbage, he resorts to publishing his response on his Faceboook page. “[W]e are acting on our understanding of the Marxist tradition, at the heart of which is the self-emancipation of the working class,” he thunders. If he believes that such statements will assist in attracting “a mass movement of millions” that he believes is necessary to “defeat the coalition” then he is thoroughly deluded. Besides, he does not consider the fact that is obvious to almost everyone but him: the current coalition can be defeated at a general election or via a successful vote against them in the Houses of Parliament.
Richard Seymour has also responded to Penny at his blog Lenin’s Tomb. Never one to write 800 words when 2000 words will do, Seymour tells us that “The newspaper is there when the internet isn’t.” That sentence is completely ridiculous but he has written it to be taken seriously. When exactly is the newspaper there when the internet isn’t? He argues that selling newspapers is an opportunity for the newspaper seller to discuss politics with others. I wonder what he would make of the fact that I have been discussing politics with others for many years without having previously sold them a newspaper. So wrapped up is Seymour with his party that he is as addicted to the idea of a newspaper as a heroin addict is to the drugs that they inject in their veins. He must have been very upset that Penny delighted in them being set alight.
Of the other responses to Penny, there is one that I found amusing: that from Jim Denham at Shiraz Socialist. Now I am one for looking in the archives, but I do not think Denham’s spark of an idea will work with converting the young to revolutionary socialism. He was of the opinion that Penny did not really need to be answered as an almost identical question was answered by Friedrich Engels in 1872. One wonders how many eighteen year olds who are inclined to go on a student demonstration and are excited at the thrill of possibly being caught up in a police kettle, would think: “What I would really like to know now is what Engels would have done in this situation.”
The real issue, which Penny gets and Callinicos and those wedded to Leninist parties do not get, is that many young people simply do not like being told what to do: not by their parents, not by their school teachers and certainly not by some fool who attempts to sell them a Trotskyist newspaper.