Monday, April 28, 2008
This is the statue of Puig-Aubert, the greatest French Rugby League player of all time. He played after the war when Rugby League emerged from its persecution by the collaborationist Vichy regime, which made the game illegal. He was the test match captain of the astonishingly gifted French national team that captivated Australia with a series win in 1951.
An attacking full-back, he didn't bother much with defence, Puig-Aubert himself is described by Geoffrey Moorhouse as "the roly poly unathletic looking eccentric 'Pipette', a goal kicker in the Sullivan class, also known as a chain smoker, full of unpredictable style and Gallic temperament". My favourite story is of a tour match against Wigan where he caught the ball in one hand whilst holding a cigarette in another. He was apparently known to "accept a swig of booze or a cigarette from a spectator in the middle of a match". They certainly don't make them like that any more.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
This 80th anniversary season means that a club that has fallen on hard times can remember, reclaim its position in the history of the game, dream and continue to rebuild.
It also made me think that this is the 83rd anniversary of the second of my father's two FA Amateur Cup wins, playing for Clapton, a club that still plays at its Old Spotted Dog Ground in East London (I hasten to add that I was a late child). I still have his medals, though they are now in the bank as a precaution after a burglar narrowly missed them. They are not engraved, he never bothered to take them back to have his name put on.
In the 1920's Clapton was at the top of an amateur game that could rival the professionals and Swinton were giants in rugby league. The heavy commercialisation of sport these days obscures its deep roots and only celebrates the wealthy. It is good to look back and reflect on what was, and, unless the powerful vested interests at the top prevent it, might one day be again.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Reclus was writing from one side of a divide in 19th Century radicalism. There were the reformers, who had a civilising mission, and the libertarians who felt that social improvement was merely a mask for the imposition of 'respectability', a bundle of middle class values, on an unruly and independent working class. Reclus saw disrespect as revolutionary, others were simply defenders of working class pleasures. One of the big battle lines was temperance, but though we shouldn't romanticise the Victorian working class, neither should we stereotype it. Whilst drink figured largely, so did Shakespeare and at a time when middle class theatre goers viewed his works with disdain.
What Reclus was tapping into was a far more raucous working class tradition of noisy and irreverent disrespect. Take this from the 18th Century, when the tentacles of respectability had not reached as deeply into society. In Harwich, in 1724 "... the Mayor and other members of the Corporation were assembled in the Town Hall to Commemorate His Majesty's Most happy accession to the Throne by drinking His Majesty's and other most Loyal Healths ..." Outside the window there appeared a mob of some 200 persons led by a fisherman, John Hart, with horns on his head. They were indulging in a tradition known as "rough music", making a horrible cacophony as a form of mockery. And here is the crowning glory. One of the Corporation reported that Hart came to the door "and made signs with his hands intimating that We might kiss his Arse". (From E P Thompson, Customs in Common)
I have quoted this in teaching often and sometimes I think that we miss the significance of what Hart was doing. He was not just involved in coarse mockery. He was saying, 'I am better than you, I am more intelligent than you, how do you handle that then'? And he was saying it in another language, confronting the façade of respectability and decency with vulgar ribaldry. He was brave too. The loyalist dullards had a brutal legal system on their side and, whilst their affront may be a testament to their stupidity, it made them dangerous.
This tradition hasn't completely gone away. Working in adult education I come across many latter day Harts. Ferociously intelligent people, often angry and always outspoken, they challenge, confront and subvert. And when someone points out in the middle of teaching, perfectly correctly, that you are talking utter bollocks, all you can do is roar with laughter and agree. Academically they excel, but do not always match that success in their subsequent careers. It is not surprising as this is just another of the subtle layers of class and status in Britain. In the main, the dullards are still in control and do not enjoy their dignified complacency disturbed by ruffians. Where they have given way, it is to the reformers who do not really know what to do when the unconventional refuse to be reformed. So where are the libertarians? Nowhere to be seen at the moment. One day, one day ...
Monday, April 21, 2008
When was the last time you were hungry? Not the pang of a missed breakfast or delayed lunch, but the gnawing obsession of a hunger that has lasted 24 hours? For me, it was 25 years ago - when, for 10 days I lived off one bowl of gruel a day for breakfast ... my experience was a lifestyle choice...
Lifestyle choice? Have I missed something? Did the 'ten days of gruel diet' sweep Islington or was the Oliver Twist Re-enactment Society particularly strong at the time? Not for the first time, she has left me scratching my head.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
It was not that he could not articulate his vision - at a private Labour meeting in 2004 I heard him give as articulate an account of the party's purpose as any I have heard. Rather, he was profoundly pessimistic about what the voters would tolerate - and as a result said almost nothing in public that he thought might offend anyone. Not trusting others to share his instincts, his aides would talk about securing "rightwing cover" before signing up to any radical policy.
Clark then makes a highly pertinent point, central to New Labour's strategy:
"... a cautious reading of what the voters want is the inevitable price for power. The alternative stance - no compromise with the electorate! - is the shortest route to oblivion".
Cautious, yes. But cynical? Does the government really think that the electorate has no morality? Do they reckon that the voters who have delivered the worst results for the Tory Party since 1832 have really done so because they are Conservatives? Apparently so. But then we have to realise who the electorate really are.
Politicians are not thinking of everyone on the electoral roll, nor even the diminishing proportion of them who actually vote. The only voters who matter in our system are new and swing voters in marginal constituencies. The Electoral Reform Society has calculated that an election could be decided by as few as 8,000 people. The party that gets their views right wins.
Politics is about real things that happen to millions of real people living real lives. If all that matters is keeping a mere eight thousand of them sweet, we are looking at a major failure of representation, particularly of the poor. Remember the 1997 manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform? It is easy to forget as the temptation of a vast majority led it to be brushed aside by a typical tactic, a report to be quietly shelved. After the shambles of the abolition of the 10p tax rate it doesn't seem such a bad idea after all. Perhaps then, when the votes of the poor actually matter, we might hear a voice speak for equality.
Do we assert the opposite and, in the manner of Leibniz, claim with certainty that we live in "the best of all possible worlds", or do we still dream?
"A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisations of Utopias."
Friday, April 18, 2008
We have no disagreement about universal human rights, democracy, universal liberty etc. Our differences revolve around whether this is sufficient for human emancipation within the existing economic order. His views seem to be coloured by his experience of sectarian squabbles in the far left. I know nothing of these, never having been involved (though I do l know a fair amount about them in the 19th Century). This is reflected in the following.
The essence of our disagreement may be over the extent to which progressive change is possible or desirable within the existing liberal-capitalist order, or whether we should ultimately be fighting for the overthrow of this order and its replacement by one based on a different form of property relations - i.e. socialism.
This is not so. Leaving aside my plea for an open definition of socialism, rather than the restricted one he gives here, there are three areas where I think that we need to move immediately beyond the existing consensus on political economy.
1. Terry Glavin wrote of his desire for "an internationalist social democracy that is capable of embracing globalization and universal values at the same time as it defends individual liberty - along with cultural and ecological diversity - as public goods, and as working-class entitlements, all at once". Precisely. My addendum is that if we are to do this we need to understand that the political economies of social democracy and neo-liberalism are highly distinct and not variations on a common theme. I am concerned that we slip into an easy acceptance of the existing economic order in precisely those area where it hurts the poor, rather than posing practical, social democratic alternatives.
2. The ecological crisis is not "another story", it is central.
3. The coming world food crisis makes the issue of rural social development urgent. Patterns of land ownership, the dispossession of small farmers, food security etc. have been neglected.
This next is an area of profound disagreement:
My personal belief is that the UK’s social problems are caused more by lack of education and opportunity for those lower down the social ladder, and by deficiencies in popular culture among the population at large, than they are by poverty or inequalities in wealth.
Yikes. Where to start? Briefly, much of my professional life has been spent widening participation in Higher Education amongst what is now somewhat condescendingly know in the jargon as 'excluded communities'. All I can say is that if you approach this work from a notion that their exclusion is due to cultural deficit, you will fail. Actually, my main problems have been with the cultural deficit of Universities! To deny the compound impact of poverty and inequality seems to be flying in the face of reality. Again, this is why I continue to emphasise the importance of political economy.
"...a genuinely constructive and interesting discussion in the blogosphere"
"... if you live in a cage with animals, people may reasonably mistake you for a monkey".
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
They will be very different, they won't generally live away from home for three years, they will often study part time rather than full time...
I would be tempted to suggest that this is an exercise in post-modernist irony as funding policy is decisively slanted to discriminate precisely against this group. But then it becomes clear what is meant:
Around 30,000 new places will be co-funded by employers as part of the plan, which aims to refocus the culture and purpose of higher education.
Undergraduates on the new business-focussed courses will be expected to complete work experience as part of their degree. They will study for two intensive years, rather than over three years with long holidays.
So the fetishising of business continues at the expense of adult learners studying what they want, whilst the reality in adult education is rather neatly displayed in this piece. And do I really want my culture refocused?
It is worth reading Harry Barnes here. Old adult educationalists never lose their commitment to the cause. Having worked in adult education for 25 years, I would say that it can be astonishingly moving and humbling and for it to be so under-appreciated is heartbreaking.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
It’s been an interesting couple of weeks. I seem to have invented a sound bite that has stuck and started an argument. Marko Hoare has now responded to comments here and over at Bob’s place. Bob has got excited and is posting away with gay abandon (calm down mate). I will just stick to Hoare’s reply.
There is a lot that I could argue with in it. His reading of Burke is different from mine, for example, though I am happy for him to be a Whig if he chooses to be. I once had a taxi driver give me a lecture over a mercifully short journey about how it all went wrong when the Whigs gave way to the Liberals – strange place Hull – so he is not alone. However, it was only supposed to be a metaphor and not a precise description. So a debate trying to match people’s opinions against 18th/19th Century philosophers misses the point.
I certainly have reservation about his description of the process of the founding of the welfare state. Universal suffrage was preceded by instruments of working-class self-help – trade unions, co-operatives, self-improvement societies, friendly societies and the like – which were eventually replaced by the welfare state. They are interesting in themselves and they also raise issues about ownership and control that might just question the type of welfare state we want.
However, it has all got a bit convoluted so I really want to concentrate on three points.
First, and most importantly, Hoare argues that democracy is a necessary precursor to the establishment of social justice through the introduction of a welfare state. Fine, but it isn’t a sufficient condition. There has to be a left party prepared and able to take power to implement measures and that has to be built, it won’t just emerge because of the existence of liberal democracy. And, even if a left party gets into power, it can be constrained by the power of other institutions, such as big business, and by international politics and economics. When democratisation has produced left victories in the developing world recently, they have been undone by debt, trade and ‘structural adjustment’.
Thus a newly emerging left has to tackle these vital questions. It needs a political economy, which is missing from his list. It needs to think about what kind of globalism it supports, what kind of welfare, and, above all, it needs to think about equality and liberty. It needs to consider issues of power and autonomy. All of this is an integral part of a process of democratisation and helps shape it. Building a new, and global, left consensus, requires more than democracy and universal human rights, though they are essential. We need to think about economics – talking about ownership and control, as well as distribution – and to challenge the prevailing consensus.
Second, there is that diagram. I know Bob likes it, but I find things like this reductionist as they start us off trying to quantify ideas (like a is more left wing than b), which are not really quantifiable. I think they can obscure really interesting differences. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but, in discussing other left traditions, he wrote, "In fact, the radical leftists of this kind appear on my diagram in the far left, equidistant between the pro-Western and anti-Western camps". I think that this illustrates my point and helps me make a bigger one. The lumping of Anarchism, for example, together with other schools of thought in some form of ‘third perspective’ conflates a wealth of different ideas – communists, individualists, mutualists, feminists, ecologists, pacifists, christians, free thinkers, revolutionaries, egoists and hybrid figures like Patrick Geddes. Trying to fit Geddes on a diagram is impossible. (However, I have to admit that he was very fond of drawing them himself and they are mainly bewilderingly complex and well nigh incomprehensible).
The left has a wonderful and rich history. Some of it is crazy, some impractical, some dangerous, but much is also full of insight, pertinent and surprisingly modern. Let’s rediscover and develop it instead of banging on about Stalin, the bloody Webbs and how socialism died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Soviet Union finally interred the embalmed corpse of Stalinism. Libertarian left ideas, both Marxist and non-Marxist variants, remained unaffected; they detested Stalinism (and didn’t think much of the Webbs either). This is a living tradition with fascinating, and alive, thinkers and writers, not a relic from the age of the gramophone. And it is relevant - we are not quite as ‘modern’ as we like to think we are.
Finally, I have to mention the Drink-Soaked Trots, one of those “obsessed with their own ‘radical left’ identity, with ideological purity and with loyalty to the anachronistic ‘revolutionary’ principles of yesteryear”. Hang on a second. I am one! I post there under the moniker of the Big Fat Gadgie (ta Will). And what a diverse bunch we are. As well as bog standard bloggers like myself, there are distinguished authors and journalists from both sides of the Atlantic, and even a fine, prize wining poet. And though we have a common commitment to universal human emancipation, we love to quarrel about how it should take place. I am proud to contribute and even more proud that many of these wonderful writers have become my friends.
What has happened in the aftermath of 9/11 is that a section of the left woke up, and spotted that another section had drifted into an accommodation with Islamism and anti-Semitism, a trend that had been going on since the 60’s and 70’s. They promptly mounted a challenge. They haven’t comprehensively won, but now every egregious excrescence is met with reasoned argument and passionate scorn. It is hugely to everyone's credit. This fostered a new internationalism, countering pessimistic 'realism' with a wholehearted belief in human possibilities across the world.
All of this is excellent. However, my concern, expressed in recent posts, is that, after our exertions, we too begin to doze off. We get so comfortable attacking the left that we forget that we are left as well. We relax and, in doing so, we forget the grotesque injustices and inequities in even those societies that are liberal capitalist democracies. We forget the shantytowns and favellas, we forget environmental devastation and we forget that, if the current food crisis gets worse, millions of poor people will starve to death whilst I poke fun at government obesity strategies. Only connect.
So it is time to progress and I approach this as an optimist. I would argue that Socialism, in the broadest sense of the word (even Benjamin Tucker described himself as a socialist), has not died and we need to turn to our history to understand how diverse and rich a tradition it is. It is also a history that developed in a critical relationship with capitalism. Some wanted to tame it, others to replace it. With Stalinism firmly in the ground, let’s build on that critique; let’s support economic, as well as political and social, rights; let's fight complacency at home as well as oppression abroad; and, above all, let’s not sleepwalk into the cul-de-sac that is “the end of history”.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
It is worth reading more excellent posts supporting A C Grayling's defence of liberal learning. First up is Freens of Springburn. Some of you may remember my regret at his announcement that he was going to stop blogging. I am delighted to say that, after a brief hiatus, this declaration actually marked a prolific return to activity. His blog remains a delight. Secondly, Shuggy makes the important point about narrowly vocational learning that "this model of education usually fails to deliver even the dismal targets it sets for itself". He gives his reason why, but I have another one too - it is bloody boring. Finally, Norm posts a devastating riposte from a computer scientist giving an instrumental defence of the humanities.
Bobs - or more accurately, Bob's (from Brockley that is)
Bob's post comments on the same piece by Marko Hoare that I alluded to here. I liked a lot of what he had to say. In particular, this struck me:
But my most important quibble is that the West, whatever that is, has all too often not been the embodiment of the values Hoare describes here as “Western”...
One of my favourite general histories of Europe is Mark Mazower's Dark Continent. It not only takes intellectual history seriously and includes Greece and the Balkans in its narrative, but it also stresses the fragility of European democracy. Let us not forget that one of Europe's exports has been Fascism. That does not mean that contemporary Western society, built on Fascism's defeat, isn't hugely better than the imagined worlds of the totalitarian mind and the all too real worlds of vicious tyrannies around the globe. What it reminds us is that our achievements are vulnerable and that there is an ambiguity that a hubristic pro-Western definition of the left does not capture. And political activists have never been good at ambiguity.
That is why I am uneasy at a definition of the left as simply, "the extension of the liberal-democratic order across the globe, through the politics of human rights, promotion of democracy, universal values and interventionism (not necessarily always military)". I would see it as axiomatic that included in the list are equality, economic security, social justice and the promotion of a democratic society with independent institutions, such as free trade unions, rather than simply a political democracy established through a representative state legislature. That is what would make it a left, rather than centrist, vision.
Nick Cohen on the Max Mosley affair
He had a little of my sympathy for proving the truth of P J O’Rourke’s assertion that, “no one has ever had a fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal”.
Or so it seemed when the story broke. But within days a blushing Nick Clegg announced that he had had dozens of lovers. I’m now looking forward to next Sunday’s revelations about a Chelsea brothel where the clients demand that prostitutes talk dirty to them about the Lisbon Treaty before beating them black and blue with an Electoral Reform Society discussion paper.
And finally, from the incomparable Olly
Diana Inquest: We agree with verdict say relieved Illuminati.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
... we think education stops around the end of the second decade, and that people will then get on with the next stage of conformity, as both cogs in the wealth-production machine and consumers of its outputs. But education should be a lifelong endeavour. When it is, it is richly satisfying and keeps minds fresh and flexible, and maintains interest in the possibilities of the world.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard the phrase 'adult education is my lifeline'. It really is life enhancing, transforming and, in some cases, life saving. Its sacrifice on the altar of employment skills is a major act of social and cultural vandalism. Grayling continues by picking up on a long running theme of this blog,
By one of those incomprehensible acts of stupidity of which governments are so frequently capable, our own has decided no longer to fund "equal or lower qualifications" in higher education, meaning that if you have a bachelor's degree in English literature and after 20 years in the workplace wish to study for one in computing or nursing, the government will not fund it. So much for the tens of thousands of people who, part-time, continue with or return to higher education to extend and refresh themselves by taking up new subjects and opening new horizons.
He actually gets something wrong, which makes the situation even more bizarre. The government is exempting Strategically Important Vocational Subjects (SIVS) and nursing is one of them. That means that you can become a nurse but not a computer scientist, an arbitrary division that will affect real lives.
In these times, every voice raised in support of learning for life, in both senses of the term, is welcome if we are to fight back against the triumph of a narrow and bureaucratic concept of education. Bravo Grayling!
Monday, April 07, 2008
He sees anti-war campaigners emerging from the mobilisations of the anti-globalisation movement and quotes Moishe Postone that these “did not express any sort of movement for progressive change”. I haven’t read Postone, but if that judgement is applied to the anti-globalisation movement as a whole it is harsh, certainly for a section of the movement. However, is easy to see how it could be seen in that way.
Firstly, the most visible face of the movement was presented by the decidedly counter-cultural methods of tactical frivolity. However amusing it is to see someone on stilts dressed as a giant pink fairy confronting baton-wielding riot police, it doesn’t inspire confidence in analytic rigour.
Secondly, the movement was partially a defensive one against a specific model of global capitalism that was not based on free markets, as often stated, but on markets fixed and governed by powerful multi-lateral institutions, which were rapidly transforming societies and destroying communities. In such a situation a movement against change is a progressive one.
Finally, the alternative political economy that the movement offered was disparate and inchoate, ranging from anarchist inspired localism to the more conventional left social democracy of those such as Susan George.
The anti-globalisation movement was always trying to shake off that label in favour of being known as the global justice movement and its heart was not the young activist, but the coalition of trade unions, landless peasants, small farmers, indigenous peoples, worker co-operatives, leftists and environmentalists. And this is where Terry’s essay really hits home. As the global justice movement morphed into the anti-war movement, where did this coalition go? It vanished to be replaced by groups of activists with a simplistic anti-Western sentiment. There was always a struggle by political activists to try and wrest control of such an iconic movement. The events following 9/11 allowed an unrepresentative section of the left, informed by “cultural codes” and “ideational packages”, as identified by Shulamit Volkov, rather than the real interests of the global poor, to take control and build an explicitly political anti-Western coalition.
It was a disaster, Islamists were embraced and the landless jettisoned. Iraqi trade unionists faced a barrage of abuse. The left flirted with anti-Semitism and conspiracy theory. It divorced itself from reality in a rather convenient way. There was no need for any great sacrifice for the 'struggle', just for the constant expression of the requisite anger. But we should not feel too smug. There is a parallel with some in the anti-totalitarian left. So when Marco Attila Hoare recently wrote that "the principal ideological division in global politics today" is "pro-Western vs anti-Western" I think that he too was oversimplifying. For the left, it is not about being reflexively pro or anti-Western. It is about standing with the poor, the oppressed and the exploited. It is about being consistently pro-social justice.
This is where Terry's piece is devastating. He writes that the left's obsession with anti-Zionism at the expense of social justice has meant that:
They have preempted the possibility of a legitimately robust international peace movement that might have found a way to intervene on behalf of ordinary Israelis, Palestinians, and Lebanese during the bloody crises of this century's first decade. And they have given courage and comfort to antisemitic fanatics and anti-modernist zealots from the crowded tenements of Gaza to the scorched opium fields of Kandahar.
In Canada, they have effectively infantilized important Canadian debates about the Afghanistan mission, upending these debates into a lurid discourse about American imperialism.
They have undermined labor-movement solidarity campaigns on behalf of the persecuted trade unionists of Iran. They have "problematized" the potential for Canadian leadership in a multilateral intervention on behalf of the suffering people of Darfur.
Reading Terry's article makes it perfectly clear that a left that simply defines itself purely in terms of its position vis a vis the West is not just a left that has lost its way, but one that has abandoned judgement and, thereby, integrity.
Those who have lost their health in their determination to sate their readers' interest are, after their fashion, martyrs to a worthy cause.
It is a noble sacrifice that I make dear reader, and solely for you.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
The super-rich are being encouraged to make multi-million-pound donations to their former universities in an attempt to recreate 19th-century levels of educational philanthropy and civic engagement.
Leaving aside the fact that there is a perfectly good system of equitable contribution called progressive taxation, which Labour seem unwilling to use, this would be an unexceptional exhortation if it were not for the following.
... from August 1 the Government will pledge to match donations, made in cash or in shares, over the next three years.
Just what institutions do you think that most of the super-rich attended? Scumbag Poly? No, of course not. Most went to the Russell Group, the wealthy elite. So the government is prepared to throw an extra subsidy to the richest institutions to bribe them to 'rescue' a few students from their class. And then how much is this to cost? £200 million is the estimate. Now the ending of the funding of students to study for a second qualification, which will badly damage part-time and adult education, is being done to save £100 million and it turns out that they have double that spare to throw at the wealthy.
I have another idea. Scrap both these god-forsaken schemes and gives us the combined £300 million to develop properly inclusive part-time education for everyone.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Druids were also invited to give their blessing to disrupting the long sleep of the stones.
Yikes. What will happen when the stones wake up? Will they scare sheep? Attack tourists? Write to the papers to express disgust at the poor quality of the visitor centre and the traffic noise?
The surrender to obscurantist nonsense continues daily. I can't wait for the first Druid faith school.